Managing the Overwhelm

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Lindsay O’Neill, Instructional Design Librarian at California State University, Fullerton.

The minute I accepted Cal State Fullerton’s offer to become a tenure-track librarian at Pollak Library, I entered The Overwhelm. I had to negotiate an out-of-state move with my partner (who had recently returned home from a year-long deployment), quit my job, resign as president and help find a replacement for my Toastmasters club, pack up our home, find a place to live, and start all over in a new place trying to make new friends while figuring out what an Instructional Design Librarian was supposed to do in a library that just created the position, while also finishing a second graduate degree.

I had almost exactly six weeks from offer to start date – in a new state! Fortunately California is right next door to Arizona; I can’t imagine having to make a cross-country move. When my first day finally arrived, I had mostly settled into my new apartment and was ready to work, and felt like if I could get through those six weeks of moving stress, I could get through anything. However, the tenure-track comes with its own special set of challenges, and these will last at least six years. Before I started, I don’t think I truly processed how much work a tenure-track position would be, and I kept hearing this word “research.” What is this “research” I’m supposed to perform, anyway? I think I spent the first month of work in a daze.

A contributing factor to The Overwhelm (a great term I got from this article) is the fact that I’m brand new to librarianship. I earned my MLIS in 2011 after working on it for three and a half years while I was employed full-time at a resort in Yosemite National Park. I interned several times and was a finalist for several out-of-state librarian jobs that didn’t pan out before I landed a staff position at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library in 2012.

After three library internships, I was delighted to be getting paid for my labors – in a full-time position with benefits, no less! As a staff-person I was lucky to have a supportive boss that encouraged me to do committee work, pitch in with freshman instruction sessions, and promote our department through displays and a Twitter account. Working in a library allowed me expanded access to networking and professional development. I had the opportunity to attend two Arizona State Library Association annual conferences, which so far are the only conferences I’ve been able to attend. I even presented a poster at last year’s on using Twitter to promote unique collections.

What was really great about working at a university was being able to take advantage of the employee tuition waiver to pursue a second master’s degree in Instructional Design. I’m finishing it up this semester and I’m delighted that I landed a job that uses both of my graduate degrees. Heck, it uses my English degree, too. What are the odds?

In my brief experience so far as a shiny new librarian, I’ve discovered that being a librarian means a lot more collaboration and a lot less working in a silo, and figuring out most of your job yourself rather than being handed set duties. I was granted my very own office with a computer and a gorgeous view and then basically left to myself. I spent my first month attending trainings, meeting new people, and trying to keep my head from spinning as I crammed more and more information about my new workplace into it.

Figuring out my job really meant figuring out who I should talk to, and asking lots of questions. I listened carefully when I was introduced to someone new. It seemed like everyone had a different idea about what I would be working on (Video tutorials? LibGuides redesign? Learning badges? Assessment? All of the above?). I also spent a lot of quality time exploring the library’s online presence in particular to help me decide where the library’s instructional needs lay – and decided to start with video tutorials, since the library’s YouTube offerings were sparse and a little dated. For my in-person interview, they asked me to teach them to create a learning object in a short twenty-minute lesson, so that’s a natural direction to take in my first year.

I’m happy to report that the first month at my new job was the hardest (so far). In the second month I started to emerge from The Overwhelm. Couldn’t say the same for my partner – he split his time between here and Arizona for months until he found something local. But he’s really happy with his new position (new commute, not so much) and while he’s dealing with his own Overwhelm now, I have nothing but optimism that his job hunt and my new career will be successful.

Appreciating Open Access Advocates

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Happy Open Access Week, everyone! Though maybe it’s not the happiest of weeks this year… Last Friday the news broke about the appeal of the Georgia State University e-reserves case. It looks like many of the rulings in favor of fair use from the initial suit may be overturned, though it’s not certain exactly how things will shake out yet. Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications Officer at Duke University, shared a few early thoughts on his blog, and Nancy Sims, Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota, wrote a longer post discussing the ruling. I’m sure we’ll see much more conversation about this in the coming weeks.

I’m disappointed about the ruling, for sure, but in some ways this just makes my support of open access and open educational resources that much stronger. The academic and textbook publishing model we have cannot be sustained. Students have already pulled way back in buying textbooks and required readings for their courses, and libraries can’t purchase these materials (or pay copyright fees) infinitely or perpetually. I work at the City University of New York, the largest urban public university in the U.S. Forty-seven percent of CUNY students live in households with an annual income of less than $25,000. My library does purchase textbooks for reserve and they are used so heavily by our students that many are beyond repair by the end of the academic year. Textbooks can represent a significant portion of students’ expenses, any many of them just can’t buy the books.

