Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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 CafĂ©.  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!

Monday, November 29, 2010

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?

Monday, November 15, 2010

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."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chief Cultural Officer--the utility of anthropology to corporations

Universities are not Corporations (yet!), but do share aspects, in part because they are large organizations.  This is an interview tidbit on why it's important for corporations to be aware of the importance of culture>  I would argue that the same is largely true for Universities.

McCracken Interview

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ground Floor Reconfigure

I'm sure you've noticed something different about the Ground Floor--new cafe name, furniture rearranged, carrels moving out.

Now it's REALLY different.  Check it out.

So, what will you do in this new space?
Will you do the same things?
Will you have to find another place to go?
Have you ever worked on the ground floor before?  Do you think you will, now?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Google Instant and psychic searching

Well the latest news about Google is that it's trying to predict what you are searching for instantly.  The results come up as you are still typing what you are looking for.  The early verdict is "clever, not psychic."  I wonder if it will turn into a kind of game--what is Google thinking I'm searching for?--very like when people allow their phones to complete the words they are typing, even (and especially) when it's the wrong words.

The impulse to know more than users do about what users are searching for can get us into trouble.  I'm not saying that users of library resources always know what is possible, when conducting a search.  But it is possible for  information specialists to go too far in assuming they think they know what people are looking for--or how they should be looking for it.  Information scientists are trained to organize information, and to retrieve it from information systems, but are not always working with systems that are intuitive to users.  Thinking that information science provides the best way to organize information can get in the way of library users finding the information they need--or even, perceiving the library as a good place they can go for resources.  If the organizing structures of the information resources are too challenging, people can give up. 

I wonder about Google Instant.  Will people respond well to Google presuming that it can know so much from so little initial data?  Will Google build in the right kind of flexibility. so that people can find what they are actually looking for, not just what Google thinks they are looking for?

Friday, September 3, 2010

For the holiday weekend, some fun for bibliophiles

Click here to watch the video

I am trying to figure out which child I can give this book to, but I think that the people in my life who would most love it are grown-ups who sometimes just want to sit down with a BOOK.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On metadata, Google, and why we still need librarians and libraries

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education takes Google to elaborate task for its inadequate metadata.

What is metadata?  It's a word that I was utterly unfamiliar with up until about 6 months ago.  And my grasp of its meaning is still that of a non-expert.  My definition of "metadata" is:  the descriptive data attached to the electronic records of library materials, be they books, articles, or other documents/items, that allow for search engines to find those materials.  (I am sure my colleagues here will correct me when I am wrong--or elaborate on that definition if they find it inadequate).  In short, if there is bad or incomplete metadata, the best materials for the searching patron may never turn up, when they type in subject categories, author names, book titles, or publication dates.

Google's massive book-scanning project inspires a great many alarmist conversations among academics, and I have my own reservations about the Google-ization of academic publishing.  But it seems clear to me that, if Google is going to do this, with the purpose of making nearly all of academic publications accessible and searchable, they should at least do it correctly.  This article points to the errors already embedded in Google's metadata, and highlights the potential trouble for scholars if those errors are allowed to persist.

Do you expect to be able to find useful information when you Google things?  How can you expect it, if there are such serious flaws in their methods?  Perhaps this is a hint that Google is not actually the be-all end-all of academic search, but remains just a starting point.

Among the messages I take from the article today is the one that states: Google should be employing actual metadata experts in their books project.  And also that, for now, the need for librarians and their expertise is not going away anytime soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

They're not just for feedback (updated)

The whiteboards in the library were never intended to primarily be vehicles for feedback (although they are occasionally used for that, and that's fine).
They are there, fundamentally, so that people can use them while they're studying in the library.  They are on wheels so that you can move them to a space that works best for your group.  We know that the whiteboards in the study rooms are tremendously useful to the study groups that use them, and when it's midterm or finals time, we want it to be possible for the entire library to be one huge study room.

So, not only are there these portable boards, but there is a new set of whiteboard surfaces along the wall of the Atkins ground floor, just outside of the cafe downstairs (used to be Ritazza, now it's Peet's).

