Information and Visual Literacy, Academic Rigor, and Professional Skepticism: some conference cogitations

This summer I had to cancel a job interview. (Sacrilege, I know!) It was especially unfortunate because the interview would’ve required a presentation and a web-tool showcase, which I was excited to perform — it’s nice to have a structured interview that you can prepare for practically. The presentation would have been on essential information-literacy skills for first-year college students, and I was planning on using a bit of humour and cultural reference as an attack plan.

Specifically, I think students (and web-users at large) would benefit from holding up Sherlock Holmes as their spirit animal: use a bit of skepticism and plenty of attention to detail, and work hard to connect all the dots, no matter how disparate things seem at first [1]. Context is everything, and reading (everything — new stories, academic studies, and statistics-laden infographics) needs to be analytic and critical. I won’t offer any contemporary examples, for fear of digressing into those discussions, but let’s all be aware of the general state of misinformation and gullibility in the world (or, I dunno, trusting the “true story” claim at the beginning of Fargo?).

You thought I was going to put up Cumberbatch, didn’t you.

Lots of people have been discussing information literacy online lately, and I’ve been mulling on it as well. I  missed the visual literacy session at ARLIS/NA this year, because I was at the information literacy MOOC session next door, where I brainstormed some alternative MOOC models (universal design, anyone?). Perhaps those of you who attended the visual-lit session can fill me in on which “real-world [library] examples of how ACRL’s visual literacy guidelines have been implemented” were shared, and whether any suggestions were made as to how to supplement the ACRL guidelines with library-specific instructions (is there a forthcoming ARLIS/NA occasional paper on this? There should be).

One question I’ve been pondering since then is how to incorporate research methods and scientific rigor lessons into information and visual literacy — how to make Sherlocks of us all. I’m sure we all took a (strenuous / boring) research methods class in the MLIS program; for me it was a repetition of the undergraduate research methods I learned as part of a psych minor. Every time you consult a data-collection study, you still have to ask: did they use a control group? Did they control for conflating variables? Are they making assumptions about causation, or drawing one of many possible conclusions? Was there a replicating study? Were the survey questions priming, or compound? Did they set their sights on statistical significance? My MLIS-level research course didn’t really enforce these obvious questions, although we all tried our hand at evaluating a study or two for rigor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the "criticisms" section of my article-evaluation assignment.
I thoroughly enjoyed the “criticisms” section of my article-evaluation assignment.

It’s being generally acknowledged that LIS / GLAM scholarly work has a relatively low standard of scientific rigor: we don’t replicate studies, we generally only survey an easily-accessible demographic (i.e. college students), and our studies are designed less to further intelligent work in our field and more to push academic librarians into tenure. We could point to a number of problems: peer reviewers with no skills in research analysis, the general left-hand/right-hand divide in LIS between practitioners and academics, and professional associations that don’t push hard enough for presentations and publications that span our full profession. If we’re no good at research methods, how will we impart these skills to our patrons?

The contemporary debate has scared me off using the word “rigor” at all, for fear of it being taken for the opposite of “diversity,” as it seems to have been co-opted lately. Rigor in a strict statistical sense transcends demographics; “rigor” used in reference to higher-education skill-sets could absolutely use some work, but that’s really more of a bad-teachers problem in my thinking. Universities have plenty of resources for academic writing, tutoring, disability accommodations, ESL upgrading, computer lessons, etc., if only students were being made aware of their shortfalls through teacher interaction and feedback.

Libraries are doing essential work in both supplementary education for students with shortfalls and in instructional design for teachers, which should include some basic lessons in how to assess students for these problems, and get them working up to speed before final marking. Is there space for librarians to provide supplementary instruction in not just information literacy and research rigor, but in visual and media literacy as well — and to target students who need that training most?

The number of high-school grads that go to post-secondary tends to hover around the 68% mark in recent years, meaning that, if we can educate every college student in basic info- or visual-literacy, we can put a huge dent into general gullibility and increase the knowledge of intelligent research methods. (I couldn’t begin to imagine how to insert this education into secondary school, but if you have suggestions or resources to share, I’m all ears.) And the sooner we plant the seeds of good scientific design, the sooner we’ll see a general improvement in scholarly output — or at least more articles admitting their limitations and mistakes from the get-go.

