Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

Let’s Assess!

The California State University system has been considering a move to performance-based funding. Librarians here have expressed a lot of consternation about how we can show we’re worth funding, let alone why we should have to show it at all. At the same time, Cal State Fullerton is making a big push towards implementing and assessing High Impact Practices (HIPs) as part of our focus on increasing student engagement, retention, and graduation, so as a library we have to figure out how we can incorporate HIPs as well.

I think there’s a tendency for librarians to worry a lot about how we’re going to assess what we do, both because it’s not something we’ve done formally and we’re inexperienced with it, and because librarians worry that their academic freedom is going to be impinged.

As an Instructional Design Librarian, I see the push towards assessment a little more optimistically (though I’m not at all onboard with performance-based funding!). However, I am interested in being effective at what I do, whether facilitating student learning, or providing outreach at campus events. I want to know if I’m making a difference. I also feel pretty well equipped to perform assessment activities since instructional design is my specialty.

What do you want to know?

Before we should start worrying about how we’re going to assess what we do, we have to decide what we want to assess. I think that there are two paths to decide on what we want to assess. There are our campus priorities, which of course we have to support, especially with the possibility of performance-based funding. There are also our own priorities – what kind of library do we want to be? What kinds of services and collections do we want to provide? What do we want students to learn from our one-shots?

I’m an Instructional Design Librarian, so naturally my assessment focus has an instructional bent. I like to write learning objectives for every session I teach, and each learning object that I create. Learning objectives ought to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and (sometimes) Time-bound. I write objectives for one-shots like “students will be able to give two examples of why a scholarly database is a better choice for university research than Google,” or they’ll be able to “describe the process for finding books using the Books & eBooks tab on the Pollak Library home page.” I’m not likely to demand that students write essays on how to search for books at our library so that I can formally measure their mastery, but I am likely to do an informal assessment to verify that students are learning.

Both formal and informal assessment will give us useful information on what works and what doesn’t, possibly saving us from using time and money on instructional efforts that aren’t effective. Formal assessment is just the quizzes and tests we give, or other graded assignments from which we can collect data. Informal assessment might just consist of chatting with your students to see if they “get it,” or if students are actually accomplishing a given task that they were assigned. I use a lot of informal assessment in my one-shot sessions due to limited time. However, I’m also working on a couple of assessment-related projects at my university that will yield useful data.

ID Workshops, ACRL Assessment in Action, and Badges

As this post falls under the cateogory “First Year Academic Librarian Experience,” you might assume that I’m still a new librarian. You’d be correct. That means I haven’t yet accomplished any meaningful assessment efforts, but I’m on my way. Last month I planned and delivered an instructional design workshop for librarians, wherein I introduced the concepts of Backward Design and how to write learning objectives. We definitely need to work more on writing measurable learning objectives, and I plan to deliver more workshops in the future. (FYI, I assessed my “students’” learning through Plickrs and Padlets in the class, but it was definitely informal assessment). I want to help librarians discover ways they can be as effective as possible in their work.

I’ll be doing some major assessing for the next 14 months since I’m now the proud Librarian Team Leader of the Pollak Library Assessment in Action (AiA) Team, part of the third cohort of ACRL’s AiA program. We’re going to embed our Human Services Librarian into an online class this fall, and assess his impact on student learning. This particular Human Services class used to come in for in-person instruction, but since it’s gone totally online the instructors have done without library instruction. This is a trend at our university, so I’d like to learn how we can better serve our online students and now just let them fall off our radar.

Finally, I’m contemplating the mechanics of implementing a badges program here at our university. I recently managed to get a really simple (beta) eLearning webpage going for us on a WordPress platform. There are several WordPress plugins that can be purchased that turn your WordPress site into an LMS – like LearnDash and Sensei. With the site magically transformed into an LMS, we can award badges based on quiz and tutorial completion. How cool would it be to tally up the number of Super Searcher badge-holders? If we were able to track our badge-holding students’ retention and graduation rates, we’d have some really nice information on the library’s correlation with student success!

A World with No Meetings?!

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.
— Dave Barry, “25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years”

As funny as I think Dave Barry can be, and in spite of the fact that he is correct to imply that meetings are often not the most efficient way to get things done, I am one of those weird people that actually enjoys meetings. Not ALL meetings, obviously, but more than half of them. And even during un-enjoyable (i.e. unproductive) meetings I try to walk out with something that I can take with me and make useful…and I usually can (even if occasionally what I walk away with is a firm resolution to never impose a similar meeting on anyone).

