On summer reading.

 

I was on KUOW today to talk about my favorite subject: reading for pleasure. The theme was summer reading, which has always had warm and fuzzy connotations for me: I was a summer reading volunteer at my local public library during my teen years, and I have lots of pleasant memories of hot summer days spent in an air-conditioned library with good books.

What makes a book a summer read? I think that’s up to the reader. For some folks, it’s “guilty pleasure” books (although I think you should never feel guilty about reading anything) and for other folks, like Tom (who joined me on the show today), it’s about having extended time to invest in reading something deeply. Summer reading doesn’t have to be light and frothy, but I do  think summer reading is about whatever gives you escape and pleasure.

With that in mind, here are some books that might float your boat this summer.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

If you love comics and princes who wear fancy dresses, this graphic novel fairy tale is for you. Prince Sebastian is being pressured by his family to find a wife–but they don’t know who he is at night, when he transforms into fashionable Lady Crystallia. Dressmaker Frances creates gorgeous gowns for Lady Crystallia, but will she ever become famous in the fashion world if she has to continue keeping the Prince’s secret? This lovely book has a heartwarming conclusion. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming film from Universal Pictures!

Ship It by Britta Lundin

Lundin, a writer for the wildly popular series Riverdale, shows off her insider knowledge of the TV industry in her debut queer young adult novel. Claire is a 16-year-old megafan of TV show Demon Heart, while Forest is an actor on the show who dreams of bigger roles. Their worlds collide when Claire confronts the show’s actors at a comic con, demanding to know when her fanfiction fantasies will be portrayed in the show’s storyline. Bonus: parts of the story are set in Portland and Seattle, a nice nod to Lundin’s Pacific Northwest roots.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

I often use the summertime to catch up on books I feel like I “should” have read already. This is one of those quintessential classics that somehow escaped me and it’s next in my TBR pile.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

When I was at The Strand last week, I picked up this much-anticipated collection of poems. Hayes won the National Book Award for Lighthead so I am prepared to be stunned.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

In a writing workshop once, the teacher asked us to write about something that other people find disturbing but that we find beautiful. Each of these essays feels like a response to that prompt. I listened to this collection of essays on audiobook and fell in love with Chelsea’s voice: both her physical presence in my earbuds and her sentences, which feel like they’ve been cut with an X-ACTO knife blade. Hodson writes about violent love in a graffiti gang, navigating the commodification of her body in her work as a model and an American Apparel employee, playing games like Purple Moon and Grand Theft Auto, and crushing on the Backstreet Boys.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller

This is a picture book about Mike Pence’s gay bunny who wants to get gay married but a mean stink bug won’t let him so the other animals vote out the stink bug. Yes, all the words in that sentence are correct.

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Since we’re on the subject of picture books, I have to mention Julián is a Mermaid, which depicts a little boy who wants to join the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. His abuela helps him dress up, and the gorgeous illustrations will knock your socks off (and inspire you to put on a homemade mermaid tail).

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

If you like your summer reading a bit dark and gory, this is for you. True crime writer Michelle McNamara unexpectedly passed away in April 2016 and this book, the culmination of her endless pursuit of the serial rapist/murderer known as the Golden State Killer, was published in February 2018, just a couple months before the killer was identified. If you have a bit of willpower and you like the thrill of a big reveal, you can read the whole engrossing, terrifying book, then go and read the headlines about the killer’s capture and arrest.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This novel is one of my favorite books this year, and Oprah agrees with me (it’s part of her Book Club 2.0). Celestial and Roy are newlyweds whose lives are thrown into chaos when Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. After five years of incarceration, Roy is unexpectedly released early and returns home to see what’s left of his marriage. Jones said that she got the inspiration for her novel when she overheard a couple arguing in the mall: “You wouldn’t have waited seven years for me, Roy!” / “It wouldn’t have happened to you.” She was also inspired by The Odyssey — the idea of a husband having a long journey home, wanting to find a faithful wife waiting for him.

On Play-Doh.

six containers of play-doh in different colors

My therapist prescribed Play-Doh to me this week and I complied, buying six tubs in neon colors: orange, purple, pink, yellow, blue, and green. Play-Doh appeals to all the senses. It has a unique feel under the hand, it has the distinct smell of childhood, the colors are bright, it even makes a pleasing sound when it’s squished. I’d say something here about the taste but I can’t bring myself to put it in my mouth. Did you know that it contains wheat?

I needed to find a photo I thought I had lost and, in the process, I discovered all of my receipts, ticket stubs, and notes from my last trip to New York City in 2007. Next to every landmark or museum visited, I jotted down how much money I spent and how much money I had left in my checking account.

 

I was twenty years old and didn’t have a credit card, and all of my spending money came from the paychecks I earned at various jobs on campus: checking out required textbooks and DVDs in the library’s reserve room, hosting prospies for the Admissions office, doing data entry. I learned that there was no limit to the number of hours you could work on campus, and no limit to the number of departments you could work for.

I leave for my next trip to New York City on Tuesday and I will fill pages and pages in my journal about the woman I’m seeing, the coffee shops in Queens that serve Stumptown coffee, and the new exhibit at the Whitney, but I’m not keeping a ledger to make sure I don’t overspend on my cafeteria lunches. In a bizarre twist of events that twenty-year-old me could not have predicted, I’m flying first class using airline miles from a jointly-held credit card with my second spouse.

 

The Play-Doh is supposed to help my anxiety, the nauseous pit in my stomach when I think about working on the book I’m writing.

“I’m interested in helping people connect to the process of making,” my therapist said. She told me that most of her clients are artists, writers, and musicians, many of them full-time professionals. They get obsessed with the product and lose sight of the process, so she tries to pull them back, to help them get fascinated again with art-making.

“Sounds like a good metaphor for life,” I said, and she nodded as I scribbled notes in the padfolio spread open across my lap.

When I left for college, I moved from Portland to Ohio and broke up with my boyfriend, since we both decided that we didn’t want a long-distance thing. Then my parents immediately announced their separation once I was safely on the other side of the Mississippi. Understandably, I was a bit upset and lonely. I wrote long letters to my ex-boyfriend every day for almost two months, until it finally sunk in that he was never going to write back, even though we exchanged messages daily on AOL Instant Messenger.

That ex-boyfriend? I married him seven years later. And two years after that, we got divorced. In one of our last conversations as a couple, the kind where you’re both surveying the wreckage and holding nothing back, he told me about those letters from college.

“I only opened some of them,” he confessed. “Most of them, I didn’t read. I kept them but couldn’t open them.” He cried telling me this, about how he was so overwhelmed by my love and didn’t know what to do with my feelings for him.

