Sneaking into Fall

Fall semester always sneaks up on you. Summer is often spent catching up on projects and days tend to be far less structured. The realities of a full semester start to sink in with about two weeks left as the calendar fills with meetings, classes, and other obligations. This week is our last before the Fall semester starts, and I’ve managed to get some great work done in the last two weeks to prepare.

I’m fortunate to be working with one of my colleagues on a research project using Project SAILS, and we’ve been working to create marketing materials and get buy in from faculty. We’ve already scheduled 5 minute project intros in several classes, and should meet our target of 200 students taking the assessment. I’m sure I will share more details on this as the work unfolds.

I’ve also been lucky to have the support of faculty from last year who were happy with the instruction I provided in their class. I have already been asked to teach in four classes within the first month of the semester, and all of the faculty are giving me as much time as I need during a whole class period. Three of the four are classes I’ve taught before and already have solid plans and supplementary materials.

Our library transitioned to the new Libguides over the summer, and I’ve been working to assist one of my colleagues with that process. I’m channeling my library school self with CSS coding! I think all librarians should take a class in basic HTML/CSS coding, it’s been extremely useful for me in this job and in my previous role.

Another initiative I’ve been working on is creating new marketing materials for students. Here are some of the handouts/posters/flyers I’ve developed. I’m posting them as PDF but would be happy to share the Publisher files or websites I used to create them.

Easy Button Flyer – this one I have posted at the main administration desk for my institution on my campus, and by the free student printers.

Hot Mess Citation – I saw a comedic version of this out at a store and turned it into a handout that can be used when I work with students on correcting citations. As you can see, I appreciate humor!

Library flow chart – I intended to turn my “Top things about the library” handout into an infographic, and got distracted by the idea of making a flowchart instead. This was developed using the easelly website.

Student newsletter – I create one of these at the beginning of each semester.

For my faculty I created personalized emails for each person based on the interaction I’ve had (or not) with them in the past. Being on a regional campus is nice that way – 30ish emails felt very doable! I included information about all the services the library or I could provide them and their students during the semester. I’ve gotten a bit of feedback so far, but expect to get more when the semester starts on Monday.

I have come to look forward to this time of year, apprehensive, but still excited about the great work I get to do!

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Novelty

I’ve recently shifted my perspective on the importance of consuming content as part of the creative process. This shift came as a result of my fledgling explorations of the world through poetry and with a cultivation of new friendships with writers. I’ve done quite a bit of blogging, and I see how this parallels my consumption of content – I read blogs and short articles more than almost anything else.

A new blog/site that I’ve been into is Medium. I was alerted to it because I read danah boyd’s blog, and she’s one of the contributors. The articles cover such a variety of subject matter that it would be impossible to summarize, however, I do find that many of them have applications in my work as a librarian. One recent entry by Clive Thompson titled “The Novelty Effect” was especially valuable.

It’s a short discussion on the adoption of new tools and technologies, and how the novelty effect impacts both tool users and makers. As libraries we often cater to both audiences, and certainly use various technologies to accomplish our work. Thompson argues that the novelty effect can be a good way to stimulate work on a project, and I think this is a way for libraries to sell their tools/technologies to users.

In my academic setting the obvious tie-ins are the midterm or end of semester projects in which students are engaged, and faculty research and writing activities. We need to stay abreast of what our users need and find ways to insert the library as a potential solution. I think we can also take advantage of the positive feelings associated with novel tools even if we didn’t create them or explicitly provide them.

For example, if I’m doing a workshop on presentation skills and introduce students to a new tool that helps them successfully complete a project, then I will gain esteem which might reciprocate for the next project – even if the tool is no longer relevant. It should be clear how this applies to all types of libraries. We may have lost our novelty, but we can still find ways to benefit from the novelty effect.

Of course there is the flip side in that much of what we show our users is likely to fall prey to this effect. They may enthusiastically use a database in the weeks following instruction, but forget it completely by the end of a semester or academic career. In those situations we have to trust that the positive feelings from the first use will encourage users to seek us out again.

In our non-public facing roles, we need to ensure that the novelty effect doesn’t color our decision making. I think this is especially relevant in the wake of ALA – I’m sure we all heard about or experimented with new tools and technologies, but we need to make sure any purchases will have a lasting impact on what we do, and that we aren’t investing in something new as a bandaid for an old problem. Awareness is always the first step in making change, and being aware of the novelty effect can have a big impact in our work.

Search vs. Discovery

Search vs. discovery is a phrase seen often in library circles. I’m sure there have been hundreds of conference session, poster presentations and articles on the topic. I try to read widely and broadly to see where knowledge from other areas can creep into what I do in the library. One of the blogs I read for that purpose is Seth Godin’s blog, and he posted an entry with the same title at the beginning of the month. You should go read it, it’s short.

