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A North Entrance??

Yep, it’s true.  We’re getting a New Entrance to Atkins.  It will be on the North Side of the building, facing the Prospector, Burson, Smith, and the CHHS buildings.

This will mean big changes for the ground floor space–there will be more of it, for one thing.  What are the sorts of things that you want or need to do when you enter the library?  What sorts of things do you need to do after you enter?  What kinds of things do you need just before you leave?

What do you think that should mean, in terms of what we put in that space?
Let us know.
The easels are up again!  And if you don’t write on them (or post in the comments below, or email me, or talk to someone at the Info desk….) we can’t know what you’re thinking about this.

So, get writing!

New Stuff, and New Stuff Coming Soon (edited)

The Atkins website has been tweaked again, and includes a New Books widget that is a fun way for you to browse some of what’s new on our shelves.

We’d like to hear from you about other fun and useful things you’d like to have on our website.  What about a new way to deal with group study room reservations?  What would you like to see in a mobile app for library resources?  How could we build QR codes into the mix?

Maybe you have been wishing for something that’s none of those things on the list.

Please send in your ideas, and we will have a vote for the top three.  Those three items will be sent to our programmers, and they will make the call about whether or not we can make your dreams a reality!  Prizes will go to the people whose ideas end up being turned into actual programming.

Even if the ideas you send us are not programmable, they will tell us a lot about what you want from our website, and we always need to know that.

The meaning of “library,” and thinking about privacy

This job gives me endless opportunities to observe and hear about the different meanings that people assign to libraries.

I was recently thinking about this when at the public library (the University City branch).  So many of us come to university libraries straight from our experiences at school and public libraries.  Public libraries are places that, to my mind, are coded as private, domestic, homey spaces, much like public schools.  They are places where we assume we will be safe (or should be safe, which is why assaults at libraries and schools are so jarring).  They are places that are an extension of our homes–they are places where we can be taken care of, learn things, make mistakes and still be OK.  Libraries are where we go if we don’t have a desktop computer at home, or if ours is not working.  They are where we go for books about gardening (to help with our gardens), cooking (to help us eat well), and an array of fiction, DVDs, and music CDs (to help us when we are bored).  Our experiences with public libraries are personal ones.  Perhaps this is why public librarians are so fiercely protective of their patrons’ privacy, in terms of what they borrow.  The assumption is that people check things out of the library because they need that information in their everyday lives.  A book about bomb-making, checked out at a public library, can mean something very particular, something personally sinister, because of the private connotations of the space.

University librarians are just as fierce in their protection of patron records as public librarians–the entire profession sees patron privacy as a crucial part of how they do their jobs. 

It is NC State Law that libraries have the right to refuse to share patron records, except for in very specific circumstances.  The law is as follows:

North Carolina General Statutes § 125-19, Confidentiality of library user records
(a) Disclosure. — A library shall not disclose any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library, except as provided for in subsection (b).
(b) Exceptions. — Library records may be disclosed in the following instances:
(1) When necessary for the reasonable operation of the library;
(2) Upon written consent of the user; or
(3) Pursuant to subpoena, court order, or where otherwise required by law. 
It is traditional for most library catalog systems NOT to keep patron borrowing histories on file.  That way,  even if authorities come in with a subpoena, there is nothing to share.  Patron privacy is provided by default, in the lack of history-keeping.
University libraries are professional spaces, places where people do the work of scholarship.  If someone checks out a book on bomb-making, it’s more than likely because of a research project, and the connotaitions of that act of borrowing are less sinister than they would be at a public library.  The function of the university library transforms patron attitudes (somewhat) towards privacy–if the university library knows more about borrowing/viewing habits of its patrons, it can actually better serve those patrons by directing them towards materials that they are likely to find interesting/useful.  Some of our patrons have actually asked for us to direct them, within the catalog, to resources that they might find useful (much in the way Amazon suggests things based on your purchasing and viewing histories).
If we were to do this, we would have to keep patron viewing/borrowing history somewhere on our servers.  Should we ever be served with a subpoena, we would have materials that we would then have to hand over.  So our patrons would have to choose, between more targeted, Amazon-style recommendations from the library catalog system and absolute privacy.
I wonder which one you would choose?

The future of books

Recently the Atkins library participated in a day-long symposium on eBooks.  The keynote presentation was given by Dr. Mark Nelson, the CIO for the National Association of College Stores.  He gave a riveting talk about the potential of the new, electronic textbook:  customizable material, online supplements, video tutorials, interactive quizzes, portability, and much more.

