Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries


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What Students Want, revisited

I just looked over my blog post from November on giving students what they want, and am laughing at my vehemence, a little bit. I was all sorts of wrought up, and somehow managed to miss some important points in my rush to post. Can we blame it on being a new blogger, and allow a small redux? (and yes, I’ll think bout what this says about blogging as a form of scholarship…)

There’s a sentence in the last paragraph that I don’t really stand behind:

Which is all to say that I will never be persuaded by the argument that “it’s what the students want” when it comes to research and research tools in the domain of the library.

What I should have said is that the sentiment alone will never be compelling to me, as regards library information resource changes. And it certainly doesn’t carry much weight if a tiny number of students were carefully led to the statement.

But: if students (in any number, really) want more outlets, longer hours, more comfortable seating, a vending machine for USB drives and pens, I’m right there — they know what they need in terms of study space and study tools, and I’m happy to seriously investigate the feasibility of filling those needs. However, if my training and experience as a librarian doesn’t carry more weight than student wants in terms of complex information resources, then I’m not sure where I stand as a professional.

One thing I do stand for as a professional, though, is a willingness to take students seriously. And I was being too reactive about a meeting I had just come from to address the part of the equation. If the students say they want something (like, say, the ability to search all our resources at one time, or a customizable library portal) I am willing to look at that desire, with the eyes of a librarian, and try to see if it’s either possible or desirable. Is it pedagogically appropriate for a college library? Will it help users do effective research? Will it be at least as effective as out current methods? What will it cost? Does it solve any problems we’re already looking to solve?

I do think that gutting the effective parts of effective search tools to give students what they want so they won’t have to think or learn is a form of pandering. And I don’t think that’s going to change.


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Writing the next phase of thinking

Sorry to have been so neglectful of late, but for a change I’ve had some chunks of solid thinking/writing time at work and have been focusing there. Of course, these chunks of time are being spent writing up my reappointment file, which is a significant piece of writing in and of itself.

Two of the issues I am struggling with for the dossier have been aired in this space, but expect to see more of them! Both pieces will find their homes here when they reach a happier form.

The first is the issue of ‘focus’, and specifically the friction between pressure from my higher ups to get more of it and the realities of my daily interests and actual job. I’m trying to articulate that my attention to multiple aspects of library user experience constitutes a form of focus, but I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself of that yet — especially because I think the external desire for my developing focus relates to some future potential desirability for me to define myself as a particular sort of professional. And I won’t be happy with any rationalization of who I am until I finish thinking that one through. And if the convolutions pretending to be the above sentence made any sense to you, you have my deepest respect!

The second bit I’m working on has to do with scholarship, and specifically this blog as a form of soft scholarship. I launched this blog from twitter, where I hung out with a number of librarians I had no other relationship with, and have been very pleasantly surprised at developing a readership. Developing the readership came to define this space for me, and once the blog was no longer strictly a “practice writing” space, I also linked it from my name-affiliated places (facebook, and from my university profile), claiming it in a more official way as part of my professional identity.

Part of what makes this blog as a sort of scholarship into a viable statement has to do with my reappointment expectations; we are not a Research 1, and poster sessions and local conference sessions count heavily towards our scholarship criteria. And I think it’s a very small jump from that to this blog. But that also begs a more substantive question about the nature of scholarship, and if it’s really as flexible as that would imply.

Since it looks like I will be pondering the matter for a while, and possibly into more accepted scholarly formats, I’ve started to collect materials related to the question in de.licio.us. (If you see anything I’ve missed or think would be of interest for the project for:rudyleon me the links if that works for you)

Expect more posts for the near now about:

  • librarianship as constantly partial attention
  • blogs as scholarship
  • the sense of having a wide-lens library view
  • Is a focus on undergraduates enough of a focus?
  • given where I am in my career and th potential for branching paths very soon ahead, do I really want a focus?
  • What all of this has to do with the future of Rudy, of librarianship, and of scholarship


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Librarianship in under 140 characters!

Or, why twitter counts as working! (Names have been changed to protect the innocent ;) )

In under 16 minutes, four librarians with subject expertise in an area I liaise with but am less than perfectly comfortable with responded to a blanket plea and provided consistent and useful advice, as well as tips for finding new resources. Solid backgrounds, support when I needed it, and tips for the future. Sure, I could somehow make the time to crack open Understanding capitalism : critical analysis from Karl Marx to Amartya Sen to learn more and back up my gut (and I will, one day I will) but I can’t do it right now, and I can’t do it in under 16 minutes! (inspiration has hit: I’ve started an OpenWC list for Overviews of Major Economists and started reading Lost Prophets: An Insider’s History of the Modern Economists)

Rudibrarian : are any of y’all econ liaisons?

