Crowd sourced information service and "Googling" our hive

Jess and I share an office - what, are you surprised? - with the two amazing graduate assistants that work in our department. It's a highly collaborative atmosphere, which we all find stimulating and supportive. The four of us work on many of the same projects and simply talking across the room to a teammate cuts down enormously on email. Our library provides virtual reference using a chat service, and when someone is doing online reference our answers to patron questions are often crowd-sourced from whoever is in the room at the time. "Hey, what's the name of that one e-resource we have for test prep?" (I can never remember the name of that thing.) We rely on each other to remember the details and locations of things. "When is that meeting? Where did you get those shoes? (Our library ladies love cute flats.) In which of 9 gazillion folders on the shared drive is that one document about that one thing?" We Google our hive's collective memories constantly. It turns out there may be a generalizable explanation for our reliance on constant collaboration. We're not weird. Everybody is weird! Slate published this excerpt from Clive Thompson's book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better. In it, Thompson describes how we use computers, the Internet, apps, and our phones as extensions of our memory. (I first saw this article mentioned by @librarianmouse, here. She and her colleagues like to use crowd sourced information to answer reference questions, too!) It's a new version of a concept called transactive memory, in which our society has long relied on the shared memories of the people close to us so that we don't have to remember everything ourselves.

Our team uses a variety of tools to keep track of our projects, ideas, and documents. Between Jess and me, any particular thing I want to recall may be stored in the network drive, work email, our personal email correspondence, Google Docs, Trello, Workflowy, Evernote, Zotero, Pinterest, Padlet, or an actual, physical notebook. Even though we don't often remember the exact details of the thing we're trying to retrieve, we almost always know where it is. Research cited in Thompson's article confirms this proclivity:

We are, however, confident of where in the machine we can refind it. When Sparrow asked the students simply to recall whether a fact had been saved or erased, they were better at recalling the instances where a fact had been stored in a folder...Another experiment found that subjects were really good at remembering the specific folder names containing the right factoid, even though the folders had extremely unremarkable names.

This phenomenon pops up in our office-wide transactive memory system all the time. "Remember when we found that article that talked about self-paced student learning? Is it in that Google Doc of sources?"

"No, it's attached to a Trello card on the team board."

"Sweet, thanks."

So we work in a noisy office. So what?

Here's the really important part. The reason we need to be aware of the amazing ways our society is using devices to expand our transactive memory sources. Jess and I are primarily information literacy librarians. We teach research and instruction classes, help students at the reference desk, and are developing a new curriculum for our library to provide more broadly applicable information literacy instruction to undergraduates. The students we teach and interact with every day have a different relationship with information than previous generations. They are "digital natives," and they are used to accessing all the information in the world using online sources and search interfaces, and saving everything they need in an electronic location. We need to understand what they know about finding and using information so that we can use our instruction to fill in the gaps in the skill set they already possess for interacting with information sources. This is how Thompson describes one of those gaps:

Transactive memory works best when you have a sense of how your partners' minds work—where they're strong, where they're weak, where their biases lie. I can judge that for people close to me. But it's harder with digital tools, particularly search engines. They’re for-profit firms that guard their algorithms like crown jewels. And this makes them different from previous forms of transactive machine memory. A public library—or your notebook or sheaf of papers—keeps no intentional secrets about its mechanisms. A search engine keeps many. We need to develop literacy in these tools the way we teach kids how to spell and write; we need to be skeptical about search firms’ claims of being “impartial” referees of information.

This is the big idea behind the way we characterize information literacy. Students definitely need help with searching for and finding information. But for the most part, they will figure out on their own how to get their hands on the information they need. What they often won't figure out on their own, however, is how to evaluate it. Information skepticism isn't automatically built in to their reliance on the Internet for transactive memory. If we can introduce them to the limitations and biases of search engines and some online sources, and more importantly, provide them with the skills to overcome that, we will have given students a valuable tool to make their relationship with their machines much more useful.

Our very own...



We're delighted to announce that we are friends with a celebrity! (Sort of!) And we are delighted to announce it with creepily similar tweets! One of our co-workers was named Best Local Poet by The Pitch, Kansas City's alternative art, culture, and entertainment news outlet. Barbara Varanka is a talented gal, and we're very proud of her creative work.

Like Caravaggio’s Judith, you are the bright gash and the sword, the wine and fig divided.

