Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday jams (12/18/2015)

Every year is a good year for new music, but 2015 was a great year for new music. And I feel like 2016 will probably also be a great year for new music, if the singles I've heard so far are any indication. Santigold has a new record out in 2016, and I heard the first single from it this morning. It's really fantastic.

I don't even know what is happening it is break and I am doing things and there is stuff happening on twitter and in the world. It's warm and then it's cold and then it is dark when it is daytime. I just. Um.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday jams (12/11/2015)

I've started looking at my commitments with a more critical eye, and I am starting to feel like I have a little bit more space to breathe and reflect as opposed to go-go-going until I break.

It's nice.

It's almost break and soon I will be painting houses and assembling jigsaw puzzles.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It takes an ocean not to break

I feel like academic libraries, in some measure, feed off the energy of their users. Specifically, I think that people who work in academic libraries feel pressure at the end of each semester because the people they work with feel that pressure. In every academic library where I've worked, the nervous energy that students exude at the end of the semester is palpable as soon as you walk into the building.

Because I do not work directly with users, my work life remains relatively steady during this time of year. I'm trying to get loose ends tied up before leaving for the end of the year break, sure, but my workload doesn't increase in the same way as my public services colleagues. But for some reason, I find myself feeling bogged down and stressed out this year.

My friend, Michelle, calls these feelings "crisis mode." And she wrote a really great blog post about the tools she has moved away from operating in crisis mode. One passage in particular resonated with me:
I generally am trying to purposely integrate reflection into my day. How is this project making me feel? Do I need help? Do I have the mental energy I need right now to do this? Am I the best person to do this? Can it be done this semester or do I need to push this deadline? 
This resonated with me because I am terrible at this kind of reflective practice and evaluating whether I have the mental and emotional energy to push any given project forward. Instead, I go-go-go until I break.

After I read Michelle's post, I had a conversation with someone (okay, my therapist) about my go-go-go tendencies and she said that she feels like there is a difference, energetically, between doing things that we feel passionately about and things that we don't. Even when they're challenging, she reasoned, we still feel good when we're engaged in things that excite us. And when we're engaged in things that don't excite us, we feel slower and sluggish.

We agree to be involved in things, in our personal and professional lives, for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes those reasons are related to a real and genuine passion and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes we want people to notice us, so we agree to get involved in an initiative. Sometimes we are afraid of missing out, so we join a committee. Sometimes we step up because we're afraid that nobody else will.

Michelle's post and my subsequent conversation with my therapist lead to a place: it is worthwhile to check in with yourself to identify the projects you're involved with that leave you feeling stressed out or sluggish and find a way to either stay involved and change how you feel or find someone who is better suited to take the project on. After all, your saying no about something that causes you discomfort means that someone can say yes to something that makes them feel energized.

I put up an index card next to my work computer that reads: Why are you doing this? Does it make you feel: interested? Energized? Excited?

There are, of course, times when you have to accept a project even when it isn't something your passionate about or excited by. And in those times, you have to do what you can to get the job done. But sometimes, you get to make a choice. And I"m hopeful that by checking in with myself, I can make space to devote more time and energy to the things that make me feel excited and energized--even when they're difficult.

Maybe you don't need an index card to be mindful. But I'd encourage you to try out the questions that Michelle poses in her blog post. And if you need an index card, that's okay too.

Stay positive,

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Jams (12/4/2015)

What a week at The Blog! Erin wrote a post that hit a nerve about being passionate about your work, and I followed it up talking about how rhetorical habits distract us from important discussions. But now, it is time for some jams as we wrap up our week.

Over the thanksgiving break I was lucky to be able to spend some time with very good friends who I've known for a very long time. We got talking about music that helps us deal with our emotions about our work and our lives. It might have been very late, and everyone else might have been asleep, but we sang along and it felt pretty good.

Grimes has this awesome new album, Art Angels, and it is 100% worth the time you will spend listening to it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

Erin wrote a love letter to tattooed spunky hipster librarians, in response to some of the comments about whether librarianship is a dying profession in a recent Hiring Librarians post. In the next breath, the respondent goes on to state
We are all replaceable because we have no identity and once the ALA accepts the ridiculous Threshold Concepts- we won’t even be able to hold a conversation in academia without looking like the morons we allowed ourselves to become.
So in both the quote that Erin used about "tattooed spunky hipster librarians" and in this quote, there are ad hominem arguments being presented to support the claim that librarianship is a dying profession. I don't want to fall into a tu quoque by making additional ad hominem statements, indeed, the author of the Hiring Librarians post makes a number of very important points that merit discussion. I want to talk about why almost everyone I know reacted to the tone instead of the content.

The ad hominem arguments in this case serve three purposes, all of them dangerous.  A caveat to add that what I am discussing here is not only true of many folks who agree with the statement above, but many who disagree. As Nanci Griffith puts it, "I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil." We all do it. We should all be watching ourselves if we care for what we do, who we serve, and the future (not of our profession, the future in general, of humanity).

First, these arguments derail conversations about important issues (for instance, about threshold concepts) by bringing moral character judgements into realms where they do not belong. Assessments of the character of others (or, here, ourselves as well?) beg answers from others because they threaten identity. Erin's post gets at how digs at identity weigh on us, make it difficult to engage in discussions, and gnaw at our self-worth. They do not offer grounds to continue discussion of the topic at hand. No arguments or premises offered. We should be talking about the merits of the proposition.

Second, ad hominems and other informal fallacies distract from the issues. Suddenly we find ourselves discussing the straw man of generational divide, not knowing how we got here. We end up treading and retreading discussions that were tired when they started. What do we look like, do people like us, why don't they care about us, all in circles and circles. Without substance because there are not grounds to continue discussion of the original topic. No arguments or premises offered. We should be talking about the merits of the proposition.

Third, ad hominems and other informal fallacies abdicate responsibility and blame. If we allow each other to engage in fallacious arguments, we let it all fall apart. It becomes acceptable to discuss tangential concerns as if they are primary. It becomes acceptable to overgeneralize our peers based on surface differences. It becomes acceptable to not offer grounds to continue discussion of the topic of concern. We need not offer arguments or premises. I start to wonder if we even care about the merits of the proposition. If we even care what we are doing at all.

There is significant damage from these arguments, but even more damage caused by the discussions that we're not having. It is essential that we address content in these discussions. Habits of rhetoric are the danger, but they are habits and we can all work on focusing on the issues. As a profession, we need to engage each other about what we are doing and why. We need to be disagreeing and challenging and working through issues and reaching a balance to move forward. Maybe we're scared and used to discussions moving in this same direction, and we let it slide. Maybe it is hard to be honest with ourselves and our colleagues about how we feel and what we think about some issues. I get it. I'm there.

