The key take-home message from the Summon and Information Literacy meeting (Sheffield Hallam, 18 July 2012) was that trainers can now spend less time explaining arcane systems and have more time for teaching critical and analytical approaches to information. Less “how to” = more “why”.This has been borne out in how I’ve adapted my session on reading lists in response to using Summon as the primary interface for locating known items in Cambridge libraries (including electronic provision, natch).
Overview of the reading list session, its audience and purpose. There are over a hundred libraries in the University of Cambridge, and one of them alone – the UL – has over 5 million items in its catalogue. Tracking down known items, even those that are reliably described or correctly referenced, remains a challenge – not to mention vague verbal supervisor recommendations (“This is a great article – no idea what journal it’s in”) and reading lists employing citation methods not known to humankind.
In 2011 the aims of the session were these. The majority of the session time was spent on aim 3, explaining the two main interfaces for accessing known-item Cambridge resources (the catalogue and the ejournals A-Z list).
Just explaining the relationship of the two needed more graphic design ability than I clearly possess ...
With the switch to Summon as the primary KI interface, the learning outcomes of the 2012 session are fairly radically different. Compared with “finding out where to search for what”, these four LOs are much higher-level intellectual operations, bringing home the need for criticality and selectivity even when choosing where to start with a reading list.In particular, the time spent talking about the differences between major scholarly formats is no longer driven by the imperative for students to use the “correct” source for each (the old parrot cry “You can’t find journal articles in the library catalogue!”). Now we can spend that time in looking at what benefits and limitations each format might have for the piece of work the student has on hand at the moment.
The supporting resources – the handouts – reflect this too. In 2011 the handout was all about looking in the right place for the type of material you wanted.
In 2012, this has changed entirely to look at the characteristics of the main academic information formats – not from a ‘where to look for what’ standpoint but rather from a ‘when might you want to use a ...’ angle.The handout also contains example citations (Harvard style) for each material type, so participants can learn to decode citations on their reading lists and quickly recognise the size and scope of what they’re being asked to read.
My notes to accompany this slide are as follows: ‘Locating literary language’ is the title of a chapter within a book. There are two reasons why it’s important to notice this:So you don’t waste time by reading the whole thing;So you look up the right part of the citation on the library catalogue. You’ve got to search by the book title, not the chapter title.Rule of thumb: anything in ‘inverted commas’ is generally one part of a larger published work.YAWN! MASSIVE YAWN!
Although the system is not perfect in presentation of the results (recognised issues with faceting options, relevance algorithm, GUI navigability), the scope of the content being retrieved now matches the user’s expectations more closely. As noted at the Summon & IL meeting at Sheffield Hallam, this enables information literacy teachers to stop having to spend time on procedural training and lets us focus on the question: “How will you use this material now that you’ve got it?”Worth restating: I recommend Summon (branded as LibrarySearch+ in Cambridge) as the place to start for tracking down known items - not for carrying out a structured literature search or uncovering the ‘unknown unknowns’ in their field. I present it to my students as a useful interface for tracking down specific items that they know they want, or which have been selected by supervisors for their value and utility. In other words, I present Summon as a tool for connecting with known items – not for discovering new ones.
Before and after Summon
Cambridge University LibraryFrom ‘finding’ to ‘decoding’:a Summon before-and-after snapshotEmma Coonan, Research Skills & Development LibrarianCambridge University Library
Before and after Summon 2011: ‘How to find things on your reading list’ 2012: ‘How to decode your reading list’
The „reading list‟ session• First step in modular Research Skills provision• Target audience: o students in directed learning phase o newcomers to Cambridge library system• Essay writing rather than extended research• Tracking down known items, not discovering ‘unknown unknowns’
2011: „How to find things ...‟Aims• To discover how to decipher your reading list• To learn how to find incomplete references• To find out where to search for what• To save yourself time and energy in getting to the sources you need ‘Phrenology’ by dylan17, flickr.com CC BY-NC 2.0
2012: „How to decode ...‟Learning outcomes• understand reading list structure and purpose• know how to critically evaluate a reading list• understand the various material formats• recognise and reconstruct incomplete references
2011: System does not match user expectations Tip: if you‟re being asked to read a chapter, you need to look up the book title on LibrarySearch Davidson, D., ‘Locating literary language,’ in Literary Theory after Davidson, ed. Reed Way Dasenbrock (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1993)
2012: Engaging with the found material Beware of “white rabbits” - ideas and arguments that lead away from your topic• Maintain your critical distance from the text• Keep asking: how does this contribute to my understanding/my argument/my essay/my research?