Human Interaction

I do my best to consume content from a wide range of sources and on varying topics. I often find myself reading a book about a topic like meditation for personal development, and find ways to connect that to my work as a librarian. Similarly, I’ll read articles on librarianship that give me ideas for working on my personal goals and creative tasks. One topic I follow is higher education in general. I think as librarians we need to be engaged with our greater institutions and the challenges they face.

I read an article on a psychology blog I follow titled “Attending a Better University Doesn’t Make You Happier, Here’s What Does…”. This title is clearly clickbait, but it’s important to what I do so I checked it out.  The article reported on a Gallup survey of almost 30,000 college graduates. Here’s the passage that struck me:

“For example, college graduates were more likely to be engaged at work if they’d…

  • had a mentor to encourage them.
  • had a professor who genuinely cared about them as a person.
  • had at least one professor who made them excited about learning.
  • been to a college which was passionate about the long-term success of its students.

The same factors above also predicted when graduates were more likely to thrive in life in general.”

There are many things I find fascinating in this quote. First, graduates who were more engaged at work were more likely to thrive in their lives. This strikes me because it affects my own life in that I do enjoy my life more now as a librarian than I did before. I also try to engage any student I interact with in a conversation on their passions and future goals. I do my best to help them navigate the difficult choices they face if they are willing.

In my last role I had a student tell me about her passion for art therapy and was able to connect her with a good friend who is an art therapist to get more information. It didn’t take much of my time, and it could have had a big impact on that student.

The second thing that resonated in that quote was how important it was for students to have someone from their institution who is passionate about helping them learn and succeed. The article specifically mentions professors, but this is a role that I can see librarians filling. Many of us who work in higher education can identify a few students who make heavy use of the library and reference librarians while they are attending the institution. These students are easy to reach and we should strive to treat them with respect and full attention, even when they might annoy us!

We can also facilitate these relationships with students in shorter interactions by communicating our passion to help them succeed. When I teach classes and workshops I do my best to let students know that I like learning about the work they are doing. I hope they will come to me with their assignment so I can look up the information and increase my own knowledge. When we’re doing reference work or are out on the floor, we can take steps to make the environment more conducive to learning. Last week I was helping a student format a paper, and her son was fidgeting anxiously next to her. She apologized for bringing him as she said she had no other option for childcare. I chose to offer to help her find some books from our children’s literature collection to keep him engaged. She accepted, and we were able to keep him engaged while she finished her task. This only took an extra minute of my time, and made it easier for her to complete her task.

The more work I do in libraries, the more I realize that communication and customer service are the key aspects of the work we do. It doesn’t matter if we work with the public, with businesses, with administrators or with colleagues – we can always be cognizant of how we interact with other human beings and do our best to make it a fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

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Learning to Build Collections

Continuing on my theme from the last post, librarianship is unique in that it brings together individuals from various academic backgrounds. It also often requires a diverse set of job responsibilities, depending on the size and type of library. My role as a regional campus librarian effectively makes me a solo librarian representing my institution on this campus. As such, I’m responsible for providing library services to the students, faculty, and staff here who represent various academic departments.

The aforementioned services fall under the umbrella categories of reference, instruction, outreach, and collection development. The first three were all part of my previous job, and if you’ve been reading my blog you will quickly realize that I love instruction. Reference has been growing on me here. I get more challenging questions and work with librarians at the desk who are polite and passionate about what they do. Outreach is more of a challenge here because most of my faculty don’t spend much time on campus outside of the classroom, and my students blend in with the students from the partner institution. After seven months here, I feel better about my outreach efforts and am continuing to do what I can in that area.

The biggest challenge for me has been learning how to be a collection development librarian. Where I worked before I would often make suggestions if I came across a resource, and I was responsible for purchasing/negotiating with vendors for any online services. Where I am now, I don’t get much say in online purchases and have a budget to purchase physical materials. The librarians on our main campus are each assigned to one (or a few) subject areas for collection development, outreach, and instruction. Since I am on a regional campus, I have to do this for all the subjects taught at my campus.