I’ve thought about those letters more than once, wondering what happened to them. He lives in Portland so I imagine he did the environmentally responsible thing and put them all in his recycling bin, then wheeled them to the curb one night. The next morning, they were gone.

I was seventeen when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released Fever to Tell. I listened to that album every day in college, the CD spinning on repeat in my discman long before I had my first iPod.

My favorite song has always been the second-to-last one on the album, “Y Control.” Karen O growls, “I wish I could buy back the woman you stole.”

I wish I could buy back the woman you stole.

I can’t buy back the letters. I can’t buy back all the words wasted, the dozens of letters in the archive of my teenage desire and pain lost to the City of Portland’s Waste Management.

So I buy Play-Doh.

I’m sure it will help.

Once I open it.

On writing for children and young adults.

What is true: I don’t have children but I read a lot of books for children.

What is also true: I want to write books for children but I don’t know how (yet).

What I do know: It helps to read a lot of books written for children. Hundreds of them, if possible.

What I believe: Writing books for children and young adults is the hardest. It is so difficult to get it right, and so easy to get it very wrong. Too many people assume it’s easier to write for young audiences when the opposite is true. A children’s book editor said to me once, with a very wry smile, I read piles of books that never see the light of day.

What I’m trying to write: A contemporary young adult fiction novel set in present-day Tacoma, where a 15-year-old lesbian copes with the violent death of her best friend by becoming close with his older brother.

What I’m stuck on: Plot, structure, character-building, how to move forward when I feel stuck and doubt myself, what to do with a messy pile of words.

What I ask when I want to get to know someone: What was your favorite book as a child, the one you can’t forget, the one you can picture in your hands, the one that comes alive completely in your imagination?

What I loved reading as a child: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, Wayside Stories by Louis Sachar, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

What impresses me as an adult: the way Brandy Colbert moves a plot forward with something as simple and burning as a secret, the laser-sharp dialogue by Angie C. Thomas, the depth of the characters in Robin Benway’s stories, the heart-pounding pacing in Britta Lundin’s scenes, the creativity in Adam Silvera’s world-building, the deep blue moods in Nina LaCour’s books.

What I think when I meet someone small-minded and unkind: I’m so sorry you didn’t read enough books as a child; I’m sorry that no one took the time to read to you.

What I’m currently reading: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy, Puddin’ by Julie Murphy.

What I just finished reading: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves.

What I’ll read next: Leah on the Offbeat by Becca Albertalli, White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma.

Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On hiatus.

I know you from Twitter.
Aren’t you the one who tweets all the time?
I just wanted to say hi, I follow you on Twitter.

I was ten years old when we got our first home computer.

It had a 14kpbs Internet connection. I have sentimental feelings about the static hum and screech of dial-up. I could sing it for you now, like a song I know all the words to. I remember that the connection was tenuous and dropped frequently. I would clasp my hands together in hope that the connection would hold, and I silently willed my family to keep from picking up our phone off the hook.

My first chat room was The Space Bar, a black-and-white Telnet box. It was 1996. Most ten-year-old girls weren’t on the Internet talking to strangers. But that was fine with me. I wasn’t like most girls anyway. The following years brought all the good and bad the Internet can bring. I filled out FAFSA and college applications online, and I learned everything I could about where I wanted to go to school. I wrote all my thoughts and feelings on OpenDiary, then on Livejournal, where I met my first husband. And sometime after I graduated from college, I joined Twitter, but I didn’t know anyone who used it then.

It’s been almost two years since the election, since my Twitter use turned from casual observation and friendly banter to anger, despair, and breathless, paralyzed scrolling.
I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the breaking news that would somehow change everything, reverse course, undo what has been done.
It never came.

It’s why we go to the movies and watch TV and read books. The comfort that, when things seem the darkest, the story will change, the narrative will shift, and the tension will be relieved. We’ll talk about it excitedly later over coffee or frozen yogurt, examining the foreshadowing in the plot, the layers of the characters’ motivations.

But there are no rules here. This is not cinema or fiction.
While theatrical, this is not theater.
Catastrophe strikes and other people tweet about it.
People die and other people write clever protest signs about it.
With every new relevation, I think: No one is coming to save us.

When I was four years old, the first song I ever tried to memorize the lyrics to was “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.

What I’ve been looking for is hope. But there’s no hope in BREAKING NEWS, the rage and the outrage about the rage, the endless headlines and the ensuing hot takes. I find comfort in artists, writers, queers, librarians, all of them fighting and raging and loving and living, too. It feels good to remind me that they’re here, that we’re all still here, somehow.

This is what comforted me about chat rooms when I was a lonely, awkward teenager: there was always someone there, no matter the distance.

And what is distance now? I measure it in time, not in miles. How long until I see you again? Time zones are a function of the shape of the Earth but not a reflection of my feelings about you. Can you hear me? I’m still here.

Featured image by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

What counts? Gender identity and library workers.

Last week, I received an email inviting me to a webinar about transgender inclusion in libraries being offered by the Washington State Library, and I immediately signed up. I am always happy to learn more about supporting transgender and non-binary library workers and patrons. (Can’t make the webinar? If you’re attending ALA Annual in June, I recommend the “Trans* Customer Service 101” session which already has 72 interested attendees.)

How many people identify as transgender or non-binary? It’s difficult to get exact numbers, especially because many surveys only provide male/female gender options (and even when other options are offered, people may choose not to disclose their gender identity for a variety of reasons). In 2016, researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender. A similar finding in a February 2017 article in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that 390 adults per 100,000, or about 1 million Americans, identify as transgender.

But we have almost no idea how many library workers identify as transgender or non-binary, and we don’t know because we aren’t asking.

The ALA Membership Demographics survey (a voluntary, self-selected survey completed by ALA members, which is not representative of all library workers) allows respondents to select “male” or “female” for their gender identity. As of January 2017, 37,666 respondents had completed the survey. The Diversity Counts report from ALA, last updated almost a decade ago, uses data from the American Community Survey, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Center for Education Statistics–all of which use male/female gender options.

In March, the Census Bureau submitted their planned questions for the 2020 Census to Congress. Two notable changes made the news: the 2020 version of the Census will ask respondents to disclose their citizenship status, and respondents will also be given options to declare same-sex relationships for the first time.

Disappointingly, the options for reporting sex haven’t changed since 1790.

On page 71 of the 98-page document outlining the planned questions, the Census Bureau explains that respondents will be asked to choose “Male” or “Female” for their sex, the same two options that have been available since the question was asked on the very first census in 1790. The word “gender” is not used in their proposal.

