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Indianapolis, home of the legendary Indianapolis 500, recently hosted the 300 presentations,workshops, and poster sessions that made up ACRL 2013, the biennial conference of academic librarians. Here are just a few of those sessions worth highlighting.
Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia
Before the start of the official conference, I participated in a free pre-conference workshop entitled Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia hosted by the IUPUI Library. IUPUI is the joint Indianapolis campus for Indiana University and Purdue. Presenters included IUPUI archivist Brenda Burke, librarians Chanitra Bishop and Phoebe Ayers, and Lori Philips of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The morning covered many of the basic principles of Wikipedia: its mission statement, and history, and the various programs it has initiated, such as the fall event “Wikipedia loves libraries” and the ongoing Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAM) project, which seeks to elevate the visibility institutional collections as information sources on Wikipedia. They also discussed the “Wikipedian-in-residence” programs at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and elsewhere. The presentation also featured mentions of Wikimedia Commons, an open license, royalty-free image archive, and Wikidata, a new project to bring together sources of open-access research data.
Wikipedia is one of the top ten websites in the world, it is an important resource for librarians to understand and help students make the best use of. No matter what library-specific resources we promote, or services we offer, chances are most students will start their information search by browsing Wikipedia. It has strengths, and it has weaknesses, and we must have a clear understanding of it to be of use to our patrons.
ACRL Battledecks! Imagine, improvise, inflict: Get inspired or die trying.
The opening night social event was ACRL Battledecks, an improvisational competition featuring six librarians presenting six random slidedecks to an audience of nearly five hundred. I rolled up my cardigan sleeves and jumped into battle, and emerged victorious. You can check out the whole ACRL Battledecks competition on YouTube. My thanks to John Jackson for inviting me to participate and organizing the well attended event — nearly five hundred screaming, hooting, hollering, and laughing librarians. It made for a great, entertaining evening and conference kick-off. My victory prize? The Ice King’s crown, complete with beard.
Photo courtesy Kate K.
The One-shot Mixtape: Lessons for Planning, Delivering, and Integrating Instruction.
This presentation featured a large panel and was based on an article published in the LIS journal Communications in Information Literacy 6(1). Panelists included ACRL Immersion presenters Beth Woodard, Randey Hensley, Deb Gilchrist, and Michelle Millet, as well as Steven Hoover, Jennifer Corbin, Diana Wakimoto, Christopher Hollister, and Patty Iannuzzi. As the paper’s main author, Megan Oakleaf, was not available, Hollister acted as MC.
Panelists limited their comments to one point or two points each:
- limit your lesson-plan instead of trying to cover “everything;”
- vary your instructional approach in order to accommodate different learning styles (concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization; active experimentation);
- assessment doesn’t go last, assessment isn’t an afterthought, assessment = good teaching;
- don’t wing it in the classroom; work from a lesson plan;
- enthusiasm in a teach is authentic and humanizing, and shows that we care;
- at the beginning of a class, take evidence of what they already know (how many have used the library and in what ways, how many already use a major database, etc.) and adjust your lesson plan to fit the level of your students;
- incorporate case studies into your lesson plans; using a narrative to drive group work and debriefing encourages engagement;
- faculty are your friends; find ways to plan instruction around their syllabus;
- think product, not process; an active exercise could include annotated bibliographies where they not only explain why they used a source, but how they found it;
- it’s about the institution, not your classroom; think big-picture issues when crafting your lessons. Retention, completion, graduation rate – what is your library’s role in the students complete educational experience? Are we playing the role of a partner and a leader? Are we contributing to the collection of data and evidence so that we can show the value we play on campus?
Original article: Notes from the Field: 10 Short Lessons on One-Shot Instruction.
Making Information Literacy Relevant: Inspiring Student Engagement through Faculty-Librarian Collaboration
Two librarians, one faculty member, and one student from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania reported on a partnership they developed for a public health course taught for upperclassmen.
The librarians and faculty consulted before the start of the semester and planned three workshops timed to specific course assignments. Each workshop was built around the tools the students would need to accomplish the next assignment — evaluating quality sources, using internet-derived public health data, etc. This presentation contained a number of useful details: exact exercises, assessment strategies, what worked and didn’t work and how they’ll change it in future iterations. Some of the specific workshop activities could be easily adapted to any number of different courses. Each lesson plan was hosted and shared with students via libguide, with on-screen polling for immediate student feedback.
