Interview with a Librarian: Liz Gruchala-Gilbert on USEM and Information Literacy

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What is the Library’s role in the USEM classes?

In the USEM classes, we aim to address the concept of information literacy. Graduates need to be information literate, have critical thinking skills, and be lifelong learners – and the Library works with faculty to make that happen.

USEM is our opportunity to meet all the new students – we probably have interaction with 90% of the first year students through USEM. When they come here we have the opportunity to take them on a tour – it’s a good time for us to introduce the Library to students in a fun way. I like to find out more about their experience with libraries – how they used libraries in high school, or how they use the public library – and then kind of bridge that to how they’re going to use this Library.

That also makes our interaction with new students an introduction to academic culture. They’re spending their first few weeks getting used to being at SPU…but there’s also an academic culture that they’re entering into. When they come here we show them how they’re going to be using more scholarly resources then they ever did before, and some of the nuts and bolts of using the catalog, getting things that are on reserve, and we talk about study habits. We try not to overload them because they’re learning so much in their first few weeks.

What is Information Literacy?

That’s a good question – I don’t know that there’s an agreed upon definition by everybody. First of all, there are different facets to Information Literacy. There’s the technology part where they have to know how to use technology, there’s the tool part where they have to know how to use the catalog, the data bases, and the books. There’s the evaluative part in which students have to know what makes a good source, and why they would be using it. They learn how to make judgments as to when to use the catalog, the databases, google, etc.

Then there’s applying that…how do you take all this data, all this information that you found and actually synthesize it into your paper and then how do you share that. It’s a big process.

Why would you say that Information Literacy is important?

Well on the most fundamental basic level it helps students do their projects and papers better. There are certain requirements that they’re going to have for papers. For example, a student might need five academic journals – so our job is to help the student find those academic journals. Our hope then is that those skills are transferable so that the next assignment the student gets, the student knows where to go and how to get help.

Do you help students figure out which sources are credible and which are not?

Yes. Credibility is incredibly important – sources need to be as credible as possible. Sometimes what I do is I’ll do a google search for a topic and take the first ten results. I divide my class into groups, each group will take one result, look at it, and then report back as to whether they would use it as a source for their paper. Who wrote something, what was their motive for writing it, who published it, is it on the web published by an individual or is it in a book published by a university press, how old is it, does it matter how old it is, who are they citing, are they citing reliable sources, are they citing anyone at all – these questions are all part of the discerning process.

What is your biggest piece of advice from a librarian’s standpoint to freshmen starting classes at college?

It’s so hard, but don’t procrastinate. We all procrastinate, but even little steps of starting early really help. The earlier students start gathering those the better, because it gives them more time to read and understand sources. If someone’s having trouble finding things then, it also gives them time to ask for help.

Books and Crannies: Floor with a View

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The third floor is usually the most lively – and for good reason. Big desks and beautiful views make for lovely study spaces that allow one to settle in for the long haul. The far corners of the floor give you windows and light from two sides, sweeping views of Fremont, the canal, the mountains, and campus, and some indoor foliage to break up the walls and carpet.The far right corner lands you right by the P section – all our literature, poetry, and novels.

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Books and Crannies: The Juvenile Section

The Juvenile section of the library, with its broad tables and big windows, feels like a well kept secret. Study areas are tucked away on the third floor between stacks of childrens books and green filled windows that allow enough natural light in to make the space feel warm, but block enough of campus below to make the space feel private.

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What’s more, the Library heating system decrees that the Juvenile section shall be warmer than all others. With gray, rainy days around the corner, this is always a plus. And, of course, if a study break is called for, titles from The Hobbit to Goodnight Moon and everything in between, are just an arm reach away.

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Any study areas you are excited about?

Book Review Tuesday

Book Review: Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat

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Prisoner of Tehran is the gripping autobiography of Marina Nemat, a young, Christian, Iranian woman who survives two years of imprisonment during the Islamic Revolution. A story as honest and accessible, as it is heartbreaking and significant. Marina was 16 years old when she becomes a political prisoner – is blindfolded and locked up behind the towering walls of Evin Prison. Before the revolution, life was simple. School, church, and friends mixed in with trips to the beach, falling in love, and befriending the book seller on the corner.

Then the Shah fell.

Under the new Ayatollah, books were banned, the hijab became mandatory, and school subjects became subordinate to the study of the Koran., Marina once asked her teacher to get back to teaching math. When the answer was “Leave if you don’t like it”, that is what she did. Followed by her entire class.

This bravery was also her downfall. In January 1982 she was arrested for “crimes against the government”. She was brutally tortured and sentenced to die. Saved by a prison guard who wanted to marry her, she lived – but as a prisoner of a different kind. She was forced into a union with Ali who reminded her that as a prisoner and as a woman she had no rights.

As disturbing and insightful as much of the narrative was, part of the power of the book lies in her portrayal of her relationship with Ali. We – like Marina – want to hate him. He threatened her, and took away any hope for freedom she clung onto. But the more his character unfolds, the more we realize that Ali had good in him, he had depth, a story, and a family who loved him. He loved Marina in his own way, and loved her well. His family welcomed her into their fold like her own family never did. He ensured her deliverance from Evin. We see a character grow to question whether violence is the answer, whether perhaps love and compassion do more good. The evils he committed are never acquitted or fully forgiven, but he himself cannot be written off as evil. Good and evil is not as black and white as we would like to think.

Marina’s story explores all aspects of  human rights, what they are, how they are violated, and why they are important and must be respected. She explores the element of torture as a means of breaking the human spirit. She delves into the strength and good of humanity, present even when it seems completely lost.

Marina eventually found freedom and escaped to Canada where she now lives with her childhood sweetheart, and now husband Andre.

Book Review Tuesday

Book review for The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje

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In need of a little light summer reading, I picked up the Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel The Cat’s Table from the Popular Fiction Collection on the basis of several glowing recommendations. Ondaatje weaves together a beautiful narrative that boarders on the poetic in its language and imagery.

The tone is autobiographical, and though it is fictional, the story does borrow from elements of the author’s life. It follows 11-year-old protagonist, Michael, as he makes his way from his native Sri Lanka across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and through the Mediterranean Sea to make a new life with his family in England. During the three weeks he is aboard the Oronsay, Michael is seated at the Cat’s Table during meal times, a table full of outcasts at the fringes of society. It is the table furthest away from the prestigious captain’s table. It is also here that he befriends Cassius and Rhamadin, fellow Sri Lankan school boys, who he goes on to form life long memories with.

The mystery of a prisoner unfolds as the book goes on – a prisoner with a mysterious past, only seen after everyone, except for the curious boys, has gone to bed. He emerges with shackles around his hands and feet, with guards at his side, and is allowed a nightly walk on the deck. As the narrative jumps between Michael’s young self on the ship and his adult self, established and settled in Canada, we learn how this slowly unfolding mystery ties people together, and has a lasting impact on the lives of the people we learn to know.

Ondaatje’s writing is much like the ship he writes about – it moves slowly, sometimes feeling like it has stopped moving altogether, caught up in dream like imagery and winding thought processes; but then one comes to the end, and realizes one has crossed oceans. The story is intricately and masterfully crafted; creating a tangible world out of the liminal space that transition creates, between one land and another, between chapters of life, between childhood and adulthood. Despite the storms, the crashing waves, and the navigation through misty canals, in some ways, it is the story of any state of change.