It is not impossible to collect data about transgender and non-binary identities. This week, Canada announced that its next census, and other future government surveys, will allow respondents to select a third gender option. (The exact wording hasn’t been worked out yet.) In June last year, Oregon became the first state to issue identification with a non-binary gender option.

Why do I care about this? Why does it matter to know how librarians identify?

Because library work is gendered, and it always has been. Transgender and non-binary library workers deserve recognition and support, but they cannot effectively advocate for themselves in a nearly-exclusively single-gendered profession that does not acknowledge their existence; our current demographic measures inadvertently erase the populations that need the most affirmation.

I’m excited about Sunny and Reed’s webinar on June 5th, and I think Stephen’s session at ALA will be a smash. It is incredibly important to support queer, trans, and non-binary library users. But I also think we need to be sure we’re doing our best to take care of queer, trans, and non-binary library workers. Just like on airplanes, you gotta put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.

If surveys of library workers ask, “Are you male or female?”, we are asking the wrong question.

Featured image by Karina Carvalho on Unsplash

To Lock or Not to Lock?

Slides from IGNIS Webinar (4/26/18)

Last fall, I was working as a part-time librarian at a community college when a student approached me at the reference desk and asked where she could take her test. She explained that she needed to download a software called Respondus that would lock down her browser, and she needed to use a webcam because she would be recorded during the test. It was through that interaction that I first learned about the complicated world of online exam proctoring.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about this topic a little more (and get over my initial shock), I’ve come to the conclusion that the decision to secure online assessments is part of the instructional design process. I’ve read some interesting pieces, suggested below, which made me think about the various factors that instructors need to weigh before deciding to use online exam security.

Faculty who teach online can’t ignore the imperative to ensure that the student who is taking the online course is the one completing the work. This is specified in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). However, HEOA does not specify exactly how programs must verify identity, and it suggests a range of options including secure logins, proctoring, and other technology.

Some courses don’t use exams at all. However, in courses that do rely heavily on exams, especially for large portions of the student’s overall grade, the instructor may feel strongly that they need to verify the student’s identity and ensure that the student is not receiving any outside help during the exam. Online proctoring software may include features that require students to show photo ID and limit the student’s computer capabilities (by locking down the browser). Some companies offer live remote proctoring where the student is monitored via webcam to ensure the student is following the rules of the exam.

In institutions where faculty do not have access to proctoring software (all of the companies offering these services are costly), instructors may add features to their exams to make it more difficult for students to cheat. This could include randomizing answers, timing questions, showing only one question at a time, preventing students from reviewing correct answers, and limiting the time window during which the exam can be taken.

At the same time, making online assessments more difficult to take can hinder accessibility and equity. Randomizing answers can slow down learners who depend on a consistent pattern of answers in order to answer questions successfully. It’s also recommended that faculty shorten the time window that tests are available to prevent collaboration and the sharing of answers. This sounds good in theory, but can create burdens on students may need to shift work/childcare schedules in order to take a test during a limited time frame.

There are many ways to discourage academic dishonesty in online courses without using proctoring (which is costly to the institution and still does not completely prevent cheating). I think the first step is to look at the course’s learning outcomes and determine if any of the outcomes can be assessed without using simple multiple choice exams. Moving away from exams to other kinds of assessments, including group work, portfolios, problem-based assignments, essays, and reflective writing, can give a clearer picture of students’ learning.

If exams must be used, it is best to limit their value (e.g., make them worth less of a student’s overall grade). Another option is to use automatically-graded multiple choice tests as simple knowledge checks that unlock the next module, but do not have an impact on the learner’s grade.

When I think back to the scenario of the student who needed somewhere to take her exam, the real head-scratcher for me is that she was not taking a fully-online course. She was taking a face-to-face course and, obviously, since she was standing in front of me, she was a student who came to campus regularly. She asked me this question very early in the quarter, far too early to be taking any kind of summative assessment like a midterm or final exam. So why did her instructor feel it was necessary to use online proctoring software? If it was a low-value quiz, couldn’t it have been taken in person, during class? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but these are the kinds of conversations I’d like to have with faculty to better understand their thoughts about securing assessments.

Suggested Reading

Alessio, H. M., Malay, N., Maurer, K., Bailer, A. J., & Rubin, B. (2017). Examining the effect of proctoring on online test scores. Online Learning, 21(1), 146-161.

Higher Learning Commission. (2018, January). Federal compliance overview. Retrieved from http://download.hlcommission.org/FedCompOverview_PRC.pdf

Michael, T.B., & Williams, M.A. (2013). Student equity: Discouraging cheating in online courses. Administrative Issues 3(2). Retrieved from https://dc.swosu.edu/aij/vol3/iss2/6

Schaffhauser, D. (2016, April 6). How students try to bamboozle online proctors. Campus Technology. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/articles/2016/04/06/how-students-try-to-bamboozle-online-proctors.aspx

Smith, C. & Noviello, S. (2012, September). Best practices in authentication and verification of students in online education [Presentation]. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10755/243374

Stuber-McEwen, D., Wiseley, P., & Hoggatt, S. (2009). Point, click, and cheat: Frequency and type of academic dishonesty in the virtual classroom. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3), 1-10.

Watson, G. & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses?. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 13(1). Retrieved from https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring131/watson131.html

 

 

Featured image by Mike Szczepanski on Unsplash

Who Succeeds in Higher Education? Questioning the Connection Between Academic Libraries & Student Success.

This is a rough transcript of the plenary session presented to the California Academic & Research Libraries conference on April 15, 2018. The full paper will be published in the conference proceedings. All errors, typos, and misunderstandings are my own and do not represent the views of anyone else, including my past, present, and future employers.

My slides are here: https://tinyurl.com/zohzohcarlconf2018

Abstract: Many academic libraries are feeling pressured to join “student success” initiatives to collect and analyze data about students’ academic behaviors. In the library, this may result in tracking who uses group study rooms, who checks out books, who asks questions at the reference desk, and who participates in information literacy instruction. These data points are being used to prove that students who use the library are more likely to succeed in college; therefore, academic libraries are valuable. Such surveillance methods have been used in several high-profile studies, including those in the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Assessment in Action initiative. In this talk, I will question the role of academic libraries in student success and the methods being used to prove academic library value. What is at stake when academic libraries connect student library use with their academic performance? What are the implications for students’ privacy? Could tracking students in the library lead to self-censorship and intellectual freedom concerns? Most importantly, what do students really need from an academic library in order to be successful in college?

Introduction

Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to be here to speak with you today. I am very grateful to the conference organizers, and I especially want to thank Miguel Figueroa and Charlotte Roh for their wonderful talks. I couldn’t have asked for a better keynote and plenary session to precede this one, and their presentations set the bar very, very high.