During the panel discussion afterward, UNC Charlotte Student Body president Megan Smith gave the student perspective on textbooks, and e-textbooks in particular.  One of the points she made was that undergraduates do not highly value textbooks–they read them if they have to (i.e., if their grades will really suffer if they don’t read them), but if they can get away with it, they won’t.  Textbooks are expensive –just about any college paper has a regular feature article on just how bad it can get– and part of the cost-benefit analysis involved in buying texts is:  can I sell it back?  Or: can I buy it used?  The buying and selling of used textbooks is a crucial part of student expense management, and eBooks do not offer such options.  It’s hard to even lend an e-text to a friend, much harder than simply handing them the book.

This is the clash between what book sellers and publisher would like to sell students (framed as “what students will be doing in the future,”) and what students actually need.  Perhaps the content of textbooks is better delivered electronically.  Does it need to be an e-book?  Could it be online content, instead, independent of an e-reader?  What connection is there from what the e-book industry (and their allies in publishing) would like to happen, and the work that students are engaging in, in their everyday lives at university?

In my observations of students in the library, and in the classroom, I see them using a variety of media–they might or might not have laptop computers, but they always have something that is paper, either a notebook, a textbook, printed out articles, or (frequently) all three of those.  I see people using their smart phones, but not so much for the studying part of their day as for the other parts of their day–the keeping in touch with friends and family, the scheduling of their activities (yes, that includes academic scheduling, when to get to class, etc).  Paper is still very much a part of the everyday lives of students.  They write notes on paper, they highlight paper textbooks, they write in the margins of articles printed out on paper.  Some of those functions are incorporated into the latest e-readers, and I’m sure those functions will get more effective through time–but at what financial cost?

At a time when tuition costs are rising, and it’s increasingly difficult to find employment, assuming that students will be able to pony up for an expensive electronic device when they are already struggling to acquire the paper materials they need for classes is a flawed assumption.

I will be interested to see what happens in the future.  What do you do, to get the materials you have to know to do well in your classes?  Professors, how will you (or will you) change what you require your students to read for your classes?

Information on Library eBook resources can be found here:  http://guides.library.uncc.edu/ebooks

A library story

I heard a story yesterday, from a faculty member in the College of Education, about the renovation of Atkins library in the late 1990s.  During that renovation, the two separate pieces of the library, the original building (opened  in 1964), and the tower (completed in 1972), were to be connected by a wrap-around structure (what is now the ground-3rd floors of the library).  A new brick facade would make the three structures feel connected aesthetically as well as physically.

The original plan was to use a state-of-the-art method to face the building with bricks:  a top-down method!  The entire campus witnessed the bricks being put on, the facade creeping down the building.
Finally it was finished.  Except then, the bricks started to fall off.

The facade had to be replaced, this time with a less-revolutionary (but more effective) bottom-up approach to laying the brick surface. 

Top-down didn’t work!  I love this as a metaphor for how a library, and indeed a university should function.  Attention needs to be paid to the grass-roots actions and needs of the university community:  students, faculty, and staff alike.  Out of an understanding of those everyday priorities can arise effective policies.  That is a large part of the rationale for the Atkins Ethnography Project–to ground the decisions we make as a library in a fine-grained knowledge of what our patrons are doing, what they think they need, and what we can effectively provide.

Quiet Zones and where to do work in the library

You may have noticed that furniture is being moved around in the library this semester.  Last semester, we moved carrels out of the ground floor (near the Library Cafe), and moved in the couches, chairs, tables, and whiteboards that are there now .  As of this semester, carrels have been moved from the second floor, on the eastern side of the atrium (in front of the glass wall, in front of the periodical stacks), and replaced by open tables and wooden chairs.

Where are the carrels being placed?

Some of them went to the western end of the library, along the curved wall of windows, overlooking the SAC.  Most of them are going up to the third floor, where open tables are being replaced by carrels.

Why all the moving around?  We are trying to take furniture that speaks of quiet study (carrels) and move it into spaces well-suited for quiet study (the western end of the library away from the main entrance, the third floor).  We shall see if those furniture-based signals translate into actual quiet.  Carrels also make it harder to do group work.  By providing more space on the first, second and ground floors for groups to get work done, we provide a place for people to go when they need to be constructively noisy.

This is on my mind not just because of the furniture moving, but also because of a recent suggestion box entry which stated, “There are many things library could do to provide a good/quiet environment for students who want to study, But library really doesn’t do any.”

I just don’t think this is true.  Our work is far from finished, but we are trying, with the right placement of furniture and policy, to provide both quiet spaces (the third floor, the ground floor in the compact stacks room, and all of the tower floors) as well as spaces where people can work with a steady (yet manageable) level of noise.

Part of the job of keeping the library noise levels manageable is, frankly, up to the people who use the space.  Once we’ve made it clear on our end where you can do what kind of work, it’s  up to you (and your classmates and colleagues) to find the place that fits.  And to pay attention to the furniture cues around you, and also to what other people are doing in the space in which you find yourself.