Discussion that is real, honest, and deep is not easy, but it brings us forward. If we open ourselves, lay out arguments, share honest feelings and concerns, if we then listen, question, listen, disagree, listen, and hear, if we then find a path that works for us all, if we could do just that. We may not all be on board with every single move, but we will understand and know each other.  And we'll be moving.  Creating the future of librarianship, even.

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

If you're too school for cool

Hiring Librarians posted an interview where the respondent stated that librarianship is, in fact, a dying profession. The respondent went on to justify their answer with about three paragraphs of text which included this line:

I have no belief that Librarianship as a profession will be able to hold on. regardless of what all the tattooed spunky hipster librarians think.
So, here's the thing about that.

Being young in a profession that is relatively grey is really hard. It's difficult to express yourself fully, if who you want to be is someone who experiments with fashion or gets tattoos. It's hard to like music, art, and literature that your colleagues don't understand. It's hard to feel like your colleagues take you seriously when they use words like "spunky" to describe you.

Being enthusiastic in a profession that is relatively cynical is really hard. It's difficult to learn to trust your voice when your colleagues don't appreciate your ideas. It's difficult to think of innovative services and tools for outreach when your colleagues tell you about that time ten years ago when they tried the same thing and it didn't work. It's hard to find the courage to engage in your field's professional association when the more established people in that association speak about how tiresome it is to deal with people like you.

It isn't wrong to be enthusiastic--whether than enthusiasm is for outreach or tattoos or tacos or indie rock. It isn't wrong to have tattoos or to experiment with fashion. It isn't wrong to like a certain kind of music or a certain kind of art.  It isn't wrong to want to create a version of librarianship that is user-center, forward-thinking, and hopeful. It isn't wrong to have ideas and to fail at executing them as much as you succeed. It isn't wrong to take chances and to dream big.

The people who make you feel like you're wrong are the people who are wrong.

It's easy for me to say this from my mid-career perch, but I really hope the next generation of library leaders learns to trust their voice and their vision. I hope they'll push back against the ideas that need to be pushed back against. I hope they will move forward the initiatives that will make their libraries better places for their users. I hope the next generation of library leaders will lead with their whole hearts.

And, yes, I hope the next generation of library leaders is spunky. I realize that the respondent used the word spunky as a pejorative term. But when I looked up what spunk means, I felt like it described the person I want to be: spirit, courage, and determination.

In the last two months, I've written two blog posts where I've said that I feel like we're driving out our next generation of library leaders out of librarianship because we don't support them in the ways that we should. I'm sorry to have to write a third blog post in a third month on the same topic. But I promise that I will keep writing about it until we start to do things differently.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We couldn't have even done this if it wasn't for you

*taps mic*

Rachel and I are both Boston-bound in January for ALA Midwinter. So we thought it might be fun to have a Unified Library Scene meet-up.

Okay, so that sounds fun right?

We've been writing this blog for about fifteen months, and we've gotten a lot of great feedback from people about the community we're trying to build. And what better way to build community than to meet face-to-face?

So let's do that. Let's get together during ALA Midwinter and have a drink (alcoholic or not) and a snack and talk about things that are awesome.

We're still in the figuring things out stage of the event, but we'll keep you informed as it develops. If you're interested in getting periodic updates on the event, you can fill out this Google form. You can even volunteer to help us figure out the logistics of the event if planning things is your jam.

And don't worry. It won't be super awkward, I promise.

Stay positive,

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Jams (11/20/2015)

Hello, friends of the Unified Library Scene! It seems like this week took a lot out of all of us and we're losing steam as the end of the year draws near. But, look--here comes the weekend! And what better way to celebrate than with a couple of A+ jams?


So I watched this video earlier this week and, unsurprisingly, this has been in my head all week. My cold cold heart melts completely at 2:34 for obvious reasons. Also, I'm at the party, throwing my hands up but going "no not really."

I heard this morning that apparently the Gorillaz are working on a new album. Which is cool because Plastic Beach was a really fun record.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Whatever I fear the most

Michelle Millet and Jessica Olin, two librarians I admire and friends of the Unified Library Scene, wrote an article for In the Library with a Lead Pipe a couple of weeks ago about gendered expectations for library leaders. It is a really interesting article and you should read it.

Michelle and Jessica hosted a #libleadgender chat yesterday on Twitter. It was really interesting and you can read the Storify of the chat to get a sense of the questions that were asked and the issues that were raised.

One of the questions that was raised was a 'what would you do?' question about a specific scenario: How do you deal with an older generation of women who actively block your work because you are younger and female?

Like Rachel, I think it's fair to say that I've leveled up to being a Mid-Career Librarian. It's always shocking to me to realize that I've had my degree for over ten years because I always feel like I have so much more to learn, and I often defer to people who I believe have more experience than me. More often than not, I feel like a kid at the grownups' table, especially since I've moved into middle management and gotten involved in leadership in ALCTS and in participation in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging.

And also like Rachel, recognizing that I have moved into the middle part of my career comes with certain responsibilities. Most important of those is that I think it's my responsibility to support my Early-Career colleagues and clear a path for them to succeed. 

I have chosen to develop my personal learning network on Twitter, and doing so has introduced me to a wide variety of library professionals, many of whom are new to libraryland. I have had the pleasure of meeting Early-Career Librarians who are smart, forward thinking, and creative. And, assuming that we don't drive them out of librarianship, these Early-Career Librarians are going to transform our collections and services in ways we can't yet imagine.

Here's the thing: it's sometimes really challenging for me to stand supportive and not get in the way of my Early-Career colleagues. Their ideas challenge me and make me feel uncomfortable. In my worst moments, I worry that I'll be made obsolete and that my opinions don't matter anymore.  But just because I encounter resistant places within myself, doesn't give me a free pass to stand in the way of progress.

I wrote this tweet during yesterday's #libleadgender chat:
I do not think it's hyperbole to suggest that librarianship is losing some of our most talented Early-Career colleagues to other industries. We don't support our future leaders as well as we should, which leads to them finding an industry that will.

I think, if we're honest with ourselves, it's because we let our fears get the best of us. We let our fears about being made obsolete drive the conversations about what librarianship should be. We let our fears about our voices not mattering lead to us shutting down good ideas, blocking good projects, and standing in the way of good initiatives. We cling to how we've always done it, because that's good enough.

Mid-Career colleagues, it is our responsibility to work through those fears. Rachel wrote in April about how the future is out there and we have to go whether we like it or not. Our guides to this future are our Early-Career colleagues. So let's work harder to give them the space and support to try new things.

Stay positive,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday jams (11/13/2015)

This week was pretty great over here on the blog. On Tuesday, Erin wrote a post on using alternative thesauri. Yesterday, Rachel wrote about being a mid-career librarian. It's time to celebrate a job well done with some jams.

Did you know that Missy Elliott released a new track? And did you know that the track that she released has an amazing video? You're gonna want to listen to this a couple of times today, so clear your schedule.

