“Playable, not just performable”: Telling the story of information literacy

I was reading Carrie Brownstein’s book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir, a month or two ago, and a particular passage grabbed me so much that I keep going back to it. If you don’t know Carrie’s work, the short version is that she’s an indie rock/punk icon (best known for her band Sleater-Kinney) and more recently an indie comedy star, too (of TV series Portlandia fame).

Early on in her book, Carrie reflects on the massive stadium-size concerts she attended as a girl. Seeing Madonna and George Michael live was awe-inspiring and set her young adolescent heart and mind alight. She describes “witnessing” the “spectacle” of these events: “The experience … was immense; the grandiosity was ungraspable, it was the Olympics, it was a mountain, it was outer space.”

But Carrie’s story is not just about watching and witnessing; it’s about becoming and making. Which brings me to the part I really love (the underlining is mine for emphasis):

Yet the music I was hearing and the concerts I was witnessing were also mystifying and inaccessible. It was the ‘80s, and much of what I loved was synthed-out pop and Top 40 music, more programmed than played. The music was in the room and in my body, yet I had no idea how it had been assembled or how to break it apart.

This, I thought to myself, is exactly what I mean when I talk about information literacy. Carrie’s reflection continued as she described how she bought her first guitar and started going to punk and rock shows at smaller venues (again, the underlining is mine for emphasis):

Here I could get close to the players themselves. I could see how the drums worked with the guitars and bass, I could watch fingers move along frets and feet stomp down on effects pedals, I saw the set lists taped to the floor, and sometimes I was close enough to see the amp or pickup settings. I observed the nature of the bands, their internal interactions, their relationships to one another, as much as I listened. It seems obvious, but it was the first time I realized that music was playable, not just performable–that it had a process and a seed, a beginning, middle, and end. Everyone who plays music needs to have a moment that ignites and inspires them, calls them into the world of sound and urges them to make it. And I suppose this form of witness could happen aurally; perhaps it’s as easy as hearing an Andy Gill riff or a Kim Gordon cadence and knowing intuitively how that all works. Then you form those sounds yourself, with your own hands and your own voice. Or maybe you see it on a video, in footage of a musician who finally translates and unlocks what you thought was a mystery. For me, however, I needed to be there–to see guitarists … in the wholly relatable attire of threadbare T-shirts and jean shorts, enact a weird nerd sexiness, strangely minimal, maximally perverse. I could watch them play songs that weren’t coming out of thin air or from behind a curtain. I needed to press myself up against small stages, risking crushed toes, bruised sides, and the unpredictable undulation of the pit, just so I could get a glimpse of who I wanted to be.

It was in the small clubs with small bands, up close and personal, that Carrie could not only experience the music and witness the final product in all its glory, but also figure out how the music was constructed. And better still, how she could construct it, too. I’m not suggesting information literacy has the allure of music shows, large or small. Ha! Instead, I’m saying that I recognize in Carrie’s reflection the power of uncovering process to enable an individual’s participation and agency that is also at the core of information literacy. Her story serves as an illustration of the disconnects that students experience and why it’s important to help them uncover, develop, and articulate process. To see the “mystifying” final product (of scholarly research as published in a journal article or book, for example) is impressive and edifying, but for many is a closed door. To instead understand how something (again, that research) is made–to see its final whole, but also the pieces that make it up and the process of its making–is to open the door to one’s own potential participation.

A few months ago, I posted about some activities I used with students to “dissect” articles. Through these guided activities, we explored how sample articles (one from a scholarly journal, one from The New Yorker) were constructed. The most immediate goal was to help students parse these samples to see how authors use and synthesize sources and to what effect. Dissecting the sources broke open the elegant final products such that students could better see their component parts. By “decoding complexities that can sometimes seem a mystery and make research and writing feel insurmountable,” then, the goal was to set students up for constructing their own work, helping them recognize their own potential participation. Not quite the blood and guts of the pit at a punk rock show, but still a developmental and empowering step in its own right.

