Monday, October 27, 2008

Numbering a series

I really wish all publishers of series would follow the example of Harry Potter and clearly NUMBER THE DARN BOOKS. I hate having to go do research to find out which book to read next if I liked the first one. Artemis Foul does this, too, though I wasn't thrilled with the first enough to run out for the sequels.

I decided as a librarian, I wanted to find out what all the hype was about the Twilight series. So I picked up the first book at the local indie bookstore a few weeks ago, and when I finished the book I'd been working on for a while, I dug in. And wasted one of the last precious, beautiful days of the fall yesterday... wasted in that I didn't go out to enjoy the beautiful weather. I'm ashamed to admit I enjoyed the book, despite it's high cheese factor... I hate "cheesy" things, a phrase I taught my French host family who couldn't figure out why being full of cheese was such a bad thing. So I find the main character a little unbelievable. I'm going to ask some of our student workers if they use the words "blouse" and "slacks" because I attribute these words to people older than myself. But the author is certainly good at capturing sexy, seductive moments, and that is why I couldn't put the thing down.

So I'm going to run over to the public library tonight and see if they have the next one. If not, I'll go buy it. I'm hooked. I just wish I hadn't had to spend five minutes on the Internet trying to figure out which book was next. It's New Moon... I think. Oh, how I should not be publicly admitting to all of this.

HP Night Reflections

How else do you measure success in outreach programming other than attendance? If this is the only measure, or at least the one that matters the most, than our Harry Potter Night utterly failed. If it is how much fun those who did attend had, than it was very successful. Unfortunately, I'm too disappointed with the first to revel in the second.

My estimate is that we had about 25 students. Last year we had about 100 show up, about 70 stayed. I normally attribute low attendance to either a bad program, or bad marketing. I don't think this was either. Two of us librarians even dressed up in costume for the whole day and passed out programs around campus (yeah, I set up for this thing wearing a floor-length, high-collar black dress!), had a musical animation on the library home page, and posted fliers everywhere. No one could say they didn't know about it. I think it was just a bad night. So many students were going home for the weekend, even though this coming weekend is Long Weekend, when people are supposed to go home. We were also competing against the Creative Arts Society's haunted house.

I did get some great pictures. I got many complements on my costumes and the Horcrux Hunt was a lot of fun for the students. If I ever find the responses to the last Horcrux event, I'll have to post them. I'm always amazed by the creativity some people can come up with on the spot. They were asked to pick a bad guy and write what their punishment should be. One involved tickling Belatrix Lastrange for the rest of eternity so she would be forced to laugh, another was forcing Voldemort to listen to "A Cauldron of Hot, Burning Love" while making pink heart cookies for all of eternity, and the final winner (yes, there were three) was to force Malfoy to wear hand-me-down robes and attend bi-weekly muggle-appreciation seminars for the rest of his life.

We had a house activity that involved finding "bowtruckles" (see picture). Whichever house gathered the most was going to win the house cup. Unforunately, one of the four children in attendance decided to practice some unsportsmanlike behavior... ironically stealing from the Slytherins. I'm pretty sure Slytherin would have won, but not sure if I should declare them the winner, or just say it was null & void. I was also going to put up a display on the program, but since there were so few people, I'm not sure if I really want to.

We will do it again next year, but probably confined to the classroom, and maybe not on a Friday night.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hell for librarians

A former student who is now working on a master's degree at another school offered her user name and password so I could use their Web of Knowledge subscription. I was so tempted, but the little white librarian on my right shoulder reminded me of how unethical that would be. Sigh, I'm such a goodie-two-shoes.

I responded that I would be sent to librarian's hell if I did that. Then that made me wonder what librarian's hell would be like...

I've had nightmares of being smothered by catalogs or programming code, forced to drive snowmobiles down icy slopes to help a patron, library school professors towing tractors with a bicycle, being forced to go back to high school (usually naked) despite having my MLS, &#%@'ing-off my director in various ways, and lots of strange things about the professors I work with here.

