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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Why your desk has wheels…

The following passage comes from the Valve Handbook for New Employees [pdf] which, according to the gaming website Polygon, may be legitimate. It is fascinating nonetheless. Special thanks to Andy Woodworth for bringing it to my attention. This comes out of a discussion on Facebook regarding my recent post on library work spaces, concerning which I’m planning a follow up post based on all the feedback I’ve received so far (which was passionate and often strongly worded!).

Why does your desk have wheels? Think of those wheels as a symbolic reminder that you should always be considering where you could move yourself to be more valuable. But also think of those wheels as literal wheels, because that’s what they are, and you’ll be able to actually move your desk with them.

You’ll notice people moving frequently; often whole teams will move their desks to be closer to each other. There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most.

The fact that everyone is always moving around within the company makes people hard to find. That’s why we have http://user—check it out. We know where you are based on where your machine is plugged in, so use this site to see a map of where everyone is right now.

Would you give up your office?

Three things inspired this post:

  1. Brian Mathews’s appeal for academic librarians to think like a startup.
  2. The potential for library renovations at MPOW.
  3. A recent conversation thread on Facebook.

A colleague of mine recently posed the following question: what would it take for you to give up your office? We were having a conversation about startup culture and types of working environments that inspire creative thinking, serendipity, and synergy (everybody drink!). In particular, we were looking at Mashable’s Startup Spaces Series. What we noticed about the offices of companies like GetGlue, Pinterest, and Yelp was that most employees didn’t have an office. They didn’t have a cubicle either. Instead, there were designated spaces (like conference rooms of various sizes, picnic tables, lounge areas) for working in groups of various sizes.

The benefit of this layout, I hope, is obvious: more conversation, more serendipitous collaborations, improved communication and collegiality. It also makes it difficult for an employee to spend his entire day behind a door or in between three foam partitions except when those moments are absolutely necessary. “Shutting everyone out” is not an option an exception to the rule rather than a daily practice in the workplace. Instead, colleagues are always working together in a shared, open space. This, of course, would require certain technological changes (i.e. abandoning our reliance on the desktop computer, strengthening wireless access points, etc.), but come on, we’re librarians. We can adapt.

When I proposed the question on Facebook, the immediate reaction was “hell no!”* Most of the people who responded cited the need for privacy: a space where they could meet one-on-one with students, faculty, and colleagues. Ok, I will grant that. But what if private spaces could be guaranteed? What if, like student study rooms, a small number of private spaces could be set aside (and immaculately decorated) for consultations and private meetings?

Instead, work spaces would form organically based on the resources needed (number of people, projector access, proximity to coffee machine). Conversations would mostly be public and, unless privacy was needed, would allow any member of the office team to contribute. Work areas could be opened up (due to the lack of walls) and not only provide additional space for creative work (whiteboards, e.g.) but offer a more aesthetically pleasing environment (open air, natural light, minimal number of metal filing cabinets). Again, I point to some of the office spaces linked above.

Personally, I believe we are too attached to our work spaces. Over time, we develop a sense of ownership which, although charming, is anathema to creative work. On the other hand, there is good evidence to suggest that the best ideas arise from collaboration, conversation, and distributed mental work despite the potential for distraction.

The future of libraries in higher education demands new approaches to service and new [collaborative] ways of getting things done. How can we even begin to plan for this future when we rarely come together? It is high time we changed the way we work; else, how can we expect to innovate? As Mathews points out:

We can’t hire a few creative and improvisational individuals and expect them to deliver new service models if the work culture is not ready for new service models.

Let’s break down the walls (literally) that separate us and explore new ways of working together. What, at worse, would happen if we failed? And what if we succeeded…

Update: Anthony Molaro, a forward thinking librarian that I greatly admire, has also written on this topic: Department Silos II or Why You Need a New Workspace: “I have seen libraries create powerful spaces for patrons, but I have yet to see a library create appropriate spaces for 21st century librarians.”

  • Personally, I am suspect when any proposition inspires immediate and fierce objection.

Imagine there’s no one-off…

Today, I’ll be attending the last of a series of library workshops on integrating information literacy into the curriculum. In preparation for the class, I’ve been searching for examples of librarians that have worked with faculty to develop system-wide changes to student learning outcomes, course assignments, and degree requirements. I’ve listed a few examples at the end, but they are few and far between.

The difficulty, as many of these studies point out, is that models for intense librarian/faculty collaborations in curriculum reform and/or oversight are not sustainable. In particular, assessing student learning according to accepted information literacy rubrics requires significant resources, mostly time and often additional funding (e.g. incentives, additional staffing). It is possible to focus on a single academic department or sub-unit of the student population and expect reasonable success, but to create change at the institutional level, that requires momentum and resources from beyond the library.

