Monthly Archives: February 2012

What Are the Next Steps?

It’s a phrase often heard at the end of a meeting: what are our next steps? When I worked as a web editor and project manager we called them action items (which is, admittedly, corporate jargon, but also makes them sound kind of fun). What does each person at the meeting need to do to keep the work going, to move the project forward, to get closer to completion?

It’s also a question I’ve asked myself lately about open access in general and three OA-related issues specifically: the introduction of the opposing U.S. bills the Research Works Act (RWA) and the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), and the Elsevier boycott. I’ve done the reading. I’ve signed the Open Access Pledge and the Elsevier boycott list at The Cost of Knowledge. I’ve contacted Congressional Representatives to express my opposition to RWA and support of FRPAA. I’m following @FakeElsevier on Twitter.

But what are my next steps? What should they be?

At my university there’s an Open Access Publishing interest group, and we found ourselves asking that very question at our last meetup. The group is more than just librarians — faculty in other disciplines as well as graduate students are members, too. But what can we do to widen the circle of OA advocacy to include more librarians, faculty in other departments, and graduate students?

Several of our college libraries have Open Access Week events each year, but could we have more events, speakers, or presentations? I suspect that faculty will listen most closely to colleagues in their field. Should we try to find an OA champion in each discipline and work with them to disseminate open access knowledge? What else can we do to win the ears of the graduate students (who are, after all, both current and future faculty)?

This post is more questions than answers, I know. But with the news about all three OA issues having spilled over from the usual academic press outlets and into the mainstream media, it seems like a good opportunity for librarians who advocate for open access to try (again) to widen the discussion to our colleagues both inside and outside the library. What are your next steps for open access?

Digital Library, Virtual Place?

All of our academic library services and resources have their origins in the physical world, but many of them can be and are replicated online fairly easily. Access to collections in multiple formats (text, image, audio, video), reference services, and library and information literacy instruction all have digital variants, and examples of each are out there in the academic library universe (though not all libraries may implement an online version of every physical service or resource that they offer). Of course any service or resource can be improved, but there are lots of well-understood and tested models for moving these kinds of services and resources from the physical to the digital world.

But what about another important reason that students (and sometimes faculty) come to the library: a place for academic work and study? There’s lots of recent research on (and speculation on potential) student uses of the library as place. We all grapple with issues around these uses of our buildings: quiet vs. noise, group work vs. individual study, technology-enhanced workspaces, etc. If your college or university is seeing lots of growth in student enrollment the way mine is, you may be noticing some of these issues increasingly often.

The library is different from other spaces students might choose for study and academic work. In my own research I’ve often heard this from students: how they sometimes struggle to find a spot in the library with the ideal combination of light, sound, and space for them to work in, and that they find it challenging to create a space for study in areas outside of the library: at home, on the commute, etc. Some students describe specific college libraries in my university system as “serious” and prefer to work there rather than their enrolled college library. Space for academic work matters to our students, very much.

Is it possible (or even advisable) to replicate or provide an online alternative to the academic library as a place to study? As Laura’s recent post pointed out, our libraries can be spaces for all sorts of productive conversations and collaborations, both formal and informal. But I’m in a small library in a large commuter college, and on urban campuses like mine it can be difficult to find locations to expand our physical space. I tend to view adding online services and resources as a strategy we can try to address some of the limitations of the physical world.

Is there an analog to the library as place in the digital world? Should there be?

Learning to Embrace the Uncomfortable

Please welcome Veronica Wells to the ACRLog team. Veronica is the Access Services/Music Librarian at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. She is currently in her first professional position after earning an MLIS and Master of Arts in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Veronica’s research interests include assessment of music information literacy instruction, incorporating emerging technologies into library instruction in a meaningful way, and best practices for educating faculty and students on Copyright Law and intellectual property.

“Be comfortable with being uncomfortable” is something I frequently hear my yoga teachers say. Usually this comes in midway through class, when sweat is dripping and hearts are racing. Part of my mind is saying “Mayday! Mayday! Let’s get out of here!” while the other part is saying “I’m too exhausted to do anything more.” But somehow or another, one pose at a time, I make it through class. And I’m gradually learning that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable shows you areas in which you have room to grow.

I was once a yoga teacher myself, a job that typically involves a lot of talking and demonstrating. When I began teaching information literacy sessions, I adopted a similar instructional style. After a short period of adjustment to the very different subject matter, I fell into a comfortable routine: (1) talk at students about research; (2) demonstrate the various library tools; (3) help students one-on-one as they practice individually.

What has always made me uncomfortable — and I mean very uncomfortable — is group work. I’ve always loathed group work, even in high school. Whenever a teacher mentioned that we were going to do a “group activity,” my heart would instantly start to race and my palms would sweat. I feared and hated being forced into collaborations with people I did not know and so I often didn’t contribute much and typically allowed my group members to complete the work. Thus, I never learned much from group activities.

This year I’ve been trying to practice being uncomfortable in my teaching sessions. After thinking a lot about my teaching and reading some excerpts from books like What the Best College Teachers Do by Kevin Bain and The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer, I’ve realized that the way I had been teaching was completely informed by the way I like to learn. I was teaching to a bunch of mini-mes, but not every student learns the way that I do. Once I understood the reason I was shying away from group activities, I was able to move beyond my own prejudices.

I made a resolution this school year to try to do a group activity in each of my library sessions. Some of these have involved looking at articles to determine if they are scholarly or popular. Others have taken the form of scavenger hunts in the library. And guess what? Just like in yoga, embracing the uncomfortable moments has allowed me to grow. It has made me more confident in my abilities as a librarian and educator and it has permitted me to let go of some of my issues with trying to control every moment of my library sessions.

Group activities have also greatly benefited my students. They give them the opportunity to speak with and learn from each other. They turn the library classroom into a laboratory where students can experiment with new ideas or library tools. Perhaps I’ve been lucky thus far because in all my group activities, the students have helped to bring each other up as opposed to competing with one another.

I still have a ways to go before I’m entirely comfortable with group activities. For instance, I have a tendency to spend more time preparing than is necessary. As with most things involving change, this will take baby steps.

In what ways can you make your teaching uncomfortable?