Deepening the Conversation

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


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.


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 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.


building a bibliography on privacy and librarianship

Time and practicality trumped passion this research break, so I’m working on getting a presentation on information literacy and web evaluation into article form, which means I won’t be able to dig deeply into the privacy and 2.0 librarianship issue until summer at earliest. Until then, I’ll be collecting sources, and reading what I can.

I’ve started a public list at OpenWorldcat — have you read any of these? what do you think? Any of them worth ignoring, or absolute must-reads? others to suggest? (I’ll be annotating the list as I get through it).

I’ve also got a lot being tagged with privacy at

Please, feel free to point me to other things. And, your opinions are *always* welcome here! It’s supposed to be a conversation, right?

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of voice and tone and an excess of choice

I’ve been working this week on turning a presentation into an article, and keep finding myself in front of two stumbling blocks. The first I have partially gotten past, except for the lingering taste in the back of my mouth.

In my previous career, all journal articles aimed for a scholarly tone and a 20 page length (double spaced, 1.5 inch margins, Times New Roman 12). The only stumbler was finding an appropriate journal based on content and hoping their selectivity took it in.

I have, after a lot of time spent looking over editorial guidelines ( tagged editorialguidelines), identified a journal that looks likely. I like them, and hopefully they’ll like what I have to say. Identifying a potential journal allows me to start the writing process — I now know tone, length, style, and can thus begin. The lingering taste? If they don’t accept the manuscript, I will have to gut and reassemble the entire thing because other journals want different lengths, styles, and tones. Quel irritant. But, largely in hand.

The second stumbling block I keep hitting is tone. I am finding it more difficult to get back my scholalry writintg tone than it was to lose it. My breezy educational tone was hard won. When I left my doctoral program and took a position in educational publishing, I was first assigned to work on second grade textbooks. Moving from Kristeva and Foucault to 2nd grade reading level in a single step was…well, let’s just say I asked to be reassigned to 6th grade, the top of the K-6 social studies curriculum we were writing and was able to win that struggle there.

Since then, I have given successful conference presentations, taught hundreds of library sessions and spent countless hours at the reference desk (not to mention all those hours in committee meetings!) and while I think of myself as a dyed-in-the-wool academic, it seems that the in years since I last did academic writing I have lost my voice. The writing is going rocky while I struggle to get it back.

And with apologies to you, dear readers, I suspect that this blog may become the practice ground… please let me know if I lose my breezy and start getting dense. Or, if you have found away to move between multiple voices with ease, how did you do it?

Ad a sidebar, I wonder how much these issues (the difficulties of scholarly voice in librarianship, and the vagaries of style and tone in LIS publishing) relate to the state of the LIS journal, most recently discussed in Stephen Bell’s ACRLblog post “Pay Some Attention to the Research”

What do you think?

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The Academic Librarian’s version of Fight or Flight

I find this time of year psychically difficult — as an academic and a librarian, though, not as Holiday time.

I spent well over 20 years (over 25 if I counted right) in school. and all that Pavlovian training means that now is the time to relax and next and be at home and have fun. Well, and also stress out about those seminar papers I took incompletes in, but generally, an out-of-cycle time, a time to rejuvenate. (perhaps similar to Flight)

Since starting as an academic librarian, I’ve been very confused by the month of December. All around me, students and colleagues are in high stress mode, but my stress time is over (major collection development is a month past, peak instruction time too) In fact , early December is one of my calmest times of year, just scratching off the to do list and making progress.

And then campus empties out, and I’m still here. Energy levels on campus go though the floor, and that wreaks havoc with the conflict between my prior training (time to go home, sleep in, cook lots, and read) and my new training: ah research time! I’m on the tenure track, so I have to claim research time where I can find it.

This is my third professional winter break, and I have finally taken this time for granted as research time. All semester I try to keep track of what I want to read and study and research over Winter break (5-6 weeks long here) .

Which would be great, right? Except, I somehow fail to take into account every single year, that my library treats winter (and summer) break as project time. I have 4-5 hours per week of tedious card pulling. I have 2 hours per week of weeding (year round) and I spent at least 7 hours this week alone in meetings.

