Category Archives: TTW Contributor Dr. Troy Swanson

Graphic Novel Symposium — #comicculture by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

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We are very excited about our upcoming Graphic Novel Symposium, which will be in September of 2014. Check out our website, We are aiming to create an academic event that can be utilized by our faculty members in the arts and humanities (and maybe other areas of the curriculum).  We’ll be featuring faculty lectures, local comic shops, a gaming event, and a cosplay event.

We’ve been working on the marketing for this ,  and we recruited one one of our awesome catalogers, Brenda Lozano, as our model for our images. Yes, it’s true. When Brenda is not cataloging our electronic resources and helping to write our metadata standards, she is modeling.  You can see the results of this shoot at our downloads page.  Also, check out this short video about the photo shoot.

Behind the Scenes: Graphic Novel Symposium Photo Shoot


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Your Curriculum is Not About 3D Printers or Zombies By TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio. While there, I had the opportunity to talk with Justin Hoenke (among many folks) who is also a contributor to this blog. We discussed his work at the Chattanooga Public Library and, specifically about the use of their 3D printer. Listening to him talk, it really struck me that at the basic level Justin does not really care about the 3D printer. The 3D printer is all well and good, but the thing that he is really after is the learning, the creativity, that the printer enables. Justin told me, “if libraries want to get into the maker movement, they don’t really need a 3D printer. They really just need a roll of duct tape and some raw materials to use in building” (this quote was given to me over drinks so please take it as more representative of his larger points as opposed to an exact quote). It was clear to me that Justin was not really a technologist, even if he uses technology to do his work. He gets excited about the things that people can do with the technology (even if the technology is a roll of duct tape).

This year my library received two awards for our campus-wide zombie game . We received the Proquest Innovation in Libraries Award from ACRL  and the Innovation of the Year Award from our own campus. I mention these awards partly because of a character flaw where I like to show off. But I also bring these up because our library’s zombie game is comparable to Justin’s 3D printer. We didn’t organize our game because we wanted to play a game. We did it because we wanted to organize a learning event that enriched the curriculum in a unique way that no other campus department could. We could pull together IT support and student activities while still making the event curricular giving faculty a tool to use to create assignments. Faculty members from across the curriculum created assignments so that their students could participate. This included microbiology, nursing, statistics, massage therapy, criminal justice, writing, speech, and others.

It wasn’t too long ago when it was trendy for administrators within higher education to merge the library with IT departments. Obviously, every institution has their own reasons and goals when they reorganize, but this move always concerned me a little bit. I always have felt that moving libraries outside of the academic division sort of missed what libraries are all about. Moving libraries to IT emphasizes their role as learning infrastructure and DE-emphasizes their role in learning. And I have always thought that the whole point was learning. Perhaps, David Lankes makes the best point in The Atlas of New Librarianship. He notes that librarians can no longer think simply about service communities, but that librarians must focus on the learning needs of those service communities. It’s about curriculum.

So, what’s your curriculum? Your curriculum is simply the learning needs of community. Your curriculum ties together resources, events, swansonphotospace, classes, technology, and other services aimed at learning. Your curriculum recasts the purpose of your library away from stuff, away from content. Your curriculum doesn’t just bring you face-to-face with your community. Your curriculum brings you face-to-face with your learners. And, most importantly, your curriculum is not about 3D printers or zombie games.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Fair Use is in the Eye of the Beholder…or Not by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson


I have a decent understanding of copyright and the process of determining fair use, but I didn’t have a good understanding of how YouTube enforces and adjudicates copyright disputes. I’ll own up to my naiveté, but even after acknowledging this, I am still troubled by YouTube’s approach to copyright enforcement.

I thought about titling this post, “I Fought the Law and the Law Won,”
but the problem is that this whole thing isn’t really about the law at all. In YouTube Land, it doesn’t really matter if your use of copyrighted material falls under fair use or not. What matters is that content creators can use YouTube’s enforcement tools to shutdown your account and make life so difficult that you avoid any use of outside content all together. YouTube has become the default, national forum for online video, and, as such, their approach to copyright has a chilling effect on speech and public discourse.

