Category Archives: Just Thinking

Use this category for raising questions and thinking out loud or reflecting on writings for which there is no real specific topic.

Somewhat Off-the-Cuff Thoughts About the Print Vs Ebook Debates

I opened the paper this morning to an article discussing the continuing fight for market share between print books and ebooks. In a headline sure to lure in every librarian and avid reader — The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead — the New York Times reports that:

E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

It’s a decent article, though to my mind it glosses over many of the issues around print books and ebooks that librarians are well aware of. The reading landscape is complicated — it’s less a matter of either, or and more both, and. We see it at the Reference Desk when some students are happy to have access to an ebook on their device, while others wrinkle their noses if they find a book that’s only available electronically and ask if there’s any way we can get them the hard copy. In my library our printing statistics are through the roof as students print thousands of pages per week; yes, some of these pages are their assignments or journal articles, but some are ebook chapters too.

Ebooks can be troublesome, frankly, even for those who want to use them. As a library user and a librarian and an avid reader, I’m highly motivated to sign into multiple platforms at my university’s library or the public library to be able to read books on my phone or tablet, but the barriers can seem very high to novice ebook users. Alycia Sellie’s recent article in Urban Library Journal notes the trials and tribulations that students in her library experience when they want to use ebooks (among other topics), frustrations which often “makes them dislike the libraries that offer them.” And even those who are extremely digitally savvy may not embrace ebooks. In my house, with an n of 2, I read both print and ebooks (and the paper newspaper), while my spouse, a software engineer, reads only print books (though the newspaper on his phone).

While I do think the Times article doesn’t delve as deeply into the complexities of print vs. ebooks as it could, I’m glad to see it, and especially glad to see that physical bookstores are seeing a boost in print sales. I also hope that folks who have input into the future of libraries — politicians, funders, etc. — take note before issuing proclamations about the death of print books. The public libraries in my city are booming, and they are full of print books, as are all of the K-12 public school classrooms in NYC that I’ve ever been in. My son, who just started high school, reads only print books at home (his choice) and in school, though he did receive one of his textbooks on CD this year. Kids of all ages read lots — for school and for their own interests — and they may not have access to devices that make it easy for them to read ebooks. I think we’ll be living in our both, and hybrid print/digital book world for a while yet.

Digging Into My Non-Library Past

Like many academic libraries, library faculty at my college and university are required to have a second graduate degree in addition to the ML(I)S. I came to librarianship after a couple of other careers, and one of the things that attracted me to the field (and to academic librarianship specifically) was the opportunity to use some of the knowledge and skills I’d picked up in my prior work, especially in research, teaching, and instructional technology.

Those skills could be gained during graduate study in lots of different disciplines, though. My prior graduate work is in anthropology, and specifically archaeology. I spent 8 years in a graduate program to get my MA and PhD, and sometimes I find myself wondering, what does that have to do with librarianship?

Anthropology in the U.S. typically takes a four-field approach, in which cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology are all in the same department (this is not necessarily the case outside the U.S.). As an anthropology major in college and at the beginning of my graduate studies I was required to take courses in all four fields, and while I sometimes felt that a non-archaeology class was less relevant to my immediate interests, I appreciated being exposed to the full range of the discipline. Close and distant observation as well as listening to others’ experiences are important aspects of all four fields of anthropology, and the opportunity to explore ethnographic methods has been especially useful to me in both my daily practice as a librarian and in my research on how students do their academic work in the library and elsewhere.

What about archaeology? Digging up remnants of the past, cleaning and refitting what we find, using drawings and photographs to record the site — that couldn’t be more different than librarianship, right? But since I’ve become a librarian I’ve been thinking more on the similarities than the differences. To be somewhat reductive, archaeology is using what people have left behind to try to answer the question “what happened here?” It involves looking at objects – tools, garbage, etc. – as well as structures, roads, and other traces of work and life. A circle of soil that’s a different color and texture than the surrounding soil might be a post hole, where a log that held up the roof of a house once stood; broken and sawed bones could be the remains of a meal.