I just want to point out all of the things about this track and this video. All of them. I mean. Life.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Be What You're Like

I attend the Charleston Conference every year, and this year it made real to me changes in my professional life. I knew that I was in a more administrative role now, and I knew that I had strong connections throughout the library community and with the surrounding industries. It wasn't clear to me until last week that I didn't really understand or believe those things. Being in a place I've been before many times and seeing how the experience has changed made me come to terms with where I am in my professional identity and allowed me to confront what that means more directly.

I believe that our personal identities are set at times and, although malleable, tend toward a blend of ideal and reality. In my head, for instance, I am a 24-year-old tae kwon do black belt who hasn't been practicing a lot but can still do everything I could at 18. That's simply not true, but I want it to be and it informs how I want to live in the world (and impels me to make steps toward being, you know, fitter). I am really not sure what my professional identity was to me before last week, but I think it was set somewhere around "I pretty much have some things figured out and I'm doing okay." At the conference, I realized that a lot of people know me, and know me for some of my ideas. I realized that I have important things to say, and that I am in a position to say them, which I was not three years ago. Not the same position. I realized, basically, that I have levelled-up to Mid Career.

Being in a place where it was obvious where I am in my career and who I am professionally made me realize I have a new range of responsibilities.

To Say Something: People know who I am and listen to the things I say. I no longer have the ability to defer my thoughts or opinions to those "more suited" to speak on issues that I am knowledgeable about. It is important that I stand up and say something, knowing that I have a voice that many others do not.

To Do Something: I need to, in my daily life, do more to make sure that my personal work and the values of the organizations in which I work adhere to my values and the values that I want the profession to uphold. In some areas, this is quite a lot of work. In others, it isn't too much. All of the areas are important.

To Support People: As much as I adore being asked to share my opinions on important issues, it is important for me to share my platform with others. I think we need to listen to the experiences and advice of early career librarians as often as possible, and I am no longer that voice, I am the one that makes sure that voice has a platform. As I move more and more in administrative circles, I am further separated from the doing of things, and I will have less authority on which to speak about some issues -- even as my voice grows. I have a plan to work with any (any) early career librarian who wants to speak or write on issues that I find important. I have a plan to seek out voices that others are not hearing. To keep saying things that not everyone has heard and everyone needs to hear.

These things important to do on their own merit, but they also help me stay focused on what drives me in the profession when confronted with a mountain of tasks every day. Taking time to talk on twitter or over gchat with early career librarians invigorates me. Presenting sessions that end with "you need to do more of this" and translating that into "we are going to do more, you and I and anyone else" is something I'm striving to continue doing.

So, what about you? Where are you in your career and what responsibilities do you have related to that position? Are you comfortable there?

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Through the storm we reach the shore

Last week, I wrote a blog post that tried to answer the question: Is there a better alternative to the SACO process of LCSH review to ensure that change happens?

After I put the question into context by talking about the SACO proposal process, I wrote about how the Program for Cooperative Cataloging and the ALCTS CaMMS Subject Access Committee could change their process to become more inclusive.

This week, I want to talk about how alternative thesauri could be used instead of, or in conjunction with, LCSH.

Metadata creation using MARC as a content standard allows for a variety of thesauri to be used in the topical subject access field (field 650). If using a thesaurus other than LCSH, a cataloger can enter a term source code in $2 of field 650 to indicate which thesaurus the term comes from. This list is lengthy, though not exhaustive.

MARC also allows catalogers to employ a local subject access field (field 690). This field allows a cataloger to create a local subject term or to choose a term from an existing thesaurus not included on the term source code list. As with field 650, catalogers should document the source of the heading in $2 of field 690.



Given the freedom that MARC gives catalogers with regard to employing a variety of thesauri, a potential better alternative to the SACO proposal process is to circumvent the use of LCSH entirely. Or, perhaps, to augment the flawed thesaurus with other controlled vocabulary. Using alternative thesauri gives libraries the opportunity to bring language into their catalog that is both more inclusive and more culturally responsive. Alternative thesauri are also a way to negotiate around the fact that LCSH is slow to change when language changes. 

A shift toward using alternative thesauri in MARC records requires buy-in both from the cataloging community as a whole and from individual libraries. As a cataloging community, we need to accept that disciplines and communities often have a better understanding of their organization and of their lexicon. As individual libraries, we need to understand that investing the time in identifying appropriate alternative thesauri for types of material and subject areas is a valuable investment in creating a more inclusive search environment.

If our goal as libraries is to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable space for our users, I would argue that metadata is as important as how we change our policies, practices, and spaces.

Stay positive,

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday jams (11/06/2015)

Rachel is busy being awesome at the Charleston Conference, so I'm holding it down over here on the blog. It's Friday jams time so put on your dancing shoes, friends of the Unified Library Scene.

Stay positive,

Jam the first:

Jam the second:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I don't want to be part of the problem

The #critlib community had a chat yesterday about "dismantling the white, upper class, cisgender, & colonial LCSH." You can see the questions here. I was unable to participate in the chat, but I wanted to say something about one of the questions.

Is there a better alternative to the SACO process of LCSH review to ensure that change happens?


Okay, the SACO proposal process.

SACO is the Subject Access Cooperative Program, which is part of the Library of Congress-lead Program for Cooperative Cataloging. Members of the program may propose new subject headings or classification numbers for review and approval by Library of Congress staff. The process for reviewing subject headings and classification numbers is, roughly, a ten week process that crosses two departments in the Library of Congress.

In weeks 7-8 of the proposal process, there is an editorial meeting that determines whether proposals are approved, not approved, or changed according to existing subject cataloging policies. Summary of decision documents are posted online and are unbelievably interesting to read.

So that's the current process. Does that make sense? Have I explained myself clearly?

I think there are two possibilities here: create change from inside the system or develop vocabularies outside of the system entirely. Let's talk about the former and maybe come back to the later on a different day.

Idea #1:
Given that the SACO program is under the umbrella of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, I would love to see the Program for Cooperative Cataloging think about how the SACO proposal process could be reimagined. Library of Congress, of course, has a significant interest in how these proposals are vetted because LCSH is a thesaurus that they use to describe material in their collection. But I think that Program for Cooperative Cataloging members also have an interest in how these proposals are vetted because the expectation is that Program for Cooperative Cataloging members will use LCSH in the records they create. I think it would be valuable to have the input of the cataloging community--especially margainalized groups--when considering new and/or changed headings and classification numbers. There are already elected representative positions within the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. Perhaps those elected roles could extend to the SACO process.

Idea #2:
The ALCTS CaMMS Subject Analysis Committee brings together a variety of constituencies, including the Library of Congress, to discuss issues related to subject access. There are several outside organizations that have representation on this group, including the music and legal cataloging communities. I think that one way to change the system while working inside it would be to form a group that meets the criteria for eligibility to have a representative position on the Subject Analysis Committee. I would be especially like to see groups formed from inside ALA's Black Caucus and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table.

