Friday, March 03, 2006

Professional Development is Worthless without Taking a User-Centered Approach

Calif. School Suspends 20 over Web Site
Via Yahoo News/AP
March 3, 2006

COSTA MESA, Calif. [MAP] - A middle school student faces expulsion for allegedly posting graphic threats against a classmate on the popular Web site, and 20 of his classmates were suspended for viewing the posting, school officials said.

Police are investigating the boy's comments about his classmate at TeWinkle Middle School as a possible hate crime, and the district is trying to expel him.

According to three parents of the suspended students, the invitation to join the boy's MySpace group gave no indication of the alleged threat. They said the MySpace social group name's was "I hate (girl's name)" and included an expletive and an anti-Semitic reference...


I know there are more than a few librarians who completely loathe my inclusion of online intelligence-gathering, security, cyber-terrorism, and social responsiblity in the Digital Age in any information literacy discussion.

When I'm invited into classrooms or community meetings to talk about the World Wide Web, electronic information delivery, or to do some web training, I talk about issues like this. I talk about the security problems associated with all types of online activity - I've even used Shayna's experience with a cyberstalker as an example (no names used, chica). I talk about Al Qaeda and the use of the Internet as a coordination tool, how elements of the Sept. 11 attacks were coordinated using the same IM and web-based e-mail services most people take for granted.

My justification for including these sorts of things in information literacy training? You can't get through to a user by pitching whiz-bang databases, bibliographic citation software, genealogy databases, or other online tools.

Sure, I talk about those areas. I tow the company line and cover the important stuff. But I'll be damned if I'm going to be one of those librarians who puts patrons to sleep with some (I'm sure) conference-worthy presentation on resources they will probably never use again.

Good library instruction is a lot like good sex. It requires lots of open communication, just the right words, and the seductive power of exploration.

If your partner falls asleep during sex, odds are their needs haven't been met. If a patron falls asleep during library instruction, then their needs haven't been met.

So I find ways to make it interesting, to tie information literacy to a world bigger than any stupid classroom or meeting room.

I've never had a participant of any session fall asleep. Actually, clients have been known to e-mail me months later, wanting to go another round or to go for those intense two-hour jobbers.

Trust me, mention terrorism, Hurricane Katrina, or something vaguely related to the reason you were brought into the classroom. Then tie it to the need to solve problems related to such very deadly things using information resources.

Some librarians have told me that my only job, when I do IL training, is to push web site evaluation methods for scholarly research, to peddle the controlled vocabulary of a particular database or index, and to make sure patrons know how to use an online library catalog.

Information literacy is nothing more than an idea that ties information-seeking behaviors that already exist in nature to problem-solving. So why is information literacy training often treated like some entity, some tangible skillset that exists in some magical academic universe? Information isn't a physical thing, so why do some librarians approach information literacy like they're explaining the steps to programming a VCR?

The biggest problem I've observed in how librarians approach infomation literacy training is not that patrons don't practice it. In fact, it's quite the opposite. People practice InfoLit skills every day - from finding the best ways to get a girl's phone number in a crowded party to figuring out how to build an addition onto a house to doing scholarly research.

To simply present a PowerPoint on what people can do at a particular library does such an injustice to patrons, because it focuses on the librarian-centered approach to information literacy, instead of the more inclusive user-centered approach.

The last thing on my mind is what my colleagues, locally or nationally, may think of my methods. I'm a desciple of the "Know Thy User" approach to instruction, not the "Know Thy Librarians" model. In fact, I'd rather not do instruction; I'd rather teach through something interesting.

And for Chrissakes, if you're under 65, don't dress like a retired school marm. Younger users smell fear the moment they see 20 to 40 somethings dressed like that. Get ready to be written off as irrelevant before you even open your mouth. (I learned that trick as a broadcaster; a colleague over 40 recently reaffirmed that.)

If you look like them, talk in the same slang, and can effectively communicate without sounding like a Library School faculty member, then you'll do just fine. After all, you are one of them, like it or not.

