Tag Archives: technology

Tactics for Organization: Making Progress

I started my job as the Undergraduate Services Resident Librarian back in August, and I remember often not knowing what to do with my time during the day. I think that’s normal when you start in a new position, especially a newly created one like mine. For at least the first month or two I had to get used to a new work environment, meet a ton of people, learn as much as possible, and generally begin to shape what my job was going to be. However, I wasn’t sure what to do with the “down time” between scheduled meetings and training.

Fast forward six months and I found myself in the complete opposite situation. Instead of having time on my hands that I wasn’t sure what to do with, I felt like I had so much going on and not nearly enough time to keep up. February was a particularly hectic month and while things have settled down a bit now, I have to constantly work towards staying organized and on track with the variety of projects going on at any given moment.

This week is spring break for students on my campus, so it’s quiet and empty around here and I will hopefully be able to get a lot more work done. Here are some things I’m keeping in mind to make sure I’m actually making progress:

  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Everything needs to get done, but something needs to get done first. When I have a list of things to do, I want to jump into them all. This can end up in doing a little bit here and a little bit there, when that time could be better spent focusing on one priority.
  2. Fill your to-do list with specific, actionable items. Instead of “work on X project” or “plan session Y,” I’m thinking in terms of things like “write first draft for X project” and “email instructor about session Y.” Setting smaller, measurable to-do items helps me take on the larger goal.

These may seem obvious, but a reminder doesn’t hurt. Being mindful of those practices has certainly helped me recently.

Getting organized is key to staying on top of things. I’ve tried out several tools in an effort be more organized and to consolidate my many notes and to-do lists, but have yet to find the *one perfect thing* that works for me. Therefore, my notes are scattered throughout many places. Since I’ve found benefits to all of them, I thought I would share:

  1. A friend recommended Workflowy and I fell in love with it immediately. Workflowy is great for list-making and brainstorming, and is very simple and easy to use. I think the best part is that you can collapse or expand any bullet point on the list, allowing you to either see the larger picture or focus on just one point.
  2. I’ve heard Evernote is a great note-taking tool that you can do a lot with, and decided to give it a try. I haven’t delved into any neat tips and tricks, but the Evernote iPad app is now my favorite way to take notes during conference sessions – and now at least most of my conference notes are all in one place.
  3. Sometimes good old Microsoft Outlook is my best friend in organizing. It took me a while to discover the Tasks and To-Do List within Outlook, and now I use them all the time. Flagging emails, setting reminders, creating custom categories…I can get really into this stuff, but the important thing is that is actually helps.
  4. A pen and notepad can be the easiest route to go, especially when I’m dashing off to a meeting and just need something to write on. However, I now have about five notepads in rotation, and have grabbed the wrong one in situations where I need to reference previous notes.

I’m always trying to improve my personal organizational system, but maybe this is what works for me – a combination of many systems. Feel free to share what works for you, and any interesting tips or tools. I’m wishing you all a very productive rest of the week!

Not as simple as “click-by-click”

One of the projects I inherited as emerging technologies librarian is managing our library’s collection of “help guides.” The online learning objects in this collection are designed to provide asynchronous guidance to students when completing research-related tasks. Over the last few months, my focus has been on updating existing guides to reflect website and database interface changes, as well ensuring compliance with federal accessibility standards. With those updates nearly complete, the next order of business is to work with our committee of research and instruction librarians to create new content. The most requested guide at the top of our list? How to use the library’s discovery service rolled out during the Fall 2012 semester.

Like many other libraries, we hope the discovery service will allow users to find more materials across the library’s collections and beyond. Previously, our library’s website featured a “Books” search box to search the catalog, as well as an “Articles” search box to search one of our interdisciplinary databases. To ease the transition to the discovery system, we opted to keep the “Books” and “Articles” search boxes, in addition to adding the “one search box to rule them all”; however, these format search boxes now search the discovery tool using the appropriate document type tag. Without going into the nitty gritty details, this method has created certain “quirks” in the system that can lead sub-optimal search results.

This back-story leads to my current question about creating instructional guides for our discovery system – how do we design screencasts to demonstrate simple searches by format?

So far, this has boiled down to two options:

  1. Address the way students are most likely to interact with our system. We know users are drawn to cues with high information scent to help them find what they need; if I’m looking for a book, I’m more likely to be drawn to anything explicitly labeled “Books.” We also know students “satisfice” when completing research tasks, and many are unfortunately unlikely to care if their searches do not retrieve all possible results. Additionally, whatever we put front-and-center on our homepage is, I think, a decision we need to support within our instructional objects.
  2. Provide instruction demonstrating the way the discovery system was designed to be used. If we know our system is set up in a less-than-optimal way, it’s better to steer students away from the more tempting path. In this case, searching the discovery system as a whole and demonstrating how to use the “Format” limiters to find a specific types of materials. While this option requires ignoring the additional search options on our website, it will also allow us to eventually phase out the “Books” and “Articles” search boxes on the website without significant updates to our screencasts.