Catalogers, as a group of people, do the best they can to perform subject analysis on the material that comes across their desks. But, like everyone else, we do so with the privilege and biases that form the basis for who we are. We talk a lot about "cataloger's judgement" in the field of cataloging, but we talk less about "cataloger's bias." As someone who is white, middle-class, and cisgender, my records reflect a certain context. Cataloging, like the rest of librarianship, won't ever be neutral. But understand why the system is broken and how we can fix it might help us create systems that are better suited to the needs of our users. The #mashcat and #critlib communities are asking us to do better, and I think we can.

Stay positive,

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday jams (10/30/2015)

One of my Libraryland heroes is Emily Drabinski. Emily is a badass librarian and also a badass runner.

Emily is running the NYC Marathon on Sunday, so this is a special jam. Good luck, Emily!


I would be derelict in my duty if I didn't post this video brought to the attention of the Unified Library Scene by friends of the blog Jaleh and Amy


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

One chance to stay something deep in the audio

Last Wednesday, I co-presented a webinar with my friend, and former colleague, Jaleh. We talked about establishing effective Technical Services/Public Services collaborations. It was a well-attended session and the attendees were engaged and asked great questions. Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience. When the recording goes up, you should give it a listen.

In the meantime, Jaleh storified the event because she is awesome. Check it out!

One of the questions during the Q&A portion of the event was about how to establish Technical Services/Public Services collaborations in a work environment that didn't encourage collaboration to the point of outright discouraging it.

I am not great at rapid-fire Q&A. I am one of those people who likes to think about something before I talk about it. In most meetings, I am the last person to give my opinion because I like to think about an issue and hear everyone's opinions before giving my own. So, in that moment, I kind of panicked and said what was true about my experience in libraries: I have never really been told no in my professional life. It's annoying and I recognize how fortunate I am.

Having spent almost a week considering the question, I feel like I have a better answer.

I should start by saying that I have never worked in a library that actively discouraged people from different departments working together collaboratively. More often, my experience has been that some departments have a more formalized structure where they require people to go "up and over" in the org chart in order to work with people in that unit. And even then, it wasn't a guarantee that you would be allowed to collaborate.

I feel like leaders put their departments under lock and key for a couple of reasons. One, I think, is that they are more oriented toward job duties than problem solving. A job duty orientation says that I am responsible for the processes and products that are mine--nothing more or less. And in that case, why would you collaborate? A person in that kind of department picks up a process where another functional area leaves off and drops off that process where the next department picks up. I think that this kind of mindset leads to problematic processes, full of unnecessary work and pain points for users. But it's a mindset that some leaders have.

Another reason I think leaders put their departments under lock and key is that the department has a lot of daily tasks to get done and the leader believes that the only way to get things done is to cut down on distraction. After focusing on one's daily work, there is little time left in their schedule for cross-departmental collaboration or problem solving. I think that those departments are often victims of the do more with less thing that libraries seem so fond of. This myopia also leads to pain points for users, but it's also a mindset that people have. what?

I think that quite often, we react to a situation where a department won't make space for collaborative work by going around them to get things done. So-and-so won't work with us, we think, so we just have to figure out a way to get things done. But here's the thing about that, it allows that group of people to continue not being collaborative. And if what you want is to build a culture of cross-departmental collaboration, you have to be deliberate about getting everyone to the table when it matters.

When we think about organizational silos, the thing to know is that different functional areas have different priorities. And sometimes those priorities compete. So the way to build collaboration is to build consensus by putting everyone's priorities on the table, knowing that everything is going to have to give something up to achieve that common goal.

So, how do you build collaboration between Technical Services and Public Services in a library that doesn't encourage collaboration?

When a process breaks down or a new service is about to be implemented, bring leaders from all of the functional areas together. Start by identifying the priorities of each functional area and being honest about where those priorities compete. Then, when you've done that, come to consensus about goals and commonalities and figure out how each functional area can both give something up and gain something.

And when you do this, invite everyone--not just the people who you know are good collaborators. It's how you start to build community.

Stay positive,

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday jams (10/23/2015)

We need to get our collective groove back over here on the Blog. And what better way to get our groove back than through Friday jams?



Have a good weekend, friends!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If I speak it then I mean it

I had already been thinking about LIS education when I read Kyle Shockey's post on Maria Accardi's blog. Shockey speaks thoughtfully about the burnout the LIS students experience and how it impacts them as job seekers and as budding librarians. I highly recommend that you give it a read.

I worked full time when I was a LIS student, first in a school library and then in a public library. I was a distance education student, so my courses were a combination of online courses taught by full-time faculty and in-person classes taught by adjuncts. With the exception of two cataloging courses--one required--and a collection development class, all of my courses were focused on public-facing functions of the library. I think to some extent that LIS programs change to reflect they way in which the profession changes. I looked at the website for the program from which I graduated and they've added a data management course and a copyright course. I wish that more LIS programs put courses in their core curriculum related to the back-room functions of libraries. Doing so gives LIS students a broader sense of what it means to be a librarian and prepares LIS students for a variety of jobs.

When I graduated from my LIS program, it took about eight months for me to find a full-time, Catalog Librarian job. In the intervening months, I continued to work as a paraprofessional cataloger. I lived in relatively close proximity to three graduate programs, which I think made finding a job and rising to the top of an applicant pool a significant challenge. A couple of years ago, I found myself on the job market again when I moved from the Midwest to NYC. In that situation, I was close proximity to three LIS programs and relatively close proximity to two more. It felt impossible to rise to the top of that applicant pool.

I have managed to find full-time, stable employment several times in my career. I have found work that I find meaningful and found opportunities to engage with colleagues in my profession. And I have had the luxury of forgetting what it was like to be a new LIS professional struggling to find my place in librarianship.

And that forgetting? That makes me part of the problem.

There are a million factors working against our next generation of library leaders. Real talk time: If those of us who have full-time, stable employment don't start addressing those factors, we're going to lose a generation of librarians. We're going to lose smart, talented people who push librarianship forward. We're going to lose the dreamers, the doers, the makers, and the teachers.

Kyle gives working librarian some ideas of how to help LIS students and new LIS program graduates. They are very smart ideas: advocate, mentor, support.

Here's what I would add:
1. Pay your LIS student interns for the work they do in your library. Paying a student for their work not only helps them support themselves, but also demonstrates that you value the work that they do.

2. Offer to read, review, and comment on application packets for new librarians. Are you headed to ALA Midwinter in Boston or ALA Annual in Orlando? ALA's New Member Round Table has a resume review service that is looking for volunteers. Surely you can give 30 minutes of your time to help the next generation of library leaders.

