What would it look like?

Here’s an exercise.

Try to imagine a library that does not care about its users.

What would it look like?

Let’s say that it’s an academic library on a large, urban campus, that serves tens of thousands of students.

What kind of library would it be if it didn’t care about those students?

It might look like this.

There would be no consequences. It wouldn’t really matter what the library did, or if it did it well. The library would have vague statements about its mission and goals, but there would be no measurable outcomes associated with any of the library’s spaces, services, or collections. This would include the library’s multimillion-dollar budget, which would only have a single budget code, so there would be no way to itemize how the library spends its funds. If you ask where the money comes from and how the budget is determined, someone will laugh and say, “Oh, that number is written down in a drawer somewhere.”

There would be no consequences for leaving obscenely large amounts of money unspent, year after year. Unused budget funds would be put into an ongoing, never-ending renovation that leaves the building in a constant state of uncertainty, chaos, physical disarray, and distracting noise. New spaces would be built without description, purpose, or plans to staff them. The library would celebrate the “substantial completion” of the renovation, complete with a ribbon-cutting and replica cake made of fondant, and then the renovation would continue for another year.

There would be no consequences for employees, whose low performance would never be punished and whose outstanding performance would never be rewarded. Non-tenure track library faculty would be employed continuously without appointment letters or contracts. Salaried employees would come and go as they please, sometimes being late to meetings in the afternoon because they simply hadn’t come to work yet that day. Instruction librarians would be late to classes, leaving students and course faculty waiting. The instruction scheduler would be baffled by Microsoft Outlook and its calendaring system; they would assign classes incorrectly, neglect to send instruction confirmations, and humiliate the teaching team. The scholarly communication librarian would hate Open Access. Public services staff would really prefer to work in the back of the library. Instruction librarians would be afraid of speaking to large groups. Collection development librarians would look at crumbling books and say smugly, “A worn collection is a used collection.” Student workers, without supervision or guidance, would ride skateboards through the staff area.

There would be no consequences for not having a faculty handbook, for not following the established rules of shared governance, and for deliberately violating by-laws. Decisions would be made based on an e-mail someone sent once, or how things were done last year, or  something someone overheard in a meeting. Promotions would be given based on individual employees and their needs and desires, rather than the goals of the organization (there are no measurable goals, anyway). Knowledge management would be practically non-existent, with documents scattered between a shared drive, an intranet, and cloud-based software. Policies and procedures would refer to individuals by name, rather than by their position or role.

The university responsible for this library wouldn’t particularly care who was in charge of it, and would leave interim leadership in place for years. Interim reporting lines would cascade as mid-level management left the organization, so employees would be in “continuity of operations” plans indefinitely. The university would open and close a search for a Library Director, declaring none of the candidates “viable” because they do not meet the requirements of the rank of Full Professor. Nevermind, of course, that no one in the library has ever been promoted to Full Professor, and nevermind that only three of the library’s two dozen faculty are tenured or tenure-track. Nevermind that what the library really needs is an effective manager, not a scholar.

If this library didn’t care about students, they might or might not keep any data about how the library is used, and if such data were recorded, it probably wouldn’t be regularly reported or used to make decisions in any way. The library’s operating hours and its services would be available randomly at the whims of the library, whenever it felt like staffing things, whenever employees were available. On-boarding for new hires would be random and haphazard. There would be no orientations or procedures or checklists or training manuals. There would be no quality checks to see if things were being done well because who would decide what that looks like?

Who is actually in charge? Look at the staff directory, it says vacant.

If this library didn’t care about students, it wouldn’t keep them safe. Intoxicated people would interrupt instruction sessions and refuse to leave the classroom. People would camp in the building overnight. Security guards would gently nudge sleepers, then let them fall back asleep. It’s understandable, of course, that the library would be a popular place for anyone seeking refuge-the library is the only building on campus where community members cannot be trespassed. Students would leave the library, complaining about these safety issues, and study somewhere else.

If this library didn’t care about students, it would be impossible to retain faculty and staff who do care about them. Those people will get angry and exhausted. New hires would be undermined and sabotaged. Competent employees would be labeled as “over-ambitious.” People would leave this library, choosing lower-paying jobs, longer commutes, positions outside of libraries, expensive cross-country moves, or outright unemployment, simply to get away from the dysfunction.

The turnover rate would be high, but the remaining employees would tell themselves it’s somehow normal. “That person really wanted to get back into public libraries,” they would say. Or, “Their spouse got a new job out-of-state, so they had to go.” Some people stay just long enough to get a better job title to put on their CV, a reward for putting in their time, and then they would move on, too.

So the leftovers would settle in, determined to outlast all of the perky people with new ideas, and wait. What is there to lose? There are no consequences, anyway.

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Featured image by NeONBRAND

On Angie Manfredi’s resignation from the Newbery Committee.

To the ALSC Executive Committee & Directors,

I was extremely disappointed to read Angie Manfredi’s blog post explaining her resignation from the 2018 Newbery Committee.

Some people might say that the details behind Angie’s resignation don’t matter. I believe the details do matter, and they matter a lot. In fact, it’s the details of this story that make my stomach turn.

I understand that Angie was asked to resign because she shared a story about her job as a children’s librarian on Twitter. Specifically, she shared a story about a young reader of color at her library who was excited to read a book that reflected his life and interests. Yes, Angie praised the author and publisher of the book for providing a story that connected with this young reader. This brief anecdote was widely shared as an example of the importance of diversity in children’s literature. And for this attention, for this highlighting of the need for diverse books, you determined that Angie gave the appearance of an inappropriate relationship with the author and publisher.

