Sunday, September 28, 2008

The "Ideal" OPAC (Today's version)

This week we collaborated to design the perfect OPAC, read articles about the Google Game (Watkins & Elder, 2006. SLJ.; Watkins, 2008. SLJ.), and researched use of databaes in some of our local schools. While it is obvious that the currently available OPAC's do not meet current user expectations or needs, it is similarly obvious that the "perfect" search engine may never exist any mre than the perfect house or automobile. Personal preference, user ability, information needs and other factors will lead designers and users in, similar perhaps, but different directions.

With an ever changing landscape, one can not predict the far future. The ideal library search engine today, in my opinion can be defined through four components: the appearance of search page, appearance of output pages, search characteristics and / or tools, and the scope of search output. The ideal search engine for high school and public libraries could be very similar.

The search page should be sparse and clean. Links should be limited; advanced search, FAQ answers, clear and concise Boolean search instructions, an explanation of keyword and tag searching and how the search process works, live reference and homework help, and a link to a more informational and colorful library splash page.

Output pages should also have clean lines and be easy to read. At top should be a synopsis of results from all available sources and links to these results. Results should also be available simply by scrolling. Results should be accompanied by image of book cover, journal article or Web page. Every result should include a brief summary, list of subject headings and tag cloud, and links to reviews if available from reputable sources. Multiple sort and limiting options should be available to refine search.

User tagging and tag searching should be employed by a "smart" system that suggests spelling, more popular tag choices, title and author names, and subject headings as user is entering search. Initial tagging may be suggested by publishers and librarians but users must be the focal point adding tags and building the system. In addition to this suggestion or funneling system, a list of expanded, related, and narrowed searches should be displayed as a sidebar on results page.

Most importantly to the success of the library search engine or OPAC and of literacy education will be the scope of the search. Searches should include the library book collection, WorldCat, or if preferred by schools, SchoolCat, archived journals or magazines, all leased or publicly available preferred databases, library selected websites, and Google. These returns with summaries should be displayed to any user on any computer anywhere. If certain database articles are available only with a password or from computers inside the library, this note should be made. The available summary, cover image, and tags will assist user in assessing value of the source.

By including Google results along with database and book results, users will have the opportunity to choose the level of information needed and may potentially access a wide variety of sources. If the Wikipedia article can be compared directly to Britannica and to the latest literature or government reports, users will begin to make informed decisions regarding quality of sources. If by narrowing and refining search (The Google Game) to get best possible results, they learn that databases often win, the users themselves will win.

At the public library users looking for a great fiction book will be delighted by the included summaries, subject headings, tag clouds, and reviews. They will be further delighted upon choosing a book that is not on the shelf that they can quickly identify if it is available at another nearby library (WorldCat) or if a used copy can be purchased inexpensively (Amazon) all in the same search.

(Note: Search libraries around the world by location or by OPAC platform used - )

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Information Literacy Education

Week 4: I have read to the end of the Web! As a serendipitous librarian, I am used to scanning and surfing the Web in search of both topical information and serendipity. Following links from the Information Literacy Webquest this week and following links from those links and following links from those, etc. opened my eyes to the expanse of literature on the topics of IL and collaboration.

Someone in our discussion group noted that IL is “education for life!” Wow! Well put! Certainly much of the subject area content is valuable but if the sign of an educated person is one who is capable of learning, then IL is arguably one of the most important lessons a student can learn!

I see a teacher population divided: some, who want the librarian to give students basic database instruction, a very few who want information on source evaluation, and many who are willing to accept poor quality sources and citations. Very few are interested in true collaboration to teach information literacy.

The causes of this disconnect appear to be many, from the lack of a research or information literacy requirement for teacher certification to the lack of state mandated IL requirements for students and many, many more. This array of barriers needs to be the targets for our attacks.