Throw in some stuff like:
  • Standing in front of a class and getting halfway through it only to realize you thought it was intro to psych and it's really a 400-level class.
  • Realizing the professor didn't explain the assignment or the subject to them before sending them to you.
  • Having a practice search completely fail during the class your director is observing and not being able to save it.
  • Realizing as students are leaving your class that you needed another 15 minutes to finish (again while being observed).
  • Spending tons of time and some of the library's money on a program and then having no one show up.
  • Your first night handling things on your own and a student bursting out crying that she's neglecting her children because she's been studying so hard and she doesn't know how to do this research assignment that's due tomorrow.
  • Finding out a student is suing your school because of the reference service you provided.
These have all happened to me in reality. I'll just add the lawsuit quickly fell apart due to the fact it was ridiculous.

You could throw in some reference questions that disprove the theory that the only stupid question is the one unasked. These would include:
  • Can I highlight in an interlibrary loan book?
  • I don't know how to get to the third floor (from a man standing in front of the elevator).
  • Who do I talk to if I want to argue about being written up for licking a smoothie machine at my job here on campus?
  • Can you come down from your lunch break to unjam this copy machine?

So mix all this stuff up together with some visuals Hieronymus Bosch, and between reality and my nightmares, I think that about covers it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Checking out people

There's a neat article from Santa Monica's public libraries that they offered live people that could be checked out for a 30-minute conversation. These people talked about topics like Buddhism, veganism, nudism, and homelessness from their own experiences. It was an effort to promote tollerance and understanding. I wonder if this could be done on an academic campus? We could find staff and faculty who have unique life experiences that are willing to be "checked out." Or perhaps find people in the wider local community. Would students be interested in this? I don't think the article mentions how successful the program was.

I downloaded Camtasia's free 30-day trial to see how suitable it is for creating the games I've been working on. It's definitely much better for how-to tutorials than Flash. It does have a quiz feature that offers multiple choice and text entry. If it offered "hot spot" questions (having to click on the right part of the picture) and drag & drop, we'd really be in business. It also greatly limits your design as far as I can tell from the five minutes I played with it. I don't think this is necessarily bad, as long as you word your questions to keep with the story of the game. I'll play with it further and report back.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Please, please, please

I just submitted my poster proposal for the 2009 ACRL conference. My director looked over my poster in its current state and read over my proposal that I had worked on over the weekend and thinks I have got a fair shot at being accepted. I really want to get into presenting and publishing. Not hard-core, I'm not that ambitious, but I want to be a contributing part of the community. I'm very excited about this project and where it can go next.

Four days and six hours to Harry Potter Night. Snape had to back out a few days ago, which left us one person short for our scavenger hunt, and it doesn't help that the faculty Halloween party got scheduled for the same night (we picked ours months earlier!). Fortunately, one of the library workers was planning to be there anyway and is happy to wear a green robe and librarian glasses to be the Hogwart's librarian, Madam Pince. She is our savior of the week!

I finished the costumes last night, now I need to finish painting the bricks on muslin. I can't tell if my husband is really mad at me for accidentally painting the basement floor red or not... I didn't realize it would go right through the canvas drop cloth (which is also red, but that was to be expected).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A success

My experiments with video games in the classroom payed off yesterday. I lengthened the activity considerably and it took them about 30 minutes to complete. That left us with time to go over a few things, this time it was mostly review.

I have to write up a poster on this and get it to the printer by Monday, which is why I'm at work today. I think my poster is coming along nicely, my husband has promised to go over it with me tomorrow since he has experience presenting his biology research.

The current poster is for our regional workshop on the 31st. I really want to submit a proposal for ACRL, which is due on Monday. I don't know if this project is good enough, but I just have to get over my inferiority complex and accept that I will never get anywhere if I don't try. I really think I'm on to something great here, even if I've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Interestingly enough, I don't think students mind the simplicity of the program. They genuinely seemed to have fun, and teased me about being a spy, or did James Bond impressions while finding their books and during the review.

What needs more development is the story. This seems to be more important than sophisticated technology. If it can seem less library-like and more roll-playing, I think the students will have even more fun, which means they will learn more.

