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Outreach Efforts to Computer Science Students and Faculty

January 30, 2020

As a STEM Librarian I serve a diverse group of students enrolled in science, engineering, and technology related disciplines. I have been in my current role for almost two years now and I have been successful at making inroads with several engineering departments as well as the biology department. However, a new goal that I have in mind is to increase my outreach to our computer science students and faculty. I want to do more beyond adding relevant books to our library collection.

After reading about how great the book is and having conversations with fellow librarians who found it insightful, I have started reading Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble (2018, New York University Press). I am only halfway through the book right now, but I will note that my colleagues have steered me in the right direction. I do not intend to write a book review here but if you have any interest in algorithm bias, machine learning, or search engines – I highly encourage you to read this work. At last year’s PaLA’s annual conference one of our colleagues gave a brief lightning talk about bias in computer science programming (it was enlightening) and just yesterday I attended a Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) webinar called “Engaging with Algorithm Bias: How Librarians Can Meet Information Literacy Needs of Computer Science and Engineering Students” presented by three librarians and one computer science faculty member. The presenters discussed their recent work on surveying computer science student’s perception of search engines and algorithm bias. They used their survey results and discussions with students to create a learning module all about algorithm bias that they’ve deployed at three different institutions to different audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed the webinar and would encourage you to reach out to the presenters with any questions. While I still need to finish Algorithms of Oppression, both the book and webinar have already given me ideas on how to increase my outreach to the computer science department.

In the future, I am planning on reaching out to the department again (my first attempt last year was not as successful as I hoped) to build connections with faculty and the program director. I know that I need to learn a lot more about their department, courses, and students before I can embark on a meaningful relationship. It seems the topic of algorithm bias and the oppression of certain users by search engines would fit well in a course on computer ethics. I will be investigating the computer sciences course that are offered on my campus to determine possible entry points and areas of collaboration. One opportunity for growth in this area is to reach out to the computer science capstone courses and offer research assistance relevant to their capstone projects as I do with our engineering courses. As I learn more about the discipline and the needs of computer science students on my campus, I am hopeful that my outreach efforts will be successful.

If you are a librarian with computer science liaison duties and/or interested in algorithm bias – I would love to hear your suggestions! Have your outreach efforts to computer science students been positive experiences? Is there something you would or would not do again? Please feel free to comment on this post or contact me directly at alp5088@psu.edu.

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