Posted in Romania, tagged impact on December 16, 2010 |
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This summer, IREX staff from Bucharest and our regional field offices visited almost 80 libraries that participated in the first round of Biblionet implementation. Now that librarians have gone through training and computer equipment has been installed, how are things going? The visits were an opportunity to talk with librarians and patrons about their experiences and find out what benefits and challenges they have encountered.
Librarians overwhelmingly reported that they have seen increased use and visibility for their library. Children and young adults are coming to do homework, people are searching for information about jobs and health, and community members are able to communicate with family and friends abroad. Staying in touch with those far away has been especially appealing to the elderly, and some librarians have hosted targeted trainings for senior citizens as well as special topics like traffic rules.
All of this is happening under the shadow of the ongoing economic crisis. Local governments have been asked to cut spending, and libraries are undergoing cuts in salaries and operating hours. Biblionet is working with librarians and local authorities to develop creative solutions to reduced library hours, and librarians believed that the increased profile they have gained through the program is helping them advocate for the importance of maintaining library services.
The visits provided insights into how the program is functioning and how libraries can be supported, especially in the current economic climate. Biblionet plans to continue visiting libraries to lend support, reinforce the ongoing nature of the program, and collect the great ideas and activities that librarians have come up with to share with their colleagues.
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The New York Times published an interesting piece this weekend called Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality. The article reviewed three studies that suggest that providing low-income students with a personal computer does not lead to increased academic achievement, and actually appears to have a negative impact on their grades in school. This research was done in Romania, North Carolina and Texas between 2004-2009.
Although this article deals with personal computers rather than computers in libraries, I found it thought-provoking. As a former middle school teacher and future librarian, the digital divide and its impact on education is of great interest to me. It is difficult to come to any conclusions without reviewing the studies individually, but it has raised some questions that I think are worthy of discussion.
The idea that giving someone a computer will be a panacea for their problems is something that I think most people see as being overly simplistic. At the same time, access to information is vital for the well-being of individuals and society, and more and more of that information has moved online. When job applications can only be submitted electronically, or homework assignments require use of the internet, those without access to technology are at a huge disadvantage. There are a variety of ways that the digital divide is being addressed, but what happens when the results of expanding access are unexpected?
The studies found that having a personal computer did not improve the educational achievements of adolescents. In Romania, scores in English, math and Romanian decreased, while in Texas writing scores dropped. One suggested reason is that teens are using the computers for games and entertainment, decreasing the time they have available for studying. The educational value of gaming and how to measure outcomes that may not be reflected in quantitative statistics like grades are both important debates, but what I want to know most is how information literacy and training was built into these programs.
Like any of us, secondary students are adept at finding distractions on the internet. Educators respond by blocking entertainment and social networking sites, with the unintended consequence of teaching teens how to get around those barriers. If students are expected to use the computers for complex tasks like finding and evaluating sources for research or developing multimedia presentations, training in information literacy is essential. We can’t confuse the high interest that young people often show for technology with an innate understanding of how to use that technology to extend their learning.
This training and guidance has a natural home in libraries, both in schools and communities. It is quite possible that the programs that these studies examined included a training component, but as we consider if closing the digital divide may widen the achievement gap, I think a natural place to look is how educators and students are being taught to use new technologies to support classroom activities. The suggestion that home computers may be disproportionately harmful to the achievement of low-income students is troubling, but rather than discounting investment in improved access to technology in low-income communities, it demonstrates how important it is to consider and plan for what comes after the computers are delivered.
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I have a not-so-secret secret: most of the research I have ever done has been document-based. I am an academic and a librarian; the written word and I have an intimate codependence. Because of this, the idea of performing research based on data from human beings both enthralls and terrifies me. Thankfully, my university has a form to fill out to ensure the safety of my subjects. Between this form and some wonderful guidance from various IREX staff members, I have developed a plan to help me create the tools for my research in Ukraine and have begun to create these tools.
The first trick for figuring out how to collect my data, is figuring out what data I need to collect and from whom. One of the most helpful articles I’ve read in the past weeks for defining the needs of my research has been Susan Beatty and Hester Mountifield’s “Collaboration in an Information Commons: key elements for successful support of e-literacy.” In addition to an Information Commons overview, the article provides an extensive set of questions that the architect of a library Information Commons should ask him or herself. The end-goal of all of these questions is “to create a holistic student-centered environment,” or in the case of public libraries, a patron-centered one. In order to do this, there are three overarching facets for exploration: the physical/technical requirements of an IC, the personnel to support an IC, and the patrons to use one. Thus the data I will need will center on the space, how the space is supported, and who uses it. Additionally, this directs my questioning toward the librarians stewarding the library space and the patrons.
Knowing that I need to ask questions about space, service, and technology integration of librarians and patrons is one part of the problem. The other part is determining how to ask these questions. This is where my unfamiliarity with research methods bore its head. My first idea was to do one-on-one interviews with librarians and do a survey of patrons. Then, I met with Katie Sheketoff who coordinates the impact work for both Biblionet and Bibliomist and who was full of more creative ideas, and Meghan let me borrow a library methodology textbook, Barbara Wildemuth’s Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library Science (2009), which was full of advice on their implementation. From here I found examples of vignettes and focus groups. With vignettes I could present patrons with different library stories, incorporating elements from established Information Commons, and gather patron reactions. With focus groups I could see in a collaborative environment how patrons viewed library collaboration.