Last night I had a patron compare me to Kid Rock during a one-on-one InfoLit session. I'm assuming that that was meant as a compliment.

PBR and two hours of database queries.

Know thy user. And go where the users really are. Knowing how to explain the difference between full-text and citation-only online resources whilst playing basketball...optional.

You know what boring instruction leads to, in the end? Users who see themselves as detached from the principles behind all information-seeking behavior, who see information-seeking as something detached from nature and daily existence.

Being compared to a rock star means so much more to me than what colleagues may think, because it means I've done my job.

REVISED 8:03 ET March 3, 2006

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LibraryTavern Liz said...

Certainly the part of IL about the ethical use of information applies when you discuss IM's and online social networks. So no disagreement from me on that one.

I'm not sure I completely follow you though. My experience with doing a BI session is that you usually have about 50 minutes and you're trying to teach where things are in the library, where things are on the library's web page, what a scholarly journal is, how to use a citation, what a Boolean search is, and what the LC Call #s mean. That doesn't leave much time to talk about myspace, does it?

The ZenFo Pro said...


Lol...Liz, if you hadn't posted I would have never known I'd hit Post this morning instead of Save.

This version should make a lot more sense and be a lot less militant (nothing like having to clean up the mess caused by a librarian at a grad student's undergrad alma mater to make a guy pissed off at the majority of instructors.)

50?!? Hell, I always push for a minimum of 60 minutes on the job. Private, on-the-side stuff I usually go two hours.

Anonymous said...

um yeah. really wish you worked at bowling green. our library people don't have sex. no clue what you do but it sounds cool.

Anonymous said...

It all sounds much more complicated than one would think a librarianship, or whatever it is called, would be.

That my space thing is over stepping bounds to me but then again a friend from Baltimoe emailed me and I think posted in his lj about a guy from his school who trolled my space and has a nice littel my space site as well as other sites and ended up meeting and having sex with tons of girls. ended up killing one not a few weeks ago. UMBC. weird.

I am all for internet intelligence, like when I had two stalkers abck in the day...............but yet sometimes it makes me uneasy.

Why would people get upset at what you try to do? Is it supposed to be a b ig secret?

I admit that we have a few good librarians as well as a few sucky ones. We also have a very large library and I imagine less that a quarter are really experts at it ...which is sad. They also do not all do those classes you take in order to perfect your research skills the same way ...some are just lame.

cooper said...

me again. ha ha

Miz BoheMia said...

Well said! Sure could have used you back in the day! I tend to be the one sitting in front in the classroom, loved me my notes, and loved kicking ass and working my hardest... slight OCD was part of it probably! ;-)

But if my mind switched off, then in the back I'd go and nothing could keep me awake. My experiences with our school's librarians had this effect on me. Once I did stay awake through the whole thing and still learned nothing.

Oh well! But hey! I am paying attention here! Calls for a WOOOOHOOOOOO! ;-P

The ZenFo Pro said...

Hey, thanks. Just realized, if you're at the Bowling Green here in Ohio, that I've now had anon. comments posted by folks at, I think, all of the state's big universities. That's really badass.

I'm sure your library folks probably do have sex. Lol...I don't think they'd offer me a job because of this blog. Jeez, I ope nobody from BGS's library is reading this...

See, you get it. I think you understand where I'm coming from, primarily because you're in the midst of your own scholarly endeavors.

It is more complicated, more muddy, than it needs to be. It's not rocket science; I've never understood why some librarians would want into a classroom and make the Information Age sound like librarians have it all simplified down to a few library resources. Add in the intralibrary politics, the utter bullshit that's allowed to perpetuate at professional conferences, and the lack of unity amongst information professionals, and you get one hell of a mess.

Information, and the very human quest to answer the Why questions, are so much bigger than any library. So why treat that quest like it begins and ends inside a classroom? Honestly, if you want to design a nifty PowerPoint presentation instead of actually communicating with an audience, then save everybody a lot of pain down the road and just talk to them. Or slip them some Sominex.

