The Library Web Site of the Future — TODAY!

In LIS, we’ve been thinking of ways of incorporating the widgets into our teaching and into our websites in a way that provides a context for their use outside of the Widgets page. I thought Steven Bell’s recent column on Inside High Ed, “The Library Web Site of the Future,” was an interesting accompaniment to those conversations we’ve been having. Bell discusses changing faculty expectations of the library’s website as a portal to information, suggesting that faculty no longer see the website as a gateway to electronic information and positing that users have developed their own pathways to these subscription resources that don’t necessarily involve the pathways we’ve designed. He discusses the findings of the recent Ithaka Group study on the digital transformation of higher education:

“Compared to earlier years of this Ithaca study, faculty no longer perceived the library as an important portal to scholarly information. While the library Web site is not specifically mentioned in the report, for the 21st century library, the Web site is the de facto gateway to electronic research content. The report makes clear that faculty increasingly access what they need elsewhere or simply find alternate routes around the library Web site to get to their desired library e-resources.”

He cites several other studies that suggest the same thing — users often bookmark the subject database that they use most often, use Google Scholar to access our holdings — all of which invalidate the library web site as a portal to discovering what other electronic resources are available.

He goes on to suggest that enhancing the website as a marketing tool is one way for the library web site to survive all of this, saying:

“They should devote the most eye-catching space to information that promotes the people who work at the library, the services they provide and the community activities that anchor the library’s place as the social, cultural and intellectual center of campus. That shifts the focus from content to service and from information to people. Academic libraries must promote their human side. The library portal experience should emphasize the value of and invite stronger relationships with faculty and students.”

He continues by advocating for the repacking of the content previously served up through the portal model into course pages and LibGuide-type customized sites, continuing, “With faculty advocating e-resource awareness and distributing links to the library’s e-resources throughout the academic network, a dedicated portal to those same resources makes less sense.”

Reading through all this, I felt encouraged that we’re heading in the right direction in our thinking and that we’ve been responsive to all of the changes he describes. But I’m wondering if there’s anything we can take away from his column that might help in our consideration of integrating the widgets more fully into the design and content of our sites. How can we highlight them in a way that provides each user with some idea of why they’re relevant to him or her while also reflecting their utility in their placement on the website? I’m hoping we brainstorm some ideas during the RIOT, sharing and building on the conversations we’ve had in LIS.

Bridging the Overly Clichéd Gap

A couple of weeks ago we were meeting with our 398T instructors and we were discussing first year undergraduates’ exposure to databases prior to UT. Some of us had noticed that a lot more students seem to be arriving having already searched library databases than in the past. So I emailed four school librarians to find out a little more about this. Responses are summarized below.

Then this afternoon I saw an article from the most recent LOEX Currents about how they are addressing this issue in California. Here is a link to the article – Sequential Information Literacy Instruction (ILI): What, Why and How?

It is about a group of California librarians and their efforts to look sequentially between K-12, College and post college (Public libraries) settings, and whether and how information literacy can be addressed in a connected way. I thought he most interesting part of this article was the table that showed information literacy topics and how they are addressed by the different librarians.

I’m not suggesting we try a similar effort in Texas ourselves (although this might be something interesting for people within TLA to do), since we all have plenty on our plate, but I do think it might serve to inform us about whether our students are having similar or dissimilar ‘library’ experiences in high school, and how those experiences might affect their view of us and how relevant libraries are to research once they get here. And as I’m typing, I’m wondering if it might actually be relatively simple to do a survey like this and send it out to TASL (TX Assoc. of School Librarians) to see what kind of answers we might get on a larger scale? So with that in mind, here is the tiny, completely informal questions I sent and their responses:

Here are the questions I asked them

1. What do you do as far as instruction for your students? Is it formal (library instruction to classes), informal (whoever asks when they’re looking for something in the library), etc.? What percentage of your students do you see in these interactions (totally rough guesstimate)

2. What databases do you have, and how are they paid for – is there a common set among all TX public schools/high schools?

3. If not, do you decide which ones to subscribe to? If not, who does?

And here are the three good/interesting responses:

1. AISD uses the databases that were paid for by TexShare.

Here is a link to my webpage and it shows what we have access to.  When I taught middle school we would use it a lot too, but it was in a different state, so I don’t know if you are interested in that.

