EdWeb and Pondering

Today at a meeting, we were talking about EdWeb, a list of websites for Adult Basic Education (ABE) classroom use vetted and categorized by ABE teachers.

Someone asked if this was antiquated – what’s the point when you can just do a Google search and get a whole slew of different websites?

Someone else replied that the vetting was important because it assured quality.  The massive Google list includes a lot of junk.

I’ve had a lot of informal library training in my life, so I’ve been in the “vet it!” camp for as long as I can remember.  I have a theory, though, that the general public (meaning the “not-necessarily-indoctrinated-at-a-young-age-by-a-reference-librarian” public) might be joining this camp.

I think this for the exact reason the first person stated.  Pretty much anybody really can get a huge list of relevant websites with the ease of a Google search.  What’s harder to get is a categorized list of high quality website, and what’s even harder is knowing where to start.  So the perceived value of the all-inclusive list is decreasing while the perceived value of the Top 10 list is increasing.

Thoughts?

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Traditional Libraries and ABE

Many thanks to The Centered Librarian for pointing out this article by William H. Wisner in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wisner basically talks about the changing role of the Reference Librarian from facilitator of patiently research to that person who changes the printer paper.  The article focuses on the idea that libraries are being dumbed-down by the switch in focus from knowledge to information.  I noticed that he also equates additional noise with additional technological distractions.

I need to sit on this article for a bit and think more about it.  He makes many points, some I agree with, some I disagree with, and some I hadn’t thought about before.

After my first quick read, my big question is this: where, in a traditional library focused on scholarship and reverent silence, would my little GED and English classes fit in, and what would this signify about the roles of the traditional library and my students?

Sizing Up ‘English from A-Z’

English from A-Z by C. Akinyi, from Amazon
"English from A-Z" by C. Akinyi, from Amazon

The first thing about this book: it looks for all the world like a reference book, and I assumed that it was a reference book for teaching English.

Turns out I would have named it “Learning English from A to Z” because it’s for students.  It has a reference-y feel to it and also has many exercises and an audio CD.

I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover.  Let’s move on.

I decided to skim through the book even though it’s not like the other books I’m looking at.  I’m trying to decide what the intended usage niche for this book is.  There’s not enough explanation through words or through pictures for it to be a primary text.  There are nice dialogues, lists of examples (i.e. list of synonyms, antonyms, etc.) that would make great references, and exercises for practice.  I guess it’s extra, self-directed learning for people who already have some English.  My immediate questions:

  1. do students use this?
  2. do schools use this?
  3. how can my learning center and my students use this?
  4. I should see if the library carries this, and suggest it if they don’t.

The idioms and slang section is particularly interesting to me.  The workbooks we use at my learning center avoid slang like “funky,” “nasty,” “screw up,” “homey,” and “crap.”  They’re usually skipped because they can get uncomfortable, but I think students do need to learn them at some point.  This book also lists “to pass wind” as an idiom, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.  Makes me think we should just have an entire unit on bodily functions euphemisms.  We Americans love our euphemisms.

Glancing through the grammar pages, which include Sentence Structure and Tenses, I think I should read them this evening.  They’re simple, so it’ll be a quick read to make sure I know the most basic metalanguage cold.  I mean, I know it, but whenever it comes up in class a part of me is nervous that I’m getting something subtly wrong.

In the Study Tips section, the phrase “miss pelt words” appears.  I hope on a deep level that this was intentional.

I wouldn’t have put this book on my syllabus if I’d realized that it was geared toward students and not toward teachers.  Still, I’m glad I paged through it.  Now I know what kind of a resource it is for students, and I can at least get some basic English grammar review out of it for myself for the purpose of being a better teacher.

(I’m also thinking that I might like to dig more carefully through my learning center’s books.  Maybe learning about our book collection could be another 5-week course.  I could assess more of our books the way I assessed this one, plus maybe add a summary section listing strengths, weaknesses, pictures, niche, audience, and so on.  I might have to make a page of additional 5-week courses that come to mind – my mental list is already quite long.)

Beyond Story-Telling: What’s Next?

