Library School – Organising Knowledge

I’ll be writing two posts continuing in the library school module recap vein. They will cover the modules I completed in Semester 2 (Spring 2015). Here is my general post about the librarianship course.

Organising Knowledge is the first module in the lineup. This was not one of my favourites, but it was redeemed by the assignments as usual. They were well thought out and offered a lot of latitude in pursuing a topic that was of interest to me or relevant for work.

The course content covered ground that had been done in other modules, so that felt a bit same-y. However looking at information behaviour again was helpful as a prelude to studying information retrieval. Having done a postgraduate degree already, I found some of the information retrieval section old news. We covered citation styles, how to evaluate sources and completed several searches on online databases. However it was good to think critically about the systems themselves, i.e. how is the database structured? What are the search facilities available? The longest chunk of the module was on organising knowledge and covered indexes and catalogues…and I actually have yet to finish that section because I had to abandon it in order to complete the assignments!

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Database Diagram FAIL by Tony Buser. Flickr CC license.

The assignments were very helpfully spaced out with one due in the middle of the semester and the second one due at the end. The first assignment was a bibliography on a topic of our choice and also an analytical report. I did mine on jazz resources since this is relevant to my work. I found this assignment very counterintuitive because I could easily find a multitude of sources but the point of the work was to demonstrate your facility with searching strategies. The goal was not the sources themselves but rather how you got to the sources. So instead of finding material in my usual manner, I had to self consciously use various search techniques (Boolean logic, browsing, chaining, etc.) to show my capabilities which I guess was a good thing to push my boundaries. I also got to explore some new databases such as Zetoc and Times Digital Archive and I enjoyed researching the literature on searching and information behaviour to support my discussion.

The second assignment was an essay addressing a challenge facing information storage and retrieval and how this is being addressed. This was a research-driven assignment and I chose information literacy since it’s an area I’m interested in. People are doing interesting research in this area and there are many good solutions to try out when addressing challenges mainly relating to finding and using information in an academic/university context (the rest of us are apparently content to just muddle through the first few hits on Google). For example a study by OCLC (1) found that users overwhelmingly tend to start their information search on a search engine like Google rather than the library website and rely on common sense to evaluate websites. Clearly libraries can play a role here in educating users in an a university on the why and how to critically evaluate sources, not to mention how to find the results you need beyond simple keyword searching. This whole topic was fascinating, I’d recommend the research on the ‘Google Generation’ by Rowlands et. al (2008, 2011) and also Assessing information needs in the age of the digital consumer (2009) by Nicholas and Herman.

One final thing, the set textbook was Introduction to modern information retrieval (3rd edition, 2010) by G.G. Chowdhury. It was very scholarly but some of the content seemed out of date, especially considering it was updated in 2010. We covered CD-ROM databases (anybody remember Encarta??) among other things that I didn’t know were still around. Despite needing some updating, this book is a comprehensive reference book for the subject.

(1) OCLC (2011) Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community A Report to the OCLC Membership. Available at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED532601 (Accessed: 19 May 2015).

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Library School – Hypermedia Module

Second in the two-part series on Semester 1 (Autumn 2014) of library school. For my previous post explaining generally about the course, click here.

This module was called Hypermedia for the Information Professional and introduced hypermedia, e.g. the web and digital technology. Tech skills was a key component that I wanted to do in this qualification and I was mostly satisfied with this module. We covered web design and learned basic web mark-up (XHTML and CSS). This part was ok and I think it definitely helped that I had a bit of knowledge of code already. I found the course material very lacking when completing the assignment which was to write code for a simple, two-page website. This deficiency was due to the content itself and the interface for the teaching material which was a kind of animated, power point type thing. I ended up watching videos on Youtube to solve various problems I encountered when creating my website. One of my “ah-ha” moments was watching a video of a guy talking through and creating all the elements for a basic webpage (sorry can’t give you a link, as I was a bad library student and did not note it down and now cannot find it again). This video made something click for me mainly because of the presentation. It was his voice over explaining the concepts and what the guy was doing, and then there was a split screen video with his text writer window open where he was inputting the code, and then the other side of the screen was the webpage itself being updated in real time, so you could see the effect each bit of code had on the page. As quite a visual person, this method really helped me understand because you could both see and hear what was going on. Anyway I got there in the end with my little website but I think this is a topic that’s best to learn by doing rather reading about about it and it would have helped to have a live person to ask all my questions.
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We also looked at usability and information behaviour, both subjects I found absolutely fascinating. I ended up referring back to this material and the sources in later modules quite a lot. For the SEO (search engine optimisation) portion, the main thing I remember is reading through Google’s SEO guide for web developers. A very helpful document with practical advice on how to improve the SEO of your site – an important concept for library websites to understand since most people start an information search on a search engine rather than the library website nowadays! Social media was another area we studied. The set textbook, Managing Social Media in Libraries by Troy Swanson, was excellent and it’s on my list to finish reading.

I think each of the topics we covered in the module could easily have been an entire module in itself…which leads me to say that the main downside to this module was that there were really too many topics under the hypermedia umbrella to cover in one semester. It was very much an introduction, which is fine, but I would have appreciated more time and more depth.

Image: “html tattoo” by webmove available on Flickr CC license https://flic.kr/p/DiXiL.