Incorporating Google Ads into Information Literacy Instruction


According to an article by The Verge’s James Vincent, many teens can’t tell the difference between ads and search results in Google. He reports that researchers at UK’s telecoms watchdog Ofcom discovered that approximately only 33% of 12-15 year olds and 20% of children between the ages of 8-11 were able to tell the difference between Google advertisements and search results. This article comes at a time where privacy issues are coming to the forefront of many online discussions (Greenwald, 2014; Henry, 2012; Valdes, 2015) and librarians are working hard to ensure that students are properly informed during their online research.

As librarians are now well aware of, growing up in the digital age doesn’t guarantee research savvy. Additionally, many students have an over-inflated perception of their search abilities leading to mistakes when it comes to academic research (Georgas, 2014). Google and many other companies use advertisements that are designed to look very similar to organic content (which includes the “promoted” posts that Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook implement in users’ social media feeds). What was fascinating to me is that while I have never had a problem bypassing Google Ads, organic search results are not as easily differentiated between by the iGen and millennial generations.

The aforementioned Verge article got me thinking about the next generation of academic library users and how they will be needing additional instruction when it comes to academic research. Also, even though the article is does not report data on undergraduate (and graduate) students, I think ad word instruction would also benefit them. Below are a few ideas of how to incorporate Google ad instruction into your information literacy sessions:

  • Point it out- Demonstrate how a search might include ads at the top of one’s search results list. You can also do this with social media platforms.

google ads vs search

  • Discuss how Google AdWords work– Understanding how and why certain links appear at the top of the page might help users understand the difference more intuitively. This Forbes article might be helpful. It also might open the door for a broader discussion about how online behavior is tracked by companies in order to better advertise to users (I like to use this Ghostery video when addressing this topic).
  • Compare database and Google searching– While many proprietary academic databases don’t have the same user experience that Google has, their search result rankings are more trustworthy.

These are just a few basic ideas. If you have any to share I’d love to hear about them!


Best Contests for Pinterest

Looking for a way to engage your patrons/customers/students? How about a Pinterest contest?! Pinterest contests can be a great way to engage your audience as well as sneak in digital literacy skill development that is fun and exciting to learn!

I have been scouring the interweb to curate a list of past and present Pinterest contests as well as some of my own thought formations. If you have any to add I’d love to hear them!

Interactive Image Contest

Repin to Win/Pin It to Win It

This has been done by various entities and is an effective way to expose your products to a wider audience. Here are some guidelines to checkout before you start your contest. Examples:

Library Repin to Win ideas:

  • New book arrivals
  • Your favorite booklist (using Goodreads)
  • Best places to study
  • Best study apps
  • Best YouTube songs to study to (pinning a video can be found here)
  • Have a “database/resource of the day/week” on your library’s Pinterest board that students can repin.

Theme Contest

  • Create Pinterest board based on a specific theme, best board wins (based on a set rubric) or board with the most likes wins, etc
  • Syracuse University’s Future of Librarianship contest

Guess this Image

  • Contestants can answer in the comments area. Here are a few examples that you can adapt for Pinterest:
  • SBCC’s Luria Library
  • Yahoo (see below):

Snapshot Jackpot

The UMHB Alumni association hosted this contest for Instagram but it could be adapted for Pinterest. The contestants were required to visit a particular place on campus, take a picture of the building, upload the picture to Instagram, and tag it #umhbcharterday13. The pic with the most likes won $50. (With Pinterest’s new hashtag capability this is an awesome contest to try out!)

Clue Contest


Video contest

  • Have users upload a video to YouTube based on a specific theme, then pin to Pinterest w/ a specific hashtag
  • JoAnn

Infographic Contest

  • During the spring 2013 semester I created an infographic contest. Students were required to create an infographic (using their own software or an infographic generator like easel.ly or piktocahrt) and post it to Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook w/ the hashtag #tmlinfographic. Infographics were judged on a set rubric by faculty.
  • Here’s a link to the contest page


Daily Photo Challenge

  • Each day has a new challenge: your minor, your major, best (school color) combo, etc
  • Entries post to Pinterest w/ hashtag and @yourlibrary/company (ex: tmlphotochallenge, @umhblibrary)
  • Quinnipiac University’s #quphotochallenge

Use TED-Ed to Flip Your IL Sessions


Last week I attended the Texas Library Association’s 2013 annual library conference. My head was spinning with all the innovative fresh ideas that were shared! One awesome session I attended was Flipped Classroom: Supporting New Educational Models. The session consisted of a panel of 6 educators who shared their experience flipping their classroom. While it was primarily aimed at teachers and school librarians many ideas were shared that could crossover into the IL session. Ok, so I’ll start by explaining what a flipped classroom is:


A flipped classroom involves providing materiel before class (usually in the form of a video or a podcast) that the students need to read/watch/listen to and then taking class time for hands on activities. With flipped teaching teachers can spend less time lecturing and more time on interacting with students. Flipped learning allows you to spend your valuable class time on discussion and critical thinking.


One great thing about flipped teaching is that the instructor doesn’t have to make the videos themselves (although they definitely can!), they can choose from a myriad of educational videos that are already out there in cyberspace. One resource that was shared was TedEd. If your familiar with TED already you know what a valuable resource it is. TED-Ed teams up educators and animators to create TED-Ed Videos- exceptional educational videos for your classroom. Here’s a video explaining what it is and how it works:

TED-Ed carefully curates their video library so you don’t have to sift through a bunch of junk to get what you want.