Clearly, some meetings are more valuable than others but why? Reflecting on my current position in academia I feel that within the division of the library in which I work a pretty high percentage of our meetings are useful. Often they are a time to collaborate. The best meetings are those in which we get together with the intention of making decisions collectively and leave the meeting having done so…or in which the goal of the meeting is to learn something specific. The worst meetings, on the other hand, are those without a clear goal and, my personal pet peeve, those focused on brainstorming.

meeting flochart

As an example of a “good” meeting: twice a month I go to a meeting with the other members of the “Acquisitions Team” which consists of three collection development librarians (I am one of them), the Media Librarian and our Collection Assessment Librarian. We discuss areas of the collections that are important or need resources (based on data collected by our assessment librarian) and make decisions about how to curate our collection. And that is key: our goal is to make decisions; we do not just talk about ideas. There is a clear agenda for each meeting and a dedicated online space for our group to collaborate and communicate between meetings so that we are all up-to-date. These are useful meetings.

Quite a few of the meetings I attend are with vendors. As the Electronic Resources Librarian vendor communication is a huge (HUGE) part of my job. Some of these meetings are in-person while others are webinars, usually demos of products we own but occasionally demos of products we are evaluating or trialing. Sometimes these meeting are just myself and a vendor rep, other times these meetings involve more people – often subject librarians and even faculty. These meetings are almost always useful because they are an opportunity to learn about resources that support our users. Sure, you can read about vendors and resources online or watch tutorials but the chance to ask questions and see a demonstration of the value of a particular resource to our specific users is invaluable.

And then, of course, there are committee meetings. Whether you are a member of the teaching faculty or a faculty(-equivalent) librarian you attend committee meetings! Honestly, some of these are pointless in the sense that we could get done what we get done without meeting and in probably a lot less time. I think the reason these are “necessary” is often because the tendency of many people is to not participate if they don’t have to show up somewhere and I don’t know if that will ever change. Whether the main focus of your job is teaching, working in administration, or running the library, it is really easy to put committee work on the back burner. I have to schedule time on my calendar to prepare for meetings or else I will get busy and forget because my day-to-day responsibilities are more obvious. If I don’t respond to an email about an ebook issue or complete an order form, etc the library (or at least my little part of the library) will not be functioning smoothly. If I don’t prepare for a meeting of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee there is not an immediate problem although in the long term if committees aren’t doing the planning the university will stop functioning smoothly…therefore meetings wherein we vote on new courses are useful.

Okay, I’m backing myself into a corner defending the value of meetings so I will stop now. In each instance I mentioned the time spent in a meeting is only worthwhile if certain things happen. In my opinion, these things must include, at minimum:

  1. One or more concrete decisions being made or measurable outcome accomplished.
  2. An agenda in place and followed.
  3. Valuable information being disseminated.

I have certainly attended meetings that were not useful. My personal frustration is highest with “brainstorming meetings”. These are usually somebody fleshing out an idea while everyone else contributes minimally or not at all. The person doing the brainstorming is almost always the person who called the meeting. If you want to do collaborative brainstorming make sure you include 1, 2, and 3 from above. Have an agenda, be sure you have an objective outcome to attain and be sure that the project or program you want to brainstorm about will benefit from information that every single invitee provides.

This post has been a round-a-bout way of getting to my point: meetings can be useful but there are limits to that and requirements for any meeting that must be met in order to achieve usefulness. I absolutely love this flowchart from the Huffington Post. It doesn’t perfectly match my own opinion or what I perceive to be the needs of my department but I would like to rework it to do so. If I get that done, I will come back and update this post but I haven’t had time to get to it yet – to many meetings!

I’m wondering what works for meetings at other academic libraries. What makes your meetings useful? Are they ever useful? Would you be happy in a world with NO meetings? I wouldn’t but I recognize that I might be in the minority.

Going National at ACRL

I had the great privilege to attend ACRL last month in Portland – my first national conference! ACRL veterans had given me the scare that ACRL conferences are intimidatingly large and difficult to get around, but I planned out what I wanted to see in advance and found the conference very approachable, especially after attending the first-timers presentation.

I was excited about my impending trip to Portland for ACRL 2015 for months in advance, and Portland was truly a fantastic location for a conference. The public transportation was incredible, and drivers so friendly to walkers and cyclists – a complete departure from my home in Orange County.

