Coding Library Cognitive Maps

After Donna Lanclos’s recent post on using my library cognitive mapping method, a few people asked me to briefly write up my approach to coding the drawings.

I developed the cognitive mapping exercise based on the sketch maps protocol used by Kevin Lynch in The Image of the Citywhich was introduced to me by an urban planner I met during my fieldwork on the Polish-German border.  Incidentally, I thought I was the first person to apply this method to libraries, until I ran across Mark Horan’s 1999 article, “What Students See: Sketch Maps as Tools for Assessing Knowledge of Libraries,” which used the same urban planning source materials to develop a very similar approach.

The examples I discuss below are drawn from the ERIAL Project, and the exact instructions I gave students were as follows:

“You will be given 6 minutes to draw from memory a map of the [NAME] Library. Every two minutes you will be asked to change the color of your pen in the following order: 1. Blue, 2. Green, 3. Red. After the six minutes is complete, please label the features on your map. Please try to be as complete as possible, and don’t worry about the quality of the drawing!”

This method assumes that the things people most associate with their “mental map” of the  library will appear as elements in the drawing, and that the most important things (or strongest associations) will appear earlier.  Therefore, by changing the pen colors, this approach creates both a spatial dimension and a temporal dimension.

The mapping activity was conducted away from library building itself both to obtain a diverse cross-section of students (e.g. students who do not regularly use the library) and to obtain a picture of how students conceptualize the library’s spaces that was not influenced by any direct visual references.

We used this protocol at four of the five ERIAL project libraries, but for simplicity, I’ll just use examples from one library.  The floor plan of this particular library looks like this:



Students were allowed an open interpretation of the instructions, which resulted in the wide range of approaches.  For example:




Coding these images basically involves counting the elements drawn in order to construct two indexes:  a identification index, which is the number of times that an element is drawn divided by the total number of individuals participating (i.e. the percentage of the time the element occurs), and representativeness index, which is the number of times an element is drawn divided by the number of times that category of element is drawn (e.g. the number of times a study room on the first floor is drawn divided by the number of times all study rooms are drawn) (See Colette Cauvin’s “Cognitive and cartographic representations : towards a comprehensive approach” for additional discussion).  I also constructed a temporal index for each element by coding the three colors in order (1 = Blue, 2 = Green, 3 = Red) and calculating the mean value for each element (you could do more complicated things by combining the indexes if you are mathematically inclined, however, I’ve found that these three get at most  questions).   You can set up a spreadsheet in excel to do this coding, or utilize the visual coding built into a QDA software package.   This process can be time consuming as every element must be coded.   You also need to decide which categories you will use (e.g.  “chairs,”  “computers,” “rooms”, etc.).  The presence or absence of all elements need to be coded for for every drawing, so if you find a new element in a later drawing, you need to go back and code for it in all the previous drawings (this is akin to coding against a closed codebook).

This is all fairly straightforward, except that there can be a lot of ambiguity in the drawings and you will have to decide rules for when something “counts” (this is why having students label things helps).

For example, in the drawing below, the computer stations (circled in orange) are clearly labeled, so these might be coded as element = “first floor information commons computers,” category = “computers,” time=1.


In contrast, the following drawing has unlabeled squares and rectangles (circled in orange) where there are tables and periodicals shelving.  In this case, the coder must decide what the element represents.  Since the squares are in the correct position, we coded these as tables, and since the rectangles are the correct shape and in the correct position we coded these as periodical shelves.  This can obviously become complicated, and you will need to decide what rules work for your particular context.


Some high index elements that we identified were reference & circulation desks, computer workstations, and study rooms, while low identification elements were librarian offices, journals, and new books areas.  Importantly, much high traffic library real estate was taken up by low-identification elements.  In this way, the blank spaces of the drawings can also be especially informative.  For example, in the following drawing almost the entire left side of the library is blank space.
This area is where current periodicals are shelved.
While I think this method is extremely informative for researchers, I would also recommend using caution in interpreting the results.  The assumptions about the association between an individual’s conception of  the library and the drawn representation can be questioned, and there are also a variety of potential sampling bias issues in the way sketch map methods are usually collected (e.g. problems stemming from convenience samples).   I therefore recommend utilizing this approach in conjunction with additional interviewing methods that can corroborate and add context to the findings.


Funded for Another Year!

We are excited to announce that Virginia Tech Libraries’ Instruction Learning Community has been funded for another year!  We just received the news that we have been awarded an Instructional Enhancement Grant from Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research in the amount of $2,000.

We we will send more information about the Spring 2013 Instruction Learning Community after the Fall 2012 Community wraps up.