Riding the RAILS of Rubric Assessment to Keep Information Literacy Learning on Track
ACRL workshops are three hours and require advanced sign-up due to their limited capacity, and are one of the best aspects of the conference. They get hands-on and practical the way a shorter presentation with a larger audience cannot. I attended this one focused on rubric assessment, and specifically the RAILS methodology developed by Megan Oakleaf. The workshop was excellent – it was very practical, and gave me a perspective on rubrics and how we could use them to analyze many different facets of our information literacy instruction. While I have seen these concepts discussed before, this was the first time someone placed actual student work in my hands, gave me a rubric to judge it by, and then forced me to discuss and defend my scoring (in order to normalize the various personal biases each individual brought to what is supposed to be objective scoring). It made me realize how much work must go into standardizing evaluations, and the ways in which the ideas could be successfully implemented at my place of work — and which ways they might not.
Keynote Presentation: Henry Rollins, political activist and punk icon
What can I say about keynote presenter Henry Rollins? If you seen him speak, you have an idea of what happened: he came on stage, gripped the mic in his hand, and didn’t slow down or seemingly take a breath for over 80 minutes. His first line? “I have no librarian jokes.” Highlights included his personal experience touring the National Archives with the equally iconic Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), his articulation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and anecdotes about collecting and preserving band fliers, zines, and other punk-related ephemera.
His core message was simple but powerfully relayed: information organization, dissemination and access is the cornerstone of freedom, and as core principles, they must be retained and defended in order for this country to survive in the 21st century. There’s a snippet on YouTube; get a taste.
CARL-ACRL Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship Award Dinner
I had the privilege of organizing a dinner to honor the 2013 Rockman Scholarship recipient Brittany Austin. Ms. Austin is a current SJSU SLIS student and member of the FIDM-San Francisco library staff. We were joined by six California academic librarians at The Libertine, a restaurant and cocktail bar that, by the end of the night, was turning people away at the door because they were packed wall-to-wall by librarians. It was a good thing we had a table reservation. Librarians know where to find the best cocktails, it seems.
The Art of Problem Discovery
ACRL president Trevor Dawes introduced Virginia Tech’s Associate University Librarian Brian Mathews, author of the Chronicle of Higher Ed blog the Ubiquitous Librarian, to present his invited paper on the concept of problem-seeking in library management.
Mathews opened with a dictionary-derived definition of “problems:”
- unwelcome or harmful, to be dealt with and overcome.
- questions raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.
He made the point that sometimes we jump too quickly into problem solving mode before fully exploring the wide range of possibilities. When dealing with library issues, we have to consider what the problem actually is; for example, patrons don’t want to use your catalog; they just want the book that will help them write their paper. Mathews referenced the quote from Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen: “Don’t sell products and services to customers, but rather try to help people address their jobs-to-be-done.” Libraries should invest in other people’s problems.
Things for libraries to consider:
- What three things do students struggle with the most? (and how can we help them overcome them?)
- What challenges do researchers face when applying for grants?
- What information would help academic deans make decisions?
As can be expected from a Brian Mathews presentations, there were quite a few quotable bon mots:
- a job ad should include “proficient listening skills;”
- librarians should be problem developers, not just problem solvers. You can only solve the problems you discover or identify;
- instead of “thinking outside the box,” let’s reach into other people’s boxes.
Through the art of problem discovery we can design and develop the capacities, service models, etc. of the future. We need to decide what business are we in. Is it the book business, the reference desk business, the catalog business, or none of the above? Rather, we should be in the problem solving business for our campus. How do we help you with your data needs? That’s our business.
Love Your Library: Building Goodwill from the Inside Out
Four librarians from different institutions (Char Booth, Adrienne Lai, Lia Friedman, and Alice Whiteside) shared their ideas for interesting, weird, and creative outreach programs to develop library love on campus in what was a fun, morale-boosting presentation. They threw out dozens of ideas in less than an hour. Here are just a few examples:
- “re:book: take a book. remake it. win,” remixing weeded books into book art as a student contest exhibited in the library;
- “exCITING FOOD,” a citation event in the library with food to eat and the recipes for that food displayed as citation examples. Students snack and mingle with librarians and discuss their citation challenges.
- “Library on Wheels” and “Pop Up Libraries” in different places on campus, with fun materials and costumed librarians, to generate conversation with students.
- “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” organized by campus archivist at a women’s college in response to a report that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia editors are men.
- Student photo contests around the library.