Photo by David Webber
Photo by David Webber

I was just talking to my mom on the phone, and she told me about a big book donation project her library did for an alum stationed in Afghanistan.

I think it’s a powerful story – the request, the way the community came together to make it happen, the challenges that never seemed to become full-out problems, and the way she facilitated the whole thing.

She said the college was excited about the potential for publicity, and that she was doing a big write-up of the story so that PR could send it to the regional newspaper.  She also said she might present this project at an upcoming library conference.

What was really exciting to me was the feeling that this was a big success for the community; my mom agrees that there’s a sense of “Great!  We rock!  What’s next?”  I’m interested in how they could use social media to keep up the momentum.

I see a huge opportunity for the college to reach out to its community of neighbors and alumni.  I see a way for the library to assert its continued relevance in a changing world.  I see a successful project whose nuts and bolts should be shared, and a story about a large county-run community college going above and beyond what many would expect.  This doesn’t have to be a one-time occurrence.  It could be a direction.

I have so many ideas for where they could go with this, but I think my ideas are a lot less relevant than those of people affiliated with the college.  I wonder what would happen if the college worked wikily (Beth elaborates) with its faculty, staff, students, and alumni to look for a place where needs, interests, and resources met.

No, seriously.  They’re planning to send out an email to the whole college with thank-yous and some donations stats.  Why not enclose a link to an extremely simple wiki called “What’s Our Next Project?”

(Really, Mom, why not?)

General questions:

  • If they had time to share their story in only one additional way, what would you suggest
  • How did you tell your story?
  • How do you keep the momentum going, turning one great instance into many?
  • How do you bridge a large preexisting community from newspapers and emails to Web 2.0?

Docuticker – I’m A Little Obsessed

I want to give a shout-out to an awesome website an academic reference librarian showed me: Docuticker.com.

Docuticker - Blog of Documents!
Docuticker - Blog of Documents!

Basically, the blog is run by librarians who troll the universe for documents they see as important and from reliable sources (i.e. scientific research, government reports, Think Tank results, statistics summaries, etc.) and post them in a blog, occasionally with limited commentary.  The focus is on the documents.

You can search Docuticker’s archives by the date of the post or by category (there’s a nonprofit category!), and can even put it in your RSS feed, though be warned – it’s high volume posting!

That’s pretty much it.  Resources selected by information professionals, brilliantly simple for the user.  Do check it out!

And once you have checked it out… do you think that comments would add or detract from what Docuticker does?  How could it be more interactive and still maintain its apparent goal of being a pure resource?

Librarian Tip for Nonprofits: 90-Second YouTube

I was reading the May 2008 issue of American Libraries and the Internet Librarian column by Joseph Janes jumped out at me with the potential to be immediately useful to me at work (which is not in a library).

I help run a program at a literacy nonprofit, and a lot of people contact me and my colleagues all the time with a large volume of questions.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those people who actually gets a kick out of answering questions.  It’s just that as I mentioned in my last post, when we’re bombarded with questions, especially redundant ones, it’s extremely difficult to do the rest of of our jobs done.

This article, “Spring Awakening,” describes how the Cornell University Library ended up making 90-second YouTube clips for their incoming first-years about basic research concepts.

As Janes points out, this isn’t earth-shattering, but as he also points out, it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering in order to be dead useful; it just needs to 1) address the need and 2) actually happen.

It brings to mind a huge site I used a few times in college called Atomic Learning.  Schools can subscribe to it to give their students access to tons of tiny (“atomic”) learning modules.  My college subscribed to it, but I don’t have access to it now that I’m out of school, and I think the focus was watching, not creating your own.  The brilliance of using YouTube instead is that it’s free, allows participation on both sides, is easy to embed, and simple to access.

How powerful would it be to have even a couple of 90-second videos addressing super-common questions!  I’m so excited to bring this to the team and see what we can make of it.  I’m thinking that even if we can’t do video, a cute (and very brief) Slideshare really should be doable.  Or hey, even a Voki if we’re feeling cartoony.

Have you done something like this?  How has it gone?  Can you use this kind of resource in your organization?  What can help bring this from the “idea” stage to the “actually happening” stage?