Join the ACRLog Blog Team!

Are you interested in writing about issues that affect academic libraries? We’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog!

Members of the ACRLog blog team write on any issue or idea that impacts academic librarianship, from current news items to workflow and procedural topics to upcoming changes in the profession and more. We aim to have group of bloggers who represent diverse perspectives on and career stages in academic librarianship who can commit to writing 1-2 posts per month. We’re especially interested to hear from librarians interested in writing about technical services and technology, to balance the public services strengths of our current bloggers.

If this sounds like you, use the ACRLog Tip Page to drop us a line by May 27. Let us know who you are and why you’d like to blog at ACRLog, and send us a sample blog post. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

A Tip of the Hat to Tenure: Realizations in my First Year

Recently, I’m discovering more and more that there are certain advantages to being tenure-track, and this affects my professional identity in multiple ways. It is causing me to take on responsibilities that I wouldn’t normally volunteer for, and allowing me to do research that is challenging and significant. I’m realizing that my decision to apply for a tenure-track position was really a great decision for me personally.

One thing I’ll note before diving in is that I realize tenure is not for everybody, and non-tenure-track positions have their own advantages. For more on the advantages and disadvantages of being tenure-track, read Meredith Farkas’s blog post on the topic. I just hope that this particular post will prompt others to consider how their roles and responsibilities are unique and exciting, whether or not they are tenure-track. I also hope that this might add something to LIS students’ and early or mid-career librarians’ discussions and decision-making processes when it comes to applying for tenure-track jobs or switching from a non-tenure-track position to a tenure-track position. There is such a vast range of opportunities and types of positions in librarianship, and tenure is one factor that one must seriously consider when choosing what types of academic positions for which to apply. I realize not everyone may share my perspective.

So, to begin, there’s that adage that if you’re tenure-track, you say yes to everything. Now some might perceive this to be a disadvantage of being tenure-track, as you can get roped into things you wouldn’t otherwise do or might not like. However, I see it as a positive thing, because I am forced to do work outside of my comfort zone – work that my supervisors and other more senior librarians believe might benefit me and help me grow as a professional, work that also is suited to my specific liaison role and my unique skill sets and areas of interest and expertise. For example, I recently began the planning process for a couple political events for the fall. Along with a Political Science faculty member, I’m going to be co-moderating a student panel in the fall called “Your Vote, Your Voice” on what (and who) is on the ballot in Nevada, as well as how the students themselves are involved in the political process. The context for this event is that UNLV will be the site of the final presidential debate, which will be a monumental event for the campus, bringing in millions of dollars of free advertising and putting us in the national spotlight. This student panel will be a campus Debate event, attracting the attention of national media.

I will also be the representative librarian co-moderating a presidential election event – an expert panel gathered by Brookings Mountain West, a partnership between UNLV and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The event, “Why Las Vegas Matters in National Elections,” will reflect our metro region’s significance in a swing state. Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in Nevada, and is ranked 29th in the U.S. Issues important to Las Vegas are relevant to other large, diverse metros in the region and the nation. The 2 million people in the Las Vegas metro area includes a diverse population, and UNLV is the second most diverse public university in the nation. Panelists will address local and national issues important to Las Vegas, with consideration of their national implications.

How did my involvement in these events come to be? Well, essentially I got roped into it. My direct supervisor had the idea that the Libraries should be involved in some political events for the fall, which aligns with our mission of empowering students and other campus community members, encouraging them to vote and providing access to knowledge they need in order to be educated voters. As political science liaison, naturally I should be involved. So I went to an expert on campaigns and elections in the Political Science department on campus and got some ideas from him, then ran with them. One outcome of this is that it has allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with faculty in one of my departments, as well faculty from Brookings Mountain West on campus and experts from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Normally, I would probably never volunteer for such events. I’m not really political – at least when it comes to the electoral process – and I’m really intimidated by the body of knowledge of experts in this area. My justification and rationale for my disinterestedness in politics was based on my belief that electoral politics is a poor substitute for direct democracy, which interests me more, in addition to political theory. However, now I’m developing an interest in practical politics and seeing more intersections between political theory and practical politics. I have a Twitter feed of political scientists and political news sources that I’m keeping up with. I’m reading the books and articles by the experts who will be on the expert panel. I’m showing an interest, because I have to, and because now I live in a swing state which makes the process a lot more interesting, too. What I’m learning is proving to be quite fascinating, and it is stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise cared too much to learn about. And this is all because of tenure.