The presenters made all the materials related to their outreach programs available, and the slideshow is online.
Altogether, ACRL 2013 was a worthwhile conference with many compelling presenters and actionable ideas. Over the length of the conference, I had conversations with dozens of librarians I admire, many of whom I connect with electronically during the year but only get the chance to meet at a conference like ACRL. In those social moments — whether it’s the downtime between presentations, at an event like Battledecks, or at an evening gathering, we’re talking about our jobs, our careers, our ideas for instruction, and what we think we can bring back to our libraries. There is tremendous value and inspiration derived from those conversations, and the ongoing conversation that will happen moving forward.
The final evening of the conference saw a couple dozen librarians out for a night at a neighborhood dive, killing it at karaoke (I must admit, I was an observer, not a singer). We had duets, we had disco, we had the Big Bopper. And, naturally, a librarian sang that one hit by the Cardigans. It was a good way to wrap it up.
Last week a tumblr user asked the following question:
Question from a soon-to-be-graduating MLIS student, if you don’t mind: did you have any publications under your belt before being hired as an academic reference librarian? Also, how active were you in professional associations/organizations? With graduation so soon and the market still so saturated, I am worried that I don’t have the on-paper qualifications to land an academic library job (can you tell?).
I replied on tumblr, but thought I would expand on my response here.
I’m in my third year as an academic librarian, and I still have never published. I’d certainly like to; I have a couple ideas bouncing around my head. The degree to which it matters depends on the institution you are applying to. An academic institution with tenure-track or faculty-status librarians will generally have higher expectations regarding professional publishing, but many academic libraries don’t expect their librarians to publish. Read the job ad closely and look at the librarians on staff. If they have extensive CVs, it’s a good bet that institution has publishing expectations. If you haven’t published and you are applying to an institution that expects librarian-led research, address your interest in participating in research and publishing in your cover letter.
But you can definitely get a job without having published. I’d recommend having another outlet for your writing — a professionally-focused blog, for example. The pressure of updating a blog can feel like a burden (see the frequency of posts here). However, it can be a venue to practice and improve your writing (an essential skill for both unemployed and employed librarians, from cover letters to grant applications), engage with the professional community, and think more deeply about pressing industry issues. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people do or don’t read your blog. It’s the fact that it is there when you apply for a job; it is essentially the special extended edition of your résumé & cover letter — it shows the hiring manager just how connected you are to issues within the profession.
In terms of other professional activities, coming out of library school I was already active in my local professional organization (in my case, CARL). Through a mentor librarian, I was offered a position on a CARL committee around the time I was graduating from SJSU SLIS. I also attended the CARL Conference in that year, and the conference of another local organization, CCLI. Attending those conferences at the tail end of my education was transformative; I went from speaking the theoretical language of my graduate program to speaking the practical language of working professionals based on the quality content of their presentations.
Being able to show professional involvement by attending conferences and joining a committee did my otherwise limited résumé a world of good. It made it clear that I was committed to academic librarianship, and what I learned in the conference presentations and workshops gave me the language I used writing my cover letter and during interviews. Major national conferences like ALA and ACRL are incredibly expensive once you factor in conference registration, travel, and lodging. But those local conferences are often much more affordable, and you’ll be meeting local people — the same people who might be advertising a position in their library shortly thereafter (or at the conference itself).
The other thing I did before landing a permanent gig was co-found a meet-up group for local librarians. Right around the time we were graduating, a library school friend and I were lamenting the end of library-school organized activities, so we just decided to start organizing our own. We’ve since held a couple dozen gatherings and have nearly 200 members. People meet people at these kinds of events; it can lead to jobs, or just good conversations that keep you talking about libraries even when you’re not working in one. Above all, it’s fun, and there is always something to be said for that.
To sum up my recommendations:
- apply your writing skills to a professionally-focused blog;
- volunteer for local professional organizations;
- attend whatever local conferences you can afford to, and;
- seek out (or create!) a social group of librarians in your area.
That sounds like a lot, especially if you have other professional or family commitments. But you don’t have to update the blog every day, there are volunteer positions that don’t take too much time, conferences are infrequent, and a social group can start with just a few local friends. It’s doable, and it will make you a stronger candidate.
- Becoming a more thoughtful library job seeker: Look beyond the bullet points | Veronica Arellano Douglas, College & Research Libraries News (coincidentally posted the same day as my post above, with very thoughtful advice for job seekers; h/t to laura-in-libraryland).