3. Engage with LIS students and new graduates and include them in your social media circles. Answer questions, listen to their stories, and offer advice. Remember what it was like to struggle.

So here's what I'm committing to doing: If you are a LIS student or a new graduate and you need someone to talk to, I'll be that someone. It's the least I can do with all of the amazing opportunities I've been given. Reach out to me on Twitter or leave a comment.

That's what I'm doing. What's that one thing you can do to help a LIS student or new graduate? How can your library help support our next generation of library leaders?

Stay positive,

ps--I should say that the signature I used is a reference to a song by the Hold Steady (the same song that the blog title comes from!) and not some sort of decree about always being positive. You should 100% feel how you feel.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday jams (10/09/2015)

I, too, just want to live my life like a son of a gun.

Roger McGuinn had a 12-string guitar and it was like nothing I'd ever heard.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

this is how it all ends up

This week the library marketplace heard about the second large merger of the year.  Earlier this year, EBSCO purchased YBP, and now ProQuest has purchased Ex Libris. There has been a lot of talk about a lot of related issues and I want to say a quick piece.

We asked for it. We've been asking for it.

It's not just that we say things that lead to press releases titled "ProQuest and Ex Libris Join to Accelerate Innovation for Libraries Worldwide" or "EBSCO Shows Major Commitment to Library Workflows: EBSCO Acquires YBP Library Services and its GOBI platform from Baker & Taylor, Inc." And let's be really honest, we say things that would lead to press releases titled similarly nearly constantly. We'll leave that for another time because today I want to talk about the other ways in which we've been asking for large mergers and acquisitions.

It's how the market works. We complain about it but we live in it and we act like we have no volition. But our actions personally and professional inform the market whether or not we say anything and often in spite of the things we say. What we do makes the difference, and each decision has an impact on future offerings.

By our actions, libraries have been demanding services that are easily provided through increased integration. Therefore, service providers seek increased integration through M&A. It isn't surprising. If it isn't what we want, why are we acting like it is. If we don't want the market to meet our needs, who do we expect to?

That's really all what I've got to say. I remain unsurprised by the market demanding capitalist actions by sellers and buyers. It's the whole point of it. If you want to do something about it, two steps from my point of view: 1) understand what is going on, & 2) figure out what you're do about it.

Let's Talk About Capitalism,

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday jams (10/02/2015)

It's Friday. And Rachel is busy winning friends and influencing people, so I'm kicking out the jams this week.

A lot of amazing new music was release last Friday, including Every Open Eye by Chvrches. It's a really great album featuring this really great song.

Another album that was released last Friday was the cast recording for Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, Hamilton. Understandably, everyone is super excited about this production. Erin McKeown, my favorite musician, covered the opening number from the musical as part of her most recent episode of the web series Cabin Fever.

Have a nice weekend, friends!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You've got to go and get for yourself

Last week, I wrote about whether MOOCs are viable tool for building skills. And, while I think it's an interesting question, I think it speaks to a bigger question: What does professional development look like in the DIY age?

DIY, or do it yourself, is making or doing something without the help of someone who is considered an expert in the field. In a 2011 article titled "Understanding the do-it-yourself consumer: DIY motivations and outcomes," Marco Wolf and Shaun McQuitty define DIY as:
Activities in which individuals engage raw and semi-raw materials and component parts to produce, transform, or reconstruct material possessions, including those drawn from the natural environment (e.g., landscaping).
If you're curious about traditional DIY skills, Lifehacker has this great list of ten essential DIY skills that includes things like coding and working with electronics.

This self-sufficiency has lead to the DIY ethic which essentially says that people don't need the help of experts to make or do things. This way of thinking suggests that people can (and should) acquire the skills and knowledge they need to complete a task and, by doing so, they become experts in a particular field.

We've seen the DIY ethic become a more mainstream way of thinking and acting with the rise of urban homesteading, the growing interest in MOOCs, and the more widespread adoption of crowdfunding as a way of financing artistic endeavors.

There is, I think, a certain tension between the DIY ethic and the expectation that librarians engage in professional development. I wrote last week about how the longer I am a librarian, the less relevant my skills become and the more I'm required to build my skills to remain relevant. Librarianship seems to give more legitimacy to certain forms of skills building (e.g., conferences, workshops, and classes) than others (e.g., MOOCs, self-taught coding courses, and unconferences). But as the DIY ethic becomes more mainstream, librarianship will have to examine the biases that make that true.

In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) this tendency to prefer certain types of skill building over others, certain pockets of librarianship are embracing DIY skill building and the DIY ethic. Twitter chats have grown in popularity over time with chats like #critlib, #libchat, and #mashcat serving as vehicles for communication and acting as matchmakers for research and writing projects.

But it's not just Twitter chats. #critlib has held two unconferences and #mashcat is scheduling an unconference for 2016. This unstructured nature of the unconference means that each attendee is equally responsible for developing content and participating in the conversation to the best of their ability. In short, the unconference format suggests that everyone is an expert about something.

Librarianship is obsessed with the idea of professionalism. We believe that we have to carry ourselves in a certain way and develop our skills in a certain way in order to be taken seriously in the world. And part of this obsession with professionalism is using the words "professional development" to describe they way in which we develop our skills. Inherent in the idea of professional development, I think, is the notion that someone else will always be better at something than we are and that the only way for us to get better is to take a class or attend a conference.

I'm as guilty of it as anyone at buying into this notion of professionalism and professional development. I use the words "professional development" all the time when what I really mean is building my skills in a particular area. What would it mean if I changed how I thought (and talked) about this? What would it look like if I took pride in the Twitter chats in which I've participated and the self-directed coding classes I've taken? What if I took a MOOC and listed it on my CV? What if I gave a lightening talk at an unconference and didn't think of it as something I did in my spare time?

I think we, as librarians, need to build our skills in an intentional way in order to change ourselves in step with the ways in which librarianship is changing. But I think we learn can accept DIY methods of skill building as legitimate means of developing our skills alongside the more traditional forms like conferences and workshops. And I think it's worth considering what it means to be a professional and why we, as librarians, are so obsessed with it.

Stay positive,

Wolf, Marco and Shaun McQuitty. "Understanding the do-it-yourself consumer: DIY motivations and outcomes." AMS Review 1:3 (Dec. 2011): 154-170. Online.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday jams (09/25/2015)

Ryan Adams covered the entirety of Taylor Swift's 1989 and people really seem to love it. I ended up listening to his version of Swift's "Shake it off" and immediately compared it to this fantastic version that Screaming Females did for the A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover.

So, stop thinking about the liars and dirty, dirty cheats in the world and get down to this sick beat.

Sometimes you need a jam to pump you up and sometimes you need an anti-jam to sit, breathe, focus. Today is an anti-jam day, so I'm going to put Low on repeat. Here is the fastest and loudest Low song.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What we talk about when we talk about MOOCs

Having never successfully completed a MOOC, I'm always surprised when I read an article that indicates that people are still engaged with the format in a meaningful way. I read a couple of articles recently that made me think about them in a way I hadn't for quite some time.