I’ve put Carrie’s story to use a few times in recent weeks, most notably in conversation with faculty about assignment design and pedagogy. The anecdote’s resonance was apparent in their faces and in our conversation. It occurs to me that this is, at least in part, the kind of thing I meant when I wrote about “writing it better” over a year ago. I’m calling to mind now some of the disappointing moments when I attempted to show others the breadth and depth of information literacy as I see it, but my message fell short or our connection was missed. Compelling examples, stories, and metaphors go a long way to helping us all recognize our common ground. How do you effectively tell the story of information literacy and its power? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

Invisible Disabilities, Self Care, and a Generous Heart

This has all been said before, and better than by me. Not to bury the lede – practice self care and have a generous heart.

One of the insights I’ve gained as I’ve grown older, is how deeply and comprehensively injuries and illness can effect someone. Or non medical issues – the regular ups and downs of life. Especially on the job.

A few weeks ago a friend called out a scholar for not caring about their research. The presentation was bad, they were unenthusiastic and, frankly, it sounds like it sucked. It sucked for my friend to sit through it. Maybe the presenter doesn’t care, and if a presenter doesn’t care it’s hard for anyone else to care. But I kept defending this unknown person, thinking maybe they were doing the absolute best they could and we just don’t know what is going on.

What if they have plantar fasciitis and standing is painful? Or if they have a bulging disc between their vertebra that is pressing directly on a nerve? What if they suffer depression – that wounds so many, kills some, and hides in plain sight?

What if they have lost someone?

What if they have an autoimmune disorder that is causing a cascade of seemingly unconnected problems that just makes them tired and miserable? Maybe their doctor thinks they are a hypochondriac.

Migraines.

Microaggressions.

Muscular sclerosis.

HIV.

Prescription drug side effects.

Nonacceptance of gender identity.

A belittling, tyrannical supervisor.

Their child is being bullied.

Parkinson’s.

Marital problems.

Financial troubles.

Sick family.

Othering.

You get the idea.

There are a nearly infinite number of reasons someone might be flat or uninspired that have nothing to do with their passion for a subject. Personal matters and illness can intersect in ways both traumatic and invisible that harm our work performance – and I mean the affective state we try to project.

As I age and endure some of these issues I usually choose not to share my troubles with coworkers. I imagine they are doing the same – the best they can. (EDIT – a friend notes this suggests that people normally and perhaps should hide their problems. She is right, and that is not what I wanted to communicate. I was speaking to my tendency to not share. Sharing of problems can be therapeutic and I hope people can seek help and not be isolated by the problems they face.) I  have had to become better at self care to combat the little aches that accrue as my birthdays pile up. I get off lightly and I never will know what others are enduring. Maybe you are healthy and happy in your job – awesome! But please have a generous heart and at least assume others are doing their best within the framework of their life. And of course, practice self care to the extent you can.

Shifting Gears for Summer in the Library

At my workplace — the City University of New York — our semesters run later than many others, and finals just ended for us yesterday. Today the library’s practically a ghost town, nearly empty of students during our short intersession before summer classes begin next Thursday.

As I imagine many of us do, I’ve been looking forward to this summer slowdown (though not the hot & humid weather that’s accompanied it this year). The summertime can offer mental, physical, and temporal space for us to work on library or research projects that can be tough to schedule during the academic year, or even just the opportunity to take a day to clean our offices and organize files (surely I’m not the only person who’s really looking forward to that day?).

I’ve had an unusually busy semester and am getting ready for a week of research leave coming up soon, so it’s not quite time for me to hit those summer projects yet. But I’ve already started thinking about how to organize my time this summer. Every year I’m surprised at how challenging it can be to schedule project work over the summer when it seems like it should be the exact opposite, since there are fewer meetings and other commitments. My fellow ACRLoggers (and others in higher ed) have written about this in the past, and today I find myself revisiting these posts for tips and suggestions:

And as we go into a long holiday weekend in the U.S., I hope everyone has a chance for rest, relaxation, and whatever forms of self-care you prefer, in order to start the summer off right.

#libeyrianship: Pop Culture and #critlib in Information Literacy Programs

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Beyoncé’s new album ‘Lemonade’ dropped April 23, 2016 as both a traditional album and a “visual album.” The visual album weaves poetry, music, cinematography, fashion, and literary and film references into an hour-long film that follows a woman going through stages of grief. The album was highly anticipated by two librarians at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian. After watching Bey’s Formation music video and her performance at Super Bowl 50, Jenny and Siân realized the topics Beyoncé is exploring in her music provides a perfect opportunity to engage students through a popular point of reference.