I’ll be a participant in a panel during the Library 2.011 Worldwide Virtual Conference. Our program, Riding the “Long Tail”: Leveraging a Niche to Build a Network, focuses on the niche professional networks and interests enabled and encouraged by the use of social media tools. It will be moderated by USC’s John Jackson & the University of La Verne’s Young Lee and feature panelists Nicole Pagowsky of the entertaining Librarian Wardrobe and Micah Vandegrift of the HackLibSchool Blog. I am quite honored to be included in their company to discuss the Information Amateurs Social Club, the informal networking organization my friend Greg Borman and I created after graduating from library school in 2009.
Participation in the virtual conference is free — and highly encouraged! Our panel will speak at 10am Pacific Time on Thursday, November 3.
Jumping on board a presentation like this required me — for the first time — to write a professional bio, a decidedly odd thing to compose (particularly since custom dictates writing it in the third person). Here it is:
Daniel Ransom is the Librarian for Research and Electronic Resources at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. Daniel provides reference and research services and co-coordinates the university’s information literacy program. Daniel also serves on the committee for the California Academic and Research Libraries’ Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship, an annual award for library school students. He co-founded the Information Amateurs Social Club with Greg Borman after graduating from San José State University’s School of Library and Information Science in December of 2009. The goal was to create an informal online and in-person venue for early-career information professionals to stay in contact with their peers and share job-seeking skills and ideas.
I also had to submit a profile photo; I took this shot the morning of my very first day as a professional librarian 15 months ago and have used it as my professional profile ever since (that’s right, I like to rock the argyle sweater vest).
At some point soon I’m going to have to admit that I’m a grown-up.
This past week I got to attend my very first American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, a dizzying gathering of over 20,000 librarians (a far cry from the 1876 inaugural event, with its paltry 103 attendees). I got to attend various professional presentations, meet online contacts and make friends in real life, explore New Orleans by foot, trolley, and ferry, and, much to my surprise, perform in the improvisational slideshow competition Battledecks.
I have organized sessions I attended and events I participated around a couple of the most recurring themes.
Cushing Library is currently implementing a new tool for our end users to use for search and retrieval of our items in our collection. This system, called WorldCat Local (WCL), finds and retrieves items be they print or online, and whether they are book, article, journal or other media. WCL and similar products are referred to as “Discovery” systems within the librarian profession.
I attended several programs relating to the implementation of Discovery systems. Two directly related to the implementation of OCLC’s WCL technology, tasks I am involved in right now, and another on the rate of return various libraries have seen since their implementation of Summon, a competing but similar product to WCL offered by ProQuest. There is strong evidence, from both libraries operating WCL and from libraries utilizing Summon, that full-text article retrievals are up, most notably from smaller, more specialized sources. At WCL libraries, print circulation tends to rise post-WCL implementation as well.
For example, the University of Idaho, which has implemented WorldCat Local, has seen usage over print materials rise 20%, interlibrary loan requests rise 34%, and a 78% increase in full text article downloads. Summon libraries, such as the University of Houston, saw a 50% rise in full text article retrieval. They have also found that the Summon search service is pushing users to finding underutilized resources, such as special collections and multimedia items, and that it favors direct journal services (such as Sage) over aggregators such as EBSCO.
Part of my continuing duties at Holy Names University is my role as an instruction librarian. I provide information literacy education to students via workshops and research help sessions.
One of the best instruction-related programs I attended was Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity. The three speakers were current or former faculty for ACRL’s highly-regarded Immersion Program, a “boot camp” for instructional librarians, and the session reinforced many themes that are part of Immersion training — creative lesson planning; interactive, motivational presentation styles; and pedagogy grounded in research and assessment.
In addition to these presentations, I also had chances to sit and talk shop with a good mix of other instructional librarians, such as Michelle Millet, Tiffini Travis, Lea Engle, and Nicholas Schiller. In Schiller’s case, I’ve been reading his articles and stealing his classroom ideas for a year so it was great to get a chance to admit that to him. He didn’t seem to mind.