2. [this is from a librarian who works for Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, so she’s more of a support person for librarians in the schools, hence the somewhat sales-person type response] We are doing everything we can to get the databases into the hands of students, teachers, parents, etc., etc.! In our school libraries, we are exposing students through whole class instruction, on-the-fly instruction, and even parent sessions in the evenings. NISD has been invited to the TX Capitol School House in January where we’ll have two of our schools represented with students, librarian, technology instructor, and admin. I publish a quarterly newsletter spotlighting database use in the district called Database Showcase

We’ve also recently purchased a federated search product through WebFeat and have Elementary, Middle School, and Professional profiles, with each High School having an individual profile with their catalog and campus specific databases included.

Please take a look at our district database page to see our district-wide subscriptions:

We get some through K-12 Databases: TEA, our regional service center, and Texas State Library & Archives Comm. and some are purchased through Library Services.

3. Our instruction varies depending on the age of the student. Our pre-K Kinder librarian actually has lessons for the little ones on databases.

By the time they get to the high school, we usually teach them in context with their research, except for a lesson that I do for seniors at the beginning of the year on how our databases can help them with colleges and careers. We have collaborated with our technology department on a website called Research Central, where we pre-select the databases and steer the students towards them and away from pure Google:

I started a program called Pirate POWER (Parent Online Web Education Resources) that we put on the first Tuesday night of every month. We show high school parents how to access information on their students through our school web site, and how to use data bases. In 2 months, we have seen 3 parents (0 the first time, so it’s improving).

We have EBSCO and Brittanica, (A.J. all schools can access those for free right now – could be the reason that more of your students have recently been knowledgeable – we should use your letter to convince our legislators that this needs to continue to be funded), but we also subscribe to Facts on File and Gale (we get Testing and Resource Center and Opposing Viewpoints through them also). Our dual credit kids had a real revelation this year when their on-line professor required that they use academic journals. We pay for those through the library, but we code it to curriculum. The librarians have made these choices in the past, but this year we have formed a committee made up of librarians, tech. folks, and teachers. They will be making the decision for next year.

I heard yesterday that the new ELA TEKS have a re-newed emphasis on research. I expect that might also impact our use of databases. Now if I could only get my teachers to use them.

Conclusion: This is just to give us a little more idea about our undergraduates, and specifically what research/library-specific experiences they might have had before they came to UT. This is totally unscientific – would it be worth doing a short survey that would reach many more librarians in K-12, or even just in high schools, to see how they promote information literacy and/or library tools?

Teaching Near the Edge of Chaos

Hautala, Robert M. and Bryan Miyagishima, 2008. Teaching near the edge of chaos: dynamic systems, student choices and library research. Communication in Information Literacy, Spring 2008, 2(1): 25-35. Accessed on Dec. 1, 2008,

This article urges instruction librarians to toss students into the drink first, then offer helpful suggestions on how to swim. In other words, before lecturing on or demonstrating information literacy skills, have students attempt to deploy such IL skills as they might possess. Hautala and Miyagishima are hardly the first to propose this. They come to this strategem by way of Dynamic Systems theory, as applied in motor learning.

Dynamic Systems Theory?
The authors refer to “… models [that] contain two important tenets. First, when disrupted, systems will self-organize; and second, the best, most efficient reorganization of any system will emerge from the edge of the chaos that any initial change has first produced (Seel, 1999).”

How Do They Recommend Dynamic Systems Theory Be Applied to ILI?
“… this approach requires the library instructor to design tasks that engage students in desired IL skills and expose them to designated library resources.”

What Can An Instructor Do?
Instructors can directly manipulate two of three “constraints”—the tasks students are assigned and the environment/tools students can use to complete these tasks—in order to indirectly affect the third constraint, students’ skills.

Yes, That Does Sound Like Teaching.
The difference here is that the teacher removes herself from the tasks as much is possible, intervening only to introduce new tasks and/or new environments, providing students with the opportunity to create their best solutions.

That Sounds More Like…
Coaching. And the dreaded sports metaphors hold up here. There are lots of guidelines on how to hit a pitch, but every player has to find her own swing. This approach, the Ecological Task Analysis (ETA), allows the instructor to work with all students, at whatever level—those who “get it” right off will still have something to do, as well as those who need more work to discover their best methods.