I have been reading books and articles on related topics, though for a poster session I don't understand how you back up the project with past research. My brain is craving to sit down and do this so I can understand where to go next. I am excited that I have one more freshman composition class in a few weeks, so there's still time this semester to work on this, though not before the regional workshop. That's okay, I am very excited at how well the class went yesterday and think what I have is more than just "good enough."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book Review

Title: What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy

Author: James Paul Gee

Published in 2003

Cited by 1,088 in Google Scholar

I just finished this book last night and I highly recommend it to any librarian, whether or not you have any interest in video games. It is more about how people learn and why video games engage people more than traditional education systems do. It discusses active learning, critical learning, and is closely related to or even part of inquiry-based learning.

Gee has a background in theoretical and social linguistics. The book is heavy on theory after a lot of reading and playing games. However, even for people like me who don't always get theory, it's easy to read and there is much to learn from him. Indeed, I took eight pages of notes, but I will condense them for this post.

A "semiotic domain" is a set of practices that communicate distinctive types of meaning. You can learn facts without learning a new semiotic domain. This involves a) learning to experience the world in new ways b) potential to join this group/affiliation c) gaining resources to prepare for future learning in that and related domains. These three things make up active learning, but you can go beyond active learning to critical learning. This involves thinking about the domain at a "meta" level as a complex system of interrelated parts, and how to innovate meanings within the domain.

Identities are very important to learning. Students bring in their identities including what type of learner they are (i.e. "I'm not good at science), you strive to make them see themselves as a type of mini-scientist or historian (etc.), and there's the relationship/transition between the two. This is like a gamer's real-world identity, the virtual identity, and the relationship between the two. This last one is called the "projective identity," and is how you project your real-world identity onto the virtual identity, or how you project your past identity onto your identity as a scientist. If the learner can get to the projective identity, they learn they have the capacity to make the virtual identity part of their real-world identity. He points out this is more magical than any video game. All learning involves taking on a new identity.

Video games are good at creating "psychosocial moratoriums," which are important to learning. They are spaces where the real-world consequences of mistakes are reduced while they learn how to move or interact with the new material. Learners must be enticed to try, put lots of effort into learning, and achieve some meaningful success. Video games offer lots of opportunities to practice, while schools don't. This practice is often repetitive, but it forces players to apply knowledge to new situations (called "transfer"), and punishes players who have a "routinized mastery." Learners should always be required to operate at the outer edge of their resources, that way the tasks will be doable, but very challenging.

Good games offer and accept multiple solutions to each problem. Players get clues, make hypotheses, test them out, then reform their hypotheses and apply them to new situations. This is how they form patterns, which is what all learning is.

Practice needs to be carefully mixed with overt telling. You can't just let the students go off on their own and expect them to learn. You can do this by periodically assessing their progress, give feedback/lecture, then let them continue.

Learning is a very social activity, just like gaming. While seeking patterns, a person asks other people, reads books, interacts with tools/technologies. They usually share what they have learned, eventually with a group. Otherwise that person has no way to know if the patterns they have formed are real. who will normalize or police their views if they deviate too far from the norm of the group. When there is a disagreement, there is a dialog (more social sharing of information). This interaction and ability to use tools is important in the real-world, yet our schools test what's in the learner's brain rather than what they can do when the use the tools.

Good video games not only allow for consuming, but producing as well. Players can modify worlds, create maps, post on online bulletin boards, and communicate tips and opinions.

Instead of saying video games are a waste of time, we should be looking into why people will spend so many hours learning how to play a game without feeling the same enthusiasm for school. In video games, "hard" is often good, while "easy" is often bad. The argument in this book isn't that good things are necessarily being learned, rather that good learning often occurs during video game playing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Online/In-Person Instruction Activity

I had two very interesting classes today. At first I wasn't sure how to feel about these two classes, but the more I think about it, the more excited I am. I just talked about this yesterday, but now I actually have two classes under my belt.