Out and About
New Orleans: what a city. While I admit I’m not such a fan of colorful drinks in plastic cups — I’d rather have one well-crafted cocktail than a half dozen cups of syrup-flavored alcohol — I have to admit that New Orleans knows how to have a good time, and a good time I had, passing from place to place with a gang of roving librarians I befriended. It’s hot in New Orleans in June (that’s not a newsflash, I realize), but the heat and humidity didn’t keep me from walking continuously from the Garden District, to the Warehouse District, along the river and into the French Quarter, and back again throughout the conference. Café Du Monde was naturally a regular destination, both late at night and after lunch, and I was shocked that a plate of three beignets was only two dollars and change — here in San Francisco, our tourist traps won’t sell anything for less than five dollars.
While I expected to meet hip, smart librarians from Brooklyn (and did) (stereotypes for the win!), there were smart, interesting people coming from all corners of the country — Indiana, Texas, Florida, and even Southern California. In between the beignets, coffee and occasional cocktails there was plenty of sharp chatter about information services, instructional technique, and emerging tech. All of it pointed to my original thesis in founding the Information Amateurs Social Club — that the best, most enlightening professional conversation happens in the informal air of casual conversation. Preferably with a drink in hand. Between the ALA Dance Party, the ALA Tweet-up, the ALA Facebook Afterparty, the Radical Reference Social, the HackLibSchool Social, and all of the more informal connecting in between (including a trip to the Voodoo Museum), I met many of my internet heroes and formed some genuine bonds of friendship I’m going to hang onto. And hopefully, someday, all of them will move to San Francisco. It’d be killer.
No report on the goings-on in New Orleans would be complete without mention of Battledecks, the competitive, improvisational battle of slideshow presentations that concluded the conference Monday night. My participation was not strictly speaking voluntary, but it was thrilling to speak right between Lisa Hinchliffe, President of ACRL, and widely known executive and public speaker Stephen Abram. However, I’m going to save my extended thoughts on that experience for a future post — once the videos have weaseled their way online and I can embed my performance right here on The Pinakes.
Recently I went to Philadelphia for a four day library conference. This one is about my first day in Philly, before the conference started. The city was not what I expected.
I arrived at the Philadelphia Airport Tuesday evening and hitched a ride into downtown Philly on their commuter rail. It took me directly into a subterranean stop that is now called Market East station, but is built under what had been the vast depot of the Reading Railroad (made famous by Monopoly). The massive pavilion above has now been converted into the Philadelphia Conference Center, where ACRL was to take place, and adjacent to and adjoining the hotel where I was staying. So I arrived at the station, walked up what seemed like two centuries of underground history, and directly into the hotel without feeling a hint of outside air. It was surreal, especially at night.
I struck out on foot that night in search of my first Philly cheesesteak sandwich, or as they simply call them locally, a steak. I’d been told by a former Philly local to head to a place called Jim’s Steaks on South Street. It was a good chance to explore the city on foot and see how it actually lives and breathes. Philly was nothing like I expected — all blue collar, Santa-booing meatheads. Instead I saw the quotient of hipsters on fixies I expect to see here at home, plus a community garden, and an anarchist bookstore. Swap the steak shops for taquerías, you’d be in San Francisco’s Mission District; swap them for vegan bakeries, you’d be in Portland, Oregon.
Jim’s Steaks was the antidote to this Hipsterdelphia. I walked up to the register to order, and the middle-aged local behind the counter (I’ll call him “Jim”) proceeded to ignore me while he finished a conversation with one of the other guys. Or, I thought I was just waiting until he finished what he was saying, but no. He just kept on talking, with me just a couple feet from him on the other side of the counter. Jim wouldn’t even turn his face my direction. He resolutely refused to acknowledge my existence. I should note that I’m the only customer in the store. This went on for more than one full, awkward minute. Now this is the Philly I had arrived expecting! Brusque assholes who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Here was authenticity. Thank you Jim.
Eventually the fry cook took pity on me, and summoned me over with a finger (not that one). I was supposed to order with him, and in their assembly line, I’d get passed down to the drink guy and then to Jim at the register. Didn’t matter that no one else was there — I still had to follow procedure. Once I had done that (note: I was not allowed to touch my beer until I had paid, even though they placed it on my tray), Jim was willing to acknowledge my existence. No mention of the prior awkwardness.
The steak, it should be said, was delish. I’d go back.
The next day I had to myself until the conference started in the late afternoon. Again I set out on foot, first finding a comfy coffeehouse (the negative Yelp reviews are amusing; accusations of hipsterdom abound, as if posting reviews on Yelp about the quality of their vegan goods isn’t an enormously hipster thing to do). It’s in a corner brick Victorian rowhouse in Philly’s gay district (Philly has a gay district? More things I did not know). Here the staff was actually friendly. Probably not natives. They made a solid cappuccino.