Shame on you. It can’t be said enough, so I’ll say it again. Shame on you.

Let’s consider all the messages that are sent by Angie’s resignation:

Celebrating diversity in children’s literature is an inappropriate activity for ALSC award committee members.

ALSC award committees are only interested in librarians who can comply with outdated procedures that silence and limit a librarian’s professional contributions.

White supremacy is the highest value in librarianship.

With your decision, you have left no room for otherness. What I mean is, how could you expect a librarian of color to want to participate in an ALSC award committee after this decision? Or a queer librarian? Or a librarian living with a disability, or a mental health issue? If they speak out publicly, in any way, about their work, their patrons, their excitement for diverse representations in children’s literature, they will be asked to resign. Because of the appearance of bias.

I hope it is has been made very clear to all of us in 2017 that there is no neutrality in librarianship. I am personally humiliated by the resignation of Angie Manfredi from the Newbery Committee because I feel it cheapens the reputation of librarians everywhere. How can we claim to support our communities when we punish librarians like Angie for doing their job, for celebrating literature, and for acknowledging the work of authors and publishers to make the world a better place?

I share the opinion with many others that Angie is one of the most valuable librarians we have working today because she actively criticizes and critiques the field of librarianship. We need more librarians like Angie Manfredi, and we need them to serve on more committees, and we need them to provide examples of how to lead.

I look forward to a public response from ALSC that acknowledges a plan to update the policy for service on awards committees to avoid situations like this in the future.

Sincerely,

Zoe Fisher
Stonewall Award Committee Member, 2018
MLS, Emporia State University, 2010
BA, Oberlin College, 2008
www.quickaskzoe.com

Time to go.

I started a mutual admiration society with Kevin Seeber on or about July 2014, when we were both at Library Instruction West in Portland, Oregon. At that time, I was a tenure-track librarian at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington and he was a librarian at Colorado State University – Pueblo. He came to my lightning talk about inquiry-based learning, which included the following slides about microfilm (illustrating the most common question I received from my students):

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Even though I made fun of microfilm, he still had nice things to say about me on his blog.

Fast forward two years. It’s April 2016 and I’m a tenured librarian at Pierce and Kevin is Foundational Experiences Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. He invites me to apply for a newly-created opening: Pedagogy & Assessment Librarian. I apply and, in a turn of events that surprises only me, I’m offered the position. My husband and I have a quickie wedding on the beach in Tacoma, throw our stuff in a car, and drive east to Denver.

For the past thirteen months, I have had the daily thrill of working with Kevin. He is, in my opinion, one of the most passionate and thoughtful information literacy librarians alive.  I love every second of every conversation I have with him, especially when we disagree. Over the past year, we have debated topics ranging from neoliberalism in higher education to assessment procedures and active learning strategies. We have regular conversations about mentorship, lesson planning, approaches to internal professional development, and the praxis of critical librarianship. We both care deeply about students, and we both see ourselves as teachers. We love a good Negroni. We agree that Pilot G2 pens are the best. Working with him has made me a better librarian in a hundred ways.

But it’s time for me to go. And if I’m honest, it’s been time for me to go for a while. Denver is not a good fit for me or my family. I’m a Pacific Northwest native and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. While it’s been a blast to work with Kevin, I haven’t been happy in my job. I had no idea how much I would miss teaching community college students.

Thanks to my talented software engineer spouse, we have a reason to move back to Washington. He starts his new job in Seattle on August 21.

Friday, August 11 is my last day in Denver.

 

 

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For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I don’t take back the microfilm joke, the Max Fischer tweets, or the decision to take a new job in an unfamiliar city. I may not fully understand yet all the lessons I’m supposed to learn from this experience, but I am grateful.

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have a job lined up in Seattle. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ll be unemployed. I worked non-stop all through college and graduate school and I have held a full-time job in some form since I was 21 years old. I realize this makes me incredibly lucky. But it will also make the next few months pretty challenging.

I’m interested in working on my writing, learning how to play professional poker, and teaching community college classes like Reading and College Success. Of course, I’d love to be a community college librarian again, but I recognize that those opportunities are rare, so I may need to wait it out for a while. My librarian life won’t stop, though. I have a couple of research projects in the works and I’m reading dozens of books for the Stonewall Book Award Committee. I plan to attend local conferences like the UW Critical Librarianship in Practice Unconference and ACRL OR/WA Joint Conference. I know I’ll see a lot of familiar faces when I’m back in Denver in February for ALA Midwinter, and I’ll be back in Colorado in July for Library Instruction West 2018.

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I got my first (and only) tarot deck when I was 12 years old. I purchased the classic Rider Waite deck at the Goddess Gallery on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. In the seventh grade, I would practice reading the cards on the school bus, which yielded accusations of Satanism from my classmates. I have always thought the Strength card was one of the most beautiful cards in the deck. Salem Tarot suggests it can be interpreted that the lion and the woman are the same: You may imagine the two figures on the card as the two sides of yourself: the woman is your superego, and the lion is your id.

You are the Goddess and the beast, the tamed and the tamer, the rage and the joy. It’s a helpful image, a reminder that something can be more than one thing at once. That I can be heartbroken to leave and excited to go home. That I can know and not know. That it’s okay, and it will be.

 

 

 

What I want for my birthday.