In seeking to make research more exciting to undergraduate art students, while also promoting critical thinking skills, Siân developed an instruction session which included a visual analysis of Beyoncé’s Formation, a discussion of Black Lives Matter, and an active learning component in which the students responded to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance by researching the Black Panther Party in the library catalog, research databases, and special collections. Jenny, also invested in developing critical thinking skills via popular culture, primarily through digital resources, designed a topical LibGuide which provides perspectives, opinions, and ideas referenced or directly address in Lemonade.

In this post, borrowing The New York Times Bits Saturday newsletter’s conversational style, Jenny and Siân discuss #critlib, engaged instruction, and the success of the topical LibGuide “Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Information Resources.”


Jenny: Hi Siân! What are you up to?

Siân: Morning, Jenny! I’m just prepping for a meeting with a faculty member who is teaching a course on Art and Totalitarianism. You?

Jenny: Sounds interesting! I got an email today that has me thinking about my unit of the library, Digital Initiatives, taking on archiving websites.

Siân: Nice! I was having coffee with my dog, Pickle, this morning and I noticed that an article in City Paper came out about the Lemonade LibGuide you made. How many times has that LibGuide been viewed now?

Jenny: Aw, Pickle! Let me check… 39,775 views as of today!

Siân: Dang, girl! How does it feel to be internet librarian famous??

Jenny: <blushing> Honestly, I’m still taking it all in. It feels great to feel supported by so many people who work in libraries, archives, and museums. I love the fact that I can talk about Beyoncé and librarianship in the same conversation. I’m also really enjoying all the other projects that are popping up that are related, like the #LemonadeSyllabus.

Siân: The guide was shared on Twitter by Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, School Library Journal, and Kimberly Drew (aka @museummammy), founder of Black Contemporary Art and Associate Online Community Producer at The Met, among many, many others. It even has its own hashtag: #libeyrianship. That’s pretty epic! So, why did you choose to publish it as a LibGuide? What do you think about them as a means of instruction?

Jenny: The shares have been overwhelming in the best possible way. One of the things I love about Twitter is that you can speak to a certain community, but what you say can also echo out to people you thought wouldn’t find what you do relevant to them. I’m grateful for every share and like!

Honestly, I chose to publish the research guide as a LibGuide because the platform lets you organize information quickly and easily. I didn’t want a list of links. I wanted gifs, book covers, etc. LibGuides can be used for lots of purposes. Decker has been using guides mostly for programs. I find LibGuides to be most successful when they center in on a particular subject or research topic.

After sitting in on your library instruction class based on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and Formation video, the idea for a research guide on Lemonade just made sense. In fact, that class went so well and was so different from what I’ve seen here previously, could you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it?

Siân: Sure! I think that was one of the first conversations you and I had about librarianship, because we were both so fascinated by Beyoncé as a means to critical instruction. I had just started working at MICA and I was so thrilled to learn that there are faculty here who are open to creative, critical library instruction.

So, less than a month into my job, I convinced a particularly thoughtful and engaged professor to let me test out my “Beyoncé-based instruction session.” Her class consisted of first year students, mostly fine arts or graphic design majors, who had limited research experience and, in some cases, doubts about the relevance of library research to their work. Our goals were to get them to think about why research is relevant to their practice, to introduce them to different types of library resources, and to think critically about how they read and access information generally. We started with a visual response to the video Formation, mimicking the format of the crits they experience in their studio practice.

Jenny: I have to stop you right there. I loved the visual response part of the session. As MICA alum, I know how important it is to learn effective critique skills, both giving and receiving feedback. I think it’s so interesting that you connected critique to information literacy in this way. It reminds me of Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte’s writing on metaliteracy, where multiple literacies such as visual, news, digital, etc. intersect.[1] The session resonated strongly with me, so I can imagine it did a lot for our students.