The authors give two examples of classroom applications of ETA, following these steps of ETA: “Establish Task Goal; Provide Choices; Modify the Variables; Provide Instruction.” The ETA model seems challenging to translate to a large or a non-technology classroom. (NOTE: Consider also using tutorials, esp. customized learning as described in de la Chica et al., 2008*).

The Take-Away…
1) Instruction librarians should think of and design their classroom sessions more as coaching, where they respond to what students are doing, than as teaching.
2) This article is a quick read, and would be a good one to pass on to faculty members when one is planning an instruction session.


*de la Chica, S., F. Ahmad, T. Sumner, J.H. Martin, and K. Butcher, 2008. Computational foundations for personalizing instruction with digital libraries. Int J Digit Libr 9: 3-18.

Project Information Literacy

Project Information Literacy website

Project Information Literacy video


Project Information Literacy, a national research project based out of the University of Washington’s ISchool, is attempting to study how undergraduates conduct research by collecting data through discussion groups at community colleges, public colleges and universities, and private college and universities throughout the United States.


The project is entering its first year supported by a grant from Proquest that will enable it to continue conducting discussion groups at different universities. The plan for the fall is to visit six schools to pilot the instrument being used to collect data through discussion groups while the researchers plan to visit three campuses in the spring to administer and test a student survey instrument.


The three main research questions that the project is focused on answering are:


  1. How do early adults (in their own words) put their information literacy competencies into practice in learning environments in a digital age, regardless of how they may measure up to standards for being information literate?
  2. With the proliferation of online resources and new technologies, how do early adults recognize the information needs they may have and in turn, how do they locate, evaluate, select and use the information that is needed?
  3. How can teaching the critical and information literacy skills that are needed to enable lifelong learning be more effectively transferred to college students?

More broadly, the goal of the project is “to understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research in the digital age.”


The project began as a pilot at St. Mary’s College of California led by Alison Head that attempted to study the undergraduate research process and information literacy through “the lens of the students’ experience to find out how students conceptualized and operationalized the course-related research process.”


The findings of that study were published last year in the article “Beyond Google: How do students conduct academic research?,” which Matt discussed in an earlier RIOT. A complete 52-page report detailing the findings of the study can be found online as well.


Project Information Literacy identified the most interesting findings from that exploratory study as the following:

  1. The majority of students (87%) did not go to Google’s search engine first when conducting research as many previous studies have suggested.
  2. Students did use the campus library, library web sites, and librarians, and in fact, relied heavily upon these library sources.
  3. Overall, students struggled with figuring out what scholarly research actually meant and required them to do. The first step in the research process was often the most difficult one for students.

By broadening the scope of that initial study to a national pool from a diverse set of universities and by employing a variety of data collection methods, Project Information Literacy hopes to build upon these initial findings and produce results that can help faculty and librarians revisit the design of research assignments, the design of library resources, and the development of course curriculum.

Project Information Literacy is currently seeking funding for the second year of its study, with a proposal under review by a granting agency. They’re also looking for volunteers for the second year sample.


Cindy and I both responded to a posting in the LOEX newsletter that allowed you to sign up to receive more information about the research symposium they’re planning next year. Cindy had a nice exchange with Alison, which we can talk about during our meeting.

EXERCISE: How to read a scientific article

Purpose: This exercise introduces students to the parts of a typical scientific research article and a method for reading such articles.

Introduction: Students who are unfamiliar with scientific literature will often attempt to read articles straight through, the way they read textbooks or popular articles. This can be frustrating and unproductive.

Materials: For a class of ~24 students, use three research articles. Photocopy these sections—introduction, materials & methods, data/results, and conclusion—masking off text so that content from other article sections isn’t visible.

Methods: Have students work in pairs. Give each pair a section of an article and an article-notes form (Purugganan and Hewitt, 2004). Let them have 5-10 minutes to skim their sections and answer as many questions as they can on the form. Now have all students who have sections of each article gather together and report on what they think the article is about. Then have each group report out to the class about this experience. Generally, students who had the conclusions sections will have the best idea of what the article is about, and students who had the materials/methods sections will know the least.