While debating these options with my colleagues, it’s been interesting to consider how this decision reflects the complexities of creating  standalone digital learning objects. The challenge is that these materials are often designed without necessarily knowing how, when, or why they will be used; our job is to create objects that meet students at a variety of point-of-need moments. Given that objects like screencasts should be kept short and to-the-point, it’s also difficult to add context that explains why the viewer should complete activities as-shown. And library instruction are not usually designed to make our students “mini-librarians.” Our advanced training and interest in information systems means it is our job to be the experts, but our students to not necessarily need to obtain this same level of knowledge to be successful information consumers and creators.

Does this mean we also engage in a bit of “satisficing” to create instructional guides that are “good enough” but not, perhaps, what we know to be “best?” Or do we provide just enough context to help students follow us as we guide them click-by-click from point A to point B, while lacking the complete “big picture” required to understand why this is the best path? Do either of these options fulfill our goals toward helping students develop their own critical information skills?

No instruction interaction is ever perfect. In person or online, synchronous or asynchronous, we’re always making compromises to balance idealism with reality. And in the case of creating and managing a large collection of online learning objects, it’s been interesting to have conversations which demonstrate why good digital learning objects are not synonymous with “click-by-click” instructions. How do we extend what we know about good pedagogy to create better online learning guides?

 

A Full Day of Information Literacy

Last week I went to the ACRL New England chapter’s Library Instruction Group (NELIG) annual program Meeting Digital Natives Where They Are: New Standards for the New Student. This was my first conference entirely devoted to library instruction, and it was great to have the opportunity to think and talk about information literacy all day.

The morning started off with keynote speaker John Palfrey, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School and author (with Urs Gasser) of Born Digital. The book reports on the results of their interviews, focus groups and surveys with the oft-discussed millennial generation, exploring the way these kids relate to information, one another and institutions. I won’t recap the book (or transcribe the piles of notes I took), but here are a couple of takeaways I found most relevant for academic libraries:

  • Credibility is a huge issue for us adults: we fear that kids are highly susceptible to misinformation on the internet. But Palfrey’s research found that most kids don’t use information from Wikipedia verbatim or uncritically. Most use it to get an overview of a topic, and then head to the references at the bottom of the page to find more information. I use Wikipedia like this all the time in my teaching so I found this to be quite encouraging.
  • The digital generation has an incomplete understanding of intellectual property. It’s true that many of them do download and share music illegally (and they realize that it’s illegal). But they don’t know that there are legal ways to use copyrighted materials–fair use–so they hesitate to use them to remix or mashup content. This is a great opportunity for librarians to help students learn about ethical use of information.

I haven’t read the book yet, but after seeing Palfrey speak I’ve added it to my summer reading list. There’s some innovative supplemental material too: they asked kids to create podcasts interpreting each chapter of the book. The video he shared with us was fascinating and well worth a watch.

Next there were two breakout sessions, each with multiple presentations. Full disclosure: I was a presenter in the first session, where I discussed a classroom game I’m developing to teach students how to evaluate information. Many thanks to all who attended my session and contributed to our lively discussion. The one down side is that I missed the other presentations, though I caught up with them on the program website and NELIG blog.

During the second session I went to The Big Picture: Visual Storytelling in Library Instruction, presented by Nicole E. Brown and Erica Schattle of Emerson College. They shared an innovative approach for library instruction that uses images to tell a story to introduce students to research. They present information to students in three ways:

1. their slides contain images (only!): first a few slides to introduce a metaphor for research (in this case, learning to swim), and then several that illustrate the process of research
2. their spoken narrative describes the steps taken while doing research
3. their handout provides details on information sources students can use for their research during the library session

By modeling the process of research they were able to inspire students into action, and after this short introduction students spent the remainder of the session actively searching for information on their topics.

The final session featured Clarence Maybee and Charlotte Droll from Colgate University who presented The Crossroads of Learning: Librarians and IT Professionals Banding Together to Embed Information and Technology Literacies into Undergraduate Courses. They described two student projects–a podcast and a poster session–in which librarians and instructional technologists collaborated with course professors. Both the podcasts and the poster session encouraged students to step out of their comfort zone and added a public dimension to their work. Students were more engaged with these projects than with a typical research paper, and seemed to work harder, too.

By the end of the day I was fading fast, since I had to wake up at 5:30am to get the train up from NYC. But I was glad I went: it was a fantastic program (kudos to the organizers!), and I really enjoyed spending the day geeking out on information literacy. I came away with lots of ideas for my own instruction, too, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Powering Down For Reflection

We’ve just passed the season of the break for most of us academic librarians. It’s common for our institutions to give us a nice bonus this time of year – a week off between Christmas and New Years. What did you do during your break? Did you have a list of projects to work on during those days off or did you just try to relax and leave the work behind? And what about your digital life. Did you take a break from e-mail, Facebook and Twitter? Based on my observations the majority of us stayed active with our electronic lives, though perhaps to a lesser degree than during a normal work week.

