Monthly Archives: May 2008

Office Hours?!

I just completed a semester-long experiment in which I held a office hour over in my department’s building, which is a 10-minute walk from the library. The dean gave me a converted janitor’s closet, my own key, and the administrative assistant made me a door sign to match everyone else’s. Now that the semester’s over, I’m evaluating that experience, wondering if I should do it again.

I officially saw 8 people during the semester, a mix of undergraduates, grad students, and faculty. Unofficially, the stats are much higher: I ran into people in the hallway, bathroom, and going in & out of the building. Some faculty popped their heads in & said “oh! I didn’t know you were here! great!” while others apologized for the janitorial-closet nature of the space. I confess that I worked some librarian magic. My favorite example was when a grad student came in looking for an “unpublished dissertation;” her advisor suggested she get in touch with me, and she’d been so busy, blah blah blah, but now that I was *here*, did I have any ideas for her? She was getting frantic! I efficiently pulled up ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, asked for the author’s name, and … found the dissertation. Disbelief and joy on the student’s part. She copied the pdf dissertation onto her USB drive and went on her way. A few minutes later, the advisor came in and repeated the story. I told her I’d just met with the student and given her the dissertation. More disbelief and joy.

So yes, the office hour was definitely a success – especially combining the actual work with the PR value of being in the building on a regular basis. If I do it again (hopefully I’ll still have time next semester), I expect more business.

I was curious if traditional faculty were talking about office hours in their blogs and was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of discussion about it. (How did I find out? I created a Google Custom Search Engine for the faculty blogosphere, which is in early beta) Tenured Radical struggles with how to get students to know when her office hours are, and how to avoid the last minute rush: “I will sit in my office reading for two and a half weeks, give or take a student here and there, and then seventy or eighty people will try to see me in a window of about 72 hours and/or try to make appointments when I can’t possibly be there.” There are 25+ comments from folks offering support and advice.

Many commenters mention putting office hours in your sig file; another says he tells his students in EACH class when his office hours are; others require students to sign up in advance and giving preference to those who do. I like Lesboprof‘s suggestion of creating an online calendar for students to access and set up their own time to meet with you; that’s on my list of things to try out this summer. The best set of comments, though, are those from Tenured Radical’s students at “Zenith University.” It’s great to see their side of the office hours conundrum; most striking is one from a student who reminds us all that college students are right out of high school, and in high school, you only went to see the teacher if you were “bad” — explaining why first-year college students might have an aversion to meeting with their professors. (The student comments are towards the bottom of the comment section)

There are other interesting posts about office hours as well. Over at Tomorrow’s Professor Blog, which is a partnership between MIT and Stanford, they’ve excerpted an article called Teaching in the U.S. Classroom (from Stanford’s Speaking of Teaching newsletter) that discusses the difference between office hours in the U.S. and in other countries:

“The U.S. model differs from more traditional uses of the office hour as a tutorial in which the instructor takes more of an authoritative role, lecturing and guiding the conversation, rather than letting the student’s needs set the pace for the interaction.”

At the end of the article is a handy set of guidelines for international students about holding office hours.

And Dean Dad, at Confessions of a Community College Dean, talks about office hours in the context of online courses. Anonymous comments “I feel I am more available for students and have more contact with them online than in my office;” her/his comment contains some additional ideas about communicating with students online, which might resonate with librarians … Dr. Free Ride comments

My online students come to my “live” office hours in much greater numbers than my “live” students ever have. And, they don’t just come when they’re desperately confused; they actually come just to shoot the breeze about the issues raised by the course.

As a librarian, do you hold office hours? Do you get involved in your faculty’s office hours?

Time flies … or does it?

I’m always hearing people say things like “I can’t believe how fast [xxx] has gone” or “It’s that time already??” And I’m sometimes one of those people. In a few short days it will be June. That puts me only two and a half months from my one year library anniversary. In fact, at this exact time last year, I was interviewing for my job. I’m tempted to say that time has flown, and I can’t believe that I’ve already survived two full semesters of being an academic librarian. But as I look back on the past year, in some ways it has seemed excruciatingly slow. I’ve made the leap into librarianship fairly well, all things considering: I’ve joined committees, volunteered for programs, taken a swing at professional writing (thanks, ACRLog!), and faithfully continued my professional development. It’s my actual job that has slowed me down at times. There have been so many things to learn and figure out, and at times it has seemed overwhelming at best.

