Doing the Work

Seth Godin is likely a familiar name to many librarians. He’s the author of several books, has given many inspiring TED talks, and writes a great blog. I just started subscribing to his blog about a month ago. I love that his posts are short, varied, and contain out of the box ideas. Some of them apply to my work in libraries, some to my personal life, and some not at all (but reading them is still rewarding).

His post on January 24th of this year was titled “On doing the work” (yes, I ripped off the title). I won’t summarize it because it’s short and easy to read, but it got me thinking about where the motivation to really engage with something comes from. More specifically: how do I harness that motivation in myself, can I identify which activities are worth doing, and how can I get my users to do the work that comes along with libraries.

Part of my inspiration for thinking about these issues is the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC I am taking. I find that I’m not as engaged or willing to do the work as I was in the Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC. I haven’t yet figured out why, although I can identify several factors that may contribute. The subject matter isn’t as directly applicable to my life, the format of the course assignments is more individual, the course has many more participants, and the course software isn’t as personal. This thought exercise has helped me understand some of my own preferences for learning experiences.

I am more motivated if I can identify a specific outcome of my learning relevant to my life. I feel more comfortable learning on my own or in small groups with an outlet to share what I am learning in my own way with my peers. I enjoy video lectures more than I would have thought (and wish I had more of them in graduate school!). Taking handwritten notes helps keep me focused on what I am doing, and typing those notes later is invaluable for processing the information I’ve learned. I am glad to have figured out these preferences, and wonder if higher education institutions provide the right environment for fostering this self-exploration in students.

I think higher ed is moving in the right direction but isn’t there yet. At my institution we offer classes in person, on video, split between online and in person, and fully online. Many seated classes now have an online space as well. I think this is good for students if implemented successfully. It would be nice for students to have the opportunity to experience each one of these modes of instruction early in their career to discover what suits their preferences. Librarians may not be able to directly impact a student in the way a faculty member can, but we can bridge the gap between the faculty, students, and administration. We can counsel students about their options and reassure them as they work through their adaptation to the college environment.

As I stated earlier, I have been pondering how to motivate students (and faculty) to do the work when it comes to their information needs. This is definitely an iterative process. I know that information sticks better when it’s repeated, when it’s relevant to an outcome in their life, and when it’s presented with humility. I try to keep these things in mind when I work with students at the reference desk or in the classroom. I taught a session this morning to a class where I am also embedded in their online space. I taught them how to cite articles and embed links in their discussion board. I made it clear that using library sources is easier for several reasons (credibility, citation generation, linking, sifting through results, etc.). I let them know that I can help them find articles if they are stuck.

I moved into a discussion on APA format by first talking about the reasons why citations are used in academia and in the workplace. I brought it back to their class assignments. I had them work together to complete a citation. I reinforced that I am around to help them with citations (or anything else they need). The professor also wanted me to discuss presentation skills. During this portion I discussed the skills in the context of their group assignment for the course, job interviews, and workplace presentations. Again, I reinforced how the library can be useful (research, study rooms for practice, etc.). I used humor as much as possible, and told personal stories of how these issues have impacted my work and that of colleagues and friends.

When I left their classroom I went online and posted links to the main resources I discussed in their online course space. I know that I won’t hear from most of them, but I know that I will hear from more of them than I would have if I’d not spent the time and effort to connect to their various motivations. I had two students (out of 23) find me at the end of class. One asked for where to go for resume help. Had I not connected presentations and research to the workplace, she may not have reached out. What this thought experiment has taught me is that as a librarian and educator I need to view each library user as uniquely motivated (or not motivated) to solve an information task, and that spending an extra minute or two figuring out the motivation will be invaluable.

Thank you to those of you who did the work to stick with this post! I wanted to also link out to an essay I wrote titled “Student Trends: Informing Library Practice” that appears in my library’s online newsletter for new faculty. It touches on several of the ideas I explored in this post.


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