Reflections on a Community of Inquiry


Photo by Trey Ratcliff / CC BY

I started studying IN22 this semester, so, I really did not know what to expect from studying online as part of a community of inquiry.  At the start of the semester, the concept was foreign to me and I was not sure how I would cope.  The last time I studied at university was from 2002 to 2006 and it was a totally different experience.  For IN22, I do not need to buy expensive textbooks, or travel into QUT to attend tutes and lectures, neither do I need to step foot in a library [update: actually, I have stepped foot in a library and will need to for the course.  I was referring to studying in a library].  Everything has been completed remotely in my own time.  I am pleased to say, that I adapted well and am satisfied with what I achieved.  I let my studies dominate my life for the last 14 weeks though.  Now that the semester is over, I am looking forward to bringing my life back into order again.  

In terms of the role I wanted to play in the IFN614 community at the beginning of the semester, it was to provide a cognitive presence.  I thought that social presence would come easily to me but a cognitive presence would be challenging.  

Of the four cognitive presence elements, triggering, exploring, integrating and resolving, I think that exploring became most prominent.  This is demonstrated by positive feedback I received at checkpoint 1 for my blog posts.  I made an effort to read widely and unpack what I learnt.  Triggering probably came second because I asked a number of questions to my peers when I commented on posts and during Twitter chats.  Integrating and resolving still needs some work.  I seemed to rely on others for these elements.

I believe I played an active role in the community as predicted.  I was proud of my blog posts.  They were my creations for all to see, and I was thrilled if anyone commented on them.  I also checked the IFN 614 site at least once a day to browse activity.  I was quite attached to it – the same kind of attachment I have with Facebook.

I made an effort to comment on my peers’ posts, and in the first few weeks, my comments were encouraging, demonstrating a social presence.  But once I realised I needed to comment in a way to contribute to the community conversation on the week’s topic, my comments became more sophisticated and I began asking questions to fill gaps in my understanding.    


The decision on whose posts I commented on depended on availability of time mostly, and also if the post resonated with me in some way.  I also made an effort to comment on posts of people who commented on mine.  I resisted the urge to read and comment on my peers’ posts before I published my own because I thought it would influence my views.  Once the topic was unpacked in my own mind, I had the knowledge to comment in a meaningful way.

Twitter chats were a novel way to trigger conversation in the community about particular library programs, products and services.  At the start of the semester I had to create a Twitter account because I had never used Twitter before.  I knew of it, but never thought it could be used in an educational setting.  As predicted, I enjoyed using Twitter because it’s a fun way to communicate.  What’s more, it suits my conversation style – brief.  I tend not to have long conversations – a by-product of a fast-paced life.  The Twitter chats were a great way to connect with other people in the course who I might not otherwise have a chance to interact with.  In addition, it was a good way to ignite interest in the topic of the week.

I wonder what the chats would have been like if they had been scheduled mid-week rather than on Mondays?  I felt a bit like a fish out of water in some of the Twitter chats where I hadn’t done any reading on the topic beforehand, but by the end of the week I researched the topic deeply.  I would have contributed more if I was more prepared.

Other than during IFN 614 Twitter Chats, I have not tweeted much.  Instead I regularly scroll through my Twitter feed and like  tweets that stand out to me.  This behaviour is fairly similar to how I use Facebook, my preferred social media platform.  I refrain from posting because I am shy.

I think my key take-away from this unit is that the more you write, the easier it is.  Kate’s love of writing is inspiring and I took onboard her advice to write, write and write.  Assigning fortnightly critical reflection blog posts was a great way to get me writing about pertinent topics on library programs, products and services without getting bogged down by reference lists and unnatural scenarios.  The regular practice has made it easier for me to produce a sound piece of writing in good time.

