The Stars Align

Academic libraries, Library Guides


I love those moments where the stars align, and students’ assignments match up perfectly with the collection and collection tools. This week the stars aligned when one of my favorite professors ended his English 102 class early and sent his students to the library to gather resources for their assignment.

Although I’ve never met this teacher in person, I think he’s pretty awesome. I call him Mr. Lit Crit because every semester he teaches his students to write literature criticism, guiding them through the research and writing of a very special type of essay. Literature criticism wasn’t part of the curriculum for anthropology students, but in the course of pulling resources for Mr. Lit Crit’s students, I’ve learned how to do literature criticism too.

Here at the library, we greet Mr. Lit Crit’s students every semester with reference books for dramatists, novelists, and short story writers. We have a thorough collection of “books you can take home” for each of Mr. Lit Crit’s favorite authors, and of course, reviews in our literature criticism databases. Last semester, I dusted off all of our HTML library guides for literature criticism and put them in a dynamic form, complete with links to each literature criticism database, catalog records for circulating books, and select literature criticism pieces. Talk about learning–once denizens of terra incognita, by the end of that process the Literary Reference Center and Critical Insights collection were my buddies, and I knew the names of each of Bloom’s gazillion and a half series.

This semester, Mr. Lit Crit added a twist to his usual assignment and gave the students the option of doing a literary biography for a shortlist of authors, all of whom were present in our literature criticism guides. It was simply wonderful: a dozen students arrived at once, but myself and the one other librarian at the desk were able to identify what resources the students needed, print them off a guide, direct them to the sections containing the biographies, and let them explore while we helped the next wave of students. Many actually did come back for help finding additional resources, or at least directions to the photocopier or circulation desk. In one quick library visit, these students learned where the library was, how happy the librarians are to help, and how our resources are exactly what they need for their project. They were not frustrated by the disconnect between what the teacher wanted and what exists in the collection. We were not frustrated trying to use a vague assignment to ferret out what the teacher wanted the students to do. I even got a chance to test drive the guides, rectifying inconsistencies between guides for different works by the same author and beefing up biographical sources for some of our less-studied authors.

Experiences like this, where the research stars align, make me want to run to the nearest department offices and ask each and every teacher what research project they’re assigning next so I can tell them how the library is here to give them the research they want. Course readings, dictionaries, handbooks, films, it’s theirs. I want to tell them all about Mr. Lit Crit, and how they, too, can take all the time they used to spend booby-trapping their assignments for plagiarism and inappropriate Google use and instead use that time to have the students work with the library. By and large, students want to do bad work, and don’t need to be smacked on the knuckles for not researching properly: they simply need to be shown how to do it right. And teachers, when you come to the library look for me, because I’ll be right there, in the line of librarians queuing up to help.

I am Such a Geek

Academic libraries
Best.  Mail.  Ever.

Best. Mail. Ever.

My first copy of College and Research Libraries, the journal of the College and Research Libraries division of the American Library Association came today, and I am so excited.

Does This Ribbon Make Me Look Desperate?

Academic libraries, Conferences


As if attending a conference wasn’t fraught with enough decisions–which sessions to attend, exhibit hall or no–they also present us with ribbons with which to identify ourselves. Part of me feels just like a Girl Scout collecting badges, and the other part feels like I’m maybe trying too hard to establish a marketable identity.

Oh the agony of decision-making when your body insists it’s only 5:30, not 8:30.

All Right All Ready

Academic libraries, Conferences, Uncategorized


The Association of College and Research Libraries annual conference starts tomorrow, and in the past fee weeks, I have been bombarded with print and e-mail advertisements from what must be every single vendor attending the exhibit hall.

I’m coming already, people. Just be forewarned: I’m not coming with a budget.

Fun with Databases

Academic libraries, Library Subscription Databases, Mobile Computing, Projects

Sometimes I have terrific ideas. I see them unfold in technicolor in my mind. They are gorgeous, they are cutting-edge, and everyone loves them.

Sometimes, I implement these ideas. That’s where things get a little wonky.

My latest brilliant idea was to advertise this program I’m coordinating. I was going to combine low-tech (a poster) with high-tech (QR codes that link to resources from the library), and advertise the program, and the book that goes with it, and link patrons to really fantabulous resources…

*pauses to catch breath*

At first, the technicolor version was playing out. I had all my resources, I made QR codes using this QR code generator, and I tested the links. Granted, the websites I was linking to were not mobile optimized, but they were authoritative, darnit, and students are ingenuous creatures. If they want to look at that object on a desktop device, they’ll figure out a way to do it.

Then I attempted to create a permalink to an image we have access to through ARTstor. *insert whistling noise as technicolor version of project plumments towards the ground*

My first stumbling point was discovering that the mobile version of ARTstor does not offer the ability to grab permalinks. At best, I could add our proxy to the ARTstor mobile URL and use that to create a QR code that linked our students to the mobile ARTstor homepage. But there is a time and a place for teaching students how to start at a database homepage and arrive at the object they want, and a display is neither.

What about the full site? The full site has “image URLs.” If a student can get to the actual object, even if it’s not mobile optimized, that’s better than routing them to the homepage, right?

That would have been a decent Plan B, but ARTstor’s full site opens each item record in a new pop-up window. And iPhones (the phone I was testing all this on) have pop-ups blocked by default. The fact that one, or two, or maybe thousands of our students have iPhones is not lost on me.

But just because I like trying things, I disabled my phone’s pop-up blocker and tried an image URL with a proxy tacked onto the front. The link asked me to log in (huzzah!), loaded the pop-up window (huzzah!), and then presented me with a request to install Flash on my device so I could load the page.

Tomorrow’s work outfit: pencil skirt and a straitjacket.

Is that Dark Slate, Charcoal, or Just Gray?

Academic libraries, Copyright, Fair Use

The semester has just barely started, and already we are faced with a Copyright Conundrum.

That sounds rawther grand, but I have a sneaking suspicion that anything that involves copyright is a conundrum.

Here’s the issue: I work at a public college. The department that handles professional development would like to show a movie to faculty. Because of time considerations, they will not show the entire piece, just selected segments.

Public institution, educational purpose, check.

Fair use? Well, if they create a shortened version of the DVD to streamline the showing of selected segments, it could be considered a derivative work?

Darn. With a little help from a librarian that gets to play with copyright all the time, I found scads of information on copyright limitations on showing moving images at a public academic institution. Stanford has a lovely website on copyright and fair use, with a section for Academic and Educational uses of copyrighted material. Cornell has a book called Copyright and Cultural Institutions, and the University of Texas has put together fair use guidelines for educational multimedia.

All of these were excellent sources, easy to navigate and, considering the complexity of what they set out to describe, quite readable. Unfortunately, none of them offered suggestions on what to do when you have a movie you want to show to faculty, not students, in a modified form, but not store or distribute after the showing.

My next thought was to try original sources, like the mysteriously named Circular 21 (The full title kills the mystique–Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted works by Educators and Librarians). I event found the link to U.S. Code Title 17: Copyrights on Cornell’s Legal Information Institute website.

But none of the original sources offered much in the way of concrete assistance either. The entire group of us looked at the resources, and what they had to say about where our project fell in the murk of fair use, and decided that it was all far too gray. And so, armed with many resources that outline just how we might (or might not) be covered by fair use guidelines, we are contacting the copyright holder.