Online security issues, internet safety and privacy, intel work, the digital divide...all of these things are relevant to the lives of Joe and Jane Information Consumer. And nobody is talking about it. That makes me uneasy. Who's going to do it? The Dept. of Homeland Security?

I've heard a couple of horror stories recently from college students about their infolit training experiences. The "Why the Hell Do only a Fraction of my Library's Staff Seem to Know What They're Talking About?" experience seems to be a lot more common than anybody in the library biz wants to admit. The problem is that the majority do know what they're talking about ... on paper. But way too many librarians couldn't teach (not simply lecture) their way out of a paper bag.

Hey, thanks, chica! I'm just waiting for some sort of professional backlash here. Part of the reason I don't talk about my job much is that, well, for a profession dedicated to teaching how to use information resources, there are way too many folks who just follow the herd when it comes to communicating what they do. And there are folks who would fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the status-quo.

Cooper is dead-on when she posts about wanting to know what the big secret is. The big secret is probably that while libraries have added web resources and access out the whazoo, there's still a lot of in-fighting about use of the web. You have the Save the Books Club, the We're All Peachy with the Internet Club, the archivists and curators struggling to balance traditional practices with digitization, and the Librarians Do It Better than Search Engines Club. Ask any librarian in the Western World what it is librarians actually do, and if you can get out of the seminar-length explanation in under 30 minutes...

And that's a huge problem. And it's not a big secret, either, because patrons are being put into a coma daily at some college or public library daily by long-winded, dilluted explanations of what a librarian thinks they should know.

As Liz points out, an academic librarian gets about 50 minutes to teach a group of patrons. How do you figure out what that a class needs to know? Hell, it usually works to start by talking to them. didn't fall asleep during the token iPro post...that's a good sign ;)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you have to start at the beginning...we have folks at the CC who point a mouse at the computer screen and expect it to work, so talkin' all that high falutin' info-whatchamacallit at 'em is just going to confuse them even more than they already are. If they fall asleep, just pelt them with bite-sized Snickers!

Smurf said...

Wow... this was very interesting. I love the way you look at things. You are right, if someone fall asleep during sex the one falling asleeps needs havent been met and if the person in class or whatever falls asleep their needs havent been met.. that is an interesting parallel... my cousin had one of her husband's die while they were having sex, what would you say about that one? J/k ;P anyways... I love the way you can draw a point a very vivid one ... anyways... great post.

KFigment said...

Ok I will be the 1st to admit that what you do and some of the things you talk about are completely out of my scope of reality. I chose to go another way in my education.

Correct me if I am wrong but the same problems have come up when news went into print, when television became a norm, when telephones became available in every home, and when the world of cell phones and pagers took off.

With every advancement in technology there are going to be people who abuse, people who try to protect, and those who over react, and those who educate.

It used to be prank callers, falsified telegrams, radio shows that caused panic. When are we as a society going to learn that the medium may change but the issue remains the same. The majority of people use the World Wide Web, email and blogs as a way to communicate with family and friends and a way to get work done more efficiently.

There are now and will always be those who abuse any new technology. This may be a terrorist, it may be a high ranking official, or it may be some sick bastard that probably needs to be on meds and in a ward.

Get over it and try to realize all the benefits that have come from technology.

The ZenFo Pro said...


I have no clue if this is going to make sense or not...just got back from Kentucky...half asleep here...

You bring up a good point, something I guess I should've pointed out in the post. I'm a firm believer that every library, regardless of clientele, should be teaching institutions, not book repositories, database portals, or tenure machines.

I believe the vast majority of what needs to be taught through instruction should be happening in public libraries, school libraries, and even community colleges, not inside the traditional "instruction as the place of academic librarians" model. Why do we work in a profession where we have public and other community libraries put on this pedestal of "we're for reading and checking e-mail" while academic librarians end up playing "we're sorta like professors, but we teach the stuff you should've learned in grade school?"

