What are all those high schoolers doing in the library?

In preparation for Western Alamance media coordinator and Duke Libraries volunteer Tim Johnson’s talk next week, What’s happening in high school libraries?, I find my thoughts shifting to the work that we’ve done with pre-college students this summer.

The Duke Libraries have a long history of collaborating with the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP), housed close to East Campus and responsible for administering a number of Summer Studies Programs and Summer Institutes.  This year has been no different — with over a week to go in TIP Summer Studies Term II, Duke librarians have lead a whopping 32 instruction sessions for eager and motivated TIP students.  Research sessions have been lead by science, social science and humanities librarians alike and have included topics ranging from vampires in contemporary culture to the energy of physics.  

And our work with TIP students doesn’t end with research instruction sessions — Duke Libraries staff make it their mission to welcome these hard-working students and their equally hard-working instructors.  They enjoy many of the same privileges that all Duke students and faculty benefit from, including the ability to check out books and DVDs, access to all of our online resources and access to group study rooms, computer clusters and reading rooms.  If you’ve been in the library at all this summer, there’s a good chance you’ve run into boisterous (but always gracious and respectful) groups of young scholars with their neon yellow and orange lanyards on their way to research the cancer of biology or draft their social psychology research proposals.

We realize that the time that these students and instructors spend at Duke is short (just two weeks in some cases), but we hope that they leave campus with a favorable impression of the Perkins Library System and a better sense of the role that the research library can play in their high school work and in their future scholarship.

There is, after all, a good chance that we’ll see some of these students back at Duke in a few short years…

Standard(s) Operating Procedure

Perhaps it is only in the small, rarefied world of library instruction that an appointment to the ACRL Information Literacy Standards Committee is something to get excited about (okay, maybe ‘excited’ is too strong).  I am happy to be part of this group for several reasons.  One is that I get to work with some smart and energetic librarians like Ellysa Cahoy from Penn State and Bob Schroeder from Portland State.  Another reason is that I have an ambivalent relationship with the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education (okay, people who know me well can snort now…) and as part of the committee I get to be up close and personal with them.

So, how do I really feel about the standards?  First, I’m glad that there are standards, because accrediting bodies and other such groups love the fact that standards exist.  When I was doing learning outcomes assessment work at the University of Maryland, those of us whose discipline had standards (like engineering and education) were in much better shape when it came to writing student learning outcomes assessment, because we had national guidelines to draw on.  But, on the other hand, how useful are the ACRL standards when it comes to planning the library instruction that we do every day?

Sometimes the ACRL standards seem a bit abstract or lofty for the average 50 minute instruction session. Granted, the standards encourage a degree of collaboration with classroom faculty that recognizes that some of the standards and outcomes simply don’t belong in a library instruction session.  A more pressing question is, how have the standards held up since they were developed ten years ago?  Do they deal adequately with changes in technologies and the recognition of new literacies? 

The good news is that ACRL has authorized a revision of the standards.  The Information Literacy Standards committee will be designing a process by which that revision will get done.  It promises to be a long, complex, but ultimately rewarding process.  I hope that we can learn from the recent revision of the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, as well as the discipline specific standards developed through ACRL.
I hope that the revised standards are relevant, clear and above all useful.

Summer Reading Advice

Relatively speaking, the summer is when most people have the most time to read for fun and since I am a visiting school librarian from a local high school, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on something I’m very familiar with, young adult literature. There are some absolutely wonderful stories out there that you may have never considered reading because they are sold in the “young adult” sections of bookstores. Well, I’m here to enlighten you.

My personal favorite is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It is the story of a sixteen year-old girl who volunteers to take her little sister’s place in a televised fight to death with 23 other teenagers called the Hunger Games (hence the title). Explaining the plot in one sentence cannot, however, indicate how great this story is. I absolutely did not want to stop reading it. Every chapter ends with a sentence that will make you gasp and frantically start the next chapter even though it is 2a.m. and you wanted to go to bed. The book is an amazing mix of adventure, suspense, romance, philosophy, and social commentary that will change the way you think about young adult literature.