I ask that question in the library, too: what happened here? What did students leave behind — books on the desk? the remains of a meal? (always a challenge for us) rearranged furniture? Two or three kickstools clustered in the stacks around an electrical outlet suggest students using them as seats while they charge their devices. Sometimes I take a picture of an unusual situation or innovative solution to a problem, like this photo taken during finals week last semester of a student who brought their own extension cord to reach an outlet and made a handy sign to warn other library users not to trip on the cord. (Access to outlets is definitely an issue in our library.)

I also ask what’s happening in the library as a whole. How do the different parts — our facilities, services, resources — work together for the benefit of our patrons? When the group study area is buzzing with conversation in the late afternoon, is there enough space on the quiet floor for those who need silence? Figuring out how students use the library often involves observing people in physical spaces in addition to the things they leave behind, but like archaeology we can use our observations to puzzle out both “what happened here?” and “how might things happen differently?”

I’m sure I’m not the only one to consider what my extra-library experience brings to my library practice. What does your additional academic experience, either undergraduate or graduate, bring to your academic library work?

Still Lost in the Academy: The Importance of #L1S and Other First Generation Initiatives

Disclaimer: This post is only about my experience as a first generation student. My experience is not truth. While I try to highlight some research done on this topic and point to others’ reflections, it’s worth stating that first generation student’s experiences are as diverse as they are.

Sometimes I get comfortable. I start to think that I have “made it” (whatever the hell that means), that I finally have some level of comfort with the academy, that I can speak the language of academia, that I can honor where I come from while still fitting in where I’ve worked so hard to be. And then I realize just how naïve I am.

A lot has happened in the last few months to bring me back to this topic. Kelly Kietur recently wrote a brilliant blog post entitled “HOT TAKE: class feelings and lis,” where she names her feelings of never belonging as being a “perpetual outsider”. This really resonated with me and pushed me to think about and reflect upon my recent experiences and how they relate to my first generation student status.

I just moved to a new institution, Davidson College, to start my journey as a new professional. The transition has been smooth sailing, mostly because of the awesome team that I have here. Still, Davidson is a very prestigious, selective college (the class of 2018’s median ACT score was a 31, which is 5 points higher than my best) and it has been difficult for me not to psych myself out about being in this environment. Davidson also recruits brilliant faculty that have degrees from other highly prestigious institutions. I often find myself doubting my ability (more on this later) to connect with them in a meaningful way or even have an in-depth conversation with them.

In addition to adjusting to Davidson, I’ve spent a lot more time with my mother recently. A few weeks ago she volunteered to help me move everything I own down to North Carolina, which was not an easy task, given that it was almost one hundred degrees for most of the move. Even just this one act illustrates my mom’s thoughtfulness and generosity. She has taught me things about the world that you can’t learn in a classroom. She continuously keeps me grounded but still ambitious. Yet being with her for almost a week reminded me that we always have to remember where we come from. She mispronounced words that are in my daily vocabulary now. She asked me a lot of questions about flying because she hadn’t been on a plane in over a decade. She talked about the physical work she had been doing and her fear of not having a real plan for retirement. I say these things not to embarrass my mom or ground sweeping statements about those without post-secondary education but simply because I think they illustrate what sparked my reflection. Does pronunciation really define how I feel about my mom? Of course not. But here I’m reminded of one of Maria Accardi’s more recent insights on her Library Burnout blog:

I think that the impulse to compare yourself to others in order to improve your mindset or make you feel grateful is not always the most affirming mental move to make, but thinking about my life in terms of my mother-in-law’s life has certainly informed and enriched my perspective, because while I do feel marginalized in some areas of my life, I also exist on multiple axes of privilege.

I value every minute I get to spend with my mom. But every minute also reminds me that I’m often playing make-believe, trying to pretend that I fit into academia and the poverty that I come from or, worse, that I have finally found my true place in the academy and that I should be ashamed of where I started and who I “left behind”. These feelings often create a sense of guilt that can be unmanageable.