What I got out of ACRL 2015

The biggest takeaways I had from attending ACRL were from networking and learning about what librarians were doing at other institutions. The very first presentation I intended was about online embedded librarianship, which is a project that I’m working on at my institution since only a couple of librarians have done online work with students. I learned a lot from audience participants and from chatting with librarians sitting near me. I also really enjoyed the poster sessions – I attended all of them, and chatted with many of the presenters.

I also made friends with many librarians from my area of southern California! I had lunch with a librarian that works only 40 miles away from me, but, amusingly, we met in person for the first time in Portland. I also got to reconnect with colleagues from previous places I’ve worked. It was great to see familiar faces!

While planning out the events I wanted to see at ACRL, I crammed my schedule full of vendor lunches and social hours, but pared those back and I’m really grateful I did. I had much less free time than I thought I would, and social opportunities and other events cropped up organically. Deciding that I wouldn’t overextend myself also meant that I briefly felt guilty about skipping Jad Abumrad’s keynote for a nap, but the nap was totally worth it.

What I would do differently next time

However, I did not attend any workshops or roundtables, or the Unconference – and I wish that I had. I was indecisive about attending the workshops and didn’t sign up before they all filled, but after the fact I realized that my work would really have benefitted from spending several hours developing a concept or a project. The roundtables probably would’ve been another great opportunity to learn from what other librarians are doing.

Next time I’m also definitely going to propose a presentation or roundtable (this year I was barely starting out as a librarian when the due date came!). A colleague and I were lucky to have a poster accepted for the virtual conference, but I would love to gather librarians interested in the same topics I am in one place to share and hear ideas.

What else should I attend as an Instructional Design Librarian?

I’m now pretty close to finishing out my first year as a new Instructional Design Librarian! While I got a lot out of attending ACRL, I wish that I had seen more presentations that were more directly relevant to what I do at work. Early in the academic year, I received the advice from a senior librarian to attend conferences where there are “people that do what you do,” but I don’t think there are that many librarians that do what I do, at least to the same extent.

I recently learned about the DevLearn conference, held in Las Vegas each year. It targets instructional designers and e-learning developers, not librarians – but it sounds right up my alley! I was intrigued by last year’s presentations that were focused on advanced aspects of Articulate Storyline functionality, or tutorial navigation design. While somewhat local, it’s really pricey! But perhaps it’s something to keep in mind.

Librarians at ACRL recommended that I attend Internet Librarian, or LOEX – but Internet Librarian doesn’t seem quite relevant to what I do. LOEX, though, has a lot of potential, and sounds like a great, small-ish, conference to attend as an instruction librarian.

Wrap-Up and Up Next

I stayed in Portland an extra day for sightseeing. I rented a bicycle for 24 hours and got a lot of use out of it, especially since the weather was sunny and perfect! I also ate wonderful food while I was in Portland (who knew a pickled beet and horseradish sandwich would be pretty tasty) and had the best toasted hazelnut latte of my life from a hipster coffee shop. I highly recommend taking time to sight-see after conferences, alone or with library friends. On my solo adventures on Saturday I ran into many a librarian, and then I went on a lazy bike tour with a friend on Sunday.

Alas, it seems like that day of sightseeing was the last day of not worrying about work for a while! In June, I’ll be attending the 2015 Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success in Madison, Wisconsin, as part of a university team; then I’ll be in San Francisco for ALA, where a colleague and I will be presenting a poster in-person. Previously I had been looking forward to my summer being slow so that I could tackle big projects, but I’m already anxious that I won’t have much free time at work, especially since I’ll be taking three weeks off work in July for vacation, and then my first tenure-track portfolio will be due mid-September. But I’m still looking forward to finishing out my first year as a real librarian!

Focus and Spring Fevers

It always seems so unfair that people tend to get sick in the springtime. Just as the weeks of perfect temperatures and sunshine get underway and you want to be outside all the time just soaking in the gorgeous weather along come allergies, and sinus infections, colds and flu, etc. This year I was lucky enough to get sick twice in rapid succession so for the last week or so I have had a hard time focusing on anything more complicated than what time of day to take my next dose of decongestant and how many packages of tissues I need for any given event. And of course remembering to never forget to take hand sanitizer everywhere so as to avoid infecting others. I’m finally starting to feel human again which means now I’m realizing how quickly my task list grows when I’m not functioning at normal capacity. Basically, if you can’t focus you can’t get much done.


