Do you know any exciting examples of historic academic library educational innovations? I want to know about them, and here’s why: my contributed paper proposal for the forthcoming CARL Conference was accepted. It’s titled Reframing the narrative: Librarians as innovators in the past and present, and it’s all about the educational innovations derived from the work of academic librarians. Of course, writing the application was the easy part — now it’s time to research and write! The conference assembles in April of 2016.
In keeping with the conference theme, What we talk about when we talk about value, my paper is going to argue that contrary to popular perception, academic libraries have a remarkable but often unknown history as centers of innovation on campus. This research will build on the work I did for my Kentucky Library Association Conference presentation, Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing, when I looked at a number of historical comparisons for the contemporary debate around literacy threshold concepts.
From my application:
There is a common narrative when discussing libraries and the value they provide on a college campus. According to this narrative, the traditional library was valued for the collection it stored, and the modern library is valued for the services it provides. Rapidly changing technology is seen as the catalyst for this change, and the library of today and tomorrow is described as a center for learning, one that fosters creativity and curates the expanding universe of information. While this future is exciting and places the library at the leading edge of innovation in higher education, this narrative undercuts the creativity and valuable services provided by librarians of the past.
This contributed paper will examine the creative strategies and innovative instruction methods employed by our librarian forerunners, and present a position that libraries have been at the heart of educational innovation for well over a century. The presenter will demonstrate that early academic libraries were far more innovative than conventional wisdom suggests, and provide historical research that shows many of the trends in vogue today, such as embedded librarianship, flipped instruction, and advocacy around scholarly communications, all have roots in the practices of those early librarians.
If you, dear reader, are aware of any interesting, historic examples of library innovation, please be in touch!
The Librarian of Congress recently resigned. The New York Times had a rather unflattering portrait of James Billington’s time in office. Dr. Billington, a historian and Russia scholar by background, was nominated to the office by Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Dr. Billington was also the latest in a long line of white men to hold the office (the thirteenth, to be exact). I’d like to see the next nominee chosen from a diverse pool of experienced, professional candidates that can bring something different to the role – not an inexperienced political appointment. As the Times piece highlights, the Library of Congress is in need of tech-savvy and knowledgable leadership. This is important.
I’ve also seen it going around the social internet that there’s only ever been one “real librarian” as Librarian of Congress (L. Quincy Mumford, 1954-74). I had always heard that the Librarian of Congress was usually a historian, so I assumed that factoid was true. But since I’m a librarian, I decided to research it. Turns out, it’s not.
The historical tipping point from which the Library of Congress expanded from being a small Congressional reference collection into a national library was 1864 (under the leadership of Ainsworth Rand Spofford), which coincided with the national public library movement, slightly predates the establishment of the ALA, and the point at which “librarianship” became a distinct and specific career path. That was 151 years ago. Counting from then until now, the sitting Librarian of Congress has had professional library experience prior to their appointment for 101 of those years.
Why is this important?
If we let the narrative be that the Librarian of Congress isn’t usually a “real librarian,” we’ll get another non-librarian – even if we’re protesting that fact. We should highlight the fact that the non-librarians who have served were the exceptions, not the norm.
The reason Mumford is being credited as the only “real librarian” to serve as Librarian of Congress is the assumption that in order to be a librarian, someone has to have an MLIS. What makes a person a librarian? It can’t just be having the degree:
- There are plenty of people with an MLIS who don’t consider themselves librarians.
- There are a lot of working librarians who don’t have an MLIS degree.
- There are other library professionals who are knowledgeable and vital who have neither the degree nor the word “librarian” in their official title.
And it can’t just be having it in their title.
- There are plenty of unemployed or underemployed librarians. They are still librarians.
- There’s a pretty wide range of titles out there (with and without the word librarian in them).
So what does it come down to? I’d say knowledge and skills in library services (and what a wide range those services can be! And there are plenty of specialities) and a dose of self-identification.
Obtaining an MLIS is one way librarians gain knowledge and skills and develop a sense of identity. It is one marker of experience and ability. But it is not the only one, and not the only way.
Let’s get back to the question of Librarians of Congress, and whether they were “real librarians.”
Quick history lesson: while libraries are an ancient concept that date back to the origins of writing (there is evidence of Sumerian libraries), “librarianship” as a modern American profession didn’t develop until the mid-to-late 19th century. As the public library movement caught hold, the earliest full-time librarians mostly came from a wide range of backgrounds (there was no degree in “library sciences”). “Library schools” started with Dewey’s school at Columbia College, but an advanced degree – the MLS and its variations – did not appear until well into the 20th century.