Our library has 93 videos totaling well over a 100 of hours of content on YouTube, but my problems stem from a total of 45-75 seconds of video. Actually, about 25 seconds of a particular video has allowed Sony Music to put a copyright strike on my library’s YouTube account. My library’s YouTube account is still in place and our videos are still visible, but we are no longer able to upload videos longer than 15 minutes, which pretty much limits most of our primary uses.  When the violations appeared, I probably should have clicked on the “acknowledge” button, which may have helped to avoid the  strike . But, our use falls within fair use, and I decided to challenge the claims against our use.

The following copyright violations were identified through YouTube’s automated system:

1. A lecture given by our campus police chief where he shows a YouTube video (ironically) and YouTube’s bots caught the music in the background of that video. So, the bots caught music in a video within our video. They called this a misuse of 3rd party content, even though the video within our video is made freely available by City of Houston and the music in question is a very small percentage of the work in the background of a video.
Our video:
Video within the video:

2. A lecture and dance performance from a dance company visiting our college. YouTube’s bots caught the music used by a dancer in a demonstration. After filling out YouTube’s forms claiming fair use, this video was eventually given the green light. We won this one after appealing.
Our video:

3. (This is the one that put a strike on our account.) A student created video hosted on our account. This was a video project created for a speech class that used 25 seconds of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. When I uploaded it, I knew that this one might be a problem, but I felt that we were safe under the tests of fair use (see Stanford’s Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors ). I have taken this one all the way through the appeal process and have been given a strike.

Of course, I recognize that YouTube/Google is a private company that can set their own rules on their platform, but I also find it troubling that they make money off of all of the content freely given to them. As someone who has given them useful content and driven traffic to their site, I feel that they have a responsibility to me and to the millions of other users like me. They have a responsibility to write rules that do not allow huge companies like Sony to bully their way through the online world.

Just a few months ago, Lawrence Lessig won a suit against Liberation Music in an effort to fight this kind of copyright abuse (see Lawrence Lessig Wins Damages for Bogus Youtube Takedown). Unfortunately, Lawrence Lessig doesn’t work for my library, and it is unlikely that the swansonphotoElectronic Frontier Foundation will swoop in and fight for fair use on my library’s behalf. More than likely, I will have to wait six months until this copyright strike expires, and then will have to become very strict with future videos. The weighing of fair use under US copyright law won’t really matter.

One positive result from this experience is that our librarians have a new example to use when talking to faculty about scholarly communication issues. Our campus has new justification for a campus-hosted video solution that is independent of YouTube. I am fortunate enough to work at a college large enough to implement our own video management system, which is not always possible at smaller colleges or smaller public libraries who depend on services like YouTube. None-the-less, the overall result for us is a chilling effect that helps to avoid this administrative paper chase.  

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.


The New Information Literacy Framework and James Madison by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Today, the first draft of a new Framework for Information Literacy has been released for comment. ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force  has been charged with revising the info lit standards. (For the record, I am a member of this committee but I do not speak on behalf of the committee here.) The task force’s work address the recommendations made by a previous review group . The task force is working on a product that I believe will be qualitatively different than the existing standards.

The “Old” Standards
The current (old) ACRL Information Literacy Standards were monumental when they were completed in 2000. They had a significant impact on libraries and on higher education by coalescing conversation around information in meaningful ways. Over the years, many of us have been critical of the Standards and highlighted their shortcomings, and I think that we must recognize the important role they have played in shaping information literacy instruction.

However, any of us who have spent time working with the current standards recognize that they pretend to be something that they are not. They, in effect, do not actually set up standards. They do not create a single set of outcomes that all students across higher education could be measured against. They are a detailed set of indicators and outcomes that are intended to measure a set of skills that are so broad and far reaching that the standards could not possibly be successful. There is no single set of measures for the vast degree of information literacy applications that exist. I don’t mean to say that the old standards are not important because they were, but we should recognize that the old standards are not standards in the same way that there are reading, math, or spelling standards.