There are other things I couldn’t say no to, that I’m now very passionate and excited about. For instance, I’m curating an exhibit for the Libraries on student activism on campus, especially through the media – specifically the Rebel Yell, the campus newspaper (which is incidentally undergoing a name change presently – a student decision). For this exhibit, I’m doing extensive research through which a very interesting narrative about UNLV students is emerging. I’m getting to exercise my creativity and innovativeness in giving voice to this narrative. I’m learning a lot about current students and am making connections with current and former students, senior faculty on campus, and community members to acquire memorabilia and learn about student experiences. Normally I wouldn’t seek out such opportunities. I’m not an archivist. I’ve never done anything like this before; I’ve never even done research with archives or special collections. This particular project was initially intimidating to me, and I knew it would be extremely time consuming. I might not have said yes quite so immediately and eagerly had I not felt a sense of obligation because of tenure. Yet this is a real opportunity – to do research for the first time in special collections and archives, contributing to my professional growth; to have my own research featured in an exhibit; and to highlight the amazing work of student activists here, both current and historical – All because of tenure.

Then, of course, there’s the research requirement for tenure. This means I’m supported to do research that challenges me and makes me learn, as a scholar and a librarian. I definitely wouldn’t do research if there wasn’t this kind of support for it – I’m too much in favor of work-life balance to even do much of any reading when I’m not working, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be motivated to do research if this 20 percent of my time on the job wasn’t devoted to it. And I’m so excited about these opportunities. My exhibit will count as a creative activity in my tenure case. I’m also collaborating with a Sociology faculty member long-term doing research on teaching, providing library support, and assessing student learning in a course with a heavy critical service learning component. The students’ library research for this course is really impactful. They are using library sources to support advocacy work and things like providing trainings and annotated bibliographies for refugee women representing themselves in their own asylum cases. The students are all using different types of library resources and legal resources for this work. They are also learning first-hand about information privilege, with licensing agreements oftentimes prohibiting them from giving resources directly to community members, considered to be third parties unaffiliated with the university. Anna (Dr. Anna C. Smedley-López) – the Sociology professor and I – are going to do some writing about this aspect of the students’ education for this course. Our first project will be to write a book chapter for a new ACRL-published book called: Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts (edited by Samantha Godbey, Sue Wainscott, and Xan Goodman of UNLV). Our chapter, the proposal for which was recently accepted for this publication, is called “Serving Up Library Resources?: Information Privilege in the Context of Community Engagement in Sociology.” What an opportunity this is for me – to be a research partner with a faculty member in one of my disciplines and to be essentially embedded in this service learning program and course in which students are doing truly significant, social-justice oriented library research. Again, all because of tenure.

I feel exhausted just writing this. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. These opportunities will challenge me and make me grow as a professional, as a librarian and scholar. And I have tenure to thank.

Maintaining in Academic Libraries

The spring conference season is in full swing, and one weekend earlier this month it seemed like there were conferences of interest to me all over the place, judging from the hashtags in my Twitter timeline: #PLA2016, #SAA2016 (Society of American Archaeologists), #OAH2016 (Organization of American Historians), #DifferentGames2016, and #AERA16 (American Educational Research Association), just to name (more than) a few.

But of all of those great-looking events, most of my conference envy (and associated hashtag-following) was reserved for #maintainers, hashtag for The Maintainers: A Conference, at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. From the description on the conference website:

Many groups and individuals today celebrate “innovation.” The notion is influential not only in engineering and business, but also in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. For example, “innovation” has become a staple of analysis in popular histories – such as Walter Isaacson’s recent book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

This conference takes a different approach, one whose conceptual starting point was a playful proposal for a counter-volume to Isaacson’s that could be titled The Maintainers: How a Group of Bureaucrats, Standards Engineers, and Introverts Made Technologies That Kind of Work Most of the Time.

From the tweets I caught this conference looked fascinating, and you can read more about it in the shared conference notes doc (with many links to full papers) as well as in the essay Hail the Maintainers published in Aeon by conference organizers Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell the day before the conference. And since the conference I’ve been mulling over this tension of maintenance vs. innovation, and how it might be expressed in academic libraries.

