I attended an interesting event a couple of weeks ago – Innovations in Reference Management. The event covered developments in the use of Citation and Bibliographic Management software alongside Virtual Learning Environments. There were presentations from a couple of academic institutions, one about archiving the web and further ones from providers of reference management tools. Details of these presentations can be found at the Open University Telstar blog.
Even though the event was run by The Open University and was aimed at academic institutions, as a librarian working for a Public Library Service I still found it really useful to attend. The common link of education gives an opportunity to pick up ideas that academic institutions have developed and possibly put them in the context of a public library.
The key things I picked up during the event were the use of Virtual Learning Environments, the use of citation/recommender services (similar to social bookmarking tools), and the wealth of open learning tools and courses from the Open University.
Use of Virtual Learning Environments : Academic institutions provide VLE’s for their students. Put simply it allows them to upload content, provide assessment tools (including peer assessment), communicate among students and tutors, and keep track of work, research and resources used in studying. It struck me that public libraries could make use of VLE’s in a less formal way. Many public library users use our libraries to learn in an informal way, via self study – whether it’s picking up a single book to find out the answer to a single question, or making use of a range of printed, audio-visual and online materials for larger projects. If we are providing them with the resources to learn, could we also give them the means to manage their studies by using VLE’s? It could also give them the opportunity to interact with other ‘students’ in a relevant online environment, whether those other students are in the same county or half way across the world.
Citation / Reference Management Tools : The interesting thing for me here was the ability to pull out citation references from different online databases and then integrate this data seamlessly into your own personal resource list, annotating and tagging it as you go. I know some catalogues provide reading list functions, but wouldn’t it be useful if they could allow users to create reading lists from the catalogue, feed it into the reference management tool (allowing users to annotate the items in their reference list) and then feed these references and annotations back into the library system – the information that is fed back into the library system could be used to inform staff purchasing stock / other users about why the stock item was of use and therefore act as a recommendation.
Open Learning Resources : The Open University provides a wide range of online free learning resources for learners and educators, including course texts, self assessment activities, discussion forums, study tools and support, covering a broad range of subject material. In the current climate of tightening financial belts, I wonder if public libraries could treat these courses as another free resource we can direct our library members to? We also run courses in libraries and I wonder how relevant some of this material would be to those courses? The courses themselves could also be a useful/low cost resource for library staff development, as there are some in-depth business and management units/courses available.
So, are these opportunities that public library services could take advantage of, or should we leave this to the academic institutions?