Monday, May 23, 2011

Selecting and Evaluating Reference Materials

In this week's lesson we read about selecting and evaluating reference materials for use in our school libraries.  I read Ann Riedling's criteria for selecting good reference materials in her book Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist. I have no dispute with Riedling’s basic criteria for evaluation of reference resources. However, I believe Riedling greatly underemphasizes the need to consider the context in which the resource is to be used. The needs of a K to 5 patron community in British Columbia are going to be quite different than those of a grade 10 to 12 community in Ontario or Quebec. I find this lack of emphasis on audience surprising since Riedling is writing specifically about the specialized context of the school library.

A reference resource that has great scope, accuracy, authority, timeliness and is inexpensive can still be inappropriate if it does not have the appropriate reading level to meet the needs of a specific patron community. Each patron community is going to have specialized needs in terms of content that relates to the curriculum they are covering. A resource that is more limited in scope and is somewhat more expensive may end up being a better choice in certain circumstances. I think Riedling could strengthen the usefulness of her evaluation criteria by overtly adding step a the beginning of each evaluation process. This step would be to define or describe the context in which the resource will be used. Who are the patrons? How old are they? What is the curriculum or areas of interest that are most in need to be addressed or supported? Once this is established then the other evaluation criteria can be more productively applied.

I am very sensitive to this issue as I work in K to 5 library.  I find readability to be the overarching preoccupation.  I also am preoccupied with supporting the curriculum.  My experience over the last five years as a librarian has been that reference inquiries do tend to fall within a particular scope that is most often related to the curriculum they encounter in the classroom.  I am likely to encounter many questions about Canadian animals, Canadian aborigial peoples, British Columbia communites but much less likely to encounter questions about the United States, ancient civilizations, world history etc.. This would seem to make the Encyclopedia of British Columbia and the Canadian Encyclopedia natural choices.  The problem is that they are not written at a reading level appropriate to my patrons and often lack the scope necessary to address the curriculum areas that prompt the reference inquiry. Although these resources may pass Riedling's evaluation criteria these resources are more often than not inappropriate for my context.

Lori Ingles provides some excellent commentary on the definition of what constitutes good reference materials.  Is it just a matter of answering the question?  Can you totally answer the question? Lori states that "according to Stripling, we can never really expect to answer the questions because our inquiry will always lead us to new questions. If this is the case, perhaps we should redefine a good reference source. From this perspective, perhaps a good reference source should be one that serves to answer some of the basic questions but also provides enough information to launch new, more in-depth questions." I think Lori gives some food for thought as to additional criteria for a good reference.  Good references may also be those that  point to other references and acknowledge their own brevity or lack of potential depth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Promoting an Information Framework

For the past few years I have quietly and informally used the Big 6 and the Big 3 as information frameworks for our school. I only use what has been made freely available from their website. There are numerous other frameworks available but I have yet to switch since I am scared of changing any language or terminology students have become even slightly familiar with. Yet in some way I think I should switch to the model created by the BCTLA since it is more likely students will encounter this model in middle school and high school. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough confidence in the overall appeal of the BCTLA model as of yet to make myself switch. I find it less attractive to younger students. I like the easy to remember questions of the Big 6 and I think it is a little more natural in terms of process and language.

1. What needs to be done? Task Definition

2. What resources can I use? Information Seeking Strategies

3. Where can I find these resources? Location and Access

4. What can I use from these resources? Use of Information

5. What can I make to finish the job? How can I share what I have learned? Synthesis

6. How will I know that I did my job well? Evaluation

In our school we have over the past two years tried to adopt a common language around writing using the the WriteTraits framework. It is a laudable effort but still has far to go before it will become common parlance. Similarly, as a school it would be extremely valuable if we could use an inquiry or information framework that is similar at all grade levels. It is with this consistency that we can practice gradual release with our students. With every grade from 1 to 5, I teach a research and writing unit. It is partly a cooperatively planned and taught unit. We piggy-backed a writing component onto the research process because the library program was the only common program and venue through which we could ensure that students consistently heard the same language used to describe their writing. A little more informally, I also teach the Big 6 in hopes of tacking it onto our Write Traits initiative. Transference of this language and model to classes has not been mandated in the same way as using the Write Traits. Since it is not mandated teachers have yet to adopt its use in their classrooms yet mandating its use seems unwise at this point. I believe I have more work to do to prove its usefulness and effectiveness of this model or any other model.

I have been given reason by Anne, during the discussions,  to reconsider the use of the Big 6 Model because of its commercial nature. This makes some sense since the implementation of the consistent use of an information framework is already hard enough achieve without throwing in a financial barrier to using the model.  This does not address my dilemma of trying to be consistent. I have made a little bit of progress and I believe it can take a number of years for students to assimilate any framework.  Changing the terms or the language can often mean starting the learning process from square one.

 Maria Lou mentions that we need to be careful about trying to mandate a particular model in our school if their are staff members already committed to other models.  I do acknowledge that as educators we do not need to get into the battle of which information model is necessarily superior.  I think we are still at the stage of just encouraging the use of framework in general. I recognize from other posts that the models all have much in common, as stated by Jennifer Parker it is "the amount of detail in each step that is different." 

Chris Ellet puts forward an interesting argument that particular models are suited to particular tasks and that he uses at least four models with his secondary school students. He suggests exercises involving the formulation of a point-of-view or an opinion on an issue may be best suited to the Big 6 because of "its emphasis on synthesis and evaluation" while the BCTLA's Research Quest is particularly useful in activities that involve preparation for a debate. I think Chris's philosophy of using what works best for a student in a particular situation is the one we all need to follow.  Forcing a particular framework can be akin to reducing learning or thinking to a one size fits all formula. We do however need to start with one framework before we can result to multiple ones.

As an elementary educator I struggle with the need to simplify and provide consistency. I think the multiple approach model that Chris uses at the secondary level does not transfer well to the lower grades. I still believe there is a consistency that needs to follow students from year to year until they own some of the processes. Taking Maria's caution to heart I still think I will continue to advocate for commonality within the school but should be content with some diversity still existing.  I see from the discussions that the BCTLA Research Quest is used by many with younger students and that is more similar than I first thought to the Big 6 model. It would seem that switching to this model and advocating for its school wide use at least at the elementary level would be my best plan of action.  

Successful Reference Services: Up to the Challenge?

The following is an edited excerpt from our course notes:

Riedling states that "successful reference services" consist of three components:

1. knowledge of the library media collection
2. effective conversational skills (communication)
3. competence in selecting, acquiring and evaluating resources to meet students' needs.

Given the present time and budget allocated to many school libraries, meeting all of these requirements, to their fullest extent, may be difficult. To add to this challenge there a few other qualities that a teacher-librarian should possess in order to support successful reference services:

4. understanding of the research process and the affective qualities that are inherent in research.
5. patience with the frustrations that often accompany reference services and an ability to stay positive despite these
6. knowledge of and an eagerness to apply information skills, where applicable, to all levels of student research.

Are these unreasonable expectations given your time? Are there ways in which you can improve in these areas? By the end of this course, you should be able to determine how you measure up to these qualities and, hopefully, how you can improve in those areas that may require improvement.

Answers as of Now

It is reasonable to think that a teacher-librarian should possess these skills and offer these services but the resources to do this job are often lacking. My resources are fairly limited in terms of what I can purchase for reference resources and due to my part time status as a teacher-librarian in my school my time available to deliver such instruction and services is severely limited.

Notwithstanding the constraints I just mentioned, I know I need better knowledge in terms of selecting, acquiring and evaluating resources that will facilitate better reference services in my K to 5 library. As mentioned in my previous post, I am at a loss as to what is a reasonable scope for my reference collection for my patrons below grade e and sometimes even for grade 3. World Book Online Kids, World Book Student Encyclopedia and a few Atlases and dictionaries are all that I have that can even begin to serve as quick reference sources.  Do I need more? I hope to be able to answer this more adequately by the end of the course.

I also need to instill patience among teachers and students with the challenges that accompany reference services. If results or information sources cannot be accessed instantly many will give up.  Teachers often will say never mind (often just trying not to consume too much of my time).  My hope and intent each time is to access resources at a reading level that younger students can read themselves and thus not have the teacher or librarian serve as a translator of information and ultimate answerer of the question.  I want to be more of a facilitator of access to information. I hope to have more strategies and resources that will help maintain patience and build more enthusiasm for library references services among staff and students.

Terms Associated with Reference

In our first lesson we looked at some of the terms associated with reference. A term in the glossary or our textbook that I have been thinking a lot about in the past five years is "Scope." Scope is a concept I am struggling with in regards to reference and reference skills for K to 5 students, especially K to 2. What do appropriate reference resources for these patrons look like and what should be the scope of a reference collection be at the K to 5 level?

Oftentimes, I find that in current reference works available for younger students that adjustments made for readability also equals limiting content or scope to such a degree as to make the source useless.  The reference work is so limited and simplistic that it just teaches the young user to go where the older students go for information and reference: Google. I am hoping to find suggestions for quality reference works that have the readability level appropriate for users below grade three.

Our text's glossary also included the Big 6 Problem Solving Model.  This is just one of many models or recipes for inquiry learning.  Our instructor pointed out that it was a proprietary model which made it a little less desirable.  I do agree this is problematic. Nevertheless I find its simplicity and vocabulary to much more accessible to K to 5 users than that used in other models including the Points of Inquiry model produced by the BC Teacher Librarians Association.

In the discussion forum Sarah Tait and Jelica Mihaldzic, and I believe a few others, lamented the acronyms in the glossary.  They found the full terms already difficult to remember without the addition of a meaningless and unmemorable acronym.  I  think they point out something very important.  I think as librarians we should take note of what some lawyers are advocating in terms of simplifying legal language into "plain language".  As librarians we have a mandate to make the retrieval and use of information as easy as possible. Acronyms don't help.

Along with Jennifer Reed and others I share the same surprise at the inclusion of the term reference interview.  Perhaps this surprise is something that is shared more among elementary teacher-librarians in our group who have little opportunity to engage in such discussions.  Anne points out that Ann Riedling is referring more to the public library contexts where such interviews are common.  As Anne points out, the teaching and subsequent use of an information framework would negate the occurrence of the reference interviews that Ann Riedling is referring to.

I found Anica Teglasi's comment that the glossary terms helped her reflect on what materials she had in her own reference collection very useful.  She felt hers was "pitiful." I assume she said this because she had very few of these resources in her own reference collection. Because of Anica's comment, I took some time looking at the different kinds of reference works and realized I didn't have a number of them or they were quite old.  I will need to learn a more about how necessary some are to a K to 5 library before I become too forlorn but the glossary has served as an unexpected cause for reflection and evaluation of my reference collection. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A New Course: LIBE 467 Information Services I

Rather than create a brand new blog for LIBE 467 I thought I would just continue on with the blog I created for my last course.  So for those who will be reading this blog please note that May 9th marks my transtition to LIBE 467 and all posts older than this date relate to LIBE 465.