I am truly humbled by the amount of knowledge and experience in this room. I won’t pretend for a second to know more than any other person here. But I don’t think that I’m here to tell you about what I know. I believe I was invited to speak to you because of how I think about libraries, and how I see the role of academic libraries in student success.

Longview, Washington

My perspective on academic libraries is shaped by how I started my career. After receiving my Master’s degree in 2010, my first professional position was an adjunct faculty librarian role at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington. Longview is a small mill town an hour north of Portland on Interstate 5. It sits on the Columbia River which made it a bustling place for timber industry and port shipping in the early twentieth century. Now it’s well-known for its distinct and lingering timber mill smell, its annual Squirrel Festival, and the song “Longview” from the 1994 album Dookie by Green Day.

Students at Lower Columbia College

I tell you this because Lower Columbia College was the first college I ever worked for as a librarian, and those students shaped my empathy and my passion for higher education. They were the highlight of my day, every day I was there. Since then, I have worked for several other community colleges, and community college students continue to be the most interesting, driven, capable, and hardworking people I’ve ever met. According to the student demographics when I worked there in 2012, LCC students 60% of LCC students were part-time. 58% of them were age 25 or older. Half of them had children. And 72% of students were there for certificate programs and basic skills education– only 28% of students were seeking transfer degrees.

When I talk about college students with you, I don’t picture an 18-year-old person living in a dorm room at a sprawling university. In my head, when you say “college student”, I picture someone who works to make ends meet, who goes to school part-time, and who is raising a family.

 

Community College Educators

Whether or not you realize it, you are all community college educators, too. Of all students who completed a four-year college degree in 2015-2016, half of them had been enrolled at a two-year college at some point in the ten years prior to earning their degree.

Here in California, 29% of University of California graduates started at a California community college. The number goes up to 51% for California State University graduates.

Community college students are the people I care most about. When we talk about who succeeds in higher education, and how the library impacts student success, we have to remember that 40% of undergraduates attend community colleges. What are we saying about these students when we talk about library value?

What are we saying about students when we correlate their library use with their academic performance–for example, at the University of Wollongong Library, where students’ library use is tracked and correlated with their grades? Or the University of Minnesota, where students who used the library were found to have a higher GPA and a higher retention rate than those who did not? I think we’re trying to say, “The library is valuable.” I think we’re also saying, “Student success is determined by the actions of the individual student.”

 

Neoliberalism and Student Success

As I see it, the prevailing message about the academic library’s impact on student success is presented as an issue of individual choices made by students, a framework that aligns with a neoliberal philosophy of higher education.

To describe neoliberalism can feel like trying to describe the taste of the air. Put simply, neoliberalism is the political and economic theory that all human relationships are based on competition (Monbiot, 2016) and, thus, society functions most efficiently when working according to market principles (McCabe, 2015). Neoliberal philosophy was put into practice by policies enacted by Reagan and Thatcher, policies which eroded public goods and dismantled social welfare programs.

Neoliberalism also emphasizes the notion of scarcity: there is not enough for all of us. If you don’t get enough resources, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough for them, or you didn’t provide the right commodities demanded by the market (Palley, 2004). We see this every day in academic institutions where departments that do not produce enough deliverables or meet institutional outcomes are thusly cut, and their erasure is treated as part of doing business.

I like the way Karen Nicholson describes neoliberalism as “an invisible part of the fabric of our daily lives.” In addition to Nicholson, there are several other researchers in LIS/archives who are actively questioning the impact of neoliberalism and corporatization in libraries. I recommend reading Ian Beilin, Marika Cifor, Maura Seale, and David McMenemy, all of whom have written words more eloquent than my own.

 

Who Succeeds in Higher Education?

So when we measure the value of academic libraries by the individual success of students who use them, we are saying: the more students engage with the library, the more successful they are. This fits with the neoliberal ethos of meritocracy: we all have equal opportunity, everyone can succeed if they try hard enough, and success is determined by the choices you make.

We seem unwilling to admit that the architecture of privilege permeates all things, including student success. In higher education, we regularly discuss success as an issue of what students do with their time rather than just bluntly admit: success is systemic and structural, still more often defined by your zip code, income, race, and inheritance than almost anything else you do.

As you might have guessed, the title of my talk is a rhetorical question. If the question is, “Who succeeds in higher education?”, we already know the answer.

Success in higher education comes largely from identities that are ascribed to us, rather than what we have achieved. You are more likely to graduate from college if you are white, female, and have money. You are more likely to finish your degree if you go to school full-time and if you attend a selective institution with limited admissions. There are clear connections between wealth, privilege, status, and college completion.

If this is the case, why are libraries investing time and money to ask how library use impacts student success? If we already know who succeeds, why are we tracking students who use the library to prove they are more successful than students who do not?

No moment exists in a vacuum and nothing is inevitable. I am married to a historian of science and technology, so we have a lot of dinner table conversations about the importance of history. I believe that we librarians find ourselves in this difficult moment for two reasons.

One, the Association of College and Research Libraries is actively pushing a research agenda that promotes connecting the individual use of academic libraries to traditional measures of student success. Two, it is much easier to believe that students are responsible for their success than to acknowledge the more complicated intersections of privilege and oppression that determine who succeeds in our society.

What I’d like to do with my time this morning is attempt to convince you that

  • correlating student use of academic libraries with their individual success is a harmful framework;
  • the ACRL research agenda is driven by a neoliberal concept of higher education that pins student success on their choices as individuals;
  • if we are truly dedicated to the cause of student success, library money and library labor would be better spent focusing on what students actually need: financial support, food, and housing.

In order to better understand how we arrived at this moment, we need to discuss the Value of Academic Libraries Report.

 

The VAL Report

There’s a good chance that what you’re working on in your library right now aligns with the Value of Academic Libraries report, more commonly known as the VAL report, which was published by ACRL in 2010.

If your library has defined outcomes, created or adopted systems for assessment management, collected data about users beyond what is necessary to provide services, and/or connected library use to student engagement, retention, graduation, and academic performance, then you are practicing some of the 22 recommendations for demonstrating library value, as defined by Megan Oakleaf in her seminal report.

The overarching recommendation that libraries must “demonstrate value” by integrating with their institution’s outcomes assessment reporting might sound normal to us now, but at the time of its publication, the VAL report suggested practices and procedures that did not exist in many libraries — and, to be frank, that are still very new to many academic libraries around the country.