From there I was off to the ghastly but utterly fascinating Mütter Museum, a collection of human oddities (think strange skulls, deformed spines, babies in jars…) that was formed from the personal collection of 19th century physician Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter and has grown under the stewardship of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I’d entertain you with a collection of gory photographs of leather made from human flesh, a modern mummy, 19th century medical tools and all manner of human parts except the museum strictly forbade photography (not that that has stopped others; there’s plenty on flickr).
My museum trawling was not yet done; after that I walked to the Rosenbach Museum, on an elegant street of handsome rowhouses in the Rittenhouse Square district. The Rosenbachs were brothers engaged in the rare book trade in the first half of the twentieth century; they were extravagant bachelors, who entertained lavishly, enjoyed bourbon, pipes, and books, and made the savvy purchase of James Joyce’s handwritten Ulysses manuscript before the book became the icon it is today (amongst many other great purchases, including Herman Melville’s own bookcase, now filled with 1st edition copies of Moby Dick, on their ground floor). Their shops — in Philly and New York — were the locus of the American rare book trade for decades, and the collection of the Folger Library in Washington, DC and many other great private libraries were built by their acquisitions. The museum hosts hourly tours of their mansion and library, with exhibits on news coverage of the Civil War and Joyce’s years in Paris.
My final Wednesday stop before the conference started was lunch with an internet friend, Molly from yon Falling Molly blog. She’s mutual friends with my pal Jenny and we met up so she could teach me about Philly’s other local sandwich, roast pork with broccoli rabe. Because of legacy Quaker liquor laws, most small shops can’t get a liquor license, so they just let you bring in your own beer. So Molly arrived six-pack in hand and we chowed down on these massive, greasy, vinegary sandwiches. It took a couple hours to polish those monsters off (and the six-pack). Molly is both smart and funny; if you’re looking for an entertaining internet friend, you couldn’t do better.
After that I headed back to the conference for the opening keynote!
As an early-career librarian, I went to the CARL Conference hoping to get a glimpse of the latest trends in librarianship, and to come away with a sense of coming shifts in the profession I need to be aware of – a glimpse into my own future. What skills does the modern academic librarian need to have? What do they need to be ready to do? What are library patrons looking for now, and what will they be looking for in the years ahead? How can I shape my career in order to be on the forward edge of coming changes?
Changing the Metrics
The first plenary lecture, by Dr. Peter Hernon of Simmons College, covered a broad span of the issues he sees in the profession and some emerging trends. His shock statistic was that reference desk approaches are down 80% from where they used to be. This confirms what everyone has been saying since the advent of internet search: reference, as a department and core duty of librarianship, is in trouble.
I’ve written about reference before, and made it clear that I don’t believe reference is dead (see There He Sat With An Answer For All and my e-Portfolio Competency I). Still, even as an ardent backer of continued (though diversified) reference service, I have to agree that a MLIS graduate can no longer claim to be solely a reference specialist and expect to find work. These days, a librarian needs to have a wider set of skills; capable of providing reference, yes, but inevitably even a reference department librarian will have responsibilities in library instruction, collection development, electronic resources and so on.
The bigger issue is that many traditional statistics of library usage – reference inquiries, circulation, and so on – often indicate to university administrators that libraries are declining, ergo library budgets get cut. So libraries need to produce research – quantitative evidence – to show administrators all of the benefits of continued library support. It needs to become clear what value libraries are supplying students; what are students getting per tuition dollar provided to the library? New metrics can show just how vital libraries remain (some of the presentations I discussed in the Post-CARL Review, Pt. 1 had examples of just the sorts of quantitative research libraries can be doing).
Early Career Librarians
One of the final-day workshops I attended at the conference was a discussion of issues for early career librarians, hosted by Katherine O’Clair of Cal Poly, SLO. There was a lot of practical advice to be had, both in a general sense, and some for me and my situation specifically. Since it was an open discussion, a lot of the attendees had different points of view; some reiterated the commonly held belief that if you’re a paraprofessional (instead of a librarian) for more than a couple years, you’re stuck being a paraprofessional forever. Others disputed that assumption on the basis of the current economy; hiring managers will be more forgiving of non-professional level work on your résumé given of how few opportunities are out there right now.