So we can’t judge whether or not the early Librarians of Congress were “librarians” by whether or not they had an MLIS. They only way we can judge whether they were “real librarians” is by checking whether or not they had library or related experience prior to their nomination.
Here’s the full list:
- John Jay Beckley, 1802-1807
- Patrick Magruder, 1807-1815
- George Watterson, 1815-1829
- John Silva Meehan, 1829-1861
- John G. Stephenson, 1861-1864
- Ainsworth Rand Spofford, 1864-1897
- John Russell Young, 1897-1899
- Herbert Putnam, 1899-1939
- Archibald Macleish, 1939-1944
- Luther Evans, 1945-1953
- L. Quincy Mumford, 1954-1974
- Daniel J. Boorstin, 1975-1987
- James Billington, 1987-2015
When the Library of Congress was first established, it was a small reference collection for the use of the members of Congress. Librarian of Congress was not a separate position, but just part of the responsibilities of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. That covers Beckley and Magruder. We’ll leave them completely out of this reckoning.
The first actual full time “Librarian of Congress” was George Watterson. The position was separated from the Clerkship since Congress had recently purchased Jefferson’s personal library to replace what was destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. Dealing with that influx of books required a full-timer. Watterson was a lawyer by education, a writer by craft, and a newspaper editor by trade. He did not work in a library or similar institution prior to his appointment. All the major decisions regarding the library were made by a congressional committee, not by Watterson. Watterson was not a “real librarian,” but “librarianship” was not an independent profession in his era.
Watterson was followed by John Silva Meehan. He was a printer. While Librarian of Congress, he was not allowed to choose books – those decisions were made by the Congressional committee chair – and the LOC was small, still intended only for congressional use. So Meehan wasn’t a librarian, either, but the Library of Congress wasn’t really a library (yet), and like Watterson, librarianship was not considered an independent profession when he was appointed.
Stephenson was a physician who continued his medical practice even after his appointment. So…not a librarian. At all. And not a good appointment (that one was on Lincoln).
But Stephenson’s successor was Ainsworth Rand Spofford, who had previously served as Assistant Librarian of Congress. Voila! Previous professional experience. This also coincided with the national public library movement, which saw “librarianship” as a standalone profession become a reality. Under Spofford’s leadership, the Library of Congress grew into a genuine national library. Even after he was replaced as Librarian of Congress, Spofford continued to work as Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress. He was clearly a longtime, dedicated library professional.
We can chalk Spofford up as the first “real librarian” to serve as Librarian of Congress, and his term also marks the beginning of the Library’s modern era.
John Russell Young was a political appointment with a background in journalism, business, and politics. He only lasted two years before his death. Not a “real librarian.”
Herbert Putnam was Librarian of Congress from 1899-1939. He’s the innovator of the Library of Congress Classification System, which arguably makes him on par with Dewey for widespread influence on library science. Before his post with the Library of Congress, he was head of the Minneapolis Athenaeum, head of the Minneapolis Public Library, and Superintendent of the Boston Public Library – at the time, the largest public library in the country. He was also a very active early member of the ALA.
Putnam was clearly a “real librarian.” One of the most influential in American library history.
Archibald Macleish was a writer and poet. Not only was he not a “real librarian,” that was exactly why he was nominated. According to the LOC’s biography of Macleish, “Roosevelt proclaimed that the job of Librarian of Congress required not a professional librarian but ‘a gentleman and a scholar.’” The ALA protested his nomination, but it passed Congress by a wide margin. This was the first clear, intentional shift away from appointing librarians to be Librarian of Congress.
Luthor Evans is a different case than Macleish. He was a political scientist by education, but he was director of the LOC’s Legislative Reference Service for six years before his appointment, and served as Acting Librarian of Congress when Macleish was absent. So he had six years of leadership experience in a library before he was appointed. LOC’s Evans biography also states that he “plunged into technical library issues.” I’d say that would make Evans a “real librarian” and not just a political appointment.
Mumford had an MLS [correction, 2/24: a BS in Library Science], worked for a long time at NYPL and Cleveland Public, and served as President of the ALA before his appointment as Librarian of Congress. Definitely a “real librarian.”
Boorstin is a tricky case. A Rhodes Scholar with a law degree, he had a long and successful academic career as a professor of history. Impressive, but not librarianship. But he also was the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History and Technology, a significant cultural institution not unlike the Library of Congress in scope. You could argue he had comparable, relevant experience. However, ALA protested Boostin’s appointment, so I’ll put him down as not a “real librarian.”