Finally, on reflecting on the quality of my work for IFN 614, I am most pleased with my blog posts.  I put a lot of time and effort into them, and so far, this has paid off with good results.  My ability to research and unpack academic work has served me well, but I think that it is important that I find my own voice.  Because I have not worked in a library setting yet, it is difficult to go beyond the theory and present a strong viewpoint.  It seems that my reticence in expressing myself through social media, was also apparent in the IFN614 community.  The yogi in me favours the middle path.  Is that an excuse?  I’m not sure.  I’ll meditate on it…     


Unsupervised Children


Photo by Ben_Kerckx / CC BY

Going to the library unsupervised was a fairly regular occurrence for me when I was growing up.  Just me, a backpack and my trusty bicycle, and off I’d go.  I was never approached by a stranger in the stacks nor felt the gaze of disapproving librarians.  Speaking of stacks, the only harm that came to me was stacking it on my bike down a steep hill on the way home one time, the entire incident witnessed by one of my male classmates – I was horrified!  In my mind, the library was an awe-inspiring place, a magical mystery tour on each visit.

If I were a child today though, I doubt I would be allowed to journey to the library alone.  Many parents are concerned to let their children go anywhere unsupervised.  There are fewer children playing outside and many more cars on the road than there were 30 years ago. What’s more, parents risk the scorn of others, and possibly the law for letting their children roam unsupervised.

The law on unattended children in Queensland is quite harsh.

Under Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899:

(1) A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour.

Maximum penalty—3 years imprisonment.

(2) Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

Yes, 3 years imprisonment.  Parents and carers beware!  Obviously, the context determines what is considered “unreasonable”.  For instance, an infant left in a hot car for an extended amount of time would be deemed “unreasonable”, however, leaving a 10 year old home alone for five minutes while nipping to the station to pick up your spouse may not be deemed as such.

In terms of child safety in public libraries, ALIA (p. 55) advises libraries to refer to local, state and federal government policies.  A Google search on unsupervised children in public libraries brought up Children’s Policy Guidelines for NSW Public Libraries, with clear explanations and guidelines on “unattended children”, but I could not find a similar document for QLD Public Libraries (please post link below if you find it) – surprising, considering the severity of QLD law.


Photo by Luis Guillermo Pineda Rodas / CC BY

In QLD, I located the very comprehensive Tablelands Regional Library Service Youth Services Policy and the Mackay Regional Council Child Protection Risk Management Policy which includes a section on unattended children in public libraries.  Their guidelines mirrored parts of the NSW public libraries document I’d found earlier.

Both regional library services allow children 9 years and upwards to attend their libraries alone provided they are not left unattended for an extended period of time.  “Unattended” or “unsupervised” is defined as not being within eyesight of a carer or sibling, and a supervising sibling can be as young as 12 years old.

In all three documents it is noted that unattended children might be harmed, wander off away from the library premises, get lost, become distressed, hungry, bored, or disrupt other library patrons.  They also stated that librarians have a duty of care but cannot fully supervise unattended children for extended periods.


Photo by my1000words / CC BY

In communities where a significant number of children are coming to their public library unattended, I can see the value of having clear youth service policies like the Tablelands’ example as it conveys to the community that library staff have the best interests of children in mind.  It also increases staff confidence in dealing with unattended children, which might involve confronting carers and notifying the police.

Libraries are playgrounds for young minds.  As in my childhood, the local library can still be a wondrous place for a child to explore on their own provided there is an atmosphere of trust, compassion and respect.

Argue a point: It is not necessary for librarians to possess expertise in particular subject areas in order to adequately support research


Photo by geralt / CC BY

Subject specialists in academic libraries have been known by different names over the years: Liaison Librarian, Academic Librarian, and Faculty Librarian, to name a few.  Cataldo et al. state Liaison Librarians “focus their work in a particular subject area and provide services to clients in that discipline” and Feather and Sturges cited in Holland and Matthews define a Subject Librarian as a ‘librarian with special knowledge of, and responsibility for, a particular subject or subjects …’  

Whether or not Subject Librarians should have a formal qualification in the discipline they support has been debated for many decades.  Some universities, such as the University of Melbourne, Liverpool and Manchester John Rylands libraries, prefer a degree in both the research area and postgraduate degree in library studies.  What’s more, the University of Melbourne offers an annual professional cadetship program for two Masters of LIS graduates who also have subject degrees.  It is believed that recruiting librarians with a strong background knowledge in the related discipline will improve the university’s capacity for supporting high-level research.  But, is subject expertise necessary to provide satisfactory research support?