The classes scheduled on my campus next semester are in business, psychology, public administration, biomedical sciences, law, education, and healthcare management/informatics. It’s a wide range that includes areas that I’m not familiar with (law and public admin) and some that I have a good handle on (psychology and education). My first challenge in learning to do collection development was to resist the urge to buy materials I felt comfortable with. I kept a list of current and upcoming classes by my side, and looked up course descriptions for the ones with which I was unfamiliar.

The next hurdle was to figure out which books to buy and where to look for books. I primarily used CHOICE Reviews and searched within subject specific databases for book reviews on the topics I needed. At first the process was overwhelming, but then I began to look at it more as a puzzle and my inner game lover took over. I tried to buy at least one book for each discipline/course, but it was a challenge. I also had to be aware of what we already had access to as eBooks and decided not to buy several titles because we had them fully online.

I feel good about what I’ve been able to purchase, and know that I’ve filled some big gaps in our collection. It’s nice to be able to support my institution along with my partner institution. I got my first shipment of books last week and I was thrilled to be able to see them in person. I have a new system in place for receiving books – mark off on my spreadsheet, add to a new titles Libguide, and email faculty in that discipline (or those who have requested the title specifically). I love my job because I get to meet new challenges and collaborate with colleagues in new ways. I welcome any suggestions from more seasoned collection developers!

2013-12-10 11.06.21First round of books!

 

Bringing Your Passion to the Library

Librarianship is a unique field. There are relatively few librarians I’ve met that started their academic careers with the intention of becoming a librarian. For example: I have a BA in Psychology and worked as a crisis counselor for a year before deciding to make the switch. One of my co-workers has a degree in Marketing, and another has a degree in History. I’ve also found that most of the librarians I meet are passionately interested in something outside the realm of librarianship, and that these interests vary widely. I think this is what makes libraries strong, and that incorporating our personal passions into our work is the key to being successful and happy in our roles.

I was always active and athletic in my childhood. I started taking dance lessons and playing soccer when I was five, and became passionate about basketball in junior high. The stresses and challenges of college led me away from active endeavors. Combined with my Standard American Diet (SAD), this resulted in a weight gain that began impacting my health. I decided to take control of my health, and as a result have lost over half my body weight. For more on this, check out my personal blog “Girl in Half”. My pursuit of health and wellness began out of necessity and has become my key focus outside of my work. The intersections between health and wellness and librarianship aren’t as common as those with other fields (ex. History, English), but they have been happening with increasing frequency.

My health and wellness interest has evolved from a simple focus on food to incorporate physical and mental well-being as well. One practice that I have begun to incorporate in my daily life is meditation. I am not as far along on this as I want to be, and I hope to have more time to work on this when I finish my half marathon this weekend. Although I haven’t been consistent in my practice, I have found it enormously beneficial to my work. Meditation is the best way I’ve found to calm and focus my mind, which allows me to be more productive in my daily tasks and in my more creative endeavors. I teach workshops and individual classes about presentation skills, and meditation is one of the tools I share with them to prepare and mediate their anxiety,

I have seen meditation popping up in the library world with increasing frequency. My favorite library blogger Char Booth references meditation frequently in her posts and has discussed how this practice has been useful in developing presentation skills and battling impostor syndrome. Jill E. Luedke wrote a post on the ARCLog blog recently titled “Focusing the Mind, Practicing Attention in the One-Shot Library Session” where she discussed the use of guided meditation at the beginning of library instruction sessions. Brilliant! Naysayers may see this as a waste of precious time, but I would argue that 3-5 minutes is worth it if the result is a more focused and engaged group of students.

Another practice I am trying to actively incorporate into my life is gratitude. We tend to be grateful when we are faced with a story of someone else’s misfortune or when it’s Thanksgiving time. This is unfortunate, as gratitude has amazing benefits (see this article from Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis). My goal is to recognize moments where I am grateful on a daily basis, either through sharing them with others or being especially mindful of them myself. These grateful moments happen frequently in my time at the library, and I think they have helped me be more empathetic to the experience of students. They also make me appreciate that I have a job where I can genuinely help others in the immediate present, and potentially make a difference in the future.