To top it all off, I have also been working on the first draft of my first peer-reviewed publication. Kelly describes publishing in a journal as “daunting and almost impossible,” which I agree with. As I read more and more articles for my literature review, I find so much of the LIS and education literature inaccessible. These are articles about development, international forms of open access, the digital divide, and critical and inclusive pedagogy and I have trouble understanding a lot of it. Why write an article if the people that you are writing it for/ about can’t read it?! Ellen MacInnis recently tweeted something I think everyone claiming to do “radical” research needs to read:

So what’s my point? Why am I writing about this on ACRLog? I believe that we still have a lot of work to do in LIS, both in supporting and nurturing new LIS professionals that come from a first generation background and in creating academic library services that support first generation students broadly. In addition, I often see a lot of conversations focused on either the financial or academic hardships that first generation students face. These usually talk about retention in terms of scholarships, grants, or work study or the availability of academic support structures like remedial courses or tutoring. These conversations are vital to the success of first gen students. But I think that the social and emotional challenges that first generation students grapple with sometimes take a back seat to these more “tangible” problems, even though addressing them is just as important to actually retaining students. Further, if students are feeling guilty, angry, abandoned, and alone it is likely to affect their academic success.

For Ourselves

There are LIS professionals that identify as “first generation,” whether that means being the first person in their family to go to college or graduate school or the simply someone that is currently part of a different class than the one they were raised in. How can we, as first generation LIS practitioners, support each other? How can our colleagues learn more about the challenges we face?

This work has already been started! Cecily Walker (@skeskali) has started to collect feedback from self-identified first generation LIS folks about what support they need. As a result, she moderated a Twitter chat on June 1st where first gen LIS professionals discussed the challenges they face, how their experiences with class have informed their work, and what “coming out” to colleagues looked like. Cecily explains why she finds this work important on her blog.

I’ve had two revelations recently that I’d love to see the LIS community discuss more.

Several years ago, Teresa Heinz Housel wrote an article for the Chronicle entitled “First-Generation Students Need Help in Straddling Their 2 Cultures.” In the article, she describes her experience realizing that a new status didn’t change the disconnect she felt while in the academy:

After I accepted a faculty position, I wrongfully assumed that the old cultural demons would be gone. If anything, cultural isolation can increase up the career trajectory. Dinner parties, intellectual competition, and expectation of education as a right rather than a privilege underscore academic values.

I continue to learn and re-learn this. Earlier I described this feeling of “making it,” of feeling secure in academia. I am constantly realizing that being a first generation student actually means realizing again and again that I am different. I have profoundly different experiences than many of my colleagues and that’s okay. It’s actually something to be proud of. But sometimes I will find myself in situations where it’s difficult to remember that. I feel ashamed that I don’t know something or I feel lost in certain conversations. I feel like I’m a helpless college freshman all over again. How do other LIS professionals deal with these feelings? How do we continue to show pride in being different and assert that our voices make academia a much more rich and fascinating place?

I have also been thinking a lot lately about how the media and the public has informed the way I think about my abilities and myself. Lynne Coy-Ogan wrote a dissertation in 2009 where she studied first-generation students in depth. One of her findings was that despite their resiliency and success in other aspects of their lives, first generation students were often reluctant to identify themselves possibly because of shame related to the criminalization of poverty. They believed that they were “subordinate to their peers” and they often underestimated their abilities (Coy-Ogan, 2009, p. 19). They are also more likely to accept degrading or demeaning labels or representations of themselves (Coy-Ogan, 2009).

I do this a lot. I beat myself up. I underestimate my ability in a variety of situations, from #critlib chats to faculty outreach. I have already doubted this blog post and the quality of my writing several times! Part of this is that I am a human being. We always have some level of self-doubt and fear when we’re putting ourselves out there. However, the older I get, the more I realize that my feelings fit into a greater narrative that the world has told me about myself. From Missouri’s food bans to Arizona’s drug tests, our nation has no problem dehumanizing its poorest citizens. Welfare recipients are depicted as lazy drug addicts whose only skill set is manipulating and cheating the system. This idea has been alive and well since Reagan depicted the “welfare queen” several decades ago.