I am 31 years old today, and here’s what I want for my birthday:

I want a frozen Negroni. Okay, maybe I want a couple of them. I want to drink them with my favorite librarians.

I want to not have to worry about your healthcare, or mine, or the idea that the only people who will survive are the people who can afford to get sick.

I want a flat of chocolate Costco muffins, and I want to eat them by myself.

I want you to read my essay at The Rumpus, but I also want you to listen to Fobazi Ettarh’s keynote about vocational awe. For my birthday, I want a future with fewer white librarians.

I want abortion funding.

I want the Pacific Ocean and I want it to love me back.

I want Ted Berrigan to read his sonnets to me.

I want what I’ve already got–friends and family who adore me exactly as I am, feminine marvelous and tough, wild and loud, breathless and exuberant, freckled and fierce.

If I could ask you for one thing for my birthday, it’s this.

Stop repeating the mantra that defeats you. Stop telling yourself the lie that holds you back. Even if just for one minute today, tell yourself that you are enough, you have enough, and you do enough.

For my birthday, I want you to wear that sleeveless shirt, the one that you’ve been afraid to wear because you’re embarrassed of how your arms look. I want you to sing even if your voice warbles. Write that thing that scares you. Kiss that girl even if you know she can’t love you back. See what it feels like to forgive the person who hurt you. I want you to do whatever you need to do to feel completely free, even if it’s only for a moment.

You don’t need to get me anything else. I would trade a mountain of shiny, wrapped packages to share that feeling of being free. Free of guilt, free of shame, free of the Not-Enoughs. And that’s what I want for you.

Happy birthday to me.

Featured image by Annie Spratt

Teacher identities, empathy, and the beginner’s mind: A conversation with Nicole Gustavsen.

Teaching is terrifying. It’s also exhilarating, fascinating, challenging, and deeply rewarding. Making the transition from being a student to being a teacher is a complex process, as evidenced by the questions raised by librarian Nicole Gustavsen on Twitter last week.

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I asked Nicole if she would be interested in having a longer conversation about the topic of teacher identity to be published here and she generously agreed. Below you’ll find a lightly-edited transcript of our nearly three-hour conversation, during which we discuss information literacy instruction, teaching philosophies, impostor syndrome, false binaries, classroom management, the importance of community, and more.

Zoe Fisher (Zoe): Tell me a little bit about your experience and background. What’s your current role and how did you come to it?

Nicole Gustavsen (Nicole): I am a new academic librarian, currently in a temporary position as a research & instruction librarian at the University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library. I got this position because during library school (I attended the U of Washington iSchool residential program from 2013-16) I worked at the UW Seattle campus graduate library, Suzzallo & Allen, as a graduate reference assistant. In this position I did a lot of reference and a lot of info lit instruction. After I graduated I wasn’t able to keep the position, of course, but my supervisors recommended me to the head of Teaching & Learning here at UWB when a temporary position opened up, and I’ve been in this position since the beginning of January. It was originally just a 6 month contract but I was recently approved for an additional 12 months, which I’m very excited about.

Zoe: Congratulations on the contract extension! What have you noticed about the differences between the UW grad library and your current role? Specifically, what differences have impacted your role in teaching/your role with students?

Nicole: Just a spot of context about our library: we are in the somewhat unusual situation of serving two schools on one campus: a university (UW Bothell), and a community college (Cascadia College). We teach sessions and provide services for students, staff, and faculty at both institutions. That’s definitely one of the biggest differences off the bat. It affects everything.

At UW Seattle, we were part of a program that was focused on targeting lots of classes for short, 50 minute sessions. Here at UWB, our teaching program is able to do a lot more. There’s significant buy-in from faculty at both institutions, and we are encouraged to experiment. For Cascadia we get to work with a lot of online classes, which I had never done before. Last quarter I got to help with a 100-level English class where we had embedded content throughout the quarter. So cool!

Zoe: That’s excellent! And I definitely understand your context–as you know, I was at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington (about 50 miles south of UW Bothell) for four years, and we were very familiar with your library. In my current role, I work in an academic library that serves three institutions (University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver). It makes sense that the increased emphasis on teaching in your current role would give you reason to reflect on student/teacher identities.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. It’s also a great thing that the culture here among the librarians is very collaborative, so if I really tank a class (as I did last quarter), I feel comfortable discussing it with my colleagues and knowing their response will probably be both supportive and something like “Oh that reminds me of the time I [description of an equally horrible classroom experience.]” I was way too nervous to have those conversations at my last position!

Zoe: That sounds like a wonderful environment. I think the advantage of being a community college librarian is that you teach SO much–even if you do have a flubbed class, it’s only one of dozens, so it’s pretty quickly forgotten.

Nicole: I love that in your description of teaching experience on the blog, you identify that you’ve been in teaching roles beginning at 13. Do you have a sense of any particular point at which you began to see yourself as an educator? Was it a natural progression, or did you find it required a lot of deliberate thought or work?

Zoe: Peer teaching became a part of my life at a very young age. In grade school, I was often singled out by teachers for finishing my work quickly or easily meeting their expectations… so they did what teachers often do, and they paired me with students who were struggling. At times, I resented that (I think a lot of younger students feel this way, especially), but after a while, I think teaching and helping others became a really core part of my identity.

Things opened up for me when I realized that I could be a teacher to all kinds of people, and that’s where my experience as a volunteer at a public library significantly shifted my identity. Even though I was very young, I was teaching all sorts of people how to find information, how to use the library, and how to use computers/technology. It was empowering and exhilarating. It still is. So I would say that my teacher identity began informally at a very young age, and it’s something that I continue to refine & reflect on as a professional. I have been called a “natural” teacher, which I don’t like (I reject the idea that there are “naturals”, in general), but I do think that this is an essential part of who I am and it’s a role for which I have a strong affinity.