Boorstin was followed by Billington. Not a “real librarian.”
So if we start counting with Spofford’s term – when the Library of Congress actually became a national library – we have four “real librarians,” and four who were not, and 101 out of 151 years with librarian leadership.
I think it’s a mistake to conflate having an MLIS and being a librarian. If the best candidate has had noteworthy practical and administrative work in a library, museum, or archive, that’s more important than the right master’s degree.
In addition to impressive professional credentials, it would be thrilling to see a candidate who brings a different life experience to the role than their thirteen white male predecessors.
We shall see.
In the first half of “Investigating the Frame,” I addressed the threshold concept theory at the heart of the new Framework for Information Literacy Instruction, currently in its third draft. I closed with the comment that we should shift the focus of our discussions to the details of the six frames, and how they serve us as instructors, rather than continuing the debate over the legitimacy of threshold concept theory.
I also argued that the move from the standards to the frames is not as dramatic a shift as it might appear at first. By tracking our instruction sessions and reference interactions, my colleague Nicole Branch and I have noticed that certain frames align consistently with existing standards. This is not a bad thing — it eases the transition from one guiding document to the next.
One concern I had as an outside observer of the new Framework was about methods of assessment (I even asked the committee about that during the open forum at ALA). I’m not alone in this; I’ve seen the same question asked by many others. However, I’m feeling more confident about assessment under this new model thanks to a recent exercise we undertook at my place of work.
My library uses a rubric to evaluate information use in senior capstone papers in order to assess our information literacy instruction. Our rubric is an amalgamation and adaptation of several of the rubrics available through RAILS, and was built in relation to the ACRL Standards. Each area of evaluation relates to one of the ACRL Standards. For example, ACRL Standard One (the information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed) is represented by two criteria: defining the topic, and defining the research question or thesis statement. Each paper is scored on a zero to three scale for each area of evaluation, and we have twelve criteria total.
As we were updating our rubric for the fall semester, we also looked at the six threshold concepts in the new framework. Could each of our areas of evaluation be directly connected to one of the six threshold concepts? Would each threshold concept be represented? As we try to determine if these six frames genuinely represent the discipline of information literacy, retroactively assigning them to our working assessment seemed like a good way to investigate their accuracy and breadth of coverage.
It turned out each of our areas of evaluation did fit into one of the six frames, and five of the six frames were represented.
There was not necessarily a direct one-to-one relationship between the frames and the standards; we had four areas of evaluation connected to ACRL Standard Three, and while we assigned three of them to “Authority is Constructed and Contextual,” one of them was a better fit for “Research as Inquiry.” Our areas of evaluation connected to ACRL Standard Five were similarly divided, in this case between “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Information Has Value.”
The only frame we could not assign to one of our areas of evaluation was “searching is strategic” (to use the third draft’s verbiage). That wasn’t a surprise. We only evaluate the capstone papers themselves, and we do not witness the student’s information search and retrieval process. We had omitted ACRL Standard Two from this particular assessment tool when we first devised it. Standard Two (the information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently) and the Searching frame are clearly connected.
Do they know Magellan died?
Forgive me for making a pop culture analogy: on a recent episode of the TV show Top Chef, the eight competitors were divided into two teams and each team was tasked with opening a restaurant in 48 hours. One of the two teams couldn’t settle on a unifying theme for their menu, so they decided to go with an “explorer” theme and a globe-trotting menu. In a fit of optimism, they named their pop-up restaurant “Magellan.” Do they know that Magellan died? So did their direction-less restaurant, and their team lost the challenge.
I bring this up because one of the most burning topics between draft two and draft three was the verbiage change from “searching as exploration” to “searching is strategic.” Both Jacob Berg and Donna Witek disliked this change; Jake wanted to shift it back, and Donna suggested “searching is investigative.” I think highly of both Jake and Donna, but in this instance I disagree.
I think “searching is strategic” is the best language for this frame. In fact, I think it’s a significant improvement over the alternatives. Exploration is a romantic ideal, and we all want our students to eagerly cast off from the pier on a voyage to discover new ideas and information. However, it’s far more effective to set sail with a plan. Strategy is a scaleable term; it does not imply expertise. Even the simplest Google search can be far more effective with some simple strategies in place (for example, substitute academic synonyms for your typical keywords, and you’ll get a completely different set of results). That’s a strategy we teach our first-year students (in fact, search strategy is the first lesson in our curriculum map).