So, working in a group?  Try a table on the first floor.  Or a group study room.–we’ve created several more study rooms in the last semester.   Or a table on the second floor near the atrium.  Or the new collaborative study space on the ground floor, near the Library Cafe.

Working by yourself, but don’t mind a dull roar around you?  (maybe the noise actually helps you focus?).  Anywhere in the library can be right for you.

Need a quiet place to focus?  Try the Halton Room, at the back of the main floor of the library.  Or anywhere on the Third Floor.  Or the western end of the first and second  floors (overlooking the SAC), or the second floor back in the periodicals, in the eastern part of the library.  Or try the tower floors, or the desks in the compact stacks room, on the ground floor.

We are working all the time to figure out what you need to do, and to try to configure spaces in the library to facilitate that work.  As new furniture arrangements (and occasionally, new furniture) appear, you can help by giving us feedback on what works and what doesn’t.  

You can do that here: http://library.uncc.edu/suggest/

Or by commenting on this blog, sending me an email, or even by leaving a message at the Info Desk.
And we can see what gets used, and what doesn’t, and work further to make things into a better fit.

One final note:  loud phone conversations feel out of place everywhere.  But that’s a larger etiquette problem, one not easily solved by the library alone!

Academically Adrift? More like, Liberal Arts Rule!

Arum and Roksa’s book Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College Campuses is getting lots of press these days, and the links are flying fast and furious among my colleagues who work both in and out of college classrooms. 
Inside Higher Ed summarizes in bullet points:

  • 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later — but that’s the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven’t experienced any college learning.”

And the Seattle Times makes the headline a lament: Study: Students slog through college, but don’t gain much critical thinking.” 

What I think I find most fascinating is the reporters’ choice of what to focus on, i.e. that “large numbers [of students] didn’t learn critical thinking,” etc.  I think the real story is the efficacy of a liberal arts education in facilitating those very things. I think this could be used as an argument to strengthen the very things that are now being cut in budget times–the traditional liberal arts and sciences–and in fact to require a solid degree in those before moving on to a professional degree. Imagine: financiers with critical thinking skills!!

Responding to the U Times editorial on Library etiquette

Shanequa Perry raised several interesting issues in her recent editorial about how students should use the space in Atkins library(11/23/2010).  I’d like to take a chance, as the anthropologist in the library, to respond to some of her concerns, and give a little context for some of what she’s seeing.
I’ll start by saying that Atkins can never be all things to all people—but the space we have and the resources we offer should be as accessible as possible to as wide a variety of community members as we can manage.
One of the first things the editorial mentioned in Atkins was the widespread presence of non-academic websites on her classmates’ desktop computers:  Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I’d add to that list YouTube, GoogleMail, Hulu, a wide variety of news and entertainment sites, and gaming sites.  In my observations of student behavior and computer use at Atkins, I’ve noticed that in addition to these non-scholarly sites (they are referred to in the editorial as called them “procrastination” sites,  and many would agree), students are on Moodle, doing WebWork, using MS word or Excel, and even accessing resources through the Atkins website.  At any given moment, people may be doing work, or taking a break from their work.  Some students are in Atkins between classes, and so take a chance to check email, take a break, play around on Facebook, or watch a fun clip on YouTube before getting back to class.  Some students are in Atkins for a long time, and are settled in to work on a paper, a problem set, or some other time-consuming assignment.  Perhaps the moment you see them on FB is the break they are taking after working for a couple of hours.  Perhaps you miss the point where they flip from YouTube over to WebWork.  Think about how you do work–do you work non-stop for hours on one thing?  Or do you take breaks?  Do you have only one window open on your desktop?  Or do you have everything open at once, school-related and not?
It is incorrect to say that there is a no-food, no-drink policy in the library.  In fact, we have vending  machines!

It was decided long ago that it was important for students to be able to stay in the library if they needed to keep their focus.  Bringing food with them, and taking a snack break before getting back into their studies allows for them to get more work done than if they had to go down to Peets, or even all the way down to the Prospector, Cone Center, or Student Union for a meal.  It’s not just about the time spent going to get food, but also about the loss of focus possible when you bump into friends on the way, chat about the weekend, and then oh wait where was I in this chapter….?

