Month: January 2011

Making connections in online LIS programs

I’m a huge advocate for building and engaging in online communities. Recently, I wrote an article for the SLIS Descriptor, a publication of San Jose State University’s ALA Student Chapter, detailing how and why LIS students should get involved in communities online.

The mind can discover some remarkable things when moved beyond the pressures of the classroom and the compulsion to perform. All it requires is space in which to play and other minds with which to engage. As students in an online program that favors asynchronous communication and lacks a physical, communal space, how can we recreate these experiences?

Online communities offer surrogate spaces for these interstitial moments by providing some of the benefits of physical information commons (or “information grounds” as they are sometimes called) , but in digital form: a shared space (the software or platform), a shared culture (interests, hobbies, or in our case, LIS studies), and a shared language (netiquette). Just as a physical campus has predefined pathways between buildings that can facilitate chance meetings and conversations, online communities provide various opportunities for serendipitous discovery through shared links, shared digital interfaces, and common connections (e.g. friends of friends).

You can read the full article at the SLIS Descriptor blog.

All in favor?

“Perhaps in the futility of undergraduate careerism lie the seeds of a new vocational outlook in higher education. It is worth remembering that monasteries were the first institutions in the West that allowed people to explore options beyond the circumstances into which they were born. […] Why not bring together a core group of serious-minded but underemployed academics—who already have adopted a life of poverty, more or less—to form a college that has none of the superfluities that have made higher education the equivalent of a four-year Carnival cruise?”

Source: “Getting Medieval on Higher Education” by Thomas H. Benton, the Chronicle of Higher Education.


I finally started reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. In the first few pages there are two references to Tolkien (even a deep cut reference to the Silmarillion) within the context of adolescent romance and bloody dictatorships. I think I’m going to enjoy this book =)

From unity to diversity

“The sciences are most successful when they seek to move from the diversity and particularity of their observations toward as high a degree of unity, uniformity, simplicity, and necessity as their materials permit. The humanities, on the other hand, are most alive when they reverse this process, and look for devices of explanation and appreciation that will enable them to preserve as much as possible of the variety, the uniqueness, the unexpectedness, the complexity, the originality, that distinguish what men are capable of doing at their best from what they must do, or tend generally to do, as biological organisms or members of a community…”

From Crane, R.S. “The Idea of the Humanities.” The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historical. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.


And for tonight’s schedule, we have a variety of wheat beers and applications for home loans. Let the house buying begin!

Democratic bow ties

Not everyone who wears a bow tie is an overgrown republican frat boy. Some of us are commie-loving, tree-hugging liberals with occasional extremist tendencies… we just can’t grow facial hair. Just sayin.’ Fuck you, Tucker Carlson.

Information literacy, instruction, and the social web

Yesterday, I took a few moments to sit down and read Greg Bobish’s recent article in The Journal of Academic Librarianship, “Participation and pedagogy: Connecting the social web to ACRL learning outcomes.” In it, he claims that a constructivist approach to learning underlies the ACRL standards for Information Literacy and, as such, Web 2.0 tools can provide a rich landscape for building instruction activities rooted in pedagogical theory and practice (as opposed to being used simply for their “shiny” qualities).

He cites five requirements of the ideal constructivist environment and links these to qualities inherent in many Web 2.0 tools/platforms:

  1. Complex and challenging learning environments
  2. Social negotiation and shared responsibility
  3. Multiple representations of content
  4. The understanding that knowledge is constructed
  5. Student-centered instruction

The first half of the article lays out his justification for integrating Web 2.0 into the academic library classroom using these five elements. But what I found especially valuable was the latter half of the article which provided an example of a learning activity for each of the 87 performance indicators and outcomes in ACRL’s standards. These are brief but they offer some unique ideas for instruction.

For example, Standard 4.3.c states that information literate students can “incorporates principles of design and communication” as part of the act of “using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose” and “communicating the performance and product” of that act. Bobish offers the following activity for this learning outcome:

Students are asked to present the information they have gathered to a Facebook group created by the instructor. A follow-up discussion is held (either in-class or online) about how the platform influenced the way they presented their findings and how they might have done it differently if it had been an in-class presentation or a PowerPoint slideshow. (p. 61)

I love this idea! It takes a step beyond simply using Web 2.0 for its entertainment value (or just because we can) and asks students to question the platforms they use daily to communicate information, both personal and professional. Granted, some of Bobish’s examples fall into the former category (“shiny”), but most promise to provide simple ways to engage students in familiar, digital environments and reconsider the assumptions inherent in them. I recommend keeping this article on hand for when you are looking for ways to update your instructional cookbooks.