Upper division students might employ more nuanced strategies, such as controlled vocabulary searches in research databases. Another example might be the PICOT methodology I teach to the students in our graduate School of Nursing. The right search strategy depends on the information need, and this is important for students to understand. I don’t think “searching as exploration” accomplishes that.
Processing • Binding
The hardest threshold concept to fit to our rubric’s areas of evaluation (aside from the aforementioned “searching is strategic”) was “information creation as a process.” I think this frame has suffered an identity crisis through the revision process. It was originally titled “format as a process,” and defined as follows:
Format is the way tangible knowledge is disseminated. The essential characteristic of format is the underlying process of information creation, production, and dissemination, rather than how the content is delivered or experienced.
In draft three, both the title and definition had changed:
Information Creation as a Process refers to the understanding that the purpose, message, and delivery of information are intentional acts of creation. Recognizing the nature of information creation, experts look to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information.
This frame — especially in its earlier form — seems focused on the user understanding the intent of the information creator in order to understand how to best use that source. With online research, you can’t easily judge a source’s format by how it is processed and bound. This can be as simple as an undergraduate understanding the appropriate research use of an online reference entry, or can relate to more complex questions such as the reliability of social media reporting in the wake of breaking news.
But the change in title implies the committee would like this frame to be about more than just format. It should be about the complete circle of the information creation process, from beginning to end. If that’s the case, the knowledge practices and dispositions need to reflect the creative act as well as analysis of the final product. In that case, it may need to inherit some of the knowledge practices and dispositions currently assigned to other threshold concepts.
Donna Witek, in her excellent line-by-line analysis of the third draft, noticed that some of the frames (most notably “research as inquiry”) were much longer than the others. “Research as inquiry” includes knowledge practices and dispositions such as “organize information in meaningful ways” and “manage information effectively.” Those could be a better fit with the information creation frame. If not, the committee might be better off returning to the original “format as a process.”
The best change from draft two to draft three was the “information has value” frame. Gone is this original definition:
Information has Value acknowledges that the creation of information and products derived from information requires a commitment of time, original thought, and resources that need to be respected by those seeking to use these products, or create their own based on the work of others. In addition, information may be valued more or less highly based on its creator, its audience/consumer, or its message.
It has been replaced by the following:
The Information Has Value frame refers to the understanding that information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. The flow of information through systems of production and dissemination is impacted by legal, sociopolitical, and economic interests.
I see this change as a very positive move on the part of the committee. The former definition explicitly privileged content creators (and by extension, copyright), reducing information seekers (our library users) to “those seeking to use these products,” and not agents with their own rights and privileges (as governed by fair use, the first sale doctrine, etc.). Content creators should, of course, own the rights to their work, and the ethical use of work belonging to others is important. However, this new definition, while still acknowledging information’s role as a commodity, does a better job of encapsulating the bigger picture.
The open period for comments on the third draft closed on Friday, December 12, so now those of us on the outside must eagerly await the next revision.
In the meantime, my next step will be to study the information literacy threshold concepts from the historical perspective: on January 14th, my Kentucky Library Association talk Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing: Using the Lens of Library History to Focus on the New Information Literacy Framework will be reborn as a webinar, sponsored by the ALISE Historical Interest Group. Participation will be free for ALISE members and the first 20 non-member registrants. We will be exploring the writings of pioneering, 19th century instructional librarians to see if there is evidence of encounters with the same threshold concepts we are discussing today.
I will share registration details as soon as it opens up in early January. Please join me if you can!
I came out as a supporter of the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education’s central and somewhat controversial tenet — threshold concepts — earlier this fall. I promised “more on this soon,” but as is often the case, the fall academic semester was too busy a time for me to write down and publish my thoughts. But Friday, December 12 is the deadline for public comments on the third draft, which has prompted me to reflect more deeply on the Framework.
Threshold Concept Theory
I acknowledge that many of my peers, whose opinions I respect, are concerned about the foundation of threshold concept theory. Threshold concepts are “those ideas in any discipline that are passageways or portals to enlarged understanding or ways of thinking and practicing within that discipline” (ACRL, 2014). According to educational theorists Jan Meyer and Ray Land, threshold concepts exhibit four characteristics within their disciplines: they are transformative, changing the perspective of the learner; integrative, connecting different aspects of the discipline to each other; irreversible, once learned, never unlearned (much like riding a bike); and troublesome, sometimes difficult to grasp for discipline outsiders or the cause of reflection (Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2008).
