Friday, 20 August 2010

Gaming is the new reading!

Image by Robin Hutton

I really like the research conducted by The Reading Agency about gaming and its relationship to literacy. Although the report is looking at engaging adults with low literacy in reading for pleasure the concept could easily transfer to support gaming within the educational context. This is timely and important and has forced me to think about whether this is a service I should be offering in a school library.

The round table discussion on the report is below:

America seems to be ahead of the UK in research about gaming in libraries. Nicholson found that most US public libraries support gaming, but his definition of gaming was inclusive of old and new technology, from scrabble to console games. The primary reason given for supplying games was to provide entertainment for users and as a promotional activity it was seen to increase the profile and widen the use of the library.

Information is being gathered by Sarah McNichol on the state of gaming and UK libraries. In order for school libraries to embrace this we need sound evidence of the way gaming contributes to literacy. Not being a game player I find it hard to judge how much reading goes on within games. What I do know is that it is reading volume which contributes to good vocabularies and general knowledge and cognitive skills. Anything which helps to create avid readers is good for the development of literacy and a wide range of cognitive skills. Anything which widens the perception of what reading is and contributes to enjoyable reading experiences has got to be good.

Take a look at Inanimate Alice described as a new media fiction.

An example of a less high tech reading game from The Library of Congress is The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. The history behind this is explained here:

Looks like an interesting resource, with audio, which could be used in many ways.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Book review - Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century

Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century: An Introduction by Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath 2nd edition published by Facet Publishing, London, 2009.

In 2005 research by Bradford, Costello and Lenholt showed that print sources are used by librarians less than 10% of the time for answering users enquiries. Despite this finding it feels as though this book concentrates primarily on print resources with online as an addition. Having said that the book is a very thorough review of reference and information work in public libraries, albeit from an American point of view.

The layout is easy to follow with sections on resources for answering different types of questions. The sections are as follows:

Bibliographic resources for questions about books, magazines and newspapers
Encyclopedias for anything and everything
Ready reference for supplying quick facts
Dictionaries for queries about words
Databases and Indexes
Health, Law and Business resources
Geographical resources
Biographical resources
Government data and statistics

Each chapter has a convenient list of the top ten resources in the area. Sadly for school librarians many of the resources quoted are too expensive but the recommended free web sites are very useful. The chapter on Web 2.0 is a concise introduction to many of the newer technologies and cites collaboration or cooperative content creation, social networking, customization and seamlessness as defining features. The short chapter on the future of information services contained a useful model of nine different types of Reference Service ranging from the traditional desk, a roving service, a virtual service, outreach or at the most extreme no reference desk at all.

The authors give a pertinent list 11 key competencies of the 21st century librarian as follows:

Ability to provide information using Reference 2.0 technologies
Knowledge of how to select electronic resources
Online searching expertise
Desire to share knowledge through teaching
Reader's advisory skills
Knowledge of how to develop an effective web presence
Appreciation of importance of marketing
Familiarity with research on assessment and evaluation
Interpersonal skills
Ability to adapt to change
Enthusiasm for continued professional learning

I feel that my Library and Information Studies Post Graduate Diploma gave me a really good grounding in evaluation of resources and searching techniques. I feel that it was less comprehensive in equipping me with competency in conducting reference interviews and lacking in teaching about teaching. I also felt less than confident after qualifying about the depth of my knowledge of resources in different subject areas.

Reading this book at a time when I was updating sixth form induction information helped me to identify and promote some possible alternatives to Wikipedia that I wasn't aware of before. But as I tried out each one in turn I was struck by how the alternatives, despite having more scholarly and authoritative provenence, were not as easy, satisfying or pleasant to use as Wikipedia. The school where I work has banned the use of Wikipedia but like the ubiquitous supermarket most of us use it because it is a fast one stop shop, extremely good at supplying what we need.

This book certainly is a good introduction but at over 400 pages it is not a quick read. I got the most out of this book when I revisited it on several occasions and took the time to investigate the online resources further. Even the parts that I felt I had a good grasp of caused me to reflect on my current practice and how this fitted into the bigger picture of user needs and service efficiency. I would certainly recommend it to any librarian undertaking chartership.

Bradford, J.T., Costello, B. and Lenholt, R. 2005. "Reference Services in the Digital Age: An Analysis of Sources Used to Answer Reference Questions". Journal of Academic Librarianship 31 (3), 263-272.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Have you heard of Howard Rheingold?

