Library Summer Camp

I’m hoping that anyone who reads this had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, and to actually enjoy the experience. There’s something magical about time away from home with people you see infrequently, doing different things, learning together, and getting very little sleep. When I was leaving ALA’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas I felt like I was leaving summer camp.

This feeling may have been heightened by the fact that I was staying with seven other librarians in two suites, but I think the communal aspect comes through even when you are staying solo. I can (and will) talk about the sessions, meetings, and learning but what I found most valuable this year was the time to be around other librarians having conversations ranging from personal to professional and back again. The eight of us that stayed together came from Florida, Ohio, Texas, California, Utah, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Some of us had met in person, or online, or not at all.

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Most of the suite at dinner

We spent a lot of time together in the evenings and in spare moments. I took something from all of them, and from the myriad other librarians with whom I interacted. The most important outcome of this conference for me was a rekindling of my passion for what I do. It’s never been lost, and I am more thankful each day for the work I do, but I’ve had a rough year personally. I separated from my partner of 11 ½ years, and there were times when it felt impossible to focus on work. I am healing, growing, and changing from the experience and ALA felt like a confirmation that I’m ready and able to throw myself fully into librarianship again.

That being said, the rest of my conference was good although not as rich for learning from sessions as other conferences I’ve attended. This was primarily due to the things I had to do for committees and work projects that took away from the time I could spend in sessions, coupled with a frustrating experience traveling to/from events. My first big/important event was Saturday morning, when I moderated the ACRL DLS/ULS panel “Leading From the Side: On, Off, and Within Your Campus”. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the podium at ALA!

Doing my moderation thing!

Doing my moderation thing!

The room looked massive, and we had around 180 attendees. I got there early to make sure we were set up and that our speakers were comfortable. The session went well from what I could tell. I had to modify some of the language written on our outline to make the session flow better, but it was a good way to stay fully engaged while the panelists were speaking. As a side bonus, the information they imparted was useful! I got to catch up with some friendly faces and meet some new people after the session, and I felt a big weight lift off after we successfully implemented the panel session.

On Saturday I also attended the inaugural Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) board meeting. I went to a meeting for SustainRT at ALA in Chicago and agreed to be their webmaster, a role that I am still committed to. I’m also the unofficial social media person. The meeting was fantastic, there was a lot of energy in the room and I think we made some great decisions about how to move forward. If you have any interest in sustainability in libraries (environmental, collections, architecture, outreach, instruction, really anything!) it’s a great group to join.

After that I attended a session on training from the Learning Round Table that was interesting but not applicable to what I’m doing, however it did pique my interest in that RT. After a “quick” trip back to the hotel, several of my suitemates and I attended the joint ULS/DLS social. It was good to see more familiar faces that I met in Chicago and meet some new librarians. After that most of our suite went to see the V variety show and spent some time taking in the ridiculous Strip.

Sunday morning I met a colleague at the Springshare booth where we spent about 90 minutes talking through our LibGuides V2 migration that happened yesterday! He and I are leading the effort to migrate and hopefully revamp our guides. I spent a good bit of time in and out of the exhibits area this year and I thought it was very well done. I also held out for the best swag!

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After my meeting I caught the Sunday Ignite sessions and got to see a friend from NC do a presentation. I enjoyed every single one and took some short but good notes on marketing and design. I attended the SustainRT lightning rounds in the early afternoon. It was great to see the cool sustainability work going on in libraries around the country. I hope SustainRT can continue to hold the lightning round sessions at future conferences. It’s a great format for sharing.

After the lightning rounds I made my way to the Starbucks to meet my Hyperlinked Library MOOC instructor Michael Stephens in person. I ran into my panel co-chair John Jackson in line and the three of us had a great conversation.

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That evening I attended the LearnRT social at the LVH pool with some of my suitemates and a UCF colleague/friend. We met librarians from around the US and Canada, and enjoyed our time by the pool. After that we had dinner in the LVH and then spent a bit of time on the Strip before returning to the hotel. We all had early Monday meetings!

Monday morning we spent the hour getting to the Convention Center and then several of us attended the meeting for the ACRL Innovations Committee that is working on several events/opportunities/things for the 2015 conference in Portland. It was a busy 90 minutes but we got a lot accomplished. I like being able to meet with my committee members in person, it makes it easier to communicate virtually after you have a chance to get to know people. In the afternoon six of us drove out to the desert to hike Mary Jane Falls in the Mt. Charleston area.

PicMonkey Collage 2

Even the hike was educational! At some point during the 3 mile round trip I paired off with each person for a while and had discussions about programs, instruction, imposter syndrome, career development, publishing and research (among more personal topics!). That night I attended a burlesque show with some colleagues. Tuesday morning was time to say goodbye. My flight was at noon and I was blessed to have one of my suitemates on the same first leg of the flight! We didn’t plan it and figured it out once we were in Vegas. I love when life works out that way.

If you’re still with me or TL;DR: great trip!

Scenes from the trip

Scenes from the trip

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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.

MOOC-ing Again

I had such a good experience in my Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC that I decided to sign up for a MOOC offered by Duke University and Coursera called “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”. We started this week and I am enjoying it so far. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. I don’t feel as connected to my classmates as I did in Hyperlinked, I think because the web platform is less customized. The video lectures in Hyperlinked were great but very informal, whereas the videos in Week One of History have a high production value and feel like an intimate lesson from a great mind rather than a conversation between like-minded professionals. They are both valuable experiences!

Our assignment this week was 500 words on “What is one thing–a pattern, habit, behavior–you have had to “unlearn” in your life in order to be able to learn something new? Please write a 500-word essay about what it was you had to unlearn, any challenges you encountered, and any successes you experienced.”

Here’s my response in full:

The majority of our early learning takes place in formal settings (like public schools) where we are taught based on the principle of right and wrong, of success and failure. This may be shifting, but when I began Kindergarten in 1989 we spent a lot of time being ranked and graded on our successes and failures. I was fortunate that I was a fast learner with a deep and easily retrieved memory, and I coasted through my K12 career with very little failure.

I picked a fairly selective college and set out with the (lack of) studying skills and habits I’d developed for a right/wrong world. I was quickly faced with a new reality, one in which there weren’t always right answers and where failure became something I had to face. I hear similar stories from other “smart kids” who arrived on college campuses with little practice in studying beyond easy memorization of concepts. I couldn’t handle the academic failures I experienced in that first semester, and eventually withdrew from school in the early Spring semester to regroup.

I started anew in the Fall at a community college where there was less pressure to succeed. I figured out how to study in a way that prepared me for deeper learning, and discovered how to use failure as a litmus test for my learning. Failure was not the end of the road anymore, it became a valuable tool for reflection. The skills I developed at community college helped me earn a 4.0 in my two years at a university without much stress or failure. Unfortunately, the message I’d internalized about failure didn’t stick as I made my first foray into the job market in a difficult academic environment.

I had to settle for a job as a customer service representative where my job performance was very much a success/fail endeavor with little room for growth, improvement or deep critical thinking skills. I eventually moved on to a job in my major and quickly realized I had chosen poorly. I again had to re-frame my learned notion of failure as being defeat to failure as being a learning opportunity. I took time to evaluate my academic career and look for a way to do what I loved as an undergraduate. This led me to earning a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science and my current role as an academic librarian.

Graduate school was more difficult than any other academic experience I’d had, but I was able to find a level of success with which I was comfortable. I didn’t have too much trouble finding a job, and have used the small failures I encounter during my job performance as opportunities to hone my weaknesses and become a better librarian. Unlearning what failure meant has been key to my motivation to constantly be learning and improving in my professional and personal life.