Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Tale of Two Sessions

Not long ago I taught two library sessions for two introductory composition classes with the same professor and the same assignment on the same day. I love it when the schedule serendipitously works out to make that happen, in part because it gives me the chance to informally evaluate my teaching: both what I tend to cover and how I structure those sessions.

Like many librarians, I’ve struggled over the past few years to move away from me standing at the front of the class talking talking talking, so I can increase the amount of time for students to work on their own research during the library session. Students are supposed to come to the session having already selected a topic for their research assignment (though not all of them do, of course). I try to spend no more than 10-15 minutes each discussing and demonstrating internet research, the library catalog, and article databases, interspersed with 10-15 minute chunks of time for students to search on their own while I circulate to answer questions and offer suggestions.

Our class sessions are 75 minutes long — this is a lot to do in 75 minutes. I’ve tried to work around those constraints by seriously abbreviating my demo and looking for ways to interject more information while students search on their own. For example, I won’t mention that spelling counts or talk about the difference between keywords and subject headings in a catalog search, but when a student asks me how to revise a search when she hasn’t retrieved any results, I’ll answer her question so the whole class can hear.

Sometimes, though, the class is quiet and the students don’t ask many questions. In these cases I always feel somewhat strange: I walk around the room a bit, but I don’t want to pace back and forth like an old-fashioned school marm monitoring an exam. I check in with the students who look like they’re lost (or Facebooking), but that can be hard to do with students who don’t seem interested in my help, and some of them are genuinely, quietly doing their work. Sometimes I stand in front of the class fiddling with the computer or looking at my notes. This is what happened in the second class I taught last week, and it feels awkward.

But sometimes the less talk more search strategy works really well, which also happened last week. In the first class students were talkative and interested, volunteering answers to my questions during the demos and spending time on their own searches in between. However, there was a wide range of student preparation for the assignment in this class, with some students still working to narrow down a topic and others ready to go. Additionally, several students came to the session with obvious prior experience searching for sources for academic work. In this case I was able to give each student a small amount of personalized attention, which let me suggest topic narrowing strategies to some and advanced search strategies to others.

I chatted with the course professor after both classes who mentioned that in her experience the afternoon class is just a quieter group of students overall (I’d originally suspected post-lunch digestive sleepiness). But it’s still a challenge — what’s the right balance of talking and search time? Will I ever be able to shake that weird, conspicuous feeling while students search and I just stand there? What are some other ways that I can encourage students to open up and ask the questions that I suspect they have?

Collaboration In Librarian Scholarship Part II

Thanks for all the comments on my earlier post How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

Here’s what we came up with at my place of work as a revision (still a draft) for our disciplinary standards for Librarian scholarship. We wanted to honor both sole-author and collaborative works:

“First or sole-authored works are highly valued but the nature of work in librarianship is often collaborative. Collaborative scholarship between librarians within the field of librarianship and interdisciplinary collaboration between librarians and scholars in other fields is common, encouraged, and highly valued. The sole-authored work is not necessarily the benchmark…but multi-authored works require the candidate to document the extent of their contribution and the nature of the collaboration.”

If anyone else has statements addressing collaboration in their campus documents and is willing to share I’d be interested to see them.

For more on collaboration, the first article below documents the increasing collaboration in librarian scholarship over the years, and the second has some good advice for how to document collaboration so that it can be evaluated.

Alice Harrison Bahr and Mickey Zemon, “Collaborative
Authorship in the Journal Literature: Perspectives for Academic Librarians Who Wish to Publish.” C&RL 61 (2000): 410-419.

Elizabeth G. Creamer, “Promoting the Effective Evaluation of Collaboratively Produced Scholarship: A Call to Action” in Advancing Faculty Learning Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 102, Summer 2005.

Finishing Strong: Manage The Ending

When it comes to things like the reference transaction, library instruction or our personal presentations, we often are advised to get things off to a good start. Ask the right questions to quickly find out what the user really wants. Start with an attention grabber to draw in the learner. Make eye contact and be friendly improve one’s approachability. This is all good advice. Failure to capture attention or gain trust at the start of an interaction is sure to reduce the likelihood for a productive ending. However, we may focus too much of our energy on the beginning of the experiences we deliver to our community members and colleagues, and not enough on the ending. It may actually be more critical to finish strong as opposed to the big start.

I’m currently reading the book Living With Complexity by Don Norman. While we often hear that we need to improve our libraries by making them more simple to use (and that certainly applies to electronic resources), Norman does not necessarily agree. He acknowledges that in life we must deal with complexity – it is unavoidable. Research, for example, done well is by necessity complex in nature. Students, in seeking to avoid complexity, will do what they can to make it simple. We learned more about their strategies recently, and the challenges it presents to both writing instructors and librarians. Even the act of proper citation presents complexity. But Norman, who is often credited with coining the term “user experience” and champions human-centered design, does not advocate simplicity over complexity. He writes:

Complexity is part of the world and shouldn’t be puzzling: we can accept it if we believe this is the way things must be…But when complexity is random and arbitrary, then we have reason to be annoyed…Modern technology can be complex, but complexity by itself is neither good or bad; it is confusion that is bad.

