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Feedback for Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing, June 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed June 2014 session of Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing, taught by Rebecca Blakiston. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for The Mechanics of Metadata, June 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed June 2014 session of The Mechanics of Metadata, taught by Grace Agnew. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for Ontologies and Linked Data, June 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed June 2014 session of Ontologies and Linked Data, taught by Robert Chavez. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Interview with Tony Castelletto

Tony Castelletto has been programming computers on one platform or another since the late 1980s, and received his MLIS in 2008 from Drexel. He has worked on unusual information projects throughout his career, starting as a technician on small NASA missions, managing the information pipelines that carried data from satellite to ground. Tony received his introduction to Library Science working as a programmer on Digital Library projects for the University of Michigan’s Digital Library Initiative. Following his library science education, Tony curated data collections for the Linguistic Data Consortium where he also helped produced electronic dictionaries in Yoruba, Mawukakan, and Tamil. Now he is scheduled to teach a series of classes for Library Juice Academy on computer programming, using Python. Tony agreed to be interviewed here, so people can learn a bit about his classes and find out if they would be right for them.

Tony, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’ve already gone through your bio a little bit, so I’d like to get right to the classes you’ll be teaching. What are they and who are they for?

I’ll be teaching a series of short courses in programming. The first one is called Preparing to Program and it presents some of the intellectual foundations of programming that never get taught in typical programming courses or books. These often assume the student has an understanding of Computer Science or assume the student does not need know that sort of thing in order to start writing software. In many cases this assumption is warranted as a great many students come to courses after spending time educating themselves. Preparing to Program is intended to close the gap between between the interested bystander and the novice student. Preparing to Program will prepare students to make the most of any programming curriculum. I start by describing what computing is and how programming languages work. From there, the course develops skills in modeling data and processes. It wraps up by teaching students to write simple program statements; one line programs. The next two courses, Beginning Programming in Python, Parts 1 and 2, pick up from there and teach the standard set of programming skills; data structures, statements, and program structure. These courses are for the student who wants to develop fundamental programming skills and a knowledge of fundamental computer science concepts. These concepts underlie most of the programming that’s done in practice, and knowing things like how to code a sort, order a list or navigate tree structures will provide a student a good footing for more serious work. Again, over the years, I’ve noticed that programming books tend to leave these subjects alone assuming that the student has already picked up this knowledge or, worse, that it doesn’t matter. The second introductory course will deal more in object oriented design and programming and will include a section on interface design. The final course in the series, Applied Programming in Python will cover practical subjects like processing XML, databases, and provide an overview of the Django web programming framework.

Sounds like these courses comprise a very good start for a librarian who wants to program some applications for their library. Clearly they would be the best fit for a librarian who is taking on a new role on the systems side, or wants to make themselves more employable as a systems librarian. I think many of us have a basketful of ideas at the ready for how they could apply computer programming skills in their work setting, but for those who don’t, maybe you could give some examples?

I think the first motivation for a librarian to learn at least some programming or computer science is the necessity of communicating with programmers and IT professionals. I entered the library field through the digital library discipline, though it wasn’t very disciplined back at the turn of the century. A lot of growth happened very, very fast and the digital collections I worked with were fairly disorganized. My experience back then as a programmer was that there was a significant vocabulary gap even within a digital library department between the systems staff and the librarians. This communication problem threatened to derail projects and certainly slowed work down. So learning these concepts helps librarians understand the systems they work with. Going further, I’ve found that academic departments often want to do complex bibliometric analyses on citation databases and they often want to conduct this work in bulk. This often requires working with the APIs of these databases and the retrieval and parsing of large XML documents. Knowing how to write a good Perl or Python script is often what makes this sort of work feasible. This is also part of my motivation or teaching things like sorts and search trees in the introduction course. These concepts lie at the heart of almost any sort of information retrieval problem. Now lastly, during and following my library degree, I have found that many of us in the field work with purely digital objects. In my case, I worked for an organization which published sets of data. Curating this collection required me to constantly write simple scripts and, sometimes, quite complex programs. There is, I think, something of an analogy that can be made between traditional preservation and digital preservation. digital objects just like physical books do wear out and need to be repaired. Degradation happens for different reasons in each case. In the case of digital objects, the big issue is the obsolescence of formats. The data in such objects can be transformed such that an object in a disused data format can be changed to a more current form. In some cases this is a simple transformation which can be accomplished using tools that someone else designed. At other times, it’s a custom job. Many times, it’s a big job. And it’s not always an obvious job. An example here is the Tamil dictionary I helped publish many years ago. Dictionaries are huge projects which take decades to compile. In this case, the rules for latinization (how the Tamil language is represented in our alphabet) had changed and changed drastically during the thirty years it took the author to compile the data used the book and its electronic version. There existed no tool for updating this representation, so I had to create one. I do not know Tamil, however, knowing how to code up some pattern matching algorithms allowed me to rescue this work. Knowing how to program lets you create just the right tool or it lets you coordinate many tools and employ them on a large scale. And, many of the repository systems out there are open source, which means installing and operating them is not as a simple as inserting an CD and running an installer. If you’re operating something like Islandora or Fedora or Dspace, you’re going to wind up programming whether you want to or not. These are incredibly complex systems which require constant administration.

