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Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

Copy of Gregynog and OPening The Book 004All pics by me (this top one cropped and edited).

In early June, I went to the annual Gregynog conference for library and IT professionals in Wales, along with some library colleagues.

My favourite session was not actually library related, although it fitted in well with a theme on designing new buildings and learning spaces which ran through the conference. The presentation was given by Phil Horton from the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth, about the experience of building the new Wales Institute for Sustainable Development (WISE).

The Centre for Alternative Technology runs short courses and postgraduate courses, and due to increased demand over the years, has insufficient space at the centre for teaching. WISE is being built to satisfy this need for space, and, like existing buildings at CAT, will act as an example of what can be achieved using ecologically friendly building methods and design.

I read about WISE a year or so ago, so was very interested to hear how work was progressing, and was gripped by the presentation which included many photos of the different techniques being used, such as rammed earth walls, under floor heating, solar panelled roofs and low impact IT facilities. It was great to see this showcased at the conference, and I hope the Welsh IT and library sector will draw on some of these ideas if engaging in new builds, and also make use of the new facilities for future events. WISE, which will contain a lecture theatre, bedrooms, and study spaces, is due to open sometime in 2010.

My second favourite session was a talk by Paul Bevan from the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth about the library’s Web 2.0 strategy, which was of interest to me as I am currently working on a scoping study exploring how we can use Web 2.0 tools here at Bangor University library.

My third favourite session was not a presentation at all, but the morning yoga class run by Alyson Tyler from Cymal, it was so fantastic to wake up and stroll downstairs and do yoga, and really set me up well for the day. I’ve always thought about incorporating some basic stretching or exercises into teaching sessions, as I think we all sit still at computers far too much. Thanks very much to Alyson for running the yoga session, it was very beneficial!

Alyson also delivered a session called If Libraries Ruled the World, where we worked in small groups exploring what we would do if we had endless money to spend on our libraries, and creating an overall strategy on flipchart paper. The purpose was for Alyson to align our ideas with a strategy Cymal (Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales) is currently preparing for libraries in Wales, called Libraries for Life. The groups in the room all came up with very similar themes which overlapped with Cymal’s plans, basically we all wanted better buildings more adapted to the needs of library users (including social spaces, reading spaces, and so forth), and more money and time to spend on staff training and development. Libraries for Life will make a number of grants available to help libraries achieve these goals.

Cymal staff also delivered an interesting presentation on the Welsh libraries marketing plans for the next year, revealing that a celebrity was being lined up to front the new library marketing strategy, but not telling us who it would be! Since Gregynog, the celebrity library champion has been revealed as Ruth Jones. Last year, they ran the successful Happy Days campaign, which won an award, this year the marketing campaign with be an art competition. More information to follow on the blog when the competition launches.

I also enjoyed hearing Lyndsey Savage from my own institution, Bangor, talk about the Bangor Repository, which collects research publications by Bangor academic staff from 2000 onwards, and found Alison Walker’s session on the Welsh Video Network interesting, especially when she spoke about the use of video conferencing to get Welsh authors to talk to school children and adult learners across Wales. Once again, ecological impact was on the agenda here, with Alison reminding conference delegates that video conferencing can help save time, money and the environment.

Ruth Thornton and Toni Kelly gave an interesting presentation on turning libraries into new “learning spaces”, which along with web 2.0 technologies seems to be one of the current buzz topics in the library world, and Toni Kelly talked about developing new learning spaces in Birmingham.

Presentations from the conference are online here, click on the underlined blue links to open Powerpoints.

The venue itself was quirky and unique, but for academic conferences where I have to be professional, I prefer staying in modern hotels which have hot water in the mornings, and the food was so horrible I went straight to Tescos on the way home and bought lots of ciabatta bread and other treats! On the good side, Gregynog was well organized, and best of all, there were rabbits…

babbit babbitrun

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On Day 2 of the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference in Cardiff (see previous blog posts for write ups of earlier sessions, and an explanation of the phrase “information literacy”), I attended a session called Users’ experiences of new generation search interfaces: introducing Ex Libris’s PRIMO search engine at University of East Anglia Library, which I was interested in as we are about to enhance our library catalogue search capabilities with a new generation search interface called Encore.