 

Assessment in Action

After the publication of the VAL report, ACRL received an IMLS grant to fund Assessment in Action, a three-year project to support data-driven assessment projects in academic libraries. AiA spawned three cycles of annual assessment projects at nearly 200 different colleges and universities, all of which defined research questions, created teams that included external partners outside the library, and collected data to study the impact of academic libraries on student success.

Many of the projects in Assessment in Action are interesting, well-researched case studies with deeply provocative questions about how students and faculty find value in academic libraries. Looking over the project summaries, you’ll see that many libraries undertook collaborative projects that engaged multiple campus units and took hundreds of hours to complete. Reflections from participants indicate that the most valuable part of their involvement in AiA was forming connections with partners outside the library, including institutional research offices and faculty in targeted areas like Composition and STEM.

 

Assessment in Action – Correlating Library Use with Student Success

AiA projects were and continue to be widely publicized by ACRL, and many institutions are attempting to replicate the data collection and analysis performed by AiA participants. From my perspective, AiA popularized and normalized the idea that it is not just acceptable but imperative for libraries to track how students use the library to prove the value of the academic library.

A few examples of AiA studies connecting library use with student success:

  • At Eastern Kentucky University Libraries, they found that students who accessed online resources through the library had a higher GPA than students who did not. They also found that students with a low (0-1 point GPA) had not accessed any online library resources.
  • At Nevada State College, they found a positive correlation between library use and GPA, between using online resources and retention, and between using the library and achieving good academic standing.
  • The Northwest Arkansas Community College Library found that students who attended information literacy sessions had better course-end grades and retained at a higher rate than those who did not attend the sessions.
  • At Colorado Mesa University, 92% of students who used the library’s research assistance were retained, compared with 83% of students who did not use the service.

 

From Case Studies to Generalizations

Each year, AiA published an executive summary of its findings. Both Year 2 and Year 3 reports highlight findings from studies like those just mentioned, emphasizing that students who use the library show better outcomes than those who do not.

But can we really make such broad generalizations from these small, localized case studies? And what does it really tell us that students who use the library are more successful? Doesn’t this just mean that students who use the library are probably more academically engaged generally? It is my hypothesis that students who use the library have the time to do so. Students who attend library instruction sessions? Well, they probably have pretty good class attendance overall, and there’s certainly a strong correlation between attending class and getting good grades in college.

I am not convinced that correlational studies do anything more than tell us what we already know: students who have the time and resources to do well in college do well. As I’ve said before, the library is not the thing that makes students successful–privilege is.

In their AiA project summary, Michigan State University acknowledged the complexity of isolating the library’s impact on student success.

Their team wrote,  

we do not have sufficient data to make generalizations. This project reiterates the difficulty in demonstrating even correlative relationships between library use and student success; while we can compare the numbers, there are many external and environmental factors for which we cannot account.

 

Learning Analytics

The transition from Assessment in Action projects and correlational studies to involvement in campus learning analytics initiatives is a short one. Learning analytics is described by Erik Duval as “collecting traces that learners leave behind and using those traces to improve learning.” In order to optimize education, learning analytics gathers data about student behavior and performance and makes such data instantly available to campus stakeholders through sleek online dashboards. Often times, students are not fully aware of the kinds of data being collected about them as they move through their days: they may be tracked when using Learning Management Systems (like Canvas and Blackboard), as well as when they swipe their ID cards at places like tutoring centers, the gym, and campus events, and now, in libraries, where circulation records and database logins can be transferred to institutional analytics repositories.

Collecting and analyzing information about students in higher education is not new; however, in the past, most administrators were stuck analyzing performance results like grades and course completion after the end of the term. Learning analytics offers educators the unique opportunity to act on real-time data during the term and intervene when students are flunking assignments or not attending classes, to offer “nudges” based on low performance, and to even predict what students’ outcomes might be.

 

Student Attitudes About Learning Analytics

How students feel about learning analytics is still largely unknown. Researchers in Australia conducted focus groups with students at a large metropolitan university and found that students were hopeful about how learning analytics could potentially help them connect with campus resources, but they were also concerned about being patronized and having their privacy invaded. One student commented that they felt “nudges” from professors through a learning analytics system could feel like a parent nagging them to do their chores. Overall, students expressed that they felt “uninformed and uncertain” about learning analytics and, after being given more information, they had concerns about how instructors’ access to analytics could result in preconceived judgments and bias that would impact their learning opportunities.

 

Oakleaf Attitudes About Learning Analytics

How does Megan Oakleaf see the future of learning analytics in libraries? In the VAL report, Oakleaf lamented the lack of individualized, user-level data about academic library use. She wrote:

For instance, until libraries know that student #5 with major A has downloaded B number of articles from database C, checked out D number of books,  participated in E workshops and online tutorials, and completed courses F, G, and H, libraries cannot correlate any of those student information behaviors with attainment of other outcomes.

Until librarians do that, they will be blocked in many of their efforts to demonstrate value…demonstrating the full value of academic libraries is only possible when libraries possess evidence that allows them to examine the impact of library user interactions. (page 96 of the VAL report)

 

In November 2017, Oakleaf presented at EDUCAUSE about the importance of integrating individual library user data into learning analytics dashboards. She included a screenshot from a campus analytics dashboard to show what it might look like to see a students’ interactions with the library–for example, what if faculty could see if students had attended information literacy instruction? I imagine that we could also include whether or not that student has logged in to our resources or borrowed materials. To be clear, this is not about research studies that look at student behavior in the aggregate — this is identifying student behaviors and interactions with the library down to the individual student, for other stakeholders on campus to see, analyze, and interpret.

Earlier this year, Oakleaf published her most recent article about libraries and learning analytics, in which she discusses the “problem” of privacy in learning analytics as requiring “a significant shift in professional library practice and a reconciliation between long held ethical positions and new imperatives to support student learning and success.”

To me, it is not a “significant shift” to collect and analyze individual, identifiable use of the library and its resources; it is a seismic pivot in library values and intellectual freedom principles. I do not believe it is possible to foster unhindered academic inquiry while, at the same time, tracking when a student logs in to online resources, how many books they check out, or how often they attend information literacy instruction sessions. Putting this data into dashboards accessible by faculty, administrators, student advisors, counselors, and other campus stakeholders is an enormous violation of trust.

Oakleaf is unwavering in her certainty that learning analytics is the future of library assessment data and, while she acknowledges concerns about ethics and privacy, her true concern seems not to be with students’ autonomy and agency–but with librarians’ hesitance to hand over library use data for input in campus-wide advising and retention systems.

As the author of the VAL report, a prolific scholar, and an iSchool professor, Oakleaf has enormous influence over the direction of the conversation around library assessment. This influence is evident in the latest ACRL research agenda, titled “Academic Library Impact” which was published in September 2017.