Thanks for that. I think that provides a clear idea of why librarians might want to learn programming. I’m enthusiastic about these classes and looking forward to supporting them. A question I like to close with in these interviews is, what other courses would you like to teach for LJA, if you could make up any courses you wanted to?

Well, an obvious one would be Databases since I have done a lot of work in the area, and, most importantly, Databases are the underlying information management system in almost every larger system which manages and presents information. Beyond that, I’d love to teach a course in practical Digital Preservation. I’m probably not extremely well qualified for that since my work in that area has been for a very odd organization. I suspect my experience would be well outside the mainstream. I’d also like to reprise a workshop I ran back in 2002. This workshop was entitled “What does open source have to do with libraries?” Actually, that was the conference title. I presented my work with library portals at the conference. I was roped into teaching a workshop on the Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP stack by the conference organizers the night before the last day of the conference. So I’m not sure the workshop even had a name. The conference itself made a pretty good case for the use of open source platforms in libraries and my workshop was an overview of how this all worked. It was partly a course in practical system administration, partly an overview of some of the commonly used platforms and a lecture on how they worked together. The workshop was mad, mad, mad, I tell you. It was a four hour hands on lab. Since I had the cds with me, we installed Slackware Linux on the classroom computers (Weslayan U. is still mad at me for that I think), installed Apache web servers and almost got PHP up working. The participants, Librarians without a great deal of technology experience, were overwhelmed, but everyone got a lot out of the workshop and learned a lot of good systems skills. I’d love to come back, take this basic idea, and do it up right. With Virtual Machines, it’s now possible to teach a hands on system administration course completely online. So there are lot of possibilities for teaching technology skills that Librarians would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn.

Those sound like some good classes! I hope that we will run some of them at some point.

Thanks again for doing this interview.

Thanks for having me on the radio, Terry. Oh, wait, wrong show. Seriously, thanks for interviewing me here. I’m excited to be teaching these courses. I’ll be trying to teach coding in a fairly new way using an innovative platform called Ipython. This system allows students to get down to programming without the having to worry about installing a computer language or navigating a command line environment which can be very intimidating for novices. This is all a tad experimental so it will be an adventure.

Feedback for Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking, May-June 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking, taught by Andrea Baer. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Interview with Jennifer Sweeney

Jennifer Sweeney teaches at the College of Computing and Informatics at Drexel University and in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, and is a program evaluation consultant for libraries and other public agencies and nonprofits. Prior to joining Drexel, Dr. Sweeney developed measurement instruments for K-16 educational interventions for the University of California, Davis School of Education, and provided evaluation services for the California Center for the Book, the California Library Association, and Smith & Lehmann Consulting. She is scheduled to teach a series of classes for Library Juice Academy, which we are calling the “Painless Research” series. We describe the series as follows:

The Painless Research Series provides an overview of basic research techniques needed by library managers and other staff in different workplace sectors, such as service quality, customer satisfaction, and operational metrics, or in specific tools such as surveys and focus groups. Participants develop skills in formulating typical research questions and strategies, making use of existing studies and data, collecting and analyzing data, and tailoring presentations for different audiences.

