Category Archives: TTW Contributor Dr. Troy 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.


I Don’t Get Discovery Platforms: Are We Letting Quantity Win Over Design? by TTW contributor Troy Swanson

Every ILS and database vendor at ALA Annual seemed to be touting their new flashy, single-search discovery tool that groups together all kinds of information sources in a list of search results. Discovery is the hot topic, and your library surely doesn’t want to be left out in the cold. The sales folks have been putting on the full-court press within higher education, and I assume also in public libraries. After leaving ALA, I just don’t get it. The hype doesn’t seem to match the impact.  I struggle to see who these tools benefit.

Who’s the Audience?
Over the years, my library has completed two formal usability studies focusing on new community college students. One resounding lesson from these studies is that students are poorly prepared to recognize differences in information sources on the screen. If new students aren’t really the target audience for discovery tools, then maybe these are really aimed at faculty members and researchers? I am skeptical. Most experts find sources through consulting the literature regularly, contacting colleagues, and attending conferences. They rarely sit down and search a topic from scratch (see Soo Young Rieh, “Judgement of Information Quality and Cognitive Authority in the Web” for an early but useful discussion).

Format as Value
When we consider search from the information literacy perspective, discovery tools also seem to be a move in the wrong direction. Lori Townsend, Korey Brunetti, Amy R. Hofer, in their work on information literacy threshold concepts,  have found that the understanding of “format as process” to be foundational to understanding research. This means that information literate individuals recognize that the format (news, peer-review, books, web pages, etc) provides an indication to the process used to create the content. This, in turn, contributes to authority and credibility of sources. Format is process, and process is value, meaning, and applicability to need (see Lori Townsend, Korey Brunetti, Amy R. Hofer, “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy“). The idea of adding value to the research process by requiring searchers to sift through long lists of results seems problematic.

Quantity Hides Quality
Not to mention that user behavior studies indicate that quantity obscures quality. It is pretty well documented that most people rarely click past the first 10 results in a Google search despite the fact that most searches return millions of results (see Danny Goodwin, “Top Google Result Gets 36.4% of Clicks”). Yet, discovery is being sold as a benefit.

Design Thinking
I am willing to admit that discovery platforms may not be that much worse than the search interfaces we already have, but they don’t seem to be much better. They especially don’t seem much better considering the price. Why pay tens of thousands of dollars for something that is just as bad as what we already have?

I wish ILS providers thought more about user interfaces as opposed to search results. Have they really thought about how the user experience might work beyond a single search box that pukes back 1000s of results? The vendors in the ALA exhibit hall gave me the feeling that they had invented a secret weapon to win the technological arms race, but I increasingly wonder if our challenge is not about technology at all. What if this is really about design? What if the thing libraries really need is design-thinking (IDEO-style) focused on how we lay out access pages that are more than just single-search boxes? ILS vendors are missing the real market.

For example, the article by Lown, Sierra and Boyer in College & Research Libraries takes a step toward a single-search option that rethinks how results are displayed.  Perhaps breaking results down into distinct panes is a direction that warrants more exploration?

swansonphotoI know that many libraries have discovery in place so I’d love to hear about your experiences. Currently, my library staff is seriously contemplating our next steps for our ILS.  To me, bringing together these disparate tools is one the most significant challenges that we face. Who is innovating around this? What’s the next step that focuses on design?

(Thanks to Eric Phetteplace for his conversation on this topic at ALA and for reading an early version of this post.)

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.

My Advice for New Instruction Librarians

In the last three months, I’ve been interviewed about information literacy by two students. One was working on her MLIS and taking her first instruction course. The other was working on a dissertation, and I was a participant in her study on information literacy programs. These interviews started me thinking about what I’d tell new librarians interested in information literacy instruction.

Here’s my advice for new instruction librarians entering the profession:

At least 50% of being a librarian is building connections with people.
Instruction librarians thrive by connecting with faculty members and recognizing how they can help faculty members reach their objectives. This often means informal office visits, commercials at departmental meetings, invitations to coffee, and noting when students show up at the reference desk with research assignments. If 50% of your job is connecting, the other 50% will be easier.

Quality matters.
We only get a few chances, so getting it right matters. When you have built a relationship and a faculty member has devoted class time for instruction, don’t screw it up. Do all of those things they teach you in library school (communicate objectives, chunk up class time, prepare exercises, and prepare assessments). Work hard to be good at your job.

Caring matters more than quality.
Faculty members can be very forgiving if they know you care. Be available for students. Follow up with faculty. Send faculty members articles and ideas. Care about the content you are teaching. Care about the success of students. This is the kind of thing that is tougher to teach in library school.

