Hardest stage of research

While populating our library Pinterest board with good Android apps for college students, this description caught my eye in this Lifehack list:easybib


“Probably” eh? Alas, no, according to various bits of info from (near and dear to my heart), citations tend to be way down the list.  Starting research, choosing keywords to search… that’s where students tend to really get stuck. Citations, on the other hand, are the things they some of them do as an afterthought when they don’t really care anymore and also I need a source that says what I already said in my paper. Did I cite correctly?

And in any event, as I tell students, the most challenging part of writing citations aren’t the parts a citation creation tool can really help with: IDing exactly what kind of source you’re looking at and then locating all the information required. Databases: not just collections of great sources… they’re easy to cite, too!

Banned Books Week

So, one of the terribly challenging aspects of working in a digital/bookless library is: what kind of displays can you do? We do have student-created book art from semester to semester, but sometimes there’s a semester that doesn’t happen. Or you want to do something different and not have the same things up for 4 months straight.

Or Banned Books Week comes along so a’Pinteresting we will go and oops, awkward:


…too late? Sort of?

Or, hey, nerdy delight– Doctor Who quotes!


Ohhhh, well… again, sort of, no.

Though at least the information recorded within books is something that is not, actually, format-specific, so +1 for the ebook virtual stacks and databases. You just can’t…look around and see them. Not to mention the common appellation of “bookless library” which I suppose we should fight against (digital library, please): after all, it’s not like ebooks are magically not books.

…Which also means that we have have to request books from the other libraries for doing displays, which feels a little greedy sometimes. Still, we got a nice little display together (spearheaded by a fellow librarian; I’m just showing off on her behalf):

2014-09-19 16.22.59

The attention-getter/explanatory portion

Shelfie display

Also pictured, an old piece of aforementioned book art (the flame-decorated book on the side table)


The iPads came in just in time to go out as an improvised photobooth sort of thing. Our campus is doing a “Picture Yourself” selfie-themed marketing campaign this year, hence our s(h)elfie opportunity. It’s actually been fairly popular, and most of the pictures even actually have books in them! If they fill out a release form (or work for the school!) we upload the pics to a Photobucket album right here. A lot more selfies than release forms, though, so hopefully people have been at least emailing their pics to themselves…


Summer displays

It is challenging to come up with displays in a bookless library (and/or a library that doesn’t have a special collections component)! Aside from our student book art creations, I can’t say I’ve surpassed that hurdle, really: the summer displays I created to fill the void before new book art came in are still pretty well hinged around books.

Clockwise from upper-left, 100th anniversaries of: Babe Ruth’s debut in the Major League; the Yosemite Land Grant being signed; outbreak of WW1; and a display showing off what students can check out from a bookless library (which is, in fact, the title of the central handout).
Summer2014_Babe_Ruth  Summer2014_Yosemite

Summer2014_WW1 Summer2014_Circulation_materials


Another tool I’ve tried out, once I gave up on Padlet working well for brainstorming/keyword/synonym-creation. Honestly? I just picked this out at nigh-random from a Google search for mind-mapping tools, but it has worked out well so far. I’ve even had students taking pictures of the screen in different classes, so– yay!

mindmap for an English class



  • Very easy to use; no account required
  • The way text is entered into the mindmap is hierarchical, making it a good jumping off point for writing an outline/organizing a paper
  • Colors!
  • Downloadable as pdf or image: save for personal record, or to distribute to students in the class afterwards


  • Doesn’t seem to have collaborative potential, or at least, not without making accounts (haven’t investigated that yet)
  • Doesn’t seem to be able to create unrelated nodes (e.g., if I wanted Education and Poverty to each have their own branches but be unconnected to each other…)
  • Can’t multi-connect points (e.g. can’t draw a line between Retention and Pregnancy Potential/risk)
  • Pretty quickly gets into teeny-tiny text on the periphery points, which is tough to read if you’re in the audience. Fonts can be sized up or browser window can be zoomed in on, but then you can’t get the overview.
  • Exported file doesn’t grab an image of the hierarchical outline of entered text which, as I mentioned earlier, is nice for tying back into outlining a paper.

Padlet – Some final thoughts

Well, maybe not final. I’m not shelving it. But I think I’ve got a grasp on its strengths and weakness while used for library instruction.

Padlet conclude


  • Could be really great for students to collectively collaborate, either during a BI session or over a longer period of time
  • Don’t use for everyone to brainstorm everything at once…it just gets confusing and unfocused (maybe if it’s a small class or a narrow topic)
  • Boards can be exported as a pdf or image to send, or students can revisit the url of the board to refer back to what’s been published.


Next use to try:

The next time I include Padlet in a BI session, I think I’m going to do so in the context of challenging the students to find good sources, either individually or as a team, to share on Padlet. Documents can actually be dropped onto the wall, or a link with appropriate descriptive text would suffice. This could be done individually or with the students broken into teams. Most of the classes we get assign research projects based around a central idea, but leave the specific topics up to the students to select, so I’d probably have to develop a relevant sample topic for everyone to research. [Other info to include: databases searched, search terms used, number of total results in that search…] I think this would make better use of the live/real-time possibilities than simple keyword/topic brainstorming, though that could also be featured (including that might make this a better resource that students might want to revisit once they’ve left library).