The new generation search engines enable library catalogues to work more like popular, easy to use search engines like Google, and also to make use of Web 2.0 enhancements (i.e. allow people to interact more with the catalogue and create their own content such as tags and reviews). Most usefully, they allow people to search articles within some (though currently not all) electronic resources held by the library at the same time as searching the library catalogue (currently, people have to search the library catalogue which holds details of books and journals, and then search several separate electronic databases for articles within collections of journals). Users type in a word or phrase, and the catalogue returns: results which can easily be made more specific using categories on the screen (date published, language, etc), tag clouds which allow people to expand their search using related keywords, and also, optionally, added features such as images (book covers, Flickr pictures, etc),. The idea is not just to make searching easier, but also to enable people to discover resources in the library collections that they might not otherwise have found.

The new search engines are definitely going to change the library catalogue searching experience, and bring it more in line with people’s experiences searching web 2.0 enhanced internet sites, social networking sites and so forth, so I was really interested to hear about user experiences, but unfortunately the session focused more on demonstrating the PRIMO search engine and running example searches, so the section about user experiences was done quite quickly at the end.

The positive user feedback was that people found the library catalogue enhanced by PRIMO easier to search than electronic databases, that they had enjoyed using web 2.0 features such as reviewing and tagging books, and that the options for narrowing their searches were very useful. Some people noted that they preferred the original library catalogue, however.

Sarah Elsegood, who presented the session, noted that people still needed guidance with search strategies, particularly with choosing which keywords to use for searches, and with using the catalogue features to narrow their searches and get more specific results. Also, because the catalogue now included articles from electronic databases, people could sometimes end up in e-resources without really knowing where they were and what they were searching.

For more information about Primo, including screenshots, there is an article by Nicholas Lewis (also from the University of East Anglia) in the online library journal Ariadne (which is free to read): Implementing Ex Libris’s Primo at the University of East Anglia .

I’ve also found a 2006 article online about next generation search interfaces; Katie Wilson’s OPAC 2.0: Next generation online library catalogues ride the Web 2.0 wave!

Also worth reading for a brief overview of next generation catalogues is a blog post by Chirs Keene from the University of Sussex called Library search / discovery apps: intro, which is very up to date, having been written a couple of days ago!

The Encore search interface which Bangor will be using looks a bit different to Primo, and it will be interesting to investigate our library users’ experiences when we implement the Encore search engine. You may have noticed one new feature in the Bangor Library Catalogue already, which is that we now have images of book covers alongside some of the book details.

As with anything I write on this blog, if there’s anything you either don’t understand (I’m hunting for a good simple definition of Web 2.0 for example, but as I haven’t yet found one, may write a blog post on this soon), or anything you don’t agree with, please feel welcome to post a comment, or to email me at v.zarach@bangor.ac.uk.

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The first session I went to after the morning’s keynote was Help Viola: using an Alternate Reality Game for student induction, run by Rosie Jones and Emily Shields from Manchester Metropolitan University. I had picked this session because I am interested in unusual and innovative ways to teach information and library skills.

ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) blend real world and online activities, with initial clues being made available to pique people’s interest, and then new plot points and information being released over time. To fathom out the clues and puzzles, and move through the game stages quickly, players ideally need to work collaboratively. Alternate Reality Games depend on viral marketing, i.e. interest in the game spreading by word of mouth, hidden clues, and so forth, but the MMU team acknowledged that this can be a limitation, as these kinds of subtle methods do not necessarily reach enough people. Wikipedia has an in depth entry with more information on the history of ARGs.

The MMU ARG, project name ARGOSI, was designed for use during the student induction period, to help students orientate themselves in the city of Manchester. The ARG began with a postcard with an image of a small piece of map, and a request from a character called Viola for help. Students had to complete a set of challenges, with new map pieces being released on successful completion of the tasks. At the session, we worked in small teams on one of the challenges, which was fun, but also quite challenging, especially as I’m not very good with cryptic clues!

My conclusions on ARGs from this initial session was they definitely have potential as a fairly novel approach to teaching new skills, look fairly time consuming to create, and it’s possibly difficult to maintain participants’ enthusiasm along the route. I really like the blend of online and real life activities (e.g. one activity involved taking photographs in Manchester) as a lot of library and teaching activities involve sitting at computers, and it’s good for us all to get up and go exploring our environment sometimes. I also like the challenging gaming aspect of ARGs, and the idea of people acquiring new information in an interactive problem solving kind of way.

