Tagged: research methods

Spotlight on Spotlight: What can library and information professionals learn from journalists?

With a growing requirement to produce reports and briefing documents based on the information you retrieve, library and information professionals in all sectors can learn from techniques used by journalists.

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Spotlight from Flickr used under Attribution 2.0 Generic original cropped and resized.

Spotlight is a movie that tells the true story of how journalists at the Boston Globe lifted the lid on a major cover-up in the Catholic Church. During their investigations, the team did everything you would expect investigative journalists to do: they door-stepped people; they confronted leading figures; they waited for hours in outer offices trying to grab interviews.

But the backbone of their research was a simple spreadsheet onto which they made entries from back issues of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory. It was this that enabled them to spot the suspicious patterns of behaviour that underpinned their revelations.

This kind of activity is increasing dramatically in importance. At the rocket science end of the spectrum it’s manifesting itself as big data, where analysts develop and employ applications to trawl vast quantities of data, looking for patterns that can be turned into e-commerce or other opportunities.

But the principle of applying critical analysis to retrieved data operates across the board – including to the human brain power that we bring to bear in carrying out literature searches. Of course, we mere mortals do face limitations, mainly in the tiny amount of content we are capable of evaluating within a sensible timescale compared with what computers can achieve – but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing it.

Ploughing has had its day

Turning your raw search results into a narrative report – one that enables your enquirer to reach a decision, make a recommendation or take action – is becoming the stock in trade of information professionals in a growing number of fields, including government, health services and law.

Information professionals who carry out desk research on their users’ behalf are the obvious and immediate beneficiaries of techniques such as these. But the skills are no less valuable for academic librarians, charged with fostering information literacy and encouraging good research practice in students doing assignments.
Simply ploughing through a linear list of unstructured search results, hoping that the most useful ones will pop out at you, isn’t an efficient way of going about the task. Taking our cue from those Boston Globe journalists, we can get far more out of our results by turning them into a flexible dataset.

To do this, you might be able to make use of your chosen reference management package. This should at least save you time by automating the presentation of each document’s bibliographic characteristics, and you may then be able to add extra customised fields for the further ways in which you want to arrange your search results.

The Matrix

You may also find that you have to add ‘grey’ literature – short reports, articles from non-mainstream sources, website content, ephemera – manually. Obviously making these manual additions could be time-consuming, but it will probably be time well invested because, once entered, the reference management software will treat these non-standard documents just the same as the others, ensuring a uniform format for every document and allowing you to create bibliographies automatically.

So if you can use a reference management package to automate at least part of the process, that should save you a great deal of time at the next stage.  But if you can’t, you could use any application that will support this kind of matrix structure – a spreadsheet or database package, the table function in a word processed document, or any proprietary software that can be used for project management purposes.

You may also be able to automate some of the process by making use of the text-to-table conversion function that comes with your word processing package – although the resulting table may need so much repair that you may be no better off than if you had done the whole thing manually in the first place.

Letting you change your mind

Obviously the more you can automate the better – but whatever means you decide to use to restructure your search results, you will need to satisfy yourself that your chosen approach will enable you to:
•    work with documents taken from any source you choose, not just mainstream ones
•    describe those documents using whatever headings you want
•    sort and re-sort the documents using multiple criteria determined by you.
What sort of criteria? Well, subject topics clearly – but you (or your student) will also need to be able to sort the documents according to how useful they’re likely to be in answering the enquiry. There’s a really good principle for ranking documents in this way: Must Know; Should Know; Could Know.

Must know documents are the handful of retrieved results that are so comprehensive and so authoritative that you’re going to use them as the basis for your report (or your student as the basis of their assignment).

Should know documents might provide evidence supporting the main findings, or include case studies demonstrating how the techniques outlined in the Must Know documents would work in practice.

Could know documents include the rest of your viable results. They’re potentially useful in terms of detail, but they’re not going to add a great deal more to your enquirer’s overall understanding of the subject.

Crucially, organising your documents in this way enables you to change your mind whenever you need to.  If you find you’re now not so keen on the documents that have come to the top as Must Knows, it’s the work of minutes to rethink, re-categorise and sort again.

Get this far, and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that your report can practically draft itself. But to complete the job, you do need to be able to deploy another key skill: strategic reading.  We’ll look at that in a follow-up blog.

