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,