I have seen concerns about university faculty responses to the theory of threshold concepts, and the difficulty librarians may have in explaining it. In response I have a suggestion. When presenting these ideas to faculty, use the threshold concepts that have been identified for their own disciplines as examples and analogies for the information literacy threshold concepts identified by ACRL. These examples will resonate much more strongly with their own experience as teachers and learners. There has been substantial research into threshold concepts for a wide range of academic disciplines, both by Meyer and Land themselves, and by other educational theorists exploring the idea. Merinda Kaye Hensley referred me to a useful bibliography that will guide you to many of them.
Connecting the Dots
Part of my growing enthusiasm for the new framework derives from connecting the dots between the identified threshold concepts and the work we already do at my institution. Over the past couple of years my colleague Nicole Branch and I developed a curriculum map for our undergraduate information literacy instruction based on the ACRL Standards. We provide a series of scaffolded one-shot workshops integrated into our university curriculum at different levels in the hopes that students will have the information skills they need at each point in their education.
Shifting the Conversation
However, even if you are a threshold concept skeptic, I suggest the debate about their scientific validity is a distraction from what we should really be focusing on: the content of the frames themselves. How well do they represent the academic discipline of information literacy? If these six frames can successfully inform our practice as educators, whether or not they genuinely represent this wider notion of “threshold concepts” (and whether the theory of threshold concepts itself is valid) is not entirely relevant. We’ve been making do with the existing information literacy standards published in 2000, and I certainly don’t believe that those static, binary descriptors (“the information literate student is…”) are reflective of the students we work with or their learning needs. The Framework is a far more flexible document that comes much closer to capturing the complex and evolving world of information and scholarly communications, whatever you think of threshold concepts as an educational theory.
I’ve done a lot of fence sitting in my comments about the new framework for information literacy instruction and its central tenet, the threshold concepts for information literacy. That was in part because I was still digesting the new ideas, and in part because some librarians I really respect had strong (and divergent) opinions, and I wasn’t sure yet where I fell.
But I’ve had some time for reflection, I’ve had time to incorporate aspects of the new framework into my practice, and I was able to immerse myself in the ideas behind the new framework while preparing my talk at the Kentucky Library Association.
I do have some concerns about language used in the new framework. I think some of the definitions of the threshold concepts are troublesome and need continued work (I’m looking at you, information has value), while others aren’t quite intuitive as written. I’m still not sure why “metaliteracy” needs to be included at all. I’m also curious how we can create continuity with the ACRL Standards from 2000, and how we’ll get faculty to buy into new ideas that are more challenging to explain.
But. I’m climbing off the fence.
I like the new framework. I especially like the threshold concepts as a pivot point for library instruction. Telling students where to click in the database is not teaching them how to effectively use information, and the new framework pushes us to be better, more engaged instructors. The research that backs it up resonates with me and my personal, professional experience. I think it moves us forward. I’m on board. More on this soon.
References for my presentation Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing are below, organized topically.
Early Librarians on College Instruction
Adams, H. A. (1887, November). Seminary libraries and university extension. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science 5. 443-459.
Baker, G. H. (1897, October). Conference of librarians, Philadelphia: The college section of the ALA. Library Journal 22. 168.
Davis, T. K. (1885, May). The college library. Library Journal 10. 100-103.
Little, G. T. (1892, August). Teaching bibliography to college students. Library Journal 17. 87-88.
Lowrey, C. E. (1894, August). The university library, its larger recognition in higher education. Library Journal 19. 264-267.
Morgan, J. H. (1893). College libraries: How best made available for college uses? Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Convention of the College Association of the Middle States and Maryland. New York, NY: Columbia College Educational Review.
Robinson, O. H. (1876). College library administration. In Bureau of Education’s (Ed.) Public Libraries in the United States of America.Washington, D.C.: USGPO.
Robinson, O. H. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: Rochester University Library – administration and use. Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1-1880. Washington, D.C.: USGPO.
Robinson, O. H. (1881, April). The relation of libraries to college work. Library Journal 6. 97-104.
Winsor, J. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: The college library. Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1-1880. Washington, D.C.: USGPO.
Winsor, J. (1894, November). The development of the library. Library Journal 19. 370-375.
History of Library Instruction
ACRL. (2000). Information literacy standards for higher education. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency
ACRL. (2014). Framework for information literacy for higher education [2nd draft]. Retrieved from http://acrl.ala.org/ilstandards/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Framework-for-IL-for-HE-Draft-2.pdf
Brunetti, K., Hofer, A. R., Lu, S., & Townsend, L. (2014). Threshold concepts & information literacy. Retrieved from http://www.ilthresholdconcepts.com/
Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (2009). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold concepts and information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(3), 853-869.