Easy is better than good.
(I am stealing this from the folks at the Bibliotech podcast.) As instruction librarians, our goal should be to make faculty members more effective. If our involvement means layers of hassle, piles of forms, and additional complications, then faculty members won’t mess with us. We may hold up idealized views of information literacy, but the reality is that we are one of many interests competing for faculty members’ time.

Write solid, useful rules and then break them often.
Managing (or being a part of) an information literacy program will require rules. These rules will define roles, outline content, and reserve time (and rooms). Rules are never written to drive innovation forward. Rules are written to prevent action. They are often great in the abstract, but require adaptation when applied to concrete reality. New librarians may need time to recognize which rules can be broken, but, to be successful, you will need to break them.

Be bold. (Do not believe the low expectations of others.)
Most people (especially in higher ed) love librarians, but they don’t expect much out of them. This is an advantage, because the value we add will surprise them. However, it is extremely important for new librarians to ignore the low expectations of others (within libraries or outside of libraries). Faculty, administrators, and students do not recognize the evolving nature of libraries, and they are often quick to throw up limitations around our work. Refuse to be held back.

swansonphotoNever give up.
New librarians have trouble recognizing that our work is a marathon and not a sprint. Progress can be slow, and after a while, you can feel beat up. Look for opportunities to refresh. Connect with people who have positive energy. Don’t forget that our work matters. Embrace the moments that remind you of this. Let go of the moments that drag you down.


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.

Humans vs Zombies as an Active Learning Event by TTW contributor Troy Swanson

WWMscreen capture 2One of my projects for the fall semester my library will be organizing a special, active-learning opportunity for students, staff, and faculty that is part of our One Book, One College program on Max Brook’s World War Z.

The library with the support of Honors and Student Activities will be organizing a campus-wide game that we are calling, World War M: Humans vs Zombies,

Our game is loosely based on the Humans vs Zombies games played on campuses across the country. We have changed the rules a little bit and tried to give it a technological and academic twist.  The goal of the game is to model a virus outbreak across our campus where “infected” players report their infection on the game website. At the same time, we will be releasing clues to an antidote that will cure the disease. We will use the game’s website to track how the disease and the antidote spread. Faculty members in sociology, microbiology, literature, and mathematics have already expressed an interest in developing assignments around this game.

To play the game, students will receive free playing materials from the library. We will also provide faculty members with playing materials for their classes if they choose to use the game as part of a class project. To kick off this game, several faculty members from our math department and biology department will be hosting a panel discussion called “Zombie Math” where they will discuss mathematical models for how viruses spread and the ways that a “zombie” outbreak can be connected to the real world. We are working to create an engaging & innovative opportunity for students to connect ideas across disciplines.


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.


Talking Social Media in Libraries on Bibliotech Podcast from TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Bibliotech Podcast. We talked about social media in libraries, library website design, libraries as loosely coupled systems and other topics.

Social Media in Libraries
(here’s a link to the show notes: Bibliotech 26 show notes)

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.

#TTW10 The Central Question of My Career post by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

tamerWhen I left the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University and entered the profession, the faculty members did not leave me with answers. They left me with a question, which has driven my career. That question was simply, will libraries exist in the future? At the time, the web was fairly new, and many people argued that libraries had been displaced by this technology. As I entered the profession, this question pushed me forward. Based on the needs of my library, I have followed two paths to answer the question.

First, when I started teaching information literacy sessions for many writing classes, I was surprised at the information choices that students made. This sparked my interest in understanding credibility and authority. The searcher’s sophistication in understanding the processes behind and the purposes for creating information directly impact which search tool to select, how search results are interpreted, and ultimately how sources are used. I have written about this on this blog (see Lost Faith: College Students’ Photoshopification and Information Literacy). As I followed this path, I have written on information literacy in the light of critical pedigogy (see A Radical Step: Implementing A Critical Information Literacy Model, 2004) and in the light of personal epistemology from the social psychology literature (see Information Literacy, Personal Epistemology, and Knowledge Construction: Potential and Possibilities from 2006). To me, the future of libraries is clearly tied to a degree of information literacy skills (or a desire for these skills) in the communities we serve. The library as “knowledge center” for the community is tied in a large part (although maybe not entirely) to the credibility of the resources we provide. In so many words, credibility is part of our competitive advantage.