Nicole: I see this peer teaching and communal education piece comes out in your teaching statement as well. Do you have any signature classroom activities or techniques that you’ve developed that speak to this?

Zoe: Sure, that’s a great question. Anyone who has attended a conference session that I’ve presented, or been in any class that I’ve taught, knows that I do a lot of reflective writing & pair or group sharing. We often teach how we like to learn best and it’s no surprise that, as a writer, I like to write things down and share them with others. I think this is a quick, low-stakes way to get people thinking, reflecting, and talking. I always want to know what other people in the room think, and it can be hard to just stick your hand in the air and say it out loud to a group of strangers. Writing it down for yourself, then sharing it with one person, can help refine and externalize those inner thoughts.

My ultimate goal in almost any learning situation is to surface process. What was your process, why was that your process, why does thinking about our process matter?

Nicole: Something I’ve been dismayed to see in my teaching since starting here is a tendency to lecture, despite all my best intentions (and my normally attention-averse personality). I’m seeing our conversation as part of a bigger reflection process so that by fall quarter, I’m heading confidently away from that tendency.

Zoe: The fact that you recognize that in yourself is a good sign. Try to be patient and give yourself some grace.

On Twitter, you questioned how you could see yourself as an instructor without losing empathy for your students, and, more broadly, you questioned the authority that students see in you that you don’t (yet) see in yourself. Can you talk a little bit about your teaching philosophy and how you see (or don’t see) yourself as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: My teaching philosophy is constantly expanding and changing, but at its core is a concern with presenting information literacy as a lifelong skill, one that is not limited to the classroom or even school. I want the people I work with to feel empowered to take these skills and apply them all over the place! So I like to do activities that incorporate non-academic sources, contexts, experiences.

When I wrote the tweets that spurred this conversation, I had just got out of a post-quarter meeting with a faculty member. In one of her sections, the students were rowdy, it was hard to keep them on track, I wasn’t happy with the instructional materials I had put together, and it didn’t help that the instructor couldn’t be there on that day. It was a very frustrating experience for me.

I met with the course faculty twice and we talked a lot, in both of our meetings, about classroom management, about managing expectations, those sorts of things.

But what most got me thinking, and worrying, and tweeting, was a comment she made about how no matter how I see myself, the students will always see me as the instructor, and that there’s a divide there that I need to acknowledge.

Having been until just last year a lifer student, I still carry a lot of the student mind-set, and in my head I feel that I can relate to students I work with on that level. Sort of, “Hey, I know what you’re going through, and I want you to know you can do it. That it’s hard, but you can do it.”

Zoe: Thinking about the comments that the faculty made to you, I’m guessing that she was saying that some students might have an oppositional attitude to you no matter what you do because they are so deeply entrenched in the known hierarchies of education. Students’ prior learning experiences inform a lot of their behaviors and choices, especially in the classroom, and it’s true that we can’t always control for how past instructors (or even the current faculty) have treated them. What do you think students expect from you as an instructor? I think about this a lot, and I’ll admit that I try to openly defy expectations of typical teacher roles.

Nicole: Your question about what students expect from me/us is so challenging to answer! Let me think a bit more… I think you’re right about what my faculty member was trying to convey. But I also think it gets, for me, at the truth that if I approach teaching from an “I’m a student too, basically” perspective, it’s gonna look different than if I approach it from a more confident place of feeling like I “am” an instructor, not just studying to eventually be one. As I am typing this out, it sounds a lot like the impostor syndrome problem. Did/do you experience this? Did it get better?

Zoe: You know, it’s funny, I never felt like an imposter with community college students. Not once. But sometimes I feel out of place in my current role and have had imposter syndrome related to other things–teaching graduate students (I don’t have another graduate degree beyond my MLS so I feel awkward in front of them), or presenting to administration who have no idea what information literacy is, or talking about my own research agenda. I will say that after getting a journal article rejected three times, I definitely felt like an impostor when it comes to conducting/executing research. To answer, “Does it get better?” — Yes, infinitely. Your relationship to teaching will change constantly the more you do it!

Nicole: Something I have discovered over the years that never fails to amaze me and make me feel (weirdly) hopeful is how many people around me, who are doing work I admire and who are my definition of success, also experience impostor syndrome. You’re a great example of this; from my vantage point you seem very confident and accomplished, so if you’re having these feelings too (and if as you say they do change and get better) then I feel like I can also manage them.

I think you sort of spoke to my second question just above, but I wanted to ask it again in case you had more thoughts to add on it:   A lot of what I’m thinking about at the moment around this topic is identity: what it means to self-identify as a teacher or educator, and how self-identifying this way might change how I relate to my students. One of my fears right now is that if I embrace the identity of an instructor too closely, I’ll lose touch with what it was like to be a student. Where are you on all of this, having been a library instructor for several years yet not terribly far from your own student days?

Zoe: I think the fact that you’re asking yourself these questions about identity means that you’re a great teacher already! Seriously, it’s awesome that you care so much and you’re already reflecting so deeply about what you do and HOW you do what you do, and you acknowledge the fact that how you identify also impacts your praxis.

Your question is extremely provocative to me because it seems to suggest (and correct me if I’m wrong) that teacher and student are separate identities. To me, they’re not. And the identities of student and teacher don’t exist in opposition.