As these forces continue to converge, I’m hopeful that faculty and administrators will be ever more receptive to open access and open educational resource advocacy. We’ve been talking about this for many years at my college and university, and while it’s sometimes frustrating to have to say the same things over and over again, we’re definitely starting to see results. Some are department or college level initiatives, like the precalculus textbook that two members of my college’s Math department wrote. It’s available as a printable/downloadable PDF (which students can print for free in the library and other computer labs on campus), or as a print on demand book for $13.00. All sections of the course are now using the book, and the authors are sharing it throughout the university.

At the university level, this fall the central library office at CUNY is sponsoring an OER course on OERs (so meta!). The course runs online over two weeks and includes materials and discussion, and aims to teach faculty how to create or curate OERs for their own courses. Faculty receive a small stipend for completing the course. The response to this course offering has been huge, and there’s already a waiting list for the next time the course will run. I was delighted to learn that the faculty response and interest from my college was particularly strong, and added those folks to my mental list of folks who might be open to further advocacy efforts or partnerships with the library.

So even with the disappointing news from Georgia, I’m feeling optimistic this Open Access Week. And I want to share my appreciation for everyone in libraries who does this hard work of open access and open educational resource advocacy all year round, not just for one week. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Image by Biblioteekje.

Intentional teaching, intentional learning: Toward threshold concepts through reflective practice

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Jarson, Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian at Muhlenberg College.

This fall marked the start of my tenth academic year as a librarian. It startles me, to say the least, to count up the years and arrive at (almost) ten. Having spent the majority of my career so far at a small college, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a wide variety of projects. As a public services librarian, though, my attention has most frequently been directed to reference, instruction, and all things information literacy. It’s no surprise that, six-ish weeks into the semester, information literacy instruction is on my agenda and my mind.

Just the other week, a faculty member and I were chatting about our past versus present selves in the classroom. A critical eye back over the years dredges up some pretty squirm-worthy memories. Because they were performed in front of an audience of students and faculty, these mis-steps are especially embarrassing to bring to mind. I cringe to recall, for example, some excruciating moments in early years in which I droned on about the minutiae of search strategies, students’ eyes glazing over, drool practically trickling down their chins. I’m grateful, then, to look back and also recognize successes and, more importantly, evolution in my teaching. Perhaps it’s just those most awkward and agonizing of moments that best surface the need for change and fuel experimentation with alternate approaches.

For many, a protocol of reflection and experimentation, of trial and error, seems a natural drive. Yet demands on our time and attention might cause us to repeat an ineffective session because we don’t have the time to examine its inadequacies and restructure. Our many competing obligations might prevent us from effecting the more wholesale change we sometimes desire. In an effort to promote the “intentionality” of my reflection and experimentation, as Booth (2011) might say, and to pay it more of the attention it deserves, I’ve been compelling myself to make space for it, adding it to my to-do lists, to my annual goals. In years past, themes of my reflection-for-self-improvement-in-the-classroom regimen have included, for example, scaffolding skills to slow the pace adequately for students’ development and enhancing student engagement through more constructive (and constructivist) in-class activities. This intentional reflection is giving me the perspective and head space to uncover my assumptions and shortcomings and to motivate improvement, rather than revisit the same practice again and again for no good reason.

I don’t mean to claim that I’m reinventing any library instruction wheels. Far from it. But I do hope I’m oiling its sometimes rusty squeak for a smoother, more productive and engaging ride that takes us all (student, faculty, and librarian alike) a little further down the pike. As are you, I don’t doubt. How I will feel in another ten years when I look back on yesterday’s class or today’s blog post, even, is up for grabs. But on we march. And thank goodness for this drive forward, for the chance to reflect, learn from these shortcomings, and try again. Moment to moment, class to class, semester to semester. Small or large, these steps trend toward progress.

As I reflect on my practice in this particular year, then, I think that what I’m trying to teach—and where I’m still coming up short—is the practice of reflection. Too often, I know I have focused on the how at the expense of the why. I long ago moved beyond the point-and-click method of library instruction. Yet despite my efforts thus far to model, scaffold, and construct our way toward information literate, a connecting piece seems to be still sometimes missing. When I look back now to find my in-class nods to the what for, I better recognize their nuance and how hard it must have been for inexperienced students to catch them, decode them. While my modeling and scaffolding certainly have had the why at their core, many students haven’t had the frame of reference to recognize its presence. I want to uncover for students the habits of mind—the “knowledge practices” and “dispositions,” so to speak—of information literacy, not just the clickpaths to mimic it.

So this year I’m looking to add reflective, metacognitive moments to help expose rationales, purposes, and processes for students. With the metacognitive mindset made visible, I hope students will develop a more flexible information literacy lens to apply to their future paths. I think this is a strength of the new (draft) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: highlighting the reflective practice and metacognitive mettle at the core of information literacy. Metacognitive awareness is, no surprise to us, inherent in information literacy skills and development; the new draft framework helps us to enhance its prominence.