Learning Community Meeting, 11/26/12

Today marked the third meeting of the Fall 2012 Instruction Learning Community; at this point, we’ve read seven of the ten chapters in College Libraries and Student Culture:  What We Now Know.  The group decided that if we had to pick one theme or idea that represented the contents of the book, it would be that accessibility is key to any library’s outreach, reference, instruction, and other services.  This may mean building meaningful relationships with students, or simply making the building more comfortable and familiar for the students.  While the group identified a few areas where the schools in the study differed from our campus (Virginia Tech), we are still pulling important ideas and questions from the text.

After briefly reviewing each section during our monthly meetings, our group has fallen into a routine of brainstorming applications for our library and new research ideas that build on the ones discussed in the text.  The ideas and questions that we came up with this time around include:

Applications for Virginia Tech Libraries

  • Use the Ask a Librarian logo throughout the library, including at:  service points, reference desks, on librarian’s doors, and on the ends of shelves.  This will help students identify and locate where they can ask for help, ultimately encouraging them to do so more often.  Bruce O. will be working with Lori to begin printing these signs so that we can start using them asap.
  • Develop better directional information–something similar to mall kiosks
  • Add pictures of the librarians and their subject areas to the electronic bulletin boards that are now throughout the library
  • Investigate first generation college students on campus and consider new ways to reach out to them (e.g., College Librarians sending a letter or email)
  • Identify and reach out to other special groups (e.g., returning students/nontraditional students) on campus that may need extra encouragement and friendliness in the library

New Research Ideas

  • Research the different regions (particularly of Virginia) that students are coming from.  Compare socioeconomic factors, high school size, whether or not the high school had a school librarian, etc.  This research question would include gathering information from the University, researching school systems, and developing an ethnographic component that would include talking with students
  • Investigate special groups on campus (see above)

Our next meeting will be Monday, December 10, and we will discuss the rest of the book (Chapters 8-10), in addition to talking about how we will implement the ideas that we’ve brainstormed throughout the semester.


Students and content

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article this morning “Teaching what you don’t know.”  James Lang made interesting points about how hard it is to teach a content you don’t know.  Lang refers to Therese Huston’s book  Teaching What You Don’t Know.   The book talks about instructors doing a better job explaining difficult concepts to students because they first had to break these concepts down so they themselves could understand them.   Sometimes as content experts we are so familiar with the concepts that we forget students don’t have the same kind of understanding we do.  Librarians can be terribly guilty of that.  To us the terms, reference and circulation have great meaning, understanding print indexes is second nature  - I mean who doesn’t love a good romp through a print index followed by a scavenger hunt through the library for the needed article. Not our students!  I had a conversation with a fellow librarian when I first came to Virginia Tech.  He was amazed to discover students had little experience with LC classification before they came here, therefore explaining why students asked for the non-fiction or fiction areas of the library.  I think it is important to go back to the beginning and look at those basic concepts and discover what part of student experience we take for granted  - that maybe they don’t have.

Posted in Uncategorized

LIBRARY update: Open Access Week for ‘extended campus’ users

This word just in about the Open Access Week events in the Virginia Tech Libraries that I listed in last week’s notice to my departments.

We are recording and archiving in the VTechWorks repository both lectures on Monday, Oct. 15th:

  • Network enabled research: The challenge for institutions, is scheduled for Monday, Oct 15, 5:30-6:30pm, in the Graduate Life Center auditorium.
  • Positioning Virginia Tech in the OA landscape, Monday, Oct 15, 6:45-7:45pm, GLC Auditorium

The technology mavens are are working out whether we can stream these live.

They are also working on ways that these Faculty Development Institute sessions could be make available online:

  • Introduction to VTechWorks (FDI session — requires  registration), Monday, Oct 15, 3-4:45pm, Torg 3080.
  • Introduction to Open Access (FDI session — requires  registration), Tuesday, Oct 16, 10-11:45am, Torg 3060.
Posted in Uncategorized

LIBRARY update: Open Access Week events; database changes; news in Newman Library

As part of our exploration of new models of scholarly communication, the Virginia Tech Libraries and the Graduate School will host a series of free presentations and workshops Oct 15-19, the sixth annual global Open Access Week, to raise awareness of “OA” and options Virginia Tech scholars have for providing the widest possible access to their research and scholarship.

Cameron Neylon, Director of Advocacy for the Public Library of Science, will serve as our OA Week keynote speaker and this year’s Distinguished Innovator in Residence.
His public lecture, “Network enabled research: The challenge for institutions,” is scheduled for Monday, Oct 15, 5:30-6:30pm, in the Graduate Life Center auditorium.

