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Information Literacy & Instruction

This category contains 12 posts

#BannedBooksWeek display highlights freedom to read

We’re celebrating American Library Association’s Banned Books Week (September 22-28, 2013) by inviting you to read books that have been deemed “pornographic,” “racist,” “obscene,” and even “un-American.”

The display shelves on the 1st floor of your Library are now home to 28 books wrapped in brown paper, with title and author information hidden. On each wrapper, you’ll find the various charges that have been leveled against that particular book (e.g., “graphic imagery” or “drug use”). What do they have in common? All of these books have been challenged or banned in US libraries or school systems in the past few years. As a point of contrast to these allegations, on the spines of the wrapped books, Library staff have written the praise each has received. You may be surprised to see how many of these controversial books or their authors have won Pulitzers, Nobels, or other prestigious awards, or have been #1 bestsellers!

The books are wrapped in paper to highlight the “dangerous” content some feel they contain, and these wrappers will stay on the books until they’re checked out. We encourage you to take a chance and check out something that will both entertain and challenge you as you come to your own conclusions.

Why celebrate banned books? Libraries serve to connect users to information–not to restrict users’ access to it. As Library professionals, we cannot deny users the right to receive the information they desire because a third party may find it morally objectionable. We uphold the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, and the corollary right to freely receive information. Some people want to restrict your right to read whatever you want, but librarians are there to stand up for your to be informed and entertained.

You can learn more about Banned Books Week at http://www.bannedbooksweek.org, and by following the #BannedBooksWeek hashtag on Twitter. Check out how libraries around the world are taking a stand for your right to read by highlighting their controversial books.

Transferring e-books from EBSCO to your mobile device or e-reader

In my previous post, I described the procedure for downloading EBSCOhost e-books to your computer for offline reading. In this post I will describe how you can transfer a downloaded book to a mobile device–a smartphone, tablet computer, or dedicated e-book reader.

Before proceeding, make sure that you have successfully completed all the steps described in my previous post and listed here:

  1. You have created an Adobe ID
  2. You have downloaded and installed the Adobe Digital Editions application software on your computer
  3. You have created a My EBSCOhost account, and
  4. You have downloaded an EBSCOhost e-book into Adobe Digital Editions

Adobe Digital Editions negotiates copy protection for EBSCOhost e-books on your computer or your mobile device. In order to successfully transfer an EBSCOhost e-book to a mobile device that device must either natively communicate with Adobe Digital Editions when attached to your computer, or allow the installation of an application that can communicate with Adobe Digital Editions on its behalf. Dedicated e-book readers such as the Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, or Kobo eReader support Adobe Digital Editions natively. Unfortunately, Amazon E-Ink Kindles do not currently provide support for Adobe Digital Editions. Many smartphones and tablets, including Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) and Android devices (including Amazon Kindle Fire tablets with some special tweaking), work with Adobe Digital Editions through a third-party application that can be installed on the device. I will describe the transfer procedure on a Barnes & Noble Nook and an Apple iPod touch. The specific procedure for your device may differ from these, but the following instructions will give you a good idea for what is involved. Please contact a librarian if you would like assistance, or if you run into any difficulty.

Transferring an EBSCOhost e-book to a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch e-reader

Step 1: Authorize the device in Adobe Digital Editions

Launch Adobe Digital Editions on your computer then attach your e-reader device to your computer with the supplied USB cable. Adobe Digital Editions should automatically detect a compatible e-reader. You will be prompted to authorize the use of the device with Adobe Digital Editions (which may include entering your Adobe ID). In this screenshot notice “NOOK” is detected under Devices in the left column:

Step 2: Drag an e-book to your device

To install an e-book to the device simply select the desired title from the Bookshelf in the right column and drag it onto the device icon as shown here:

Step 3: Open and read the book on your device

Adobe Digital Editions will notify you when the e-book installation is complete. Eject the device from your computer. Browse and launch the e-book from the device’s book Library. Start reading!

Step 4: Remove an expired e-book from your device

As with EBSCOhost e-books originally downloaded to your computer, when the checkout period expires you will no longer be able to open the book on your device. At this point, you may choose to delete the expired file from your device’s book Library. Re-attach the device to your computer, launch Adobe Digital Editions, highlight “NOOK” under Devices in the left column, select the expired title from the Bookshelf in the right column, Control-Click the book icon and select “Remove from Library” from the drop down menu.

Transferring an EBSCOhost e-book to an Apple iOS or Google Android device

Unlike the previous procedure where a compatible dedicated e-reader (like the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch) is immediately recognizable by Adobe Digital Editions when connected to your computer, transferring EBSCOhost e-books to a smartphone or tablet requires a separate application capable of communicating with Adobe Digital Editions and serving as a book reader. You also need a transfer method that the reader application can understand.