As I was thinking about this today, I happened to open my College & Research Libraries journal, and I came across a very timely and relevant article: “Adjusting to the Workplace: Transitions Faced by New Academic Librarians” by Joanne Oud (in the May 2008 volume, page 252). This article follows the experiences of librarians in their first years (three or less) as new academic librarians in Canada, and discusses things like pre-existing knowledge vs. reality in relation to issues such as job skills.

I found many of the comments from the librarians to be very familiar to my thought processes over the past year. One part of the study looked at differences from expectations prior to employment. Among the surprises, flexibility of duties and unstructured work days were frequently mentioned. For some, this was a good thing, for others, it was a struggle to know how best to fill up their “free” time. I’ve felt both ways since starting my job, and, again, it’s caused time to seemingly fly or drag. On the one hand, when I have projects to work on, I hardly look at the clock until quitting time. But other days, when things are a little slow, I have occasionally felt completely confused and at a loss as to what is expected of me. Luckily, I’m of the type that usually does more than is asked, and I’m not especially fond of just sitting around. So the “minutes ticking by” days are, for the most part, few and far between.

The study also asked new librarians the open-ended question, “What was the hardest thing for you to learn?” The most common responses ranged from “how to say no to assignments/projects” to “how to express disagreement effectively” to “getting things done.” I’ve always had trouble with refusing things (especially if a person asks nicely), but I know this is something I should get better at, as there are only so many things I can pile on my plate. Likewise, I need to work on properly expressing myself when I disagree with someone or something (and doing so without apologizing profusely). I do think I have the “getting things done” part down; thanks to my love of crossing things off the many to-do lists plastered around my desk.

I’d be interested in hearing comments by others who have read Oud’s article. If you’re a new librarian, do you agree with the comments in the study? If you’ve been in the profession longer than 3 years, do you remember these types of issues from your first years? I suspect the answer, for both questions, will be a resounding “yes.”

More To Bezos Than Books Or Kindles

If you’re about my age you may remember when Bruce Springsteen appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek the very same week (Oct. 27, 1975). It was a pretty big deal. Outside of a president or other world political figure, simultaneous mutual admiration by multiple highly read national magazines is pretty rare. While history didn’t exactly repeat itself with multiple covers, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, came pretty darn close. He is featured in major articles in Wired (May 2008), BusinessWeek and Fortune (May 5, 2008). All the articles appeared within a week’s space.

When academic librarians talk about Amazon.com the conversation is mostly about their book business or, more recently, the Kindle. But we should perhaps spend more time directing our attention to the person that runs Amazon, Jeff Bezos. When people think of books I don’t doubt that many of them think of Amazon before they think of libraries – if they think of libraries at all. And Amazon is certainly far ahead of libraries in providing a platform that allows customers to add content to their website and engage in conversation with each other. I’m not suggesting that academic librarians should view Amazon as a competitor. After all, we’re not even in the same business. Amazon is an online retailer. Academic libraries are in the learning business. What we should be doing is studying how Bezos has turned Amazon into an innovation machine (although the Fortune article sees Amazon as an “iteration” machine – one that makes lots of small moves and learns quickly from its missteps).

For the last year or so there’s been a fair amount of chatter about innovation in the library world, on blogs and at conferences. That’s good because as a profession we need to drive innovation in our libraries. What sometimes concerns me is that some of what I hear about innovation sounds like a mixed bag of platitudes. Perhaps just understanding innovation is part of our challenge. I prefer a description of innovation from an article titled “Innovation in Organizations in Crisis” in the fall 2007 issue of Design Management Review. According to the authors, Cherkasky and Slobin, innovation is finding new ways of creating value and bringing them to life. Simple and elegant. It’s not about inventing something new and it’s not about making big changes at your library at a pace that makes heads spin. Here’s what Bezos has to say about innovation in the BusinessWeek article:

Companies get skills-focused, instead of customer-needs focused. When [companies] think about extending their business into some new area, the first question is “why should we do that—we don’t have any skills in that area.” That approach puts a finite lifetime on a company, because the world changes, and what used to be cutting-edge skills have turned into something your customers may not need anymore. A much more stable strategy is to start with “what do my customers need?” Then do an inventory of the gaps in your skills. Kindle is a great example. If we set our strategy by what our skills happen to be rather than by what our customers need, we never would have done it. We had to go out and hire people who know how to build hardware devices and create a whole new competency for the company.