Here's an example of what someone did with one of the whiteboards on the second floor.

And there are whiteboards on the ground floor now, and people are using them, too (thanks to Donna Gunter for this picture):

What else helps you study in the library?  How are you using the spaces in Atkins?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A New Year, in the Fall (updated)

I've been an academic for my entire adult life, and so New Year's for me falls in late August.  It was fitting that the weather changed just enough today to make it feel like Fall was really just about here.

Today was the Atkins Library's Week of Welcome day, and we were out in force, giving students "smart pills" with our latest brochure, and connecting students to the resources they need to do their work here on campus.  We also had up the ever-present easels, and people wrote on them. 

We asked four questions.  I'll post the first one now, and update as we get the pictures ready.

Where do you like to Read and Write ?

Question 2:
What do you think  Librarians DO?

Question 3:
Who do you talk to about assignments?

Question 4:  What do you need from the library?  We got two sets of responses, because we erased the full board and started over about halfway through our WoW session.

What are your answers to these questions?  Are they different than the ones above?  Answer in the comments!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Library Ethnography at the American Library Association meetings (ALAs)

The Chronicle of Higher education had this article on ethnographic research in libraries.  One interesting side-effect of this article is the comments that follow--seems some people don't see ethnography in libraries as "scholarly research."  Well, that's arguable.  I'm biased, of course, but I think that any ethnographic endeavor is about increasing understanding.   And if we engage in ethnography to influence library policy (as we are doing here at Atkins), we are using that increase in understanding to make policy better fit with the needs of our patrons.  I think that's also legitimately "scholarly." 

Suggesting that applied work like ethnography done in libraries, or in military situations, or in corporations, cannot possibly be "scholarly" is defining away a big chunk of anthropological research, for what I think are largely political reasons, having nothing to do with scholarly integrity. 

Any of my colleagues actually attend the session on ethnography?  Alas, I was unable to be in DC for the ALA festivities.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some feedback about the library

The whiteboards that we put up for students to use while studying for finals are also being used as feedback boards, which is great.

This one is currently on the Third Floor (click on images to enlarge):

A zoom on the important part, as far as we are concerned:

Sorry for parking services, but glad that you all are loving the library.  Keep the feedback coming, the good, bad, and ugly.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Special Collections and Access to Library Materials

I think a lot about how libraries are perceived these days.  I have met students who see libraries as wonderful welcoming places, and others who find libraries intimidating and institutional.  It's not just students who feel that way about libraries--a scholar and librarian writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that he, had an encounter with a special collections librarian that made him feel unwelcome.  I should say here, I'm pretty unsympathetic to his dilemma, descending as he did on a private library of unique items, and expecting to be able to page through the books right off.  However, I think it's interesting fodder for conversation.

In fact, I think the most interesting part of that column is the comments section--it contains a lively discussion about what librarians and patrons want from Special Collections.  I think that many of the same points can be made about libraries generally.  It can frequently be difficult to balance what patrons desire with what is necessary to keep the library functioning well, and to provide access to information.

So, how do you feel about libraries?  How do you feel about Atkins in particular?  Now that people are using the library 24/7, it seems busier than ever.  I think at least some of you are here because you like it.

Or am I wrong?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vending Machines!

Well if you're going to be here 24/7, you might as well have snax.

A Safe Library

Now that the tower has wireless access, there is a lot more opportunity for students to work up there.  The prospect of more people working in the tower, plus the 24 hour library during the month leading up to finals, has led to some people wondering about the ways that the library is trying to keep people safe.

So I asked around, and learned several useful things from our security chief.
First, security patrols the entire building every hour, but not necessarily at the same time each hour, because they don’t want to establish a pattern.  When it’s after dark, and they find people by themselves in the tower, they usually add one round on that floor to the usual sweep, to check on that person.  Sometimes, they let the person know that they are alone on that floor, in case they want to move.

