Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Harry Potter GIS Workshop & Thoughts...

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In a couple of days, I am holding the following workshop: Magic Compass Spells: U.S. Branch of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry -- Where Should it Be? (Information | Download Materials). I first held this particular workshop over the summer when the last HP book came out, and then I repeated it when Junior High students came to visit the library. Well, third time is coming up.The workshop has been successful in attracting lots of folks to participate in this simple spatial analysis exercise who might never have been exposed to GIS beyond online mapping.It really got me thinking about why…

Situation:
Our Information Services (Reference) librarians have scaled our Library’s Open Demo program down to, well pretty much down to nothing. An open demo is where we pick a particular research tool or topic and announce an open demonstration at a particular time, promote it, and hope for the best as far as a showing.Well, we have not had much of a showing at all which led to the temporary suspension of the open demo program. From what I have seen in the other two libraries that I have worked in, this situation is not unique to us.Now, on the other hand I still hold 3-4 open demos, which I style as workshops, every semester and am always pleased with the attendance and more importantly is that many of these people return during my office hours with follow-up questions.

Question:
Why? What is the difference between my workshops and the other library open demos? Is GIS just so exciting that it sells itself?

Answer:
I actually touched upon this a bit during a presentation I made last summer at the Texas Library Association annual conference, entitled ‘Hands-On GIS Demos: It’s Easy to get People Excited’. But I want to use this space to elaborate in a bit more detail.The answer is in the relevancy of the demonstration. In our information saturated society, students with a computer, access to their library’s wealth of databases, and a little determination can track down most of the data/information that they need.Students need, or perhaps even crave, to know how to apply the data/information to solve practical problems. The absolute worst philosophy is that academic library resources are here to help with your classes.

Examples of Bad Demos:
If I were to hold a workshop entitled: Learn What GIS Can Do for You, or GIS and the Census 2000, or even worse GIS for Your Papers: It’s Easy!, I would anticipate very few attendees. Along these same lines, a library open demo entitled: Learn to Search the Library Catalog, or Learn to Find Book Reviews will also have a tough time exciting the students.

Examples of Good Demos:
So, let’s turn back to Harry Potter. How about an open demo entitled: Harry Potter: What the Critics are Saying to show students how traditional print and electronic indexes can complement the reviews they read on Amazon. The students can even be shown how the library catalog can be searched for monograph reviews. Or how about demos entitled: Post-911 Terrorism Bills: Find out How Your Representatives Voted, or Be Prepared for You Job Interview: Local Company Research...