(We could go into a whole discussion about binaries right now! Are there really oppositional identities, or are they just mirrors/shadows of each other? But, I’ll set that aside.)

I guess I would suggest a minor tweak in language. “Student” is the role you might assign to yourself while you’re actively enrolled in a program or a course. But “learner” is an internalized identity you can hold onto for the rest of your life. I want to be a teacher forever because I want to be a learner forever. I’m convinced that I’ll never stop learning new things as long as I’m teaching others. That really excites me and drives me. So, while my formal “student” days ended in August 2010 when I finished my Master’s in Library Science, I’ve never stopped seeing myself as a learner.

Nicole: You are bringing up something very important with binaries! I just last week gave an LGBTQ+ 101 talk to staff at my library, and a big chunk of the first part is dissecting false binaries in gender, sexuality, and even biological sex. So I’m really glad you pointed out this OTHER false binary that I have been trying to shove myself into.

Zoe: In general, I don’t trust simple binaries, especially relating to gender and sexuality–perhaps that extends to my pedagogy, too? To say I don’t believe in those binaries, I mean, it’s not like they’re the tooth fairy–obviously lots of people structure their lives around those binaries, but it’s just that I don’t live my life by them. Hope that makes sense.

Nicole: Makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s important to acknowledge that these binaries, while socially constructed, do have an enormous effect on every aspect of our culture, so they’re very real in that way. I’m not in the “down with all gender distinctions” camp, so much as the “up with genders beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’!” Similarly, the dichotomy between student and teacher is social, but also very very real!

Zoe: I’m curious about experiences you’ve had that may have reinforced this (as you just called it) false binary. What were some of the key learning experiences you had (at any point in your education) that informed your identity as a student?

Nicole: Well, I think the fact that most of my formal educational experiences have been in classroom, students sit and respectfully listen to the teacher, situations. So some of it’s conditioning. That “sage on the stage” phenomenon made the binary seem even more real and, for a shy person like me, almost insurmountable.

Zoe: Have you come across Geneva Gay’s work regarding culturally responsive pedagogy? I was introduced to her work by your (past) colleagues at UW Bothell. They gave a presentation about culturally responsive pedagogy at Library Instruction West 2014. The presenters included Dave Ellenwood, Althea Lazzaro, Sharde Mills, and Megan Watson.

Nicole: I have not heard of Geneva Gay! Thank you! I had been hoping you would suggest some reading, and this looks excellent.

All of my best learning experiences have been experiential in some way. I learn by doing. I want to bring as much “doing” as possible into my classes.

I don’t know everything about what students want, but based on two quarters of feedback and my own gut feelings, nobody really loves it when I lecture too much or make them sit quietly and listen to a video or w/e.

Zoe: Exactly. And I think the “doing” part of learning throws off some students who expect typically passive learning environments.

Nicole: Yes, that is true.

There’s always at least a few students who clearly came to the session expecting to be able to do whatever on their computers while someone stood in the front and said words.

Probably what I’m most sensitive to in classrooms is the students who are quiet (which usually includes those students who came to chill on facebook or do some homework). People are quiet for lots of reasons. One thing I am nervous about when I plan these activities is that I might be pushing some of the students past their healthy growing zone and into the zone of true fear, where they aren’t learning at all. How do you navigate incorporating these sorts of emotional concerns in your classes?

Zoe: I’ll say that’s probably a weak area for me. I’m an extrovert and an external processor, so I legit have trouble remembering that some people aren’t like me. I know I’ve upset students in the past by expecting their participation. It’s something I could work on, in terms of finding ways to be sensitive to folks who are quiet/anxious about participating, while also encouraging all voices in the room.

One thing I do regularly is acknowledge repeat participants. For example, “Okay, I see your hand, but you’ve already shared a couple times today. Let me just pause for a moment and open it up to anyone else who might like to jump in.”Sometimes doing a second call for participation, or acknowledging repeat participants, will get more folks to join in. I’m also comfortable waiting several seconds if people need time to think.

Nicole: The waiting in silence thing is something I find anxiety-inducing, but it does sometimes get people to talk. I am the opposite of you in that I am very introverted and am challenged more by the extroverted students and how to keep them from dominating my classroom.

I like to do activities where students work in small groups and then present to each other, and I think that can give quieter students the opportunity to contribute without forcing them to also present in front of their peers if they don’t want to. Just having the group stand in front can be activating enough for some students, I think, so it’s not completely challenge-free.

Zoe: We have a wireless keyboard/mouse in our classrooms–we can pass around the keyboard and mouse to the groups so they can share on the projector from wherever they’re sitting. It helps a lot!

Nicole: Part of my “student-identity” is that of struggle. I had a lot of difficulty in college and grad school due to mental illness.

When I see students struggling, especially with anything related to mood or self-image, I relate and want to help and reassure.

However, I don’t know how best to convey this in my instruction, and I wonder often if the “I lived it too” bit is even something my students would find helpful (especially coming from me, a very young-looking white woman with a graduate degree). It could read as presumptuous. Do you see value in bringing these kinds of lived experiences into our instruction? If so, what does that look like in your classes?

Zoe: I think that new teachers get the idea that teaching is all about them—like, you feel this pressure to be the most interesting, engaging, dynamic person in the room. (I won’t lie, I love that feeling.)

But, as time goes on, I think you develop the habit of being interested rather than interesting.