The New “Framework”
Recently, I was listening to an episode of WNYC’s show Radiolab which I thought was pertinent to the Information Literacy Task Force. The episode featured historian and writer Joseph J. Ellis who was discussing the Constitutional Convention of September 1787 which Ellis wrote about in his book, American Creation. The framers of the Constitution were struggling to find agreed upon answers that would help them form a national government. The founding fathers could not agree on fundamental questions such as, “Who is in charge?” Hamilton and his followers argued to disband state governments and focus on strengthening a centralized government. Jefferson and his followers wanted no central control at all.

James Madison, who eventually wrote the basic document, had a great epiphany. At first Madison was very disappointed that the convention didn’t seem to solve anything. The Constitution didn’t present any answers. Ellis notes, “[Madison] starts to think differently. He starts to say, ‘oh yeah’…this could work precisely because it’s unclear. And he found what he calls a ‘middle station’…The Constitution is not a set of answers. It is a framework for argument. This is a document that allows us to continue to discuss and debate the core issues that we face…” (You can listen to Ellis’ discussion on Radiolab at, “Sex, Ducks, and The Founding Feud” Thursday, December 19, 2013,

Now, I am not trying to equate the Information Literacy Task Force to the Constitutional Convention. (Although it may be fun to try to figure which Task Force members would be Washington, who would be Franklin, and who would be Madison.) But, I am drawing the comparison in that we are attempting to create a new way of thinking about information literacy that does not present *your* campus with answers. Let me say that again – the Task Force is not writing outcomes for your campus. I am not sure how we could actually do that. I do not believe it is possible for us to write all-inclusive skills for all instances of information literacy across the diversity of higher education.

The new information literacy framework outlines threshold concepts that differentiates the novice from the expert researcher. The thresholds may appear different within different disciplinary swansonphotocontexts. They may appear to be different for different institutions. This is a dramatic change from the past standards. The task force is presenting a novel approach that will take some adjustment for many. It is my hope that these concepts open a point of conversation between faculty members and librarians. Since the new framework does not outline skills to teach, but, instead, thresholds of understanding and dispositions for action, librarians and faculty can explore how student’s develop as information literate learners within the curriculum. This is move past the one-shot session toward more meaningful pedagogical exchange.

More importantly, for our profession, I hope that this document is never a completed document. This Framework should not be in existence for 14 years before it is revised. If the next revision occurs in 2028, then we (as a profession) will have failed. We need to consider such questions such as: How do these thresholds grow and change? Do new thresholds appear and old ones disappear? Are there different thresholds for undergraduates and graduate students? Our goal should be to engage in an ongoing conversation about where these thresholds exist.

I see this Framework as a bold step in the right direction, but it is by no means a perfect or definitive step. There will be many critics. But, to me, that is the point. This will not be a finished document. You should try to poke holes in the Task Force’s work. You should voice your opinions and push us to a better understanding of what we do (click here to go to online survey). I do not know any other way that this Framework will be improved.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

Clive Thompson Talks Librarians on Circulating Ideas by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Recently, journalist Clive Thompson was on the Circulating Ideas podcast with Steve Thomas. They discussed Thompon’s book Smarter Than You Think.

I wanted to share this because I have read the book and found it to be very appropriate and timely for libraries. (I also wanted to share it because Steve does a great job!) The book’s main point is a shot across the bow of the Google-is-making-us-dumber argument (Nicholas Carr). Thompson builds a compelling argument that technology (including Google) is, in fact, making us smarter. Many new technologies are a form of extended cognition that enhance and ideas. Thompson is not a technological idealist by any means, but his thoughts are timely and well-supported.

He spends several sections of his book acknowledging libraries and the role librarians play in leading the charge on information literacy. In the podcast Thompson notes,

There’s this structural disconnect inside schools…
Library science is more important on an everyday level than ever before but schools haven’t figured out that they need to integrate that and their librarians into everyday teaching.

swansonphotoThis podcast (and book) compliment many developments within librarianship. Specifically, I think they connect well with the thinking of David Lankis (and others) in the conversations around new librarianship.

If you’d like to find the Circulating Ideas podcast featuring Thompson, you can find it here: Circulating Ideas, Episode 37: Clive Thompson

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

One Book, Many Zombies by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

In May, I posted about our simulated zombie outbreak (see:
Humans vs Zombies as an Active Learning Event by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson). We adapted the popular Humans vs Zombies game into an experiential-learning event. I am happy to report that we survived our own zombie apocalypse.