Tips from ACRL’s self-branding panel for librarians

Today, we bring to a close ALA’s Midwinter Conference for 2011. For me, it was a whirlwind tour, only spending one full day on the conference floor (instead of three). After checking in to my hotel late Friday afternoon, I wandered the exhibit floor, talking with vendors about new products, picking up arm-loads of free books, and grabbing delicious niblets of hors d’oeurve. Sunday was even briefer after deciding to head back to Los Angeles earlier than I originally planned.

On Saturday, the ACRL New Members Discussion Group held their panel on digital self branding. Brett Bonfield, Kiyomi Deards, Lisa Carlucci Thomas, and Andromeda Yelton offered their advice and talked about their experiences building a reputation online and on the library circuit. If Twitter and after-session discussion are any indication, the panel was a brilliant success. Over 40 people attended and we even got some coverage on ALA’s Youtube channel.

Here’s a summary of the best advice offered by our panelists. Thanks to everyone who came and we hope you enjoyed it!

Why should you take the time to set up an online brand?

  1. People will Google you: vendors, administrators, future employers, colleagues. What do you want them to find?
  2. It can be mutually rewarding to you and the people who could benefit from your skills and knowledge.
  3. When you have an online presence, how you present yourself in face to face situations may be seen in the context of your digital self.

What can you do to make it work?

  1. First off, it is an organic process. You may have to grow into it. So don’t panic!
  2. Building a professional brand may seem like fishing with a thousand poles. You may have to throw them all out and see which one bites.
  3. Imagine you don’t have a resume. What would you do/say/build online to highlight your skills?
  4. Find an niche and find a community.
  5. Find a way to participate, do good work, and then link back to your website.

And finally, some sobering advice:

  1. Can you verbalize how social media and online branding is helpful to your career? If you’re in academia, you should be able to do this, especially if you plan to take the time to work at online branding, because…
  2. Twitter won’t get you tenure.
  3. Be very careful about being negative in a public, online space. If you’re going to say something negative online with your real name, people will notice (and find it).

Did you attend the panel? What did you think? We are planning to continue the discussion online at ALA Connect. So if you’re interested, jump over there and let us know your thoughts!

The librarians are descending on San Diego

It’s a cool 52 degrees in Southern California this morning as librarians and vendors from across the country begin to make their way toward San Diego for the ALA Midwinter conference. I’ll be trekking down tomorrow afternoon between rush hours with no plans other than checking into my hotel, finding food, and attending the opening of the exhibits. Since I’m not flying this time and luggage space is not an issue, I can grab all the swag that my sturdy, librarian hands can carry!

If you are headed to Midwinter, check out ProfHacker’s advice for attending conferences [productively]. I’m keeping my schedule more open than I did at ALA Annual back in June, with the exception of Saturday when I have multiple parties obligations. I’m willing to be swayed by public opinion to one or another intriguing event, but mostly I want to make this quick southern sojourn as stress-free as possible. Here is my plan of attack:


  • Arrive mid afternoon. Check in. Find food.
  • 5:30am — 7:30pm:  Exhibits Hall (Convention Center)


  • 10:30am — 12:00pm:  ACRL New Members Discussion Group (Hilton Bayfront, Aqua 304)
  • Lunch
  • 1:30pm — 3:30pm:  The World (and Jason Griffey) Interviews Vernor Vinge (Convention Center, Rm. 29 A-D)
  • [alternate] 1:30pm — 3:30pm:  ACRL/LES General Membership Forum (Convention Center, Rm. 24 A)
  • 4:00pm — 6:00pm:  San Jose SLIS Reception (Symphony Towers, Suite 3400)
  • 6:30pm — 8:00pm:  ALASC Meet-Up (Field Pub)
  • 7:30pm — 10:00pm:  Tweet-up (Basic Restaurant)