When you spend all of your life hearing these things about yourself, about your caretaker, about your community, what does this do to your self-esteem? What do you internalize? More importantly, how do we take these stories back? How do we assert that they won’t have power over us any longer? How do we help students do the same?

For Our Students

We have to acknowledge that a) first generation students exist on our campuses and b) that they experience the same challenges I’ve discussed above (and many more). There is a ton of literature on how to serve and mentor first-generation students and taking advantage of it should be an active part of library service planning, not an afterthought.

Again, I think that there also needs to be a more extensive conversation about the emotional, affective challenges inherent in being the first person in your family to straddle class lines and bear the emotional weight of “making it” for everyone before you that couldn’t. I know that having mentors that were more familiar with higher education than my parents has been invaluable. Having a community of other first generation students, faculty, and staff to work through these issues with would have also been helpful. How can librarians take on these roles?

Librarians should also start to think about first generation students’ needs in the context of information literacy, scholarly communication, and technology. Brinkman et al. presented an ACRL conference paper entitled “When the Helicopters are Silent: The Information Seeking Strategies of First-Generation College Students” in 2013. They explore a thought-provoking idea: if first-generation students’ parents don’t have specific information-seeking experience (as most other college students’ parents do) how do their information-seeking habits differ from their peers, both academically and practically? How does this affect library anxiety?

Getting to Work

Housel ends her Chronicle article with the following sentence:

I have slowly found other first-generation colleagues at my institution and others. Our conversations helped me realize that the biggest lie we have faced is that we do not belong in academic culture.

Let’s make our profession one that intentionally challenges and disregards this lie instead of perpetuating it.


Brinkman, S., Gibson, K., & Presnell, J. (2013). When the helicopters are silent: The information seeking strategies of first-generation college students. In D.M. Mueller (Ed.), Imagine, innovate, inspire: The proceedings of the ACRL 2013 conference. (pp. 643-650). Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Coy-Ogan, L. (2009). Percieved factors influencing the pursuit of higher education among first- generation college students (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses database. (UMI Number 3389750).

Summer doldrums: Regenerating some mojo, or How sweet it really is

The end of the semester / start of summer can be a difficult time. A hectic and demanding (and fun, to be sure) semester can be draining, and my motivation sometimes wanes. I’m not the only one plagued by this lethargy. It’s a common complaint for (and bond between!) those of us in higher ed. In late April and early May, June shines brightly as a coveted reward for us academic folk suffering from a touch of burnout. The promise of its wide-open schedule is alluring and sustaining. Yet June never really delivers, does it? Summer’s to-do list isn’t any shorter than the semester’s. In some ways, it’s just as demanding. The many projects and priorities set aside for more dedicated attention come summer pile up rather quickly. And the overflow from the semester quickly floods into summer, too. The fact that I started this blog post in early June and that it’s already the beginning of July by the time I’m publishing it is perhaps the perfect illustration of the tension between fatigue fallout and the heft of summer project lists.

So what to do when the feeling of weariness weighs me down? Time off, no doubt, is a restorative. But perhaps also taking stock of good fortune can revitalize me. When I look back on the decisions that led me to librarianship and my place in it now, I recognize more than a few riches.

It was in college, knee-deep in research for my senior thesis, that I first saw librarianship as a potential fit. I recall a rather clear moment of self-recognition: I was sitting down to yet another PsycINFO search at a library computer, my list of search terms and my pile of collected articles before me. (If only Zotero had existed then!) In that moment, I identified energy and empowerment in the joining of exploration and discovery with (what I hoped was) skillful use of tools and sources. The enjoyment that I now see I derived from the process of my research project marked my future.

Up to that point, I had been largely on track to pursue a career in clinical psychology. But a library path quickly started to feel like a better fit. It satisfied my hope to work in a helping profession, although in a different way than as a psychologist. And librarianship felt like a chance for perpetual learning. I loved this idea and still do. As a librarian, I thought I could satiate my desire to dabble in a wide spectrum of topics while helping others pursue their inquiries. The chance to help people and the chance to learn are what got me here, more or less, although it feels banal to say so. But these choices and these values have held true for me and still motivate me. It feels like a truly lucky thing to be learning something every day, to understand something today that I didn’t or couldn’t understand yesterday or last month or last year.