As with downloading EBSCOhost e-books to your computer, the procedure for preparing your mobile device for transferring e-books is a bit complicated. However, you shouldn’t have too much trouble if you follow these instructions closely. The first three steps only have to be done one time. Feel free to contact a librarian if you would like assistance, or if you run into any difficulty. (Note: Amazon’s Kindle Fire is an Android-based tablet. However, installation of applications on this device is a bit more complicated than most. Special instructions are at the bottom.)

Step 1: Create a Dropbox account

You need a fairly easy and straightforward way to transfer a downloaded EBSCOhost e-book in Adobe Digital Editions on your computer to your mobile device. Dropbox is a handy cloud storage service that can be used to facilitate this transfer. Go to http://www.dropbox.com to create a free account. (The free account comes with 2 gigabytes of storage–more than enough for routine e-book file transfers.) Write down your Dropbox email address and password.

You can use the Dropbox web interface on your computer to facilitate file uploads to your account, or you can download a dedicated desktop application (for Windows or Mac). However, it is strongly recommended that you download and install the mobile version of the Dropbox application to your mobile device (choose the appropriate version here). You only have to do this step once.

Step 2: Download and install Bluefire Reader to your device

The process for transferring EBSCOhost e-books to a compatible Apple iOS or Google Android device requires that you first download and install an application that can be authorized to communicate with Adobe Digital Editions and function as a book reader. Bluefire Reader is a free application that is excellent for these purposes. You can use Bluefire Reader to open PDF and EPUB files on your mobile device. Download and install the Apple iOS or Google Android version as appropriate. You only have to do this step once.

Step 3: Launch and authorize Bluefire Reader on your device

I am using Bluefire Reader on an Apple iPod touch here. Launch Bluefire Reader on your device and select “Info” from the application menu. Tap the “Authorize” button in the Enable Adobe eBooks box. This will bring up a screen for entering your Adobe ID account information. Tap “Authorize.”

 

Your device is now authorized to open and read e-books downloaded to Adobe Digital Editions on your computer. You only have to do this step once.

You now have everything in place to transfer and read EBSCOhost e-books on your mobile device. Let’s transfer an e-book now!

Step 4: Upload an EBSCOhost e-book to your Dropbox account

a) Go back to your computer. I downloaded a new e-book from EBSCOhost into Adobe Digital Editions following the instructions in Step 4 from my previous post. The process went much smoother the second time around!

b) Although the e-book loads into Adobe Digital Editions, the e-book file is actually stored in another folder on you computer. On a Windows PC browse to this folder is called “My Digital Editions,” which is located in your “My Documents” folder. Notice the e-book file titled “The Autobiography of Charles Darwin” (Note: Although the file is a PDF, it will not open as normal in Adobe Reader because it is copy-protected. Adobe Digital Editions registered with your Adobe ID enables you to open this copy-protected file.):

On an Apple Mac computer, the same file is found in the “Digital Editions” folder in your user “Documents” folder:

c) Sign into your Dropbox account. For this demonstration I am using the web interface at http://www.dropbox.com. When you sign in the first time you will see three folders.

d) For this demonstration I am going to upload the e-book file into the “Public” folder in my Dropbox. Double-click the “Public” folder to open it. Click on the “Upload” button (it is the document icon with the blue arrow pointing up to the far left of the “Search Dropbox” search box). This brings up the “Upload to ‘Public'” dialog box.

e) Click the blue “Choose files” button. Browse to the “My Digital Editions” (Windows) or “Digital Editions” (Mac) folder and locate the e-book file you would like to upload as described above. Highlight the file and click “Open”. (If the upload appears stalled, click the “basic uploader” link and try again.) The file is processed and uploaded into (in this case) your “Public” folder. When the upload is complete you will receive this message:

Clear the dialog box by clicking “Done”.

f) You should now see the uploaded file in your Dropbox “Public” folder.

Since Dropbox stores your uploaded documents to the “cloud,” you can access them on any computer or device with an internet connection. This is how you will now access this e-book file and transfer it onto your mobile device.

Step 5: Launch Dropbox on your mobile device and open the EBSCOhost e-book in Bluefire Reader

a) If you haven’t already done so, download the appropriate Dropbox application version for your mobile device (e.g., Apple iOS or Google Android).

b) Launch Dropbox and sign into your account. You must have an active connection to the internet in order to access your Dropbox.

 

c) Notice the same folders in your mobile Dropbox as in the desktop or browser-based version on your computer. Remember that you uploaded your e-book to the “Public” folder. Tap “Public” to open this folder. There is your e-book!

 

d) Tap on the e-book file to download it to your device. Notice that this is a PDF file.

 

e) The e-book file download to your device appears to be complete. But notice that you don’t see anything other than the title on the screen. This is because the file is copy-protected and can only be opened by an application authorized to view Adobe Digital Editions copy-protected files. This is where Bluefire Reader comes into play. Tap the download button on the lower right of the screen (the icon with an arrow pointing down into a tray). This brings up a dialog that includes an “Open In…” button. Tap this button. You are now presented with one or more applications that may be able to open this file. Tap the “Open in Bluefire” button.