Now to the business of actually doing this. How, you might ask? Good question. I wish I had more answers. So far I’m trying to integrate more direct discussion of process and purpose into my classes. I’m trying to lay bare for students the practice, reflection, and progression that complicates this work, but also connects the gaps, that brings them closer to crossing the threshold. And I’m trying to work with faculty to extend this work beyond the limitations of single, isolated library sessions. I see some successes so far, but it feels more than a little premature to claim I’ve conquered such a problem. By their nature, these concepts and this work are complex and protracted. For now, I am (mostly) satisfied to be working on it.

I feel I can’t so much as stick a toe into these waters without at least a nod to their expansiveness. I imagine you recognize, too, the shared roles of librarians and faculty in this kind of information literacy instruction. These are not topics and goals isolated to a one-shot instruction session. This is the work of not one class, but many. This is the work not only of librarians, but of faculty, too. We work to establish the library as a leader in information literacy on our campuses, but it’s also our aim to recognize the extensive information literacy work that takes place outside the library-instruction-specific classroom. Our ambitions to promote shared faculty and librarian understanding of information literacy, common investment in students’ learning, and opportunities for collaboration and curricular development are ever more relevant.

As I recognize the role of intentional reflection in my own development, then, I’m struck to see its place of primacy in my teaching goals, as well. I might typically brush this aside as a self-apparent truth requiring no further deliberation. In my reflection-oriented state, though, I’m more inclined to pause for a moment and consider the parallels of these themes in information literacy teaching and in information literacy learning. With my ongoing push (some days it’s a bit more like a shove) into an intentionally reflective practice, I’m aiming to improve student learning as a more effective, responsive, and flexible instructor. I’m simultaneously aiming for a congruent push toward a reflective and metacognitive student mentality to tip their scales toward greater engagement and transformation. As Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011) wrote, it’s these “big ideas that make information science exciting and worth learning about.”

What about you? What are you uncovering and developing in your pedagogy? What roles have reflection, metacognition, and threshold concepts played in your instructional evolution? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Handling It: Under New Management

I’ve recently moved into a new role at the college library where I work. Our former Chief Librarian retired, and I applied for the job and was appointed as the new Chief at the beginning of the semester. My new job is exciting and challenging — I’m fortunate to continue to work with my terrific colleagues in the library and at a college in which the faculty and administration view the library as a valued partner. While I miss the teaching I did as Instruction Coordinator, I hope to be able to add some instruction back into my days once I get more settled. As Steven has blogged here, it can be hard to move into an administrative position that affords fewer opportunities to work directly with students. I do have one reference shift this semester, and I’m also looking forward to more opportunities in my new role to make good use of what I’ve learned in my research on how students do their academic work.

Any new job comes with a learning curve, even one in the same institution you’ve worked at for a while. Some days I feel a little bit like Atta in this scene from the movie A Bug’s Life:

And other days I like to channel Manfried from Adventure Time:

Luckily there haven’t been any literal (or even metaphorical) grasshopper infestations or fires to extinguish (…yet?). But I’ve been a bit surprised by how busy I am. In other new jobs I’ve always had some breathing room as I learned the ropes, some down time in those first couple of weeks in which there wasn’t anything immediately pressing to do. But moving into a new job in the same place has kept me nearly constantly busy with meetings, planning, and other duties.

I’ve got my eye on a couple of books to read about academic leadership and library management, but with my time so short I haven’t been able to carve out a space for reading them yet. Instead, I’ve been collecting shorter reads — blog posts and articles — about library management and leadership in general. Here are some that I’ve found really helpful so far:

Jennifer Vinopal’s blog post My job? Make it easier for employees to do their jobs well was published at the perfect time for me, right before I was interviewed for my new job, and I’ve kept it in mind ever since. It pairs well with an article published in the May issue of C&RL News: Start by interviewing every librarian and staff member: A first step for the new director, by Scott Garrison and Jennifer Nutefall. Even though I’ve worked with most of my colleagues for 6+ years, I’ve adapted these questions and am meeting with everyone one on one to learn more about their jobs and goals.

I’m also learning from several folks who’ve been doing this for longer than I have. At the end of last summer Karen Schneider posted her reflections on five years of being a library director, a post chock full of characteristically level-headed and wise advice. I’ve been reading Jenica Rogers’ blog Attempting Elegance for a while now too, even before the thought that maybe I would be interested in being a Chief Librarian entered my mind, and I’ve always appreciated her transparency about the large and small tasks that come with being a library director, and the highs and lows.