But this is all, literally, academic. How do we get information-literacy education out into the public, especially when most popular news outlets seem to benefit directly from a lack of critical thinking? More specifically, how do arts librarians working in visual literacy and media literacy help to educate both their patrons and the public at large — especially if visual literacy skills are universally important but we only get access to arts students?

If you haven’t read the ACRL Visual Literacy Standards, here they are (2011). ARLIS/NA has also put out standards and competencies for information literacy competencies (2007) and instruction (2002). As it stands, it’s our job to (not only teach basic info-lit, but also) hand out lessons on copyright and plagiarism, good design and accessibility, data visualization (and how it can mislead!), image-editing detective work (which invariably leads to an addiction to Photoshop Disasters), and everything from technical evaluation (“how true is the digital colour to the original?”) to art-education evaluation (“what period/genre is this from?”) and semiotics / semantics / cultural theory diversions. Skepticism and rigor in visual literacy could, I predict, lead to everything from a higher interest in art and design among the general populace, to better body image (“Nobody is that beautiful without airbrushing!”) and consumer ethics (“I’d better not buy this plagiarizing pillow“). And sometimes it’s just about getting the joke.

Let’s play “name the reference.”

Information literacy might need a bit of a rebrand: like taking a technology class at your library, lots of people aren’t willing to admit they could use a refresher or don’t really get the underlying principles behind their daily use. As usual, the best policy seems to be “Get ’em while they’re young,” and making digital / media literacy and scientific rigor a base part of public education — a required seminar for all first-year college students, at least.

Can art librarians design a quick, fun, painless way to lay out the pitfalls and consequences of being design-dumb? Are the threats of bad website navigation, low-resolution printing, inadvertent copyright infringement, and lack of accessibility important enough to get bureaucratic and financial support? Or will the information-literacy MOOCs fall by the wayside, underused and unacknowledged?

[FYI: ARLIS/NA has an Academic Division (who worked with the ACRL VL Taskforce), a Visual Resources Committee, and a Teaching SIG, but no ongoing groups working on visual literacy specifically, or any published plans to update the 2007 info-lit guidelines. I have yet to hear about collaborations with the International Visual Literacy Assocation, or similar bodies, but if you know of any, post a comment! Maybe it’s time for a little ARLIS/NA visual literacy focus … ]

 

1: I have always been confused by Sherlock’s use of “deduction” — isn’t he using induction, to take the clues in front of his face and construct a narrative, rather than beginning from a premise and eliminating possible outcomes? If someone can give me a mnemonic or something, I would greatly appreciate it. Says he:

“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”

– Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

On Freelancing and Contracting: some conference cogitations

I spent the end of June in beautiful, temperate, layers-friendly Victoria, BC, attending the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual conference. It was amazing, scary, inspiring, and weirdly comfortable — no business cards were exchanged, but plenty of people wanted to gush about ideas.

I presented on the student panel between two very intelligent and articulate colleagues — my presentation was, let’s say, a bit more informal than theirs, but I think it went well. It was gratifying to hear some of my sentiments echoed in the closing plenary by Laura Millar. The main point I ended my student presentation on, which was picked up again by Millar, was the idea that the archiving profession needs to delve into freelancing models of employment.

This theme has been covered by the usual GLAM publishers (HLS on freelancing librarians; Hiring Librarians on contract work; INALJ on freelancing) — as has, of course, the dearth of cushy, steady, benefits-laden jobs you can hold for thirty years (or at least until all our icons and role models retire). I haven’t seen much discussion on how to freelance in art libraries or art archives, but I’d like to think there’s plenty of project work to be done in preserving and cataloguing artists’ files, implementing digital asset management, developing metadata schemes or collections mandates, digitization, publishing and reproductions management, exhibits and auctions, conservation for artists’ books….

My presentation focused on diverse and underrepresented communities that have media-collecting and -preserving needs not being met by institutionalized archiving systems. I focused on virtual communities (because social-network websites are where the best media are being collected, obviously), which meant that everything archival got put into a very technological framework.

I tried not to scare anyone off with the fear of archiving in the digital age (“Imagine you work for a historical society that has collected materials from each and every single resident of the town,” I suggested, to get a scope of the problem/potential of virtual communities), but I’m afraid it’s a very real part of the future of the profession, especially as we start moving from digitization projects to interface design for presenting our materials.

Bringing information-professional skills and techniques to your average website-builder or community-organizer is likely a consultancy task: you start with assessment, then they find enough money for implementation, you make some recommendations for maintenance, and eventually every community or arts group has an archivist-on-call, or a librarian for a half-day a week.