Wilkerson, L. (2014). The problem with threshold concepts. Retrieved from https://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/the-problem-with-threshold-concepts/
Several people, perhaps considering their own 2015 applications, asked me about my experience as a 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leader and how I felt the program helped me develop my leadership skills.
This prompted a bit of reflection on my part. I’d say that the line between the Emerging Leaders program and leadership training is actually an indirect one – but that’s a good thing.
There are other opportunities ALA provides – such as the ALA Leadership Institute – more directly focused on traditional leadership training, if that’s what you are interested in. The structure of Emerging Leaders is more in line with another subject I was interested in this year: project management.
[A project is] a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.
My 2014-2015 professional development goals at my place of work included gaining project management skills. My official vehicle for achieving that goal was attending a wonderful CARL preconference session led by California academic librarians Margot Hanson, Annis Lee Adams, Andrew Tweet, and Kevin Pischke. But the convergence of the preconference session and Emerging Leaders was perfect, as the experiences complimented and built on each other. Emerging Leaders gave me the practical opportunity to work on a project team and implement the concepts I learned at the preconference.
Emerging Leaders is structured as a team-based project that checks off all of the definitions of project management: a temporary group activity, designed to produce a product or service, with a defined beginning and end, and a defined scope and resources. Various divisions and roundtables of ALA propose projects. Four-to-six member teams of Emerging Leaders are assembled around those projects and given a discrete deadline (a poster session at ALA Annual) when they reveal their final products.
I was part of Emerging Leaders “Team C,” along with the wonderful Mari Martínez, Annie Pho, and Kyle Denlinger. We were asked by ALCTS, the ALA division for library collections and technical services, to deliver a white paper on social media practices with recommendations for how they can improve their outreach to early-career professionals. Beyond that straightforward request, we could develop the project as we saw fit.
Team C(at) with our project poster. Here we are later with our hair down.
We dealt with several moving parts: we had to investigate social media best practices for professional organizations, analyze how ALCTS is currently using social media, discover how ALCTS members and potential members would like to interact (or not) with ALCTS online, and put everything we learned into a cohesive “white paper” (we actually developed a website) that ALCTS leaders could refer to. The camaraderie we developed kept us accountable to each other, despite not having a traditional “leader” or supervisor. The four of us lived in different areas of the country, and would not actually be in the same room between Midwinter and Annual, making coordination crucial. It made for a perfect little capsule – it was petri dish project management. We had fun and put out a product we believed in.
Emerging Project Managers
I opened with the suggestion that the line between Emerging Leaders and leadership training was indirect, as there is not a special focus on the skills of individual leadership, or advancing into management roles in our professional careers. But I do think project management skills are very applicable to a different kind of leadership needed in our workplaces.
Our work as librarians invariably involves team-oriented, discrete projects: implementing a new service, redesigning a library website, and so on. We often will work on teams with no designated “leader.” To be able to work as a team, with a cohesive plan, without creating unnecessary workplace friction, is a valuable and necessary trait for librarians, and applying the principles of project management can be the key to success. That is the type of leadership we need as a profession moving forward.
I still wouldn’t suggest renaming the program “the ALA Emerging Project Managers.” Emerging Leaders has a better ring to it. And also a ring of truth.
This afternoon a student approach me at the Research Help desk. She wanted to cite the following quote by Frederick Douglass:
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Noble sentiment, yes? And the internet is quite certain that he said it. Sites like Brainy Quote, Goodreads and others trumpet this quote. Blog posts refer to it. Nicholas Kristof, writing for the New York Times, attributes this quote to Douglass. It’s on bumper stickers. Even Christian evangelicals have quoted it, to further their own purposes.
But none of them mentioned where Frederick Douglass actually said this. One blog post referenced 1855, but included nothing else.
All of Douglass’s books are in the public domain, so I ventured to Project Gutenberg. Each of his published works can be opened as an HTML document and searched.