And I’m starting to feel depressed. I’m up for reappointment again in April, and really wanted to get an article written over break.  But in the four weeks of break left, I’m starting to accept reality and call that 2 days per week. Can I write and article and get it into submittable form in 8 days??  And can I also tackle all the reading I have set aside and start digging into my next article (grappling with librarian-ly ethics in a 2.0 world), which may well be old news by end of summer? While at the same time fighting my well-honed winter sleep and fantasy novel skills?

Maybe some of you reading this are also on the tenure track in smaller state schools, in libraries where the workload and tenure reality don’t match up as neatly as one might like? How do you manage conflicts between too much work and not enough time for keeping up, research, and writing?

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raindrops on roses and weeding the stacks

note: when I started writing this, I had no idea where it was going. I now think I may be able to tease a rational and supportable plan out of this. But it is still a bit rambly, and I think there are several posts here.

I just spent 25 minutes or so in the stacks, weeding in one of my subject areas. Let’s call it subject O, a subject that is heavily monographic as well as data intensive. A subject that is global and historical and looks into the future. A subject that should be using books, really, I can’t imagine it without books.

Generally speaking, I enjoy weeding, even if I find it to frequently be an emotionally complicated experience, professionally speaking. I like that I actually lay hands on the collection (something I rarely get to do). I like that I can see gaps here that I can’t always ‘see’ in the catalog. I like that weeding completes a circle that also includes reference interactions , materials selection, and library instruction sessions. I think it is interesting that so few of our books circulate much — and how much they used to circulate (this is the first major weed in 40 years, so I don’t think that only the good have been left on the shelves; no one has removed any!) and I think about the nature of a small college library supporting the needs of its undergraduate students (as in, is it even possible?)

The weeding provoked thoughts that I enjoy most are those around how weeding makes me think about the nature of libraries and their role in the educational institution. This often leads to the frustrating conclusion that if librarians were given more respect and status (and if their jobs were better understood) in the academy, everyone would be better off. Because looking at books — individually and in collection — is a very telling view.

Today, oh, today, I weeded in ‘O’. And went through shelf after shelf (in O, OA, OB) handling book after book that had not circulated since the early 1970s, and suddenly realized that even the brand spanking new books– the books I was checking for pullcards but wouldn’t weed — hadn’t circulated. And I started to realize that the last five shelving units had not circulated this century. Maybe a handful had circulated in the past 10 years.

Are we wasting our money? Should we stop buying books for this subject? I am struggling to reject the notion that we should drastically reduce O’s monographic budget line until they begin working with instruction librarians to build better assignments, assignments better able to meet their pedagogical and content goals, and which force students to use library resources.

But maybe I shouldn’t fight it? Maybe I should actually suggest it.

Eighty percent of this department does not request books. The departmental library liaison—a hesitatingly friendly colleague — fights me tooth & claw about removing books, all the while sighing that she can’t get her students to use them, but they’re important and we can’t just pull them because no one has touched them in 40 years. O doesn’t use library instruction (but I do hear that O’s students won’t/can’t/don’t use the library and that their work ain’t what it ought to be). O won’t describe their program to me (or the website) or their areas of specialization, so all I have to go on are book requests. From less than 25% of the department.

So, would it be outside our mission –library and campus — to decide that we are wasting money buying books for this department right now, and stop wasting the money? And support our importance to the handcrafted education we’re always going on and on about by saying the department can have library money back when they are willing to put the effort into getting their students (who are the only ones we support) to use the discipline specific and apparently very important library resources effectively? (which would have the added benefit of leading towards buying “the right books” as opposed to the “who knows what” we’re currently buying)

Would it? really? would it be so bad?

I’m really wishing I could rationalize this into a place that isn’t just wishful thinking. I don’t want to punish the department, or the students, but right now, they aren’t using what we have. And we can keep throwing money into books on the shelves which aren’t going to be used because the department doesn’t seem to know how to make their students use the resources they say they want their students to use.

And we can help them with that. So, since they don’t use us in area IL when they really really need it, are we doing right by them (or their students!) to continue to buy the materials they want when they go entirely unused, and it is within our domain to change all of that?

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Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind

I have been a little buried in mundanities at work this week — repetitive but necessary tasks — and continuing bits started before, and have been bad about posting.

Which might be better described as being bad about thinking, but I’m going to blame the (lack of a) humidifier for the pillow in my head and let that monkey go!