 

f) Tapping the “Open in Bluefire” button launches the the Bluefire Reader application. Notice your e-book, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin in the Library list. Tap on this title to open the book. Start reading!

 

Step 6: Remove an expired e-book from your device

As with EBSCOhost e-books originally downloaded to your computer, when the checkout period expires you will no longer be able to open the book on your device. At this point, you may choose to delete the expired file from the Library list in Bluefire Reader using the application’s Edit > Delete feature.

Special Note about installing Bluefire Reader and the Dropbox mobile app on an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

I mentioned above that Amazon’s E-Ink Kindles currently do not support e-books copy-protected using Adobe Digital Editions. Consequently, it is not possible to read e-books downloaded from EBSCOhost on your E-Ink Kindle.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets run a version of the Google Android operating system. Consequently, it is possible to install Android versions of both the Bluefire Reader application and the Dropbox mobile app on your Kindle Fire. However, getting these applications on your device requires a little extra tweaking. Follow these steps to prepare your Kindle Fire (part of these steps come courtesy of the Bluefire Reader blog):

a) Tap “Settings” on your Kindle Fire (it’s the icon that looks like a gear)
b) Tap “More”
c) Scroll down until you see “Device”
d) In the Device tab, set “Allow installation of Applications” to ON, and tap OK when you see the Warning prompt
e) Using the web browser on your Kindle Fire, go to http://www.bluefirereader.com/files/ and tap on BluefireReader.apk to download the Bluefire Reader application. Tap on this file to install the application on your Kindle Fire.
f) Using the web browser on your Kindle Fire, go to http://www.dropbox.com/android and download the Dropbox Android application. This app should be labeled Dropbox.apk. Tap on this file to install the application on your Kindle Fire.
g) Return to the instructions to continue with the e-book transfer procedure.

Downloading e-books from EBSCO to your computer for offline reading

The Library owns and subscribes to thousands of academic e-books from EBSCO Publishing. These e-books are readily accessible to authorized users from our EBSCOhost eBooks Collections database (select it from the “Resources” dropdown menu on the Library website). They are also indexed in the Milligan Library Catalog, and may surface among other search results in MCSearch.

The EBSCOhost platform includes a built-in viewer for reading e-books online using any modern web browser (e.g., Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or Microsoft Internet Explorer). However, many of EBSCO’s e-books can also be downloaded to your computer to be read at leisure offline. Downloadable titles are marked with this message:

The following instructions will guide you through the process of downloading EBSCOhost e-books to your computer. The procedure is a little challenging because it requires that you create two authorization accounts and download a piece of software. However, you shouldn’t have too much trouble if you follow these instructions closely. The first 3 steps only have to be done one time. Feel free to contact a librarian if you would like assistance, or if you run into any difficulty.

Step 1: Get an Adobe ID

You will need an Adobe ID to authorize your access to the e-books you download from EBSCOhost into Adobe Digital Editions, or to transfer e-books to a mobile device (more on this in a later post). You only have to do this step once.

  • Go to http://www.adobe.com/.
  • Click the “Sign in” link on the top right side of the page (under the Search box).
  • Click the “Don’t have an Adobe ID?” link.
  • Fill out the Create an Adobe ID form. The email address you supply will become your Adobe ID. Use this, and the password you create, to access content in Adobe Digital Editions. Write down your Adobe ID and password.

Step 2: Download Adobe Digital Editions

Download the Adobe Digital Editions application from Adobe’s website (Mac OS or Windows versions available). You will need this (free) application to view the e-books you download from EBSCO (via MCSearch, or directly from our EBSCOhost eBook Collections). The process will be smoother if you already have this software on your computer before you attempt the first e-book download. You only have to do this step once.

Launch the Installer and follow the instruction prompts to complete the installation. Once the installation is complete launch Adobe Digital Editions. You will be prompted to enter your Adobe ID and password to authorize your computer. This will also prepare your computer to recognize Adobe Digital Editions as the default application for opening EBSCO e-books. Here is a screenshot of the open application.

Step 3: Create a My EBSCOhost account

As indicated above, if you are a currently registered Milligan College student, faculty, or staff member you do not need to create an account to view an EBSCOhost e-book. Simply click the “eBook Full Text” link to launch the e-book viewer in your web browser.

However, if you want to download an EBSCOhost e-book to your computer for later offline reading in Adobe Digital Editions you will need to create a “My EBSCOhost” account. You only have to do this step once.

  • From any EBSCOhost database (including MCSearch) click the “Sign In” link at the top right side of the page.
  • Click the “Create a new Account” link on the right side of the page.
  • Fill out the form then click the “Save Changes” button. The user name and password you supply will enable you to login to your My EBSCOhost account and download e-books to your computer. Write down your User Name and password.

You now have everything you need to download and read EBSCOhost e-books on your computer. Let’s download an e-book now!