I read this article from the Harvard Business Review today about the demographics of people who participate in and complete MOOCs. The article goes on to discuss some of the tangible benefits that people who have completed a course say they've gained. According to the research discussed in the article, 72% of respondents reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits.

I also read this article from the New York Times about how high school students are taking MOOCs and including them on their college applications. These students don't seem to try to pass them off as academic pursuits but, rather, they list them under extracurricular activities. Given the relatively low completion rate of MOOCs, they're a good way for high achieving high school students to try their hand at classes in a variety of subject areas without the added pressure of dropping or failing a college-level course.

As I was reading all of this, I started thinking that maybe my feeling about these courses is wrong. Maybe MOOCs could be a valuable continuing education tool that could help me expand my skill set. I'm mid-career librarian and at some point, I imagine that the changes in librarianship are going to to be significant enough that I will need to develop a new skill set in order to stay relevant. I can see it happening already with the development of BIBFRAME and the growing interest in Library Linked Data.

Given that cheating is a huge problem in MOOCs, it does leave me wondering what would happen if I managed to complete a MOOC and listed the course on my CV under my professional development activities. Would it have the same perceived value as a certificate course from a professional association or a graduate program?

While they may not have hit the tipping point that we imagined they would, MOOCs appear to still be an important form of skill building for a lot of people. And librarianship has considered the ways in which we will support people from our constituencies who are both participating in and teaching MOOCs. But I'm not sure we've considered how we will support each other as a constituency. I'm not sure we've decided whether we will accept MOOCs as a viable form of professional development. And I think we need to decide quickly, since there is a generation of middle-career librarians like me who are trying to figure out how to develop our skills in order to remain relevant.

Stay positive,

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Jams (09/11/2015)


I am busy as busy can be this week. I am working on a ton of projects at work at working six hours a night on my house too. I don't know what is wrong with my, in my brain, that makes this happen. Also I cannnnnnnnnnot get this song out of my head which  I guess makes it a jam? I don't know?

Big Boi and Phantogram have teamed up for a collaboration they're calling Big Grams. And I, for one, could not be happier. Here is the first single from that collaboration. It's got some NSFW language, so maybe put some headphones before you crank up this jam.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Let's put our heads together

I am really fascinated by the work done by Ithaka S+R. Even when I don't entirely agree with what's written in their publications, I find myself using their writing as a entry point for engaging with academia and the academic library. The most recent Ithaka S+R issue brief, Talent Management for Academic Libraries, was published on September 1st and I thought it had a lot of interesting things to say about recruitment and retention of academic librarians.

Talent management is a field of human resources management made famous by the 2001 book The War for Talent. In it, the authors discuss the ways in which companies could (and should) be deliberate in how they recruit, retain, and develop employees. Talent management (and The War for Talent) has become the go-to strategy for recruitment and retention in technology start-up culture and Deanna Marcum, the author of the issue brief, takes the tenants of talent management and applies them to the field of academic librarianship.

When considering the recruitment of new talent to an organization, talent management suggests that an organization should do as much work recruiting talent to the library as it does posting a job vacancy and passively accepting applications. In the brief, Marcum writes:
In an organization possessed of a talent mindset, managers and colleagues are creative in building candidate pools. They network through the community to identify the best possible candidates, reaching out to them and selling them on the awaiting opportunity. When they see that a vacancy may arise, they may bring potential candidates to campus for a visit or a talk. They participate in the selection process muscularly, rather than passively. They actively engage throughout the hiring process, recognizing that it is among the most important tasks the organization takes on.
I think this is an interesting idea for academic librarianship, and I suspect a lot of this kind of recruitment already happens off-the-record. If you are an administrator, you probably know someone that you would love to have working in your library. And if a job comes open that fits with that person's skill set, you're probably going to send them an email or call them or seek them out at a conference. I think this kind of recruitment is especially important if your library is in a perceived undesirable location or if you worry that the salary and benefits package may not be enough of a draw to someone in the field.

The potentially problematic side effect of this kind of talent recruitment is a fixation on fit. While it isn't necessarily problematic for administrators to identify potential employees who are forward thinking and are well regarded professionally, it veers into problematic territory when those recruited are chosen because they look and act like the existing members of the organization. Smarter people than me have written about fit and I encourage you to read them. Angela Galvan wrote a piece for In the Library with the Lead Pipe about the how whiteness and middle class-ness are inextricably linked to librarianship. Jacob Berg blogged about how fit is an unconscious bias that causes us to favor applicants who are like us. And in most cases, "Like Us" means white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgendered people.

So here's my take: we shouldn't dismiss recruiting talent out of hand just because it has the potential to be problematic. Instead, let's revisit Marcum's piece. In it, she asserts than in an organization that recruits and retains using a talent management mindset, all of the staff have a role to play in identifying potential new colleagues. She writes:
All staff are on the constant lookout for excellent additions to their teams, even when there are no specific vacancies to be filled.
So, if it's up to us to identify our potential colleagues, let's use our positions of privilege to identify the people from underrepresented groups who would make great colleagues. Let's worry less about fit and more about giving a platform to the smartest voices in our field that have, to this point, been marginalized. And let's not do it because we expect a plate of cookies for being good allies. Let'd do it because it will be beneficial for librarianship, for our libraries and for those we serve.

Stay positive,

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Jams (9/4/2015)


Well I don't know where Erin is, but I can't live without some jams right now.

wait no, wait wait

oh man, that's some good times.

Wait, wait! I'm right here!

The problem with trying to find music videos from early days of music videos is that what you find is often not great quality because somebody taped the video when it was aired on TV and then posted it online.

But I really wanted this to be my jam, so here we are.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's Best To Make the Most Of This

It's not about you. Well it is. It is about you providing the best services to the most people. I truly believe this is what we are interested in doing, and that's why I talk about relationships all of the time, even on other blogs. Because we want to do our jobs well, we often focus on our jobs, which can work against our interests. As a service organization, the depth of our specific knowledge and the breadth of our professional knowledge and services is often invisible. We want to make it apparent, to show everyone what we know and what we can do for them. However, "marketing" our services can happen in a way that is unhelpful or even belligerent and off-putting.

