Category Archives: Professional Development

For announcement of professional development opportunities and for discussions of professional development in academic librarianship or higher education.

Reflections on the 2012 California Conference on Library Instruction

Last Friday I attended the California Conference on Library Instruction. This one-day conference featured three presentations centered on the theme, “Embedded Librarians: Reaching People Where They Learn.”  Cass Kvenild, Distance Learning Librarian at the University of Wyoming, spoke on best practices for embedded librarianship.  She explored all the different ways librarians could embed themselves—particularly within the course itself.  One of the biggest pointsI took from Cass’s presentation is that it is very important to clearly set expectations with the teaching faculty member that you are working when it comes to the issues such as assignments, grading, and the syllabus.  This is definitely a lesson I have learned the hard way.

Joshua Vossler, Information Literacy/Reference Librarian at Coastal Carolina University, gave an incredibly entertaining and energetic presentation on creating instructional videos. He believes that learning is dependent on focused attention; therefore, the instructional videos we create need to be dynamic and humorous.  Joshua provided a helpful list of best practices for creating instructional videos, such as “Use anything silly or weird, such as a chicken” and “Videos should be no longer than three minutes.” I highly recommend that you check out his videos here. He has certainly inspired me to brainstorm ways I can infuse more humor into my own instructional video series.

Lastly, Michael Brewer, Team Leader for Instruction Services at the University of Arizona, gave a presentation entitled “The embedded library: How the University of Arizona Libraries are taking it to their users.” Michael described how his library worked with various campus partners to get a library widget embedded in the University’s course management system.  Even if a course does not directly contain a library research component, students are linked to subject-specific guides within their course sites.  At this point, more statistics need to be gathered and analyzed to determine the number of times the students click the library links.  Nevertheless, Brewer believed that this was a successful project that more libraries should pursue.

There are thousands of ways librarians and libraries can be embedded.  This coming academic year, our reference librarians are embarking on a project where we plan to embed ourselves where our students are.  For example, I’m planning on holding office hours in the building where most of our music courses are taught. Are there any innovative and unusual ways your library is getting embedded?

Do You Have The Tao In Your Toolkit?

In his blog post, The Tao of Librarianship, Andy Burkhardt reminds us how we can apply the ancient wisdom of Taoism to library policies and services. Burkhardt addresses library food policies, space design, planned abandonment of outdated formats and services, and adapting to change through the lens of Taoist philosophy, which he summarizes as, “instead of struggling against everything all the time, Taoism states that humans should try to see how things actually are and live in harmony with them.”

Another more colloquial way of stating this is the expression, “go with the flow.” Going with the flow is more commonly associated with surfers and hippies than librarians. Traditionally as a profession we tend toward rules, policies, standards. We prefer to “get things under (bibliographic) control.” A tweet at a program at ACRL 2011 put it this way: “Control freak streak runs in the profession. Sadly, yes. #lettinggo #acrl2011.”

Burkhardt is right to suggest that Taoist principles could help us more effectively deal with the change in our world and in our libraries. In addition to the areas that Andy brings up, Taoist ideas can also be useful when it comes to collaboration within and outside the academic library. In their ACRL 2011 program, Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs, librarians Meghan Sitar, Cindy Fisher, Michele Ostrow, of the University of Texas Libraries explain the difficulties they faced and the concepts they had to embrace in order to give up control and collaborate with other faculty and professionals on campus.

One of the more beautiful metaphors in Taoism is the admonition that we should be like water, fluid and responsive (Tao 8). Is your library frozen like a glacier or flowing like a mountain stream? Are you part of the ice jam or part of the break up? Have you come to terms with your inner control freak? As a profession, how can we become less controlling, and what should we let go? Can the principles of Taoism help us?

There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching. An interesting one is The Tao of Leadership by John Heider.

Are You Thinking About Going Corporate

I had two jobs before I started my first academic library position. Going through library school I was thinking special libraries. I never really thought much about academic librarianship as a career option. The prospects of working on more in depth research projects for others appealed to me. One of the special library jobs was in a nonprofit, but the other was corporate. Both were good jobs where I learned lots of useful skills, and worked with exactly no other librarians – but many other interesting colleagues with diverse professional backgrounds.

As I became more professionally active in local associations I got to know a few academic librarians. I really liked the ideas they were sharing and the work they were doing. It became more clear in my mind that working in a one-person library setting was inhibiting my professional growth – I wasn’t learning from library colleagues nor was there any advancement opportunity. The possibilities of being engaged in the teaching and learning process began to carry greater appeal than performing the research for other professionals, however challenging it was. I started applying for academic library positions, and was frequently rejected. I had absolutely no experience working in an academic library. Eventually, thanks to the business research skills I developed in my corporate special library job, I was able to make the transition to a business library at a research university. I’ve never looked back.