Barbara Varanka, 2011

On another note, we sometimes think of Babs as our secret intelligence agent. Before she came to work at the library, Barbara taught English composition to college students. She provides valuable insight about what's important to the instructors we work with, what they already know (or don't) about library research themselves, and how they want their students to use what they learn from the library. We're planning to feature guest posts from Barbara about transitioning from one side of the information literacy equation to the other. Do you have questions you've always wanted to ask the instructors you work with? Burning questions about why they do the things they do, how their brains work? Lay 'em on us on the comments!

Ref Desk Redeux: Go Ahead

GoAheadAskME So here's the deal. A little under two years ago, our library embraced a trending equation: circulation desk + reference desk = one service desk. The desk itself has two levels; there is a high, walk-up side for circulation and a low, please-have-a-seat side for reference. On the wall above and behind the desk, the words "service desk" are neatly mounted, their sans serif font and silver, matted sheen appearing in a large and effective manner.

This signage is classy, sure, but Dani and I recently found ourselves desiring something a bit more... fun! Something to make the desk less intimidating and more approachable. We've come up with lots of signage design ideas, and we'll be sharing them with you here through Ref Desk Redeux.

But wait--it gets even better! We'll also give you free printables that you can download, along with tips and tricks for creating your own rad signs. I know, I know... you're welcome.

And now, the how to:

What you'll need: This super fancy desk sign holder, Mircosoft Publisher, and a color printer

Step 1 : Think of a simple, clever statement to draw in your patrons. Try to be at least 50% funny.

Step 2: Open publisher and start experimenting! I highly recommend the following:

  • Choose brightly colored backgrounds (you can change the background color by clicking the Page Design ribbon, then selecting the drop down arrow under the "Background' icon).
  • Use more than one font, but no more than three.
  • Do not, ever, under any circumstance (including the temptation to be ironic) use Comic Sans. Instead, try a combination of typefaces to add variety or emphasis. In this example, I used Segoe Print and Segoe UI Symbol, which are both fonts that came loaded with Publisher 2013. For more help choosing non-cheesy fonts, take a look at our Typography Downloads Pinterest board and check back soon for our tutorial on finding, installing, and using free fonts from the web.
  • Make sure the thing is readable. White lettering looks great on colored backgrounds, just make sure the background color isn't too light. You might also have to change the colors after testing the printed color, which will vary a bit from what you see on the screen.
  • Don't give in to the habit of aligning all the text to the center, nor to the middle of the paper. While this option may work great for certain signs, why not play around with different asymmetrical options?

Step 3: Is it pretty? Is it catchy? Is is fun? Not sure? Ask for patrons' opinion. Once you get a few green lights, print 'em! If you use a sign desk holder similar to the one mentioned above, you can print out two versions in two separate colors, then spin the sign holder around every few days to keep people on their toes (okay, this part isn't necessary, but I'm pretending that there's scientific evidence to support my hunch that changing signs often will keep patrons' attention and prevent signage from "blending in" to what their eyes are accustomed to).

So tell me, what kind of signage do you have for your reference desk? How often do you change it? Do you have any signage design ideas to share?

Fact Finding Friday: How to cite digitized primary sources

Phelps Morand to Byrnes 1945 Letter

Dear people who sometimes help students or just need to know how to cite things,

I took a reference call from a graduate student who needed to cite primary sources that were found online. This is something students have to do all the time now that much of the primary material they are referencing has been digitized. So how do you cite these things?

Library of Congress to the rescue!

The Library of Congress website has a handy-dandy guide to citing digitized primary sources. It provides information about citing any type of item you might find in their digital libraries: letters and documents, maps, newspapers, cartoons, photos, sound recordings, films, or the entire website in general.

Of course, all their examples use items from their online collections. (I do love citation style instructions with examples. Like sample problems after the equations in math textbooks.)

Both MLA and Chicago styles are included in the LoC's guide. Chicago footnote style, however, is not. Our inquisitive grad student needed to footnote it. So I Googled "citing digitized primary sources chicago footnotes" and found this (reputability UNKNOWN). Looks good enough. (The grad student's paper was due in, like, negative 5 minutes.) just gotta Google and hope for the best!

I hope this edition of Fact Finding Friday (which was just invented right now) is helpful to you at some point in the future. Cite on, friends!

Dani "Citation Ninja" Wellemeyer

#molib2013: What you want from us

Click the image above to download our 2013 MLA slides.

We're back from MLA! We had a great turnout and lots of conversations afterwards, so thanks to everyone who conquered the early morning to attend. At the end of the presentation we asked our audience, "what do you want from us?"