It turns out Frederick Douglass frequently uses the word “broken” — it appears 35 times in My Bondage and My Freedom alone. One line in particular, about the violence done to him as an enslaved child, was reminiscent of the famous quote:
Here is the entire passage in which that quote — a verifiably real quote — appears. It’s lengthy, but it’s worth understanding the quote in context:
The mistress of the house was a model of affection and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and feeling—”that woman is a Christian.” There was no sorrow nor suffering for which she had not a tear, and there was no innocent joy for which she did not a smile. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence. Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage? It may be broken toward the slave, on Sunday, and toward the master on Monday. It cannot endure such shocks. It must stand entire, or it does not stand at all. If my condition waxed bad, that of the family waxed not better. The first step, in the wrong direction, was the violence done to nature and to conscience, in arresting the benevolence that would have enlightened my young mind. In ceasing to instruct me, she must begin to justify herself to herself; and, once consenting to take sides in such a debate, she was riveted to her position. One needs very little knowledge of moral philosophy, to see where my mistress now landed. She finally became even more violent in her opposition to my learning to read, than was her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as her husband had commanded her, but seemed resolved to better his instruction. Nothing appeared to make my poor mistress—after her turning toward the downward path—more angry, than seeing me, seated in some nook or corner, quietly reading a book or a newspaper. I have had her rush at me, with the utmost fury, and snatch from my hand such newspaper or book, with something of the wrath and consternation which a traitor might be supposed to feel on being discovered in a plot by some dangerous spy.
This book was published in 1855, the same year mentioned by the blogger.
Nowhere in his published works does the popular internet quote appear. It is certainly possible it was uttered in a speech, the contents of which were published elsewhere — in a news story of the day, or by a biographer whose work I didn’t find. There’s a series of books from Yale University Press that include his private correspondence and the text of some of his speeches, content not published elsewhere. Perhaps the quote is in there — although I doubt a quote buried in an expensive series of academic texts has become an internet meme.
I think it’s more likely that what Frederick Douglass really said has been whitewashed.
It’s possible the passage in My Bondage and My Freedom has been paraphrased so often over the years that this popular quote about raising children right has replaced the truth about the violent treatment Douglass received as a child, and how the evils of slavery could break not only the spirits of people who were enslaved but also the souls of the white men and women who felt justified in enslaving others.
Racism and white privilege work in insidious ways. The dark, ugly truth of our white supremacist history can be transformed into positive affirmations, affirmations that then appear unquestioned online, on car bumpers, and in the New York Times.
I can’t prove that the popular quote isn’t real, and I can’t prove that it was the passage in My Bondage and My Freedom that inspired it. But that’s what I suspect.
And what did I tell the student? She wasn’t writing a historical analysis of Frederick Douglass, she was writing a psychology paper. The quote — whether real or false — set up her thesis nicely. I didn’t want to disrupt her process on the day her paper was due. So I advised that she refer to the quote as “widely attributed to” Frederick Douglass, and at least cite the Kristof article rather than Brainy Quote.
But then we also had a good conversation about historical truth (while I helped her clean up her references page — we were multitasking!). This type of work with students — digging into how information is presented, how to present information, understanding context, and closing in on the truth (however that may be defined) — this is what I like about being a librarian.
I’ve spent the academic year volunteering in a public elementary school library. My weekly shifts coincided with a regular 4th grade class visit. My last shift of this academic year wrapped up this morning.
A few things I learned:
- Calvin & Hobbes is still incredibly popular, even though Bill Watterson retired almost a decade before these kids were born.
- 4th graders love graphic novels, especially Bone.
- The vast majority of our circulation came from books in bins organized by series, and very little from off of the shelves. Easier to find, easier to grab, easier to beat the other kids to what you want.
- It’s awkward being addressed as Mr. when you’re not used to it.
- 4th grade boys will hit each other over a book.
- Kids do a lot more reading than stereotypes suggest.
- The school librarian teaches an amazing variety of things. I saw her teach using computers for research, understanding literary genres, fun poetry techniques, understanding protagonist point of view, and using reference works for research. Oh, and computer coding.
- The school librarian is also a fabulous reader of stories and great at reader’s advisory for a six-year range of children and reading levels.
- She’s also the point person for getting the students up to speed on the interface of the new, computer-based standardized tests that will be implemented next year as part of Common Core (and directly affect school funding). I wonder what schools without school librarians will do.
- I am very grateful San Francisco voters passed a bond measure funding school librarians in every public school.
- These kids will be more ready for college because of what they are learning right now as nine year olds from their school librarian.
I had fun working with the kids. And I learned a lot from the school librarian.
Updated Jan. 22, 4:30 PST
I’m heading to the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference 2014. I’ve been to two ALA Annual Conferences, but never to the Midwinter edition. This conference is largely focused on committee work, and less on public presentations, but I have been combing the scheduler to find the most interesting (to me) action going on. Here’s my plan.
Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, courtesy Flickr user Lee Bennett
Thursday, January 23
I’ll get to Philly on Thursday afternoon, with time to check-in to the Holiday Inn and head directly to the ALATT’s “Council Meeting” at a local establishment called the Tattooed Mom. It’s open to everyone and many of the 2014 Emerging Leaders are planning to meet up there. You’ll find it on this handy map, along with all the other socials and conference hotels.
Friday, January 24
Why would I head to Philadelphia in the depth of winter, in the midst of a polar vortex? I’m a part of the 2014 edition of ALA’s Emerging Leaders program. I’m in “Team C.” Our task is to deliver a plan to ALCTS to amplify their social media outreach. Consequently, my first full day of the conference, Friday, will be taken up with Emerging Leaders activities: meeting from 8:15 to 4:00pm, followed by a Presidential Reception for this year’s class from 4-5:30pm, and a 7:00 social for EL participants and alums at the Field House. To top it off, Urban Librarians Unite is organizing a 9pm gathering in the same venue — perfect — I won’t have to head out into the cold.
Saturday, January 25
By Saturday, I get a little more Philadelphia freedom to pick my spots. My current plan (of course, all subject to change):
- 8:30-10am: NMRT Conference Orientation, PCC 307B. Getting the lay of the land from the New Member’s Round Table is always a good way to get a handle on a conference, meet a few people, and get ready for the days ahead.
- 10:30-11:30am: Open Forum on Revised Information Literacy Competency Standards, Loews Hotel Commonwealth A-D. As an instructional librarian, these standards are my bread-and-butter.
- 1:00-2:00: I will serve as a volunteer résumé reviewer in the NMRT’s Placement Center.
- 2:00-3:00: Ever seen a seven-headed monster? The ALATT is sponsoring Ignite Sessions in the Networking Uncommons. Seven presenters, five minutes each, with 20 fast-moving slides. I’m one of the seven. My topic? Community building from the ground-up. But don’t come for me: it’s the other six I want to see.
- 3:00-4:00pm: Making Learning & Research Fun: The World of Digital Badging, PCC 201C. There’s a joint effort of major federal agencies/organizations (Smithsonian, NPS, Library of Congress, etc.) to create a digital learning platform open to librarians and educators to use with our students. I’m going to learn a little more.
- 4:30-5:30pm: Challenges of Gender Issues in Technology Librarianship, PCC 201C. Andromeda Yelton is going to lead a panel discussion on the gender-related challenges faced by library technologists. Some of the recent controversy surrounding the ALA Code of Conduct is clear evidence that conversations like this need to exist, and I’m looking forward to it.
- 7:00-9:00pm: I might drop by the Newbie/Veteran Librarian Tweet-up, but I am sworn to the Tumblarian Party.
- 9:00pm-onward: The EveryLibrary | Mango Midwinter After-Hours Benefit and Party. Because of course. By the way: support EveryLibrary.
Sunday, January 26
- 10:30-11:30am: New Members Discussion Group, PCC 121A. It sounds like a good conversation about how early-career librarians can #makeithappen. I’m in.
- 1:00-2:30pm: OITP – Google Book Search: What impact will the GBS saga have on copyright reform?, PCC 114 Lecture Hall. Google’s Fred von Lohmann will give his perspective on copyright and the Google Book Search lawsuit, with responses from Amherst and Emory librarians.
- 3:00-4:00: Library Family Feud! They pit authors vs. librarians. By this point, I’m pretty sure I’ll need something silly. I attended this at ALA 2013 and it was fun.
- 4:30-5:30: Digital Humanities Discussion Group. A subject I find interesting but need to learn more about. Here’s where I’ll start.
Monday, January 27
- 10:30-11:30am: ALCTS Forum: How my library was energized by ALCTS publications, PCC 204A. Now that I’m part of the ALCTS social media squad, it’s time to build a propaganda treasure chest. Hearing how librarians are using ALCTS to accomplish their goals should help me learn how to promote ALCTS, yes?
- 11:45-12:30pm: ALA Masters Series – The library as a catalyst for innovation: Case studies of library entrepreneurship centers and programming, PCC 203B. Pima County Public Library’s Catalyst Café apparently has something going as an idea incubator. I am intrigued, so I’ll go see what they’re talking about, but I’m also reminded of Chris Bourg’s warning about the Neo-liberal Library. We’ll see.
After that, I’ll fly home in time to sleep in my own bed Monday night.
Let me know if I’m missing out on a Must-Do in the comments.