The Instruction and Outreach Department manages and coordinates library research instruction for students, faculty and staff through course-related workshops, outreach activities, personal consultations, research guides and other instructional materials.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Asking undergrads what they think...

As Diane and I have mentioned in previous posts, Duke University Libraries staff are committed to improving our users' experiences, and we all know that undergraduates make up a larger portion of this patron base.
This summer, Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services Bob Byrd and I worked together to create a forum specifically intended for getting feedback about library services and resources from upper-level undergraduates (first-year students also have a newly created board for this purpose).

We put out a call for applicants and were pleasantly surprised by the number of students interested in serving on the inaugural Undergraduate Advisory Board. Bob and I worked with two of our colleagues to select ten students representing a range of disciplines (from engineering to philosophy and everything in between), both on-campus and off-campus interests and all three classes (sophomores, juniors and seniors).

The board met for the first time in late September and has continued to meet every other Wednesday this fall. Since September, members of the board have started a blog, posted signs in Perkins/Bostock asking for feedback about the Libraries, helped extend hours of operation for food service in the von der Heyden Pavilion during exams, investigated adding healthy food options to vending machines in the libraries, and explored jazzing up stairwells in Perkins/Bostock with literary and motivational quotations (look for updates this spring!).

In addition to spearheading projects, the board has provided valuable insights on library resources, services and web interfaces -- UAB member Shining Li attended a Duke University Libraries bloggers meeting in October to share her perspective on the libraries' use of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools; and just last night, UAB members provided feedback on the recently updated Libraries homepage and suggested ways to draw more applicants for the Friends of the Libraries' Book Collectors Contest.

We'll resume our biweekly meetings in January, and members of the board welcome your input on projects that are currently under way. They're also ready and willing to provide feedback on library policies and procedures...all we have to do is ask.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Practicing Gratitude

Thanksgiving has put me in mind of the great benefits of practicing gratitude. As a recent blog post noted:

Did you know that human brains are hard-wired to scout for trouble? Back in caveman days, or even the wild wild west, continuously scanning your surroundings for trouble was a useful way for us to be hard-wired, since danger and life-threatening situations loomed around every corner.
But now that we live in the [comparatively] safer 21st century, this negativity-seeking hard-wire insures that we emphasize the troubles and worries in our life, rather than focusing on the good things. And while there are always plenty of bad things that go on in the world, there are also abundant good things.....if we remember to slow down long enough to pay attention.

So let me enumerate what I’m grateful for, library instruction wise, this year:

Duke's I&O staff:  I’ve got the best instruction staff around (no contest), and I’m grateful to Emily Daly and field experience students Alex Gallin and Jake Vaccaro for contributing to the success of the library’s instruction program.  We have had terrific field experience students and think the world of the UNC SILS program. Thanks, Stephanie Peterson and Jeff Pomerantz!

Support of library administration:  Lynne O’Brien is a wonderful boss; reporting to Lynne enables us to work closely with our Center for Instructional Technology colleagues (here's to you, CIT folks!).  That has given us a better understanding of teaching and learning at Duke.  We appreciate how the library’s Executive Group demonstrates interest and support for instruction.

Climate of innovation: Amazing and innovative things happen here at Duke, due in no small part to an organizational climate that encourages and values experimentation.  Interesting and important changes can happen quickly here, and our users benefit.

Library staff who do instruction at Duke:  My colleagues across the library value instruction,  and demonstrate a commitment to providing interesting and informative instruction to library users.  The 30+ library staff who deliver instruction here deserve a lot of praise for their efforts -- thank you!

The larger instruction community:  We’re fortunate to be located in an area where we have many talented library colleagues across the TRLN institutions and regionally.  The Duke Libraries provide encouragement and support for us to be involved nationally and internationally, so we can learn from others and share the good work that happens here.

As I look forward to celebrating two years at the Duke Libraries, I have a lot of reasons to practice gratitude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

WorldCat Collection Analysis

As part of our field experiences, Alex and I have had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with WorldCat Collection Analysis, an online tool from OCLC which Duke subscribes to. The idea behind WCA is to use WorldCat data to provide a straightforward way to examine a library's holdings and to assess how they compare to those of other institutions.

One use of WCA is to get a sense of the makeup of a library’s collection, and how it has evolved over time. Running a “My Library” analysis produces results like these:

This analysis shows home library titles organized by subject category and publication date (so Duke Libraries hold 415 books on anthropology with a publication date of 2005). Clicking on the numbers will bring up a list of the titles themselves.

While this search only goes back to 1990, it’s possible to extend the analysis back to books published before 1500, and the arrow icons to the left of each subject category allow the search to be narrowed by subcategory:

It seems that Duke Libraries are acquiring works on aquaculture at the rate of around 50 titles a year.

In addition to analyzing the holdings of a single library, WCA can be used to compare the holdings of multiple libraries, via its “Peer Comparison” analysis:

This search is a top-level comparison of Duke’s and MIT’s holdings. “Unique” items are those held only by the specified library, while “Overlap” items are held by both libraries. This analysis can be broken down by subject category, and it’s also possible to compare the home library with multi-library groups.