Another excellent choice is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It was originally published in Australia as an adult novel, but has been marketed as a young adult book here in the United States. The story follows a young German girl named Liesel Meminger and her foster parents living near Munich during World War II. One of the best parts of the book is the identity of the narrator… Death himself. Can you think of a more significant time in human history than the Holocaust to be the backdrop for a story told by Death? The pace of the book is quite slow, but the time it takes to read it allows you to become all the more connected emotionally to the characters. An absolutely worthwhile, powerful read.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a story like you have never read (or seen) before. At 530+ pages it looks intimidating, but mixed in with the text are actually 300 pages of original charcoal drawings by the author that are reminiscent of watching a black and white silent film. Hugo Cabret is an orphan living secretly in Paris’ main train station during the early 1900s. There, he meets a girl who might be able to help him unlock the secret of his last memory of his father. This spellbinding mystery can be read over a single weekend and I highly recommend it.

All of these books can be found in the Duke library system. If they are checked out already, get your name on the hold list immediately. Take a break from your academic journals, theses, and dissertations. Pick up one these stories, relax, and enjoy! You won’t regret it.

Librarians descend upon our nation’s capital

I was among the over 19,000 librarians who made themselves at home in Washington, D.C. for the annual conference of the American Library Association this past weekend.

My experience at ALA was a bit of a whirlwind — I arrived in D.C. at Sunday afternoon in time for a current issue discussion on the role that academic libraries — and instruction librarians in particular — play in supporting undergraduate researchers.  The discussion, organized by ACRL’s Instruction Section, featured interesting conversation among instruction librarians from institutions ranging from Reed College to Michigan State University.

My key take-away from the discussion:  Undergraduate research and the academic programs that support them look different at each institution represented on Sunday afternoon, and it is our job as librarians to get to know our particular institution’s culture and work to communicate to our students that we are here to support their efforts, whether it be through research consultations, special library services developed with their needs in mind, opportunities for them to present or store the products of their labor, or library prizes that reward truly outstanding use of library collections.

Monday brought a series of programs in the morning — the highlight was “Assessment for the Rest of Us: Informal Techniques You Can Use,” where we heard about 10 relatively simple assessment projects going on at libraries around the country.  Lunch with friends from UNC-SILS was followed by the a heated debate (and I’m not kidding here!) about both the virtues and challenges of Open Source Software — the Kuali OLE project that Duke Libraries is a part of got quite a bit of attention as a cutting-edge ILS concept.

Next up was a walk through the exhibits, where I got to talk with folks from Serials Solutions, RefWorks, ERIC, EBSCO and meet Duke’s new LibGuides representative.  The day ended with a presentation on ways that academic librarians are making use of the technologies that their patrons are already using — new to me were using WordPress to create subject guides and Shelfari for feeds of book cover images.

This was my second experience at ALA Annual (the first was in 2007, also in D.C., after my first year as a Master’s student at UNC-SILS), and I must say that I still don’t feel that I have the conference experience down pat.  I came away, once again, feeling as though I had missed out on a number of key programs, receptions, meetings and presentations — and my hunch was confirmed as I skimmed the Twitter backchannel and then read others’ experiences, like Jennifer Howard’s, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, or those captured on the American Libraries blog

My interest has certainly been piqued, so I’ll be showing my face at ALA Annual again — and next time, I vow to leave only once I’ve been treated to lunch or cocktail hour by at least one vendor, heard a couple of fabulous authors wax poetic on the importance of libraries and developed a better understanding of ALA sections and committees — and all of the meetings and programs that accompany them.

I think that most seasoned academic librarians would assure me that it takes a time or two at ALA Annual to figure it all out — or maybe I’m just a bit slow on this front.