 

ACRL Research Agenda for Student Learning & Success

The ACRL Research Agenda for Student Learning & Success presents six priorities areas, one of which is including library data in institutional data collection. In that section, the authors propose the following suggested actions.

  • Know how other academic stakeholders are using learning analytics.
  • Research the safeguards needed to ensure student privacy or confidentiality.
  • Strategically collect data that can be integrated into learning analytics software.
  • Advocate for the inclusion of library data in the volumes of information collected from multiple systems within the academic institution.
  • Integrate library data into campus analytics components.
  • Work with stakeholders to statistically analyze and predict student learning and success based on shared analytics.

 

Why Resist Learning Analytics?

I am deeply troubled by the endorsement of pursuing learning analytics as part of an academic library research agenda for several reasons: one, it erodes student privacy and intellectual freedom, two, it takes away control and power from learners, and three, it conflates data tracking and surveillance with library assessment.

As Kyle M.L. Jones and Dorothea Salo explore in this month’s issue of College and Research Libraries, there are serious ethical considerations to incorporating library data in institutional learning analytics. They note that students’ intellectual freedom may be hindered if they believe the library is tracking what they search for and where they look for it. Additionally, there may be adverse psychological effects to knowing that library engagement is reported to faculty–how will students feel when faculty, after reviewing students’ low engagement with library resources, “nudge” them to use the library more?

April Hathcock, scholarly communications librarian at NYU and lawyer, says learning analytics are “a colonialist, slave-owning, corporatizing, capitalist practice that enacts violence against the sanctity of a learner’s privacy, body and mind. It is not in keeping with our professional values as librarians or educators.” She goes on to write that we owe learners the agency to be involved in decisions about learning analytics. “You can’t object to something,” she writes, “if you don’t know it’s happening to you.” I would add that you can’t ethically opt-in to something that hasn’t been fully explained to you, either.

 

Assessment =/= Analytics

Most importantly in my mind: analytics is not assessment. I think we have to take a step back and remind ourselves of this, because our current conversation reflects analytics as assessment. Some people think that I’m against assessment because I don’t support learning analytics, and that is not true.

It is my belief that the best library assessment initiatives ask questions with an inquiry mindset. Are we providing the right services at the right times? Do we have the right materials? Is the coffee shop open late enough? Are there enough outlets? (The answer is always no, on the last one.)

At the heart of true assessment is the willingness to change and make adjustments, to move the library to better fit the user. We do this all the time. We adjust hours for finals week, extend borrowing privileges for long-term research projects, and put furniture on wheels so students can move it around to suit their needs. We make the library better based on assessment results, which includes direct feedback from users. In return for being studied and observed ethically, transparently, and with care, people who use the library are given a better library to use.

In contrast, harvesting our users’ data from their EZ Proxy logins, their ID card swipes, and their circulation records, and then comparing it to their GPA, retention rate, or graduation rate, does little to nothing to help them, and it only serves us–provided the results are in our favor. I think York University was brutally honest in their project summary for AiA.

They wrote,

[Our] project found  that there is a positive correlation between library eResource usage and GPA. While the project did not result in data from which we would make changes to library or institutional practices, it does give the library a new way to communicate value.

The bottom line is this: ACRL tells us that we need to connect the dots in order to prove that libraries are valuable, and specifically encourages us to perpetuate the narrative that simply using the library has a positive impact on students.

 

But what if using the library hurt student success? Would we do anything differently?

Lise Doucette is a librarian and a researcher in Canada, and she has done some wonderful work studying library assessment. When I talked to her about my frustrations with correlative studies in library assessment, she smiled and said, “I always ask, ‘What would you do if the results were opposite of what you expected? What if library use was correlated with NEGATIVE student outcomes? e.g., the more students used the library, the worse their grades were?'”

It really made me stop and think when she said that, because I don’t think that anyone doing these kinds of studies has considered that result–what would you do if students who spent more time in the library, or logged in to more databases, were more likely to fail their classes? Would you limit their library use? And if the answer is you wouldn’t close the doors and stop students from coming to and using the library, and you would just keep doing what you’re doing, then what does this say about your beliefs? Your motivations? Your ideology?

 

The Stories We Tell

If we ignore all other factors and put student success squarely on what students do, it takes the pressure off of us as educators. If we believe that everyone is created equal and has the opportunity to succeed, then we can sit back and track success as data blips on a dashboard. Neoliberalism in higher education says: If you don’t succeed, it’s because you didn’t engage enough. Not because you were the primary caretaker for your family, not because you couldn’t afford tuition, not because you work two or three jobs, not because you were living in your car. In the neoliberal academy, we don’t have to question the way market forces might be harming or hindering our students’ success. Students simply succeed or fail at their own hand.

In the conversation about library value, we have chosen to believe in neoliberalism because it is easier for us. In this mindset, we embrace meritocracy (those who succeed do so based on their hard work) and stories of those who start at the bottom and work their way to the top. This is the same philosophy that says that students who attend information literacy instruction sessions, borrow materials, and use online resources will be more successful.

I’m afraid that the students who will suffer the most from this narrative are the students higher education was not designed to serve: students of color, queer/trans/gender nonconforming students, students who work, students living with disabilities, older students, and students with families.

I can easily imagine a scenario where we sit down those students and say, “Well, we’ve looked at the data, and other students in your situation did x, y, and z, and they were successful, so why haven’t you done the same?” For example, if students of color who ask questions at the reference desk are more successful than students of color who don’t, how long will it be until we recommend library use as the antidote to structural racism?

Ultimately I want the next ACRL research agenda to move beyond its current obsession with handing over data to stakeholders to instead study the impacts of poverty, housing insecurity, and hunger on student success. I want the ACRL research agenda to acknowledge that higher education replicates systems of oppression, including racism, heterosexism, transphobia, classism, and white supremacy.

To me, these are the issues that are at the core of student success, and we cannot expect our students to become wholly-realized citizens, to thrive, unless we begin to acknowledge the possibility that using the library is not the answer. “More library” will not feed them, house them, and pay their bills. “More library” does not equalize the terrible inequalities faced by our students. “More library” is not going to stop students from dropping out.

 

Why do students leave higher education?

In 2009, the non-profit organization Public Agenda interviewed over 600 young people with at least some college education to find out what kept them in college, or if they didn’t finish their degrees, why they dropped out. According to their results, the number one reason students leave school is because they can’t balance work and school at the same time.