And you develop strategies for making students interested in each other. So when it comes to surfacing lived experience, I am less interested in sharing mine and I am more interested in helping students hear about the lived experiences of their peers. What can we learn from the way Tristan, a father of three, approached this assignment? How does Jessica’s comment inform our thinking about evaluating this source of information, given her background in the health professions? What about the person who hasn’t spoken up yet today, what can they contribute to our shared understanding?

Nicole: This is exactly the sort of thing I need to hear right now. I do feel a lot of pressure to perform, to keep the students’ interest, to teach them in a way that’s meaningful, to hit as many of the IL frames as possible, and on and on and on. Which isn’t bad in itself. But what you’re bringing up is a complete reframing of this work. The more I can redirect the students’ attention away from me the more comfortable I am working with them and presenting the material in meaningful ways.

Zoe: The typical response you’ll hear from folks who want to be the focus of attention is, “But what about the content!”

“If they’re not paying attention to me, I can’t show them the databases!”

“If they’re not listening to me, they’ll never know Boolean!”

“They can’t learn from each other because they’re all bad at research and they use Wikipedia!”

Nicole: Students don’t learn Boolean from me telling them how it works. However I choose to present it, they learn by applying it. So the question is how to present it so that’s the emphasis.

I thought what you wrote about what we can learn from our peers was really great. One of my coworkers here told me that her pedagogy is really focused around having the students teach each other, and I thought that was so neat when she told me but it got lost in the rush of the quarter.

Zoe: Well, it’s a theory, right? Which has to be put into practice.

Nicole: Therein lies the challenge.

Zoe: With that in mind, what do you think are some advantages of keeping a student-mindset as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: There are so many aspects involved in being a student at a college that are outside of the bounds of going to class, doing homework, amassing credits, etc.

One of my greatest fears is that I will one day forget just how scary and uncertain and all-consuming it can be to be a student.

Part of keeping a student-mindset, for me, is remembering that emotional aspect of student-hood, and being sensitive to it as I work with students in classrooms, at the reference desk, and elsewhere.

I have a quote written up on my whiteboard that I think is foundational to how I’ll move forward in all aspects of my life: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Zoe: Ooh, I love that quote! That’s a great one.

Nicole: Right?? It’s so powerful.

Zoe: Are there any experiences you’d like to have (but haven’t had yet) that you think would help you more fully adopt a teacher identity? What do you think you might lose in the process of developing that teacher identity?

Nicole: I think the experiences I need to have are more conversations like the one I had with my faculty member last week. Conversations that are genuinely challenging but push me forward. I also think I need to continue to teach and teach and teach, and get back into the groove of reading widely and obsessively. I will learn who I am as a teacher by doing, I think, and by accepting internally that I am good enough and competent enough to embody this new role.

Zoe: You definitely are! And I think you’re right that it takes time.

Nicole: That’s the key, really. I need to be patient, and continue to be reflective, and continue to push myself, and probably one day I’ll wake up and I’ll realize I’ve been a teacher for awhile, and that’ll feel right.

What parts of your student experience did you initially bring into your instruction? What parts of your student experience still inform your teaching? What have you let go of?

Zoe: I’ll go back to what I said earlier, which is that I think we tend to teach in the ways we prefer to learn. I also think we teach in the style that we’ve experienced as students. So, if I’m honest, I think I initially brought a lot of lecture to my instruction and that induced a lot of passivity for my students. But I also experimented a lot, tried a lot of labor-intensive things that were fun and interesting, but probably overwhelmed some students.

Nicole: Do you have any examples of things you tried early on that went spectacularly wrong?

Zoe: Haha! Oh, sure. I can think of a time I tried to split a class into pairs using cards with letters on them. Like, two A cards, two B cards, and so on. It just fell apart. Not enough students, several people didn’t have partners. We spent 5 minutes with students staring at each other, not knowing who their partner was. It was a total waste of time. Just one of many fabulous failures.

When I was a student, the teachers I enjoyed the most expressed love in some way–for students, for the act of learning, for their subject, for whatever. They had passion and curiosity. I remember seeing that as a student, and it’s what I try to emulate as a teacher.

I want students to feel seen and loved.

I think that is the greatest gift I can give them in a learning setting, whether it’s face to face or online or whatever else. If I’m a “natural” teacher, I think it’s because I have the capacity to love and to see others fully. That’s what I try to carry with me.

Nicole: Yes! And the flip version of that, being in classes with profs so checked out you wonder if they even know or care there’s a class of people in front of them.

Zoe: I guess I’ve always believed that learning is a shared experience. I’m trying to let go of some of my ideas of what that should look like, and I’m trying to acknowledge that there are lots of ways to have a shared experience.

I think one of my strengths is community-keeping–making sure everyone is together, being heard, being seen. But I think sometimes that can express itself as control, and that’s really what I want to let go of. I’d like to develop more learning scenarios that require less and less control on my part, but that still hold the experience together as a shared experience.

Nicole: I’m really impressed by your emphasis on community here. It can be easy, at least for me, to miss some of the community aspect in my desire to reach each student individually. What you’re thinking about with community-sustained learning scenarios sounds challenging, but could ultimately be rewarding in many ways.

These are complex questions with no clear answers or ways forward. Do you have any words of reassurance for new librarian-instructors such as myself who are wrestling with all of this? (Of course, new folks aren’t the only ones who are struggling in these ways!)

Zoe: Speaking of community, I think the most important thing that new folks can do is reach out–in person, to other librarians, to other faculty on campus, to the Center for Faculty Development (or its equivalent on your campus), on Twitter, at conferences, on listservs, and so on.