I am thinking about how we listen. How often do we run into or engage in the kind of interaction I described in this tweet?
Now, I am a person who hates being told what to do, so when this happens to me, I feel like my input isn't valued, and wasn't even wanted in the first place.  I understand the impulse to respond to input with the array of services available or avenues for action, but this impulse is wrong. We need to work on shutting it down. Erin wrote about developing relationships with faculty based, saying
And when we ask faculty what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like, let's ask because we really want to know and not because we want faculty to take us seriously or see as as equals.
To really listen, to be interested and want to know, our impulse has to shift from "marketing" our services to understanding our users and their needs. The brief conversation in my tweet should read something like
1: Please, we welcome your input!
2: Here is my input.
1: Wow, okay. I hear that. Can you tell me more about what has led you to that position and what you would like to see happen to address this issue? Where do you want to be in that process?
1: Please, we welcome your input!
2: Here is my input.
1: I can definitely help you with that.
This should be the response even when you already offer a service that addresses the concern. Maybe there is something you can improve, maybe you can address a past wrong, maybe you will learn something. There is never a situation where a constructive answer is "oh, you know, we offer that service" or "if you would volunteer for a committee you will be able to address that concern," even when those things are true. Those responses do not encourage the actions that either party would like to see, they do not cultivate relationships. Every interaction is an opportunity to go deeper, as well. By shifting from a focus on what we do to a focus on our users, we can turn "our tech desk checks out several types of camera" to "wow that assignment sounds really interesting, what are you hoping your students learn from it? how else do you incorporate technology into your teaching? when you have some time, I'd love to show you some of the things our technology desk offers for checkout and introduce you to our technology staff."

When we ask for input, we need to be ready to hear input, because when people give input, they want to be heard. Of course, that sounds great and we can all agree that it's best and that my example is what we try to do. I think we need to practice turning off our "let me tell you what we already do" defenses more and harder to make sure we're always ready to listen and engage on a personal level.

What can you say to tell the person you're interacting with that they're being heard? What can you personally do, in that moment or in the short term future, to address their input constructively? How can you connect with their broader concerns?

And every time, after every interaction: how could I have done that better?

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Everything is fine, fine, fine

Library Journal and Gale/Cengage produced a report called "Bridging the Librarian-Faculty Gap in the Academic Library" which documents the results of a survey sent to a pool of academic faculty and academic librarians. The purpose of the survey was to identify where faculty and librarians are in agreement with regard to what constitutes an essential library service and what can be done to increase communication and understanding. An executive summary can be found here.

The most interesting part of the summary is the set of bar graphs in the middle of the document. The first bar graph notes the percentage of faculty respondents and librarian respondents who considered a particular service essential in academic libraries. The second bar graph indicates the percentage of faculty respondents and librarian respondents who rated their library "excellent" when it came to providing the services referenced in the first bar graph.

There are a handful of services on the first graph that a higher percentage of faculty consider essential than librarians: supporting faculty research, coordinating research data services, adding faculty articles to the digital repository,  text and data mining, parceling course materials from separate texts, and managing research grants. Interestingly, faculty also gave librarians higher marks on providing those services than the librarians gave themselves.

It is worth noting that the faculty respondents came from private, college or universities and that many of the respondents came from the sciences and the humanities. It is also worth noting that every individual library operates in a different context. So what this report says on a macro-level might not scale down to your individual library.

On Thursday, Rachel wrote about how the best way to understand our undergraduate users is to engage with them and then provide them with the services they want. She wrote:
There is a simple solution, you know. We can get comfortably uncomfortable and ask students what they want out of interactions with librarians and libraries. We can ask students what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like throughout their college career. We can listen seriously to what they say, and try to be exactly who and what they need and want.
The report from Library Journal and Gale/Cengage gives us a place from which to start the conversation. Asking what we can do to support faculty research is a good place to start the conversation about what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like. But let's not stop there, assuming that's all they want. And when we ask faculty what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like, let's ask because we really want to know and not because we want faculty to take us seriously or see as as equals.

Ultimately, I think that coming into agreement about which services are essential for each of our user groups is the most important thing we can do to succeed. There are some library services we will never be able to jettison, and that's not a bad thing. But there are some services we offer our users that made sense at the time, but which have been rendered obsolete by the passage of time. It isn't that those services never had value--they did. But now they don't, and those services (and the people who provide them) can be transformed into something new and even more useful for users. We just have to be open to having the conversation and open to accepting the feedback even when it makes us uncomfortable.

Stay positive,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday jams (08/28/2015)

Friday! Jams! Friday jams!

It's not actually Rachel--it's Erin posting on Rachel's behalf. Rachel says "Because semester starts and you gotta be class."

Erin's editorial note: That whole Wondaland Presents: The Eephus EP is awesome and totally worth a listen.

I heard this song outside the student union this week and was reminded of how much I enjoy it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Singing Sight Unseen

The Beloit Mindset List is perhaps the very best example of lazy and dangerous thinking that exists. I'm definitely not the first or the smartest person to comment on the issues with the list and I will leave all of that to those with more time and energy.  I will note, however, that The List has excellent SEO and news penetration, so you would be hard pressed to find the discussions about its issues. I direct you to this fine analysis of this year's list, the list in general, and compendium of other comments.  If you prefer your comments with a big yellow box at the top, here's a story about this year's list worth reading.

But I'm not here to talk about this year's list, I'm here to talk about people. The List manages to casually and jovially re-inforce the idea that each incoming group of first-year students is a uniform and distant unknowable group, and that on the other side we are a uniform group of professor tropes. I, personally, don't find stereotype confirmation a kind of humor that makes me laugh. Instead, it is a kind of humor that makes me angry. In Higher Ed, we want to encourage wider deeper thinking not actively work against it.

Let us turn then to what we can learn from the failings of The List.  Erin talked about the library's position between academics and student life, our institutional relationship with students. I want to talk about our individual relationship with students.  The List, at least to me, has a tone of "how can we even know these people?" based on life experiences. That's ridiculous on the face of it because you need know nothing about another person nor have any common experiences in order to have a valuable and productive interaction with that person. I cannot stress this enough.

What you do need to have in order to have a valuable and productive interaction with another person is respect. The List, through it's reinforcement of tropes of students and faculty is working against that respect by telling us that we know already these people by some set of facts. You can know one thing about by knowing that I am thirty-four years old, or by knowing that I am Jewish, or by knowing that I am queer. You can know either that you share this common trait with me (but not know that we are alike or different in any other way) or you can know that we do not share that common trait. No fact about me tells you about my lived experience. You don't know me. You don't know anyone, really. And that's fine.

But wait, let's think further. Not only do we not know students, we seem confused about how we do or do not know students. Our interactions with students are not making new friends at synagogue or inviting some folks over for a cook-out. We're not here to make friends with the students. Not that we don't want to have valuable and productive interactions that might lead to life-long relationships (professional relationships or friendships or both), but that's not what we're here for. Like Erin noted, when we engage with artifice, it comes off poorly.

There is a simple solution, you know. We can get comfortably uncomfortable and ask students what they want out of interactions with librarians and libraries. We can ask students what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like throughout their college career. We can listen seriously to what they say, and try to be exactly who and what they need and want.

I'm guessing it's not a cool older friend who remembers when the Oilers were in Houston, though.

