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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Nominate a librarian

I want to see more librarians on pedestals. I want to see them holding trophies, making speeches, and talking about their work on a global stage. I want the world to see the work we do and be glad we’re here.

There have been a number of grassroots initiatives to increase our visibility and highlight our skills. PC Sweeney created the Great Librarian Write-Out, which offers a cash incentive to librarians who write articles for non-librarian publications. Jenny Levine formed Library Boing-Boing, an effort to bring together librarians and the readers of the popular BB site to raise interest in libraries. Bill Pardue organized Slam the Boards, a monthly event (and habit) that organizes librarians to answer questions on sites like AskMetafilter and Yahoo Answers.

To add to this, I want to see individuals in the spotlight. I’ve written about this before in the context of academia. The goal is to change the way the world sees librarians through individual personalities: human platforms, if you like. To that end, I’m offering you a challenge:

Choose 1 colleague and nominate him/her for an award.

That means:

  1. Pick a colleague who you think ought to be recognized for their work.
  2. Find an appropriate award (see below).
  3. Start the application process.

You may need to get additional information from your nominee in order to fill out the application, but take it upon yourself to do the brunt of the work. This is your gift to them. It can be anonymous, if you like, but letting that person know how much you admire them and what they do rarely has ill effects.

As to choosing an award, here are some recommendations:

Local awards: Take a look at your community. What awards are handed out annually within your unit, your organization, or your city?

Regional awards: This includes state, national, and international awards. Look at your professional organizations, state agencies, federal agencies, consortia, etc.

Awards outside the profession: Don’t limit your search to organizations for librarians. In fact, the ultimate goal of my challenge is to raise awareness of the work librarians do so reaching beyond the profession is almost a requirement. Look at teaching organizations, technology groups, research foundations, non-profits, alumni associations, historical societies, private institutions, etc.

Bonus Level: Create your own award and recommend that a colleague be recognized for their work. This is actually much easier than it sounds as long as you contact the right administrator (i.e. one who has the time and attention to take your request with gravity). Or if you are an administrator: well, what’s stopping you?

So again, I challenge you to nominate 1 colleague for an award. Pledge yourself to do this before the end of the year. A simple goal, but one with benefits in spades for your colleague (recognition), for you (feel good), and for the profession (change the way the world sees us).

Go out into the world, dear reader, and spread the word.

Library instruction and reflection: feed your brain

I still consider myself a “newbie” at library instruction, so I make a point to set aside time following every class to reflect on what just happened. Through this, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and my teaching. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

1) Specific goals produce specific results.

For each instruction session, I create three expected learning outcomes (ELOs). I’ve found that the more specific these statement are, the easier they are to assess. I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, but because I’ve drafted my ELOs in a “smart“ way, I know exactly where and how I missed the mark. For example, instead of saying “Help students define their research paper topic,” I say “Students will have a narrow view of their proposed topic and be able to state it clearly and concisely [before the end of class].” How do I know I achieved this? By having students brainstorm ideas (mind-mapping) in class and then using those ideas to write out a thesis statement a la Wayne Booth’s The Craft of Research.

2) You learn as much after the class as you do in it.

I’ve been reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning recently and I’ve adopted her recommended practice of asking myself three questions after every session: What went well? What didn’t go well? and How can I make it better next time? For each session that I teach, I type up the responses from the surveys I give each student at the end of class (Top 3 things you learned; 2 questions or things unclear; one thing you will definitely use) and compare these to my ELOs. The entire process only takes 15-20 minutes but the benefits multiply exponentially. For example, I originally thought that having a rigidly structured class would produce the best results, i.e. student surveys would match up with ELOs. But in fact, after reviewing the last few courses I’ve taught, the classes that were more organic (more collaborative time, more Q&A, more impromptu) produced better outcomes, especially regarding student satisfaction with the course.

3) You can’t force students to ask questions.

I wanted so terribly to incorporate Poll Everywhere into my instruction. I thought it would be a way to encourage more open inquiry but in fact it did the exact opposite. It shut down the students’ desire to ask questions or give feedback. I may use PE for other purposes, but as an attempt to generate questions, it was doing more harm than good. Instead, I’ve been working to generate conversation, which inevitably seems to lead to questions. If I get the students talking, I know I’m in good shape.

4) Always have a backup plan.

I walked into a classroom yesterday only to discover that it didn’t have any whiteboard space. So my plan to have students create mind-maps on the board was crushed. Instead, I opened up Google Docs and Voila! Instant whiteboard.

5) I love Q&A time!

Even with all the planning I do for each class (2-3 hours), I still respond more articulately to unexpected questions. Yesterday, a student asked whether or not he could print off books from Google Books. This gave me the opportunity to talk about copyright and e-books. The student was crestfallen that he couldn’t print off everything he need from gBooks, but now he also knew where to go to find e-books in the library collection.

In all likelihood, it will be years before I even begin to consider myself “a good teacher,” In the meantime, I can be confident that I have a realistic (and data-supported) understanding of my abilities.

Twitter as inter-library loan

In my recent presentation on social networks for academics, I discussed the disintermediation of the library out of the scholarly communication process as social media tools make it easier for scholars to transfer and acquire information without consulting library services or staff. In today’s Chronicle, I came across an interesting example of this:

Thanks to Twitter, I have been sent copies of obscure articles much faster than I would have received them from an interlibrary loan. I just need to tweet “Does anyone have access to the Journal of X, 1972?” and within an hour someone will have e-mailed me the PDF. It’s tremendously useful.

A similar PDF exchange market exists on Reddit.

In some part, this relates to the concept of the “invisible college,” notably the part that encompasses the peer-to-peer transfer of research that has always existed and functioned outside library walls. In fact, I still have a drawer full of pre-prints and writer’s copies from scholars that I interacted with as part of my graduate work in medieval studies. If I needed a copy of research that my library couldn’t get due to copyright or availability (and electronic copies were not as pervasive then), I could usually contact a small handful of scholars (if not the author herself) and obtain a hard copy.

So how is this different? For one, it’s more efficient and, as the author points out, faster. But even more importantly, it reduces the need for ILL as long as (1) the need is for electronic material, (2) one’s social network includes enough cross-institutional coverage, and (3) one’s network includes at least one database-savvy person. I can only expect that these factors will increase over time thus creating an even richer environment for this type of exchange. So whither ILL?