I did an informal poll of my coworkers to find out what helps them focus and learned that what works for one person might not be helpful for another. For example, headphones were mentioned by several people but there was disagreement as to whether they foster concentration or create distraction. One of my colleagues mentioned that she gets distracted by new music but familiar tunes become a sort of background noise that help her focus on tasks. When she said that, I realized that I have the opposite experience. When I listen to music I know well, I start humming along and even dancing around (obviously it’s an understated nerdy seated dance only performed when nobody is looking). For me it’s often better to listen to music without lyrics.

Another colleague mentioned the value of white noise, which I have not yet tried but is an excellent idea. It’s the workplace equivalent of sleeping with a fan running to drown out noisy neighbors. I downloaded an app called White Noise Lite. It not only offers lots of sound choices, from box fan to rain forest, but also says users can “record and loop additional new sounds with total ease”. That is a really cool idea if there is something specific that you enjoy hearing. I’m thinking that the fountain and wind chimes on my patio would be perfect for relaxation; every time I hear these sounds I will picture myself lounging in the hammock (note: this may or may not be ideal for workplace productivity).

Another tip offered by several of my coworkers was to remove distractions. Put away your cell phone, turn off email notifications, log out of social media, etc.. You can employ a plug in like LeechBlock (for FireFox) or StayFocusd (for Chrome) that will limit the amount of time you can spend on distracting websites if that is an issue for you. Know the best time to perform certain tasks and organize your workday accordingly. Is the office noisy between 11am and 1pm? Schedule menial tasks that only require short attention span or get caught up on your emails during that time. If certain distractions are too much, you might even change the location of your desk. I recently moved to a new cubicle for reasons unrelated to concentration and was surprised to learn how much easier it was to focus in my new location – even though my former desk had been fine, this one was an improvement.

Another suggestion involved switching from a regular desk chair to a stability ball. Giving your body the ability to be positioned in a comfortable way makes it easier to keep your mind on task. A similar strategy is used successfully with students who have ADHD. I, too, find my stability ball conducive to getting things done efficiently. Something about staying physically engaged instead of slouching into my chair keeps my mind active as well. A stability ball might not be the best solution for everyone; finding a more comfortable chair that improves your posture could be just as beneficial. The key is finding what works for you, not settling for whatever dusty old seat was assigned when you got hired.

The most valuable and interesting advice came from one of our student assistants, Jessica. I was especially interested to hear from our students because their desks are in the most highly travelled area of our department, right out in the open without even cubicle walls to keep distractions at bay. Surprisingly, her first tip was not to avoid distractions but to “get comfortable with the distractions”. In other words, don’t get frustrated with them or try to pretend like they don’t exist – accept them and get over it. This fits in generally with the concept of mindfulness that has been proven in countless studies to boost productivity. Be present; focus on the here-and-now; be totally aware of where you are, what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is a key aspect of many meditation practices but can also be as simple as taking a few seconds during a stressful time to focus on your breathing, notice your posture and get centered in your surroundings.

So, to summarize: the best tip to stay focused is to not get sick, ever. If that proves impossible, try some of these tips to get back and stay on track — especially practicing mindfulness.

Further Reading

Schilling, D. L., K. Washington, F. F. Billingsley, and J. Deitz. “Classroom Seating for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Therapy Balls Versus Chairs.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57.5 (2003): 534-41. Web.

Shao, Ruodan, and Daniel P. Skarlicki. “The Role of Mindfulness in Predicting Individual Performance.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 41.4 (2009): 195-201. ProQuest. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.





The Key Word is Scalability

Cal State Fullerton is a campus of 38,000 students and 2,000 faculty. We have about sixteen instruction librarians (figuring in part-time people). That’s 2,375 students and 125 faculty for each librarian.

From these numbers, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that we are very interested in exploring scalable solutions to reach more of our campus. Of course, our staff isn’t going to be scaled up anytime soon. Minimized over the last few years through attrition, instruction librarian staff here is already struggling to keep up with existing obligations. We also have a fixed number of computer classrooms available for library instruction – just three.

Altogether, we have limited instruction staff, time, and space. With limited time, we need to prioritize higher-level work. We need to repurpose and reuse wherever possible. We already have to say no to some instructors that request a library session simply due to lack of space, and we’re currently serving only a handful of online classes.

These challenges mean that we have to explore novel pedagogical solutions – either trying flipped classrooms, or automated online lessons, or online lessons facilitated by librarians.

