Studying Research: where am I and what is this place?

So recently, I noticed a significant uptick in views of this blog and also new subscribers. I suspect this has something to do with the recent Carterette Series webinar that I gave last week, “Research is Not a Basic Skill”  but whatever the reason, I wanted to take just a brief minute to welcome any newcomers. I’m excited you’re here!

I’ve been writing this blog for about a year. So far, I’ve used this space to share some of my thinking on the research-as-subject/contextual nature of research thread of my work as it continues to develop. I’ve also done some musing on the role of research in creative writing as I conduct a study to discover whether and how books on creative writing talk about this subject. And I have some posts on teaching and librarianship and the occasional silly pop culture topic just for fun.

I usually post twice a week on Tuesday and Thursdays, so keep an eye out for new information. In the meantime, here is a list of past posts (in no particular order) that are personal favorites of mine and which might help you get to know what this blog is about:

It’s significant that popular books on creative writing don’t talk about research

On NYT’s textbook story and the Our Virginia incident

Teaching evaluating sources from a research-as-subject perspective

Finding my research path: Taking a big swing

Magicians and libraries that aren’t libraries

Research begins with curiosity

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is secretly about the ethical use of information

Using the annotated bibliography as the “establishing shot”

A whole lot of “no duh”: The role of curiosity in creativity

Research is not a basic skill (neither is writing)

Defining research

Selected Resources: “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy”

You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on last year’s lists and write about it here.

Today we’re all about “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy” by Eamon C. Tewell.

Disclosure: I am currently a member of the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee, which selects and evaluates materials for the Selected Resources lists. I played a role in the selection process and reviewed several of the items that ended up on the final list as part of that process.

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The Ballad of Purdue OWL

There was a conversation recently on one of the library listservs concerning recent changes to Purdue OWL, a commonly-recommended site that in the past has always provided credible and accurate citation guidance as well as some great academic writing advice. Apparently, the site was bought by (or is now in partnership with) Chegg, a company that basically encourages students to use AI to do research and write for them because clearly that’s the best way to actually learn anything.

Apparently this change happened almost a year ago but some of us (including me) are just realizing it now.

The librarians in the e-mail chain had some good alternatives to recommend, including Excelsior OWL and some others. I know we have a pretty good Citation Guide at my own library that’s kept pretty up to date.

Still. I’m in mourning.

There is no user-friendly way to learn about citation. There just isn’t. The actual publication manuals are labyrinthine. The sites that generate citations for the users don’t actually teach them anything about how to cite and are also inaccurate. Purdue OWL was the one resource I could point students to and be able to say, “This is a credible source of citation information that’s relatively easy to understand.”

This was a resource I shared with students at the reference desk, in my classroom, and in my side gig as an online writing tutor. Whenever a student came to me with a question about citation, it was the first place I looked for an answer to recommend.

To be clear, the citation information on the site still seems good. The many advertisements that follow you around (including everyone’s favorite: the autoplaying video) don’t necessarily change that. But now that it’s attached to a site like Chegg, it’s hard to recommend it without at least some reservation. Because students might come for the citation help, but they’ll stay for the promise of homework assistance that looks an awful lot like cheating.

More than that, though, Purdue OWL was my own go-to resource for citation help.

Generally, I use APA to cite because that’s the citation style I’m most familiar with by virtue of being an online writing tutor for a graduate program where APA was the standard. Some library journals use APA, including the first few that I published in. But a lot of the big ones use Chicago style.

I did not take this into account when writing my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.” If you take a look at that article, you’ll see that there are probably around 80 sources cited. Originally, all of those citations were in APA style because the decision to submit it to College & Research Libraries, which uses Chicago style, came later in the process. Before submitting it for review, I had to convert all 80 or so citations to Chicago, a style I had never used before. And I had to do it by hand.

In short, FML.

While the submission guidelines for the journal are helpful in showing what they are looking for in terms of citation, I still stumbled on many questions along the way. Questions that I answered using Purdue OWL.

This is a story I tell students often. First, because it’s hilarious seeing their reactions to the idea of citing 80 sources when they are daunted by idea of citing 3-5. Second, because it shows that I’m recommending them tools that I use myself. And third, because I think it helps them to know that even as someone who’s required to do research and publish as part of my job, I don’t have all of the rules memorized and I probably never will. So it’s okay if they don’t either.

The change at Purdue OWL doesn’t prevent me from still being able to do this, obviously. But it’s just one more asterisk to affix to another on a rapidly diminishing list of learning resources that could be recommended without reservation.