Some related links:

The University of Glamorgan have an interactive simulation for new students called Glamstart, which introduces them to the campus map via a set of tasks. It’s very good!

I came across GlamStart when looking at a blog called playthinklearn about computer games and learning  by Nicola Whitton, the ARGOSI Project Manager. It’s an interesting blog with lots of useful blog posts and links about gaming.

A Guardian article about ARGs.

Cryptozoo, which aims to get people being more physically active.

Finally, I have to add that the presenters practiced what preached, by getting workshop participants to attempt some of the ARG’s challenges, and engage actively with the game, rather than just making us sit and listen to a Powerpoint presentation, so it was an interesting session, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the alien noises…

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Patricia Ianuzzi is a librarian from Las Vegas, and I enjoyed her keynote, which featured references to online gaming and to Las Vegas casinos!

She began by giving an overview of information literacy and reports in the US, which I found very useful. These are some of the references she gave:

The Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education

The 1998 Boyer Report, focusing on undergraduates and research

A book by Derek Bok called Our Underachieving Colleges

LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise)

NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement)

Project DEEP (Documenting Effective Educational Practices)

This opening section of the presentation was very useful, as it gave the wider context of the need to train students in information literacy skills, both for education and the workplace. Patricia went on to say that she didn’t care what terms we used, information literacy, digital literacy, or whatever, as long as we achieved the learning outcomes needed.

She then moved on to speaking about Marc Prensky’s essay, Engage me or enrage me, which is the source of the much quoted idea that young people are digital natives, who have grown up with computers and mobiles and video games, are comfortable and adept with digital media, and expect to be entertained, and older people are digital immigrants, who are not as digitally literate, and have different educational expectations. Although this concept obviously has some good points, in general the reality is a lot more complex than that, there are many older people who are amazingly digitally literate and lots of younger people who use digital technologies very little or without much expertise.

In an digression from the subject, I have to add that I started reading Prensky’s follow up essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II and was horrified to find some of the ideas in it were based on ferrets having their brains rewired, poor things. I hope the ferrets take over the world and rewire the scientists’ brains, that’ll teach them.

Anyway, back to the keynote writeup. Despite not agreeing that all youngsters are computer whizz kids, and all oldies are digital dinosaurs, I do actually find all the research on making education entertaining very interesting. On the one hand, I think it’s important to remember that learning things in itself can actually be interesting for many people, I enjoy learning, and I don’t always need some interactive dancing rabbits to help me concentrate on reading a piece of text…however, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of boring people into stupors if it can possibly be avoided (or worse still, being bored into a stupor), and agree that making learning more interactive and fun can help keep people’s attention and interest.

That brings us neatly back to Patricia Ianuzzi who agreed with Prensky that students of today need engaging learning materials, and showed us a short video of three students talking about online gaming. Not only was the video interesting, but it made a nice break from talking and presentation slides, therefore neatly illustrating her point. We saw screen shots of the games, showing varied environments, innovative graphics, vast armies, aliens, visuals, explosions, and so on, and the students talked about game playing, and how often they played, and how they enjoyed playing competitively against other people.

At the end of the video, Patricia asked the audience what engaged the players, and the answers we gave included: immersion, interactivity, control, customization and visuals. She asked us, can we create learning resources which engage users using similar principles?

In Las Vegas, Patricia explained, casinos are drawing on video gaming to make their slot machines more engaging and enticing, with the key concept being PDI (player driven innovation). She showed images of game machines with embedded multimedia enhancements, and photos of interactive video game versions of popular casino games such as roulette and poker.

I found this keynote presentation interesting and engaging.

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Jenny Evans & Ruth Harrison (Imperial College, London): 2. 0 much to do: how, when and why should library staff find out about web 2.0, and what does it mean for information literacy?

The session was about an idea called 23 Things, which was a list put together by a public library in America to encourage their staff to try out different web 2.0 technologies (e.g. blogs, Flickr, wikis, YouTube, etc), and described Imperial College Library’s version of 23 Things which was called Learning 2.0, and ran for ten weeks.