The One-Shot is Outdated

I’ve taught information literacy one-shot sessions for freshmen at four different institutions, and the format is basically the same at all of them. Students are assigned a research paper by their instructor. Instructor requests one-shot library session. Librarian creates class LibGuide, or offers existing LibGuide. In the one-shot, the librarian extols the virtues of library resources over google. Librarian provides a LibGuide walk-through, and demos databases. Librarian explains how to search Academic Search Complete/Premier. Librarian gives students time to search their own topics.

However, the one-shot library session traditionally includes more informing than instructing, which is likely an effect of the need to cram as much as possible into a single hour. We get only an hour with students so we spend a lot of that hour convincing students to use library resources. However, effective instruction results in measurable behavioral change. Effective instruction is equipping students with new skills (behaviors) through facilitation of active learning techniques rather than attempting to push information through lectures, which are not effective.

Rather than spending time in class informing students, we can shift that information into a pre-lesson for students to complete before class time, and then we can spend time in class working on higher level skills, like research topic formulation, keyword brainstorming, and broadening or narrowing searches. Real research skills. Or we can do a minimum of informing and then have students work through the research process, which is what I’ve been doing this semester, and position the LibGuide as a resource for students to pull information as needed.

Inspiration from a Regional Conference

I went to a wonderful local conference a few weeks ago, SCIL Works, put on by the Southern California Instruction Librarians interest group. A group from Cal State San Marcos presented on their information literacy lesson. Their students weren’t given the option to search with their own topics. They were assigned topics. Students were taught the nuts and bolts of performing research with hands-on activities (through Guide on the Side), and told that they would merely have to repeat the process with their own topics. The librarians didn’t provide instruction on how to search Academic Search Premier – they let students figure it out on their own.

I was inspired! Since I’m a new librarian, I’ve been cautious about deviating from the traditional library one-shot until I was really familiar with my new library’s culture. But by my eighth class this semester, my lesson plan included about ten minutes of “informing” through class discussion, a YouTube video, and lecturing, then a class activity where I have students pair off and work through online tutorials I developed with Guide on the Side and Articulate Storyline. The LibGuide I develop for each class is basically a simple LMS (learning management system) – it serves as the platform for my (brief) presentation, for the class activity, and as an information and research resource for students to return to for the rest of the semester.

So What Does All This Have to Do with Scaling?

Everything I develop for a given class I intend to reuse. I start by not creating anything new at all if I can help it. I scour the web for YouTube videos and learning objects from places like PRIMO and MERLOT. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of good stuff out there that I can use instantly, because of either poor quality, content that only relates to originating institution, or lack of ability to customize. Lucky for me I have Camtasia to make videos, a shiny new copy of Articulate Storyline 2 for interactive tutorials, and a half-installed version of Guide on the Side for quick-to-program activities (the email/quiz feature at the end isn’t functional yet).

As a new Instructional Design Librarian I’m still in the planning/brainstorming phase for library instructional initiatives, but I’m going to help my university library scale up our instruction by developing (and collecting) online tutorials on basic library research skills (and organizing them with useful metadata/learning objectives). I’m plotting to collaboratively design our own badges program to allow instructors to assign research skills modules as they see fit. I’m working on a proposal for ACRL Assessment in Action (AiA) to embed a librarian into an online class to discover best practices for reaching more online-only students. What I’m most excited about is developing campus relationships to tell everyone about what we do at the library, because scaling up can’t happen without faculty taking advantage (ACRL AiA is great for promoting campus relationships).

Enabling Colleagues to Scale Too

Unfortunately I’m the only instructional designer at my library and I have to be careful I don’t take on more than I can handle (still working on this)! I am an Instructional Design Librarian, not just an instructional designer. Some libraries have instructional designers on staff that work with librarians to create whatever they can dream up. At first, I thought I might somewhat fill that role, but because I’m tenure-track, and have instruction and reference duties, and have assigned liaison departments, I don’t have time to fulfill a lot of design requests from colleagues. I have to prioritize my time and my projects.

So I’m planning an inaugural instructional design/technology workshop for librarians, complete with our own internal Instructional Design Toolkit (LibGuide), which I’m still working on but was inspired to complete by Berkeley College (big thanks again to Amanda Piekart for sharing her Toolkit with me)! I want to partner with colleagues to teach them instructional design and development skills, and to empower them to create whatever they dream up. I’m hoping that I will inspire librarians here to scale themselves up, too – by designing or recording their own learning objects that they can reuse again and again, and share with campus faculty. Design and development is a lot of work, but it pays off by having existing templates for reuse. Whatever we create will be repurposable into online courses and into a badges system – learning object development pays off in the long run!