Jennifer Sweeney agreed to do an interview here, to help give people a better sense of what will be covered in these classes, what needs they address, and a little bit about herself as the instructor.

Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start out by asking a little bit about your background, how you came to be qualified to teach this series of classes.

I started out as a reference librarian in a small technical consulting firm and then later in a couple of college and university libraries, but I was always interested in the research side of just about every question that came across the desk. After a while I realized I wanted to focus more on research in my work, so I left reference and found a great job as an analyst in the library at University of California Davis, handling all sorts of data collection and research projects related to running a large ARL library. It was the best job ever–I was totally bitten by the research bug.

The next step for me was a PhD in information studies, where I started to notice something a little disturbing about the quality of the research in our field: it’s not that great. Plenty of great research ideas, far too many actual studies with problems in the research methods in one way or another. Faulty assumptions, inappropriate strategies, flawed analysis, you name it. Our field of library science/information studies/information science—whatever you want to call it—is a fascinating and multi-faceted discipline, with a weak research foundation.

So I figured I could help students and practitioners by presenting basic research methods in a clear and understandable way…so that when they go out to do research, they won’t make the same mistakes. That’s the basis for the series I’m doing for LJA.

Just so it’s clear to readers: While some people who take your classes might be interested in doing research for publication, the focus is on research that would be done within an institution to better manage services. But the basic principles are the same. It seems to me that one thing that is special about this series of courses is that your background gives you the ability to apply high methodological standards to concrete situations. But I wonder, are the methodological issues easier to deal with when you’re just looking to improve decision-making versus forming the kind of general claims that are made in academic research?

The methodological issues are not necessarily any easier to deal with in applied research settings. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that in the real world, there are always other things going on that influence the research environment—you cannot conduct a true controlled experiment the same way you would in a laboratory. The problem in LIS is that when we do conduct our “quasi-experiments”–which we do all the time-—we don’t take the time to explore and account for those other variables that could be affecting our results. When we fail to explain these factors, we run a greater risk of coming to false conclusions.

The other reason is that “action research” that is done in work settings for decision making often involves some kind of evaluation, which creates another set of complexities because we are now bringing value judgments into the mix. The stakeholders have to agree on what’s important, and how (or whether) the results will be used. These questions directly affect the way the research is conducted. And stakeholders don’t always agree on things!

That is a helpful bit of orientation to “action research” as you call it. I wonder if you could outline the four classes for readers. What are they about and what will participants take away?

The course series “Painless Research” is designed to provide a basic set of skills for library administration or public services staff who need to evaluate their services but have no research or evaluation experience. The idea is to get you started with some knowledge and hands-on activities, explained in plain English. Evaluation research is not hard to do, but you need to know the techniques so you don’t make expensive mistakes or waste your time on useless measures.

A lot of research texts are hard to digest, so I try to present concepts in everyday language.

We start out with the course on “Evaluating Service Quality,” which focuses on how to gather and analyze information about how library users feel about services, what they want, etc. We target just a couple of key areas: what is service quality, why measuring quality is different than measuring other things, the techniques you should use, and how to use results to customize staff training and help the library improve.

The second course in the series, “Easy Patron Surveys,” gets into the details of survey design and implementation. Surveys are kind of mysterious to a lot of us, but they are really a lot of fun. Question design, sampling, and basic advice on how to get a survey out there and collect good data are the highlights of this course.

Getting to Know Your Users Through Interviews and Focus Groups” covers the in-depth qualitative data gathering that you can’t do with surveys. Talking to people and capturing what is said entails a totally different skill set. I do a lot of interviewing and focus groups, and it can be pretty intense while also immensely satisfying and fun. But you need the tools and skills to be able to get the information you need, because it is a much more labor-intensive activity than a survey.

We wind up the series with “Everyday Statistics for Librarians.” I’ve been working with library students and working professionals for years now, and the feedback I get is that it’s not that the math is difficult-—it’s not—-it’s just never been explained very well. We focus on just a few of the most useful functions, and it’s really fascinating to get to use math to describe and explain what is happening with trends, do some forecasting. This is how you generate data to base decisions on, to make a case for a grant project, and so on. Mistakes can be expensive, and in our state of constant evolution, we need all the solid information we can get our hands on.