B: @Rudibrarian yo econ here

Rudibrarian: @B Am I standing on sand when I think we should stop buying books w/ John Maynard Keynes in title??? we have shelves and shelves…

E:@rudibrarian: I’m econ liaison – just saw tweet. Did get info you needed?

W: @Rudibrarian – & what do you have against Keynes?? (asks former econ major…)

B: @Rudibrarian LOL I think you’re pretty solid there. :)

S: @Rudibrarian I am an econ liaison

Rudibrarian: @E am questioning another several books abt Keynes. Is it stoopid to cry uncle and stop Keynes buying?? S’all they/dept seems 2 want

Rudibrarian: @W: just the volume. Thee *are* other economists who are relevant, yes? (this is so outside my area!)

E: @rudibrarian: if they’re new or notable, sure, I’d buy a couple, but deselect some others. But yeah, are many other significant economists

B: @Rudibrarian that and super expensive Elsevier journals I bet. Take a look at Berkeley Electronic Press if you don’t already have

B:@Rudibrarian econ was my fave liaison subj, I did some econ at uni so at least I was slightly familiar :) Also make sure to link SSRN, Repec


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Late admission of techno-faux-bia

I’m finding the tech-NOT meme going around to be oddly comforting. I think what I like about it is knowing that I stand pretty firmly in the middle of the pack of folks who stand pretty far ahead of the pack in thinking about new technologies in the workplace. And I’m really ok with that!

So, my tech-NOTs?

  • Database construction. Access is one of two software programs that have thrown me to the mat without breaking a sweat. And I can understand database construction only by glancing at it slyly with my peripheral vision.
    • Photoshop also handed me my a$s.
  • Programming languages. I have the basic HTML and CSS to handcode pages, and to borrow and gut stuff I like from others. But I’m kinda stuck there. No flash or java, or even the ability to make DreamWeaver do the things I don’t know how to do. (I also have no idea how to customize the CSS in templated services like this blog or my LJ)
  • I couldn’t install my wifi router. In fact, I mangled it so badly I had to call the cable company to get my internet service working again after I gave up. (I want wifi!)
  • I don’t get SecondLife (and I think virtual worlds are going to have significant impact on how we do librarianship and education in the next decade)
  • My stereo is an JBL Soundstage/iPod dock (much to the chagrin of my former soundguy — looks like a previously unknown theme of soundguys and librarians is emerging…)
  • I’ve never tried Skype, altho now that I have people overseas (it’s expensive to call Namibia!0I’m thinking about it
  • I am so intimidated by VOIP stuff that I have never done the Uncontrolled Vocabulary call-in show, and am so embarrassed about it I’ve never listened to the podcast.
  • I have no idea how trackback works, and was worried that I was somehow having bad nettiquette by not using it. And was relieved as all hell when it worked invisibly.
  • I don’t like working on a laptop. I mean, they’re handy and portable and all, but ugh! I really dislike them!
  • I am apparently the only person in the world who has ever had a bad Mac experience. My iMac crashed constantly, I lost half a workday every day for two months on it. I really dislike Macs.
  • I want my phone to make phone calls and store addresses. That is all. Texting is nice at conferences, but it just isn’t my killer app. Plus, I’m afraid it would expensive like crack!

What I think is important and makes me technically able is that I am generally willing. I’m not sure that my desire to learn PHP/SQL would ever make me any good at it, but if there was a task I needed to do with it and the time to learn it, I could apply myself. And, like Rochelle, my interest in technology has more to do with serving (and understanding and hoping to get ahead of the future)my patrons than techno- or gadget-lust. (nothing wrong with those, they’re just not my inspirations).

So, are you techno-faux? What are your tech-NOTs?


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Blogging and workplace ethics 2.0

So here’s today’s question to the blogoverse:

What would you do if you discovered a colleague’s blog is sprinkled with unprofessional rants about people at your workplace? In this particular scenario, the people talked about are nameless but the the blogger is not so anonymous that others can’t identify who’s who.

This blogger never approaches people in the real world with complaints or concerns, but sees fit to attack them with spleeny, self-involved rants – which of course cannot be substantiated or defended against. Defaming unknowing people in such a (semi)public manner is beyond unprofessional. In addition, the unquestioned construct runs the risk of becoming the blogger’s reality, because the blogger never opens the construct up to the light of day and external questioning.