  • 10:30am — 12:00pm:  ACRL/LES Reference Discussion Group (Hilton Bayfront, Indigo E)
  • [alternate] 10:30am — 12:00pm:  ACRL/DLS Discussion Group (Convention Center, Rm. 30 B)
  • Lunch
  • 1:30pm — 2:30pm:  ACRL Forum on futures thinking for academic librarians (Convention Center, Rm. 30)

With the exception of the ACRL NMDG and the San Jose Reception, any of those are subject to change, especially if I’m bribed, coerced, kidnapped or otherwise distracted by crowds and shiny objects (anyone remember watching the World Cup at Annual?). Safe travels and hope to see you there!

If you are heading to San Diego this weekend, what are your plans?

Anno domini 2011

Happy New Year! I hope your 2010 was as wonderful as the one I just wrapped up. ALA Midwinter is only a few days away, but before I jump onto that train to San Diego, I wanted to spend a few moments to look forward to 2011 and layout a game plan. It’s a bit hokey, but I’m going to risk dweebhood and put these out in the open. Feel free to call me out on this later in the year if I start slacking.

Last year was the “Year of Getting Involved.” I established three areas of focus (web tech, reference work, and professional acculturation) and pursued specific goals that fit within those contexts. It was my attempt to “get more involved”: I set up a domain space, I started working the reference desk, I taught a one-off instruction course for new grad students, and I volunteered for two ALA committees. While I did not achieve anything spectacular, I can confidently say that I met my goals (huzzah!) and I’m in a better place now professionally than this time last year.

2011 will be the “Year of Preparation.” In December, I’ll graduate with my MLIS from San Jose State and my fixed-term cataloging position at MPOW will come to end. Everything up until that point will be preparation for re-entering the job market, hopefully more prepared than when I first moved to LA over three years sans MLIS and sans experience.

This year, I’ll have the same three areas of focus, but I want to dig deeper. Rather than setting specific goals (which worked great last year, so no complaints there), I’ll use the three themes to guide my professional development (mostly reading and writing) during certain times of the year.

Web Tech: Dig into the code to understand how it works and how to build things.

Each quarter of 2011, I’ll focus on a particular coding language. Because I have some extra time during Q1, I’ll start with PHP. In Q2, I’ll turn my attention to Javascript. In Q3, I’ll take a breather to refresh and refine my CSS knowledge (this is also the busiest time of year for me so it will help that I already know a little). Finally, in Q4 I’ll try to learn Python. Ok, I know that is not web tech, strictly speaking, but I’ve been wanting to dive into it for years.

Reference Work: Develop a deeper understanding of the processes underlying reference services.

Each week, I will spend an hour or two reflecting on my reference work at MPOW. This involves reviewing my own performance, but also reading over the chat logs and knowledge-base documents developed by colleagues. My intent is to develop a deeper understanding of how students seek information, what works and what doesn’t, and to learn different approaches to reference service. Additionally, I want to spend a few minutes each week discovering (or rediscovering) useful resources for academic research.

Professional Acculturation: Reflect on professional academic librarianship, its roles and functions.

Even though I’ve worked at an academic library for three years, as a paraprofessional I’ve always felt a bit on the outside. This year, I want to put that feeling behind me and seriously think about what it means to be an academic librarian (especially for humanities research) by focusing on essential issues of academia. So for each month of the year, I set one topic of focus. During that month, I’ll actively seek resources on these topics and set aside time each week to review the conversations surrounding them. Those topics are: Info Literacy, Privacy, Copyright, Scholarly Communication, Distance Learning, Digital Libraries,  Net Neutrality, Future of Libraries, Academic Publishing,  Mobile Tech, Ebooks, and Open Access.

Daily Habits

In order to help me stay on track, there are three habits that I will develop: single-tasking, writing daily, and weekly review. Single-tasking will help me to focus on what is most essential for achieving my goals and writing daily will keep my mind on it. Same with the weekly review (which I do anyway as part of my GTD routine).

And that’s it! There is a lot to be said about setting specific, measurable, achievable (etc.) goals, but this year, I want to let things take their course and “ride the wave.” I’ll keep my eye on and out for things that matter, but let my professional life develop as it may from now until the end of the year. For now, we play the waiting game…