Many of us have suggested that we need to win over teachers “one at a time” to teach IL. The problem with this is that only subsets of students have opportunities to learn strategies. Even within these subsets, it often appears that some students receive duplicated segments of instruction but never receive other valuable tools & instruction. Too often even teachers who appear cooperative do not want real collaboration to teach information literacy.

The question I posed to our discussion group was regarding the possibility of developing a curriculum, at the school or district level and hopefully one day at the state or even national level, whereby information literacy strategies would be taught in chewable chunks through the years and across the curricula. The strategies taught each year would build upon those already learned and would be tied directly to subject area instruction.

Things like this don’t just happen. They will not happen if motivated parties do not act. The lobby groups that will make this happen some day will involve librarians as leaders, motivated teachers who have seen the value of IL education, parents and students who have seen the benefits, and even business leaders defining the competencies required for employment.

While we may have to win teachers over one at a time, I believe it is imperative to set goals and make plans toward this greater goal. If we do not keep our sights on the goal of true information literacy education as described by the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner and do not focus our efforts toward reaching every student with progressive instruction toward IL competency, we will never achieve this goal.

By no means an exhaustive list, but listed below are a few starting points I discovered from the Webquest. -- Great tutorial on information literacy -- a great list of links to sites discussing information literacy -- one of many starting places for website evaluation. -- Fantastic tools / information for & about collaboration. Also check out sections on the “The Ethical Researcher” and “21st Century Literacies”.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Assistive Technologies for all

I failed to post an entry last week on assistive technology (AT) and accessibility. Crisis of family and friends diverted my attention and time. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

The lesson opened my eyes to two items that I would not have identified on my own. I am well aware of text reading, magnification, speech-to-text, and keyboard accessibility technologies. I have worked with many of them and have found varying degrees of quality and ease of use with these technologies.

One attribute identified throughout the lesson, and the topic of the newsletter that I created, was the usefulness of these assistive technologies to the general population as well as to the disabled. Discussion about uses of text reading technology to assist ESL students, slow readers, aural learners, and others beyond the visually handicapped opened my eyes to benefits I had not previously considered. The added benefit of using these technologies across the population and curriculum is the reduction and elimination of stigma attached to these technologies.

My other takeaway had nothing to do with AT but with the tool we used. So often, we provide communication about services available at the library in the form of an e-mail to teachers or a poster or bulletin board for students. Building a newsletter was a little time consuming, and perhaps my effortwas too wordy (who me?) but with a little effort and creativity could be a great medium for communication with faculty and even parents and students.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Role of the SLMC in response to Web 2.0

Reviewing the syllabus for the class this blog was originated, I learn that the reflections included are often to be in response to certain questions. Thus, a reflection on the changes in the role of the SLMC in response to Web 2.0 innovations such as RSS, podcasting, Wikipedia, and Google's book scanning plans . . . .

While Web 2.0 offers information in many different forms over the Internet, it has not eliminated the need for libraries in or out of school. Certainly the advent of Web 2.0 and all of the tools associated with it has altered the role of the school library media specialist and, in many cases, the appearance of the library. There has been an obvious alteration in the number of computers available, the addition of high speed Internet service, and in some cases a shrinking of the reference section. The "role" of the Library Media Center itself, though, has changed only slightly.

Traditionally, the LMC has been the location where students are introduced to and encouraged to read for pleasure, relax outside the hustle of the rest of the school, and to learn and practice the using research tools available. In vibrant, successful SLMC's today the same things are happening.

Students, who learn how to access and use many of the Web 2.0 tools on their own, may believe that the library serves no useful purpose as a center for research. Though great skills, ability to access and use tools like the Google toolbar, Wikipedia, RSS feeds of favorite blogs, and to create one's own blog, wiki, or website are not proof of information literacy. Arguably the on-line aspects of information literacy could be taught outside the library though I would rebut that information literacy is not taught solely online and is best taught by the one-two combination of a good teacher and a qualified librarian.

The role of the SLMS and SLMC are evolving and, undoubtedly, will continue to evolve but, at the core, remain very much the same as they ever were.