I certainly didn’t take much of a break. For me, no suits and ties sure makes it feel like a break. I usually look forward to the break as an opportunity to get a bit ahead on projects, a desirable thing when you have a weekly column to keep up with. And proposals for ACRL’s conference will be due before you know it. The break is also a time when I try to write at least one fuller length article or essay. So while I spent less time online than normal, I would hardly say I was powered down. That only happens for me once a year or so, mainly when I go camping as there is no connectivity and I don’t bring along a computer. On family vacations I don’t bring along a computer and only check email once a day. But for this most recent break I didn’t even bother to put a vacation message on my email because I knew I’d be checking it a few times each day.

There is one anecdotal indicator that suggests to me that many academic librarians took a break from some of their familiar routines, such as checking the online news. I say this because there was a significant drop in traffic over at Kept-Up Academic Librarian during the break week. KUAL averages close to 300 visits per day but starting with December 24 it dropped just below 100 and never made it back above that mark until Monday, January 4, 2010 when it jumped back into the 200 visit range. That drop has to be more than a coincidence. I suspect the academic librarians who regularly read KUAL were off doing more entertaining activities. Some may have expected there’d be no higher education news to keep up with that week (there was less). But perhaps some just took a complete break from the Internet during their time off – and if they did would that be a good thing?

KUAL traffic between 12/24/09 and 1/3/10

KUAL traffic between 12/24/09 and 1/3/10

It just may be. During the break I came across a NYT article about a college where the President took the unusual step of holding a one-hour no technology meeting where the students focused on silent reflection. From the article:

Dianne Lynch wanted to give the students of Stephens College a break from the constant digital communication that pervades their generation. So she asked them to put their phones and computers away and revive the 176-year-old school’s dormant tradition of vespers services. On a bitterly cold December night, with the start of final exams just hours away, about 75 of Stephens’ 766 undergraduates grudgingly piled their cell phones into collection baskets and filed into the school’s candlelit chapel, where they did little but sit, silently. For an hour, not an iPod ear bud could be seen. There were no fingers flying on tiny computer keyboards, no chats with unseen intimates.Several other schools are encouraging technology-free introspection…Amherst College in Massachusetts hosted a ”Day of Mindfulness” this year, featuring yoga and meditation and a lecture on information technology and the contemplative mind.

I do get the value of unplugging – if not for days on end – at least for specific periods of time during the day. I set aside several periods where I unplug. Any time I go to the gym, usually two or three times during the work week, I leave my cell phone behind so I’m not checking email or keeping up with social networks. I do listen to music which helps me contemplate. During this time I often find myself coming up with solutions to work challenges or ideas for new blog posts or essays – or they come in the post-workout shower – which is actually a fairly common phenomena. Studies have found that when we free our minds from any complex thought activity, some of our best ideas will emerge from the ether. I also unplug at breakfast and dinner and just take time to read the daily paper. But I know I should probably be setting aside additional hours for powering down.

Disconnecting from the Internet also has to be better for our physical and mental health. As one blogger recently put it, “Sitting in front of these glowing screens (as most of us do) for around eight hours a day for work and additional hours for leisure can’t be good for us as living, breathing organisms.” You can get me to do just about anything if you can convince me it’s going to improve my health (except eating cauliflower or brussel sprouts – even I have my limits). One academic librarian who shares when he is going offline for multiple days is Kenley Neufeld, which I always find interesting since he is one of the most socially-connected academic librarians I know. So we certainly have good reasons to unplug and power down – for all important contemplation, to improve our health and mental sharpness, and to provide times during the day when we can concentrate on sustained reading and writing without the constant interruption of email, status updates and tweets.

Did you power down during the break? Are you setting aside times each day for connection-free activity? Use the comments to share your story about how powering down helps you.

Innovation Moves Our Profession Forward

In a previous post I had a some fun pointing out some obsolete tools and technologies that were no longer important to the work of librarians. You must have had some fun with it as well. That post remains the most commented on one we’ve written here at ACRLog. Readers shared examples of their own obsolete equipment, technologies and techniques. By looking back we collectively measured the great leaps and bounds by which our work has evolved. We might likewise measure our progress by examining how innovation has changed what we do and how we do it.

Knowledge@Wharton published their list of the top 30 innovations of the last 30 years. I was struck by the ones that dramatically transformed my work since I first entered the profession in 1978. What didn’t I have then? No computer (#2). No Internet or Web (#1). No email (#4). No cell phone (#3). No GUI (#21). How did we ever manage? Just those few innovations alone have revolutionized and forever altered librarianship. Sorry gaming librarians – video games didn’t even make the list – but social networking did (#20).

At its most basic and fundamental foundations the library is about acquiring, storing, organizing and disseminating information/content. Every one of these functions is radically altered by just these four innovations. It is difficult to even imagine what new and future innovations will change our work in the next 20 or 30 years. Perhaps in just the next 10 years we’ll see as much innovative technology change as we did in the past 30. Electronic ink and foldable computer screens. Personal intelligent assistants. Advanced virtual world simulations. Ubiquitous VoIP integrated into digital technologies. Oh yeah, flying cars! These and other technology innovations stand poised to even more radically change the nature of library work. Well, maybe not the flying cars. There’s much to look forward to in our profession and the ways in which we’ll harness the innovations of the future to better serve our user communities.