In a changing research landscape, Mary Auckland carried out a study into the role and skills required for Subject Librarians to support researchers today and the near future.  Subject Librarians and their managers from 22 RLUK member libraries were given a list of 32 skills and knowledge relevant to their field and asked to indicate their relative importance today and the next two to five years.  Of the 32 skills, “deep knowledge of their discipline/subject” was listed, but surprisingly, it was not considered to be essential.  According to the  results, only 24% thought it was essential now, 55% saw it as desirable, and 28% saw it essential in the next 2 to 5 years and 48% desirable.  The majority of respondents considered, other skills and knowledge as more important, including:

  • Excellent knowledge of bibliographic and other finding tools in the discipline/subject;
  • Excellent skills to design information literacy training (both face-to-face and online) to meet the identified needs of different types of researchers; and
  • Outstanding skills in information discovery, literature searching etc.

So, even those working in the field do not see expertise in the relevant subject area as necessary to carry out their role adequately.

Subject knowledge is important, but not to the extent of needing a formal qualification to meet client expectations.  At the University of Florida Health Science Center (HSC) colleges, which include dentistry, health professions and public health, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine, students and faculty were surveyed about the HSC Library’s Liaison Librarian Program.  The majority of respondents were satisfied with the program and their specific liaisons’ services.  In addition, they felt that having a subject background in the client’s field was “important” or “very important”.  This was despite the fact that only 2 of the total 10 Liaison Librarians possessed a tertiary qualification in the discipline they served.  The Liaison Librarians employed a variety of methods to develop subject knowledge, for example, on-the-job training, joining peak medical association mailing lists, and continuing education courses.  So, although subject background is perceived as valuable, in the actual service delivery, lack of formal qualification did not detract from client satisfaction.

The role of Subject Librarian is evolving along with the research environment.  A new set of skills and knowledge will be essential to negotiate the complex world of 21st century academic research.  There has been a “paradigm shift” away from the traditional reactive reference services, such as collection management and responding to reference queries, to proactive research support that positions Subject Librarians as partners in the research lifecycle.  Subject Librarians will need to be innovative and possess the soft skills to collaborate, advocate, and seek advice in this new era of data explosion and research dissemination.  A formal qualification in the discipline area will be secondary to expertise in data management, bibliometrics and open access practices.

As discussed, it is not necessary for Subject Librarians to have subject expertise in a subject area to provide adequate research support.  That is not to say that subject knowledge is not developed whilst in the position.  Furthermore, today’s research environment has changed so other skills and knowledge are considered more important than a deep knowledge of the subject area, such as use of bibliographic tools, literature search and data management. 

Makerspaces in Public Libraries

Makerspace, fablab, hackerspace, techshop, creative space, Maker Faire – the names are different, and new – at least to me – but they essentially have the same intention: to create rather than consume.  According to Bagley, a makerspace is a “space that has been designed to allow users to create, build, and learn new projects and technologies”, and Boyle et al., “any place where the community can come together for informal and shared social learning”.


Photo by 5chw4r7z / CC BY

The maker movement has become a part of public discourse over the past five years and is clearly hot right now.  Although DIY is not a new concept, its growing popularity has been attributed to recent developments in Web technology facilitating knowledge and skill sharing via the Internet.  It is described as a democratisation of learning and sharing, an industrial revolution, no less, by removing the middleman of big corporations, governments and institutions.

http://Maker Movement Infographic

Makerspaces have helped libraries redefine themselves from being repositories of information to spaces of information exchange and community engagement.  In alignment with ALIA’s National Vision and Framework for Public Libraries 2010 – 2015, makerspaces can promote lifelong learning; provide an enjoyable leisure activity and equitable access to technology.  In American public libraries, creative spaces are more prevalent than here – the American Library Association found their existence in a library increases patron numbers.  


Photo by Chattanooga Public Library /  CC BY

In Australia, makerspaces are becoming a feature of library programs and services, the type on offer dependent on community needs and budgetary constraints, examples are: coding clubs, 3D printing, craft circles, workshops using drills and laser cutters, robotics, and recording studios.


Photo by State Library of NSW Public Library Services / CC BY

Some creative spaces will involve more planning and support than others.  Factors such as, funding, training staff and patrons, being flexible, partnering with stakeholders in business and community, developing appropriate user agreements, and attracting new users are important considerations for a successful program, not to mention alleviate concerns about patron safety and copyright.  