You can also check out Tim Buckley Owen’s blog article on what library and information professionals learn from the ‘Dodgy Dossier’.

Find out more about Tim Buckley Owen’s Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time 7th edition from Facet Publishing

Tim Buckley Owen BA DipLib MCLIP is an independent writer and trainer with over 40 years’ experience of information work – at Westminster Central Reference Library, the City Business Library, and as Principal Information Officer at the London Research Centre. He has also held strategic media and communications posts at CILIP, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Library & Information Commission.

This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in April 2017. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy

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6 suggestions for teaching information literacy

Most college students have been exposed to more technology than students of previous generations. This does not make them technology experts.  Students do a lot of searching online for information. This does not make them expert, or even good, searchers. Thanks to Google, students can always find information on any topic.  This does not mean that they have found true, accurate, useful information and does not make them expert finders of information. Students need instruction and guidance in learning how to find, evaluate, select and use information, just as they need instruction and guidance in learning anything else. They are not born “information literate” and frequent, uninstructed Googling will not make them so.

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The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (the Association of College and Research Libraries’ new “guide” to Information Literacy) is meant to explain the theory behind information literacy and the threshold concepts that students must incorporate into their thinking to become information literate.

The Framework document says:

“The Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills…..Neither knowledge practices nor the dispositions that support each concept are intended to prescribe what local institutions should do in using the Framework; each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation, including designing learning outcomes.”

How to teach students information literacy

While the “framework” provides a description of what a person who is information literate looks like and does with regard to information, the framework does not provide the answer we all want–How do we get our students to that goal?  The bad news is that the Framework is not going to help answer that question. The good news is that everything we have created up to this point is still relevant.  While some lessons may need to be updated and/or broadened to incorporate new types of information delivery or new groups from whom we can get information, the core of what students need to know to become information literate remains the same.  Students need to know how to find information, how to evaluate information, how to select information, how to apply information to a problem, and how to use information ethically and legally.

Here are 6 suggestions about how to offer students the concepts and skills that will set them on the road to information literacy.

1. Take them from the familiar to the less familiar to the unfamiliar.

Everyone I know uses Google on a regular basis.  The single search box is convenient, doesn’t require anything in the way of search strategy or specific language.  Most people have no idea that Google has an advanced search, much less how to use it.  In fact, Google no longer offers a link to its advanced search page from the basic search page.  Instead one must click on “settings” and select the advanced search.

Have students do a Google search for global warming in the single search box. They will get links to millions of pages returned to them.  Show them how to get to the advanced Google search page and have them use some of the search options to transform a giant search into something with a meaningful result.  From there, you might transition to a subject specific database, where students will find much more targeted information, making more of the information they find applicable to their information need.

2. Make students mentally stretch to make a lesson more memorable

If you want students to evaluate the information they find, ask them to determine what qualities make information credible, accurate, and reliable.  You can then ask them to evaluate information you supply against their list of criteria.  The supplied information may provoke changes in the list of evaluation criteria.  For example:

  • The hoax website Dihydrogen Monoxide should make students consider evaluation of the content
  • The website offering a scientific study on feline reactions to bearded men should make students consider evaluation of the bibliographic references.
  • The website of Dr. David Duke, a white supremacist, should make students consider the author and author’s credentials.

3. Selection and application of information is critical

There are thousands of webpages devoted to the recent Brexit from the European Union, many of them able to pass the evaluation test.  But every website does not provide information relevant to the same information need.  So a student seeking to answer a question about the effect of Brexit on Poland will need to select information targeting that effect and not information about how the term Brexit was created.
I have found it useful to put students into teams to role play a “real life” situation.  Students become researchers who must provide information to the CEO of the company they work for.  The CEO will base a decision about the future of the company on the information supplied.  Big money is at stake, as well as job security for the researchers.  The information must be on the CEO’s desk within the hour. A class presentation allows for discussion and critique of sources selected, sources discarded, sources undiscovered, and so on.