Other events:

  • Positioning Virginia Tech in the OA landscape, Monday, Oct 15, 6:45-7:45pm, GLC Auditorium
  • Introduction to VTechWorks (FDI session — requires  registration), Monday, Oct 15, 3-4:45pm, Torg 3080 (following our OA-relevant FDI  workshop on research data management plans)
  • Introduction to Open Access (FDI session — requires  registration), Tuesday, Oct 16, 10-11:45am, Torg 3060
  • Faculty panel, Open access: Opening the doors to scholarship for all, Wednesday, Oct 17, 5:30-6:30pm, Torg 3080
  • Graduate student panel, Open access: Opening the doors to scholarship for all, Wednesday, Oct 17, 6:45-7:45pm, Torg 3080
  • Knowledge Drive to register members to the university in the VTechWorks institutional repository: Monday-Friday, October 15-19, 11am-1pm in the lobbies of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Graduate Life Center, and in Newman Library’s (4th floor) Port Research Commons.

I’m still waiting word from the organizers about how the programs might be made available to grad students and faculty in the Natioral Capital Region and other extended-campus locations.

At its simplest, OA provides an additional mean for making your scholarly outputs — including work in nontraditional media — available to larger audiences than traditional academic journals can provide.

In instances where journal aggregators like Ebsco make titles affordable to us at the cost of delayed (“embargoed”) access, OA makes your work available while it’s freshest. Similarly, when publishers yank journals from aggregators, as Taylor & Francis did with hundreds of titles once in Ebsco databases in late summer — without either party deigning to advise librarians — OA offers a kind of insurance policy.

OA can be as simple as putting versions of your publications in VTechWorks, our digital institutional repository — which some government funders here and abroad now mandate — where we will curate your work for you, preserve it across technological changes, and provide consistent exposure to public search engines. This is the “green” OA model.

Moreover, if you wish to publish in journals with author-pays (“gold”) OA policies, we are now partners with the office of the provost and office of research in an OA publication subvention fund.

The Open Access movement in scholarly communications arose as an alternative publication model to dependence commercial journal publishers (Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, Taylor & Francis [Routledge], Sage, ) and some scholarly societies (notably the American Chemical Society) whose subscription prices have long grown faster than libraries’ ability to justify. (See postscri[pt, below).  Most discussion in libraries and among policymakers about alternatives to subscription pricing has been grounded sci-tech publishing, which is of course the in which publication costs can be incorporated.

Use the Open Access Week events to let us know how your scholarship could be affected. Don’t let the STEM-centered approach to OA box you in, whether in campus policies or your own publication choices. Look at the American Historical Association’s statement about the journal business from last month, invoking other humanities and social science societies.

And beware of predatory OA publishers, which may be little more than vanity presses. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver, produces a watch list problematic OA publishers.

Database news

The ProQuest Congressional database is our primary resource for federal legislative history, congressional hearings, reports to Congress, reports by congressional committees, and the like.  It has  shifted to a new interface, completing its migration from being a LexisNexis product.   Links and bookmarks you may have for the old version may not work.
I find the new version more useful overall than any Lexis interface, though it doesn’t match the new interface ProQuest imposed on most of its other databases over the summer.
Don’t overlook the congressional information included in our  CQPress Electronic Library (including CQ Weekly and CQ Almanac for 1945-2011), Congressional Research Service Reports, and  HeinOnline databases.

Trial access to Book Review Index Online Plus will run through October 22. We have several online book review products already, as well as a print subscription to Book Review Index. If there’s much interest in this product we can pursue switching the print to online.

In exploring our new (and intriguing) Sage Research Methods database subscription, I discovered that Sage offers free access to its content through October. We already subscribe to many, though not all Sage journal packages as well as some of the ebooks in the Sage Knowledge platform.  The promotion requires individual registration for each product: <>.

When you use a trial, whether we set it up or the vendor makes it available to you, please share your thoughts with us about how well it could serve the research and teaching missions of our university .

Library updates

As other units across campus, the latest library strategic plan goes to the provost soon, aligned with the university long-range plan approved by the BOV in the spring.  It offers a broad map of the changes you are already seeing in the library’s services, collections, and physical environments.

Software available in campus labs (“CILS”) will be accessible in Newman library workstations on Oct 15, when the campus Learning Technologies unit takes over management of the public computers throughout the building. Library branches will probably be included later.
This change will not affect computers in the new Port Research Commons, which is intended to be a place to explore both high-priced commercial applications (including GIS and CAD as well as statistical and digital-humanities applications) and their open-source alternatives, nor the computers in either library classroom.

 New self-checkout machines and book returns are installed — rather inconspicuously — near the cafe and Bridge entrances to Newman Library.
The signage is sparse but the process is straightforward: use the handheld scanner on your ID card and the library barcode and print your receipt. Help phones directly to the circulation desk are installed at each self-check station.

The entrance to the first floor by the main elevators is being rebuilt.