He ends with a challenge “Are you working to help your clients, patrons, customers and colleagues find what they already know what they want? Or teaching and encouraging them to find something they didn’t know they needed?”

This seems to be a key shift in our new information economy. Users think they can find what they need online, and often see libraries solely as storehouses or providers of online content (if that!). I think we have an opportunity to use this to our advantage and show our users how the library can enhance discovery. Many public and school libraries get to do exciting things like story time and makerspaces that cater to this role, but it can be trickier in academic libraries.

Academic libraries often have the mission of supporting the research needs of the university/college, and it can be hard to justify more creative ideas that are difficult to assess. I’m currently reading inGenius by Tina Seelig as an attempt to foster creativity both within and outside my library work. I think discovery is akin to a creative form of searching – we are still trying to meet an information need but may not have the words or tools to communicate that need.

Our most effective form of encouraging discovery is likely to happen when we are actively engaged with a user in a classroom, at the reference desk, in the stacks, or in communications online. I like to explain the LCC Classification system by selling students on how great it is that books on the same subject sit near each other on the shelf. I’ve found that at least half of my trips to the stacks with a student result in them checking out a book we didn’t start out looking for – either to fill the requirements of their expressed need or to fill a need they discovered when they saw that book on Buddhism or quitting smoking as they walked by.

This experience is hard to replicate online, but it is still doable. I am embedded in several Nursing research classes who have to find research for very specific questions with very specific requirements. I spend a lot of time crafting emails to students explaining the importance of going from broad to narrow and in being flexible with their queries. When I run into questions that aren’t being addressed in current nursing research I often point them to systematic reviews or articles from other fields to introduce citation searching. This kind of lateral discovery is often new to them and even if they don’t replicate my steps I know they at least have been exposed to a new way of solving their information need.

A library’s strongest selling point may be that it offers a central location for people to work alone or in groups in a space that is dedicated solely to assisting them. Libraries are not trying to sell anything or push an agenda. Libraries are simply dedicated to helping people meet their needs through whatever means we can reasonably provide. One way we can do this is to find those opportunities to foster discovery.

Focus on Purpose

I’m overdue for a blog post. I have had some personal challenges this month that have made it difficult to feel productive and/or creative, both of which are necessary for writing blog posts! My big news of the day is that I’m officially registered for ALA Annual in Las Vegas this June. The registration rates increase next week so I bit the bullet today. I’m looking forward to my second ALA Annual experience. I am moderating a panel discussion and have several committees that will be meeting during the conference. I quite enjoy connecting and working with librarians from around the country, and ALA is the culmination of the virtual work I’ve been doing all year.

One of the big topics in academic library land has been the partial draft of the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education that will supplant the 2000 Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. This is huge news for academic librarians as many of us plan our instruction and assessment around this document. I’m still digesting the new framework, but my initial impression is that it is an improvement to the former standards because it’s more encompassing of information use in the world as opposed to strictly within academic settings.

In my two and a half years in academia I’ve cemented an opinion that we should be preparing our students for their future work environments, and that only teaching them skills related to being an academic is doing them a disservice. I came across a great blog post last week titled “4 Ways To Keep Students From Giving Up Before They Even Begin”. It’s written in a tone that implies K-12 education, but I think the concepts apply to any situation where one person is teaching another.

I love the tips because they are both practical and grounded in theory. The first tip is to position each activity/lesson in the context of its purpose. I didn’t do this when I first started teaching library instruction. I had no coursework in instruction and mimicked what was being done at my first institution. I was so focused on teaching the mechanics of the varying databases that I (and my students) lost sight of the purpose beyond completing one assignment. I quickly realized that my students would exert more effort if they could connect what I was teaching with their real life needs and the meaning behind what they were being asked to do.

The other tips are great too, but this is the one that sticks out to me as the most important. The new IL framework is phenomenal in this regard because it addresses the knowledge, abilities, and dispositions necessary to successfully grasp each threshold concept. The framework provides sample assignments and assessments for each concept, and these seem to be focused on the information work students will do throughout their lives. My biggest criticism of the new framework is that it is dense and jargon heavy. It’s not as easy to pinpoint a logical progression through the concepts, but ultimately that’s fitting because that’s how the real world works.

For those looking to explore others’ reactions to the new framework I recommend Barbara Fister’s post “On the Draft Framework for Information Literacy” that also links to several other great posts on the topic.

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.

Mindfuless and Unorthodox Roles for Librarians

I was drawn to librarianship for many reasons. Although I couldn’t have expressed it at the time I chose to start my graduate work, I know now that one of the things that keeps me excited about librarianship is that I get to wear many hats in the course of my normal work day. I also get to work with people ages eighteen to eighty (with some outliers) who have vastly different goals and motivations. I can teach the same class or workshop two days in a row and have completely different experiences.