4. Get students to think about the consequences of plagiarism

Ethical concerns for students about the use of information usually center on the issues of citation of sources and plagiarism.  Students I have spoken to know they need to cite sources.  They know there are penalties for plagiarism, sometimes very harsh penalties.  They simply don’t know when to do it.  Is a citation required for paraphrasing?  Is a citation required for a quote?  How does one cite a quote from one person in a document from another person?  Providing students with a little practice in thinking through what a citation is for and what it accomplishes will go a long way to providing them with the answers to their questions.  As to the format for citations, there is software that will do that—much of it free.  Direct students to those tools and they will be forever grateful.

Get students to think about the ethical, economic and social consequences of plagiarism.  Have them look into the specifics of incidents of plagiarism that have had serious consequences (George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord vs. the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine, for example).  Discuss the nature of intellectual property and fair use.

5. The role of the individual in the information world is expanding

Students are both consumers and producers of information.  Students should be made aware that they can create and disseminate of information and discuss what that means for them in terms of both opportunity and responsibility. For some audiences the student can be an authority. Students can add perspective and new ideas to groups working on projects or problems by participating in blogs, listservs and other interactive discussion groups.  Students can create their own publications for issues of importance to them and make those publications available to the world.

Have students subscribe to and follow a blog that covers an academic topic over a specified time period.  Ask them to write about or discuss their experience, considering the positive and negative aspects of this form of communication, the quality of the information, the variety of people who participate, and whether or not the blog helps move the world forward in terms of the subject under discussion.

6. Apply the same skills to the “real world”

Students often fail to understand that what they learn in one classroom can often be useful in the next classroom, and that concepts and skills they learn in an academic setting can translate to applications in the “real world”.  The human brain works by analogy—comparing new information to information already in storage and looking for similarities. The use of analogies in the classroom can help students think about how one idea might apply in a completely different situation.

Get students to brainstorm steps to take when gathering information for a term paper. Write the ideas on a flip chart or white board.  Ask students to then suggest non-academic scenarios where the same process could be helpful.  (Buying a cell phone, planning a two-week vacation in an unfamiliar location, writing an annual report for work, finding a nursing home for an elderly relative, etc.)

To summarize, students need to learn basic concepts and skills in order to become information literate as students and as citizens of the world.  Make students active participants in their own learning.  Allow them to stretch their understanding through discussion and exploration. Get them to actively participate.  Ask them to grapple with the big ethical and social questions.  The instruction you have already developed is likely still relevant and useful so don’t start from the beginning, but build on what you have already created.

About Teaching Information Literacy Reframed

Teaching Information Literacy Reframed by Joanna M Burkhardt offers a starting point to understanding and teaching the six threshold concepts listed in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, an altogether new way of looking at information literacy.

Joanna M. Burkhardt is a full professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and Director of its branch libraries in Providence and Narragansett. She coordinates the branches’ information literacy program.

This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in August 2016. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy

Exercise your thinking skills to handle enquiries in any context

Facet Publishing have announced the release of the seventh edition of Tim Buckley Owen’s Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time.Chambers Cat 2.02.qxd

 When people want to satisfy their immediate curiosity they’re much more likely to use a search engine on their mobile device than ask their librarian. But while the days of personal intervention in this kind of enquiry are inevitably numbered, the professional skills that underpin them are not. This book uses technology as the enabler of the thought processes that information professionals need to engage in when answering enquiries, and makes the case that new technology, far from making them irrelevant, raises the skill stakes for all.

 Now in its seventh edition, the book is fully updated to cover new skills, such as employing critical thinking to manipulate, categorise and prioritise raw search results; using strategic reading and abstracting techniques to identify and summarise the essential information the enquirer needs from the retrieved documents; drawing on established story-telling practice to present research results effectively and working to the POWER model: plan, organise, write, edit, review.

Tim Buckley Owen said, “I’m delighted that generations of information professionals continue to find this book useful, amid the seismic changes that have taken place in library and information services since the first edition published in 1996. A lot of that must be because the book has never been technology-led. We now use the same tools as our users – so our job is to use those tools much more efficiently.”

Tim Buckley Owen BA DipLib MCLIP is an independent writer and trainer with over 40 years’ experience of information work – at Westminster Central Reference Library, the City Business Library, and as Principal Information Officer at the London Research Centre. He has also held strategic media and communications posts at CILIP, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Library & Information Commission.

Find out more about the book here: http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/title.php?id=301935

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