Step 4: Download an e-book from an EBSCOhost eBook Collection

NOTE: These instructions apply only to e-books in the EBSCOhost eBook Collection (Milligan College Library also provides e-books from other publishers. Those e-books cannot be downloaded to your computer using these instructions).

a) Launch EBSCOhost eBook Collection from the “Resources” dropdown menu on the Milligan College Library website at http://library.milligan.edu. Search for an e-book. EBSCOhost e-books are also included in relevant MCSearch search results.

b) If the record for the e-book you have selected includes a “Download (Offline)” link the book can be downloaded to your computer for offline viewing. Click the “Download (Offline)” link.

c) You will be prompted to sign-in using your My EBSCOhost account. Click the “Sign In Now” link.

d) Enter your User Name and Password from your My EBSCOhost account (see Step 3) and click the “Login” button. (If you are using a personal computer you may choose to have your web browser “remember” your credentials so you don’t have to re-type this information in the future.)

e) Once you are logged into My EBSCOhost, a “Download This eBook” screen for the e-book you have selected will pop up. If the e-book is available for checkout, select the Checkout Period and click the “Checkout & Download” button. Notice the download screen informs you that you need to have Adobe Digital Editions on your computer in order to view the downloaded book (see Step 1).

f) If the download is successful you will see this screen:

g) Once the e-book file is downloaded you should see a screen prompting you to choose how you will open the e-book file. If you have Adobe Digital Editions pre-loaded on your computer the “Open with Adobe Digital Editions (Default)” option will be pre-selected.

h) If you downloaded the e-book file on an Apple Mac, locate the .ACSM file (stands for Adobe Content Server Message file) where you customarily download files (e.g., the “Downloads” folder), Control-Click on the file, select “Open With” from the contextual menu and select “Adobe Digital Editions (Default).”

i) Adobe Digital Editions should launch and you will see the e-book loading into the application. When complete, the book is immediately available for viewing! Notice the navigation tools on the top menu, and the table of contents pane on the left.

j) Click on the “Library” button in the upper left of the top menu to view all the books you have downloaded. Adobe Digital Editions will track the checkout period remaining on each book in your Library. When the checkout period is expired you will no longer be able to open the book. At this point, you may decide to delete the file from your Library. Control-Click the book icon and select “Remove from Library” from the drop down menu.

Next Steps

In a subsequent post I will show you how to transfer an EBSCOhost e-book from your computer to a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) or dedicated e-reader.

Introducing MCSearch: One search box–for the good stuff

The P.H. Welshimer Memorial Library is pleased to introduce MCSearch to the Milligan College community. What is MCSearch? We think our tagline says it all: “One search box–for the good stuff.”

One search box. Students are familiar with Google and other popular web search engines. They like the ease and convenience of being able to type a few keywords into a search box and get tons of results. But how relevant, reliable, or current is this information for academic research purposes? This is a serious question. Students need to acquire skills for evaluating information accessed from the open web. (The Library provides instruction to students in information literacy skills like information resource evaluation.) However, given a choice between digging hard for the best available information resources or the convenience of a Google search, students are often satisfied with “good enough.”

What if there was a tool available that provided the ease and convenience of a Google search, but the information resources searched and results returned were those provided by the Library? Students could get to the stuff that was truly good instead of just good enough. This is exactly what MCSearch does.

The good stuff. Every year the Library spends tens of thousands of dollars to provide Milligan College students and faculty with high quality information resources to support their coursework and research. Books, media, print and electronic journals and magazines, e-books, subject-based print and electronic reference works (encyclopedias and dictionaries), and numerous subject-based and multidisciplinary databases for accessing journal articles online. We also provide an array of tools such as online library catalogs, journal finders, link resolvers, and database interfaces to help students and faculty search these resources. We make this investment because, frankly (and contrary to much conventional current day “wisdom”), you can’t get everything you need on the open web. Academic information resources are costly to produce, publish and distribute. Although there is a slowly growing open access movement in academic communication online, generally speaking, the good stuff isn’t free.

One search box, again. The “killer feature” that makes a search engine like Google so powerful and compelling is that a single query is applied simultaneously across a multitude of sites and resources on the World Wide Web. Can you imagine having to browse or search each site on the web individually to try to find information you were looking for? I’m showing my age here, but I first got online in 1994, almost 5 years before the Google search engine started attracting attention on the Web. I still remember when Yahoo! was literally just a running list of websites. But enough about that. My point is that search engines have profoundly altered the way we search for information. What if it were possible to apply some of this kind of power when searching the Library’s information resources–a single query applied simultaneously to the Library catalog and databases, rather than searching each of these sources individually? This is exactly what MCSearch does.

The emphasis is on discovery. As the Library evaluated the various print and electronic information resources it provides to students and faculty, it occurred to us that in many ways we have enough stuff. What we felt we needed was a way to make the stuff we have more discoverable. MCSearch is not about “dumbing down” the research process, or pandering to the bad study habits of lazy students. Using a search engine effectively still requires skill and discernment. But because MCSearch applies a search query across a range of Library resources and formats at once, it can bring to the surface information a student may not have otherwise discovered through conventional means. This brings a delightful element of serendipity to the research process.