You said you wanted:

  • Our presentation slides! Done.
  • To see more tutorials. They're on their way...just as soon as we make them.
  • To know more about
    • Our curriculum mapping,
    • Flipping information literacy instruction,
    • Why we chose Adobe Captivate over Softchalk (and other e-learning software).
    • Making stuff your students will think is cool.

So get ready, y'all (did I mention that I'm a southern girl?), because we're going to be writing about each of these things in the coming weeks. You don't want to miss it, so be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up to receive an email notification whenever we post.

Also, I can't resist sharing my favorite feedback tweet:

Suuuppper flattering, right? Oh! Do you still want more from us? Do you have another question or topic you want us to address? Leave a comment and we'll make your day.



The presentation is prepped: slides, transitions, notes, handouts, terrible canned jokes, all ready to go. The suitcases are packed, the mix tape (uhh...playlist) has been carefully compiled to best facilitate car-dancing, librarian-professional outfits are chosen. We’re off to the Missouri Library Association conference 2013!

Friday morning. 8 a.m. We'll be the ones downing coffee at a continuous steady clip. Join us in Alpine 1 for our exciting! innovative! stellar! presentation about the project we've been working so hard on...and talking about non-stop.

Here's what [the conference program says] we'll be talking about:

Starting From Scratch: A New Recipe for Integrating Outcomes-Based Information Literacy into College Gen-Eds

What do you do when your institution completely revamps their general education curriculum and gives your library the opportunity to be involved? You get excited about creating a brand new, cutting edge information literacy component that will be taught to every student on campus! Using the framework of an Assessment Design Cycle, we’ll discuss how our task force moved through the design process, from beginning with our outcome goals to creating a set of modular lesson plans that include innovative classroom techniques, learning technologies, and online components. Get a behind the scenes look at how we managed the project, what tools we used, and how we turned big picture outcomes into a functioning, institutionally-integrated program. With a focus on combining learning activities and assessment, learn how to create a seamlessly interactive experience for your students.

Thinking about...

This. Who am I? Why am I here? What do you want from me? (I'm going to proceed as if you read that blog post I just linked to.)

It's a very very busy semester. (I'm finishing another degree program.) I'm trying to keep track of what I know about who I am, and what my job means. We're young librarians. We're excited about our field and our jobs and how we can make changes and help students. We're interested in everything. We want to do everything. We can't do everything.

I’m going to sit down at a clean desk on a day without meetings, and I’m going to read my job description very carefully, and I’m going to write out the answers to three questions: who am I? Why am I here? What do they want from me?

I think I probably need to do this. For my job. And for


Adventures in Reference: The Winchester Manuscript

Winchester Manuscript

Cryptic question from a student: “I need the Winchester Manuscript.”

Initial response: “Okay!...I’m going to have to Google that.”

Interesting things learned:

  • The Winchester Manuscript is a particular version of Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory that was found in the Winchester College library.
  • The handwritten manuscript differs from the version of the work typeset by William Caxton in 1485.
  • It is believed to be the version closest to Malory’s original.
  • Our library owns a copy of the facsimile of the Winchester Manuscript. Fun!

I love a good excuse to learn about something weird and fascinating and beautiful!


Let the fall semester begin!

Classes started today, and the library  is once again full of bright, optimistic youths committed to their studies. Or at least that's what I like to tell myself. Dani surprised us all with these super sweet and obnoxiously adorable gifts:


Homemade blueberry scones are so far off my radar that there's probably a 1 in 1,567 chance that I'll ever even make them. Luckily, the pain I feel from my lack of domesticity is easily soothed with fruit and carbs.

So, how do you celebrate the start of a new school year?



Dear Students,

Sorry, no textbooks!

The first week (month?) of each new semester is filled with interactions in which we crush the dreams of a flood of new students when we have to inform them that no, the library did not buy enough copies of every textbook for every student. Sorry!

In a (probably futile) attempt to remind students that the library is not the same as the university bookstore, we made some nice, clear, colorful new signs to place around the library. We don't know if it really helped, but it made us feel better.


I like large parties

Office Mates

Something you should know about Dani: she loves to throw parties. She's also really good at it... like real good. Her birthday party this year was a Gatsby-themed hit, complete with Martinis, silver streamer curtains, a balloon chandelier, and a kick ass art deco door decal made by Dani's husband, Nick.

And as Jordan says in Chapter 3, " I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."

Listening to: The Great Gatsby Soundtrack (duh!)