The eventual consensus was that getting your first professional level job isn’t a function of how long you have or haven’t worked as a paraprofessional, but rather the relationship you’ve developed with your professional level colleagues, peers and professional organizations. It’s vital to develop connections, attend conferences, and write papers; these activities show a professional-level of interest and can make up for any deficiencies on your curriculum vitae.
Some very good personal advice I received from an established librarian attending the session was that my digitization experience at the California Academy of Sciences, while archival by nature and not at an academic library, still provided me a skill-set a lot of libraries don’t have on staff; he made the point that even if I’m applying for a reference or instructional-heavy academic position, I should promote my digitizing experience. That skill – even if a library hadn’t considered it a priority – could make me a more attractive candidate. I’m capable of stretching a job description (and an FTE) to include new responsibilities, increasing my value.
That concept really holds true to any skill you might have. Don’t discard arrows from your quiver just because they aren’t listed in a posted job description. Make sure a library that is hiring knows all the different things you can do (budgeting experience? supervisory experience? Mention it).
Overall, I feel I came away from the conference with a better idea of current trends in academic libraries and how to better market myself in what is a competitive market. And those are marks of a successful conference-going experience (another mark would be a good time socializing and networking; I did that too!).
I had a great time at the CARL Conference over April 8-10 in Sacramento. There was a lot to digest, in terms of insight and inspiration, and I’m hoping to distill at least a little bit of that wisdom here. There was a wide range of topics covered in the various presentations and speeches, but a couple subject areas jump out as being worthy of further discussion. My next couple posts on this blog will tackle these. First up: Library Instruction/Information Literacy.
About ten of the twenty-four official discussion sessions were focused on information literacy and instruction. Of these, I attended several, and came away with a lot of good ideas and an appreciation for the serious research going on in the subject right now.
Three staff librarians from Cal State-Long Beach presented their ongoing, 6-year research endeavor to determine the effectiveness of their library instruction program. Their presentation, “Are They Getting It: Seeking Evidence of Students’ Research Behavior Over Time” described their grant-funded project from its inception to its current state, two years into the study.
I’m impressed with the depth of their research. They started by developing a large sample of freshman students with the intention of following them throughout their education. Their analysis of the students’ research skills extend to studying the students’ research paper bibliographies for source and citation quality. This sort of extensive, longitudinal study is difficult to implement and ties up a lot of staff time and resources, but the results — sure to be published — will be of use to universities and colleges throughout California and beyond (which is why CARL was the main grant-giving body behind the project). It’s easy to suppose how and why information literacy programs are successful or not; it’s another thing to really study what’s happening in a quantitative manner.
One interesting takeaway from their presentation was their use of a statistician to analyze the substantial data their surveys were generating. You can’t merely collect information — it needs to be analyzed in a meaningful way. Sometimes it is best to bring in an outside expert instead of relying on in-house staff. Their statistician was able to model their data in several dimensions and changed their whole perspective on the information they had gathered — and saved the time and energy of the librarians themselves.
The presenters — Susan Jackson, Karin Griffin and Carol Perruso, all of CSULB — also provided extensive survey details in the form of handouts, including a timeline, survey questions, and project budget. While the survey will run for several years yet, I’m looking forward to their eventual results and what it will teach us about what works and what doesn’t, and how research behavior is evolving.
Working With a Campus Assessment Coordinator
Another example of using outsider expertise came from the presentation “Upstairs-Downstairs: Working with a Campus Assessment Coordinator and Other Allies for Effective Information Literacy Assessment” by Golden Gate University librarians Amy Hofer and Margot Hanson. In this case, their outsider was really an insider: the existing GGU Campus Assessment Coordinator. Still, they were reaching outside the lines of library staff to work with someone with a campus-wide responsibility, and more importantly, an understanding of program assessment.
According to their presentation, the advice and administrative approval they got from their use of the Campus Assesment Coordinator was essential for the success of their program study, which involved the startup of a new, embedded library instruction program that moved away from “one shot” instructional sessions in favor of an ongoing, semester-long engagement with a class. Their Assessment Coordinator started by asking what a successful program actually looked like, who was the audience for their study, and suggesting the use of a control group to put the study’s findings in context. They also devised measures to test discernible improvement in actual information use, rather than relying on the students’ self-assessment of their own information literacy (in the form of traditional satisfaction surveys).