People persistently tell me that the library is a place for them to focus.  So of course, other people talking can be a problem if the way you focus is in absolute silence.  But many people use background noise as a way of gaining focus.  I’ve heard over and over, “if it’s too quiet, I can’t think.”  Of course, there are limits to how loud useful noise can be.  This struggle between quiet and reasonable noise is a constant one in university libraries, and we obviously have not come up with the perfect solution yet.  Some things we’ve tried so far include:
  • Designating the 3rd floor as a QZ.  I know (because many of you have told me!)  that there continue to be noise problems—some because of people who continue to use the 3rd floor as a study hall, even though it’s no longer the space for that.  Old traditions die hard.  We probably need to think about the furniture configurations up there, too. 
  • The floors in the Atkins tower now have wireless–so you can get away from it all, and still have access to the internet
  • There are more computers on each floor, especially on the third floor, so that there can be quiet computing space as well as constructively noisy computer spaces.
  • We’ve added more group study rooms, which are bookable online, and which provide spaces where you can either shut the door and study quietly, or shut the door and have group discussions.
  • The new group study areas on the ground floor, near the Library Café.  Having new spaces that encourage group study, we hope, will encourage people to leave the QZs quiet, because there are now better places to make constructive noise.

The editorial also covered sleeping in the library.  Speaking as someone who’s taken a fair share of library naps, I think this might be one of the things that we take on when we go to a 24-hour space.  People study at all hours of the night and day here now, and sometimes, they need to recharge—and can’t go all the way home to do so.  Until recently, people had to use two chairs to get a good nap space—unless they happened upon the One Library Couch.   
Now there are more couches, and more obvious chances to sleep.  As with eating, these are things that people do outside of the library, sure, but providing space for sleeping and eating (within reason) to happen in the library allow people to find focus and get their work done.
In short, while the editorial has good points, there is also an argument to be made for a variety of legitimate ways to use the library.  The tricky part is getting all of those different ways to use the library working in harmony with each other.  It’s a continuing challenge.  Please help by continuing with your feedback, and by working in Atkins!

Thanksgiving is over, but it’s never too late to be Thankful

The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Thomas Benton has a column out listing the things he’s grateful for in academe.  Libraries made the list, (I want to say, “of course”), and he’s worth quoting in full, here:

Libraries and librarians: Our colleagues who are information professionals provide us with the scholarly resources we need for our research and teaching, and they do so with minimal recognition and considerable pressure to adapt to rapidly changing technologies. While the Internet has been a boon to scholarly research, the physical library is—more than stadiums, more than student centers—the heart of the academic enterprise: It’s a place for solitary reflection as well as serendipitous encounters in the context of intellectual seriousness. Nothing can replace libraries as places, even if they are no longer primarily based on the circulation of printed materials.

What are you thankful for on campus?  Does the library make your list?

Thinking about how students do research

bear with me now, I’m going to start ugly with a reference to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  In it, the “Shadow Scholar,” a.k.a. a writer for a custom-paper mill, details his process, and justifies at length his participation in students’ elaborate (and expensive) schemes to get degrees (not just bachelor’s degrees, but M.As,  and even Ph.D.s) without doing the work.

His contempt for the education system as a whole is palpable.  That’s not why I’m referring to this article here.  What struck me was his description of his “research” process:

“First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.

I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.

After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.”

This sounds terribly familiar.  I’ve been spending good chunks of this semester interviewing and observing students while they are doing their research, and the first stop for many is Google, the second stop, Wikipedia.  When they tell me they go to Wikipedia, they also tell me, “just for a start,” and “I know professors don’t like it, but I just want to get a sense for what is out there.”  I suppose the technical term for what they are doing with Wikipedia is a browse, but they can also (and do also) browse on Google, and, for that matter, on the library’s website.

Many of our student profess to never going into the library, either.  Or at least, to never using the library’s resources.  “I can find everything I need online,” is an oft-expressed sentiment.  When I ask what “online” means (because there’s an awful lot from Atkins available online these days), they clarify:  “Google.”  They get to articles via Google, they find books on Google books, and they also find (and use) information in a variety of websites (mostly .edu or .org sites, because many were taught at one point that the URL suffix can be one hint as to a website’s reliability).

Some, but not all, students realize that the articles they get to via Google are actually available because of the Atkins library (that is, we pay for access, so that you can get to them).  Some, but not all students, realize that there are books in Atkins that could be helpful to them in the stacks.  Some, but not all students, are aware that websites are not ideal sources for research papers.

When professors insist, students seek out books.  When professors insist, students seek out peer-reviewed journal articles.  In the absence of that insistence–and sometimes, even in the presence of that insistence–students do the work that is expedient.  They find good-enough sources, and write good-enough papers.

When do students do better than “good enough?”  When they are working for a class they love, especially one in their major.  When they are the kind of student who will go onto graduate school, because they love the process of research.  When they are returning students, who have a very clear idea why they are at a university, and so want to get the best out of their experiences there.

If students are in a required class, a class they perceive to be a hoop they need to jump through to get to the next thing they would like to do, then they will do “good enough” work.

And if they don’t see the point in doing the work at all, or if they are completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin to start the work themselves, they might turn to someone like the “Shadow Scholar.”