At present I am constructing my research tools for my trip that begins in a little over a week. While this feels a little later than I should be working on them, I think the most important aspect of my tools needs to be their fluidity. As I wrote in my last post, my expectations may be completely overturned when I arrive, and the tools I make now may turn out to be useless. Still, I think that envisioning a goal for the type of data needed will allow me to create flexible and useful tools based on collecting librarian and patron opinion.
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Posted in Ukraine, tagged assessment, impact, librarians, research on June 10, 2010 |
In Ukraine, we’ve been working with several methodologists at oblast libraries to understand how Ukrainian librarians collect data, and use that data within their libraries. Although librarians in Ukraine are required to collect extensive data, we have found it’s often flawed, and the data itself is collated into reports, transmitted to the National Parliamentary Library, and promptly forgotten.
In February, I met with five methodologists for a workshop facilitated by Nancy Davenport of DCPL, to discuss potential research projects they will be implementing in their libraries. One librarian, concerned by the low rate of teachers as library users, wanted to investigate why teachers don’t come to libraries. To conduct the study, she was proposing interviewing the teachers who are already library users, and put the results of that research into a report delivered to the pedagogical institute.
Nancy and I worked with her to refine the idea – if teachers are not using the library enough, perhaps interviewing teachers who do not yet come to the library would be a better way to examine their reasons for non-usage, and there may be some better ways to reach out to teachers who are not frequent library visitors than writing a report for the pedagogical institute.
We recently received her revised research proposal. In the revised version, she proposes two groups of teachers to interview: teachers who are currently library users to identify why they come to the library and what changes they would like to see, and teachers who do not come to the library to see why they don’t come to libraries and what services would be useful for them. Once the research concludes, she plans to adjust library services based on the results, hold press conferences to cover the results, attend school meetings and parent-teacher conferences to talk about new services for teachers, and develop library advertisements to place in schools and with teachers.
Next week I’ll be travelling to Aarhus with the librarians, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what changes in approach they’ll see in Danish libraries!
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Posted in Ukraine, tagged ICT, impact, libraries, Ukraine on April 7, 2010 |
As the team slowly sifts through results from our national citizens survey in Ukraine, we wanted to share some early results pertaining to how people in different age groups view and use libraries and the internet. Here’s an early look:
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Posted in Ukraine, tagged advocacy, impact, videos on February 15, 2010 |
A little while back we posted the “tomato video” showing how farmers in rural Ukraine used a library computer to find information about improving their tomato crops. Here’s a new video, this time about a visually impaired journalist who was able to transition from a typewriter to a computer with help from a local library.
The library was equipped with computers and software for visually impaired people as part of the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) implemented by IREX and funded by the US Government.
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Posted in libraryland, tagged advocacy, conferences, impact on August 1, 2009 |
As a non-librarian, this was the first time I’d ever attended the American Library Association’s annual conference (in librarian parlance, it was my first ALA), held this year in Chicago. Meaghan and I represented IREX at the conference, presenting a poster on the Community Participation Contest (the CPC) in Romania. In addition to our poster session, we attended several sessions on advocating in a difficult environment, international library development, technology and libraries, measuring and evaluating libraries, and the future of libraries.
ALA is a massive conference, with over 27,000 attendees and hundreds of sessions, so it was an entirely new experience for me. Some of the most dramatic take-aways:
- Despite their relative financial advantage over the libraries in our countries, American libraries are facing increasing challenges as a result of the economic downturn. While the frustration was palpable, librarians (with the assistance of ALA) were taking the opportunity to refine advocacy skills using a variety of innovative methods (my favorite example: invite elected officials to be a “librarian for a day” to get a sense of what the job entails).
- Libraries use interesting tools and methods to measure the impact of their libraries, and use the results for library management. There are a variety of high-tech tools that larger libraries use, but the key for smaller libraries is making sure that information is used in a way so that library users “know we hear them.”
- Many of the librarians we met are interested and eager to share resources and experiences. Meaghan and I directed them to the blog and our website, and hopefully we can start a multi-country dialogue on the issues facing libraries.
And the most important take-away: Pastoral makes Chicago’s best sandwiches.
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Posted in Ukraine, tagged impact, survey on May 5, 2009 |
In both countries, impact staff have focused on developing broad frameworks for measuring change. Over the five-year span of the program, GL staff will track two things:
- program effectiveness, i.e. are we achieving our four programmatic goals
- the greater change that the program has on the library system and greater public in Romania and Ukraine
One of the fundamental steps of the impact assessment process is setting a baseline, or the point from which you begin to measure change. In Ukraine, we’ve put a lot of thought into what will make up the baseline – from national opinions on libraries and technology to librarians’ understanding of the role of the library association. One component of this is the national survey. In the survey, we’re trying to gauge how Ukrainians view their libraries, understand Ukrainians’ level of familiarity with technology, examine how people access information and with what level of ease, etc.
It’s been a struggle to identify good indicators for the vague, qualitative concepts. What are the determinants of a relevant library? How do you assess people’s ability to determine the reliability of various forms of information? And the perpetual survey question – at what point is this just too long?
We’re now in the final stages of review and are hoping to field the survey later this month, but in the meantime I’ll put out a call to the library/development world – do you have any good ideas of proxies for these vague ideas? Any suggestions for us?
I’ll continue posting on this as we move forward with the survey – hopefully we’ll have some interesting results!
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