I think it’s a great group of courses, and I want to thank you for designing them, and I look forward to some good interaction. I think we can close the interview here, but I will just add for readers that if you have any questions about these courses, feel free to contact Jennifer Sweeney at

Thank you for the opportunity Rory. I am looking forward to working with everyone this summer and fall!

Feedback for Describing Photographs for the Online Catalog, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Describing Photographs for the Online Catalog, taught by Beth Knazook. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for RDFa1.1 and RSS, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of RDFa1.1 (RDFa and RDFa Lite) and RSS, taught by Robert Chavez. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for Assessing and Improving Your Library’s Social Media Presence, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Assessing and Improving Your Library’s Social Media Presence, taught by Julia Skinner. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for Getting More Active Learning Into Your Teaching, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Getting More Active Learning Into Your Teaching, taught by Andrew Walsh. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca, taught by Katie Scherrer. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Feedback for Introduction to Drupal for Libraries, May 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed May 2014 session of Introduction to Drupal for Libraries, taught by Cody Hennesy. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!

Interview with Andrea Baer

Andrea Baer is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington, as well as an Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington and a Masters in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee. Andrea teaches two classes for Library Juice Academy: Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking and New Directions in Information Literacy: Growing Our Teaching Practices. The first is a class she has taught for us a couple of times now, and the second she is scheduled to teach for the first time next month. Andrea agreed to do an interview here about these classes and about herself as an instructor.

Andrea, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. First I would like to ask you about your background – what got you into teaching on the topics of these two courses?

Thanks for the opportunity, Rory. Both of these courses are strongly informed by my background in teaching college writing and literature, as well as by my current work in integrating information literacy into undergraduate education. Each class reflects my interest in the connections between research, critical thinking, and writing, as well as in the many ways that librarians support teaching and learning.

The course on composition studies and information literacy came about because of my experiences as both a writing instructor and a librarian, and because of the tremendous potential but also the challenges I’ve experienced in further integrating information literacy into writing curriculum. This new course, “New Directions in Information Literacy,” also emphasizes critical thinking and touches on connections between writing and research, but it focuses more on evolving conceptions of and approaches to information literacy instruction and on the various ways that librarians support teaching and learning.

The new course is partly a response to the fact that both higher education and academic librarians are clearly in an historical moment of transition. The current development of ACRL’s new framework for information literacy and in the many conversations among librarians about our changing roles are one small reflection of this change. But while it’s clear that instruction is an increasingly significant part of librarianship, library science graduate programs and most of our workplaces have not yet caught up with this. (I don’t know of any library science programs that require students take an instruction course, though I know some graduate programs are beginning to talk about this.)

With the move away from tool-based instruction toward more concept- and process-oriented teaching, librarians need more instructional support than is currently being offered through graduate programs and through our individual institutions. This course is intended as one small way to help fill that need. The class is also inspired by work I recently began with my colleague Brian Winterman on supporting librarians in their teaching. This past semester we offered a workshop series on librarians as instructional consultants, in which librarians identified the unique expertise that they possess and may bring to teaching partnerships, while also exploring roadblocks to collaboration and concrete ways to address those challenges. The key here was acknowledging the strengths librarians already possess, and then approaching current or potential teaching partnerships with confidence in and appreciation of those strengths. For a long time our profession has emphasized a service model that often suggests we are servants to course instructors rather than equals, and this can get in the way of supporting meaningful learning and partnerships. This class, I hope, will push people to think about our teaching roles in diverse ways. The course also is an opportunity to develop a stronger foundation in instructional design, which I think can be quite powerful for both individual and collaborative instruction.

Would you summarize the content of the two courses that you’re teaching for us?

Both courses emphasize approaches to information literacy instruction that center on critical thinking, active learning, instructional design, and librarian-instructor partnerships. Participants in both courses explore relevant concepts and theories and connect those ideas to discussions about their teaching practice and to developing learning activities and learning sequences.

Though the two classes cover different content, each is structured around weekly introductions to course materials, weekly readings, online discussions, assignments to develop learning activities and learning sequences (the latter of which carefully apply instructional scaffolding), and peer and instructor feedback.