There is an emergency button near the elevators on floors 5-8, that can be pressed if there is a need for police/security.  Even if a person does not talk, it’s registered that the button has been pushed, and security has to tell the police not to come, if they find out it’s a false alarm.   Otherwise, the campus police come automatically. 
There are emergency buttons in each elevator, as well.  They look like this:

Our security chief said, too, that this is a very safe library—since the 24 hours experiment has started, there have been no incidents.

Is this your experience of the library?  Did you know about the emergency buttons?  
If your experience is different, please let us know.  Problems unidentified are problems that don't get fixed.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I have been informed by reliable sources that we now have wireless internet throughout the entire library building, bottom to top, lobby to tower.

So, NOW where are you going to do your work?

Tell me!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend Pop Culture Library References

Well I work in a library now, so I can't help but notice references to librarians, libraries, etc in my everyday life.

NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell me had not one but two library-based riffs this weekend:

a question about really old library fines,
in their Limerick Quiz (second question):

And Doonesbury features an archivist and an important primary source.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wordle, Reference Desk Help

A representation of what you all asked for from our reference librarians, in the space of one week in March.  (with the help of  www.wordle.net).
Anything look familiar?

Wordle: Reference Desk

And here's a wordle that includes what the reference librarians did, not just what they were asked:

Wordle: Reference Desk 2

How not to be in the Library

A co-worker shared this link with me. I'm sure many of you can relate.


A Quiet Zone Experiment

On the Third Floor of Atkins, which is now a Quiet Zone, you can now find some of these:

Both skeptics and supporters of self-policing in the library will soon have information about whether it's a feasible way to try to keep Quiet in the QZ.
Skeptics seem to be of the mind that 1)  UNCC students are incapable of policing themselves, and 2)  that it's somehow the job of library staff to make sure people keep quiet all the time, in all areas of the library.  These cell citation pads are scattered in the Third Floor Quiet Zone as a way of giving license to self-police.  And maybe, to add a little humor to the stress of trying to find a place to study in the run-up to final exams and research papers.

So, let me know if you use one.  Or if you receive one.

Monday, April 5, 2010

24/5, so it begins!

Well this is what many of you begged and pleaded for. It's happening-- a 24 hour library. It will be 5 days/week up until reading day, and then 24/7 for the rest of Finals.

So, what are you doing in the 24 hour library?
Group study?
Paper writing?

What are the advantages to you?
What problems are you encountering?

Please, do tell.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Macs! And other Computer things

So, we're working on adding about 35 more computers to the total in Atkins Library--10 of them will be Macs.

We are limited, right now, in where to put them, because of the limits on where ethernet connections are.

But, working within those limits, we might have some flexibility. Here is where we could use a little more information.

What kind of furniture do you like best, when you have to sit and work on a desktop computer? And be specific about what kind of work you are doing when you are at the desktop. Do you like the big tables? The carrels? The circle-pod thingys on the first floor? What about the furniture makes your work easier or harder to do?

Are you doing work in groups? How does your group use the desktop?

And if you have a laptop, what kind of furniture makes it easier to do the kind of work you need to do for your classes?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Struggle for Quiet in the Library

Not everyone in Atkins expects absolute silence. Some of you are actively searching for spaces that are "just noisy enough" to allow you to focus. Spaces that are too quiet freak some people out, and don't allow them to concentrate.

Then there are those of you who want quiet quiet quiet. And when people are talking on their cell phones, or to each other, you get frustrated and move in search of new, genuinely quiet spaces.

Some of you want people who are noisy in the library to be "punished" somehow. I am struggling to figure out what that would even look like, in a context where we are all over the age of 18 and so, nominally, all grown-ups here.

When you encounter unwanted noise, is it in the "official" Quiet Zones? Does asking people to be quiet ever work? If you are trying to do quiet work on the first or second floor, why is that?

I am not trying to blame the victim here, I'm trying to figure out where the balance lies among all of the different ways that people (legitimately) do work, are quiet, make noise.

Should we be encouraging more self-policing? More peer pressure to keep Quiet Areas quiet? Is the Struggle for Quiet as big a deal as the suggestion box entries imply, or is this a vocal minority?