That means we all juggle multiple clients and bounce from one deadline to the next. Many people do not find this a very rosy picture of the industry’s future. Then again, there are those of us that can’t imagine working the same full-time processing or reference job day in and day out.

There are definitely ways to do it right. I’ll be interviewing some freelancing and entrepreneur archivists and librarians in the near future, on this blog, so you can see for yourselves. There’s even an association for independent information professionals, and plenty of opportunities for mentorship, entrepreneurial bootcamps, start-up funding, and guides to the legal and financial steps to declaring yourself a businesswoman.

Ideally, I’d love to do private archiving with artists — which is never high-paying. It tends only to happen when the artist is anticipating an eventual donation of their records to an institution — there, the benefit of getting things organized beforehand is the tax credit offered upon appraisal (in Canada, anyways). While an artist or arts group may want to get the job done, the money, often, simply isn’t there.

[Ironically, I just found contract archiving work in the private sector, which is not exactly walking-the-walk, but maybe I’ll have time for some pro-bono projects with individuals and non-profits. Stay tuned!]

I’m interested to know everyone’s thoughts. There were lots of nodding heads when Millar said it, but I still felt a bit radical suggesting it myself (ah, what the confidence a thirty-year career could give!).

What do you think: are librarians and archivists destined for lots of part-time, contract-based, multi-tasking jobs, helping everyone manage unique information needs? Or will the majority of us find the full-time, paid-vacation unicorn we dream of? Is there a balance between the two?

More scarily: will freelancing mean we all have to learn how to administer databases and provide cut-rate graphic design services? Is there a way to freelance in GLAM-related work that isn’t technologically dependent?

Art Library Advocacy, Part One: Speaking Up for Libraries

As someone working towards becoming an art librarian, I often find myself in conversations defending the arts, libraries, or both. This task is a bit easier, and a lot more effective, if you have some numbers and compelling arguments to back you up. In this series of posts, I thought I’d share some resources I’ve found that can help us advocate for the arts and for libraries. This first post will look at general library advocacy.

 

The ALA has some fantastic resources in their Campaign for America’s Libraries. This project works to increase public awareness of the importance of libraries and librarians. Although some points are geared more towards public libraries, many are relevant for the advocacy of libraries in general. Here are a few excerpts from their Key Messages:

Libraries are changing and dynamic places. Today’s libraries go beyond books.  While still offering traditional print resources, libraries have free computers, access to the Internet, free wi-fi and more.” This is one of the most common misconceptions I find among people who don’t often visit libraries. People are perplexed when I tell them my goal is to become a librarian – why devote your career to a dying industry? Whether print books will stick around in future generations or not, this demonstrates the importance of updating the image of libraries and talking about the work we do to stay relevant.

Communicate about librarians as well as libraries.The campaign’s messages are designed to ensure that target audiences know that today’s librarian is a well-trained, technology-savvy, information expert who can enrich the learning process of any library user.” Many people aren’t sure about what exactly librarians do, nor do they realize the difference between librarians and library technicians or library assistants. Here are a few great examples from the Campaign’s Talking Points:

“Librarians are the ultimate search engine. Librarians are trained experts in finding information, wherever it is — in books, in archives, on the Web.”

“In a world of information overload, librarians are information navigators — clearing a path, pointing you toward the information you need.”

 

The ALA is also a great source for stats and figures. This Quotable Facts about America’s Libraries pamphlet, 2012 edition, has some interesting insights into the current situation of libraries in the U.S. The annotated edition provides links and citations. A few tidbits for academic libraries:

“College libraries receive just less than three cents of every dollar spent on higher education.”

“If the cost of People magazine had risen as fast as the cost of academic library periodicals since 1990, it would cost about $182 for a one-year subscription.”

“There are 584 students enrolled for every librarian in 2- and 4-year colleges and universities in 2010 in the U.S. as compared with 14 students for each teaching faculty member.”

This number is even larger among Canadian Research Libraries: CARL Statistics from 2010-2011 listed 627 students per librarian.

 

We’d love to hear from you: what are the most common misconceptions you’ve found come up in conversations with non-library-users? How do you respond? What are your tips for speaking up for libraries?