One of the things that’s been occupying my time this semester is working on hiring in two faculty and two staff positions. While I’ve been on search committees at my library in the past, this is the first time I’m acting as chair of these committees. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written post about orienting new staff by Megan Brooks — Hospitality and Your New Staff Member — on Jessica Olin’s Letters to a Young Librarian blog last week. This post provides a great reminder about what to do (and the reverse, what not to do) when bringing new folks on board.

Do you have a favorite or recommended reading of the shorter-than-a-book variety for busy new library managers? Let me know in the comments!

Assisting College Military Veterans in Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Alejandro Marquez, Undergraduate Outreach and Instruction Librarian at North Dakota State University.

Student retention has been a big issue here on the North Dakota State University (NDSU) campus. My position was recently created within the library to work as a cooperative liaison with other on-campus support services and entities to address this issue, such as the tutoring center, disability services, and the counseling center, among others. This collaborative environment has sparked a positive conversation in our library that is focused on how to redefine the role of libraries on academic campuses and the integration of new and diverse support service roles.

One specific group that the library is actively seeking to form more diverse relationships with is military veterans. Library services for military veterans provide targeted opportunities for outreach and access to information. However, veterans as a user group are difficult to define as they may have served in Vietnam, during peace time, in the post 9/11 era, or in a number of other distinct situations. Each of these groups brings unique and diverse experiences in terms of age, education, life experience, health, and socioeconomic status. Unlike library services to people of color or older adults, there are no identifying social, ethnic, geographic, cultural, or chronological markers for veterans.

There are currently 1,388,028 active personnel in the armed forces and 850,880 reserve personnel. As the United States withdraws forces from around the world, this number should decrease. The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to returning veterans and their families and since August 2009, the VA has provided educational benefits to 773,000 veterans and their family members, amounting to more than $20 billion in benefits. Former service members can utilize their educational benefits for up to fifteen years.

Here are a few examples of the ways libraries can assist college military veterans:

  1. Provide training sessions for library staff to increase awareness, as well as the knowledge and skills needed to address and examine the stereotypes and challenges veterans may face.
  2. Develop a social media presence to target veterans groups on Twitter and Facebook through local VA administration offices, campus and community groups.
  3. Develop an outreach strategy to provide educational and vocational workshops and invite veterans to speak about and share their experiences.
  4. Provide classes on financial security. Many veterans may not know the various educational rights and responsibilities available to them under the GI Bill. These benefits may include a housing allowance, vocational/technical training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance. Additionally, many veterans can qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) free of charge. Another topic of interest within financial security is money management. Some individuals may have entered the service quite young and may not have had the opportunity to develop a strong financial management skill set.
  5. Sponsor a career services fair in the library. Veterans come with unique skill sets that many employers find attractive, such as leadership skills and the ability to perform well in difficult situations. Activities can include a resume workshop, career strengths assessment, and an interviewing skills class.
  6. Create displays of books, magazines and DVDs that highlight veteran issues or information that might be of interest such as entrepreneurship, financial literacy, test preparation manuals, and military history.
  7. Libraries can promote other support services that are available on campus and often free of charge such as counseling, disability services, and tutoring
  8. On an institutional level, the campus could develop an initiative to include “veteran classifications” as data points. NDSU currently includes “Veterans Data” within their enrollment census summary statistics. However, demographic data points such as “veteran” do not appear to be included within graduation statistics. Adding this type of demographic data can show the number of veteran students who graduate from NDSU.

One challenge is that some students will choose not to self-identify as former members of the armed forces. Others may also feel that they should know how to do certain educational tasks already. As a result, libraries and on-campus support services need to develop innovative practices that meet the diverse informational needs of this population. No one person or office can address all of veteran students’ needs. Meeting the needs of veterans requires libraries to focus on the whole person while providing services that look after their mental, physical and emotional well-being. Many of the suggestions listed above would require strategic partnerships with other on-campus and community entities to ensure successful implementation.

The NDSU Libraries have found that many of the suggestions on the above list would be difficult to implement at this time. As an institution, we may have the time, manpower, and money to make these ideas a reality. However, the question often raised is “should we?” Should we undertake these efforts with this specific user population? What is the return on investment? Workshops and career services fairs do not fit into our current mission statement of providing reliable academic resources. This type of programming might be better suited to a public library which focuses on broader information needs. Additionally, there are so many other support services on campus that it seems ill advised for the library to invent a program that could be handled more adeptly by others.

These types of “should we” questions are important because they allow us to consider if our ideas and our justifications have merit. However, I think that we also need to ask the question: why shouldn’t we? This alternative question helps us examine the reasons why it could be advantageous to implement these types of suggestions. Librarians are always seeking contact with students and can use this programming as a means of connecting with this often hidden population.