 

Beyond 10 Books: Thoughts on Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

I picked up Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle after reading another book in the same series, Plot & Structure. In large part, my interest was more personal than anything else. Description is something I’ve always struggled with in my own writing and I was intrigued by the idea of an entire book that covered the topic in as much detail as James Scott Bell covered plot and structure in his book. To that end, I definitely found some useful stuff including character profile worksheets and plot graphs that get you thinking not only about when and where your stories take place but what time of day and what the weather is like, even if that information is never mentioned in the scene itself.

What I also found, to my surprise, was probably more information on the role of research in creative writing than I’ve found in any writing book so far.

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The AWP Recommendations: Reflections of a former creative writing undergrad

So in my research on the role of research and in creative writing, I finally got around to reading the AWP Recommendations on Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates, a document that seems to guide the undergraduate creative writing curriculum in the same way the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy guides information literacy instruction.

As a former undergraduate creative writing student, this document was really interesting to me. I’d never seen it before and it made me think back to the content of the program I graduated from and suddenly it all made a lot more sense. The classes I took, from creative writing workshops to classes on literary criticism, all fit neatly within the AWP’s recommendations.

What surprised me was the emphasis the AWP Recommendations place on the idea that, at the undergraduate level, creative writing programs are not meant to teach students how to write but instead how to read. As an undergraduate creative writing student, you read in order to cultivate an appreciation of literary techniques and then, through writing workshops, attempt to apply those techniques in your own work. The reason for this seems to be that, at the undergraduate level, very few students will actually go on to become creative writers, so what’s the point of trying to teach them how to actually do creative writing? Apparently you have to wait for that until you get to the graduate level, assuming you are talented enough to get there.

I never got to the graduate level with my creative writing education. I was told as a student that, though my work was not publishable per se, I had a lot of potential and for that reason I would probably be a good candidate for an MFA program. I chose not to pursue this for a lot of reasons. First, I had no real mentor to help guide me through the process, something I would have needed as a first generation college student who didn’t know anything about graduate school. Second, despite the (qualified) praise, I had no real confidence in my abilities. Third, life happened and I chose a different path, one that has so far turned out to be very much the right choice for me.

Besides, I assumed my undergraduate degree gave me the credential I needed to consider myself educated in the subject of creative writing, at least at a basic level. I had already been taught how to be a writer. Or so I thought.

Having now discovered that the goal of my program was not to teach me how to write but instead to teach me how to read, I feel a little betrayed. And annoyed.

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Studies of research: Reporting in the “Post-Truth” Era

I’ve mentioned before that one of the cool things about the study of research is that it’s already out there, in so many forms and in so many fields (not just library and information science!), even if that’s not what the researchers doing this work would necessarily call it. I saw a lot of examples of this at the ACRL 2019 Conference and I wanted to spend some time here taking a closer look at a few of them.

So let’s take a closer look at “Reporting in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era: Uncovering the Research Behaviors of Journalism Students, Practitioners, and Faculty” by Katherine E. Boss et al.

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Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

Image source: https://outtake.tribecashortlist.com/escape-and-companionship-in-the-station-agent-ae9f31f9b58d

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of space talking about what pop culture gets wrong about libraries. The natural question is: are there any good or accurate examples of libraries in movies, books, or TV shows?

On the whole, The Public, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez, does a good job because Estevez took the time to do actual research about actual libraries—he even came to the ALA Conference in New Orleans a few years ago to talk about it. But the situation in that movie is both fictional and heightened. Except for a few short scenes early on, you’re not seeing the library as it would function in an everyday sense. (Although the questions the patrons are asking the librarian at the beginning are 100% spot on.)

A better example is probably a brief scene from The Station Agent.

The Station Agent, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie starring a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage along with Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale. In the movie, Dinklage plays a quiet guy who seems to prefer solitude (basically the opposite of Tyrion Lannister) but gets drawn somewhat unwillingly into a tentative friendship with Clarkson and Canavale’s characters (Olivia and Joe), who are also both alone and/or lonely in their own ways. There is also amateur train chasing and a brief lesson on the origins of the phrase “right of way.” That probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s really a lovely movie. Highly recommended.

Anyway. In the movie, Dinklage’s character, Finn, is new in town. He goes to the library to find a book about trains, a subject for which he has a great deal of passion, to put it mildly (he literally lives in an abandoned train depot). He goes to check out the book. In doing so, he startles Emily, the librarian played by Michelle Williams.(1) She screams in surprise. After recovering, she asks him if he has a library card. He doesn’t but wants to get one. She asks if he has a piece of mail with his address on it. He doesn’t. She tells him that to get a library card, he’ll need proof of address. Olivia arrives and offers to check the book out for him on her card. Finn refuses the offer and leaves. “Oh my God, I just screamed in his face,” Emily says to Olivia, embarrassed. The scene ends.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

What makes this such a great library scene?

So many things.

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