Filter on the way out. Because general or broad keyword searches tend to return too many results that are not necessarily relevant, conventional catalog and database searching with limited features encourages the user to formulate precise search queries in advance to get the best results. MCSearch also allows the user to apply limiters to search queries in advance to narrow search results. However, a particularly powerful capability of MCSearch is the ability to filter results after the search is completed. MCSearch includes the ability to easily refine or “facet” results by various criteria (date, format, subject, provider, etc.). This capability removes the “problem” of too many results, while still providing the opportunity to discover valuable resources from unexpected sources.

Try it out now! We will be providing more usage assistance in subsequent posts and instruction sessions. But right now I would like to encourage you to just take some time to play around with MCSearch and get familiar with its capabilities. Feel free to contact us with any questions, and we especially welcome your feedback.

Closing the distance between classroom and library: An open letter to the faculty (2005)

This post was originally published to my now mothballed blog, Voyage of the Paradigm Ship on February 28, 2009. The “open letter” transcribed below was sent to the faculty over 6 years ago. The message about information literacy is still relevant, though I am pleased to report that in the intervening years we have witnessed far greater collaborative interaction between faculty and librarians. And as far as the library as place is concerned, rather than a “student expectation that technology will at last make the trip [between the classroom and library] entirely unnecessary,” we have actually witnessed exponential growth in student use of the library for study and learning. Fascinating!

I was doing a little house cleaning in my email folders the other day, and I came across the following “open letter” I sent to the faculty back on April 27, 2005. I was still Reference Librarian at the time, and just two months into the job. I believe this was my first formal communication with faculty regarding information literacy and the changing nature of libraries and information resources. I hit upon the idea of the classroom and the library as separate “domains” that risked an ever widening “distance” for students. I used this metaphor as the basis of an appeal for greater intentional collaboration with faculty in order to bridge the gap. (The mug shot was original.)

As an extension of my role as Reference Librarian, I want to make myself available to you as a resource—and potentially more than a resource—for bibliographic instruction and information literacy in your courses. Allow me to share some of my thinking and interests in this area.

It is conventional (for my generation, and for many generations prior) to think of the library as a place where information resources are stored. Users go to the library to access these resources on an as-needed basis. For students, the need is typically oriented toward completing class assignments. Bibliographic instruction in this vein seeks to inform students

1) about the relevant (subject and course-related) resources that are available in the library

2) how to go about accessing relevant resources in the library, and

3) how to productively use these accessed resources in support of the learning process.

This is an important exercise. However, viewing the library as a place—an information “warehouse”—may contribute to more than just the sense of physical distance required to traverse there from the classroom. A potentially problematic metaphorical distance may also be building up. The greater this perceived distance, the harder it is for students to see the intimate relationship between classroom and library in the learning process.

The sheer volume, availability, and mobility of knowledge and information resources in non-print and electronic formats is certainly one aspect contributing to the increased sense of distance. Imagine all this information, just a few keystrokes away, and all conveniently accessed from the comfort of home or dorm room! Some lament this as the death of the book and the demise of the library as we (my generation, and for many generations prior) have always known it. I am less pessimistic (though I recognize that changes are inevitable). Besides, having access to an ocean of unmediated information is not necessarily helpful. (In fact, it can be exceedingly frustrating!) Access to information never directly translates into the acquisition of knowledge. But the new(er) reality does suggest to me that a broadening understanding of what the library is and how the library functions in the learning process is needed. In many ways, it must be admitted that the sense of distance was there even before the introduction of electronic information resources. Students, to varying degrees, have always complained about having to make the trip from classroom to the library for information needed to complete their assignments. It’s just that we can see the distance more clearly with this increasing (if still largely imagined) student expectation that technology will at last make the trip entirely unnecessary.

Physical distance exists as a result of practical considerations of space. (We need a place where we can store and organize books on shelves so we can retrieve them later as needed.) But metaphorical distance doesn’t take up space. The “ah-ha” for me considering this technological capacity to electronically disassemble information content from information format is not that I should lament the death of the book (which I do not believe) but that I should be provoked to focus even more attention on the nature of information itself. Yes, new information formats require the learning of new skills (e.g., database searching, electronic document delivery, etc.). This is an important part of bibliographic instruction today. But bibliographic instruction in the vein of my present thought broadens beyond a discussion of the format of information resources or where they can be found, to include a discussion about how to think about and use the information contained in whatever format, wherever it is found. This is where bibliographic instruction extends toward information literacy.

I have an interest in narrowing the sense of distance for students, not by lamenting a lost past or resisting an uncertain future for the library, but by proposing a stronger on-going relationship between myself as librarian and you as a faculty member. I fully appreciate and respect that the classroom is your domain, and you have the responsibility to guard it well for the tasks of teaching and learning. But I also believe the library needs to be conceptualized (by both librarians and faculty) as more than just a domain of support to the classroom in the learning process. After all, it is the separation of domains that creates the sense of distance. I believe the distance can be narrowed by inviting the library into the classroom. Information literacy aims for the library to be more integrated with the classroom in the learning process. It proposes a more active role for librarians to respond to partnering opportunities with faculty so that students will more readily sense the intimate relationship, and come to place a higher value on the gift of knowledge as a result. I welcome and look forward to the opportunity to talk with you further about bibliographic instruction and information literacy prospects in your classroom as you begin to plan your courses for Fall Semester 2005.