Like our transit infrastructure, libraries require maintenance work to function, work that touches every part of our libraries: facilities, resources, services (in alphabetical order, not necessarily order of importance). This maintenance work, while crucial, sometimes seems easy to forget, especially as annual reporting season rolls around each year. Do we report the maintenance work we do? If we don’t report it, administrators, faculty, staff, and students outside the library might not know it’s happening, so I would argue that yes, we should report it.

But maintenance can’t be the only thing happening in academic libraries — as technology, access to information, and higher education more generally go through changes, libraries do as well. One danger of focusing only on maintenance is that it might prevent us from trying something new that could bring real benefits to us as workers or to the communities we serve. Adding new (or making changes to existing) facilities, resources, and services can also bring new requirements for maintenance. Perhaps there’s legacy maintenance that’s no longer needed, allowing us to balance between continuing and new efforts within the constraints of our time and budgets?

I bristle when I read the phrase “do more with less” because I want to resist the overwork and burnout that can happen to all of us, especially when necessary maintenance work can seem invisible or underappreciated. And I think that innovation as a buzzword can sometimes be used to encourage us to do more with less, to believe that innovation alone will overcome the limitations of funding and time. But I also don’t think that flat or declining budgets mean that we shouldn’t change — I think it’s worth our efforts to figure out if there is maintenance work that we can stop doing that can allow us to try something new (which, if successful, will of course require maintenance of its own).

Is maintenance the opposite of innovation in academic libraries? Can we do both? Must we do both? To be honest, I’m still puzzling through my thoughts about this, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Publishing Practice: Developing a Professional Identity

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Chelsea Heinbach, MLIS student at the University of Denver; Cyndi Landis, MLIS student at Emporia State University, and Alison Hicks, faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

How can we bridge the divide between learning about library instruction and engaging more concretely with a teaching librarian’s values and responsibilities? This was the question that drove the design of a writing assignment in our recent library instruction course at the University of Denver, and that we have been grappling with since the semester ended. Designed to mimic a core part of many academic teaching librarian positions, as well as to involve students more closely with teaching librarian communities, the assignment asked students to write a 3000 word essay that was peer-reviewed by librarians in the field, and published as an Open Access book.

Drawing from the idea of publishing as pedagogy, as well as sociocultural learning theories that emphasize participation rather than imitation, students were excited to mold the assignment on the first day of class. At the same time, the prospect of writing for a broad audience at this stage of a career was very different from previous LIS program experiences. This blogpost serves to explore the experiences of two MLIS students who participated in this project, Chelsea Heinbach (University of Denver) and Cyndi Landis (Emporia State University), as well as attempting to reflect on the role and nature of instruction librarian education today.

Merging practice and theory

The MLIS degree is largely practical in nature. As academic librarians in training we talk about publishing as well as open access, conferences, and peer review, but there is often little room built in for identifying our own place in these processes. While there are opportunities to publish as a student, there are rarely chances in class to simulate the peer review process and to treat our work as serious academic contributions. The future regarding our own publishing remains abstract for the entirety of our master’s degree and there are few chances to explore our professional writing goals and ideas. This assignment offered us valuable mentorship in academic writing, extensive and thoughtful suggestions for improvement, as well as an opportunity to explore our professional identity in a supportive environment.

Value

As a graduate student, there is pressure to have something on your resume to make you stand out among the pool of job applicants. We each scramble to find that extra separator to distinguish ourselves from others or at least to fill in the blanks of which accomplishments we think we should have by now. This assignment was something we could be proud of and use to prove ourselves.

Excitement and intimidation swept over us as we began to research and select our instruction topics. What did we want to know as a future teaching librarian? What could we research to make this open access book contribution count? This assignment was the opportunity we’d been waiting for throughout our graduate school experience – a professional introduction into scholarship that was guided and supported rather than just an assignment to be completed and tucked away in our personal portfolio.

Unlike most research papers throughout our LIS programs, this assignment would be shared with professionals beyond the student-teacher relationship. Not only would library professionals assist in the peer-review process, but the open access book would later be promoted within the LIS field as an example of this unique approach. This exercise was designed to emulate what research could be like in the “real-world”. Even the peer reviewers wished they had a similar opportunity when they were in school.