Photo by The Daring Librarian / CC BY

I speculate that Australian public libraries will continue to implement creative community hubs within their spaces. What’s more, funding bodies will reward those that do.  Take for example the State Library of Queensland’s VISION 2017 grants.  STEM-based makerspaces fulfill its four themes of “creative community spaces; physical and virtual connectors; technology trendsetters; and incubators of ideas, learning and innovation”.  In fact, 33 councils were awarded a total of $300,000 to deliver coding and robotics programs through their public libraries.


Photo by Josh Burker / CC BY

Personally, I am one of the new breed of library patron who engaged with her local public library because of a makerspace program – I registered my son into CoderDojo, a coding club for children.  I still use the library for its traditional purposes, such as borrowing resources, but my son and I had an added reason to walk through its doors.  Although the Web conditions that have made the maker movement take off globally are the same ones that are reducing library patron numbers, public libraries are in an ideal position to harness this revolution and be incubators of innovation.  In a performance-oriented society, makerspaces can provide tangible results to funding bodies and as a result, help to future-proof libraries.  I look forward to my local library  getting on board and expanding their makerspace programs to target people at different stages of life and not just children.

CoderDojo: A Library Program Review

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw

CoderDojo Brisbane is a free computer programming club for children held at 7 Brisbane City Council libraries.  It is sponsored by Brisbane Marketing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brisbane City Council as part of the Digital Brisbane Strategy.  Dojos are held on Saturday mornings for 2 to 3 hours for 6-week term blocks.  Securing a spot in a Dojo is highly sought after with all places filled soon after registration opens.  The Dojos are run by volunteers, called mentors, most of whom work or study in IT and have a passion for sharing their coding skills with kids.  Participants are known as ninjas and they can range in age from 7 to 17 years of age, with the average age being 10 years.  Ninjas need to bring their own laptop with coding software already downloaded prior to the session.  The library provides the space, furniture, power and WiFi.

CoderDojo provides a relaxed environment for young people to explore coding with appealing software like Scratch, Hopscotch, Alice and Python.  The set-up is unlike a classroom.  Children lead the learning and are encouraged to experiment and share ideas.  Co-founder of CoderDojo, Bill Liao calls it “play-degogy”, based on the belief that children learn best through play.  

2881823606_8bcef3b113_o   Photo by andresmh / CC BY

In the session I observed, ninjas were exploring Scratch and Tinkercad.  Scratch (see picture above) is coding software suitable for beginners in which labelled building blocks are dragged and dropped together to create a program.  Tinkercad can be used to create 3D designs which can then be printed on a 3D printer, or be imported into Minecraft.  The lead mentor brought in a 3D-printed wheel and cart to show and invited the group to create their own design to import into Minecraft.  There was even a chance of having their creation printed out in 3D, the lucky ninja chosen by pulling his/her name tag out of a bag in the next session.  This got the attention of my teenage son who was looking disinterested.  He stood out from the group because he was much older.  He was already proficient at Scratch and hoped to learn more about HTML.  A friendly mentor, Gabriel,  had given him personal tutoring for a couple of previous sessions, but on that day, he was absent.  On a positive note, I’m pleased that he is interested in registering as a young mentor next term so that he can teach Scratch to his younger peers.  

So, why is it important to teach children to code?  The aim is not necessarily to produce computer programmers, although some may pursue this career path.  In an age where digital technologies are intricately linked to every aspect of our lives and we are saturated with information, learning to code cultivates information literacy.  James Whelton, the other founder of CoderDojo, said: “we need more creators and less users”.  By being creators, they take control of their digital experiences and gain an understanding of the inner-workings of what they encounter on screens everyday.  They progress from being passive users that interact with technology to becoming empowered digital citizens who can express themselves through technology.

What is more, children learn useful mathematical and design skills in the process of creating their projects.  Mitch Resnick, co-creator of Scratch, explains this in the Ted talk below along with showing some wonderful Scratch creations.