Another use for WCA is to analyze interlibrary loan activity: it gives access to data both on items loaned and items requested. These searches are broken down by subject category, and can be viewed by number of requests or by request date (as far back as 2003). These are some results from an analysis by request frequency:

This shows that Duke users have requested three music-related titles more than 10 times since 2003--two are periodicals and the other is Noise: The Political Economy of Music.

Alex and I are still exploring WCA's possibilities, but it seems like a useful tool for understanding the dimensions of a library’s collection and how it stacks up to its peers. For those interested in learning more about WCA, we'll be offering an informal, hands-on workshop on Monday December 6th from 2-3 in Bostock 023.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Data Visualization is Pretty

Even before library school, as a paraprofessional working in a library, I felt like I’d been hearing about “data visualization” and libraries for years. When I hear about it, sometimes it’s in that irksome, next-to-meaningless way (“Data visualization is something that is increasingly important to the librarian’s toolkit”); sometimes it’s in a provocative way (“Visualization is the only way to show the true beauty of statistics”); sometimes it’s in an offhand/amusing way (“Data visualization tools make things pretty”); and, yes, sometimes it’s in a guilty way (“Oh, yeah, um, data visualization. I really gotta learn about that... sometime”). Because I’ve been hearing and reading about it for so long, I feel like I’m way behind my colleagues in exploring the wide world of data visualization, even if that still means being ever-so-slightly ahead of some university library users. Recently, I decided to just jump in and see what I could handle. And it turns out, there are actually a handful of fun, potentially useful things that don’t require much specialized technical knowledge (basically, I don’t know Ajax, or Flash, or Silverlight, and so if I can figure this stuff out, so can you!).

Over the past two years, at the suggestion of a wise teacher, I’ve peeked at several Edward Tufte books (Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, and, Beautiful Evidence), which provide nice frameworks and principles for how we can look at, analyze, and use data. While working at NYU’s Bobst Library, I started to explore Hans Gosling’s Gapminder (which has been featured numerous times on TED Talks, and is based on Trendalyzer software that Google acquired in from the Gapminder Foundation in early 2007). Gapminder allows you to visualize primarily global health and demographic data in bubble graphs over time and by country. Easy-to-use and positively addictive, I think this is a great “entry-level” tool because it makes clear why you would even want to use visual display. It is also a great way to present global health information. Very cool since now I’m assisting Diane Harvey, who is the Librarian for Global Health!

After spending long stretches of time manipulating graphs on Gapminder and making sure that everyone I knew had heard of it, I was primed to see the attraction of data visualization; I started seeing examples all over the place. From Twitter apps to OKCupid’s Trends blog to the Visual Complexity project, data visualization seems to be everywhere these days! Last week, I Googled “data visualization for librarians” and got some really insightful hits to make sense of it all, including lots of work done by Triangle-area librarian, Hilary Davis, Associate Head of Collection Management for Engineering and E-Science Collection Management at NCSU Libraries.

In our last department meeting, Diane Harvey shared her initial experiences and experiments with a data visualization tool called Many Eyes. Many Eyes is an IBM Research project that offers a lot of options for displaying your data. The catch is that you have to agree to have your data public and freely available for anyone else to use (several BYOD -- Bring Your Own Data -- tools seem to have this prerequisite). The visualization options were impressive in scope: Phrase Net, Word Tree, Tag Cloud, Word Cloud, Bar Chart, Histogram, Bubble Chart, Network Diagram, Scatterplot, Pie Chart, Treemap, Line Graph, Stack Graph, Country Maps, US County Map, and some State Maps. So really, lots and lots of choices. Diane was playing around with it just to see what it could do for us given the fact that the libraries collects so much data. Diane’s explorations piqued my interest and inspired me to try, and I’ve been monkeying around, seeing how easy it is to use. Without registering, you can still view other people’s data sets and visualizations. According to the website, you can also create your own visualizations using existing data sets without registering, but each time I tried to do that, my computer froze (a total of five times, and I tried on a PC and a Mac). Registering is easy, though, and things seemed to go a lot more smoothly after I shared my email address. Some exporting is still trickier than I think it should be, but I’ve only just begun experimenting. I’d love your comments or suggestions if you’ve used Many Eyes to present your library data!

These and other examples of visual data presentations (e.g., the Flowing Data blog, Visual Thesaurus, Wordle, graphical tools in Digg) have convinced me that data visualization isn’t just a passing fad; these are tools that I’m going to need to get comfortable and conversant with as I enter the profession. Here’s to a strong start while I’m at Duke! Please let me know if you have any recommendations.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Assessing the assessment conference, part two

As Diane mentioned last week, several of us from Duke Libraries participated in ARL's Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment conference.  I enjoyed being in Baltimore and spending time with colleagues and friends and found day two of the three-day conference to be particularly beneficial.

Day two was chock-full of presentations and sessions:  A keynote in the morning, followed by three concurrent sessions (comprising three 30-minute presentations each) and another plenary.  We rounded out the day at an impressive reception at the exquisite Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University.