So, what’s been scrolling through my head this week?

  • gender issues in BSG: R@zor. While stunning in terms of the ‘verse, R@zor may have lost me forever. May have completely undermined all previous complex and marvelous BSG gender stuff in 2 short hours.
  • assessment issues – how to assess my teaching, and how to determine if the time we put into our freshman library fair is worth it (and how to do more with no more resources). Is assessment worth the effort if we are only doing it to appease TPTB?
  • soup. yum!
  • snow tires. May the Goddess bless and keep them
  • Settlers of Catan. I’m starting to hold my own, even have some ability to discern strategy and remember what resources folks have in their hands. Soon, I will get The Longest Road AND the Largest Army!
  • Christine Bruce’s Seven Faces of Information Literacy (summary article) and phenomographic approaches to learning. More will follow, I promise. But, how did I get through 4 years of instruction and info lit work and research and not encounter this 1997 gem?
  • snow.
  • sleep

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This has nothing to do with libraries (except that most of the folks are librarians…)

A good friend from library school made a video out of photos taken while we were in school (posted on her blog) and it just made me realize how much I miss this amazing group of people! And our potlucks and picnics and parties and live music gatherings…. We could do food like nobody’s business –check it for yourself!

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Give ‘em what they want? Why on earth??

One of the issues that makes my head go ‘splody is the issue of how academic libraries should respond to student desires. Which is an entirely different question than how academic librarians should respond to the changing nature of technology, and is also different than understanding “these kids today” and providing services in ways that they can make sense of. And it is most certainly not the same conversation as fixing broken vendor tools and inserting more interactivity and interoperability into library software. Which are all good and useful conversations. But are not the same as the one where librarians say “but students want X”, and Rudy’s head explodes.

What I see as the issue is that students are kids. They’re 18, maybe 21. They want fast quick easy sloppy immediate, and they have absolutely no regard for the nature of scholarship or the complexities of organized information, or for how conducting research on, say, how the perception of Dreamtime in Aboriginal thinking helped or hindered their survival in the face of colonial interlopers in the 19th century might need to be done differently than finding out if Britn@y got custody or if the car they want got good consumer reviews.

That’s where educators — professors, librarians, university professionals of all stripes — come in.

We’re adults. We’re librarians. We have advanced degrees. Some of us have done advanced research. We have domains of expertise, in librarianship, in information organization, in user behavior, in information literacy, in other specialties. We (or I, but we all should) pay attention to how students use the tools we want them to use, and we pay attention to how they use the tools they want to use. And we understand why the ones we (may hate but) have built over decades are the right tools — of those available — for academic research. Specifically as librarians, we understand the complexities of organized information and the tools that have been constructed over time to assist in complex research queries — both the positives and the negatives.

So why on earth do librarians stand up and say “the students want it” and expect that to be a persuasive argument??? The students may also want beer to flow in the water fountains, and to buy their papers on the internet, and to not have to work very hard, and get the degree certification that allows them to get a job after school. And while some of those may be laudable goals, this is COLLEGE. And in college students will learn to be college-educated people, able to tell the difference between good information and bad information (not to mention how to stitch information together into knowledge!), why drinking until 3am before a 9am class is a bad idea, and that Google really doesn’t work for their course research.

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. Not only do they not have degrees in the organization and access of information, but they are in the process of learning the very nature of such things. How can our profession be so eager to allow neophytes in the world of complex research and thinking to determine the structure of getting them to the information they do not yet know how to think about??


Hello world!

When I first moved to the North Country, I was bit by a bat. I felt the need to tell everyone I knew the funny and horrifying story of how I was bit, and so I started a blog. It was known only to my friends and family, and for a while I posted regularly. And after 101 posts, I basically stopped.

Today, I begin again.

In the narcissistic age of Facebook, I feel the urge to define myself to my peers, colleagues, and unknown lurkers and virtual stalkers, many of whom only know me through twitter posts. They don’t know when I agree with them, and when I disagree. And I don’t always know where I fall along the tangled continuum of Library Conservative and 2.0 Evangelist. In this blog, we’ll find out if my dancing along that beam might make a coherent dance, or is just a recipe to fall.

If I haven’t mixed enough metaphors, I apologize. Come back soon, perhaps I’ll mutilate more.


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