What about going in the opposite direction? I actually cannot recall even a single academic librarian who has left academia to transition to a position in a corporate library. I’m sure it happens more often than we know. An academic librarian could get burnt out on dealing with students and faculty. He or she might decide to get off the tenure track, or tire of dealing with library co-workers. A forced relocation may take someone to a town where the only opportunity is in the corporate sector. And yes, corporate/special library positions often have higher salaries. There are any number of reasons why an academic librarian might want to go corporate.

That was the topic of a thread at the BUSLIB-L discussion list where there are many corporate and academic librarians exchanging information and advice. The conversation was started by an academic librarian who inquired about the possibilities for going corporate. Wondering whether it was time to pursue opportunities outside of higher education, this academic librarian asked others to share the pros and cons of their jobs in academic or corporate libraries. The conversation generated quite a few responses, and here is a summarized list of the pros and cons for each type of library position:

PROS – Corporate Librarianship

* Less of the committee work that often comes with academic librarianship, and less need to juggle multiple opinions and multiple constituencies, so to speak
* More opportunities to be an independent operator; self-starters would find the corporate environment stimulating
* No publishing requirements
* Focused, directed work process aimed at a specific outcome; less of the “fuzzy” goals that sometimes characterize academia
* research and analysis-driven, rather than teaching-oriented

PROS – Academic Librarianship

* Work in a highly collaborative environment
* Persons around to back you up and mentor you if/when needed
* Opportunities to teach and nurture students and library patrons
* You show people how to research, rather than doing all the research yourself
* A more laid-back environment than corporate; can wear jeans to work

CONS: Corporate Librarianship

* A driven, hectic pace; work must be completed speedily and efficiently with little space for lengthy rumination; “pressure cooker” environment
* Corporate librarians are often solo operators; no-one to back you up when you’re sick or need to take time away from work
* Constant need to reaffirm your worth to the corporation (that’s worth in monetary terms); corporate librarians are easily laid off in bad economies
* Must constantly network and liaise with persons within and without the company

CONS: Academic Librarianship

- The requirement to solicit and consider opinions from many persons and many different bailiwicks prior to making decisions; the collaborative environment is not always the most efficient
- “Publish or perish;” tenure/continuing status pressures
- Generally lower salaries

As with most lists of pros and cons, someone’s “pro” is another person’s “con”. I don’t see the need to publish as a drawback in academic librarianship. If you like to research and write, share your ideas, enjoy the rewards of publications, etc., it’s great to be in an environment that supports and potentially expects you to publish (bear in mind that approximately half of all academic libraries have no tenure or publishing requirements, so if you don’t like the publish or perish environment it can be avoided). The work environment also comes up here. Do you like to work with other librarians or would you rather be a one-person librarian? No one mentioned the potential advantages of working with a group of non-librarians. I always learned a great deal from the social workers, fundraisers, planners, marketers, tech wizards and other non-librarians I worked with – and in academic librarianship we get to work with many non-librarian colleagues in student services, residential life or administrative services.

What would I add? For me a pro of academic librarianship is tuition remission and access to further education. I would never have earned my doctorate had I stayed in the corporate world. Not only did I have access to a program right on my own campus, but the bulk of the tuition was covered. Corporate librarians could counter that by suggesting one doesn’t necessarily need advanced degrees in their world (although a business librarian in the corporate sector can certainly appreciate having an MBA). And let’s not forget tuition benefits for children and other family members. With the cost of college today, tuition support for family members is a fantastic benefit, and almost worth putting up with any “con” of academic librarianship. I am aware that many corporations do offer tuition reimbursement to their employees, but I suspect the number that help pay for dependents’ education is quite small.

Although this conversation focused primarily on going from academia to the corporate world, I’d suggest that academic librarians seeking to transition out of higher education think of it as academic versus special. Most of the “pros” for corporate librarianship apply to nonprofit sector special library positions. This is a good option for those who might want a one-person library position that doesn’t require going corporate – or the need for business librarianship skills. Of course, I hope academic librarians will always seek to stay committed to a career in higher education, but personal goals change and sometimes life’s circumstances require us to shift career paths when we least expect it.

So what pro or con would you add to these lists? And just for the record – I have never worn jeans to work.