I developed an online activity using Macromedia Flash for students who are in our instruction room. It mixes virtual and real-world activities. They have to go upstairs to find a particular book which contains a code required to continue with the activity. The computer gives them a "home base" and has the advantage of giving points more easily/fairly than if the professor and I were scrambling to grade.

The part that I wasn't so happy about at first was they finished this very quickly. I had them for an hour and some groups finished in less than 20 minutes! I have one more section of the same class on Friday, so I have time to work on that. But I stuck to the bare basics and they really seemed to get it! Nine out of ten groups had very good scores and were proud of those scores. I was blown away by how fast they found books upstairs. And on top of it, they really seemed to have fun. I observed this, and then asked if they had more fun than they would have if I had lectured. Their resounding "yes" was very convincing.

I will report again on Friday afternoon about how the last class goes with the upgrades.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Games in Libraries

I'm finally back from a wonderful four-day weekend with a friend from grad school who visited from Bloomington, IN, and my parents, who were up here from Georgia to visit and work on the house. It feels a bit strange to be back, and I just spent 2.5 hours catching up on the e-mail that accumulated during that time. Now there are no more breaks for the rest of the month :(

A former student sent me this link which discusses library video games being developed by Carnegie Mellon. That first link seems to be the blog of a serious gamer, who thinks libraries are stupid, and they shouldn't attempt video games. The comments are very interesting.

I have been very interested in educational video games in the academic library setting. I'm working my way through John Paul Gee's book called What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. It's facinating and every librarian should read it as it directly relates to going beyond "active learning" and striving for "critical learning."

I developed my own library game over the summer. I don't intend for people to think it's something students will want to play on Friday night, but I am hoping it's more fun than a regular BI lecture, and offer it to professors who end up not having time to bring in their students for BI (this happened with several classes last semester because of snow). I'm scrambling to adapt it a little for classes that are in the library, so they have to go find a book in the stacks, which will contain a code to continue with the "game." I really want to be reading more and finding other library games to work with.

I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. I really admire many creative and asthetic aspects of video games and comic books, but they don't hold my attention. I'm too old-fashioned, I guess. I think I need to find some gamer students who would be willing to work with me, though I don't have much to offer in compensation. I'm really regretting my gaming friends Jen & Lynnette have moved away...

Libraries as "Essential Services"

A friend of mine was visiting this weekend. She had a brief stint as a public librarian in the northern Miami area. During that time, she got hit by hurricaines Wilma, Katrina, and Rita. During the evacuation, they said all county employees had to stay. By the time they were allowed to leave, it was too late

At our library, the college administration thinks the library is an "essential service." Even if classes are cancelled (which they almost never are at a campus-level), the library is still expected to be open with full services offered unless the governor of PA declares a state of emergency. Our director is of a slightly more practical opinion, thank goodness, and I have so far not had to take advantage of this.

It is flattering to be considered an "essential service," but I don't understand the job requirement of risking one's life to provide library services. Libraries are essential to our society, but a temporary lapse in services for occasional, very good reasons isn't going to hurt anything!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's too close!

I just realized how fast October 24 is coming up. That's our Harry Potter program, I know I've talked about it enough before. My co-worker whose potter-mania exceeds mine exponentially turned an old book cart into the Knight Bus. She just brought it in yesterday afternoon. Isn't it great? Notice the working chandeliers, you can see the one on the top floor in this picture.

We've decided to give up on dry ice. We found a local place and it's surprisingly inexpensive, but it only creates fog for 10-15 minutes before the water becomes too cool. It bubbles for a while longer, but someone would have to be changing out not only the dry ice but the water as well. I don't think anyone has time for that.
I'm scrambling to get my advertisements out on time. This year we have two professors giving scholarly talks the week of. The German professor is going to talk about the modern use of fairy tales, particularly in Book 7. One of the religion professors is going to have us watch the video of J.K. Rowling's talk at the Harvard graduation (she's a Harvard alum), then discuss it in terms of religion.
We're also doing a huge Horcrux Hunt which requires a lot of planning. It will be a cross between an obstacle course and a scavenger hunt. Students will have to do silly little activities to get credit for having found and destroyed each Horcrux... which in the stories is required before they can kill the bad guy.
On top of that, I just got a request for three freshman comp classes next week. I really want to make it game-like, and I really want to do a great job... but my creativity runs a bit short when I'm rushing... and my parents and a friend are coming this weekend. They live 10-14 hours away, so I will be giving them my full attention for 4 days... other than sewing on a few buttons so I can tell myself at least the costumes are complete.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It was a success