I'm just planning some information for the sixth form induction for September, trying to highlight the importance of the library to them now that they are supposed to be independent learners reading widely and motivated to research beyond set texts. etc.etc. I know that I have to work harder to keep sixth formers using the library to really support their studies.

This year, for the first time, I'm going to conduct individual sessions with students starting in the sixth form as a tailored introduction to library services. Difficult to know where to pitch this as I expect levels of familiarity with libraries and information literacy skills will vary widely. This was the reasoning behind the personalised interview format. With a dedicated time slot I should be able to get to know the student and point them in the direction of a few tailored resources. I'll report back on how successful this was later!

So trawling the web to find ways to speak to them about what they need to know I found this video of Howard Rheingold from the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) 2010 Conference called Crap Detection 101: Educator Call to Action.

I hadn't heard of him before. He talks about the critical consumption of information, how we can teach this to students and is involved with a developing wiki for teaching critical thinking and internet literacies. A really important point that stood out for me from his talk was the importance of having Personal Learning Networks whether online or otherwise, personal networks where we learn from other informed people about the things that interest us. (OK so another reason why I really should be using Twitter!)

Looked like there were several other good presentations from ISTE 2010 including Google: 25 Things You Didn't Know It Could Do by Howie DiBlasi.

Also useful Critical Thinking in the Classroom e-book from Microsoft and visual literacy teaching tips by Jamie McKenzie

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Visiting London Libraries

Image of Thomas Carlyle, the inspiration for the founding of The London Library, by steeljam

This week I've visited two very different libraries.

First off was The Law Society Library in Chancery Lane serving solicitors in England and Wales. This was my first visit to a law library, although there had been a well stocked Law Reading Room when I worked at Sidney Sussex College Library in Cambridge. The Law Society Library is a reference library which opened in 1832, with some 45,000 volumes, in a Grade II listed building. Their enquiry service is geared towards speed and efficiency with highly qualified and experienced law librarians.

The Library Online resource is run in partnership with LexisNexis and includes access to a Queries and Enquiries Database with over 4000 past questions answered by the library. This digital service, requiring a large amount of staff time, was seen as a crucial and constantly developing part of the library and a service which made the library relevant to solicitors regardless of geographical location. There was, however, a strong feeling that printed material was certainly still alive and kicking within the field of law. The reasons for this seemed to stem from the secure sense of ownership and preservation of their book holdings in contrast to their digital formats. It could well be that the switch from print to digital is taking slightly longer in this sector due to the demographics and search preferences of practising solicitors. The library had considered becoming a lending library but this had been rejected because of the cost involved (obviously as a reference library only one copy of each book is needed.) We were also told about the in-house classification system and the reasoning behind this, including the rejection of the Moys classification system.

The visit was very useful in terms of networking with librarians from the Cataloguing and Indexing group and for giving me an insight into the work of a law librarian.

Second visit of the week was to the independent London Library, St James's Square, Piccadilly. Watch the video below to see why I and many other people are in love with this library!

The London Library from Jeremy Riggall on Vimeo.

Feeling much more at home in a humanities based library we were told the delightful history of the institution, including the story of the charismatic Librarian Charles Theodore Hayberg Wright, whose influence is still felt in the library today. I was greatly impressed by the knowledgeable staff we met and took away a real sense of a traditional library (with a collection now exceeding one million books, as no books were ever thrown away) which was forward looking and successful in fundraising and planning for the future. The library had embraced the need for promotion and acknowledged that there was more they could do, for example publicizing the wealth of collections in over 50 languages.

At £395 for membership per year the library is not an option open to all, but as a charity they are keen to allow access to as wide a range of members as possible and there were various concessionary rates available. Any other school librarians reading this might like to read why Patrick Ness uses the library. This was a wonderful opportunity, organised by the Career Development Group, to soak up the increasingly rare experience of being surrounded by history and literary riches.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Reading Skills Fall for Second Year in a Row

Image by Karenwithak

This was the headline from The London Evening Standard on the 3rd August 2010. To put this into context this referred to the results from The Department for Education Sats reading tests for 11 year olds. Figures from the last three years for Level 4 attainment (the standard expected for this age) show that in 2008 87% of pupils reached the expected level, compared to 86% in 2009 and 84% this year.

The Standard article attributed this decline to doubts over the effectiveness of using the "back-to-basics" phonics method of teaching children to read. The Government, it seems, has no qualms about phonics as an effective method. They foreground teaching, with no reference to school libraries or the importance of instilling a love of reading. I can hear Michael Rosen, a long time advocate for whole books and not reducing reading to literacy, shouting "I told you so."

What should we be doing, as school librarians, to respond to this?