We were in a computer room for the session, which was ideal, as we were able to look at the website, and explore some of the links, including being given password access to look at some of the blogs the Imperial library staff had created during the programme. The extent of entries on the blogs varied enormously, some people having only done one or two posts, and others still blogging now.

There were positive outcomes from Learning 2.0: just under a quarter of library staff took part, surveys done before and after the course showed that people’s knowledge improved; and since completing the course, there are more blogs and wikis at the library, podcasts have been adopted, and there is a library twitter profile.

Overall, it sounds like a good technique to follow to get library staff on board, en mass, trying new web 2.0 technologies, especially if having completed the course, people can opt to use blogs and twitter and so forth if they choose, and not if they don’t, as not everyone is comfortable sharing their professional thoughts online in a web 2.0 style.

Moira Bent & Elizabeth Stockdale (Newcastle University): Integrating information literacy as a habit of learning – assessing the impact of a golden thread of IL in the curriculum

This was an interesting session about teaching information literacy as part of the student’s curriculum (one of the central ongoing debates in information literacy is whether to teach it separately, or as part of students’ courses, so that they can immediately see the relevance to their studies). Moira is a librarian, and Liz is an Environmental Science lecturer, and they worked together on integrating information literacy teaching into Liz’s course.

Moira listed the pros and cons of teaching information literacy within a course (relevant, can work with academic staff, make it subject specific, etc; BUT, means library staff not in control, co-working can be difficult, time consuming, etc) and the pros and cons of teaching information literacy as standalone sessions (easier to make it specific, students can work at own pace, raises library profile, etc, BUT, keeps focus too specific instead of broad, doesn’t make it relevant to subject studied, etc).

Liz was a great advocate for information literacy. She had observed that students were finishing university without necessarily developing the information skills they needed, as there was an unspoken assumption that students would just develop these skills whilst doing their studies, whereas she could see that they actually needed more specific training. She emphasised the need to assess any information literacy skills they learnt, otherwise students would just not make the time to do it, e.g. Liz marks some essays on information literacy skills used as well as essay content.

Interestingly I have spoken to staff at the university where I work who are concerned about some of their students’ information hunting skills, the lack of breadth in their reference lists, and issues with plagiarism and referencing, so I’m very much aware that all this issues are certainly noticed as much by lecturers as by library staff, and think that integration is definitely a good idea, as long as there is time to do it!

Evening Event: Caerphilly Castle

In the evening, I went to the social networking event, which was a coach ride to nearby Caerphilly Castle, which was beautiful, with dinner and drinks in a reception room at the (mostly ruined) castle, plus live music, medieval or classical I think. I love castles, but didn’t go exploring due to the bad combination of conference shoes and free wine. I was lucky enough to talk to some very nice people, including a librarian from the Brit School of performing arts  (I’d love to work in a performing arts library!), some students who had places at the conference, a nice psychologist from Leeds and my friend Melissa Highton from Oxford.

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This is a write-up of sessions I attended on the first day of LILAC, the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference, on Monday 30th March 2009, back in the days before I had a blog. For more information about what information literacy is, see yesterday’s blog post.

I have to comment first of all that the conference was very well organized, as I guess you’d expect from librarians! There were arrows leading from the nearest Cardiff railway station to the conference venue, a table in the main foyer with conference handouts which was staffed at all times by friendly and helpful people, and even a cloakroom for storing bags. All session rooms had signs pinned to them with the time and name of sessions, which was very useful! The food was nice, and there was even a packed lunch for delegates as they left after the final morning of the three day conference.

The opening keynote was from Melissa Highton, someone I met when I worked in e-learning, which marks the first time I’ve known a keynote speaker! (I thought it was best I declare a bias before summarising her talk!) She now has the impressive title of Head of Learning Technologies at Oxford University, and gave an interesting presentation, coloured by her experiences at Oxford, and very much of the moment.

Melissa spoke of the profusion of different terms, such as information literacy, media literacy and digital literacy, and urged us to consider how the different concepts overlapped. As a librarian, the message I take from this is to be aware that our users may need help and guidance steering through a wide variety of web 2.0 technologies and different forms of information (books, websites, electronic resources, podcasts, videos and vodcasts, social networking sites, and so on). Melissa’s talk was entitled “Managing Your Flamingo” and opened with a picture of Alice in Wonderland struggling to play croquet with a flamingo mallet, which illustrated the difficulty of managing information in an ever changing world.