While we recognized this as a valuable opportunity that we were excited to engage with, we also grew nervous about the implications. With the permanence of this piece weighing heavy on each step of the writing and research process, we began to unravel the pieces of its potentially lasting effects. What topic would best fit our future career goals? Would it be something we could use to start building our curriculum vitae? Throughout the assignment, we felt the reality of this valuable opportunity sinking in, causing us to reflect hesitantly on the formation of our professional identity and our overall contributions to the field.

Editing

As we received feedback from our instructor and reviewer, the constructive comments revealed areas for improvement. Our wandering thoughts now had direction and our emphatic assertions were paired within the context of practicing librarians; we had a glimpse into our book’s audience and we could refine our papers with confidence.Throughout our academic careers, we had rarely received the opportunity to improve our scholarly writing within the assignment, or even within the course. The peer-review process gave us genuine, productive feedback to revise our paper before submitting the final piece for publication.

The feedback was two-fold, receiving detailed comments from Alison and our peer-reviewer. Comments ranged from pointing out areas to improve writing clarity, to making connections to concepts that we hadn’t seen before, and suggesting other sources to use for a broader perspective. As we are not yet practicing librarians, we found that some of the issues we wanted to discuss are already common knowledge in the profession. The reviewers’ comments provided the insight of instruction practitioners, helping us identify what truly needed further discussion and what research conclusions would prove helpful to our professional audience.

The level of detail in the feedback given in this assignment highlighted the lack of response have routinely received throughout our academic careers. With a few exceptions, we have rarely received suggestions for improvement on our work and instead have simply received a grade. After pouring hours into research and writing, a final grade isn’t as satisfying as encouragement and thoughtful recommendations for further development. Up until this point, some of our most demanding academic work stemmed from our expectations of ourselves and our future goals.

Identity

This assignment, therefore, provided a welcome break from the standard dynamic, as it gave us an opportunity to explore and assert our views in a way that felt more impactful than a simple class paper. It was encouraging to be taken seriously by a professional in the field and to have the opportunity to contribute to such a unique project.

However, after the excitement of the opportunity wore off, we realized we felt nervous about moving from passively reading the literature to owning our own viewpoints. This class is a mere ten weeks long and, as students, many of us are balancing multiple jobs, volunteer positions, job applications, committee obligations, and other classes. In addition, the academic library world can feel like an overwhelmingly polarized place where work is judged and dismissed openly and critically. While these conversations lead us to important awakenings regarding issues in the profession, we found it difficult to feel comfortable as students making assertions when we were still developing our own positions. Perhaps this was simply due to overzealous imposter syndrome, but it is why some of us ultimately focused on topics that were not overwhelmingly controversial, and decided against making an obvious political statement with our work.

In the end, this pressure to cultivate raw ideas and develop work that would be seen led to a more genuine interaction with the content than we have had in most other classes. Ultimately, it helped us develop our professional research goals in a more concrete and granular way, giving us a better understanding of publishing demands. At the same time, the intersection between student research and professional practice exposed some eye-opening issues that arise for LIS students. We are taught general theories of librarianship and given research assignments with little guidance of whether our conclusions and assertions are appropriate in the context of the challenges professionals face. To combat this block between the classroom and our professional careers, one of the most beneficial experiences we can have during library school is a mentor in our chosen area of librarianship.

We really appreciated the feedback and we encourage librarians to seek out opportunities to mentor LIS students, to share their professional experiences, and to help to bridge the divide between theory and practice. This project enlisted an enthusiastic group of librarian reviewers, who we recognize as invisible laborers behind its success. We are grateful to them for their  collaborative participation and commitment to bettering LIS student work through this publishing practice. Lastly, this memorable assignment would not have been possible without Alison’s insightful vision, reviewer matchmaking, and endless encouragement. When students and professionals engage in dialogue, it fuels our profession with a stronger foundation of new ideas and perspectives.