Events hosted by the Virginia Tech Libraries:

Postscript: Journal economics

If you’re interested in data about the costs of journal subscriptions:

pragmatists vs idealist and why students don’t ask for help

Well it’s fall and the students are back and the group is working their way through a new book. This semester we are reading Duke and Asher’s “College Libraries and Student Culture.”  I thought the discussion about why student’s go to college was interesting.  Interesting in that the faculty wanted them to be there for the joy of learning.  As faculty I can understand and relate to that.  As a parent, I think the purpose is to get a job!!!! I remember the discussions with my oldest who wanted to major in clarinet performance.  Few musicians have been able to make performance their main gig.  We had many arguments – I would help her get the performance degree but she needed to find a way to pay the bills.  Hence the music education double major and a very ticked off daughter.  But now 7 years later a successful middle school band director who loves her students and enjoys her job… and pays her own bills!  Pragmatism vs idealism in real life. One of my big questions that I hope to answer – why students don’t ask for more help.  I am hoping to get some insight into this concept from the book.  Yesterday morning I was scanning my emails and came across a link to this article - Open Thread Wednesday: Encouraging Students to Use Office Hours.  A professor had the same question.  Loved his suggestions and the comments also had some ideas.  I took one important idea away from this article – the concept of getting the student to view you as collaborator rather than instructor.  Lots of new things to ponder… now I need to read the chapters in the book.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fall 2012: First Meeting

During the first meeting of the Fall 2012 Instruction Learning Community, which took place on Monday, September 24, the group discussed Chapters 1-3 of College Libraries & Student Culture:  What We Now Know.  These chapters focused on the research methodology used in the ERIAL study, a discussion of different viewpoints (pragmatism v. idealism) in faculty and librarians, and marketing instruction to faculty members.

These three chapters definitely spurred conversation.  Several of the community members voiced enthusiasm over being able to read about the methodology in order to consider its applications in the Virginia Tech community.  More specifically, though, the group was very interested in exploring some of the situations where we felt that Virginia Tech differed from the universities in the study.  For example, Jennifer wondered whether our faculty members would be as idealistic as the faculty members reported in the chapter; since Virginia Tech is a technology school, a more pragmatic view is often espoused.  Jennifer may be interested in pursuing this as a future research project.

Along the same lines, the group was very interested in reading about and discussing poor library assignment development, the role of the librarian in “giving too much information” at the reference desk and in classes, and question over whose domain “information literacy” instruction really falls into.  While no solution or answer on any of these topics was reached, the group agreed that close collaboration with faculty, while time consuming, is a way to combat some of these issues.

Next time, the group will focus on Chapters 4-5, both of which focus on student behavior.

Learning Community Goals 2012

The University Libraries Instruction Learning Community got back up and running earlier this week with our first meeting of the semester!

During this meeting, we discussed several items related to the overall goals and management of the learning community this time around.  First, members decided that blogging would be optional, as many found it helpful, but many did not.  The members that found it helpful committed to blogging prior to each in-person meeting, if not more frequently.  Some of the reasons for that included:  communication in between in-person meetings, taking the opportunity to internally process the readings in preparation for discussion, and using the blog as a means to participate in the discussion in the event that a member cannot participate in in-person meetings.  Group facilitators will make sure that all blogging participants are added to this blog during the week of 9/24.

Next, the group discussed the goals for the semester.  Since we are reading College Libraries & Student Culture, the group decided to focus on two major areas of discussion and thought:  (1) research methodology that we could use at Virginia Tech in order to gain insight into our users’ behavior and (2) relating the ERIAL study findings to the community at Virginia Tech.

During each session, the facilitators will make a special point to write down insights and action items that the community would like to think about or discuss in further detail.  Facilitators will blog about these items, and the group discussion, after each in-person meeting of the group.

We look forward to learning together this semester!

A new season, a new book

The first chapter of our fall read, “College Libraries and Student Culture” immediately brought to mind some of the projects that have been happening here over the last year.  The web design workshops, space design workshops, retrospectives, photo and research journals and ethnographic interviews have all made an appearance in the recent, VT Libraries efforts to redesign as more user-friendly.  It’s clear that the participation of anthropologists in the study make the data more standardized and robust than local efforts, but the similarities still ring clear.

Asher and Duke do a really nice job of balancing academic-speak with enough of a down-to-earth tone, producing a readable but non-fluffy text.  Their discussion of the “why” behind the data-gathering techniques used and the overall structure of the research provides a good model for other groups and locations wishing to do similar studies, without making the basic methods too dependent on a given location for anyone to directly transfer the plan of action without major edits.

Chapter 2′s discussion of faculty and librarian expectations and values opens with a wonderfully succinct descriptions of the two main positions on the purpose of college/university education – a conflict that we see in action on this campus also – including the ever-more-pragmatic stance of the majority of students.  From my perspective, this campus has some idealists scattered about, but the majority of faculty and librarians are more pragmatic than not.  It was very useful to hear about the faculty’s ambivalence about librarian research assistance to students.  It makes me want to do similar projects on this campus so that we could get a more accurate picture of local sentiment,