Sticky

Each of these posts originally appeared someplace else. I gathered them together here to provide a fuller view of who I am and how I think about librarianship, technology, and higher education.

My full list of publications is also available.

Note: This was originally published at ACRLog. 


ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Kelly Blanchat, Electronic Resources Librarian at Queens College, CUNY, and Megan Brooks, Director of Research Services at Wellesley College.

This blog post is the culmination of a Twitter conversation between librarians talking about their experiences playing a phone game. The game is called Nekoatsume and it involves taking care of digital cats in a virtual backyard. Nekoatsume is entirely in Japanese, a key fact that actually started the Twitter conversation (and not the fact that the game involves cats, as might be expected).

In short: a librarian started playing a game, wrote some enticing tweets, and many more librarians joined in — and still are to this day.

While this was happening, Kelly wrote on her personal blog about the joy & ease of understanding the game despite its language barriers, and how it would be nice if students felt the same way about using databases and library resources. Library databases should be just as user-friendly as a game in a foreign language, but too often they’re not. Our students do use recreational technology, and Nekoatsume isn’t the first app in Japanese or Chinese to gain popularity in the U.S. in the last month. And it’s not that recreational technology is always user-friendly, either. Torrenting platforms, such as the Pirate Bay, are notoriously convoluted – especially in regards to persistent content – but anecdotal evidence suggests that our students are able to navigate these platforms with relative ease.1

Tweet by @skalibrarian: Always wonder why stdnts can execute complex gaming maneuvers on a kybd but not on a search.
Tweet by @skalibrarian: Always wonder why stdnts can execute complex gaming maneuvers on a kybd but not on a search.

As more and more librarians join in to play Nekoatsume, there’s a common experience that happens early on: the digital cats have disappeared — maybe they died, or ran away — and we believe that we’ve played the game wrong.

Tweet by @edrabinski: @RachelMFleming Where did my cat go?
Tweet by @edrabinski: @RachelMFleming Where did my cat go?

Megan even initially deleted the app out of frustration. The experience of not understanding phone cats, even when “everyone else” seemed to, left her in a position that many of our students might find themselves: lost, stupid, and unwilling to engage any further. Sadly, library resources do not contain cute digital cats to lure users back after a bad experience. Megan, on the other hand, was willing to give Nekoatsume another shot after the Twitter conversation, and she also found a walk-through for the game online.

The satisfaction from playing Nekoatsume comes from getting more & more cats, and more & more points. For library resources the outcome is often much less immediate: find resources, analyze evidence, fill a resource quota for a bibliography. The research process can also be very solitary, and having the ability to apply similar or shared experience can counteract that as well as other obstacles with online library resources. That is to say, having a related experience can help the process to feel seamless, less daunting. In the case of Nekoatsume, the language barrier subsides once the basic movements of the game are understood, whether through trial and error, consultation of the Twitter hive-mind, or reading online tutorials. Such resources are comparable to “cheat codes” in the gaming world, elements that facilitate getting to the next achievement level. In the library world, they are often referred to as “threshold concepts”. And while most online library resources do contain the same basic functionalities, such as as a button for “Search” and and a link for “Full-Text”, differences from platform to platform in placement and style contribute to a block in fulfilling that need for seamless usability.

Libraries do make a great effort to provide users with workshops, tutorials, and LibGuides to facilitate user understanding and research methods. However, such content can require a lot of explanation whether with words, pictures, live demonstrations, or a mix of all three. Sometimes it can feel like tutorials need their own tutorials! Discovery layers, such as Summon and Primo, begin to address the usability issue by providing a single destination for discovery, but with that libraries still need to address issues of demonstrating research purpose, enthusiasm, and information synthesis. With so many variables in acquiring research — design, functionality, search queries, tutorials — the outcome of research can be overshadowed by the multitude of platform interfaces, both within the library and on the open Web.