Information Literacy, Composition Studies, and Higher Order Thinking focuses on the intersections between writing and information literacy and how those can inform our teaching practices. Participants begin by reading and discussing articles and instruction materials written by composition instructors and librarians with varying approaches to teaching research and research writing. Participants simultaneously discuss their individual and collaborative teaching experiences and how those relate to the course materials. In week 3 participants begin developing learning activities and sequences which are shared and discussed through the online forums. The class is organized into these weekly themes:

· Week 1: Finding Common Threads: Intersections of Writing and Research

· Week 2: Commons Threads and Unravelings: Locating Opportunities & Challenges for Collaboration

· Week 3-4: From Theory to Practice: Applying the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research to Library Instruction

· Week 5-6: Building Our Praxis: Scaffolding Teaching & Learning

New Directions in Information Literacy, as the title suggests, focuses on current and recent changes in information literacy education. These changes include evolving conceptions of information literacy (which the new ACRL information literacy framework describes as more than a finite set of skills and instead as a complex range of knowledge, abilities, and dispositions) and the expanding roles that librarians play in teaching and learning (e.g. collaborative teaching, assignment design, instructional consultation, faculty workshops, creating learning objects). The course also introduces key concepts of instructional design (e.g. learning outcomes, scaffolding, assessment) which can inform library instruction in its many forms. The class is intended for librarians looking to deepen their understanding of IL instruction that centers of higher order thinking, as well as for individuals who are new to library instruction. It is organized into these weekly themes:

· Week 1: Evolving Conceptions of Information Literacy

· Week 2: Expanding Roles for Instruction Librarians

· Week 3: Key Principles of Instructional and Assignment Design/Designing Learning Activities

· Week 4: Designing Learning Activities Informed by Instructional Design

· Week 5-6: Applying Instructional Scaffolding to Create Learning Sequences

You’ve taught the first of those classes a couple of times for us now. Could you say a few things about what the experience has been like? Both for you and for the participants.

Sure, the course on information literacy and composition started out as a 4-week class, and I’m just now finishing teaching it as a 6-week course. For each course I teach, I ask participants for feedback through an anonymous mid-course survey. People in the 4-week course indicated they benefited especially from the online discussions and from the readings, which offered perspectives of both librarians and writing instructors. In the mid-course survey and other informal feedback, individuals also said they found the combination of theory and practice and the act of developing learning activities quite helpful. Some indicated, however, that the course covered a lot of material for four weeks and that they would benefit from more time to develop and revise learning activities and sequences. In response to this, the class was expanded to six weeks. The longer class gives participants more time and opportunities to develop, revise, and receive feedback on their work. It also allows us to look more closely as principles of instructional design like scaffolding.

For the 6-week course, individuals again have indicated that they find the readings and online discussions fruitful. One student asked for additional background on instructional design concepts like scaffolding, so materials on this have again been expanded. Based on my experience with the current 6-week class, I think these changes have had a positive result.

For me as an instructor it’s been exciting to see people engaged in sharing their experiences and ideas, including class activities and assignments that they have used or will use in their instruction. Participants have a range of teaching experiences, which I think has enriched the class on multiple levels. It’s also been helpful for me to learn that many participants would like more information and experience with concepts like instructional scaffolding. This feedback has informed the development of this new course, which places more emphasis on effective assignment design.

Thanks for doing this interview and thanks for teaching. Your class adds a lot to what we can offer.

Thank you, Rory. I’m grateful for the opportunity. And I appreciate how you and others at Library Juice are creating new ways for librarians to connect, learn, and collaborate.

Free exhibits pass to visit our booth at ALA

We’re exhibiting at ALA in Las Vegas later this month, showing our books and talking to people about Library Juice Academy. We want to give you a free pass to the exhibits hall if you want to come visit us there. If you’re already registered for the conference you won’t need an exhibits pass, but the exhibits pass will give you a badge without registering. In the exhibits hall we will be at table 1954, so come by and say hello.

Feedback for Universal Design, April 2014 session

We would like students to leave their public feedback, or reviews, for the now completed April 2014 session of Universal Design, taught by Sonali Mishra and Carolyn Ellis. Participants’ feedback will help us know how we can improve, and also to give others a sense of what our classes are like. Thanks!