I received a total of 136 votes for favorite banned author/book. The winners were J.K. Rowling for favorite author... that's no surprise. Favorite banned book was Catcher in the Rye (To Kill a Mockingbird and Harry Potter were out of consideration because they won the past two years). Of Mice and Men, The Giver, and Go Ask Alice were also very close.

Tomorrow I will worry about choosing winners for the drawing. I'm so excited to have received so much participation!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Opinions, please

I just got an e-mail this morning from someone I have met in person just once or twice. We had e-mailed back and forth a few weeks ago about her starting a blog. It's now up and running, and it's very good. I don't want to mention who because I don't have her permission and I'm hoping she doesn't take this as criticism.

The thing I want opinions on is this. She has a number of years of experience as an academic librarian. But she has taken a few years off to take care of her two very young children. I respect that. I think parenting is the most important job in the world, even if I am not a parent myself. If the profile says she is an academic librarian, should she state she is taking a few years off and not currently working? This is not an obligation, this is an issue of transparency, something that is highly valued in the Web 2.0 world.

I had advised her before she started the blog to write first for herself and to be a part of the library blog community. It's amazing the stuff you learn when you're looking about things to write about, and how writing about them shapes your beliefs about them. Every library blog I read includes stories that come up while the person is at work, and I'm wondering if potential readers will ever get suspicious about why she never talks about work.

This person definitely has interesting things to write about and to contribute to the library community. Should she be honest about not currently being employed because she has more important things to do at the moment? That seems like it would help readers understand her perspective, which is more often from the other side of the reference desk, and something we don't get to hear about much. Am I making this into a much bigger deal than it is?


I had the second half of the class I was frustrated with... meaning I'm frustrated with the whole class, and half of the class on Wednesday and the other half today. I was dreading the class even after preparing for it better than I had been on Wednesday. I found a chapter of a reference book that discussed the subject, made copies of it for everyone, and passed it out first thing in class. I talked about what it was a little bit before starting into the resources. I also was informed of a better database for the subject. It was a major database, but I didn't realize this subject was covered so well in it.

Anyway, this made a WORLD of difference. It was like night and day. They were not so resigned to failure, they had no problems finding examples in newspapers, nor finding scholarly articles. They asked good questions and left with a pile of sources to use over the weekend. They still may not know how to write the paper, but at least they have good resources.

I sent an e-mail to the students who had been in the Wednesday class and invited them to pick up copies of the reference article at the reference desk. I don't know if any have, the pile looks as big as it did yesterday. But at least I have done what I could to make up for not knowing everything I needed to know. Not that it was my fault. I have to remind myself of that. I was raised Catholic, I'm always feeling guilty about something.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Book Talk...

... was a huge success. We had just under 20 students... most from the education class that was required to come. And they TALKED! It was a discussion rather than a lecture. Every single person was engaged and had something to say.

They enjoyed the food. Each item I brought in was from a banned book:

  • Strawberries from Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Red appples from The Giver
  • Pumpkin pasties from Harry Potter
  • Bubble gum from The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • Peanut butter sandwiches from Where the Sidewalk Ends
  • Chocolate-covered ants (Raisinettes) from The Pigman

It was a good end to a long day.

Banned Books Week 2008

The votes keep coming in, I must be over 120 by now, even after taking the sound off of my animation on the library's Web site... the other librarians and my husband complained about how annoying it was after the sixth or seventh time. I have the filling done for my pumpkin pasties, and I'm anxiously awaiting our discussion tonight, it should be a lot of fun. People have stopped me and other librarians asking, "why was this book banned?" in front of the display. They can't believe their favorites appear on the list. I have never received so much attention!