There are so many great resources available to new information literacy instructors, from blogs to discussion groups to conferences, etc. A couple of things I will plug that have been great for me:

  1. I attended Immersion Teacher Track in 2013 and it was fabulous! I made some lifelong friends and I really started to refine my pedagogy in meaningful ways.
  2. I attended Library Instruction West in 2014 and 2016, and it’s probably my favorite conference. It’s affordable, focused on infolit issues, and full of fabulous people. LI West 2018 will be in Grand Junction, Colorado in July 2018.
  3. I stay really connected to folks on Twitter and through my blog. That’s my own personal way of going about things, but it’s not for everybody. I think Twitter can be a great place just to listen/learn/observe, even if you don’t want to jump into conversation. But if you do, there are scheduled chats (like the #critlib chats), or, you know, you might make an offhanded comment someday that turns into a conversation like this one!

Nicole: I would like to cosign from personal experience on a few of these: librarians and the library community are honestly the best people and as I have integrated myself into the community and gone out of my comfort zone to meet librarians, go to conferences,  participate in orgs, and use Twitter more intentionally, I’ve learned so much and been challenged and all sorts of things that wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my internal impulse to stay quiet and removed.

This conversation we have had today, and the original tweet conversations, and all of the worrying and thinking and writing and rewriting and bugging my delightful colleagues for their opinion on teacher identity, it’s all part of my choice to integrate more into our shared community, and your choice to invite me further into it.

So for that I’ve gotta thank you.

Zoe: You’re so very welcome. Let’s do it again sometime!

Nicole: Yeah, let’s do!

 

On the 10th anniversary of Communications in Information Literacy. (Day 100/100)

Did you know that tomorrow is the longest day of the year? I’m at my dining room table, reading articles about information literacy as lightning flickers across the sky. It’s hot this week and it feels like the whole world is sizzling, waiting. I got a phone call today that could change my trajectory. I want you to know that scholarship is a living thing and tonight it is surviving entirely on Kroger brand seltzer water.

seltzerwater.jpg

Did you know that Communications in Information Literacy was launched at the Workshop on Instruction in Library Use (WILU) in May 2007? In his editorial for their latest issue, Christopher Hollister said the initial response to the journal was “overwhelming” and “enthusiastic”. They gave an anniversary presentation at the conference this year to commemorate the occasion. For my last installment of this endeavor, I’d like to highlight just a couple of articles from their 10th anniversary issue.

I didn’t seek out book reviews as part of this project, but I can’t ignore the very good work by my colleague, Kevin Seeber, in his review of Michelle Reale’s Becoming an Embedded Librarian. Seeber makes Reale’s book sound helpful and approachable and, most importantly, like something I would want to read, even though I’m not particularly interested in the topic of embedded librarianship. It seems to me that embedded librarianship is a model of librarian labor that’s falling out of favor, but Seeber makes the case that Reale’s book highlights the importance of library-faculty relationships.

Sandra Cowan and Nicole Eva, both at the University of Lethbridge, suggest that librarians should take a multifaceted approach to help faculty incorporate information literacy skills and instruction in their own courses. As they state in their literature review, this is not a new idea. The article is probably most worthwhile for exactly that–their literature review weaves together a variety of perspectives about faculty perceptions of information literacy and the nature of library/faculty relationships (many citations looked familiar to me, thanks to this project!). I’m not sure that their article gave me any new approaches to collaborating with faculty, but I appreciate their contribution. I’d like to see more authors acknowledge that expanding one-shot information literacy instruction programs will not yield more information literate students, especially if the one-shot program supports low-quality curriculum focused on outdated research skills and behaviors.

My favorite article is Khalid Mahmood’s analysis of 53 empirical research studies that compared students’ self-assessed information literacy skills with their actual skills, looking for evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In his conclusion that should surprise no one, self-assessment is not an accurate indicator of actual skill level. Or, as I like to remind information literacy assessment librarians everywhere: student self-confidence is not an indicator of learning outcomes achieved. If your library is trying to move away from self-assessments that focus on satisfaction and confidence after information literacy instruction (e.g., asking students to rate how confident they feel about research after a one-shot), I strongly recommend that you make Mahmood’s article required reading for your next library meeting.

phenomena

I listened to “Phenomena” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs fifteen times while drafting this post. Did you know that you are a phenomenon? “A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen.” Like lightning. Or writing. Information literacy. Effort. Failure. Connection.

Thanks for sticking with me, you dear witnesses you.

References

Cowan, S., & Eva, N. (2016). Changing our aim: Infiltrating faculty with information literacy. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p163&path%5B%5D=23911

Hollister, C. (2016). A decade of CIL. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p120

Mahmood, K. (2016). Do people overestimate their information literacy skills? A systematic review of empirical evidence on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p199&path%5B%5D=243

Seeber, K. (2016). Book review: Becoming an Embedded Librarian: Making Connections in the Classroom. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p288

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Journal of Information Literacy. (Day 99/100)

The Journal of Information Literacy (JIL) and Communications in Information Literacy (CIL) both celebrated 10-year anniversaries this year–something I only figured out through a very confusing conversation with Kevin Seeber wherein I congratulated him on having a book review published in the 10th anniversary issue of JIL (it’s actually published in the 10th-anniversary issue of CIL). With the last two days of my ridiculously ambitious project (which I’m nowhere near finishing), I’m going to deviate from my pre-planned reading list to talk about some of the articles from these anniversary issues.