Siân: Aw, thanks Jenny! I honestly did that kind of on the fly! I’d been thinking about how to engage students who don’t see research as relevant to their practice. So, I used the video and our visual analysis of it as a jumping off point to discuss plagiarism, with the example of Beyoncé’s usage of footage from the Bounce documentary, That B.E.A.T. We looked at some of our Special Collections on related subject matter and, finally, in an active learning session, we had students researching the Black Panthers on Google, in our databases, and online catalogue. In the assessment survey, one student commented that this was the first she’d heard of the Black Panthers! I really feel that starting with a familiar, popular reference helped draw the students into the research process.

I know you have similar thoughts about the ‘Lemonade’ research guide. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the role of popular culture in librarianship?

Jenny: The ‘Lemonade’ guide is the first time I’ve publicly connected a piece of popular culture with librarianship. I started thinking about film and television and librarianship as I watched The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Sounds weird, I know. There’s a scene in that TV series where a large group of protestors are gathered outside the courthouse. Vendors are also there selling merchandise about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. My first thought was, “did the producers see this sort of thing in the original news footage?” As an advisory board member on the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising archive project where we collect images, sound, and text from the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, I’m constantly thinking about how people, including librarians and educators, will use the archive now and in the future. Did you see the job posting for the Librarian for Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University Library?

Siân: Yes! I think it’s amazing that more libraries are aware that we need to be #relevant! I think that another one of your LibGuides, Understanding Civic Unrest in Baltimore 1968-2015, is also evidence of this drive to make research relevant to the community in which you work. I feel like the elephant in the fictional room of our conversation is critical librarianship. How do you think #critlib plays into your work as a Digital Initiatives Librarian?

Jenny: Great question. First, I think less about how to stay relevant and more about how searching, analyzing, and disseminating information plays into many situations, including art. As Kenny Garcia wrote, “critical librarianship seeks to be transformative, empowering, and a direct challenge to power and privilege.”[2] #critlib asks us to be self-reflective and conscious of ourselves and our institutions so that we don’t contribute to systems of oppression. This is what I thought librarianship was about, I just didn’t have a way of articulating this before I learned about #critlib.

While at the peaceful protests and gatherings during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, for some reason I felt like I should be there as a Baltimore resident, a person against police brutality, but also as a librarian. I don’t see a separation between librarianship and social justice. Now that I know more about #critlib, I understand why. Do you ever feel that way?

Siân: Definitely. As librarians, we promote equal access to knowledge and educational resources, so our work shouldn’t be limited to the library, the classroom, or even the campus. I see my work with Art+Feminism, for example, as “information activism” that is an extension of my work as a librarian.

Jenny: I’m so glad you brought up Art+Feminism! I’ve been a fan from afar. Before you arrived at MICA, I read a great ACRLog post about instructional design by Lindsay O’Neill. It was the first time I thought about critical instruction and design and I know we’ve talked about similar ideas. Could you talk a bit about any plans you might have for instructional design and how critical instruction differs from a more traditional take on library instruction?

Siân: That’s a great question and one I feel only .5% qualified to answer! 🙂 In my work with Art+Feminism and in my previous job at Artstor, I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of designers and UX researchers, as well as librarians. I loved Lindsay’s post! And it brought up a lot of food for thought about the cognitive overload in my current instruction practice. As an art historian and librarian I have perhaps an unproductive love of text. But, I see teaching as an agile, iterative process. I think a lot of critical instruction is based on this principle as well — teaching isn’t top-down, it’s a process of communication between the instructor and the students. So, it has to be ever-evolving.

For anyone who wants an introduction to this, Eamon Tewell just published a literature review on a decade’s worth of critical information literacy and I really recommend Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning.

Jenny: Wow, ten years worth of critical information literacy! I’m really looking forward to watching (and contributing in some ways to) the evolution of our information literacy program here at Decker Library. And I’m happy that I have someone to talk about Beyoncé with at work. 🙂

Siân: Ditto! It’s amazing to have inspiring colleagues who are doing important work, it’s like a daily reminder of why I became a librarian. And our #dailybey Slack channel is a definite highlight!

beyoncetwitterchat

Decker Library will be hosting a Twitter chat about the LibGuide and instruction on Wednesday, June 8 at 2pm EST. Follow along using #libeyrianship and @deckerlibrary.