When I set my sights on a future of librarian-as-lifelong-learner, it was the acquisition of information itself I anticipated. But what I think I’ve actually learned most about are people and process. Sure, I gleaned interesting and important information about the impact of China’s water policy on human rights during a recent research consultation with a student. But what resonated still stronger with me was trying to understand what that student needed to advance his thinking in that moment, learning how that student learns and how best to mentor him. In helping him conceptualize his research questions and information needs, we uncovered and mapped his and others’ thinking. Through connecting users with information, I’ve learned about what we need and want, about how we teach and learn. It’s thanks to such close work with users and such frequent collaboration with colleagues that I’ve learned about how we think, behave, and communicate.

Given my inclination toward psychology, perhaps it’s not unexpected that I often see and interpret the world through this lens of mind and behavior. And no doubt that time and experience have facilitated my perspective, too. But there’s something unique about the nexus of people, content, and process in library work that affords such a vantage point. It’s with this outlook that I feel fortunate. It’s from here that I can feel my momentum regenerating.

What views does librarianship afford you? What do you call upon when your motivation flags? Let me know what you think in the comments…

Considering Conferencing

Like many of us I was #alaleftbehind this past weekend. I spent some time sitting on the sofa scrolling through Twitter catching up on the programs and happenings at ALA Annual, and I’m grateful to folks who’re livetweeting the sessions and those who’ve posted their talks and slides for all to see. But it’s not the same as being there, of course.

Every year around this time I feel a twinge of guilt as I realize that it’s yet another year into my career in librarianship, and I still have not been to Annual. I did go to Midwinter once, just as I was finishing my MLIS. That year it was in a nearby location and, even though I hadn’t found a full-time job yet, staying with family and registering on the student rate meant that it didn’t break the bank.

But still: the guilt, it twinges, especially since I’ve been to ACRL every year since I’ve been an academic librarian save for my first year. So I took to Twitter and sought out other #alaleftbehind folks:

Most of the folks who responded were academic librarians (not a surprise, since I was specifically wondering about academic librarians), and the first point made was one that I’ve often thought too: for librarians who work at colleges and universities, ACRL is a much more valuable conference than ALA because it’s so focused on academic librarianship. I’ve always had a terrific time at ACRL and learned an enormous amount.

Which is not to say that I couldn’t see myself having an equally great/educational time at Annual. But, as the conversation quickly acknowledged, we are often under very real financial constraints when making our professional development plans. At my college we are typically not funded enough to completely cover travel to more than one cross-country conference each year, which for me this year was ACRL in Portland. There might also be other conferences we’re interested in attending — discipline-specific conferences, or perhaps other library conferences too. If the conference stars align and ALA and ACRL are both in the northeast one year, I can see myself going to both, but if not I’ll probably continue to prioritize ACRL on the years it’s held.

Work-life balance was another aspect that came up in the conversations. Several folks noted that going to lots of conferences is not only expensive in money but also in time and, depending on our family situation, we may not be able to take the time for multiple conferences. I felt this more acutely when my kid was younger (he’s a teenager now), but still, time away is definitely a consideration for me.

The cons were familiar to me, but what about the pros? I think what’s been twinging my guilt more this time around is that I’m now wrapping up my first year as Chief Librarian at my college. I think more about the whole library now than I did when I was instruction coordinator, from collections to facilities and everything in between. We’re hoping for a small renovation soon so I can definitely see myself doing lots of furniture and space planning research if I were at ALA right now. And, beyond chairs with wheels, I’m certain there’s lots I could learn from libraries outside of academia — public and special and more.

If I could fave this tweet more than once, I would, as it seems to describe exactly what I’ve wondered about going to ALA. So I’ll be keeping my eye on the conference schedule and trying to make it work soon, I hope.

If you’re a regular (or even not-so-regular) attendee at ALA, why do you go? Let us know in the comments.