Plato, the invention of writing, and the e-book

This post originally appeared on my now inactive blog, Voyage of the Paradigm Ship, January 19, 2009.

The following is a two-part email I sent to my good friend and colleague (he is chair of the faculty Library Committee) on March 27 and 29, 2006, after he sent me an editorial written by Edward Tenner in The New York Times, entitled “Searching for Dummies” (March 26, 2006). My friend is a history professor and an avid bibliophile. Though he has largely “come around” to my way of thinking regarding the benefits of electronic delivery of journal literature, he is far more resistive when it comes to surrendering the marvelous technology expressed as the printed book. He knows he has been socialized into this preference, but insists that a full embrace of computer and electronic information resource technology is damaging his students’ capacity to think through complex ideas in a sustained and deep way. I retort that our task should not be rejection of the technology but the instruction into its proper use, and building an awareness (understanding) both of its advantages/limitations and its impact (both good and ill) on human culture and knowledge. In my argument I drew an analogy from another ancient technology—writing itself.

Greetings. Further to our on-going conversation (print vs. electronic information resources), here is an interesting excerpt from Plato’s Phaedrus, where Socrates tells a story of the Egyptian god Theuth, the inventor of, among other things, writing. I have not read the full piece, but it is interesting here to see Plato’s critique of the losses sustained by writing (and reading) as a new technology over oral culture and true memory.

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters [grammata=writing]. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. Theuth came to him and showed his inventions [technas, “arts”], desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them. Thamus enquired about their several uses, and as Theuth enumerated them, Thamus praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts [technai]. But when they came to letters [grammata], Theuth said, “This invention, O King, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; I have discovered a remedy [pharmakon: potion, medicine, drug] both for the memory and for wisdom.” Thamus replied: “O most ingenious [technikotate] Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a power opposite to that which they in fact possess. For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it; they will not exercise their memories, but, trusting in external, foreign marks [graphes], they will not bring things to remembrance from within themselves. You have discovered a remedy [pharmakon] not for memory, but for reminding. You offer your students the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom. They will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

This is all very ironic in view of our conversation. We long ago adopted the writing technology of Theuth. We frankly no longer know what we lost through its adoption, since we have lived under its ideological assumptions for so long. Neil Postman, in his book Technolopy: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage, 1992) alludes to this story in rightly claiming the non-neutral and ideological function of every technology and technological adoption.

I have contended in our conversation that print books are every bit as much a technological invention of information transmission, and laden with ideology, as any book in electronic format. Postman urges caution, in deference to your concerns. I am not insensitive to these, of course. I am no heedless technophile any more than you are a heedless technophobe. My real point is offered by Postman where he writes: “[Thamus] would allow, I imagine, that a technology may be barred entry to a culture…But…once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is—that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.” (p. 7, emphasis added)

For good or ill, electronic information technology has been admitted into our culture. Since this technology has become proliferated into every facet of our students’ lives, it no longer makes sense to bar it here at Milligan College Library as some well-meaning bulwark against the flood. That is the surest recipe for irrelevance. Yes, we can and should keep the books around and in plain sight as an act of ideological subversion. But I believe our mandate now is to fight, not by insisting that our students use the books, but by building understanding instead of heedlessness. This is the instructional role of a comprehensive program of information literacy. Data is not information; information is not knowledge; and knowledge is not yet wisdom. Wisdom comes through passionate, responsible (ethical), critical (discerning) and mature use of information, and the organization of information that forms into structures of knowledge. This, it seems to me, has always been our task. Only now we can’t take anything for granted.

* * *

Plato, by having Socrates tell this story, is engaging in a form of rhetoric. Everything here is inescapably in written form! But for Plato this is also a concession and (what we are calling “ironic” in our current conversation) really a paradox. Plato writes to critique writing! But not all writing, as not all speech, is of equal value. For Plato, writing that preserves the living dialogical (mind-to-mind conversational) nature of true human (philosophical) knowledge, and which asks more questions than it answers, is the best. Incidentally, much of Plato’s writing is construed as dialogue between great philosophical minds. But he would say that even his writing is a concession, if only because of the inherent limitations of written communication. [See Robin Waterfield’s excellent commentary on this in the section of his Introduction to Plato’s Phaedrus (Oxford World’s Classics, 2002) entitled, “Dialectic and the Weakness of Writing,” pages xxxvii-xlii.]

My original allusion to this story, and giving it out as ironic, is a technical (pun intended!) misuse of Plato’s intention. But my warrant for it (as also picked-up by Neil Postman) is that Theuth is said to have invented writing. As such, writing is unmistakably recognized as a technology. As a tool, technology requires instruction for its proper use, and (because it is not value neutral) requires an awareness (understanding) of its advantages/limitations and its impact (both good and ill) on human culture and knowledge.