Keep Rockin'


I have to also note that my feelings about The List may be shaded by the fact that Beloit is a conference rival of my beloved alma mater, and man do I hate those guys I can't even explain it. Ugh and Lake Forest College. How can I even have opinions about those schools it doesn't make any sense.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Teach me how to unlearn a lesson

Rachel asked a question yesterday in reference to the Beloit College mindset list that got me thinking.

Academic libraries want very much to be seen as an integral part of the learning process and of the student experience. We take pride in our collections and in our services and we try very hard to. We devote resources to outreach and marking and administer surveys like LibQUAL+ to assess the areas in which we can improve service to attract more users. We send collections off site to make more room for collaborate work spaces. We use patron-drive acquisitions as a method for collection building in order to provide our users with exactly the material they need at exactly the time that they need it.

User engagement is important. And when those efforts succeed, we engage students in a meaningful way. But those efforts aren't authentic, we just end up talking past our users.

I think that part of being seen as an integral part of the learning process and of the student experience is to see our student users as an important constituency and to convey that to them by developing and implementing services and programs to help them succeed in the university environment. To that end, what would happen if we ran our libraries more like a student affairs division and less like an academic college?

Let's start by considering what we we mean when we talk about student affairs. Wikipedia's entry on student affairs breaks down student affairs into a few functional areas: academic services; admissions, financial aid, orientation; alumni and advancement/development; campus life; counseling, health, and wellness; diversity and inclusion; residence life; and sports and recreation. It then digs down into each of these functional areas like academic success skills and orientation.

When it comes to engaging students, academic libraries live at the intersection of academic services and campus life. We provide instruction and support to students that not only helps them navigate our collections, but also helps to make them information literate people in much the same way that an academic success skills program teaches students how to acquire study skills that help them succeed in college. I think that ACRL's movement from information standards and outcomes in the Information Literacy Competency Standards to frames and threshold concepts in the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education shows a movement toward developing information literacy skills that transfer far beyond finding articles in a database or a book in the catalog.

I think now is a good place to acknowledge that academic libraries are engaged in other activities than helping students develop information literacy. Traditionally, academic libraries have seen their purpose in the academic community as acquiring, describing, and making available to researchers items in our collection. This material covers a variety of subject matter in a variety of formats and lives on a continuum between unique and commonly held. And let's be clear, providing access unique collections is arguably the most important service an academic library provides to its users. But as more resources become available to a wider range of people, as as we reconsider what authority means when it comes to information, library staff grow less and less to be be the gatekeepers of information.

And I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge that undergraduate and graduate students are not the only user group an academic library serves. Academic libraries also work closely with faculty members, developing collections in their research areas and providing assistance with the management of research data. And those services definitely meet a need that can't be met anywhere on campus. But I sometimes worry that our need to be taken seriously by faculty and treated by equals means that we meet their needs in a way that doesn't reflect, percentage-wise, their impact as a user group.

I think that this circles back around to asking and answering the question that Rachel poses to us quite often: What are we trying to do here?

Acknowledging that it isn't practical to model all of our programs and services after those in student affairs, I do think we can learn a lot from our colleagues there when it comes to engaging and supporting undergraduate and graduate students by treating them as a valuable user group. It requires a shift in thinking, but I believe that the outcome is an authentic, meaningful relationship with our users that puts us squarely in the center of the student experience.

Stay positive,

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday jams (08/14/2015)

Hello, friends of the Unified Library Scene! Have some jams!

I'm actually kind of surprised that I haven't put up a Run-D.M.C. jam before. But I haven't, so here we are. It is, in fact, tricky to rock a rhyme that's right on time.

Oh, jams?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In the spaces in between

I like to practice what I preach over here on the blog, so yesterday I attended a lunchtime program at my library about ACRL's Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. I have become increasingly fascinated with the Framework and with understanding what the learning process looks like for our users. I grow more and more convinced that the key to effectively describing our collections and building our systems is to understand how our users approach the research process and are transformed by what they learn from our instruction-oriented colleagues.

But I digress. This post is not about that.

In preparation for that program, I read about threshold concepts. This primer on threshold concepts by Glynis Cousin was especially helpful for both explaining the concept of threshold concepts and grounding my understanding of the Framework. In this piece, Cousin explains that there is a space, the liminal state, between when a learner is introduced to a concept and when they master it. Cousin describes the concept of a liminal state as it relates to the mastery of threshold concepts, writing:
But once a learner enters this liminal space, she is engaged with the project of mastery unlike the learner who remains in a state of pre-liminality in which understandings are at best vague.
Cousin goes on to challenge those tasks with teaching by stating:
Teachers must demonstrate that they can tolerate learner confusion and can 'hold' their students through liminal states.
This idea of a liminal space and our responsibility to those in it stuck with me and made me think about how I approach working with people who are mastering new skills.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I did not study education at any point in my undergraduate or graduate studies. Any understanding I have of how people learn things comes from teaching people things--both informally and in a classroom setting. My limited experience with library-related instruction comes in the form of one hour one-shot sessions that are meant to serve as an orientation to library resources. When I started doing these sessions, I would cram in as much information as I could for 50 minutes. Students saw a variety of resources being demonstrated, but they didn't necessarily come away from the class understanding how to use them or understanding any of the underlying concepts of information literacy.

Over time, I have changed my teaching style, after seeing what was successful and what wasn't and modifying my lesson plans accordingly. I have landed on teaching classes where I identify 1-2 concepts I want them to come away knowing and then building my activities and discussion around those. But after reading Cousin's discussion about the liminal space, I believe it is not enough for me to pare down my lesson plans. I also need to make room in any class I teach for those I'm teaching to sit in the liminal space. I need to stop filling the space with own thoughts and, instead, leave that space for learners to consider and master a particular threshold concept.

Making room for students to be in that liminal space is, admittedly, really tough. Once you've mastered a threshold concept, you can't un-master it. And it can be hard to allow yourself to feel how you felt when you lived in the liminal space: the fear, the frustration, the feeling of isolation. It requires an extraordinary amount of empathy to put yourself back in that space. But I would argue that it is necessary if you want to be a good teacher.

When I was taking cataloging, I really struggled. For about 3/4 of the semester, I didn't not not understand it at all and I was sure that I was going to fail. At some point cataloging "clicked" for me and, as they say, the rest is history. But I remember keenly that feeling of frustration over not understanding cataloging. I carry that feeling with me and I let it guide me in how I help others master cataloging concepts.

The bottom line, I think, is this: when we teach, we are responsible for creating a safe space for people to wrestle with the mastery of a threshold concept. Whether it's teaching a class of students or training our colleagues, it is our job as teachers to make room for the the liminal space. And, while we're at it, to fill that space with empathy and support. It takes time and practice to develop the capacity to do these things. But we owe it to the people we teach and, in the end, it's so rewarding.

Stay positive,