I was really impressed with CoderDojo.  It is a well-organised and popular library program where children can explore coding together under the guidance of enthusiastic IT experts free of charge.  One drawback though is that children who do not have a laptop are currently excluded, but there is a suggestion that computers onsite could be used for these children as the program grows.  And from my son’s perspective, the group was too young and other coding programs were not explored enough – Scratch was the main program used throughout the term, as a result, he was not engaged as he could have been.  But, maybe this is what he needed to motivate him to become a youth mentor in future.  We’ll see…  


Reader Advisory Service Chat



Photo by Enokson / CC BY

I was delighted to be one of the Twitter Chat Champions on the topic of Reader’s Advisory Service.  Overall, the chat was lively and stimulating.  I found using Twitter easier this time around than our first chat, and I suspect others did too. I could concentrate on content rather than the mechanics of tweeting.  I thank everyone who participated and providing food for thought for this blog.   

One of the topics that created a hearty discussion was the potential for libraries to recommend books to patrons by analysing their loans history.  Many of us agreed with Kate’s comment:  I want my library to exploit my borrowing data the way amazon exploits my purchasing data. Sell to me library! Sell to me!”.  A few raised doubts though.  Karen commented: “Kobo (my ereader provider) does this… I don’t like it as I find it limiting”; and Tim: “Issues of privacy?”.  Guest tweeter Hugh, @hughrundle, proposed it can be done and wrote a paper on using library patron’s data to help them find what they want while still protecting privacy.  Learn more here.

On the topic of why RA is important, Kylie commented: “If ‘books’ are the library’s brand; readers’ advisory is kind of like the library’s ‘sales pitch’”.  A positive interaction between librarian and customer by way of effective RA creates a bond that is likely to result in a return visit.  In terms of qualities a librarian should possess to deliver RA, being approachable and non-judgmental, and possessing good listening and conversational skills were mentioned.  There was also agreement that librarians need to be supported by employers to deliver RA through professional development and time to evaluate resources.  In her research, Jo Beazley, a guest librarian tweeter, discusses the value of RA as a skill set librarians should have.

In relation to characteristics of good RA practice, Tim commented:  “Think outside the box. Going to a poetry slam on Fri night at SLV in Melbourne. Poetry made accessible.”  Going by his review, it was a successful event with many attendees.  An event like this is a great way to promote reading and the library, but, I think it is vital to “…know you(r) audience” (Helen).  It would be disheartening to organise an event and only have a handful of people turn up, even worse, none.

Keeping a broad view of what RA encompasses, will help libraries and librarians stay current.  Promotion and reaching potential customers is an important component.  With e-books on the rise and free internet apps readily available, such as Google’s, libraries would benefit from applying marketing strategies to maintain a stable customer base now and into the future.  A user-centred approach is key, with a shift of focus from collection to connection where librarians strike a balance between providing a positive user experience and challenging users to grow intellectually and personally.  As Hamish put it: “walking that crooked tightrope between challenging the reader and deferring to their tastes.”  


Photo by Cory Doctorow / CC BY

RA is a core aspect of library service.  In a customer-focused model, it is an opportunity to improve customer relations and encourage return patronage.  Providing skilled librarians in delivering RA, using patrons’ borrowing data to recommend books to them, and innovative programs and events to promote reading to existing and potential users are RA practices libraries would benefit from exploring.   

Interactive Online Video Tutorials

For my speed date with design thinking activity, I came up with a library product prototype to meet Belinda’s need for effective research skills and to alleviate the doubts she feels about tertiary study as a mature age student and single mum.

I felt that Belinda needed guidance in the area of effective research to help her save time and build confidence in using available technology.  My idea is:  interactive online video tutorials that are designed specifically for education students.

Videos are visual and aural, making them easy to follow.  What’s more they can be paced by the user.  Students in Belinda’s course will be of different ages and have different levels of experience, so I thought that a leveled experience is less daunting with language and tips to suit each level.  Belinda can move through the levels as she needs to with information provided in the former level revisited and expanded upon in the next.  Examples will be provided and Belinda will be given an opportunity to test her knowledge using an interactive interface.  The tutorials will be upbeat and quite brief, a maximum ofA quickly drawn prototype

20 minutes in duration to prevent boredom and getting bogged down, especially when there are so many other tasks to complete as a student and mother. In addition, the tutorial will have an instant chat box ready to answer questions at convenient times, and a suggestion and feedback form to improve the service.