I wanted to share our write up in American Libraries, One Book, Many Zombies . I am also wanted to share this video we created that summarizes our zombie game.

World War M: Humans vs Zombies (Summary Video)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Problems with Evaluating: (Part 3) Threshold Concepts

The concept of “evaluating” information runs throughout the existing ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education. They highlight the different ways we teach students about information at different points in the research process. Here are the primary points:

Standard one: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.

  • Performance indicator 2:  The information literate student identifies a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information.
  • Outcome C: Identifies the value and differences of potential resources in a variety of formats (e.g., multimedia, database, web site, data set, audio=visual, book).
  • Outcome D: Identifies the purpose and audience of potential resources (e.g., popular vs. scholarly, current vs. historical).

Standard two: The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.

  • Performance indicator 4:  The information literate student refines the search strategy if necessary.
  • Outcome A: Assesses the quantity, quality, and relevance of the search results to determine whether alternative information retrieval systems or investigative methods should be utilized.
  • Outcome B: Identifies gaps in the information retrieved and determines if the search strategy should be revised.

Standard three: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

  • Performance indicator 2: The information literate student articulates and applies initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources.
  • Outcome A:  Examines and compares information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias.
  • Outcome B: Analyzes the structure and logic of supporting arguments or methods.
  • Outcome C: Recognizes prejudice, deception, or manipulation.
  • Outcome D: Recognizes the cultural, physical, or other context within which the information was created and understands the impact of context on interpreting the information

Of course, the problem with these standards, performance indicators, and outcomes is how do you transform them into something that is teachable? More importantly, how do we take this list to faculty members?  I’ve wrestled with these questions for many years. This is a problem that ACRL has also acknowledged in their call to edit these standards. They are recommending a set of standards that are more simplified and more connected to practice.

Lori Townsend, Korey Burnetti, and Amy R. Hofer have suggested a move away from standards and a move toward threshold concepts which are more attuned to practice (see Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11, 3, 853-869).

“…threshold concepts are the core ideas and processes that define the ways of thinking and practicing for a discipline, but are so ingrained that they often go unspoken or unrecognized by practitioners” (Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer, 2011, p. 854).

In terms of “evaluating” information, Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer suggest a couple of threshold concepts that shed useful light on the topic. These are:

Format as Process
“A threshold concept relating to format, then, would focus on the student understanding that format is the result of a process. Information is packaged in different formats because of how it was created and shared. Shifting the focus from the end product to the pattern of events which define information production fundamentally changes the conversation” (p. 861).

Authority is Constructed and Contextual
“An authority threshold concept makes explicit the idea that authority is both constructed and contextual, based on evaluative criteria specific to the situation. An understanding of this concept enables students to critically examine a sources–be it a Wikipedia article or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding–and ask the relevant questions about its origins, context, and suitability of the information need of the moment” (p. 863).

A list of information literacy threshold concepts would necessarily include additional concepts focusing on the “evaluating” information concept (teaching students about information) beyond these. I include these because they were included in the 2011 Townsend, Burnetti, and Hofer article.

It is no secret that the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force (of which I am a member)  is looking at information literacy threshold concepts as an alternative framework for understanding learning related to information. When I consider “evaluating” information and the decade spent teaching students about information, I find these threshold concepts to be refreshing. They do not assume a mechanical process that is disconnected from reality. They also flush out understandings that are vital to successfully making decisions around information.

(Note: This post is not connected to any role I may have as a member of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force. My thoughts do not necessarily represent the thoughts of the committee.)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.



Problems with Evaluating: (Part 2) Affective Science & Information Literacy by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I have long been interested in the idea of why we believe what we believe. I have been interested in this relating to information literacy instruction. How do we evaluate sources and how do we make decisions about what counts as truth? Recently, I have been doing some reading in psychology and neuroanatomy focusing on the complex ways that the brain utilizes outside inputs to make decisions. This research highlights some disconnects and points where our practice, as instructional librarians, may be falling short with these new developments in the literature.