She covered a wide range of topics, including the peer review process (academics reading and approving each other’s work for publication in journals and books), and how it can sometimes be so slow that ideas have changed by the time the work is published; the need to consider the role of information literacy in a recession; the necessity of supporting not just international students but also international staff with plagiarism issues (using the work of others without referencing it properly), as other countries often have different practices to the UK education system (something I’d also learnt about recently at a workshop I attended at my own University on supporting people from culturally diverse backgrounds).

Melissa directed us to the Oxford podcasts, a selection of Oxford lectures on itunes, which are very popular. I have missed feelings about podcasts; it’s great to make some lectures available for people to listen to, but people with hearing impairments are unable to listen to podcasts, so cannot access them unless there are text transcripts; and personally, I prefer to skim read information rather than listen to it,  so I think text versions are important to provide both for deaf people and for reasons of personal preference too. Questioners at the end of the session also had some issues with podcasts, namely the issue of academics being happy to share their work.

The podcasts were part of a section where Melissa talked about open educational resources, which are very much in vogue at the moment, and are all about people creating and sharing educational materials. Again, this has advantages, but I can also see why not all teachers and lecturers would necessarily want to share their work and their style of teaching with others.

I enjoyed Melissa’s presentation, it was upbeat, intelligent, and very much rooted in current and emerging practices in e-learning, ICT and librarianship within higher education, and the need for librarians to keep abreast of developments.

Melissa heads the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford.

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I’m a little late blogging about the LILAC Conference, which I attended in Cardiff a month and a half ago, but I didn’t have a blog at the time, having only started this one last week. The LILAC conference is the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference, it has nothing to do with the flower, or the colour (although a lot of people, myself included, did wear purple).

So, what is information literacy? Information literacy is a phrase used to describe some of the work librarians (and teachers and lecturers) have found themselves doing in recent years, since the arrival of the internet and the mass of electronic information now available to students and schoolchildren. Along with this rise in available information has been the growth of some of the following problems:

  • difficulties hunting for information (obviously many university students are excellent at this, but many struggle to find their way through the mass of information available, and miss useful sources).
  • issues with evaluating information (people need to be aware of the difference between academic quality journal articles, books and websites, versus opinions and thoughts posted on the internet by people with unknown credentials, and be able to select and use quality information as sources for essays)
  • a rise in plagiarism (e.g. copying and pasting words from the internet into essays, and passing them off as the student’s own, with some people not even realising that this is not considered good or acceptable practice)
  • problems with referencing (knowing how to show clearly in essays that you are basing an idea on someone else’s work, and making sure that you have written down all the books and articles and websites you have mentioned in the essay using the correct referencing style…there are many!)

and many more…

Many people don’t like the term information literacy, and you will not always find the term on resources that are designed to help with the issues outlined above, as it’s not a phrase many people know outside of libraries and teaching, and is often avoided so as not to scare people away from using helpful resources. I think it’s useful mainly as a term which draws lots of ideas together.

Information literacy is important to librarians, as the whole concept is rooted in the kind of work librarians are trained to do, and tend to be good at, such as searching through large amounts of information and selecting the best quality and most relevant sources, and keeping well organized with lists of references, and most of all, teaching other people how to handle information hunting and get the best results back.

For me, information literacy is essentially the everyday work I do, such as showing people how to use electronic resources and find good quality articles for their essays, showing them how to reduce enormous result lists to small ones using cunning tactics librarians know well, and how to find information on a topic when there doesn’t seem to be anything out there…plus of course giving guidance on the dreaded referencing…

Finally, here are a couple of my favourite information literacy resources on the internet, they’re not called information literacy, but essentially, that’s what they are, as they are there to improve the way you find or use information:

Assignment Survival Kit (developed by Staffordshire University)

Ignore the login at the top, look lower down the page, put a date into the assignment due date box, and press calculate assignment schedule, you will get back a useful set of tasks to help you complete the essay.

Referencing @ Portsmouth (developed by Portsmouth University Library)

Help with referencing for a few of the main referencing styles (Harvard, Vancouver, Oscala). Click on the reference style you are using, and then work through the options, for an example of how to reference.

Coming soon: A write up of the sessions at the LILAC Conference…including sessions I attended on both of the above resources…

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