October 20, 2014

Feedback: Letters to LJ, August 2013 Issue

“We are raising a generation of kids who think Google and Wikipedia are reliable sources of information. That’s just not right.”

Don’t Substitute, Expand

The joining of Library Journal and School Library Journal under the leadership of Rebecca Miller comes at an important time for the profession (Rebecca Miller, “The End of Turf,” Editorial, LJ 7/13, p. 8). While it is true that communities are shortchanging their children when they tolerate the elimination of librarian positions in the schools, it is also true that the public library should not stretch its budget and staff thin to take over those services. We need to foster robust relationships between schools and public libraries in order to collaborate in ways that provide an expansion of services rather than a substitution for what has been lost. Schools need librarians to teach children how to make intelligent use of material in the school libraries as well as in the public libraries. By the time the children in our local school have access to the services of a professional school librarian, they are in middle school. That leaves the very competent but stretched-thin children’s librarian in our small public library to provide library skills education in the very limited time their class visits to us provide. We are raising a generation of kids who think Google and Wikipedia are reliable sources of information. That’s just not right.

—Lisa Richland, Dir., Floyd Memorial Lib., Greenport, NY

Fiction Eludes Algorithms

I really enjoyed Brian Morell’s “Discovery Without Algorithms” (Music Matters, LJ 7/13, p. 51). It’s just the same with books. Whichbook.net uses a great algorithm, but its quality is delivered by the book readers, all of whom work in libraries. In the first dot-com boom I worked with genius programmers…and we looked at developing whichbook with an automated system that learned from its own data. We fed in reader reviews, back-cover blurbs, and in-house marketing text produced by publishers—none of it could give any real consistency to rate emotional content. Rating the complexity of vocabulary in technical articles, for example, can be automated with some success, but great fiction writing eludes algorithms—at least at this point in history. The best discovery tools need an amalgam of technology and people….

—Rachel Van Riel, Dir., Opening the Book, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, UK

Investments & Values

I completely agree that maximum profit should not be the only factor in investments (John Berry, “Money Talks,” Blatant Berry, LJ 7/13, p. 10), but then how do you decide where to go? You rightly state that the free flow of information is a core value of our profession, but how does that relate to fossil fuels? I don’t want investments in the abortion industry, but that is my personal belief, not professional principle. Off the top of my head, the only industry that I think [the American Library Association] should not have investments in would be publishing, and maybe journalism, to safeguard our objectivity, both real and perceived. I also find investment in armaments distasteful, but I can’t see that as related to librarianship.

—Jim Schneider, Reference Libn., Dayton Metro Lib.

Lifetime Bonds

I’m glad a dialog is emerging around distance education (DE) programs (Krystal Taylor, “Lackluster LIS program,” Feedback, LJ 3/15/13, p. 12, and Ashley Renn, “Taught as well online,” Feedback, LJ 6/15/13, p. 12)…. DE is neither “lackluster” nor “settling”; rather, it was my strong preference. My program was conducted almost entirely online, with the exception of a four-day on-campus orientation. With a master’s-and-a-half, I was familiar with graduate programs, and my LIS program was unquestionably the highlight of my academic career.

Compared to my previous graduate programs (one was seventh in the nation), my top-20 LIS program provided a solid academic foundation and ample opportunities for real-world experience through internships, projects, and required communication with profession leaders. It boasted a top-notch faculty, including a recent LJ Teaching Award winner, who champions the DE program. We received the same stellar education as our campus-based counterparts, and the faculty enthusiasm for the new delivery methods invigorated the educational environment. By mastering emerging technologies, my cohort may be better prepared to problem solve, embrace versatility, and transition into an evolving workforce.

The emphasis on group work and asynchronous communications created a greater level of interaction than that which I encountered as a traditional student. We developed a strong cohort identity, a pattern I’ve observed with the two subsequent groups. We suffered tragedies, including the unexpected passing of a classmate, whose memorial service was streamed online so we could attend, and a natural disaster that incited many of us to action when the infrastructure “at school” was crumbling….

Education is what you make of it. DE is no different. Complaints against DE are exactly the same as those throughout academia. It’s nearly impossible for those who haven’t experienced DE to authentically assess it. It provided me an incredible wealth of learning and opportunity and through it I created professional and personal bonds that will last a lifetime.

—Brittany Turner, Records Mgr. & Special Projects Libn., Shreve Memorial Lib., Shreveport, LA

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