On the other hand, we know from both the research and anecdotal evidence that one-off courses do not provide enough information literacy instruction to last a student throughout her four years at the university. It can be a powerful push in the right direction, but students need more than just forward momentum to keep going for the long term. They need time and space for reflection, synthesis, application, reassessment, and realignment: all of which require a longitudinal approach to info-lit learning. Yet despite over a decade of research focused on information literacy, universities have been slow to recognize its importance in their goals. So in lieu of institutional support for system-wide info-lit instruction, librarians continue spend a large amount of their time teaching and preparing for one-offs.

All this is prologue to an idea I’ve been thinking about of late: what if we didn’t? What if we didn’t spend 60% of our week teaching 1-hour info-lit courses? What if, instead, we spent that time on curriculum integration and strategic design? On info-lit assessment at multiple levels of student experience? On proving to stakeholders the benefits of info-lit skills and connecting those to institutional goals?

As I see it, that reality is not far off. I can easily imagine converting 90% of our one-off classes into asynchronous online tutorials. All the basics — search strategies, primary vs. secondary, specific database usage, the information cycle, source evaluation, etc. — could be converted to online modules and assigned by faculty as needed for each class. Yes, this would require a gargantuan amount of work at first, but once up-and-running (and if assigned to a dedicated staff member), it could be easily maintained. If not librarians, I am quite confident someone will do this. Soon.

What then? To what would instruction librarians turn their time and attention? There are three things I’ve learned from my experience and research thus far regarding effective info-lit learning:

  1. Course professors are the best conduits for IL learning. They are the most-trusted resource in the classroom. (Authority)
  2. Specific, course-related, IL assignments work best. (Scaffolding)
  3. Info-lit must be constantly reinforced and requires reflection over time. (Longitudinal growth and meta-analysis)

To this then I would turn my attention: taking a more holistic view of undergraduate education and searching for ways to embed info-lit beyond the individual class assignment. This approach must produce scalable programs that can benefit both the entire curriculum and individual courses of study that include assessment procedures seamlessly integrated and connected to the institution’s student learning objectives. The ultimate goal of such a program would be to prove that every student has the essential info-lit skills necessary to succeed post-graduation

It sounds cheesy, I’ll admit, but I see it as where we are headed given the growth of online learning, the importance of learning assessment, and the need for more in-depth info-lit instruction. In the least, it is a potential direction and one we should strategically position ourselves to pursue.


Further Reading

Bennett, S. (2007). Campus cultures fostering information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7, 147–167.

Booth, C. and Matthews, B. (2012). Understanding the learner experience: Threshold concepts and curriculum mapping. Invited Paper at the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference, April 7, 2012, San Diego, CA.

Dupuis, E.A., Maslach, C., Schrager, C.D. and McDaniel, S. (2007). Information literacy and undergraduate research: Meeting the challenge at a large research university. In Information Literacy Collaborations that Work, T.E. Jacobson and T. Mackey (Eds). New York: Neal-Schuman.

Field, T. and Macmillan, M. (2011). Toward development of collaborative, comprehensive information literacy and research skills program inside the journalism curriculum. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 66(2), 176-86.

Gamsby, M.K. (2010). The physics of designing an integrated physics information literacy program. Science & Technology Libraries, 29(4), 350-61.

Pritchard, P.A. (2010). The embedded science librarian: Partner in curriculum design and delivery. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 373-96.

Salisbury, F. and Sheridan, L. (2011). Mapping the journey: Developing an information literacy strategy as part of curriculum reform. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 43(3), 185-93.

Scaramozzino, J.M. (2010). Integrating stem information competencies into an undergraduate curriculum. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 315-33.

Travis, Tiffini A. (2008). Librarians as Agents of Change: Working with Curriculum Committees using Change Agency Theory. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 114, 17-33.

Recycle and reuse: your card catalog

The card catalog drawers at Doheny Library haven’t had cards in them for years. They are built into the wall of a charming alcove off to the left of the circulation desk. Removing them would not necessarily be difficult, but the aesthetics of the little space they occupy is quite enjoyable and older alumni love to regale us with tales of how they spent hours there transcribing titles, call numbers, etc.

Rather than remove the drawers, we have instituted a new use: fundraising. Enter the Top Drawer Society. Donors who contribute $10,000 at one time or over four years and are honored with an engraved plaque placed on one of the drawers. Simple enough. But what we did not expect was that donors would use these drawers to leave secret gifts to their children/grandchildren/etc. who are currently attending USC. So this past month, we added locks and keys to all the drawers and hence begins what I hope will be a long and cherished tradition of gift giving down and across generations of library patrons.

By the way, a card catalog drawer is the perfect size for storing wine bottles. Just sayin’.