Over the history of the 20th century the emotions and affective reactions were largely ignored by psychology. In the last two decades, researchers have presented a broader understanding of the fact that emotion plays an underlying role in all kinds of decision-making. Our moods and emotions color all of our interactions with the world whether we realize it or not. It wasn’t that long ago when most cognitive researchers believed that each region of the brain performed a specific function, and it was generally held that the limbic system dealt with emotion/affective reactions and the frontal lobes dealt with cognition and analytic thinking. Recent research has shown that the picture is much much more complex. The picture that is emerging is one where personality, decision-making, emotions, etc result from combinations of activity within the brain. Importantly, analytic activities (such as interpreting information) activate a whole range of brain regions especially those more associated with affect.

swansonphotoI am concerned that many librarians (myself included at times) still hold the view that our brains are like recording machines capturing all that happens around us. The learning process is then equated to information processing as if we are walking computers. Students simply absorb data, compute this data, and arrive at the logical conclusions. Naturally, we know that this view does not represent reality. In the abstract, we know that different people will reach different conclusions. But, in practice, I wonder if we think that given the same facts, all of us would achieve the same answer? I often hear academics speak with trepidation about the online, political echo chamber. We rant about anti-scientific views that are shared across social media.. What underlies these rants and fears? I often suspect that it is the assumption that the computational machines that we teach do not agree with us.

Increasingly, brain research is showing us that not only are we not computational machines, but we are more life belief machines. Our beliefs are our shorthand to understanding the world. Our understandings about how the world works and that emerge within specific situations greatly influence decision-making. These beliefs help us filter what we see help us recognize what is important and help us know how to handle particular situations. Clearly, psychologists have been building the picture of the believing brain for many years, but the revelations resulting from brain imaging are starting to reveal the mechanisms at work.

This quote from The Believing Brain: From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions by Michael Shermer is telling concerning right and wrong:

“In fact, research now overwhelmingly demonstrates that most of our moral decisions are grounded in automatic moral feelings rather than deliberatively rational calculations. We do not reason our way to a moral decision by carefully weighing the evidence for and against; instead, we make intuitive leaps to moral decisions and then rationalize the snap decision after the fact with rational reasons. Our moral intuition – reflected in such conservative-liberal stereotypes- are more emotional than rational. As with most of our beliefs about most things in life, our moral beliefs come first; the rationalization of those moral beliefs comes second.”

The jump from neuroanatomically-based brain research to a one-shot, information literacy classroom may feel like a quantum leap, but I have always felt that teaching students about information is at the heart of what instructional librarians do. If information literacy is truly a vital skill for lifelong learning, then it is upon us to make these leaps and recognize the implications for our practice and for our learners.

If you are curious about some of the books at the top of my reading list, I would suggest

  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
  • Believing Brain by Michael Shermer
  • The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley

Feel free to add additional titles in the comments below.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Problems with Evaluating: (Part 1) Predictive Judgments by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

The study “Judgment of Information Quality and Cognitive Authority in the Web“ by Soo Young Rieh is one of those studies that I keep coming back to throughout my career. (I have mentioned Rieh’s study in previous TTW posts Things We Do in Private,  and I Don’t Get Discovery Platforms)

I like this study, because Rieh gracefully hits upon a key difference between expert and novice searchers, which is the ability to make predictive judgments. Expert searchers have a feeling for the domain of knowledge in which they’re searching. They have an expectation for a quality and scope of information and therefore are able to make predictions about what they should find.

swansonphotoAdditionally, they are able to use this knowledge to select appropriate places to do the research. They purposefully select between Google, Google scholar, subscription tools, library catalogs, etc based on the information they expect to find most useful. Not only are experts able to navigate the information world more efficiently, but they are more able to recognize context and meaning.

I have found Rieh’s work (and others like it) to be compelling, because it highlights the complexities around “evaluating” information. It also highlights the failings of the “evaluating information” construct.  I think most instruction librarians who think about information literacy recognize that the research process is non-linear. Even if we write “finding, evaluating, and using” information, we do not really mean working through these steps linearly. This whole “evaluating” information concept is actually infused throughout the entire process:

Topic conceptualization: At a basic level, this involves thinking about what is worth knowing and ways in which I can actually know about these things.

Tool selection: This is a value judgment based on my predictive judgments. What kind of information has value and where does it live?