I think an important element is to have an attractively designed interface – not really achieved with my quick drawing.

I’m interested in seeing the ideas you came up with and welcome any feedback on mine to generate an even better library product for Belinda.  Thanks for visiting.

A Library Reference Online Chat Service Review

internet service Pixabay licensed under CC0 1.0

I recently used an Ask a librarian online chat service at a reputable university library. I chose not to name the library or librarians for this review to protect the privacy of those involved.

My enquiry was about permalinks which I’d seen in the library cataglogue.  I wanted to know what they were, and whether they were reliable links I could use for my blogs, or whether they were session-specific and would break. Furthermore, I wanted to know if I used a permalink, would a member of the public, not affiliated with the university, be able to view my source.  I checked the university’s guide to citing and referencing, and searched Google but could not find an answer I could decipher, which led me to use an Ask a librarian online chat service.

Researchers such as Schiller, Shaw and Spink refer to RUSA guidelines to evaluate behavioural performance for online chat library reference services, which are based on 5 areas:

  • visibility/approachability;
  • interest;
  • listening/inquiring;
  • searching; and
  • follow-up of chat reference services

In terms of ‘visibility/approachability’, the online chat gateway was very easy to find on the university library homepage, and the operating hours were very convenient – every day of the week with similar hours to the library’s opening hours.  I made contact during operating hours, however, it took 20 minutes before my online chat began.  This is in contrast to a maximum 1 minute wait-time as a feature of best practice (Schwartz cited in Schiller).  To begin the chat, I needed to complete an enquiry form asking for my name, email address and topic.  Once submitted, an onscreen message appeared:  Sorry no chat agents are currently online.  Twelve minutes later, I discovered a librarian (L1) had just emailed me. I tried to reply but email delivery failed, so I returned to the chat portal, and voilà, a chat window opened within the webpage, and L1 and I began to have a real-time conversation.

Considering the area of demonstrating ‘interest’, I felt this was not fully satisfied by L1.  Although L1 provided helpful information in the email I received, I still had more questions to ask.  Soon after our chat began, L1 abruptly exited the chat.  L1 asked a clarifying question, and before I could respond, I was greeted with another librarian (L2) who informed me that L1’s shift had finished.

Despite this fairly disappointing start, both librarians fulfilled their duty of listening/inquiring and searching.  My enquiry was eventually fully resolved by L2.  On reflection, both L1 and L2 asked clarifying questions and provided links to information sites so that I had a reference point to go back to, demonstrating a teach-to-fish rather than give-fish methodology.  Providing prompts for me to investigate myself made my learning more memorable and encouraged me to be an active participant.

Once I felt that my enquiry was resolved, I expressed satisfaction.  Our parting words were friendly.  In terms of ‘follow-up of chat services’, I received an email request to complete a survey on my experience, which only included questions related to level of satisfaction and not how much I learnt.  In addition, in our parting comments, L2 did not invite me to make contact again.

Ranganathan’s fourth law of library science, save the time of the reader,  certainly applies to library reference online chat.  Although my wait-time was longer than expected at the beginning, my enquiry was resolved faster than other communication pathways.  In terms of customer experience, I would suggest protocols be put in place to help manage customer expectations around wait-time and changing librarians mid-enquiry.  Ask a librarian is a service, nonetheless, its main goal is to educate.  With this view, I came away from the experience a satisfied patron.

Reflections on Twitter

The infamous and ubiquitous # is about to become part of my vocabulary!  Until I started this course, I never thought that Twitter could be used in an educational setting.  Actually, I had a fairly negative view of it.  I saw it as a tool for outspoken people to vent their opinions.  Tweets were those annoying comments that appear on screen during Q & A that distract my attention from the guest speaker.  Not surprising then, Q & A’s host, Tony Jones, hasn’t joined (yet).  But now that I’ve signed up and have a steady stream of interesting tweets flowing in constantly from libraries and librarians, I can see how useful Twitter is for my professional development.  My first Twitter chat (#auslibchat) was exciting and stimulating.  I think it will provide a fun and entertaining way to learn.  My main concern is that chats will remain superficial and topics will not be unpacked adequately to construct meaning.  With the right scaffolding though, I think we will be able to have some insightful chats.  I look forward to using it.