Much of my free time is devoted to researching, blogging, and having conversations (in person and through social media) about health and wellness. One of the nutrition researchers/authors I most respect is Marion Nestle. I follow her blog, and she often weaves concepts of information literacy into her posts. I love when this happens because they illustrate the myriad ways the skills we teach as librarians can impact the world outside of our libraries. She posted a blog recently titled “More on food company sponsorship of nutrition research and practice”  that I adore because it shows why it’s so important to be aware of where you information comes from and who paid for it.

I am fully plant based, and a lot of the false and misleading information on the health benefits of certain animal foods is based on research sponsored entirely by entities like the Dairy Council. This is a huge conflict of interest that many people are shocked to find out when they start learning about plant based eating. Another post she wrote “What’s up with the retraction of the Séralini feeding-GMO-corn-to-rats study?” tackles the issue of journals retracting published papers. Nestle details the process of publishing and peer review from her perspective as a researcher. This is a fascinating read for both the librarian and health nut that coexist within me.

Having strong passions outside of work is key to living a fulfilled life, and having the opportunity to combine the two is an incredible gift. I am thankful to work in a profession that draws people with such varying interests. I know that I can always learn something new from a colleague, and that no question from a student will go unanswered because we all bring these unique passions with us to the library each day.

Review of “What the Best College Teachers Do” by Ken Bain

“What the Best College Teachers Do” by Ken Bain

This is my first attempt at a review. I’m starting to look at getting published as part of my professional development, and I think writing reviews is an interesting option. Writing reviews on my blog is a good way to test the waters in that regard! Another part of my professional development is self-directed learning, and I like to look for material that has an audience outside librarianship. I think this helps me stretch as a librarian, and it makes sense to get ideas and guidance from as many areas as possible. I chose this book to read after seeing it recommended on a listserv. The version I read was published in 2004, but there is a 2012 edition as well.

I enjoyed reading this book for several reasons. It was well-written, it had a lot of lists (and I’m a sucker for them!), and he thoroughly explained his methodology throughout the book. I appreciated the last point because I feel that any work making a claim to impart knowledge on the best of something should document how that determination was made. Bain used a combination of methods such as surveys, focus groups, anecdotal evidence, performance measures and observation to come to his conclusion. He used a lot of concrete examples of how different teachers work with students both in an out of the classroom. It’s very inspiring stuff.

That being said, some of it didn’t apply to the work I currently do. I only teach one shot sessions at this stage in my career, so some of the advice and information that applied to building over a semester, grading, and testing was not applicable. I recognize that in the future I may have the opportunity to teach all or part of a semester long course, so I still made an effort to read and digest those sections of the text. It’s a short book, so I don’t want to get too in detail about the contents.

The biggest lesson I took from the text was that students have mental models and perceptions about everything, and if you don’t work to change these you won’t have had a significant impact on the student. Bain gave many examples of how to identify these perceptions and how to help students overcome, modify, or confirm them. One of the notes I made as I read says “all students come to an educational situation with ingrained stereotypes and expectations based on past experience; need to motivate and encourage students to achieve their goals without triggering these negative pressures”. Anyone who teaches should take time to think about who their students are and what they are bringing with them when they step in your class. This will inform how you build activities and lessons, interact with students in class, and react to their successes or failures.

Bain also discussed the spectrum of scholarship and how we need to teach students how to be successful in a discipline, which incorporates much more than factual knowledge. This reminded me of my AP Psychology teacher in high school. In our first class she introduced a method for taking notes where you read an article in sections and highlight the important parts. After each section you go back to what you highlighted and make notes on the side. At the end of the article you can go back through your highlights and notes to add anything else that came up after reading. We were graded on how well we did this. Looking back I realize what an enormous amount of effort she put into teaching us this skill, and how valuable it was to me for the rest of my academic career. Taking the time to teach a skill like note taking may seem like a distraction from the necessities of learning facts, but in actuality these skills will make it easier for students to incorporate and assimilate knowledge throughout the course and their lives.

