All posts by Stephanie Willen Brown

What’s in a Name?

What do we call ourselves?  How do we describe ourselves to others?  What adjectives should (could) we use to describe ourselves?

I started thinking about this today as I sat in the communication sciences building, back at my office hour.  I’m sharing the closet office with two undergraduate advisors, and our three name tags & titles are on the door, like this:  Person 1, undergraduate advisor; Person 2, undergraduate advisor; Stephanie Willen Brown, librarian.

I thought:  what if I called myself a “library advisor”?  That might make more sense to students.  Several years ago, I stopped telling students I was “on the reference desk” from 2-4 and started telling them that I had “office hours” from 2-4.  During classes, I could see quick comprehension in their eyes when I told them my “office hours.”  Similarly, I now use the phrase “search engine” when describing PsycINFO (as in, “PsycINFO is THE search engine for psychology!”); that seems clear to the newer students and usually gets a laugh from the more experienced ones.  I wonder if I would help students make a similar leap in understanding if I called myself the “library advisor”  for communication sciences.

As I was mulling this over, I read the FemaleScienceProfessor blog, noting especially last week’s Rename the Professors Poll.  She is tired of “the unsatisfactory nature of the current terms for professorial ranks,” noting that ” ‘Assistant Professor’ is particularly annoying and kind of demeaning as a term, and ‘Associate Professor’ isn’t much better.” Her riff on endowed chair names is very entertaining. She’s written about the issue of faculty titles a lot, and she’s now running a poll which “focuses on the Big Three (replacements for Assistant, Associate, and ‘full’),” noting that some “categories are versatile enough to permit some fine-scale additions to the Professor rank.”  As I write this, there are 13 comments and over 500 votes.

Would it make a difference if faculty were called Lieutenant / Commander / Admiral?  How about One-star Professor / Two-star Professor / Three-star Professor?  Or if librarians were called “library advisors?”  Let’s start our own poll.  What could we rename ourselves to more clearly describe *to our students* how we can help them?

What Do Faculty Want from Librarians?

It’s official: I am now the librarian for psychology at the University of Connecticut, in addition to my responsibilities of working with folks in communication sciences. I’ve recently met with the chair of the department, who wanted to know what I “might be able to do to help psychology.” I know generally what he’s asking, so I have made copies of emails to the communication department touting my services, last year’s presentation to communication graduate students, and printouts of UConn’s web pages for psychology (databases recent books & faculty publications).

But the question got me thinking: what do faculty and academic deans want from academic librarians? I spend a lot of time thinking about what undergraduate and graduate students want – and can handle – from the library, but this question shifted my focus to faculty and department chairs.

I turned to my trusty Google Custom Search Engine, which searches over 30 faculty blogs and searched the word “librarian.” I found very few results; a blog commenter who said his parents were both librarians, and a couple of entries from Janet D. Stemwedel over at Adventures in Ethics and Science … because she’s linking to my e-buddy John Dupuis’ blog Confessions of a Science Librarian. A search on the word “library” returned more results, but they still weren’t relevant. PhDinHistory blogger Sterling Fluharty wrote an intriguing post about a year ago called Why History PhD Students Should Learn to Think Like Reference Librarians; although this is interesting, it’s more about making students independent of librarians rather than talking about what services they’d like to see from librarians. There was one post that, while it doesn’t answer the question, does nicely promote the library to new undergraduates: “[C]ollege libraries normally have professional librarians. These are people who are experts at finding information for you. Ask them if you need something. They can often find what you want even if that particular library doesn’t stock it.” Yay! Thanks to Astroprof for that nice shout out at “How to be an effective college student.”

Still, there’s very little from the horse’s mouth (as it were) about what faculty want from librarians. I think what they want includes:

  • Effective, efficient, and non-intrusive instruction for their students (graduate and undergraduate) on how to make good use of library resources. They don’t want students to use Google, but they also don’t want to give us much classroom time.
  • Easy access to identifying and getting full-text of relevant, important articles in their field. Perhaps also how to find out who’s cited them (or their colleagues, if they are on a tenure or promotion committee) – but they don’t want this finding to take too much time.
  • The ability to manage citations efficiently and effectively, and from multiple locations, for their own articles and for those they are co-authoring. But they don’t want to spend too much time on this.

Once we’ve identified these tasks, how can we best a) tell faculty that these are our simple goals and b) teach them these tasks in a manner they will understand? Lisa Hinchliffe blogs in The Librarians are Everywhere: “the best opportunities to connect with faculty come from seeing them at meetings, events, presentations” where informal conversations can take place. I’ve written about holding academic office hours, which is good for informally meeting both students and faculty.

But back to my chair’s question: what can the librarian do to help the department? I’m stumped for a “sound bite” sized answer. I guess it really boils down to telling them what I’ve said in this post, using language that faculty understand (which is pretty much the same as library language that undergraduates understand…), and then being where they are, talking to them informally, sending out short emails which point them to this or that nifty, time-saving resource.

Librarian blog readers, what can you do to help your department?

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?

Tenure in the Faculty Blogosphere

“The tenure process is intensive and demanding.” So say Richard Danner and Barbara Bintliff in the article that Steven B quotes in his Academic Freedom Quiz post (Richard A. Danner and Barbara Bintliff in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 17). And so say many in the faculty blogosophere in this tenure season.

Inside Higher Ed (“the online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education”) has written a lot lately about tenure. The most compelling story, Scott Jaschik’s April 1 story “Changing the Tenure Rules — Without Telling Anyone?” describes some assistant professors at Baylor University who were up for tenure this year:

“[S]everal university officials said [that] senior administrators have come to believe that departmental standards were not rigorous enough and so applied new standards, which have never been shared with faculty leaders, let alone with those who submitted tenure portfolios under the old standards. Largely as a result, tenure denials at Baylor this year — which have been about 10 percent annually in recent years — shot up to 40 percent,” including six of the nine women up for review.

Jaschik highlights the case of Rene D. Massengale, an assistant professor of biology. Although she won grants and published many journal articles, and “… thought she had prepared a portfolio reflecting the latest requirements, … [s]he said that she received a ‘form letter’ from the university … saying she had not sufficiently excelled in research.” Jaschik notes that “[m]any in the University” believe that Baylor 2012, an effort to increase the University’s focus on research, might conflict with its historical teaching mission.

This case and others are being discussed at length in the faculty blogosphere.

Tenured Radical comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, wondering about the effect the tenure process has on the untenured: “what is the effect of the tenure process on young scholars, and how do we protect their academic freedom?” She writes about the tenure process in a March 18 blog entry, where she describes her experience with tenure (not bad) and promotion to full professor (painful) and suggests faculty unions as a better alternative to tenure.

For a personal look at the tenure process, read Mommy/Prof’s thread about tenure, in which she talks about the anxiety leading up to the tenure decision, a very quick post when she finds out (“I was denied tenure. The poor dean was really uncomfortable. But I didn’t cry, so I guess I can at least be proud of that.”), followed by the fallout from not getting tenure. Mommy/Prof is a pseudonym for a “tenure-track college person at Central State, in a Suburb of Mid-Sized City” and her personal story (start at the bottom) is heartbreaking.

Reassigned Time writes about the issue from the tenure track, which is to say, from the untenured perspective. She says on the one hand that tenure will not change her life much, but it might make her feel more part of her institution and thus more likely to work to effect positive change. Her list of positives is a different twist on the issue and speaks to the benefit of tenure to the institution rather than to the individual. Finally, Reassigned Time notes that she is one of the few (only?) who is writing about the issue without the benefit of tenure.

Finally, for an administrator’s perspective, check out Dean Dad’s post at Confessions of a Community College Dean. He talks about the pitfalls of transparency — in order to know exactly how the tenure decisions have been made, in this case — which “would involve letting the entire college community know every perceived shortcoming of every denied candidate.” Which, in turn, would not make anyone feel better. Instead, his solution to the tenure question: “… finite but renewable multiyear contracts, with performance expectations (and job protections, such as academic freedom) written explicitly into the contract language.”

All of these posts point to many more posts about tenure, for and against, and the comments to each of the posts both rail against and support tenure … so if you are interested in what folks in the professoriate are thinking, this is a great topic to follow.

Why Our Colleagues Teach

As an academic librarian, it’s useful for me to be aware of what faculty in my liaison discipline are researching, publishing, and thinking about — that helps me provide them with better support, buy better resources (print & online) to support their work, and just generally be more collegial with them. I volunteered to monitor the faculty blogosphere for ACRLog because reading faculty blogs is another way to be collegial with my faculty, if not directly, at least indirectly because I can increase my awareness of their colleagues’ concerns and successes in the realm of teaching.

The “why I teach” meme went around the faculty blogosphere earlier this year, and both Barbara and I commented on it personally. But what do they think about teaching? Why do our colleagues teach, and do they even like it?

Dr. Crazy started this meme inadvertently, I think, with her Reassigned Time post Why Teach Literature in early January 2008. Her post begins with a bit of literature politics (always fun to observe from the outside) as she contemplated an MLA panel entitled “Why Teach Literature.” Most of the reasons panelists gave were “big picture,” but Dr. Crazy was concerned that “no one mentioned ‘pleasure’ in the discussion of why to teach literature.” Her post, then, talks about some of her personal reasons for teaching, such as “inspire curiosity,” wanting students to “… be more interested and more interesting” and “To give students a vocabulary for discussing things that are complex, which is ultimately about socializing them to talk, think, and feel in ways that allow them to be upwardly mobile.” Finally, and this goes to my reason for enjoying literature: “To offer students a break from the other demands on their lives.” There are 28 comments (to date) on this post, and those are interesting to read as well.

Free Exchange on Campus blogged about Dr. Crazy’s post and a meme was born.

New Kid on the Hallway teaches because she “…wanted to be a historian, to spend [her] life researching and writing about history, and teaching is one of the obligations attached to that career.” Of course, she has other reasons, too, like “to help students learn that there’s more than one way to view the world and that they themselves and their experiences are not the measure of all things.” And finally, she teaches and studies “… because I want to know what it was like to live in another time or place.”

Janet Stemwedel, philosopher of science and chemist, writes “I had a thing for teaching long before I had a clue what discipline I would end up pursuing.” On her Adventures in Science and Ethics blog, Stemwedel elaborates on why she teaches Philosophy of Science: “I have an opportunity to help people who think science is scary or boring understand something about how scientists build reliable knowledge” and “I also get to expose people to the idea that thinking like a scientist is fun.”

You can see a nice list of over 60!! posts on the theme over at Free Exchange on Campus. These posts are a fascinating look into why faculty choose or are chosen by their academic discipline, which often (but not always) relates to why they teach. Mostly, they “do” their discipline because they like it. Some say that teaching is a requirement for continuing to do research; often our blogging colleagues enjoy teaching because it enables them to share their passion with their students.