I’ve been noticing that passive aggressive behavior breeds passive aggressive behavior, and am not sure that following the lead set by such a tone is a good idea. Avoidance may seem like keeping the peace, but a situation like this lead one to ask: at what cost? and is it really a peace at all?

Librarianship is markedly more “office-like” than other academic professions, and we encounter an odd hybrid of approaches and philosophies in the workplace. And personality issues take a high level of importance, especially given team-based organization, the vast number of committees we each work on, and the fraught addition of the tenuring process.

So I add this dilemma to Management 2.0, a new shade to library politics: what do you do about the self-involved office blogger and the impact of said blogger in the library workplace environment? Do you ignore? practice visualizing horrific scifi-esque accidents in your head? Explore new breathing techniques? Anonymously comment in the bloggers’ blog? Confront in the real world?

I turn to you: what course of action would you — actual you, not your higher angels you — pursue in this case study? And, is there an emerging set of rules about bloggers who keep personal blogs that mingle with their professional lives? I think there are clear standards for professional blogs, but blurred lines between personal blogs discussing work are decidedly fuzzy.


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My Philosophy of (academic) Librarianship

I was tasked with writing my personal philosophy statement. I started with some very bold assertions, and then buried them in a fair amount of explanation, and I’m no longer certain that my philosophy reads as radical…. Libraries work best with open communication and collaboration, within the library and across campus. Librarians are educators. Information literacy is the way to make self-sufficient users. I’m not sure if that remains visible in the statement. What do you think?

I believe the library is the beating heart of campus, by which I mean that at its most perfect, the library is the nexus of student learning and research, of faculty research for scholarship and teaching. The library is also at its most perfect when professors and other units on campus work with the library – and allow the library to work with them – to support student learning and research through communication and collaboration. First-year programs, senior seminars, learning communities, and the first research-level class in the major are all improved when librarians can work with other members of the campus community to create library resources that meet community needs and create community resources that help meet library goals. Outreach, programming, collection development, reference services, information literacy instruction and technological innovations work best when librarians are part of the campus intellectual and service community.

As a librarian I am an educator, and I have areas of subject expertise to share with the campus community. While librarianship is a service profession, the service being supported by an academic librarian is education, and I fulfill my service role through assisting the entire campus community to fulfill our communal educational goals. My subject expertise lies in the organization of information and when I work to make library tools more sensical, teach information literacy sessions, explore new technologies and their potential applications in relation to my unique community of users, and when I work with professors to create research guides and select appropriate items for purchase I am acting as a Librarian and as an Educator both.

Information Literacy education is the external culmination of the internal work of the library. The online catalog, classifications schemes, thesauri, reference tools, circulation and collection development policies (to name a few elements) are all important pieces of the functioning of the library, but in information literacy instruction, librarians take our internal processes and jargon and expertise and convert them into expressions and explorations of the concerns of our users. We have sophisticated systems that allow the library to function and to thrive, but these processes are highly internal and translucent. Information literacy education allows information seekers to make their own way through the complex environment in which librarians are inordinately comfortable.

I believe that my ability to act on philosophies of librarianship is dependent upon the context in which I am placed. I can only achieve my philosophical goals when the campus and library goals support similar or complementary philosophies. The elements of the philosophy espoused above may read as abstract but I feel them personally. My colleagues, my community, and my campus play intrinsic roles in manifesting my philosophy of librarianship.

I should mention that this is a very specifically located philosophy, and I think it would be very difficult to translate this approach from smaller teaching-centered colleges to Research 1 or other institutional types.


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Information Whirlwind

Last night I had a really incredible instruction session! What made it so successful? I can’t discount the virtue of 100 minute instruction sessions, for one thing. I tried a new active learning exercise. And I took an unusual tactic — I overwhelmed them. And it worked, it really did! I don’t think it will work every time, but in this case, a rousing success

It was a senior seminar, with an unusually surly bunch of students, and one student laid down the gauntlet in the first five minutes of class, asking about why they always have to come to library sessions and stating that he never learns anything new and always zones out. I explained each session is customized to the level and needs of each course, and other than some basic orienting stuff, different things should be covered in every class he attends. And I challenged him back, stating he was going to learn new things from me.

I had a handout/outline, and I planned on showing them advanced techniques in searching WorldCat and planned on making sure they knew their way to all the hidden places of great delight on the webpage (subject pages, Periodical title search, online encyclopedias…). I was also planning to introduce them to Google Scholar by way of having them read an article in The Nation and having them identify the four books, articles, and government sources obliquely referred to in the first four paragraphs and then talking about how to extract that information and locate the reports etc. using Google Scholar.