I commend you to read these three articles; your libraries have them if you can’t find them online just yet. We can learn about innovation from the thought leaders of business. Some of our best successes – considerable innovations for academic libraries such virtual reference, cafes in the library and self-service automated operations – had their roots as innovative business products. Given that the ACRL conference is in Seattle (Amazon’s HQ) in 2009 I was hoping that Bezos would be an invited speaker. ACRL recently released the keynote and invited speakers, and while it looks like a great lineup, Bezos is not among them. Releasing the Kindle was a significant innovation for Amazon, and a major risk for Bezos. Innovation or iteration, there are lessons academic librarians can learn from Bezos about ways to lead in the learning business?

BTW, thanks for some good comments to some recent posts. While I still think some of you are misunderstanding me when I use “leaders” and “library directors” (or library deans or whatever you like to call it) interchangeably, I appreciate it when you share your views. But not everyone leaves a comment. Some bloggers prefer to put their response into their own posting. ACRLog readers may not catch those so here are two I recommend to you: “But What If I Don’t Want it All?” over at Academic Librarian and “Teaching Technology/ies” over at info-mational.

First Year Out – Just Not That Into Us

A sociologist at my institution, Tim Clydesdale, has written a book, The First Year Out, about the mindset of students during their first year out of high school. A main point of the book is that during their first year of college, students are primarily concerned with issues relating to “daily life management,” especially relationships with friends and family. Only after students have the “first year project” behind them will they become more open to the possibility of serious intellectual engagement.

I found this very helpful in explaining some of the complete blank looks I get in some of my instruction sessions with first years. It also fit well with my memory of my own first year of college. Clydesdale suggests changing our expectations for first year students and doing a better job of meeting them where they are. He suggests using any material in classes that has to do with personal relationships or personal conflict.

An example I thought of for library instruction could be that when introducing first year students to the variety of information sources–books, magazines, journal articles, web sites etc. to be also sure to include “people” as information sources. Talk about professors, librarians, and friends as sources of information. From there you could introduce the idea of trust and credibility, and how we trust the word of some people more than others. Then apply that to information, and how some information sources are trusted more than others.

In trying to understand and reach students, it’s useful to not lump them all together as “millennials” and to remember that first years are different. They’ve got a lot going on, and most of it’s not academic.

Santa, The Easter Bunny And The Information Literacy Class

Here’s my quiz question for you. What do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and an information literacy class all have in common? That’s right. They are all a figment of your imagination.

If you still believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, well go right ahead. I don’t see any harm in it. But let me argue that there is no such thing as an information literacy class, and that futhermore, we do ourselves a disservice when using that terminology. “Information literacy class” implies that when students walk out the door they are information literate. After all, the students just sat through an academic librarian’s 50 to 90 minutes of information literacy instruction, so therefore they must now be information literate. Sounds kind of ridiculous doesn’t it. So why are so many academic librarians referring to their instruction time with students as information literacy classes? Does it sound more authoritative? Will it fool the accreditors? I just don’t get it, and this is about more than quibbling over semantics.

Here’s the disservice part. No student becomes information literate in a single class or a few classes or even a semester of exposure to information literacy classes. When we promote what is really a single instruction event to faculty as an information literacy class we perpetuate the myth that students can become information literate in a single class. It’s then no surprise to hear faculty asking why librarians need to come to the sophomore writing courses. “But you gave them your information literacy class when they took the freshman introduction to writing seminar. They’re information literate now, right.”

Wrong. Information literacy is a program or initiative created and implemented by a team of academic librarians in collaboration with faculty and administrators. Whether you design it to be compartmentalized or distributed, it is intended to be tiered and delivered across the curriculum. There should be stated outcomes and a plan for assessing whether those outcomes are achieved. And information literacy should be designed to create long-term change in the affective domain. That is the learning domain where values are shaped over many years. Value systems are unchanged in the short term, and certainly not in a single class. Learning experts tell us that creating a shift in a student’s value system is a long-term proposition. Veteran information literacy librarians know it can take years for undergraduates to internalize those qualities that define being information literate. So let’s not delude ourselves or anyone on our campuses that there is such a thing as an information literacy class.

Call those classes what they are – library instruction sessions – research instruction sessions – or research skills sessions. But do make it clear to your faculty and administrators that the sessions are where the rubber of your information literacy initiative meets the road. It is within those sessions that specific articulated objectives, each connected in some small way to a much larger outcome, help students develop the research skills and values that over time and in a cumulative fashion will have them leaving your institution as information literate lifelong learners.

The information literacy class? It’s time we get a grip on reality and realize it doesn’t exist.