My second answer to the question driving my career has revolved around the effectiveness of the online library. Our physical spaces remain important, but our virtual spaces bring a potential for delivering services that libraries could never have envisioned two decades ago. One of my first jobs as a librarian was redesigning our library’s website. Around 2004 after our first redesign and around the time we were working on a usability study which would eventually take us to our second redesign, I heard about blogs from Jenny Levine (the Shifted Librarian) at a conference. It was not long after this when I met Michael Stephens at Internet Librarian. Jenny and Michael (and Tame the Web) were instrumental in starting my work with social media and libraries. My interest in how we incorporate social media into our organizations and inspiration from Michael took me to my dissertation topic and an eventual book. As a contributor to TTW, I am always honored to be part of Michael’s work. Of course, it is not a stretch to say that Michael and Tame the Web have been an important part of my work!.

swansonphotoI have always been grateful that my library school faculty left me with a question as opposed to giving me their answers. So, will libraries exist in the future? I have to say that this question still drives me today. Over the last decade and a half,, our profession has evolved and demonstrated that we are more than just storehouses for books. We have provided a multitude of answers to this important question, and if we are to remain vital to the people we serve, we must provide a multitude more.


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.


Circulating Ideas Podcast by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson


I was honored to be a guest on Steve Thomas’ Circulating Ideas podcast. Steve and I discussed social media and innovation in libraries.

Circulating Ideas: The Librarian Interview Podcast, Episode Twenty-Three: Troy Swanson.

As I mention at the beginning of the podcast, I owe much to Michael Stephens and the Tame the Web community. I am very appreciative!




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.

Call for Chapters: Teaching Students How to Think About Information by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Call for Chapters: Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information


  • Heather Jagman, Coordinator of Library Instruction, DePaul University, [email protected]
  • Troy Swanson, Department Chair of Library Services, Moraine Valley Community College, [email protected]

Publisher: Association of College and Research Libraries

The editors are seeking chapters written by librarians or faculty members focusing on theoretical approaches, projects, assessments, instructional sessions, or curricula that teach students how to think about information. This book will focus on pedagogies that challenge students to dive deeper into authority, connect to prior knowledge, and construct knowledge in a world of information abundance. This book will also include chapters that bridge the gap between the epistemological stances and threshold concepts held by librarians and that of students.

How do librarians and faculty members move college students beyond the simple mechanics of online catalogs, search engines, and subscription databases? How do we encourage students to recognize the difference in information sources themselves? How do we motivate students to explore their own beliefs and work with sources that conflict with their beliefs?

We are seeking chapters that may include:

Part 1 Bridging the Gap Between Librarians, Students and Faculty: Conceptualizing Information

  • 1.1 Librarian Epistemologies and Beliefs: How do librarians think about information and the nature of knowledge? How does this approach to knowledge impact how librarians approach the classroom and learning?
  • 1.2 Student Epistemologies and Beliefs: What assumptions do students bring to the classroom about how information and knowledge are constructed? How do these assumptions impact information literacy and their interactions with libraries and librarians?
  • 1.3 Faculty Epistemologies and Beliefs: How do faculty assumptions about knowledge impact their interactions with librarians and students? How do discipline-specific epistemologies shape faculty approaches to learning, students, and information literacy?

Part 2 Making it Work: Teaching Students About Information

  • 2.1 The Nature of Expertise, Authority and Credibility: How do we teach students to understand and value authority and expertise? What assumptions and power structures are hidden in this understanding? In what ways do we teach students to utilize authority and build their own authority as scholars?
  • 2.2 Point of View and Source Bias: In what ways do we teach students to deal with explicit and hidden biases in sources? How do we encourage students to deal with and recognize their own biases?
  • 2.3 Cognitive Biases and Belief: How do we work with students to address confirmation bias, selection bias, and hindsight bias? How do we connect information literacy to personal belief?
  • 2.4 Data, Measurement and Interpreting the world: How do we teach students to deal with data, facts and measurements? How do we teach students to interpret empirical research? How do we encourage students to compare their beliefs about how the world works with actual measurements?
  • 2.5 Journalism & Witnessing the World: How do we teach students about the role of journalism? How do encourage students to interpret and value the journalistic enterprise?

Original research that directly reports student views and/or results from studies with students will be given preference.

Proposal Details:

  • Draft Title
  • Author Info
  • 300-500 Word Abstract and Brief Outline
  • Please also include a writing sample of some form

Please submit chapter proposals and writing samples to both Editors at [email protected]
[email protected] by June 15, 2013.

Making Service-Learning Happen: ActOut Now! by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Actoutnow Higher education has been abuzz about the potential behind service-learning opportunities for many years. The logistics behind service-learning can often be a significant obstacle. Connecting volunteer and social justice efforts to the classroom and also accommodating students’ busy lives can difficult to say the least.

Our library has supported a significant service learning project on our campus, ActOut Now!: Education Through Action. This is a project organized by one of our writing faculty and his students. Our library offers the space for them to hold a volunteer fair where local nonprofit groups, students, and activists come together to discuss issues and build connections. To me, this project is a manageable way to connect service-learning to the curriculum. It is a project that may also be replicated outside of higher education. Our library is not the driving force behind the project, but we offer space and promotional support through social media to help advance the project’s goals.

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.