You Can Tell Everyone About This PHITE Club

Editor’s Note: Here at ACRLog we are always open to guest posts from academic librarians who want to share a story about an interesting or innovative project at their library. I was attending the Texas Library Association conference when I came upon just such a project at the poster sessions. I had to know what PHITE Club was all about. Once I did, I thought ACRLog readers might want to know about it too. So I asked Ian Barba, Library Technology and Management Services Librarian, and Shelley Barba, Metadata Librarian, both at Texas Tech University, to tell us more about PHITE Club. In their contributed post below, for which we greatly thank them, Ian and Shelley describe what PHITE Club is, what the rules are (of course), and how it has made a difference at their library. If you are looking for a unique professional development program for your library, this may be something worth trying. Just think about it. Challenging your fellow academic librarians to a PHITE! Here’s how it works…

There is more to this idea than just a cheeky title. PHITE (Present Hypothesis in Team Environment) Club was created out of a necessity to engage in scholarship. It is such a large part of our job, and yet there is little that senior academic librarians do to support neophyte librarians in navigating the at times scary world of presenting research in front of a professional audience. And thus, much more out of necessity than creativity, PHITE Club was formed at Texas Tech University Libraries.

We meet once a month on a strictly volunteer basis. At the meeting, a member or group of members will give a presentation which is then followed by appropriate questions and constructive criticism. Near the end of the meeting, that day’s presenter draws the next presenter’s name out of a box containing name slips of those present. That person then has one month to research and prepare a presentation. All library faculty and staff are invited to participate, as long as they are willing to follow the club’s rules.

These rules are:
1) Talk incessantly about PHITE Club
2) Participants should only offer constructive criticism
3) Participants have to PHITE, eventually

The first rule is a twist on Chuck Palahniuk’s first rule. There are no hidden agendas or conspiracies with this club. We just want to practice public speaking and become better at it. If people wish to discuss the club with their colleagues, we encourage them doing so.

The second rule is to support the club as a safe place of growth, not a way to develop new neuroses about presenting. Comments can cover anything about the presentation from the substance of the material presented, to the presenters’ body language, and are always intended to help.

This third rule is important as the goal of the club is professional improvement. Thus the lottery system for choosing the next presenter ensures some amount of buy-in and risk among club members, not to mention just the right amount of fear to keep things interesting. Indeed, the risk of presenting in front of fellow employees is in many ways scarier than presenting at a professional conference.

And, much like its titular godfather, our club is helping junior librarians and library staff overcome the fears that are holding them back. Since the inaugural meeting in October 2009, at least three members have either taken their PHITE Club presentations on the road or made commitments to do so. The feedback we have received since the club was formed has been overwhelmingly positive—particularly regarding the questions and comments portion of the meetings.

We expect to see more presentations premiered in club meetings before given at professional conferences. In fact, at more recent meetings, the club has forgone drawing a presenter at random because there have been willing volunteers—eager for a chance to present in the PHITE Club environment. And while we are proud that we are sharing research across departments and building stronger presentations, it is the environment we are building of which we are most proud. In our small way, we are helping faculty and staff make their library jobs into their library career.

Your To-Do List: Print, Digital, Hybrid

The start of a new year is a time for resolutions, and getting more organized and getting things done (GTD) is right there at the top of many resolution lists. For many of us, the common “to-do” list is our go-to indispensable tool for accomplishing both tasks. There are lots of different approaches to compiling and maintaining a basic to-do list. You can simply write things done on a piece of paper and tape it to your computer monitor or pin it on your bulletin board, or you can try to be more systematic – and there are more sophisticated (and sometimes fee-based) programs and software out there to aid in the process.

A colleague recently shared wanting to get back to a more rigorous GTD regimen, and I provided some supportive words on the value of making that commitment. It’s easy to get overloaded with things to do, and it helps to have a systematic approach to staying organized and on top of projects. So I shared this photo:
A look at StevenB's approach to the to-do list

You can see that I employ a hybrid approach, using both paper and digital. But there is a system at work. Paper is for more immediate things I have to do – today or in the next few days. My iGoogle to-do widget is where I keep upcoming projects that are broader in scope, such a paper or presentation. That helps me to keep those bigger projects on my radar screen. I can modify them by low, medium or high priority, but it would be nice to have something a bit more sophisticated for tracking the progress of each project. Do I need to get started or have I already done that? Which projects are near completion? I will add deadline dates when appropriate.

I sent this photo to my colleague to show him how I’m approaching my to-do list. He replied to let me know he’s no longer using paper at all, and is totally digital. Indicating that since his iPhone is a constant companion, it made sense to keep the GTD to-do list there using an app made just for this purpose. It looks (at least one screen) like this:

An all-digital approach to a to-do list

An all-digital approach to a to-do list

I think this looks like an interesting system, and I imagine it has some of the sophistication I’d like to have. But as I shared with my colleague, for my to-do list to work for me – it really has to be in front of my face all day. My Droid is also a constant companion, but I don’t have it sitting on my desk all day, and I find it much faster to use a pencil to modify a listed item or cross out a completed project. I’d get bogged down having to constantly get into the software to edit or add to my list.

The bottom line is that it’s a good thing to have some sort of systematic approach to your to-do list for GTD. Whether you prefer paper or digital or some combination is up to you – as long as it’s a system that works for you and keeps you on top of your projects so that you control them and not the other way around.