Discussion: An Example of an Unpaid Internship

Pursuant to our ongoing discussions about unpaid internships, I thought this opportunity might be of interest:

Culture, Arts, and Innovation Summer Student – Baycrest Health Services, Toronto

http://current.ischool.utoronto.ca/jobsite/2014/culture-arts-innovation-cai-summer-student

(This link will eventually stop working; see excerpts instead)

CAI is seeking a summer student to oversee a comprehensive campus-wide project involving Baycrests’ permanent art collection (over 900,000 works of art), as well as assist in the coordination of several arts based events throughout the summer in partnership with the National Ballet School and units within our Long Term Care setting.

“The incumbent will oversee a campus-wide art initiative that seeks to expand upon and modernize our current art inventory records. Utilizing museum database program Past Perfect as well as Microsoft Excel, the student will scan our campus, update records, research artists and key collection pieces, with an end goal of creating a comprehensive up-to-date database of our permanent collection holdings. With this new found knowledge, the student will be asked to curate a series of digital exhibitions….

All the while, the student will be exposed to and called upon to contribute towards other exciting projects that are taking place in the summer months including the Dance Exchange, the National Ballet of Canada, and an industrial design project.”

 

Experience with Past Perfect? Curation, research, and collaboration with amazing cultural groups? 900,000 works of art?!

*chin-hands*

 

This is a voluntary position. There is no compensation.”

 

 

Baycrest is essentially a seniors’ retirement home that is also a research facility, “fully affiliated” with the University of Toronto. They partner with public and private organizations, they’re launching a line of “aging oriented products,” and their president and CEO made over $700,000 in 2012.  But they don’t pay summer students to manage huge database projects.

Now, I am not trying to public-shame anyone. But I want to use this as a very real example of what an unpaid internship looks like, and to ask whether or not our readers would think that this position is justified. The post doesn’t clarify whether this is full-time, part-time, or weekends-and-evenings, nor could I find a mirror of the job post on their site (under neither Volunteer nor Career Opportunities).

To me, the amount of experience it offers would make it very tempting — but if it was a full-time position without any compensation whatsoever, I would ready my rotten tomatoes.

Of course, I thought this was a good opportunity to follow my own advice about discussing unpaid internships with the hosting organizations themselves. I reached out to the listed contact and asked for more information about the position: one, why it was unpaid, and two, why there was no required background in art (for the sake of documenting, describing, and indexing: shouldn’t you at least know how to use the A&AT?). I sent out an email on May 7th, and didn’t receive a response.

I wish I had more to report, other than to say that I will probably continue to (politely) pester HR staff by email when similar posts pop up in the future, and I promise to keep everyone apprised.

In the meantime, what do you think?

Extracurricular activities?

Shortly into my MLIS program I realized that, while school and internships would no doubt provide me with indispensable knowledge and experience, it was important that I was not relying only on these things to help prepare me for a career in art librarianship.   I assume I’m not alone on this that most of you are following blogs, reading journals, watching webinars or doing various other activities that you believe will help you to land your dream job or stay relevant in the field.

For this discussion post, I was hoping that we could share some of these resources that we rely on.  I thought it might be interesting and helpful to see what other people are doing outside of work and school to sharpen skills or to learn more about the world of art librarianship.  Please be encouraged to join the conversation and share any readings, websites, activities, or anything else that you feel has helped you.

Below are some of the things that I do, read, etc. that I think will help me in the long run, a few of these I have suggested on earlier blog posts but thought I might as well share them again.  Enjoy!

Duolingo – It has been a few years since I’ve taken any language classes so my skills have started to get a little rusty.  I wanted to re-familiarize myself with both Spanish and French for a number of reasons.  First, I think that having a working knowledge of French, Italian, German, and to a lesser degree Spanish, can help a great deal in working with art historical publications since those seem to be the major research languages.  Also, proficiency in more than one language is definitely a desirable skill and something that can set you apart from other job candidates.

Art Documentation – I read this journal to keep up to date on any important research, trends, or issues surrounding art librarianship.  Plus, if you are a member of ARLIS/NA a subscription of the journal is included in your membership!

w3schools – In the past year or two, I have really been focusing on building my tech skills to help me compete in the job search, the tutorials on this website are free and really great.

That’s it for now, I wanted to first get the discussion started and then I’ll definitely join in and share some more.

