Deepening the Conversation

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


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Did somebody ask for focus??

Hello world!

I have been a very bad blogger lately, and I apologize for that. What’s my excuse? Getting ready for a two week trip, taking the two week trip, and now having a couple days to get my office tidied up and figure out what I need to pack home for the summer. Yes indeed, for the third (of the last 4) summers my building will be closed this summer for renovation/repair work (and we’re hosting two library conferences this summer, what horrible timing!). Nothing too sexy, but a new HVAC system and new windows. Word is it will be accessible to us all summer, but I’m planning as if they will find asbestos in the HVAC.

So, why did I leave for two weeks? A marvelous conflation of events had my nephews being born a week before LOEX, and my sister’s wedding a week after LOEX, all in Chicago. So I took myself off to Chicago to be inspired about information literacy and leading for innovation, coo at adorable babies, and to get all gussied up and cry at my baby sister’s wedding to a fantastic guy with a great family. Oh, and to dance like a mad woman. (as an aside, there are may reasons I love my sister. Including the fact that we did not hear a) Celebration, b) the Macarena, or c) the Hokey Pokey at her wedding)

This weekend I’ll debrief LOEX for y’all (and for myself– it’s good to do!), and from there I will be immersed in thinking about assessment (not that immersion, as much as it would be a great idea!); I have three panel sessions at SUNYLA on assessment. Two are informaiton literacy assessment panels, and one is an assessment of the organization itself. I will also be strategizing the best way to re-energize my SUNY library instruction committee by way of the open meeting I am holding for it at that conference.

I am also writing an article this summer with a prof I do a lot of collaborating with (I can never get rid of dangling participles in this type of sentence! any tips for that???). I expect that the collaborative act of writing will see some ink here, as well as cross-disciplinary writing. I expect that my very strong feelings about how information literacy has stalled out in academe may get vented here to blow them out before making them polite enough to play their role in the article.

Oh, and, budget cuts loom. Big scary ones. So I expect I will be spending some mental blood, sweat and tears on pondering about how one can call oneself a college while having an already woefully inadequate budget sliced by 6-12%.

Which is all to say, I’m back, and better than ever! All rested up and over-scheduled and veering off into what I hope will be an extraordinarily productive summer.

Unless I get side-tracked. In a good kind of way…


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Dancing the dance and avoiding the dancers

wow- it’s been too long since I’ve posted! There’s been a lot going on on the work front, closing out the budget year, finishing my reappointment dossier, working on conference proposals (2 for Internet Librarian, 4 for a local conference — well, organizing 2 panels, and an open meeting, plus one session proposal), writing cover letters, workshops, and dealing with with the fall-out of a situation that was… ignored…before my time.

I can’t discuss particulars, but the situation has gotten me thinking a lot about how young librarianship is a profession, especially as academic librarians with faculty status and expertise and expectations. Seriously — it was not so long ago that the retired History profs manned the libraries, keeping the riff raff away from the books, except in limited and controlled interactions.

A colleague and I were discussing this incident, and she feels strongly that the timidity of librarians in claiming our expertise and authority is a passing generational moment. And I truly hope that’s so. Because for me, and other newer librarians, it is increasingly difficult to understand and interact with the complexities of our job and try to dance around the toes of professors who think our toes are theirs for walking on. And some days, it is only basic human courtesy and my desire to keep my job that prevents me from exerting — as loudly, rudely & aggressively as it can be claimed away from me — my own authority over my work. The real problem (institutionally, that is) is that I am less and less confident that going along to get along is the best thing to do professionally. As a professional. As a profession.

For the most part, the professors I deal with are really fantastic folk. They are without a doubt my favorite part of my job — open, curious, willing to engage, and learn, and teach, and be taught. They are open to collaboration in ways large and small. I will really miss them when I leave this still-frozen over, isolated edge of the planet.

But there are some professors, professors who have been long ignored and worked around, who are so intransigent and potentially hostile and entrenched that we don’t even realize we have integrated not-provoking them into our daily dance. And allowed them to fester in their corners with their own aging perceptions of the role of the library and library policies and services. This is generally fine, because the passive avoidance goes both ways. But every now and then, and intransigent professor ( or department) decides it wants something from the library. It’s way. Old School. And instead of understanding that things have changed — or that if they had read their email or come to liaison meetings or listened to their liaisons they would have known– lash out. With all the wrath of righteousness that a bone deep sense of entitlement can muster.

They’re the professors, right? So: do we let that override our own understandings of who we are and what we know and why we do what we do? Do we let their status override ours? Or are we still so tenuously trying on faculty status that don’t quite believe we deserve it? Of course, if we don’t claim it and exercise it, we don’t deserve it, right?


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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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FRBRize me! (or, I’m not scattered, I’m just multi-faceted)

Dear readers, don’t fear, I have not forgotten you! In the past two weeks I have started four blog posts on at least three different topics, and have written at least that many more in my head while drifting off to sleep at night… Alas, the semester has begun and with it the fracturing of my time and attention.