Information literacy skills are a lot like language skills - they need to be learned at as young an age as possible, universally, to mean squat in the long run.

You work at an institution that's serving as the catch-all for those falling through the cracks of the digital divide. That's why JC librarianship is the one of the fastest growing segments of the profession.

Snickers? You guys throw candy? Now that gets people's attention.

The ZenFo Pro said...

PS - Note to Library folks reading this:

The guy I was working with - a grad student - told me that the libbies at his undergrad had the EXACT SAME lecture for every class, almost verbatim. I looked up his undergrad and I'm so tempted to post the name of his illustrious East Coast institution (not in Ohio, BTW), just so that institution's director knows how friggin' worthless students find hearing the same presentation over and over and over ... The handouts this guy brought to grad school? Completely childish and utterly useless. I was confused by all the fancy librarian-speak.

Let's just say teaching information skills shouldn't be treated like a fucking drive-thru window at a burger joint.

Here's a list of some of the instruction horror stories I've heard in the last three months, thanks to this blog:

* A library out West apparently has an instructor who spent an entire session speaking rediculously slow. The student who e-mailed felt that the white librarian was making the assumption that the person spoke English as a second-language without even asking if the person needed language assistance. And the student in question felt descriminated against because simply because she has brown skin.

* I got an e-mail from a high school student who claims that they were told they shouldn't register to vote if they were going to register as a Republican. By a librarian. At a public library. For the record, the student claimed in the IM that they never mentioned their political leanings in the request for help finding voter registration information.

* A student worker at a Southern university IMed me in January to get help locating a book in their library because the librarians that apparently did instruction (she claimed she sat through two), never mentioned the physical arrangement of the print collection.

One of the interesting things about this blog, at least from a professional standpoint, is there are more information consumers who read this site than librarians. And I don't think that's a bad thing, because people like MizB, Cooper/Alice, Wombat, and the other non-libby folks who read this blog actually, whether they're aware of this or not, actually help me more in my professional life than most of the professional lit.

EsotericWombat said...

I've been meaning to leave a comment here for a while. Now that you've mentioned me I have to.

The Myspace incident is utter horseshit. But like so many other similar offenses, this too shall pass. The First Ammendment, in the words of Alan Shore, has lost it's luster. It's a nuisance to many, and because the laws regarding the Internet aren't set in stone, there's been a scramble to regulate it. And that very fact is inseperable from Information Literacy.

We live in a country that was founded on the principle that freedom is more valuable than life. Look where we are now.

Props to you for seeking to edify.

The ZenFo Pro said...

How the hell'd I miss a few comments...

Lol...I've never had anyone, thankfully, die during either sex or info lit sessions ;)

True, there have been many wonderful things that have come along thanks to advents in technology like the printing press, telegraph, and the like. But the same printing press that gave rise to literacy also gave rise to the Reformation, witch hunts, imporved communication between inquisitors, and, of course, social revolution. The same telegraph that networked continents allowed peaceful communication was utilized by military forces to improve the killing machines of 19th and 20th century warfare.

There's goood and there's bad to any advancement in technology. It's the bad I worry about, because, too often, the very real consequences of those advances are ignored in favor of the novelty of ICT. The key is to learn from history, to find a balance between the benefits and the burdens.

I'm sort of torn on the mySpace incident. The student who posted is the one who issued a criminal threat. But do the 20 others deserve to be suspended simply for viewing a site? That's where the lack of understanding of how the Internet works comes into play.

You're right, man. The First Amendment is the big-picture issue here. And with the Web, and most ICT like mobile phones, BlackBerrys, e-mail clients, etc., the laws are about as firm as pudding. Mobile devices are a great example of the social and legal issues regarding ICT. Mobile devices, unlike ground-line devices, are generally regulated under broadcast regulations instead of telephony regulations. While a court order is, in most states, required to tap a landline phone, tapping into a mobile conversation is much easier.