When asked to rank various options for what colleges could do to retain students, the number one thing students wanted was financial assistance for part-time attendance. Other popular responses included adding more evening and weekend classes, cutting the cost of college overall, and providing childcare.

And, I’m very sorry to have to point this out to you, but not a single student in this study indicated they dropped out because they didn’t use the library enough.

 

Paying the Price

Sara Goldrick-Rab at Temple University has been studying housing and food insecurity among college students for years. In her 2016 book, Paying the Price, she argues that the prohibitive cost of college not only leads to low student success rates but even harms students by leaving them with insurmountable debt that follows them for the rest of their lives.

Her most recent study, released just this month, finds that 36% of college students were food insecure at some point in the thirty days before responding to the survey. Nearly one in ten students is homeless. Almost half of community college students say they struggle to pay for housing and utilities.

The University of California system has long been aware of food-related challenges faced by students. UCLA has had a food pantry in its Student Activities Center since 2009, which provides staples like peanut butter and oatmeal. A 2016 survey of 9,000 students in the UC system found that 40% had experienced food insecurity. In 2015, each campus in the UC system was asked to form a food security working group to establish food pantries and develop programs to meet student food needs, including education around nutrition, cooking, and budgeting for meals.

 

What Libraries Can Do

With this in mind, if libraries are truly devoted to student success, I would encourage us to look deeply at our communities and see how we can meet their needs. In all of our communities, there are students who need financial aid, food, and housing. Many libraries are already doing incredible things to better serve their campuses, and I think we can always do more of the following.

  • Provide spaces for students with families, including areas where children can play.
    • Portland Community College and Sacramento State are just two institutions of many that provide family study rooms equipped with amenities for children, including toys and games to keep children occupied while caregivers study.
  • Provide scholarships directly to students.
  • Eliminate late fines & review loan rules.
  • Textbooks. Ugh.
    • Required textbooks on reserve on critical for students who can’t afford to buy them. Maintaining a robust and accurate reserves collection takes a lot of labor, but has a huge impact on student learning.
    • Alverno College took the radical step of creating a textbook collection on open reserve. They spent about $6,000 and bought 300 textbooks. They found that their collection of 329 items circulated 1,126 times in the Spring 2017 semester.
    • We need to continue to be leaders in the conversation around low and no-cost learning materials, including open educational resources.
  • Technology
    • I love seeing the unique and creative items that libraries loan to students, especially high-demand technology items, like laptops and iPads.
    • The last library I worked at loaned out USB charging cables for Androids/iPhones and headphones, and those were in constant use.
    • One trend I’m particularly excited about is lending WiFi hotspots. Many public libraries already do this, but I think this is a great idea for academic libraries for students who do not have reliable Internet access off-campus.

But perhaps most importantly, we must continously ask our students what they need from us. Ask regularly, review their responses with care and empathy, and take action to meet the gaps in your community. You may not be the answer to student success, but you are definitely an answer.

 

Assessment. Success. Value.

So, let’s recap what we’ve discussed about Assessment, Student Success, and Value.

If you are doing assessment, do assessment. This means asking open-ended questions without an agenda to prove your value, and being willing to make changes to improve.

If you are interested in helping students succeed, find out what your students need and provide it.

When you prove your value, as you always must, have answers and data at the ready that are meaningful to you and to your institution. You should position yourself as best you can to decide how you will tell the story of your value.

If you are regularly collecting statistics and evaluating your spaces, programs, and services in a variety of ways, then you get to choose how to tell your story of your library’s value. What is it that you provide on your campus that no one else can? How are you critical to student success? My guess it’s hundreds of small things that you do every day, and honestly, some of these things are the hardest to quantify. Sometimes it’s having a stapler available ten minutes before a paper is due. It’s having bathrooms and tables and good lighting. It’s having well-trained, helpful library workers who maintain the stacks, answer questions, and support students.

 

Does Our Work Matter?

One of the saddest things I read in the Assessment in Action project summaries was this sentiment: We asked this question because we wanted to know if our work matters.

If that is your question, my answer is yes. Yes. I promise that you matter to your students, your faculty, and your campus. It’s your job to ask how you matter, and if you are doing the right things and enough of them.

It’s your job to meet the needs of your campus so well that you fill your campus with the wildest, loudest advocates. They should be there to sing your praises when you need them.

I also think we have to accept that all of this might not be enough.

 

Is It Enough?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe connecting individual use of academic libraries to student success, and feeding that data into institutional learning analytics dashboards, is the way that we will prove academic library value. Maybe our collections will flourish, and lost faculty and staff support positions will return to us.

I’m sad to say I think it’s more likely that the money that has left library budgets is gone, and it’s not coming back. Surveillance tactics will not save us. Handing over our data to institutional dashboards will not save us.

In her blog, Emily Drabinski recently pondered how librarians can reframe the terms of the debate around learning analytics. If student-level data determines resource allocation, and the library needs resources, how can we reject the system by which our funding is determined? She notes, correctly, that it is easier to say “resist!” but much more complicated to actually do so.

Drabinski asks:

What does that rejection look like if we were to reject it an organized way, in a way that reflected a meaningful we, rather than as single individuals taking loud public stands and then getting fired for it?

 

Using Our Voice

I am not going to tell you that the work ahead is easy or simple. There are large and powerful forces in higher education that want us to quantify and measure our work to prove our worth.

I had the opportunity to speak to you today, and I wanted to talk to you about this–about students, what they need, and how we can be there for them. And the next time you have the ability to organize, to speak together as a group, and to question how the way we prove our value might harm our students, I hope you do so.

I think Drabinski is right that this is not work we can do alone, and we need to organize ourselves and demand better from our institutions, including our employers and our professional associations. But I do think, at the very beginning of any resistance, there are individual voices looking for each other, hoping to find resonance and strength in community.

You are not silly, or stubborn, or impractical for valuing students and their privacy and agency. You are not unreasonable for thinking learning analytics is a load of nonsense, designed to serve a particular narrative about student success in higher education.

The first time you use your voice to speak out against the status quo, your words may waver. Your voice is not shaking from fear. It is power. And when your voice shakes, that is the moment you have to use it.

Thank you.

 

Photo courtesy of Iain Watts.

 

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Watanabe, T. & Newell, S. (2016, July 13). Four in 10 students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food, survey says. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 7, 2018 from http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-uc-food-insecurity-07112016-snap-story.html

 

Metacognition matters.

This blog post supports my presentations at the Fourth Annual Reading Apprenticeship conference at Renton Technical College, March 9-10, 2018.