I focused my attention on the sessions involving usability and qualitative research methods, given the nature of my current work at Duke.  The highlights?  Diane mentioned the impressive usability project University of Washington librarians conducted of their LibGuides.  Not only was their usability extremely thorough, but the librarians conducting the tests followed through on what they discovered, making on-the-fly changes as needed and then mandating that librarians edit their guides to reflect what they learned from their users.

Head of Web Services Jennifer Ward, also from University of Washington Libraries, reported on her department's relatively recent creation of personas to inform their website design.  We've considered the advantages and challenges (the time required, above all) of creating personas at Duke, so I appreciated hearing their step-by-step process for developing Brooke the Beginner, Paul the Professional and Sharon the Scholar, among others.  Duke's Web Interfaces Group plans to adapt UW's process for researching and creating personas of our own -- stay tuned for more.      

Of course, no assessment conference would be complete without a session or two on assessing students' learning in library instruction.  I enjoyed hearing from Catherine Pellegrino, who has clearly been thinking a lot about student learning since we attended ACRL Immersion together in 2009.  She reminded us to move beyond simply evaluating ourselves and our teaching to assessing what students are actually learning, breathing new life into those good ole' minute papers.  Rather than simply sticking those scraps of paper in a file folder, Catherine encouraged us to transcribe them verbatim and look for patterns in students' responses over the course of a semester, allowing patterns to inform our future teaching, both individually and programmatically.

Oh, and that impressive reporting form that Diane covets?  We've been in touch with our colleagues at Cornell to get more information about the technical aspects of the system.  We'll keep you posted...  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Assessing the assessment conference

We’re back from three days in Baltimore, participating in the Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment conference.  This is the third conference that ARL has sponsored, and this time around Duke staff made two contributions.  Yvonne presented a poster relating our assessment efforts to the new library strategic plan, and Linda, Emily, Yvonne and I gave a lightning-fast presentation about the User Studies Initiative.   The large room was full, and we got some good questions, so I consider our presentation a success.  Folks sought out Linda and Emily at other points in the conference to talk more about their user studies.  Linda worked with CIT’s Shawn Miller on a study of the Cultural Anthropology faculty; and Emily interviewed undergraduate students writing honors theses.  The take-away message from our presentation was:  you can build staff competence and confidence in doing user studies by creating an in-house staff development program. 

Other presentations that impressed me at the conference?  Cornell, which has one of the best library assessment shops in the country, rolled out a conceptually elegant, easy to use, web-based form to report reference transactions, research consultations, and instruction sessions.  I covet that form.  The University of Washington also has a great assessment operation, and they reported on an extensive evaluation and revamp of their LibGuides template, and guide to best practices. 

I know that Emily will have more to say about the presentations that she found useful.  Meanwhile, you can look at the conference program and poster abstracts.  Conference proceedings will be available, but I don’t know when.

It wouldn’t be a library conference without a cranky blog post.  Check out Steve Bell’s rant about seat-saving.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Online language learning tools: try them out!

As part of their efforts to provide resources to learners of foreign languages, the Duke Libraries are currently evaluating several online language learning software packages for potential purchase. Four tools are being considered: of those, Byki, Mango and TellMeMore are currently available on a trial basis to users with a Duke NetID, while the trial of the fourth (Rosetta Stone) will be available soon. The libraries are looking for feedback from the Duke community on these programs, so if you are interested in language learning, you may want to check them out.

So far I've had the chance to explore Byki and Mango, and these are some of my impressions:

Byki offers an impressive array of languages, including many less commonly taught languages (a few of which I had never heard of: Bashkir, Mirandese and Buriat). Although Byki provides grammatical information and a few exercises for some of the languages, its principal offering is an extensive set of audio flashcards for each language: students can use these to translate into or out of the foreign language, or to practice pronunciation and listening comprehension.

While Byki doesn't provide much in the way of grammatical instruction or cultural context, it could be a very helpful resource for pronunciation and vocabulary building, particularly in the case of languages for which instructional material is hard to come by. The trial of Byki runs only until October 31st, so if you're looking to acquire a bit of conversational Buriat, act quickly!

Mango also covers a large number of languages (though not quite as many as Byki). In comparison to Byki, it offers a much more structured and guided language learning experience, presenting and reviewing simple forms and phrases, and then asking the student to combine these to form more complex sentences. If you want an online version of the experience of an introductory language class, Mango might be worth a try.

Some may question Mango's frequent use of English (in instructions, translations, grammatical explanations, and cultural notes). But while full immersion has its merits, as a language teacher and student I've found that a few words of explanation can go a long way, especially when dealing with idiomatic language or grammatical features that diverge sharply from the student's native tongue. So I welcomed the information and clarification that Mango offered.

Mango's lessons don't get into particularly advanced grammar or vocabulary, so it may be more of a starting point than a complete course. But it's definitely worth a look for those who want a smooth and engaging introduction to a new language. It's available to try until November 5th.

Both of these tools, along with TellMeMore, can be found at the libraries' Database Trials page-- and Rosetta Stone will be there soon. Give them a look, and let us know what you think!