The regulations being put forward are being done so in a blind-leading-the-blind fashion, in most cases. There are 14-year-olds who can hack the world's most sophisticated networks, yet the regulations written are often done so by politicians who barely know how to check their own e-mail. That's frightening.

You bring up the Founding Fathers...I think its interesting to point out that the American Revolution was won partly by the Colonial forces using the leading ICT of the day, the printing press.

I use these sorts of stories as an example of the critical thinking that's required when addressing the World Wide Web.

Anonymous said...

Great post, J. As a trainer myself in a recent life, I took a similar approach. It gets your audience interested, which means they'll be listening when you add in the "company line". And, you find yourself in high demand for future sessions - just like great sex. ;-)

Haven't been by much lately - been away from cyberspace as much as possible lately - hope to stop in more regularly down the road.

Peace, bro,

Miz BoheMia said...

I find it mind boggling that you would get so much slack over wanting to add a modern touch to something that is, unfortunately, becoming outdated (talking about the same-old "teaching" methods).

Though not a librarian, I am an ashtanga yoga teacher and though there are some basics to follow I notice that my style varies, my voice, my instructions, depending on the age, physical abilities and backgrounds/ nationalities of my students.

If you follow a methodic style you are bound to lose many along the way. I love the fact that you tailor what you do to suit the needs of your students and for your own energy and style to shine through. It sounds like you have connected with many people along the way and that is part of the point too. Yes, there is a job to do but if things are kept cold and impersonal not much will be achieved and not much will sink into the student's head and hence.... snores galore! ;-P

I think those that have a problem with it are scared of being original, of change, of effort and true hard work. Sticking to the same tired-old script is easy, being original and finding a creative way to teach is not and requires work.

If others don't like what you do amigo mio, fuck 'em! Bottomline!

Smurf said...

J~Hmm... I think this is a coverup...;P the quasi-homo nechrophiliac song... umm... I think came from a deeper seeded sense of... naa... j/k again... ;P (Have a good day!)

Smurf said...

YIkes... lol.. for anyone that reads our comments that last one would look bad... its an inside joke that only Chewie, Kfigment, the Zenfo Pro and I would understand... tee hee giggle giggle.. ;P anyways...

Leslie said...

I know as a student i find when librarians come in to teach boring as fuck where I am. I think i learn mor on my own, because I just fall asleep during most powerpoints. why do so many library ppl dress like missionaries anyway?
Just stopping by...thinking about going to library school when i graduate.

SeizeTheNite said...

I have to admit that although I enjoyed this entire post this was my favorite part:
"Last night I had a patron compare me to Kid Rock during a one-on-one InfoLit session. I'm assuming that that was meant as a compliment."
I needed a good laugh today.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

why do so many library ppl dress like missionaries anyway?

Hell if I know. I wear cowboy boots :-)

And what's with those damn Power Point presentations anyway? I go live every time. Is that so hard?

As for the Snickers...hee hee! I stole that idea from a colleague at a neighboring 4-yr school -- we used to work at the PL together, which would be where we learned the customer service skills that many of our academic colleagues lack!

The ZenFo Pro said...

Holy shit I need to check my mail more often... :)

No worries about not being around much. Know you've been settling in into a new life; don't sweat it. Spring means everybody's busy offline.

Keep the badass homefires burnin' up thereon your side of the continent; I'll do my part down on this side :)

I find it mind-boggling as well. You should see some of the utter garbage that's perpetuated these days. You're absolutely right...fuck 'em. :)

No worries, hon. I haven't thought about that song in a long time.

Hey, thanks for stopping by! No clue why your librarians dress like missionaries. I must admit, the first time I read your comment, I thought of the missionary position...(lord, sex, drugs, and librarianship)...

Good luck with library school! I can recommend a few good ones...

You know, that was my favorite part as well. The post actually started out being just about that comment. Somehow it grew into a professional diatribe ;) I've actually met Bob (Kid Rock)a while back ... very nice guy with a big heart;I don't see the resemblance, however.

See, this is why you're one bad m/f/n librarian.