Password Strength

While prepping for Choose Privacy Week, I came across Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center. It includes a short article on choosing strong passwords, complete with a little password strength tester like you’ll see when creating a new account on some sites. The funny bit?

Microsoft password strength tester

The password being tested in that field: password.

At least there’s a caveat against it, but wow, mixed message.

Dictionary words in any language (including the word password—the most common password in the English language!).

Padlet, round 3

In Nov. 2013, I returned to Padlet for 3 English classes. Advantage: largely limited number of essay topics the students would be investigating. Rather than having the students go to the board to post things themselves, I basically just used it as a fancier Word document (sadface) while we brainstormed possible ideas and concepts for each topic.

Pros: More controlled, students didn’t have to worry about figuring out the interface (which is very simple, anyway, or I wouldn’t have sprung it in a one-shot BI)

Cons:  slightly less interactive, doesn’t take advantage of Padlet’s real-time updating

Each board end up looking something like this:



As students suggested things (after I got the ball rolling with one or two), I started to work in, where possible, some Boolean operators, which then got explained as we took our ideas into the databases I was demonstrating. When I turned them loose to start their research, I left the screen on the Padlet board for them to refer to.

Conclusion: pretty okay, could be improved in approach still

Padlet, round 2

So a while back I made a post about trying out the online tool Padlet for the first time with promises to follow up on it. This entry is going to chronicle the less-successful trial with a history class. Well, 3 sections of one intro history class, back in Sept. 2013.

Less successful how? Mostly because the classes took some time to twig to the concept of what we were trying to do, and unlike the previous English classes, these were a lot more inclined to add lots of off-topic notes to each other. 



But at least they were enjoying the experience?


The Pitfalls of Research

ImageThe Welcome Back event this year had the theme “Into the Wild.” (Library table got 2nd place/honorable mention!) So this is a thing I made to help tie us in to the theme, which we adapted as librarians being your trail guides through the information wilderness + we tame technology (we included a technology petting zoo).

I also made a second thing to draw in tutoring services more, but it’s not as cute:


Padlet used for bibliographic instruction

I recently tried out Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) in a library instruction session for two sections of an English class as a lead-in to demonstrating the databases. I presented this as a brainstorming activity to think about their topics: what keywords they’d use, what related concepts/events they’d want to include and look up, etc.

Useful Features:

  • Customizable URL:[yournamehere] kind of format. Easier to direct students towards than the default character mishmash. I set the walls to be accessible to anyone with the URL but not web-searchable.
  • Apparently unlimited users have simultaneous access: good for having an entire class play with it.
  • Real time updates: Students can see what their classmates have written on their own screens, and I had it called up on the projector as well.
  • No accounts needed: This one is big. You can vary the accessibility of your walls to include editing abilities and whether accounts are needed. Students were able to add their own notes easily but would not be able to modify anything I put on the wall. Students also have the benefit of anonymity, enabling quieter students to participate easily as well.
  • Images, text, links and event documents (PowerPoint, Excel, Word) can be embedded.
  • Free!

I initially tried to be cutesier with it, finding and embedding images relevant to topics the prof sent to me that had been approved, with the idea of having students find their topic and start their writing underneath the image. I decided against that at the last minute since not all the students had finalized their topics, and it seemed like it would make things a little confusing to tell some to start their own pictureless areas. I still demonstrated the ability to add multiple boxes (double-click the wall to get a new note space), which definitely confused some and led to some sloppiness on the wall.

As students came into the instruction lab, I had the URL prominently displayed (you can click on the boxes to enlarge them and use them like presentation slides) and told them to get signed in and go to that URL. I also had a version of the URL.


The results of the 8 am class

Second class (about 2x larger than the first) went more smoothly. Students wrote their topic in the title section of the note and listed their brainstorming thoughts. I circulated among the computers talking to each student to help those who were getting stuck.


Results for the 10 am class

You can see that it got a little messy in laying out the blocks: they were trying to get things to fit into the main viewing area, though the workable area extends by dragging a note-block up against the edges. (It’d be nicer if that were made more obvious.) The students in this class seemed pretty positive about the experience (I forgot to ask the 8 am class for their opinions), and the prof especially was excited about it, already asking the students how they’d like it if she used Padlet for some other class postings (yay!).

Future Uses:

I’m going to try making it a more collaborative experience when I next use Padlet: individual brainstorming like this was neat, but there wasn’t much more to be gained than if I just told them to open up Word docs, and the real-time updating & unlimited users were going to waste. I’m thinking of possibly putting up a single sample topic idea and telling the class to all brainstorm ideas related to it: less immediately useful to them as individuals, but gets them thinking of what they have to do for their own topics.

Alternately, and similarly to what I described above, explicitly encourage them to comment on their classmates’ topics if they have any ideas. Again, a real potential problem with messiness: this is where it’d be useful to have set areas for topics laid out for them so they know where to place comments. Might be better practice for an assignment with a limited number of topics that multiple students will write about. I suspect it wouldn’t work to try having 2 people editing the exact same note at a time, as well.


Follow-up posts: