Category Archives: Conference Blogging

Includes the blogging of conference programs

55 Years Old with a 33 Year Library Career

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Kathy Parsons, Associate Professor and Head, Stacks and Media Department at Iowa State University.

After reading the July 2012 Will’s World column “Your Mileage May Vary” in American Libraries, I found myself pondering library fatigue, retirement, and the value of my career. Was the librarian he described me? Did I need to retire? I sincerely hoped not but I saw a part of myself in his statements. Was library fatigue taking over? Could I rekindle the passion and joy for library work? But how do long-term librarians stay relevant, refreshed, and motivated? And if it was indeed time to make a career change what can I do with my experience? Were there others pondering the same questions?

I moderated a roundtable discussion at the 2013 National ACRL Conference in Indianapolis about issues facing long-term career librarians. I hoped that this session would be part counseling, part positive reinforcement, and part networking. It was just that and a bit more. While I used questions to guide the conversation, the answers were often elusive. Participants’ comments frequently redirected the conversation into areas I had not anticipated. The questions used were “How can librarians reinvent themselves and stay out of the rut? What other jobs can librarians do if they left the profession? How do you market your experience and skill sets for jobs outside of the library venue?”

During the discussions a couple of themes became evident. First, many of us expressed concerns about the reduction of staffing levels at our institutions. These reductions were the result of retirements, downsizing due to budget concerns, job changes, or even reallocation of staff. Coupled with this were the increasing expectations for new services while keeping the old. Rapid technological changes provided benefits but also added more stress. On top of this we needed to prove our value to our institution. Many of us sensed that we were just barely holding on; stretched thin with many responsibilities. We felt that we lost our passion and were unsure what to do. Some have thought about changing jobs but jobs are scarce. We talked about the shrinking job market and the unstable economy which was occurring at the same time of increased retirements of baby boomers. This was impacting long term employees wishing to change jobs and the younger colleague’s ability to move up. An article discussing the concept of “gray ceiling ” was mentioned that addressed the impact of delayed retirements has on younger workers.

Another theme that emerged was the generation gap. Some of us felt unappreciated by our younger (and sometimes new) colleagues especially if they were our supervisors. We thought we were seen as dinosaurs: not adaptable; technology deficient with little or with no social media skills including texting and blogging; slow learners living in the past. We realized that our chosen vocation has undergone tremendous change over the last decade or so but our longevity should count for something. We wondered if we needed to remind our younger colleagues of the advances our generation of librarians developed. Had we been so quiet about our “history” that the younger librarians do not know that we are the shoulders of change they are standing on? We developed online catalogs, integrated library management systems, and database searching; all these things and more paved the way for the support of open access, the use of social networking, cloud technology, and digitalization for library work. We wondered why the younger managers would not use our institutional memory as it could help prevent problems down the road. We recognized that there is a fine line between living in the past (refusing to adapt to changes) and sharing about the past (explanation of why something is the way it is). We, also, wondered if risk taking is hard as we age. Those of us who were middle managers felt especially conflicted by the generational gap as we may have both younger supervisees as well as younger supervisors. One person described us as being in the “bibliographic definition of hell.”

Woven throughout the conversation were ways of coping, recharging, and renewal. One way many of us “recharge” was attending conferences and workshops and volunteering with library associations. Universally we agreed that we returned to work after these activities motivated and refreshed but the feeling quickly disappeared as the normal workday intruded. We talked about the need to sustain and enlarge our professional contacts and network. Some found mentoring younger colleagues rewarding and in turn have been mentored by them. We brought to the relationship these strengths: navigating the ins and outs of serving our professional associations, assisting with research and publishing, and developing leadership skills. For us, the younger colleagues helped us hone our skills with social media and other technological advances. We concluded that this roundtable had great potential for a larger discussion and suggested that the topic be developed into a workshop or pre-conference at the 2015 National ACRL Conference in Portland. We need to continue this type of dialogue with ourselves and to include our younger colleagues. Most importantly, we walked away with new colleagues in our networks, not feeling so lost and alone, and later that night some found new dancing partners at the all-conference reception!

Participatory Learning, Active Application: Reflections on the ACRL Conference

With the month winding down folks are getting back into the swing of things following this year’s ACRL Conference in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. Several of us ACRLoggers were in attendance — we took the opportunity to meet face to face and chat, and in those conversations the idea of a collaborative post-conference blog post was born. Several of us focused on participatory learning at the conference, while some attended more traditional sessions and brought back ideas for active application in their libraries. All of us had a great time.

Kim Miller: Seeking Application

ACRL 2013 has been highlighted on my calendar since I missed my chance to attend in Philadelphia two years ago (the conference fell during the second-to-last week of graduate classes, not great timing). This year, I was determined to make it happen since my classmates who were crazy enough to go in 2011 had nothing but positive reports, and I heard from my current colleagues it was a conference where academic librarians can get a lot of bang for their buck. I was looking forward to visiting a new city, learning new things, meeting new people, catching up with old friends. The cherry on top turned out to be my opportunity to also lead a roundtable discussion about mobile games in libraries.

Throughout the conference, I found myself naturally drawn to talks which explore issues I’m currently facing at work. For instance, our library recently started planning to redesign one of our classroom spaces which will incorporate modular furniture, group workstations, and iPads to facilitate a more creative and active learning space. So I was interested to attend “The Flipped Classroom: Integrating Formal and Informal Learning Spaces” session in which I learned about the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College Library’s Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL) classroom. With collaborative computing areas, break out small group workspaces, and technology-enabled teaching stations, WisCEL seems like a marriage between a library learning commons and an active learning classroom; it’s definitely a space I would love to explore as an instructor (though it sounds like the UWM librarians do not currently teach library sessions in the space). They presented some interesting footage of professors explaining how they approach instruction in this space, as well how students have responded to the environment. I left the session inspired to start brainstorming ways our new space will used to promote more active library instruction sessions and how I might facilitate my colleagues’ experiences transitioning to the new space as well.

As a self-described “research nerd,” I usually love reading through stacks of literature from diverse areas of scholarship. However, at conferences I particularly look forward to poster sessions because, in addition to learning about a multitude of projects in a short amount of time, I have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the people behind these projects. I appreciate the instant gratification of having my lingering questions or comments addressed first-hand by the librarian project experts. Again drawn to projects which speak to my daily work, a small sample of the areas I learned about over the 4 poster sessions include: re-thinking online subject guides with “Mapping Standards to Content: Creating Comprehensive Research Guides using ACRL’s Psychology information Literacy Standards”, connecting with first year students through workshops with “Making Connections, Providing Support”, iPads in instruction with “iPedagogy for Adults,” using concept maps in instruction with “Sketching Success”, and responsive web design with “Once is Enough.”

Ian McCullough: Mission to Learn

I may be the only blogger who didn’t have an official reason for going to ACRL 2013; I didn’t present, have a poster, or lead a roundtable. I was the only one with the time and interest to attend from Akron; so I balanced my schedule between personal interests and broadly applicable knowledge I could bring back. Two workshops, three sessions geared to science librarians, two poster sessions, and some library marketing.

The workshops are what really stuck with me. I attended “Flip It, … Flip It Good!: Adapting the Flipped Classroom Model to One-Shot Library Instruction Sessions with Understanding by Design” and “Higher Learning: Effective and Engaging Information Literacy Instruction for Upper-Level Students,” both were heavily pedagogical – and both were awesome. Steven Hoover taught the flipped classroom workshop and as noted in the title cribbed heavily from Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. He presented the clarifying content priorities model as a way to decide what to present in person and what to flip in an IL one-shot. “Enduring understanding”? Try to present it in person with active learning. “Important to Know and Do” or “Worth Being Familiar With”? These are your candidates for external tutorials. Each table tried to work through a scenario and pare down our (hilariously long) list of learning outcomes, triage them, and come up with instruction strategies. We didn’t make it, but the strategy made sense and I’ll be trying this for a chemical engineering class in the Fall.

“Higher Learning” addressed the problem of upper division students stultified by repetitive IL sessions. Lynda Kellam and Jenny Dale used a variety of fun activities, which we could deploy back home, but also emphasized the connection of outreach to and collaboration with the faculty as critical to effectively reaching upper division students. If the communication isn’t there, the instructional design will suck and you’re likely to bore the students. Like my earlier workshop, we took a scenario (of our own devising this time), broke it down to learning outcomes, and reverse engineered a lesson, this time with using the ADDIE model. Once again, we didn’t finish; but the structure is there and my advanced chemistry lab students should benefit.

These workshops addressed a problem, mainly that my pedagogical background is weak – I can hold attention but am historically poor at using active learning techniques in class. But also Akron is modernizing our information literacy program, so I may have some colleagues who might benefit as well. The conference got me fired up about improving both my teaching and our IL program. I’m hosting a brown bag session for some of the other faculty to share what I’ve learned and I hope my enthusiasm rubs off.

I wanted to quickly praise two posters – “Mapping Standards to Content” which Kim has already noted and Can Bibliometric Indicators Predict Institutional Citation Patterns?” which was the closest thing I saw to my own research at ACRL, but way better.

Maura Smale: Thinking, Camping, and Sharing

I arrived in Indianapolis later than expected due to weather-related travel snafus; the conference was well underway by the time I set foot in the Convention Center, and I felt a bit like I’d fallen behind before even beginning. Perhaps that’s the reason that, once I finally got to Indy, I found myself preferentially seeking out the kinds of conference experiences that offered the opportunity for conversation and participation rather than the more traditional paper sessions. There were lots of papers and panels that looked interesting, as usual. Actually, that’s always my one complaint about ACRL: there’s just way too much to do. Instead, I decided that I’ll spend a day at some point over the summer going back to the conference website to take a look at the papers, presentations, handouts, posters, and video of the sessions I missed (a colleague suggested calling it #ACRLrewatch — who’s with me?).

On Friday morning I attended the first half of THATCamp. I’m a big fan of THATCamps and had a great time at the sessions I participated in: Diversify the Digital Humanities and Libraries and Publishing (links are to the public, collaborative notes in Google Docs). I think what I most appreciated at THATCamp was the chance to talk with librarians from all over the country and lots of different kinds of academic libraries: from research universities to community colleges, from rural to urban, from small to large. Not to devalue the interaction we all have online — of course the library community is very digitally connected — but I so rarely have the opportunity to have a face to face discussion with a variety of folks about big chewy topics like diversity and inclusion, community activism and engagement, and scholarly communications. It was delightful.

Another participatory highlight of the conference for me was the Saturday morning panel How Feminist Pedagogy Can Transform the Way You Teach and How Students Learn. One of the panelists started with a story, which is always a great way to begin a session, about her own experience with feminism. Then the panelists asked those of us in the audience to do some work, to turn to a fellow attendee and consider our own feminist perspectives and lessons we’ve learned. I’m sure I’m not the only one who initially blanched at the prospect of engaging in a think-pair-share activity at 8:30am on the final day of the conference, but it was easy to get into conversation with my partner and we found lots to discuss. The panel continued with definitions and themes of feminist pedagogy, and each of the panelists shared examples of the ways in which they’ve brought this perspective into their library classrooms. To round out the session we were asked to participate in a follow-up think-pair-share and consider the ways in which our responses and understanding of feminist pedagogy in library instruction had changed. It was reassuring to learn that feminist pedagogy incorporates active learning strategies that many of us already use in our instruction sessions: group work, asking for student input, and encouraging discussion, to name just a few. I left the session eager to bring new focus to feminist pedagogy in my own teaching, and luckily I still have a couple of classes remaining this semester to try it.

Marc Meola: Entering Conference Space

This was my 5th ACRL National Conference and each one always seems better than the last! Three sessions that stuck out for me were a writing workshop, a THATCamp, and a Roundtable discussion.

The workshop was called, “Get Writing! Overcome Procrastination, Remove Roadblocks and Create a Map for Success.” This was perfect timing for me since I am working on a paper right now and feel a little stuck. Unlike Contributed Papers or Panel Sessions where attendees can simply sit back and take in information, the Workshop format asks that participants actually do some work. Instead of just hearing someone talk about how to create a work plan for writing a journal article while saying to yourself, “hmm those are some mighty fine ideas and I sure am going to do that someday,” you actually have to sit down right there and go ahead and create a work plan for writing a journal article. Trained facilitators are on hand to whip you if you can’t hack the workload.

Creating a work plan for writing a journal article involved:

  • breaking the project down into steps
  • writing the steps on post-it notes (green or yellow)
  • identifying roadblocks (red)
  • creating milestones (blue)
  • organizing the post-its into a time line on a piece of 11 x 17 paper.

Simple enough, but very useful tools for anyone, novice or experienced, working on a journal article. Some ideas for getting over roadblocks included getting a mentor/coach and using an accountability buddy who checks in with you at milestones. (Don’t forget the ACRL Research Coach program!) I took my work plan home and taped it above my monitor, where it now mercilessly taunts me. Facilitators Jerilyn Veldof and Jon Jeffryes of University of Minnesota Libraries did a masterful job of organizing the content and managing participant interaction.

Handout: How to Get a Paper Written and Published: Designing a Work Plan to Avoid Procrastination

I arrived at THATCamp at 8:30am on Friday morning with a pounding headache thanks to a libation called “Remember the Maine,” which I and some librarian friends felt compelled to investigate fully (because of our pure love for American history) the night before. In the session I attended we created an e-book using a web bibliography, our laptops, and a tool called Calibre. The whole spirit of how we went about doing it was great fun: people were willing to admit when they had no idea what to do; those who knew taught; and those who just learned then taught someone else. It would be wonderful if we could duplicate aspects of this model in our workplaces. Although our finished product was not perfect, working through the complete process together was very valuable. Micah Vandegrift skillfully coordinated the whole thing.

One Hour: One Project – DH and Libraries Ebook

Finally, although I’m not quite there yet but like to look ahead, I attended a roundtable discussion called, “55 Years Old with a 33 Year Library Career: What Now?” The discussion was wide ranging but included important issues such as ageism in librarianship, career and retirement planning, and the need for intergenerational dialogue. These issues deserve more attention; look for a blog post that continues the discussion soon!

ACRL Conferences are perfect for getting yanked out of your day-to-day routine and entering Conference Space — that unique zone where you explore new ideas, meet new people, and return to work reinvigorated and re-energized. Thank you ACRL, see you in Portland!

A Librarian at the MLA

I recently attended the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. The theme of the conference, “Avenues of Access,” encouraged reflection on how scholars, students, and publics access the humanities within institutions and on their margins. What does access mean for students when many American universities are eliminating humanities departments and programs? What does access mean for scholars when, according to the MLA’s own statistics, only about half of all doctorates in languages and literatures ever receive tenure-track positions?

As librarians, we might think of “Avenues of Access” in a different way – libraries are the central physical and digital avenues of access to the humanities on many campuses. How can attending MLA and other disciplinary conferences help us do our jobs better as librarians? Among the panels I attended, three stood out in offering ideas.

The roundtable “Theories and Practices of the Literary Lab” (abstracts) brought together six panelists discussing literary labs as campus centers for research, teaching, and discussion. Literary labs are spaces for distant (as opposed to close) reading, quantitative textual research, and collaborative projects open to experimentation and failure. As one panelist argued, book history and bibliography are often missing from the conversation (there were no librarians on the panel). How can librarians use our expertise to enhance literary lab scholarship? When I asked the group this question, the general consensus was just as faculty culture had to change to accept and nurture new kinds of literary research, library culture had to change – in particular, to be less proprietary about data – in order to participate.

The session “How Many Copies Is Enough? Libraries and Shared Monograph Archives,” arranged by the MLA’s Discussion Group on Libraries and Research in Language and Literature, asked “As libraries rely increasingly on digitized texts and on partnerships for archiving print volumes, how do libraries and scholars cooperate to ensure preservation of copies with artifactual value for scholarly purposes?” (abstracts and bibliography) Some questions from the discussion: How do consortial agreements about legacy collections affect bibliographers’ decision-making about current acquisitions? How can we add value to catalog records to identify print copies with artifactual value? How do we adapt the serendipity of browsing in the stacks to browsing in the digital environment? What criteria do we use to define “unique” in terms of a print copy? (A sidebar: We learned at this session that the MLA is revisiting the 1995 Statement on the Significance of Primary Records and the subsequent 1999 report Preserving Research Collections: A Collaboration Between Librarians and Scholars.)

My favorite session, overall, convened by the MLA’s president, Michael Bérubé, was “Avenues of Access: Digital Humanities and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” Inspired by the advent of MLACommons, a new social media platform for members, Matthew Kirschenbaum performed an archeology of his own digital presence, excavating material from Usenet, listservs, and early 1990s websites (complete with flashing graphics on the Geocities platform). He made three assertions about access. Access engenders power, he argued, in patterns of contact acceptance in social media platforms that parallel in-person networks in scholarly institutions like the MLA. Access entails risk: as a doctoral student, he posted drafts of his dissertation on his website, writing in the agora, hiding his ideas, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight. And access requires time: we might envision a future where tenure and promotion are based on “cycles of attention” – the “likes” and retweets that make up the bibliometrics of social media. On the same panel, Bethany Nowviskie used William Morris’s statement that “you can’t have art without resistance in the materials” to make a case for the productive resistance on the margins of the profession. Those in adjunct positions and the alternative-academic movement, as well as librarians and technologists, are the translators and intermediaries, the generators of ideas and pedagogy in the digital humanities. By being generalists – jacks of all trades and masters of none – we enable the work of specialists and ensure access to scholarly communication for all.

One final note – as at most professional conferences, the MLA’s Twitter backchannel was a rich resource for commentary and discussion. Check it out at #mla13, and see my own comments at @laurabrarian

Conference Highlights

A few weeks ago I attended the 2012 Library Assessment Conference in Charlottesville, VA. In addition to being a great opportunity to learn more about a huge variety of library assessment activities, LAC12 was also my first experience at a professional library conference.

After three straight days of listening to paper and plenary sessions, perusing posters, and chatting with librarians from around the country, I am just now digesting and synthesizing everything I learned. In addition to the many projects I would like to consider adapting to my library, there were several themes that resonated to me as a new academic librarian.

Try Saying “Yes.” Originally, LAC12 wasn’t even on my radar.  But due to some unexpected staff change-over just a few weeks before the conference, I was asked to attend. Although there were some stressful last-minute travel arrangements, planning for time away from work, and a poster-presentation to get up to speed on, (oh and, as it turned out, Hurricane Sandy to prep for), I decided to say “Yes.” And I’m glad I did. It turned out I learned a lot not only about library assessment activities, but also about being flexible, taking chances, and exploring deeper domains without hesitating to ask questions. While we’re all operating with a limited amount of time and attention, I think in the transition to a new career it’s particularly important not to cut oneself off from unexpected opportunities.

Own the Change. John Lombardi gave an interesting keynote about the transition to the “library cloud” in which he told us to “own the change.” Not only is it important for us to “own” the future of librarianship, but it’s also crucial to remember during any transition, personal or professional. When I started my new job, other librarians advised that it could take 6 months to a year for me to consistently feel like I know what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. One thing I’ve found to help with the transition from student to professional is simply to “own the change.” I feel lucky to be in a profession and a position that, to a large extent, allows me to shape my future and follow my interests. Finding the edges of my job, exploring my new city and, as one of my fellow FYALE bloggers mentioned, trying to figure out what to do with my new-found spare time are all opportunities to take ownership over the student-to-professional transition.

Collaboration is Key. One comment I received on my previous post is that collaboration is not limited to working with library colleagues, but should also extend to colleagues across campus. While this has been stressed during new faculty sessions on campus and in my work building relationships with faculty in my instruction and subject liaison areas, it also came up over and over again during presentations at LAC12. In each session I attended, at least one presenter mentioned collaborating with someone outside of the library. Have an instruction theory or technique you want to test? Find a faculty member who is interested in shaking up their instruction or classroom activities. Not sure the best way to design your study or run those pesky statistical tests? Contact your computer science, mathematics, social science, etc. department to seek advice and potentially find collaborators. Equally important to remember – collaboration can be key in seeking grant funding. As a new librarian, I’ve found it’s extremely easy to stay busy and never leave the library. This conference helped remind me that forging relationships outside of the library is an important part of my daily job.

Finally, after chatting with my colleagues a bit after the conference, it was clear that we all identified slightly different important “take-aways.” And so I’m curious –  have you recently attended a conference? What were your big take-aways, professional and personal?

Responding to Change

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan, and John Unsworth, vice provost for Library and Technology Services at Brandeis University, speak on The Hathi Trust, Google Books, and the Future of Research. The event was the part of the BNN Symposium on the Future of the Academy sponsored by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP), the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and the Boston Library Consortium (BLC).

The theme of the day was institutional responses to technological change: how do we keep libraries relevant in supporting research? How can emerging technologies enable new kinds of research using traditional materials? How can we take advantage of changing technologies while preserving our values and services? This event was a great opportunity for thinking about these questions from a big-picture perspective.

Courant had a few central messages to his talk, which I summarize and comment on below. His words, paraphrased, are in italics, and my thoughts and questions follow.

  • Technology is a set of mechanisms that get you from input to output. Libraries produce value by making things reusable and sharing them; that’s a technology. We’re all using technology; there’s no such thing as a “technophobe.” Hardware and software, devices and databases, are all tools that function within this technology. Books are a technology: they move ideas along, from authorial input to reader output.
  • In a disrupted world, build things to see what works. Don’t wait for all the ducks to line up in a row. Dedicate time and energy for new initiatives, but don’t require that they be perfect, or have buy-in from an entire organization. Create and support spaces that enable experimental projects. (Is the Harvard Library Lab still operational? Are there others?) Learn from the things that don’t work.
  • The old system doesn’t tell you what to build. What do we do because we’ve always done it? Are there traditions (services, functions, processes) that we preserve for their own sake? What is worth preserving and what can we leave behind?
  • Look to purposes, not to things, although things can be the only way to some purposes. Is a traditional reference desk the only way to provide drop-in research help? What are other ways that we can provide time-of-need assistance? Must we be in the physical space of the library to provide this kind of help? Or does having a physical service desk in the centralized public space of the reading room encourage patrons to use librarians’ services? Does the presence of a reference desk enable user interactions that wouldn’t happen otherwise?
  • The library isn’t there for itself; it’s there to enable scholarship and learning. This is one of the “no-brainers” that I forget sometimes, especially with collection development. Creating an ideal collection with its own integrity can be very rewarding, but so can assembling connections to materials that enable and enrich research, teaching, and learning.
  • Preserve outcomes, not business models. Use the language of learning outcomes to help shape the direction of new projects. What do we want users to be able to do as a result of this service or product? What do users want to be able to do? How can we meet those needs using the resources we have?