Let’s start with the Journal of Information Literacy. I’ll talk about CIL tomorrow. Glancing at the contents for the inaugural issue of JIL in 2007, I was struck by the number of articles about online learning. The articles I browsed referred to cutting-edge technology like Blackboard, Flash, and Captivate. To me, the article that best represents its time is “Show Them How to Do It: Using Macromedia Captivate to Deliver Remote Demonstrations.” tl;dr–they created tutorials that students didn’t use (nothing changes, does it?).

Patalong and Llewellyn’s article made me laugh out loud, in the sense that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Theirs is a disastrous case study in how things can go totally sideways with online tutorials. Significant time and energy were invested in creating a suite of tutorials for business students as part of an online module–but the tutorials were buried in the “Resources” section of the LMS. Although over five hundred students were enrolled in the module, the tutorials were used only a few dozen times. They discovered hundreds of clicks on course documents the library knew nothing about–specifically, Word files and Powerpoint files about accessing the library, search strategies, and plagiarism located in the more prominent “Content” section of the course.

Fun fact: the phrase “instructional design” does not appear once in Patalong & Llewellyn’s article, but the words “inadvertently sabotaged” appear on page 34.

In her introduction for the 10th anniversary issue of JIL, Emma Coonan notes that Mark Hepworth contributed to two of the articles in the first issue and was intended to be an invited scholar for the anniversary issue, but he passed away in December 2016. I feel it’s important to note that the anniversary issue is dedicated to him.

When I look at the list of contributors, I see several names that mean a lot to me, including Barbara Fister, Alison J. Head, Margy MacMillan, and James Elmborg. A bit of context about my reverence for these folks:

Jim Elmborg began his graduate degree in English at the University of Kansas in 1982.

Margy MacMillan finished her MLS degree in 1986.

Barbara Fister began working at Gustavus Adolphus College in 1987.

Alison J. Head was a lecturer at the San Jose State University School of Library & Information Science in 1989.

I was born in 1986.

I cannot overstate how much respect I have for these folks, their wisdom, their passion, and their contributions to librarianship. The work they’ve done for the past thirty years makes my career interesting and meaningful every day. I count all of them as role models; I can only hope to have a career even a fraction as fruitful as any of theirs. If this post is your introduction to their work, you are so very welcome.

Jim Elmborg uses his identity as a literacy educator to reflect on his career, first as a writing teacher and then as a librarian. His article contextualizes many big themes in information literacy and academic libraries, including the integration of constructivism in modern IL pedagogy, the disparaging distance between the evolution of rhetoric/composition studies and information literacy, and the pernicious rise of neoliberalism in higher education. (His takedown of MBAs as University Presidents is hot.)

I regularly refer to Alison J. Head and her work with Project Information Literacy, especially when I’m asked why I don’t (generally) believe in providing database demonstrations, checklists for source evaluation, or quizzes about library vocabulary. Her research investigates what workplace and lifelong information literacy actually looks like for our students after they graduate. Guess what? They’re not using ProQuest to search for articles about buying their first home or how to get a raise. Her article gives a summary of PIL’s findings about the expectations of employers and new graduates in the workplace, and the implications for IL pedagogy. I especially like the emphasis on cultivating curiosity in our students. Being able to ask and answer questions will serve our learners much better than mastery of Boolean operators.

Barbara Fister’s autoethnography is simply gorgeous to read. The long arc of her career traces the transitions from bibliographic instruction to information literacy, the “Information Age” to “fake news”, the Standards to the Framework, from holding a planning document at the beginning of her career to questioning how to frame her achievements as she approaches retirement. Reflecting on the messy, incomplete nature of her work, she closes her article with this lovely line:

This is our work. It is made of fleeting moments. It is never quite right. It matters. (Fister, 2017)

Margy MacMillan’s contribution to this issue is, like her, humble and understated. She is one of several co-authors on the conference review of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Los Angeles in 2016. But, if you are a close reader, you will note that Alison Head also thanks Margy for her help and feedback with Head’s article. If you don’t know Margy (yet), that’s her way. If you offer to help her, she’ll ask how can she help you. If she follows you on Twitter, she likes all of your tweets. If you say that you’re inspired by her (as I often have said), she says she’s inspired by you. When I saw her present at Library Instruction West in Salt Lake City last year, she commented that she was close to retirement but still went to work every day filled with curiosity about students and their learning. What. A. Babe.

One of the things I love about reading is that there are no rules about where to start. In her introduction, Coonan said that they endeavored to create a “landmark” issue. I think they’ve done so. So start here in 2017, or go back to 2007 and start with volume one, issue one, or anywhere in between.

References

Elmborg, J. (2017). Lessons from Forty Years as a Literacy Educator: An Information Literacy Narrative. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 54-67.

Fister, B. (2017). The warp and weft of Information Literacy: Changing contexts, enduring challenges. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 68-79.

Head, A. J. (2017). Posing the million dollar question: What happens after graduation?. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 80-90.

Jefferson, C., MacMillan, M. E., Manginelli, A., McClurg, C., & Winterman, B. (2017). ISSOTL 2016: exploring opportunities for librarians. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 227-231.

Patalong, S., & Llewellyn, O. (2007). Show them how to do it: using Macromedia Captivate to deliver remote demonstrations. Journal of Information Literacy, 1(1), 31-34.

Featured image includes head shots of Barbara Fister, Margy MacMillan, Jim Elmborg, and Alison J. Head.