[1] Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte, “Threshold Concepts as Metaphors for the Creative Process: Adapting the Framework for Information Literacy to Studio Art Classes,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 34, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 235-248.

[2] Garcia, K. Keeping Up With… Critical Librarianship. Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/critlib

Mentorship in your first year

Entering a new workplace is scary. Entering a new profession, environment, and career all at the same time, is scarier. However, with a little help, the transition can be smooth.

Before I even began my position at American University, I was assigned a mentor, another librarian at the AU Library. I had never had one and did not know what to expect.

As a first year librarian, I will be honest, I was not expecting a mentor, but I knew I would need one. I did not know the importance of having a mentor until I had one. However, as I dove into my new job, got involved in service, and started going to conferences, I realized that mentorship is very important.

Mentorship is essential because it not only provides guidance and confidence in yourself, it is also important in terms of retention in the profession for the coming years.

For guidance, as a new professional, you’re going to have questions that are not just “where is the best place to eat?” Instead, you might be curious about faculty governance or advice about a possible research project. I often found myself bouncing ideas off of my mentor or expressing concern or anxiety about my career path. The first couple of months were a time of getting to do new things, but also observing everyone around me and thinking about the possible career paths that are ahead of me.

The most important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is the relationship between you and your mentor. This relationship is reciprocal. By this, I mean that a mutual respect grows and that they are also learning from you.

Because I think this is a very important topic, I wanted to share how I go about it, because it’s also new to me as well. I do not pretend to know everything about mentorship, but as I go through this process, I continue to learn more. Here are a couple of “best practices” that I recommend for in order to get the most out of this experience.

-There must be some structure. My mentor and I see each other almost every day at work, so we always have short conversations about work, research/scholarship, plans, etc. However, we always find a time for either coffee, lunch, or dinner to further discuss these topics and to also put a plan in motion (if necessary). This block of time is just for the two of us and allows us to speak freely and express our thoughts and ideas. As I said before, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a two-way street. You both should benefit from this relationship.

How so? You should be able to teach your mentor new things, whether it’s about your interests or bringing a new perspective. Learning from your mentor about their career experiences and observations should also be beneficial to you.

-There will always be challenges in not only the workplace, but in your research agenda, service, or other aspects on your career. Have honest conversations, because if you can’t have these conversations about career struggles or successes, then who can you have them with?

-Write everything down. Even if you’re having coffee or lunch with your mentor, it is still a meeting about your career, your research plans, etc. I always have my notebook and pen with me and it’s also useful to have when you and your mentor are bouncing ideas off of each other.

-Have a plan and take the initiative yourself. Before having coffee or lunch/dinner with my mentor, I like to have a good idea of what my next plans are. For example, the Spring semester is coming to an end and our department has been discussing summer projects. Along with summer tasks/projects, I also have to work on presentations for a conference in August. Having an update and a timeline for my mentor is helpful for myself because I can get feedback.

The mentor-mentee relationship is what you make of it! This also brings up another question. What if you don’t have a mentor, but you would like one? There are a couple ways you could go about this.

Depending on your institution, the library might have a mentorship program in place already. Ask about the program(s) and find out what it consists of. Would you get paired? Or be able to choose your own mentor? What are your research interests? Ask questions!

The other option would be finding a mentor on your own. I’m glad I didn’t have to do this because I would feel intimidated. However, if there is someone that you feel would be a good fit, ask them if they would be willing to mentor you. I am not the expert at this, so I cannot say much. However, I would urge anyone to do their research on how to approach this subject. There are a couple of good articles out there for further reading into the subject. For example, “Are you my mentor? New perspectives and Research on Informal Mentorship” written by Julie James, Ashley Rayner, and Jeannette Bruno provides insight into informal mentorship, and how it might be the preferred method.

Another option would be to research the mentorship programs within professional library organizations. ACRL and ALA have mentoring programs to fit different interests and needs. It’s all about finding out what your options are!

On a personal note, I am very grateful for the mentor I have right now. This experience has been more than I imagined and I hope to continue growing, as well as updating you all!