The hype for Nekoatsume may eventually subside (or not), but another app will likely take its place and we librarians will still be asking ourselves how to facilitate the next steps of scholarly research for our students. If we can find a way to foster essential research skills by relating them to similar experiences — like with social media, searching on the open Web, downloading torrents, and playing games with digital cats — perhaps the process to knowledge can feel less daunting.

…but maybe we should just embed cute cats into all things digital.

  1. This statement is not an endorsement for downloading torrents. []

Note: This was originally published on my blog, librarygrrrl.net. I reproduce it here because it makes me laugh.


Every semester during reading period and finals, there is a protracted online discussion in which students bemoan their current state of affairs in haiku format. Yesterday, I was working at the reference desk and thought I’d jump into the foray in an attempt to drum up some business. What follows is a series of haikus I sent out over the course of the 4 hours I was working.

writing a paper?
librarians have mad skills.
consult with megan.

here till 5pm
i can answer your questions
glorious sources

research pressure mounts
pubmed lion econlit
move beyond google

bibliographies
footnotes and endnotes galore
save time talk to me

what is your style?
chicago turabian
help with citations

i’ll help you today
someone is here tomorrow
use our great knowledge

(Reference Librarian Haiku by Megan Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.)

After posting those to my Facebook account, my friends Eric, Steve, and Mac all supplemented my offerings with ones of their own, which I offer here:

Find a citation easy
Document your sources right
Science Eye Brain Neuron

(Mac)

dewey decimal
what in the hell does he know?
go right to the source.

(Steve)

She knows where to find
the answers contained herein.
Your fault if you fail.

FInd the best sources.
The librarian knows where
they are all hiding.

Paper is due soon
Your Zotero is empty.
You should ask for help.

Do you understand
what the reference desk does?
You should ask, buddy.

The cursor blinks.
You will need more evidence
to support your claims.

You chose your topic,
but are not sure which journals
might aid your research.

I write these haiku
Hoping to charm you into
Asking me questions.

I am an expert
in tracking down resources.
I earned a degree.

Please don’t walk by me
another time looking lost.
I am here to help.

(Nine Library Haiku by Eric Behrens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.)

I am highly entertained.

Professor joins class using a Double Robotics robot
Looking like an iPad on a Segway, the Double Robotics robot allowed a professor to join his class from across the continent.

What happens when you’re teaching and need to be away from campus during one or more class sessions? Cancel the class? Have a guest lecturer? Use Zoom or Skype to be a talking head on-screen in the classroom? What if your course schedule is so full that you need those sessions to accomplish everything on the syllabus?

Professor Mark Lauer ran into this exact situation in spring 2015, when he needed to be away from campus for two meetings of his Elementary German 102 course in mid-March. Rather than using traditional videoconferencing tools like Zoom or Skype to bring him to the classroom, Lauer partnered with Library, Information and Technology Services (LITS) to teach his classes with an experimental telepresence robot from Double Robotics. The robot consists of an iPad attached to a rolling base (like a Segway). The driver of the robot logs in using a web browser or iPad, takes control of the robot, and drives it around, speaking and interacting with people as though in the room.

The robot was introduced to the German class a few weeks ahead of time, so the students wouldn’t be taken off-guard on the days the professor was using it. From just down the hall, Lauer logged in and drove the robot – and himself! – into the classroom for a few minutes at the beginning of class. The students laughed, said hello to him, and then he arrived in person to teach class as normal. The next time the students encountered robotic Professor Lauer, he was across the country, logging in with his iPad, and collaborating with his student teaching assistant on-site in South Hadley (she helped with projection of his powerpoint and writing on the whiteboard). In Lauer’s words, “After the first laughs, use of the robot turned into a ‘non-event,’ which was our aim. The robot became ‘natural’ – and students focused on the class and the material.” A post-class survey indicated that the students were enthusiastic about their professor’s use of the robot for this kind of situation.

For more information or to experiment with the Double Robotics robot, please contact Megan Brooks or your LITS liaison.