I think this is really the point of Plato’s critique. I imagine Plato would prefer not to use writing in human discourse because of its inherent limitations. But paradoxically, he has no choice to use writing if he wants his ideas disseminated and preserved (for reminding, not for true memory, as Thamus notes!). So, given the inherent limitations of writing, he must instruct his readers (in the guise of the highly-esteemed Socrates) into an awareness through critique of how this technology functions, and what is the most profitable writing form—the form that best preserves dialogical nature of human knowledge.

By analogy, you (and I) have come to view the writing of and reading from printed books as the best form for preserving and engaging the accumulated ideas of human knowledge. (You may quibble on my wording, but the basic gist is there, right?) We honestly believe and assume that a living conversation is still preserved within those pages for fresh engagement. We are no longer troubled by Plato’s concerns because we have come to view the book as a most acceptable means of disseminating and preserving ideas. To us, it is no longer a mere concession. Rather, it has been (for the last several thousands of years) the primary technology for this very purpose. Praise be to Theuth for his miraculous invention!

But now, after a very lengthy and productive stint with the printed form of the book, along comes a new technology that proposes a new form—an electronic/digital form. [I’m still in analogy mode here.] How do we react to this? Well, we may sense that this new technology will, to quote Thamus, “create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it; they will not exercise their memories, but, trusting in external, foreign [virtual!] marks, they will not bring things to remembrance from within themselves.” We offer appropriate critique. To use this new technology implies a concession (but not the same level of paradox, since it still involves the use of writing [with multimedia capabilities thrown-in]). The preferred use or non-use of this technology does not (yet?) place a person in a “I have no choice” position as it did for Plato. But the use of this technology does involve certain advantages and certain limitations. And so, the use of this technology requires instruction for its proper use, and (because it is not value neutral) requires an awareness (understanding) of its advantages/limitations and its impact (both good and ill) on human culture and knowledge.

So, I would argue that Plato makes my case—though not because he is forced (paradoxically/ironically) to use writing even while critiquing it. The analogy is not in equating the move from printed book to digital book with Plato’s paradoxical move from using a pure form of human knowledge transmission (oral communication) and preservation (memory) to a compromised form through writing and (mere) reminding. The analogy, rather, is that given the invention of the electronic/digital form of the book and its inevitable/increasing use, we now need to instruct in its proper use and build an awareness of its advantages/limitations and its cultural impact. Thamus critiqued writing at its invention (in the ancient time of the myth). Plato critiques it (as it were) after long use. Thamus could warn the god of the dire unintended consequences of its use. Plato can allude to those warnings in order to offer contemporary instruction, even as he himself uses the technology!

I would say Plato was doing a form of information literacy. And so the New York Times Op-Ed piece [Edward Tenner, “Searching for Dummies,” March 26, 2006]. Information literacy is a “fighting back” strategy to the (dire?) unintended consequences of the miraculous invention called the Internet … and information resource access via electronic databases. Information literacy is instruction in the proper use and awareness-building of this new technology. What do you think?

Database Searching 101

Ever since Google introduced its single search box on an uncluttered screen, database vendors (and other search engines) have struggled to keep up. In the years since, databases have moved more and more to a Google-like interface. The problem is that these interfaces LOOK more like Google, but they don’t SEARCH like Google. Users are frequently frustrated by very poor results when they try a Google-like search in a database.

I will give some suggestions on how to improve database searches. But first, a little discussion about how people typically search in Google. One common Google technique is to just type in what you want as a natural language search: How has Facebook changed college students’ attitudes about privacy? This yields 254,000 results. Natural language searches will yield zero results in almost every database to which Milligan or any other library subscribes. Probably the most common search technique (and the one I use in Google) is the string of keywords technique: Facebook college students’ privacy. 40 million results. Yet this search in most databases will, again, yield zero or very low results.

Some of you may be thinking: Why should I even bother with databases, since Google already has so much information on this topic? The long answer warrants a separate blog post. The short answer is that many Google results would not be considered academic sources, and would not meet the criteria of most college research papers. Academic databases contain academic resources that are needed to write academic papers. While there are academic sources in Google, it is often difficult to identify them among all the other results in a typical Google search.

While database searching can be very sophisticated and complex, it doesn’t have to be. A few simple techniques can vastly improve almost all searches.

Search Tip #1 Add the word AND in between all your search concepts. AND is a Boolean operator, a special command to the computer. It tells the computer to find results with all of your search terms. Facebook AND college students AND privacy in a database will give you much better results than a natural language or phrase search. Note that I put the AND between concepts, not between each word. Since I want the concept of “college students”, I did not put the AND between college and students. You really don’t need to understand the why of it to use it, but if you are interested in knowing more, check out:
http://lib.colostate.edu/tutorials/boolean.html
http://www.umsl.edu/services/libteach/keyword.html

Search Tip #2 If your search results are low and you think you have good search terms and you would like to get more results, try truncation. Truncation is shortening a word to its stem, so that the computer will find all possible endings for the word. The standard symbol for truncation is an *, which works in almost all Milligan databases. If I change my search to Facebook AND college students AND priva*, the computer will now find results with both private and privacy. The second link above has an excellent tutorial on truncation.

If you would like to learn more about searching in databases or need help finding what you want in a database, talk to me, Mary Jackson, as I’m the most excited about this topic. But any member of the library staff would be happy to help you.

New “Life” for the Library News blog

Welcome to Milligan Library Life, the new name for the Milligan College Library blog. The name change is the result of a decision to differentiate the way we use various communication and social networking media in the Library.

In addition to a website, the Library maintains a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, targeted email, and this WordPress blog. Up to now, we have tended to view these various mediums as multiple ways of getting a single message out to our user community–namely, letting you know what’s happening in the Library. The more channels of communication we utilize, the greater our exposure. Right?

This is true to a point. But as we live with these online mediums we realize that maybe we have more than one message to share–or at least, we may have more than one way to share our message. Now that Facebook has become nearly ubiquitous in the Milligan College community (as it has practically everywhere else), we have decided to push most of the Library’s news and event-type posts in that direction. We have also found it convenient to utilize Twitter as a quick way to post schedule and informational alerts to Facebook and the Twitter widget on our website home page.

What do we do with the blog? The blog format is not really appropriate for short bursts of news information. We discovered that what looks perfectly appropriate on the Facebook wall appears as a cluttered mess in a blog. The blog format lends itself to longer form articles–and invites reading at a more engaged and leisurely pace.

Of course it takes more time to write in a form that invites reading at a leisurely pace. Do we have the time? Do we have anything worth saying using this format? Would anyone be interested in reading it?

These are legitimate questions. But rather than give up on the blog I encouraged the Library staff to experiment with me with this other form of communication in the way it works best. Enter Milligan Library Life. We are fairly competent and interesting folk who make it our business to stay informed about the rapidly evolving information environment impacting all our lives. I think it would be valuable to have us report and reflect periodically on such things as trends in library and information resource technologies, copyright and intellectual property issues, concerns about online freedom and privacy, etc. We could also tell you about developments in the Library or Archives, offer tutorials for using information resources more effectively, tell you about new books and media added to the Library, or review an interesting book we read or a movie we watched.

So here we go. We won’t have any set publication schedule, but we would hope to have at least one or two new posts per week. I will be functioning as the editor, with other Library staff participating as contributing editors, writing on items of interest from their particular areas of expertise. If you are inclined, we would also welcome your comments as a way of generating a conversation. I think it will be fun!

Gary F. Daught, Director of Library Services

TWO new articles featuring Milligan College Library!

The May 1 issue of Library Journal features an article by Barbara Fister on the future of academic libraries entitled “Academic libraries, a view from the administration building.”  The article features input from  Mark Matson, Milligan’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean, who is an enthusiastic supporter of our library and its approach to information literacy  and the digital environment.  From the article:

“When asked about how their libraries support teaching and learning, administrators seemed knowledgeable about the library’s role. ‘There is a total focus on information literacy—in classes, helping faculty, teaching students,’ according to Mark Matson, VP for academic affairs at Milligan College in northeastern Tennessee. ‘This focus has had a radical change across campus. And the use of our library has simply skyrocketed the last three years.'”

“While I agree that over time print collections might decrease, […] the digital collections will continue to increase at phenomenal rates. And with this shift, the role of librarians to help other patrons negotiate this world will be critical. In fact, I see skilled modern librarians as being even more important in the future, provided they are partners with faculty in designing courses.”

The article is an excellent read, and anyone concerned about the future of academic libraries should take a look!

The Milligan College Library in general, and our Million Pennies Campaign in particular, is also the subject of an editorial entitled “Wii don’t need no education” in the Milligan Stampede, the college’s student newspaper.  Check out the article and let us know what you think.

And of course, keep those pennies coming!

APA and MLA Workshops

Mary Jackson, Reference and Instruction Librarian, will be offering several citation workshops in the next few weeks.

  • ABCs of APA citation style

An overview of how to do citations according to the APA style. You are welcome to bring your lunch to this workshop.

Monday, September 14           11:45-12:15

Tuesday, September 22           12:00-12:30

Sunday, September 27             7:30-8:00 p.m.

  • APA—What’s new in the 6th edition

A workshop discussing the changes to APA citations based on the new edition of the style manual.   It is expected that attendees will have a basic understanding of APA 5th edition.

Sunday, September 20             7:30-8:00 p.m.

  • MLA—What’s new in the 7th edition

A workshop discussing the changes to MLA citation based on the new edition of the handbook.

Sunday, September 20             8:00-8:30 p.m.

All workshops will meet in the Hopwood Room in the Library basement.  For more information, please contact Mary Jackson at mjackson@milligan.edu.

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