Reading Apprenticeship and the Research Paper Assignment – Slides

Reading for Success: How to Integrate RA Routines with Your College Success Course – Slides

Use the Research Reading Log to help students interact with articles and websites they intend to use to support their research papers. The log asks students to record identifying information about their source (perfect for creating a citation!) and keep a metacognitive log as they read. You are welcome to adapt and repurpose this log to suit your needs.

Research Reading Log 2018 [PDF]

Research Reading Log 2018 [docx]

Back to the scene of the crime.

Last summer I got hit by a car while riding my bike outside the Colorado Convention Center. I was headed home from work when a car started to pull toward the curb – and into the bike lane. My left hand collided with the car’s passenger side view mirror. The mirror was smashed, my hand was cut, and I toppled over.

I watched bright red blood drip from my fingers onto the sidewalk. I had a white kitchen towel in my backpack, so I wrapped my hand in it. The driver asked if I was okay. I asked for her license and insurance. Strangers put my bike in their minivan and took me to the hospital.

The nurse in the ER frowned at me. She asked why I hadn’t washed my hand right away.

“Uh, I got hit by a car. And then I came here.”

She made me wash my hands thoroughly. I sucked air in through my teeth.

Once my hand was clean, another nurse came in and examined the wounds. No stitches necessary. He smiled. “Skin is the best band-aid,” he declared, delicately placing my flayed flesh in bandages.

After I was released, I went to the bar near my apartment and ordered a whiskey soda. I wiggled my mummy fingers at the bartender and showed off my ER admission bracelet. We laughed. Eventually the lacerations healed and left scars.

I later learned from the insurance company that the driver was an exhibitor. She was unfamiliar with the area. She didn’t see me.

The week after I got hit, the city installed a barrier between the car lane and the bike lane to protect cyclists.

I guess I just had bad timing.

Life must be a circle because I’m headed back to the Colorado Convention Center this weekend for ALA Midwinter. As a member of the 2018 Stonewall Book Award Committee for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, I’ll be sequestered all day Saturday to deliberate titles under consideration for the award. I expect it will be a less traumatizing experience than the last time I was there. I hope. The winners will be announced at the Youth Media Awards on Monday at 8am Mountain time. You can watch the livestream here.

(Unsolicited advice: if you are lucky enough to serve on a book award committee, get a PO box. Thank you, publishers. I’m sorry about all the books that never reached me because I moved three times.)

As I prepare to head back to Denver, I’m stuck thinking about the shape of things. About lines and intersections and parallels. About where I was and where I am.

I left Tacoma. I lived in Denver for a year. Then I moved back to Washington. Sometimes I call it a slingshot move. Or a boomerang. A bounce.

When I lived in Denver, I rode my bike and got hit by a car and got scars.

This weekend, I know I won’t be able to stop myself. I’ll circle back. I’ll check the sidewalk for my blood stains.

I’m going to a conference for librarians. But I’m not a librarian anymore.

I work at the same college where I was a librarian for four years. I have the same e-mail address, the same employee ID number. But everything else is different.

What is the shape of the universe?

Is it a circle, or a triangle, or a spiral?

My ex-husband e-mailed me out of the blue last week. He’s selling the house we bought together when we were married.

Part of his message said, “I’m sorry.”

When we were married, I got a job as a librarian in Puyallup. But we owned a house in Portland, two and a half hours away. So I got an apartment in Puyallup and I drove 392 miles every week to go home on the weekends. I spent a lot of time on Interstate 5. After a year of my weekly commutes, I got a tenure-track job. We got divorced.

Now I live in Seattle and I work in Tacoma, at the same college that hired me six years ago.

I spend a lot of time on I-5.

But now it’s different. I come home every night to my husband. We eat dinner together. He makes pasta sauce from scratch and listens to jazz. After dinner, I read The Odyssey out loud while he drinks Coke floats with vanilla ice cream.

Sometimes when my husband holds me, he says, “I like your shape.”

It always makes me laugh. What is my shape, exactly?

 

Am I still a librarian?

I hate debates about what makes someone a librarian. Is it a Master’s degree? Your title? Your rank? Admin, classified, or faculty? Whether you sit at a desk, have an office, or work behind a counter? Work with the public or behind the scenes? I have a lot of thoughts about identity, and I guess it comes down to this: do you identify with the word librarian? Does it feel true? Then sure, you are one. Who am I to decide?

typed sign on white paper that says Librarian Interviews: Please have a seat!

I’m thinking about this a lot right now because I have accepted a new, not-librarian job. As of January 16, my title will be Instructional Designer, and I’ll be back at Pierce College, where I worked as a faculty librarian from 2012 to 2016. In my new role, I’ll be responsible for collaborating with community college faculty to help them develop their courses, and I’ll design trainings and professional development for all college employees. I’ll be working on an incredible team of people that includes another more-experienced instructional designer, the College’s entire e-Learning department, and the OER queen herself, Quill West. I am beyond excited about this opportunity because it brings together so many things I care about: community college education, designing learning experiences with a focus on equity and justice, and lots of conversations about teaching. Most importantly, I will be constantly challenged to learn new things.

For the first time in five years, my title won’t be “librarian”, my co-workers won’t be librarians, and I won’t be working in a library. So am I still a librarian?

I think so. Because it feels true, and because it feels like this new role is a continuation of things I have been working on for years. Librarians do important work in spaces outside of libraries, and we are desperately needed in conversations about online learning, assessment, and faculty development.

Next year will bring tough choices. Do I go to conferences for librarians, or edtech gatherings? How do I keep a foot in the library world while also devoting time to new conversations about instructional design? What will I write and publish?

I am very much looking forward to being surrounded by librarian friends in the new year. I’ll be at ALA Midwinter in Denver in February to select the 2018 Stonewall Award Winner, and I’m giving an invited plenary session at CARL in San Francisco in April. I feel so lucky to serve on the 2018-2019 Rainbow Book List Committee and I can’t wait to read and review lots of books for queer youth.

Also upcoming in 2018: I’m visiting London/Glasgow for the first time! I’m taking a trip with my spouse to kick around pubs, eat fish and chips, and visit our family. I’m committed to finishing a draft of my first young adult novel (I am way more nervous about this manuscript than my new job, honestly).

two glass jars filled with white salt, labeled UNSCENTED and LAVENDER
This is what I did on my winter vacation.

More hikes with Charlie. More coffee, movies, homemade pizza, ocean time. More books in the tub (with my neatly organized Epsom salts).

Handwritten list with best books, special places, eats, and big life events in 2017
My “Best Of” list for 2017.

 

I don’t want to do 2017 over again, but I am grateful for it.

In my holiday cards this year, I wrote, “Let’s be victorious in 2018.” Here’s to love & victory, friends.

 

All images in this post are my own.