I did all of those things. But I did it as a sort of a whirlwind, covering why Google wastes their time, using (online) encyclopedias, bibliographic mining, reading citations, finding known sources, not limiting to full text, article linking from database to database to ILL, extracting information from their casual reading to library resources, using Google Scholar, citing forward.. It was really exciting, I could see the importance and the excitement of this breaking through their ennui. They were madly taking notes, which almost never happens, and making connections and asking questions. Every time we landed back on the Serials Solutions linking page I could see the cycle coming back to them. Because, this whirlwind repeated the same information over and over a few times, and the second time they perked up and the third time they energized. They got it! It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s going to take time. But research can actually be exciting.

I think my favorite part, though, is the way that 2.0 technologies* came into play in this session. The article I used? Crossed my path from a Twitter friend explaining ‘super delegates’. The prof wanted me to cover citation management techniques, which is hard because we don’t support EndNote or RefWorks. So, I asked the students about Firefox use (75% used it), and explained plugins and Zotero. I asked if any of them use social bookmarking, and only one had heard of it, so I explained how del.icio.us and Furl work, and work differently, and explained tagging. I explained how to use email as a citation management system. And they got it, they got why they needed to care about citation management, because they had a vision of how overwhelming the various search tools could be. But they weren’t overwhelmed so much as jazzed, and they had an exciting time in the library and left thinking that librarians may be allies in their quest for the right resources.

Now I just have to figure out why such a clearly wrong approach worked so darn well. Because I would really like to inspire that kind of energy every time I set foot in the classroom!

* our students (and our faculty) are generally not as Net Savvy as the millennials buzz might lead one to believe. That new report about how the Google Generation isn’t really all that aware or excellent online? We knew that at my library. We are constantly humbled by how few of our students are participating online beyond IM and Facebook. Which makes this victory that much the sweeter.


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Why am I a librarian?

Barbara Fister at Free Exchange on Campus tagged me to participate in the meme sparked by Dr. Crazy’s fantastic Why I Teach Literature post. She did this a long time ago, as the blogoverse counts time, but I hope not too long ago to participate.

I see two different questions in this meme, why I am a librarian, and why I became a librarian. First, why I became a librarian.

I started my path studying religion, and while studying for my doctoral exams and teaching I realized that the subject matter inspired passion in me, but the subject matter wasn’t what I wanted to impart to my students. For them, I wanted to use the study of the ways that people shaped their lives (and ours) through the beliefs and practices as a vector for critical thinking. And the critical thinking, the ability to see from multiple perspectives, to avoid judgment until different perspectives had been identified and thought through, this was my Course Objective. I also realized that the professorate was a long shot, and settling down was several years down the road, and would entail adding a zero or so to my student loan balance. I reconsidered my options, saw that librarianship was a path where I could play my strengths and sidestep my weaknesses (the Real World with cubicles and “Office” politics are my kryptonite. A dozen years on college campuses has ruined me for that kind of life).

As a librarian, I could pursue my academic interests as a generalist, and that generalist bent would be an asset. I could stay on a college campus. I could surround myself with intelligent academic colleagues and their conversation. And books — I would still be surrounded by books and get to buy them (with someone else’s money!)and read them. And I could continue to be an educator.

There was very little about my preconceptions about librarianship that remained true in the end. Librarianship engages more office politics than I would ever have imagined possible (and I suspect more than other tracks in academic outside of administration). Continuing the ‘life of the mind’ has escaped my grasp so far, and I suspect for always (but a girl can hope, eh?).  I rarely handle books, more often just scanning their reviews on Choice, Amazon, H-Net or JSTOR. But I am an educator, and I have avenues for teaching that I had not truly grasped Before.

And being an Educator is central to my identity as a person and as a librarian. My passion, my career path, my intellectual pursuits, my approach to collection development, reference desk staffing, outreach to and interactions with students -one on one and institutionally- the arrangement of the catalog and the web page and to the implementation of new tools is all undergirded by the fact that I am an Educator.

It has been a learning experience for me, and accepting and acknowledging this unbreakable and unshakable center of my professional identity will be the star by which I will steer my career.

So, I tag Iris at Pegasus Librarian, Ms. Molly at Shelf-ish  and  Sarah at The Sheck-Spot. Why are you librarians? What inspired you?

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