Hofer and Hanson narrowed their research by focusing on a specific segment of the GGU student body, a special program for foreign-born students developing their English-language research skills (the PLUS program). Golden Gate University has an unusually high level of international students due to its emphasis on graduate-level business programs and location in the heart of downtown San Francisco. They were able to measure student research skills based on written tests and an analysis of work performed at the beginning and at the end of the school term, and saw marked improvement in two of the three categories they measured (the hardest area to improve was the students’ choice of subject, which is a critical thinking skill that can extend beyond the library’s sphere of influence).
The Golden Gate University study was a well-orchestrated example of research that would be easier to implement than CSULB’s expensive, time-consuming longitudinal study that would still yield relevant institutional results. More information about this study, including some of the test questions and suggested further reading is available here.
The Post-Google World
The final presentation at the conference I attended was an informative workshop built around information literacy program curriculum, and improving lesson content by reverse engineering the process: start with the (desired) results, and work backwards to build your lesson plan. Korey Brunetti and Lori Townsend of CSU-East Bay were joined by Julian Prentice of Chabot College to lead this session (Let’s Try This Again: Redefining the Content of Information Literacy for a Post-Google World) that combined an initial group presentation with a workshop-style open discussion using Prezi to capture the assembled attendees’ ideas.
There were a few big concepts that emerged:
- Keep your goals simple — reduce, reduce, reduce superfluous objectives in favor of imparting a few key, simple ideas on your students.
- Emphasize critical thinking skills across mediums. Ultimately, the source of a citation doesn’t matter (open web vs. subscription database vs. government website etc.), it’s the quality and verifiability of that source.
- Understand how contemporary students work and integrate better tools and critical decision-making into their existing study patterns.
This sessions’ notes and final “Prezi” will appear in the forthcoming CARL Conference Digital Proceedings.
I found a number of take-home lessons in this focus on information literacy programs. Beyond the simple opportunity to see how different libraries and universities are pursuing information instruction, it was instructive to see the value of both long-term and short-term research for improving existing programs, jump starting expanded programs and ultimately — and perhaps most importantly — proving the library’s enduring value to campus administrations.
Through each of these sessions were also woven excellent ideas for instruction curriculum in the 21st century; how best to capture the students’ attention and impart meaningful lessons that will actually impact their research methods in a positive way.
My next post will cover some of the career-development issues discussed at the conference, including Dr. Peter Hernon’s plenary lecture.
In 1891 the annual American Library Association conference ventured to the West Coast for the first time. The ALA came at the behest of the San Francisco Free Public Library and its director, John Vance Cheney. He had spent the greater part of the prior conference lobbying for the privilege of hosting the gathering. While San Francisco was already a sizable city – the self-proclaimed Paris of the West – it was still a far-off frontier to the East Coast American library establishment. After all, much of the region between East Coast and West – Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas – had only gained statehood in the two years prior, and Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona still remained territories. It took a three month round-trip for the caravan of librarians to arrive at the City by the Bay, in what sounds to me must have been a fascinating train ride (for the companionship of so many librarians, for so long, crossing a territory so vast). It must have made for quite the “pre-conference”.
The Papers and Proceedings of the ALA for 1891 and 1892 – available freely on Google Books – are filled with interesting personal and professional notes on the event, including one late night tour of subterranean Chinatown haunts (complete with Chinese opera). Librarians have been writing up accounts of their adventures for far longer than the Age of Blogging!
In 2010, the ALA Conference remains a mainstay event, but with far more than the 50 attendees of 1891 (and developed in ways that Cheney, Dewey and Windsor likely never anticipated). Meanwhile, there is an endless number of focused events a librarian can attend based on specialty, region, and various other factors. Some now take place entirely online (robbing us of the charm of the three month train trip…)
So far I’ve only dipped my toe in one library conference, the 2008 California Library Association (CLA) Conference. I was a San José State SLIS student at the time and was able to attend free of charge in return for volunteer hours at the Infopeople Booth. It was a worthy trade. I found a presentation on Zotero to be quite useful, and greatly enjoyed the keynote speakers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. The booth time itself turned out to be a great hands-on learning experience with a variety of interesting gadgets and gizmos (with varying degrees of library-related usefulness). However, because of other commitments my time at the conference was limited.
I’ll have a more substantial conference experience with the upcoming California Academic and Research Libraries conference in Sacramento, April 8-10. I plan on attending the entire event (I’ll be commuting in each day with my friend Carolyn in lieu of the cross-country train ride). And while my experience in Sacramento may lack late night adventures in Chinese Opera, I’ll still do my best to write up accounts of my adventures on these digital pages here.