One of the things I have been thinking about is the passing comment my director made about needing me to focus and stop going in so many directions. I snorted and put the thought aside (it was an emailed comment…). But i do struggle with this. I was hired to have no focus — to select materials in six diverse and complex subject areas (and build relationships with those units) and to provide instruction without regard to my specialties or my collection development areas. As such, I was hired to be a big picture thinker, and I bring that. To wit:

I am passionate about information literacy, and wish I could spend more time learning about pedagogy and applying it, refining assessment techniques, developing more and better relationships with my regular profs and new profs and profs who don’t use instruction but would benefit.

I am fascinated with collection development in a small undergraduate institution. What does it mean to have a collection that solely supports student learning at this level? How do balance and bias come into the criteria? How do you support interdisciplinary topics on a tiny budget when they have no designated line? How to build the relationships with other selectors when our areas overlap (and maybe they don’t perceive the overlap)? How to manage areas that aren’t taught but need to be int he library collection? How to use collections information to leverage library usefulness and expand information literacy where it is most needed, and let departments know that their collection use tells us something about their students they might not know?

Electronic resources are an issue too — the concerns about owning or licensing materials, about the role of selecting what we want versus selecting aggregators who select is still an issue, and it is now moving into the reference collection, and perhaps soon into the monograph collection. How can we come to peace with these trends given our budget, staffing, and consortial situation?

The digital frontiers also raise concerns about moving selection and instruction into digital realms, educating our students and colleagues about the information tools they need to be familiar with, and the digital footprint issues they should be aware of or concerned about — and all this means educating myself as well.

And then there are the issues of being a member of the college community and all that brings to bear.

So, am I intellectually scattered? Yeah, I’ve got a lot of balls in the air at work. Is it possible for me to do the job I have and be focused? I’m having a hard time seeing it…. I can put it all under a large umbrella (“user-centered holistic librarianship” is my term du jour; “undergraduate education and The Library” works most days too) and say it’s all one thing, but that’s just gilding the lily. Is there another way to do my job, do it well, and find intellectual focus? I can’t be the only one in this position — what say you? How have you managed the conflict between engaging in a job that demands multiple personalities and focusing on becoming expert in a single thing?

Curious minds want to know ;)


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InfoLit success stories

Yesterday afternoon, Winter Break (and all my attempts to get My Own Work done) officially ended. My research afternoon time was lost under a sea of returning faculty requests for the status of their books and some lovely-but-time-consuming library instruction consultations.

My new class websites (example), started on a whim and used only when paper seems unwieldy (I cling to giving them a piece of paper, to take notes on and follow along with, and to have my contact info. I think it makes a difference, I know others disagree….) led to bringing a second year prof on board for library instruction. She was so enthused about my making her class their own website with information on primary sources and hand-selected resources from the free web and the library, she finally agreed to bring her class in . Hoo-rah for me! I don’t know why some profs are so resistant, and I don’t understand why this was so persuasive, but I’m really so happy it was in my bag of tricks! Of course, now I have to identify primary sources on Modern African history from the perspective of Africa (and ‘Africa looks back at Europe’) to populate the page with, but a challenge is good, yes?

My favorite prof (henceforth MFP) and I finally sat down at the syllabus polishing stage and restructured his assignments and slotted in six (six, I get six!) library instruction sessions. We used to do four, but I have talked him up to six (seven would be ideal –we’ll get there!). After almost three years of working together, we have a great rapport and he’s very amenable to my ideas.

So, what have we done?

  1. Because this is a class within a class, I get to do some real assessment, with pre- and post-tests. And this year, I’m going to revamp them
  2. This year, we got on the ball and talked through all of the assignments for the semester- and changed almost all of them to fit information literacy development! And I will be first-draft writing two of them.
  3. We’ve added a session just on introducing library research (and I’ve offered to make him a scavenger hunt for them to do before the session. I think of it as opening them up to what they don’t know they don’t know- one of our biggest stumbling blocks, imo.)
  4. We also have a session just on background research and format. Why use newspapers, when the free web is the right place, why you really truly do need to read books. I’m so pleased to have a whole session on just this.
  5. MFP has come to my side on my scholarly article and first year students bug bear (there will be a post on this, very soon!). We are doing a session on books, and a session on evaluating websites, and then a session on Articles. The article session (no longer first but last) will be on finding appropriate Reliable Sources (as opposed to peer reviewed articles)
  6. We’re also doing a wrap up session, which I pulled together very last minute last semester and am looking forward to thinking through this year.
  7. We’re going to see if we can make an article out of all this work we’ve done together.

Now I just have to figure out how to make this much work and effort and success take up a significant amount of space in my reappointment review folio!

And, figure out how bring more profs into the fold.


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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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