#newlib and My Take on Library Rockstars

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve spent the last four weeks participating in the New Librarianship Master Class MOOC offered by David Lankes at Syracuse University. I’ve had “The Atlas of New Librarianship” on my list of books to read since it came out, and was excited to take the class. I teach online and did my whole MLIS program online, so I think I have a pretty good background for evaluating the course based on its execution. I was not impressed by the presentation of course materials. I fully understand the limitations of the Blackboard Learn environment, but the course seemed very slapdash and like it could have been put together quickly. I appreciated the video lessons, this is one component that was lacking in many of my graduate courses, but they seemed repetitive and to lack depth.

I admit that I didn’t have the time to complete the (long) list of readings that accompanied the video lessons, but what I did read I thought could have been covered within the videos if Lankes had spent less time repeating anecdotes and concepts throughout each video. I got the impression that the videos weren’t made sequentially or perhaps were re-purposed from other iterations of this class for his Syracuse students. The quizzes were short and the questions were often confusing and didn’t seem to speak to what I considered the most important aspects of each lesson. I liked the opportunity for discussion on each piece of the week, but the Blackboard layout made it hard to track conversations. The first week was overwhelming and it was impossible to read through all of the discussion. I’ve also attempted to participate in Twitter discussions using the #newlib hashtag and found these useful (as others have stated).

I think I’m being especially critical because the message beaten into my head by the course is that libraries and librarians should be innovative and should be fostering knowledge creation in our communities, and I felt like this course didn’t meet those objectives. I’m a big believer in practicing what you preach, and I thought Lankes could have done a better job incorporating his vision into the course itself. I’ve read many blog posts and discussions criticizing the content of the course, but as I said, without having done the readings I don’t feel as though I’m prepared to do so in the same way.

I did like a lot of what Lankes had to say, and I welcome the forum/structure to discuss the future of librarianship with my colleagues.  One thing that resonated with me has been the debate over “rockstar librarians” and who gets recognition in our field (see Matthew Ciszek’s post “’Rockstarism’ and Librarianship” and https://mrlibrarydude.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/image-public-perception-and-lego-librarians/photo-2/). As a new, young librarian I feel the pressure to be innovative and to make big exciting things happen. Lankes points this out in one of his lessons and draws attention to the fact that many young librarians get hired because supervisors thing young equals innovative, and that this prevailing attitude can influence older/more experienced librarians to either stay comfortable in the status quo or feel like their ideas won’t be taken seriously.

My experience working on ACRL committees and attending ALA Annual combined with the work in this course have made me feel a strange mix of energized and overwhelmed. On one hand I feel like I can’t wait to push boundaries and try new things, and on the other I feel like I haven’t done enough in my first 23 months as a librarian and that I’ll never catch up to some of those so-called rockstars. I have been thinking about this a lot, and had a moment recently that was eye opening. I have been working with the co-chair of the ACRL ULS Conference Planning Committee to put together a joint DLS and ULS program proposal for ALA Annual. We recently emailed librarians that we’d like to be panelists for our session if it’s accepted. One of them is definitely a library rockstar and if I named them you would likely know who this person is. They accepted our offer, but in an email wrote “. I feel the need to keep reminding folks that I am still a very early career librarian, and a lot of the initiatives I’m working on look/sound good because I know how to sell them as such online. They are playing out much more slowly and less “leadershipy” in reality.”

This kind of floored me because it made me realize that they work I’m doing IS valuable and IS worthy of recognition. I think it’s harder right now because I’m starting over in a new place (during the summer in an academic library no less!) and I feel like I haven’t found my niche here yet. I know I was doing great things at Cleveland but I don’t know how to translate what I’ve done in the past into my current role. I need to start publishing and would like to present more but I don’t know where I’m going with that yet. I have some ideas rolling around but feel like I need to get through a Fall semester before I can find my place here. I know that my committee work will keep me busy and engaged with the profession on a greater scale while I work on finding my voice here.

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4 thoughts on “#newlib and My Take on Library Rockstars

  1. I’m sorry the course did not meet your expectations. The course was put together over a year, but it is the effect not the effort you are judging, so feedback accepted.

    I do have one question. I agree the course format is pretty traditional with lecture, readings, and discussions. I have been heartened by folks who have broken out of the mold on Twitter and blogs. So my question, with 2,000 students, how would you have made the course more innovative? This is a very sincere question I promise. I labored over it and only came up with making the content available for remixing.

    One thought was to create discussion groups based on region, but then how to expose all the conversations. Since the content is available, I would love to play with different ideas. Thoughts?

  2. One thought I had was actually building a participatory digital library. Putting the ideas into action. However, it may be duplicative with the IPL (that started very much this way), it would take longer than a month, and seems like it would come after a course like the current MOOC with its primary objective being exposure and awareness. The problem is the tradition mode of lecture still works for awareness (my opinion), but has always had scale issues (like back 200 years or so). But I agree that mastery takes more engagement like what is happening on this blog and on twitter. Still, just a thought.

    • Dave,

      Thanks for reaching out and reminding me that my critiques are more effective when followed by solutions! I was thinking about how to scale the discussions yesterday and thought about maybe assigning different groups for each week that are based on some arbitrary thing (last name, zodiac sign, etc). This would ensure a different group for each week and avoid grouping participants by their library experience. I would have liked to have assigned discussion topics/projects such as “find an example of a library doing something innovative and write a short synopsis”. This would encourage more interaction with the material and make for more interesting discussions.

      You could also offer more optional activities outside the course environment like Google Hangouts or a space for people to find out who else in their region is working on the course to be able to meet up face to face.

      I like your idea for the participatory library and agree that this would have to take place outside the scope of the 4 week MOOC. Perhaps a course wiki (hosted outside Blackboard) for collaboration each week would be more scalable? Is there a reason why the course was only 4 weeks?

      Again, thanks for reaching out and being willing to take feedback!

  3. Great ideas…perhaps assigning folks in the groups to report out so ideas can flow across the group boundaries. I also like the assignment ideas, but the decision (rightly or wrongly) was to keep the course limited in terms of effort both effort on the instructor, and the student. Quite frankly, this is the first time I’ve done quizzes in my career as a prof, so could use more work on it. The quizzes for the first two weeks, for example, were geared towards the readings over the videos.

    You’ve asked a great question about the 4 weeks. The short answer is for the CEU requirements. CEUs are still based on time committed, not outcomes. So we had to limit the time. Also, we had to limit the commitment of faculty who have other responsibilities in summer and during the academic year. That said, the course content and conversations were built to remain open long past the CEU deadline.

    This is the second experiment in MOOCs for my school. The first was a general test, with the business case being about turning “tryers” (folks who like to try MOOCs for free) into “buyers” (folks that enroll in formal courses and programs at the school who generate revenue). The business experiment for this one was seeking additional revenues through continuing education. Let me be clear, the business cases are experiments, but we feel getting the content out into the field in both cases was the reason we did it.

    To be sure I don’t think that 2,000 person MOOCs for free are the future of Higher Ed, but I think they can be part. For me it will be a tricky melding of the mission of higher ed (to advance society through scholarship and teaching), the business of higher ed (how do you support the learning and scholarship with resources), and the technology available (we need better tools to manage large scale conversations). It will also be a change from certifying folks at the beginning of their careers to supporting them throughout their lifelong learning.

    Anyway, thanks for the input.

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