Evaluating search results: After I have performed a search, I must review the results and make another predictive judgment about the appropriateness of my search. Are the results relevant to my need? If not, should I change my search terms or search in a different tool?

Evaluating sources: Once I have a source in hand, I then need to make a value judgment based on the source’s authority. Do I trust this source, and if I do, how does it fit with my existing knowledge.

Reading a source: As I read and take notes on a source, I draw on my expectations for credibility/quality as I interact with the ideas presented by the writer.

Using/synthesizing information: As I write/create, the value judgments I have made about sources direct the ways that I use and incorporate outside ideas into my own ideas.

It may be an understatement to say that new undergraduates do not often think along these lines. Instruction librarians working with faculty members have an opportunity to point out where predictive judgments must be made in the research process. Teaching students about information is important, and even in one-shot, information literacy sessions, there are opportunities to highlight the hidden decision-making processing within the research process.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.


Things We Do in Private by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Everyone gets naked every once in awhile. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked? Even if you’ve got nothing wrong or weird with your body ­­and how many of us can say that? ­­ You’d have to be pretty strange to like that idea. Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
—Cory Doctorow, Little Brother

Today, I was doing an information literacy session for a speech class and the Doctorow quote above came to my mind. Yes, everyone was dressed. No, nobody was performing any inappropriate bodily functions in class.

swansonphotoHistorically, speech has been one of our information literacy challenges on our campus. Students tend to take speech at two different points in their college career, either at the very beginning to get it over with or at the very end after avoiding it for years. Thus, our speech classes tend to be a mix of students with first-year students sitting next to students who have been on campus for three or four years. We have worked with our speech faculty on a range of different approaches. A basic session aimed at new students causes riots from the experienced students. Advanced searching sessions aimed at the experienced students loses the new students. Our compromise has become an active-learning refresher where the class works together to find sources on the library site followed by a discussion. The searches are basic enough to help the new students, but we also include some stumpers that remind experienced students of the things they might not know. After the refresher, the instructor and I circulate through the room helping individual students who are stuck as the class works on their individual speech research.

So, during this session, I stopped to help a student who said that she couldn’t find any articles on her topic. I sat next to her and watched her search. Instead of selecting a specific database, she went into our online catalog, did her search, ignored the catalog results, and scrolled down to the article results that were part of our “discovery” tool. (Read my thoughts on discovery tools here.) When I asked her why she went to our catalog as opposed to selecting a specific database (which was the focus of our refresher), she just shrugged and said, “that’s what I always do.”

This is something that reference librarians see fairly regularly. Patrons find one successful avenue through our website or through a research tool, and they will use that avenue all of the time. I remember helping a student doing literary research who kept trying to use PscycArticles, because it had worked in her last class.

I thought of the above Doctorow quote because, even if we don’t realize it, searching is definitely something we do in private. It is something we do on our phones, on our laptops, or other devices. Most of the time it is short and discreet. Most search tools have improved enough over the last decade to compensate for our quirks and strange practices. If one approach works, we hang on to it. Because it works, we do not often get the right kind of feedback to force out bad habits. I can recall several times where a student surprised me with a new way to use our site or with a new feature in a database. Over the years, I (like many librarians) have built up a wide range of approaches to research just through interacting with a wide range of searchers.

This highlights some the differences between the expert and the novice. Through experience, experts build up an internal barometer for action. Experts have a bag of tricks to use. Kevin Ashton writes about the differences between experts and novices in this way:

Advanced thinkers think in advance. The expert’s first impression is not a first impression at all. It is the latest in a series of millions. The more we learn from our experience and the experience of others?—?whether in chess, radiography, football or anything else?—?the more selective our attention will become, and the faster we will think.
—Kevin Ashton, “How Experts Think” **

Thus, we benefit by building knowledge when we work with others and (ideally) those we serve benefit when we share that knowledge. Unfortunately, when most searching happens in private, opportunities for improvement are missed.



** Thanks to Lisa Hinchliffe for this link. Lisa also recommends chapter 2 of How People Learn from the National Academy Press free online. For another view on the expert vs novice issue, take a look at “Judgment of Information Quality and Cognitive Authority in the Web” by Soo Young Rieh


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.