According to Norman complexity is not the problem in our world. The problem is bad design that turns complexity into confusion, for which there is no excuse. Norman writes that “Good design can help tame complexity, not by making things less complex – for the complexity is required – but by managing the complexity”. That presents a challenge to us academic librarians. Rather than just asking how we make the complex more simple for our students, we might be better to ask how we can manage the complexity through better design.

That’s a challenge we may want to take up in future posts and conversations. In this post I want to bring your attention to one smaller concept within the book that relates more specifically to how people recall experiences, particularly ones that may include complexity – which could be considered unpleasant. We certainly would prefer that our community members recall their library experience as being pleasant rather than painful, boring or simply forgettable. Norman has a fascinating chapter dedicated entirely to the design of waiting. Waiting in lines is among the worst experiences we encounter. As Norman describes it a line is a “simple phenomenon…that can give rise to considerable complications.” Therefore, designing a better waiting experience can be crucial to the success of any business that requires people to wait. Norman gives multiple examples of organizations that turn waiting lines into assets through thoughtful design. In our academic libraries waiting is usually not a problem. There is rarely waiting in long lines to enter the building, we don’t find long queues at the reference desk these days, and if you need line management strategies for your instruction sessions, please let me know. So how does the design of waits relate to our work?

It’s all about memory because memory is more important than reality. We need to pay attention to this because it’s in our best interest as librarians to do everything we can to make sure the community members seek out our services in the future. Whether they do that or not is connected to each experience they have with us. Norman writes that “your future behavior will be controlled by your memories”. Think about that. We all make decisions about where we like to go and the things we want to do based on our past memories of the experiences we’ve had. You’re not likely to return to a restaurant where you recall the food or service as being unpleasant. The memory of that experience is likely not the same as the reality of that event, but rather a distorted version that exists only in your mind. Norman shares research that tells us that human memory is not a precise recall of things as they really happened but simply active reconstructions of an experience subject to revisionist history. That bad experience you recall may actually be some amalgamation of multiple bad experiences at different times that your brain is re-mixing into a newly manufactured memory that is by no means an accurate reflection of reality. And that’s why a big finish is all the more important for librarians.

Strong starts are still important because that’s your one shot at getting the audience to invest their time and interest in what you have to say. You still must deliver good content through the instruction session or presentation. It’s the middle where most of the complexity happens, and that’s the part of the experience that we want attendees to remember – but not unfavorably. What we can learn from the experts who design experiences is that the best way to get people to favorably recall those more unavoidable unpleasantries is to manage the ending so well that when the entire experience is recalled a pleasant, dynamic or unique ending may well be what is most remembered about the experience. It then makes the entire experience, even the complexion parts, seem better overall when it is remembered. Sequentially, the end is also easier for us to remember than the beginning given our short-term memories. A strong finish can overcome the pain derived from an encounter with complexity. That ending might be something powerful such as sharing a video with a strong message. It might be something as simple as handing out a memento (e.g., a pen) at the end of the session, or ending with a good story.

When you design your next instruction session or presentation, or in giving thought to how you end reference transactions or consultations, consider giving as much if not more thought to your finish as you do to your beginning. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. But your first impression will likely be less well remembered than the one with which you choose to end. So design and manage that last impression well.

Commit To Sharing Three Things You Learn At ALA

Editor’s Note: In this second in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, William Breitbach, a Librarian from California State University-Fullerton sponsored by CLS Section of ACRL, shares his thoughts on how to get more out of your conference experience by sharing what you know after the conference. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few months leading up to the Conference.

Just about every innovation or new project we start at our library can be traced back to something we learned at a conference. This year the instruction librarians at my library did a self assessment based on the ACRL Standards and Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians. The idea for this assessment came from a colleague who saw a presentation at LOEX by Maria Accardi. This assessment not only provided the opportunity for us to reflect on our work, but helped us chart a course for the future or our instruction program. It was all well worth the short conversation with a colleague that inspired it.

Conferences are rife with the exchange of ideas and information. We can certainly do better than simply implement something new in our own practice. We can and should continue the conversation. When you return, chances are you will have a library full of interested colleagues who were not able to attend the conference.

To continue the dialogue commit to sharing three things you will learn at ALA 2011, and discuss how each might be relevant to your library. You can share all three to a large group at your next reference team, department or unit meeting or share one or two things with a few individuals. No matter how you share, you are more likely to benefit from the learning and dialogue that goes on at a conference if you continue the conversation. Moreover, you are also more likely to experiment with new ideas/practices if you talk to people about them. A commitment to share will provide more than a personal and professional benefit. Sharing what you learn could make a great impact on your entire institution. Who knows, your dean or director may be more willing to foot the conference bill if you come back with a few new ideas and poised to share what you know.

How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

Librarianship is a collaborative field. We’re always trying to collaborate with someone–teaching faculty, IT people, students, even (gasp!) other librarians. In terms of librarian scholarship, co-authored and multi-authored works are common if not the norm.

When it’s time to evaluate multi-authored works for reappointment, tenure and promotion, how do we estimate contribution and assign credit? Does a co-authored work “count” as half of a sole authored work? Is someone who has a lot of multi-authored works “padding” their CV, or are they master collaborators? When writers collaborate, are they merely dividing the labor, or has some synergy occurred and have they produced something that neither could have produced on their own? Do we need to be doing more to promote and reward effective librarian collaboration in scholarship?