Advice and suggestions for future improvements

For anyone who is interested in building upon this assignment, we would offer the following advice:

  • Scaffold: The assignment built in plenty of drafting time so the peer review really helped to edit and shape the final essays. At the same time, many students found that choosing a relevant topic was tough. We suggest plenty of class discussion about potential directions, as well as interviewing a professional before starting in order to get guidance.
  • Workshop: Our class did not build in any in-class workshopping, but that could have made the delivery of the first draft less stressful. The process of reviewing other people’s work is always helpful for writers to experience, too.
  • Connect: This assignment was strengthened through the matching of reviewers with paper topics about which they were knowledgeable. Although the entire process was double blind,we found that this expertise, as well as the sincerity that the reviewers brought to the assignment, added considerably to the development of the second draft.

Read the book online: http://gotaminute.pressbooks.com/
Read the archived PDF: http://digitalcommons.du.edu/lis_stuother/3/

People and place: Musings on organizational culture

Last year, a few of my colleagues and I were awarded a small grant to develop an information literacy learning community for faculty, librarians, and staff in regional colleges and universities. In this first year of our grant, we’ve been facilitating discussion groups with stakeholders to better understand information literacy practices and needs at each of the six institutions. We’re trying to identify shared needs and themes across institutions so we can effectively shape the learning community. We’ve met with 80+ stakeholders. These discussion groups have been valuable and revealing. We’ve learned a good deal about each institution’s varied approaches to and perspectives on (not to mention challenges with) information literacy. We’ve been talking with stakeholders about institutional values and change, too. We want to find hooks to help connect the learning community to each campus and anticipate what might impede its implementation and success. Of course, we can glean this from the conversation generally–its nature and tone–but we have also been explicitly asking questions like: What’s valued on your campus? What drives change? What are obstacles to change?

In some ways, these have been the most interesting parts of the conversations, providing a glimpse into how each campus works, what each campus most esteems, and how people communicate and participate in the life and work of each campus. These institutions are grouped primarily because of geographic proximity. The variations in institution type and mission, then, can explain some differences: the emphasis on undergraduate teaching in the small liberal arts college versus the emphasis on research in the university, for example. Financial status and its accompanying freedoms or restrictions–money may flow more freely at a well-endowed institution, for example, whereas resources may be more limited at a tuition-driven institution–can also influence people’s behaviors and outlooks. Still, the differences between the schools seem deeper and more nuanced than mission and money alone can explain. These conversations have really thrown the nature and impact of organizational culture into sharp relief.

What struck me most in our discussion groups were the differences in collegiality, interconnectedness, and agency: how participants spoke to and about each other, how interested participants seemed in the opportunity to learn from and share with each other in a future learning community, and how much power over and engagement in their campus environment they felt they had. Of course, individual personalities play a significant role in such interactions and outlooks. And, again, institutional mission and funding contribute, too. But there are still other forces that shape relationships, attitudes, and behavior. Jason Martin, for example, suggests that “rites and rituals,” or “the way we do things around here,” are powerful influences on and manifestations of an organization’s culture.

So as I reflect on the differences I’ve observed in the institutional snapshots afforded to me through these discussion groups, what I wonder about most is how does organizational culture change (for better or worse)? And then, how do we change organizational culture?

swirl

Swirl” by Zack Jones is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A selection of examples from the corporate/business sector (like this one and this one) suggests that effective and sustained change requires a multi-faceted, and mostly top-down, approach including: leadership and management, control systems and reward systems, and more. Indeed, a skilled manager and/or a visionary leader (not necessarily one and the same, of course) are powerful motivators and change agents in both business and higher education generally, and libraries more specifically. Yet leadership in libraries–in my experience, at least–is often distributed. To ignore the role of individuals as not only players, but agents of change, seems both erroneous and perilous.

So what does organizational change look like in libraries? In their article about the University of Saskatchewan Library, Carol Shepstone and Lyn Currie stress the important role each library staff member plays in perpetuating an existing culture, identifying a preferred culture, and effectively changing culture. They identify staff new to the organization especially as important in influencing change.

I’ve witnessed and participated in large-scale organizational change directed by a titled leader and some of it has been to great effect. But it seems to me that organizational change can and does happen in smaller, more incremental ways, too. I think of the daily aspirations my colleagues and I pursue and the affirmations we try to offer each other. I think of how a single person’s tone or attitude or behavior can change the temperature of a room or the potential of an organization.

How do you think change happens? Please share your thoughts in the comments.