Help me out, here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Break OVER

...and so now what do you have to do?

Are you writing papers? Studying for another test? Are you applying for graduate schools, and preparing for GREs? Are you getting ready for the job market?

UNCC's Spring Break is scheduled to fall exactly in the middle of the semester (which is why, apparently, our break doesn't realiably synch up with any other schools, colleges or universities in the area). When I was teaching, this was the time of the semester when I would assign writing that would be due at the end of the semester. I figured that, even if I assigned it at the beginning, most students wouldn't work on it until after Spring Break. I wonder if I was correct.

What does your schedule look like from now until May? How are you going to fit it all in?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Break Library

UNCC has a lot of students who stick around for Spring Break. I saw many of them in the library yesterday. Lots of people doing work: paper writing, test prep, tutoring, collaborative study. A few relaxing, watching videos, checking out DVDs from the Green Box on the 2nd floor.

Why are you in the library over Spring Break? Is this a chance to get work done before everyone else comes back? Do you like the library better or worse with less people in it?

Friday, March 5, 2010

When do you learn how to use the Atkins Library?

I have, at best, a hazy feel for how UNCC students come to Atkins. My impression is that many are brought to the library, both in real space and in cyber-space, by their professors.

But when was the first time, for you? Was it freshman-year composition class? Was it a liberal studies class? Did you hear about the library during new student (freshman or transfer) orientation?

And then, what did that first time look like? Was it the only time you were told about the library? Did/do you hear about the library and its resources from friends? Family? Co-workers? Who do you trust to steer you towards the resources you need to do what you need to do at UNCC.

These questions are assuming that you were, in fact, told about the library. Were you?

If you don't use the library, where do you get the information that you need to do your assignments, write papers, pass your classes?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quiet, or not Quiet

The Quiet/Not Quiet Troubles plague University libraries worldwide, I think. It is, at the very least, an intense problem locally, here at UNCC. It seems to me that there are legitimate work-based reasons why people want to be noisy (well, reasonably so) in the library. Think of: group work, studying in pairs. And there are time-honored and important reasons to need quiet in the library.

And so, we have group study rooms. Noise contained in a room, people outside the room are happy in their quiet. But, what about when those are full? What then?

Is the first floor really ever going to be a quiet space? Is it reasonable to expect it to be? Should we continue to spit in the wind, putting furniture on the first floor, high-traffic areas, that signal "quiet study here?"

What if much of the first floor was an open space with places for both group and individual study, but with very little expectations that the space be "library quiet?"

Where, then, should the quiet spaces be?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What do you mean by 24/7?

I'll start by talking to myself.

If you saw any of the easels in the 1st floor of Atkins in the last little while, you surely noticed (perhaps you even wrote) endless repetitions of "27/7!"

So, OK, we're working on that. We know you want it.

But I'd like to know more. Why are you in the library at 2AM? What kind of work are you doing in the middle of the night? What about the library makes it a good space for that?

Please do not think these are judgemental questions--just because I personally am incapable of pulling an all-nighter doesn't mean that people don't have good, solid reasons for doing so. I know people work all night long.

We need to know, why the library? What does it have (or not have) that other places don't (or do)? Where do you work when you can't go to the library? What does that feel like/look like? Does it depend on the kind of work? Are you coming alone? In groups? Is it only during finals week? All semester?

You see, how just reading words on an easel can only get us so far? Please enlighten me, in the comments.

So, here we are

The easels are down, and I'm trying this instead. As the Anthropologist in the Atkins Library, my job is to find out what the UNCC community is doing, in going about getting their work done here at the university. In particular, I'd like to know what works and doesn't work for them here at the library.

We've had easels up around the first floor for the last several weeks, and I think we've reached the point of diminishing returns, where we are hearing the same suggestions over and over. Not that the suggestions are not good, but we've heard them now, and need to think about ways to act on the appropriate ones.

In the meantime, I need more feedback. And I'd like to be able to push back, and respond to some of the feedback you give us. One of the suggestions was that we have a blog, rather than easels or suggestion boxes. So here we are.