Discussion: Have students read the abstracts of their papers, to see what they’re about. Then tell students to

  1. read the abstract to determine whether the article is a keeper
  2. read the conclusions—what did the researchers find?
  3. read the introduction—why did the researchers do this study
  4. read the results—show me the data!
  5. read the methods—how can I repeat this study?

Show the Purdue video “How To Read Scientific Papers” to reinforce.

Show students how to find subject dictionaries and encyclopedias to refer to while reading scientific articles—

  1. Gale Virtual Reference Library > apoptosis
  2. Library Catalog: AKW <dictionar* biolog* AND MT ebook; apoptosis>


Purdue University Libraries, n.d. [Fosmire, Michael?]  How to read scientific papers. Flash tutorial.

Purugganan, Mary and Jan Hewitt, 2004. “How to Read a Scientific Article.”

Lessons from the academy: Actuating active mass-class information literacy instruction

Lessons from the academy: Actuating active mass-class information literacy instruction

Mardi Chalmers
California State University, Monterey Bay, California, USA

Reference Services Review, 36.1 (2008): 23-38.

The author suggests new pedagogies for information literacy to large format classes, using the ideas of engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation from constructivist learning theory to structure her discussion.

The literature review moves outside the library literature and into the scholarship of education and psychology, exploring the effectiveness of the lecture format that is most often adopted in large-format class and the importance of employing active learning to facilitate higher-level learning. Some highlights:

  • “Lectures are effective for memorization and repetition, but they are not helpful in teaching understanding and application of knowledge to other situations, problem solving, or critical thinking” — an important point considering the nature of info lit instruction.
  • “In fact, there is agreement in the science and education literature . . . that the college student’s attention span is between 10 and 20 minutes.”
  • “The large introductory classes are often filled with younger students whose note-taking and listening skills may not yet have matured . . . and they may hesitate to question content they do not understand “
  • “There is evidence in instructional research that the traditional lecture does not lead to higher-level student learning outcomes . . . An eloquently expressed or performed lecture is still a lecture. Although students’ attention might not wander as much, what is delivered remains passively accepted, and the responsibility for their own learning is not given to the students.”

Having successfully made the case for active learning no matter the course size and addressing the discomfort librarians often feel with planning exercises regardless of the number of students, Chalmers offers ideas under each of the Five E’s. A summary:

Engagement – “describes the active interest in a topic experienced and/or demonstrated by a learner”

  • asking students that allows students to draw upon their own interest in the topic
  • having students prepare for the lecture by writing short essays beforehand
  • small group discussion with reporting out
  • having a student already familiar with a resource do the initial demonstration
  • employing the Socratic method to structure the class, allowing student questions to drive the course content

Exploration – “where students investigate new content or topics, and collect and organize information”

  • Small groups where students are working together towards a mastery of the course content
  • Case-based learning

Explanation – “where the student is self-reflective about new learning, after they have gained confidence in their ability to learn through the exploration phase.”

  • structured controversy, where students are asked to argue for or against a position
  • “Conceptest” – the instructor “poses a question or two from the lecture. Students think individually for a minute about the question, and then turn to their neighbor and try to convince them that their answers are correct, reinforcing the skill of discussing content in one’s own words. Students give feedback to the teacher, who then provides explanation of the correct answer.”
  • Think-pair-share
  • Small group determination of popular vs scholarly, with a reporter defending the position of the group

Elaboration – “deepens student understanding and retention”

  • Small group activity analyzing and solving higher-order, abstract problems
  • The instructor designs question to assess student knowledge and has a student recorded compile the answers, with the class correcting the wrong ones
  • Active reviewing through summarizing after a period of reflection


  • The one-minute paper – “What did you learn? What is still confusing?”, discussing the answers in class or following up afterwards
  • Online surveys on lecture material at end of class
  • Essay questions, in-class writing, “public hearings” and group quizzes with open-ended questions to facilitate higher-order thinking
  • Clicker responses to questions

Chalmers concludes by noting that it takes more time to design a session for a large-format class that involves students in their own learning and that such sessions require a higher level of preparation and structure on the part of the instructor. She notes that the employment of active learning pedagogies often leads to less content being covered, but that this trade-off is necessary to ensure actual student learning.