  • On the homepage if you click on Find&Flip 
  • Search for “information literacy” or whatever you want your lesson plan to be and choose the video you would like to use
  • Click Flip This Video and add your own questions, notes, and resources to customize it for your students
  • You can also search Best Flips to find user nominated lessons as well as search by subject or series

And there you have it! Fantastic lessons and great animation that can be customized for your IL sessions. Couldn’t be any easier than that!


Here are just a few tips that I learned during the session


Using Hashtags to Teach Subject Headings

CaptureOne of the hardest concepts, that I have found, for students to grasp and actually utilize are subject headings. Because students don’t regularly employ them in their day to day life they tend to be cast aside for a comfortable natural language search technique. I show students how useful subject headings can be when searching in the library’s catalog and throughout various databases, but they still don’t use them when it comes to conducting research on their own. While mulling around ideas of how to teach this concept in a more efficient manner, a little light bulb went off in my head…hashtags! Hashtags are a concept that students already understand and implement and are a great way to teach about subject headings. Here are a few exercises that I have come up with:

  1. Objective: Show how hashtags and subject headings can help one find more information on a specific topic
    • Example: Click on a trending hashtag on twitter (located in the left column) and explore the various tweets on that topic.
    • Take that same topic and search it in a database.
      • Show the database subject heading for that specific topic and click on it to show the database resources on that topic.
    • Exercise: Have the students pick a hashtag of their choice and list the top 3 Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook results for that hashtag.
      • Have them use that same hashtag and search it in a few library databases and find the most relevant subject heading. Then have them expand/click on the subject heading and list the top 3 results they get in each database.
  2. Objective: Show how hashtags about the same subject but with different lettering can result in a different (and limited) set of results
    • Example: #napomo, #natpomo, #natpoetrymonth, #nationalpoetrymonth
    • All of the hashtags above are about National Poetry Month but they all lead to a different set of results!
    • You could then introduce how subject headings work and discuss that through the use of a “controlled vocabulary” subject headings are required to be worded in a specific way so the researcher will have a more comprehensive list of results.
    • Exercise: Have students come up with their own controlled vocabulary for hashtags. You could also have them explain why they used each hashtag (ex: shorter lettering makes it more conducive for Twitter use)

These are just a few ideas, but I think they could be really useful. Since students already understand the concept of hashtags this takes a lot of the “lecture” part out and allows more focus on activities and engagement.

Update 2/11/2016: I wrote an article for Computers in Libraries about my further experiments with hashtag IL instruction. Check it out if you’d like to learn more!

Alfonzo, P. (2014). Using Twitter hashtags for information literacy instruction. Computers in Libraries, 34(7), 19-22.


Is a User Experience Librarian in Your Future?

Image credit: Daniel Würstl
Image credit: Daniel Würstl

In the library world information literacy (IL) is a major buzz word. It involves finding, gathering, and synthesizing information. Now, while IL instruction is definitely an important component to any library, it might be beneficial to use those same concepts within our own workflow as well. We talk about teaching others to organize and synthesize but often times we don’t organize and synthesize our own systems in such a way that users can efficiently retrieve information. A person can create excellent queries, but the query is only as good as the system (ex: library catalog). We need to be able to create and provide a system that supports the way users think. Trying to “bridge the gap between how information and knowledge are perceived, used, communicated and visualized by humans and how they are represented, stored, and managed with computer systems” (De Tre G. & Van Acker W., 2012, p. 305) is an ongoing problem.

ENTER…the User Experience Librarian! The user experience (UX) librarian bridges the gap between the back-end with the front end…the way computers organize data and the ways humans attempt to search for that data. User experience involves studying how users interact with a system and then creating that system to accommodate those users.  A UX designer is one who executes these actions. User experience is not a new concept. Most major companies employ user experience designers who attempt to harness the wild wild web and synthesize that data into an intuitive system that users want to use. They study user’s:

  • Personas
  • Past behavior
  • Time spent on a page
  • Interaction with a particular brand, etc

To determine

  • If something needs to be changed 
  • If the website properly addresses user needs, etc

They take in all that information and then design/tweak a system with the user in mind. The more intuitive the system, the more it will be used. Have you ever read a news article and had a suggestion for a related article? Or purchased a book and been offered related books? That’s a facet of user experience. But in order for those suggestions to be accurate you need to properly create a system on the back-end.

In the case of libraries it involves a person who both understands technology’s architecture and how users prefer to use that architecture. In relation to the library’s catalog it could involve:

  • Studying search functionality
  • The need to locally create discovery tools
  • Pagination study

Since librarians are better suited to understand library needs than say, a UX designer, a UX librarian might be helpful in your library. While dropping in at ER&L’s #ideadrop House I listened to Judy Siegel’s awesome discussion on UX and libraries during SXSI. She suggested a few ways that you can determine if your library has a culture that supports user experience design including:

  • Form a committee
  • Involve other departments and get feedback
  • Implement changes incrementally to determine what works and what doesn’t

Here is a great UX librarian job posting from the University of Virginia. I predict that there will be a lot more library job postings for this position in the future. Do some research and determine if this position might work in your library!

Source: De Tre G., & Van Acker W. (2012). Spaces of information modeling, action, and decision making. Library Trends, 61(2), 304–324.

**Update 8/21/2014: Here’s a new User Experience Librarian posting from the University of Arkansas

**Update 5/4/2017: Here’s a new User Experience Librarian posting from the Illinois Institute of Technology and one from Westfield State University