Throughout the book it becomes clear that Bain favors a Socratic-style method of asking scaffolded questions of the students and guiding their struggle to come up with answers.  One quote I copied summed this up nicely -“In the discussion, the teachers asked students what they thought about important issues and problems and why. As ideas began to flow, they pressed them for evidence, questioned them about the nature of the evidence, invoked arguments from the resources, encouraged and allowed students to challenge each other, pointed out agreements and disagreements in belief and attitude, and raised appropriate questions.” p. 127-128

The most important thing I can do now that I review my experience reading the book is tie it back to what I do.  Another note I made was “it’s likely more important for me to teach students the value of authority in research and  this will inspire them to want to know the mechanics of database and catalog searching.” I have started to incorporate this philosophy into some of my instruction, especially in higher level classes. I can’t expect students to choose academic sources if they haven’t first begun to think critically about the research process and the value of authoritative sources. Another theme that came up was using storytelling and other methods to get the students to relax and accept your information. Bain gave examples of how teachers would share their struggles in the discipline with students. This is another technique I try to use when possible. When I discuss academic journals and the peer review process I always tell students that when I was a freshman in college I didn’t understand a lot of the jargon in the articles, but that by the time I was a senior I used them almost exclusively.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches at a college level, even if you aren’t a faculty member. I can see how it would also be useful to college staff who work with students as advisors, as tutors or in student services. There are a lot of fundamental ideas about how people learn, what they bring with them to any situation, and the barriers to successful learning that apply to a much broader audience than college faculty.

Tutorial

The last sentence I wrote in my previous entry was “I’m looking forward to next week when I’m planning to immerse myself in re-designing online instruction for several classes.” Almost four weeks later I can report that I’m almost done with the major online tutorial I wanted to build! I actually spent the majority of the two weeks following my post to read and fully engage with the book “Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators” by Char Booth. I read it word for word, actually did the activities & reflections for each chapter, took copious notes, and used her USER method to plan for the online tutorial. The fact that I took the time to do this should tell you a bit about how valuable I find this book! I’ve mentioned here before that I learned very little about instruction during my graduate school career. This book spoke to that need, and was exactly what I needed to prepare me for getting materials ready for the fall semester. I also read a good blog post during the same time about how common this lack of instructional development is in the library profession titled “Developing Your Teaching Skills“.

I spent about a full week building the online tutorial for our ACA classes this fall. I used Softchalk, which is not my favorite tool, because I wanted to create something that could be placed into each section’s Blackboard course and linked directly to the grade book. Unfortunately, when I tried to upload my finished course to Blackboard last Thursday it didn’t work. I was out at a conference Friday and I’m still waiting to be contacted again by their support. I even broke the first section of my course that’s all text based out into its own lesson and tried to upload that, but was unsuccessful. I’m taking the day off from troubleshooting today, and my plan tomorrow is to try to re-install Softchalk on my computer. It’s incredibly frustrating to work so hard on a project and not be able to complete the final (and most crucial) step.

I am proud of what I created. I used a storytelling format where I introduced two students with different information needs, one that had a newly diagnosed heath problem and one with an English paper. I wanted to engage students with different needs, and point out that the research skills they are learning can be used outside of an academic setting. I made three videos, several activities, annotated images, and quiz questions with photos and real applications. I used the student with health problems for my instruction, and asked the student to “help” the student with her English paper as the quiz questions. I’m really hoping to get my technical issues sorted so that students can actually use my tutorial, and so that I can have a few colleagues test it!

As I mentioned above, I went to a conference on Friday. It was the AppState Summer FreeLearning Conference in Boone, NC. It was a free conference with limited attendance, so I signed up before I knew what the sessions were. This was my second experience attending a non-library conference, and I really enjoy attending sessions with people that have other roles in higher education and are at different types of institutions. I attended a session on screencasting that helped give me some ideas for our library, a session on Team Based Learning that was fascinating but not something I can implement in a one shot, and a session on using Twitter for professional development. The Twitter session encouraged me to get started with HootSuite, and I think that will help solve some of my Twitter anxiety issues. The keynote speaker was a theater professor who talked about collaboration and using improv techniques to foster collaboration. This can be a real challenge in a one shot instruction session, but I think it’s still doable. Now that I’ve finished the online tutorial I can start looking at the library module for an online course that we make faculty take before they can teach a class online, and get to work on revamping our face to face instruction for ACA and English.