Unpaid Internships

There has been a lot of interesting discussion on ARLIS-L lately about internships, many of which are unpaid. We’d like to hear from you! Are you currently or have you previously worked an internship, paid or unpaid? What are your thoughts on this system? How did you choose which internship would be best for your career goals? And how can ARLIS/NA support you through this time of transition from student to professional?

By Filosofias filosoficas (File:Filos tercer logo.JPG) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Filosofias filosoficas (File:Filos tercer logo.JPG) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
We would love to hear your ideas on this important topic! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Arlisnappers: Which resources do you use for cataloging?

One of our members has a request for some advice. For those of you who have done cataloging in an art library setting, which resources do you use for reference? Which websites, books, or other materials have you found useful as you’ve learned to catalog? In our list of cataloging resources on the right sidebar of the blog, we currently have the Getty Vocabulary Program and the Library of Congress Authorities. Which other resources would you recommend for beginner catalogers?

Leave us a comment on the blog or on our Facebook page. Your fellow members thank you!

Image via http://bit.ly/1oCJnUH
Image courtesy of The New York Public Library, via http://bit.ly/1oCJnUH

Data Visualization

Image from Wikimedia Commons

This semester I am taking a data analytics course and it has me thinking a lot lately about data visualization. Specifically, I am interested in the ways it could be used by information professionals to provide meaningful insight into the arts for researchers and patrons. I think it is safe to say that the use of data visualization in the field is still fairly new and evolving. But, it is a technology that has been getting a lot of attention and definitely worth knowing about!

This video features a discussion by NYU graduate student Shilpan Bhagat about the process of creating a visualization tool that was used for the IFA’s “Mapping Video Art” project. Follow this link to check out the actual project, it is an excellent example of how data visualization is currently being used in the arts.

There are some really good resources for those who want to learn more about data visualization. The website Flowing Data provides a wealth of information and examples about how data visualization is being used in various fields. Indiana University also offers this MOOC which provides an overview of information visualization. If you are interested in trying out some of the various data visualization tools available Creative Bloq created a list of what they consider to be some of the best. Go ahead and play around with some!

Do you have any thoughts on data visualization? Or any relevant websites, projects, or experiences using data visualization tools you’d like to share? Please feel free to do so!

Books of the Heart

books-of-the-heart

Pictured above are the current contents of the Crouch Fine Arts Library’s display at Baylor University Library in Waco, Texas. For the month of February 2014, a small but eclectic group of selections from the Baylor Artist Book Collection pertaining to *LOVE* in its varied manifestations engages viewers with themes as diverse as the playful revision of Shakespearian dialogue in r&j: the txt message edition to more jaded reflections in Heart Assortment: A Bittersweet Sampler. 

Many academic libraries have artist book collections of various sizes and scopes. Some institutions collect regionally, thematically, or structurally, while others prefer a mix of all types and kinds. Collection scale, of course, depends heavily on the acquisitions budget. Art librarians have found artist books to be interesting objects for display within their libraries and useful tools for developing interdisciplinary relationships with faculty and students.  The Baylor Artist Book Collection is often requested for art department classes, but is also requested by professors from other departments. An emerging trend at Baylor is engagement by students in the Medical Humanities program.

For more information on the collection see http://www.researchguides.baylor.edu/heartbooks.

What other ways are artist book collections used in libraries? Do you or would you collect artist books in your role as an art librarian? Why do you think these types of collections are popular in an increasingly digital age?

 

Are you Library Management Material?

role-of-Managers

Although it might seem to many of us, while students, that library management is something to consider years from now, if ever, it might be worth a second thought during your MLIS program. If you have been in library school any length of time, you are bound to have picked up on something like “a shortage of qualified library leaders is coming, so get ready!” While this may or may not be true, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that some of us will eventually be library managers. With the proliferation of educational tracks and certificate programs, choosing one is sometimes a daunting prospect. What would entice you to choose a Library Management emphasis over others?

Maybe the answer lies in taking stock of your personality, skills, abilities, and goals. For me personally, Management Studies is ideal. I LOVED 5300: Library and Information Center Management. I reveled in topics like Strategic Planning, Organizational Culture, Human Resource Management, Ethics, and Development/Fundraising. Of course, maybe this has something to do with the fact that I have had some management experience and can envision myself in a leadership role readily. Or maybe it’s simply that I like being in charge!

What about you? Can you picture yourself in a management role of some kind? Do you think the administrative side of the job would perhaps overshadow your primary objectives as a librarian? Yes or no?