This week has reminded me why I enjoy my job so much. I dusted off an old workshop I used to do at my last library on plagiarism and citations, and offered two sessions this week. One of our Psychology faculty offered extra credit for attendance and I had 9 students total show up for both workshops (bear in mind that I’m at a regional campus with only 450 of my institution’s students). The first session went well. I like to use personal examples, especially for a topic that’s dry like plagiarism and citations.

I have my BA in Psychology and the students were all very interested in my educational background. They were engaged throughout the session and asked relevant questions. When I wrapped up they all lingered for a few minutes to ask more questions about the workshop, their major, graduate school, and other library questions. It was amazing! Two of them stayed even longer, and then one came back to my office to get assistance with an assignment. When I finished with her she told me that I was more helpful than anyone yet, talk about an ego boost! I got a feeling similar to runner’s high when I finished the session, and I find that instruction and interacting with students often leaves me feeling this way.

In our work as librarians we can step out of the traditional role of information conduit to offer support, counsel, and direction to our students. Library anxiety is a very real phenomenon and I am thankful for my background in counseling that helps me get the most out of my interactions with students. I often think about how challenging it is to be a student: the application process, registration, financial aid, navigating a campus, picking good classes, completing the massive workloads, etc. One of my goals as a librarian is to find ways to step in and offer assistance, even if it’s something as small as walking a student to the academic advising or financial aid office.

Information seeking in academic libraries is about more than research and supporting academic coursework, and we should all strive to connect students with whatever it is they need. I’m also trying to be more proactive with identifying information needs and designing a realistic intervention. I know that three Psychology classes on my campus require students to find peer-reviewed articles, and that their faculty assume that they have this skill before coming to class. I also know the reality of our student’s skills and knowledge doesn’t meet this expectation, so I decided to create a two sided worksheet that walks them through the process and rationale with my contact information.

I looked up the course enrollments, made enough copies for every student, and hand delivered them to each of our Psychology faculty members to ask them to distribute them in class. I am hoping this will encourage students to reach out for help, and to feel less anxiety about that part of their work. Similarly, I am embedded in five online courses that each have intense research requirements. I am making active use of the discussion board to identify weaknesses in their work and then provide targeted information on the Library discussion board. I’ve gotten more thank you emails and comments in the last two weeks than for the entire previous semester!

I am actively cultivating a mindset of being grateful in my life, and it has been easy this week to connect to that experience in my work. Mindfulness and meditation are tools I’ve been exploring for almost a year and I think they’ve made a significant impact on my work. I am more aware of problems, have more focus when working on projects, and am better able to communicate with my colleagues and students. This week has been very affirming, especially in the face of a more hectic schedule than I faced before the break!

Off to the Races

I apologize for the corny title. I grew up about 20 minutes from Saratoga Springs, NY which has one of the US’s most well-loved race tracks. I think it seeps into the culture of that region of New York. If you are ethically okay with horse racing I would recommend a visit if you are in the area!

I don’t know that there’s a better metaphor than “off to the races” for the beginning of an academic semester. Now that I am a runner I can see many parallels between an academic semester and a big race. There is a period of preparation (obviously much longer for a race than a semester, as prep work continues throughout the semester) followed by a frantic beginning where the environment of the race/semester is assessed. It’s easy to push too hard at this beginning stage because all the important milestones lay ahead and you are anxious to begin.

After you settle in it’s easier to take in the whole picture, slow down and (hopefully) enjoy the experience. This middle section is a period of work and feedback that informs actions during the current race/semester and the prep work for the next one. The last few weeks of the semester or few miles of a race are about making a big push to finish strong. The completion of a semester or race affords a period of rest where one can devote energy to recovering and getting ready for a new round of preparation.

This semester was interesting because it started on the Monday after the New Year’s week. I worked on the previous Thursday and Friday, but many of my colleagues did not. The transition between Fall and Spring is often more hectic because of the interruption of the holiday break.

I have been back from break for just under two weeks. I’ve taught one orientation session and one in class session. I’ve started my embedded work in five classes, two of which are already working on their library assignment. I have four workshops and six classes scheduled between now and mid-February. I have been working diligently on preparation for these sessions. Most of them are revamped versions of previous sessions, but a few are requiring me to get familiar with databases that are new to me. It’s an exciting time, and I’m trying to keep myself at the right pace to get through the semester successfully.

I am extremely grateful for the way the campus community has embraced me and my role. I am building on my relationships with old faculty, meeting new faculty, getting back in touch with staff, and collaborating with my partner librarians. More importantly, I have already been in touch with students in person, online, and on the phone to answer questions and provide instruction. I have some new library association opportunities brewing, and have been planning with some of my librarian buddies for ALA Annual in Las Vegas. I hope you are all embracing the frantic start to the semester, and that you continue to be successful throughout the Spring!