Things 12 & 13

I am the type of person who loathes breaking commitments, and my lack of blog posts over the last few weeks has been slowly gnawing at me. I have good reason for my slacking, though. I mentioned that I had an interview for a job a few weeks ago, and I recently was offered the position! I’m happy to report that I’ll be working as the Instruction & Reference Librarian at a small community college outside Charlotte, NC. I had to fly there with less than a week’s notice to meet with my new boss and the college president to get the official offer. I also had to scramble to find a place to live as I’ll be moving there on September 1st! So, needless to say, life has been hectic over the last few weeks. I’m going to do my best to keep up with CPD23 but moving is always complicated.

Thing 12 – Putting the social into social media

Thing 12 seemed to be similar to reflective practice, however, reflective practice is something that should be worked on regularly, so it does make sense. I have espoused the benefits of my newfound social media networking throughout this blog, and unfortunately I’ve been feeling disconnected from these burgeoning networks over the last few weeks. I haven’t had much (any) free time lately and I’ve not been able to keep up with the overwhelming number of Tweets by my fellow librarians. I hope to catch up soon as I know that they post valuable links to content, trainings, conferences, etc. that I can put to good use in my new position.

Social networking is certainly valuable, but can be disadvantageous if the connections being made aren’t adding value to your professional development. I’ve found that several of the librarians I follow on Twitter only post LIS related content, some post a mix of personal and professional content, and others lean heavily on the personal side. Oddly enough, it seems that those users who have the word “librarian” in some form in their user name seem to post the least LIS related content! I know that when I have the time I will be filtering out some of these users. I intend to be quite busy in my new position learning about the library and getting started in my duties, and I don’t have the time to network with people who aren’t adding value to my current life goals. I have certainly “met” several other librarians I wouldn’t have found on my own through CPD23, and I hope to continue those connections even when the program has ended. I’m also looking forward to actively working in the field and having more opportunities for social networking that doesn’t involve a computer screen!

Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

I just finished reading “The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)” by Siva Vaidhyanathan yesterday and it was a very good examination of the way Google has insinuated itself into our lives. It also had some excellent passages on the value of librarians and librarians, a good discussion on copyright law, and good discussion on the changing face of higher education. I personally found those sections more valuable than the beginning of the book which discussed Google’s PageRank system and background. I would highly recommend the book to all librarians because Google will certainly impact all of our lives personally and professionally.

Although I’m now more skeptical of my heavy reliance on Google services, I can’t see myself stopping my use of them any time soon! Like many others this week, I’ve already had the opportunity to use Google Docs to collaborate on group projects during library school. One project in particular was especially challenging, and our group would often collaborate on Google Docs in real time while we chatted in another window. The greatest strength of Google Docs for me is the ability to see when others are typing in real time and to be able to write documents remotely as a group. I don’t like that Google forces you to use their own web based editing tools, and our group ran into formatting issues when attempting to transfer content to Word and PDF. I have seen many discussions recently about authors using Docs to write their whole novel and to keep the most updated versions of their work in the Cloud, but I don’t think I’d prefer Docs for this after trying Dropbox.

Dropbox is awesome. I have only had about 15 minutes to explore the service, but I already can see great potential for its use in my life. I know that in my new position I will want to work on things from home and Dropbox is so much better and easier than emailing myself files back and forth (which I have done quite often in the past!). I also love the sharing feature and I’ve suggested it to my Mom for photo sharing instead of awkward and proprietary services like Shutterfly and Snapfish. Being able to move any type of file to the Dropbox is another huge advantage over Docs in terms of utilizing the cloud for personal storage. I am definitely going to incorporate Dropbox into my daily life and hopefully my work life as well.

Wikis are another tool that I am quite familiar with after my time in library school. I had one class who required us to make a wiki in a group, and another that had us post all of our assignments to a class wiki. I feel very comfortable using the technology, and it is very easy to grasp for new users. I actually made a wiki on information literacy as part of the presentation portion of my interview for my new job. I think wikis are great for collaboration especially in classroom settings. The ability to set permissions for different levels of user allows for faculty and students to collaborate on the same wiki without any concern for the students altering the work of the faculty. Part of my new position is going to be beefing up the information literacy education for all students, including distance learning students, and I’m definitely considering using wikis to help do this.

I wish I had more time to opine on these topics but, alas, moving tasks are calling my name!