New Year, New Job

With the fall semester well underway, we’re all adjusting to more classes and services on the 25 campuses of my university than last year. There are more students on our campuses which is lovely, though there are still lots of hybrid and online classes and services, too. And this year has also featured a different kind of adjusting for me: this past summer I started a new position as director of the library at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

I’m enjoying my new job which is an interesting mix of similarities and differences from my last position. I’ve worked in the CUNY system for 15 years, 8 of those as a director, and spent most of that time at a comprehensive college that offers associate and baccalaureate degrees. I’ve also been on the faculty in two programs at the Graduate Center for a while now (and have blogged before about that teaching), so I came into my new role having some familiarity with the GC already. I’m most grateful to know about some of the university’s bureaucratic processes, and since our libraries are consortial and highly collaborative I have that insight and familiarity, too.

But as with any new job, there are lots of differences and lots for me to learn. The GC is an interesting place — while some of our faculty are solely at the GC, many teach undergraduates at the colleges across the system as well as masters and doctoral students at the GC. And our graduate students are also both here and there — they take courses and do research at the GC, and (many) teach courses at CUNY colleges. And while our library services and resources support the GC community in their academic work, as at all academic libraries, it’s been interesting to think about the local and distributed ways that we do and might work with students and faculty and students who are faculty.

Though I miss my colleagues at my prior institution, it’s been lovely to get to know my new colleagues and to work with such a terrific team. We’ve started a strategic planning process in the library, and our relatively-new administration is also beginning the strategic planning process at the GC this semester. I’m really looking forward to thinking with my library faculty and staff colleagues about our vision and mission, and how we can advance our broad goal of equitable access as we work with our patrons in their different roles.

Story Swap

“If a picture is worth a thousand words,
then a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
-George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By

In this collaborative post from our ACRLog team, we’re sharing some of the “stories”–allegories, analogies, anecdotes, images, memes, metaphors, and more–that we use across the domains of our work to make abstract concepts more concrete, prompt meaning making, demonstrate relevance, communicate impact, bring a dry concept to life, or simply connect with our colleagues, users, and stakeholders.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to information literacy and research skills?

[Jen] I’ve recently become very interested in using stories as a pedagogical technique. I don’t have a large repository of stories to call on yet, but a few examples I’ve been using to good effect come to mind:

  • Source integration – Images of a container ship and a cargo train help me illustrate the goal of synthesizing sources in a literature review versus stringing them together one-by-one. I start with the train photo and ask students to imagine that each container on the train is a source. I describe how the train illustrates a style of writing where the author treats each source individually–the author might summarize, analyze, or otherwise comment on each source one by one in a long string of paragraphs. By contrast, I note that the ship is full of the same containers (i.e., sources) as the train but draw students’ attention to how the containers are instead stacked in groups, that each column is made up of many containers. In this image, I suggest that each container still represents a source but a paragraph is this time represented by a column of containers illustrating the goal of weaving sources together for more skillful analysis and writing around themes across sources.
  • Source evaluation – Wineburg and McGrew’s study serves as an anecdote regarding approaches to source evaluation (as well as the idea of relative, or domain, expertise on occasion). The researchers observed 45 people evaluating websites: historians with PhDs, Stanford University undergraduates, and professional fact checkers. When I ask students to guess which group was best at evaluating information, they typically vote for the historians with PhDs. Yet findings showed that the “fact checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time.” A primary difference in their approach? Fact checkers read laterally, not vertically. Because lateral reading is a departure from the kinds of information evaluation that are commonly taught to high school students, this story helps illustrate the effectiveness of an unfamiliar approach.  

I’m motivated to use stories more (and to better effect) in my classes because I think it can be so powerful; the sense of clarity and connection these stories can offer for students is incredibly productive and gratifying.

[Alex] I have referred to truncation as “my favorite library magic trick” when demonstrating searches in databases, and it’s true! It’s such a simple thing to do but can really change the list of results you get back. I also refer to it as advanced… I don’t normally go into the details of truncation until the learners I’m addressing have mastered some of the other concepts like Boolean operators and selecting keywords. But when I do introduce truncation, I love to tell this story. I was working with someone who needed information on radiation and adjuvant chemotherapy. Looking at my list of search terms, I saw radiation, radiotherapy, radiation therapy, etc… so I thought, truncation time! Radi*, easy. Because of the complexity of the rest of the search, there were about two pages of results so I looked through all of them and behold, one of them was about… radishes. You can’t anticipate every possibility when you truncate, but that one was a real surprise. Truncate responsibly, everyone!

[Justin] I like to use the metaphor of gardening for the research process:  

  • Prep your garden: determine a topic and a focused research statement or question, along with background research.  
  • Care for your garden as it grows: identify keywords, makes a list of databases and sites to find information, create search strings, and save sources.  
  • Inspect your produce: evaluate your sources for relevance and credibility.
  • Cook! Use your sources in your writing to make something new.
  • Modify your approach if nothing is growing.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to teaching and learning more broadly?

[Alex] This is so common it hardly feels like a story or metaphor but teachers as coaches is such a great framework. I can run you through practicing a skill, I can tell you the plays, but I can’t make the shot for you from the sidelines. You have to be able to apply what we did in practice while you’re on the court.

I’ve also used my experience as a DM for Dungeons & Dragons to explain outlining activities and learning objectives for a class. (Not to students, to other educators.) If you tell your players “you’re going to go here and do this, then go here and do this, ad nauseum” that’s called railroading and it isn’t as much fun as letting the players make decisions for themselves. Giving them multiple threads to follow and seeing what they value and decide to do is part of the game! Same goes for the classroom: here are all the objectives we need to meet, but you can help me decide which one we’re going to address next, and exactly how that’s going to look.

[Justin] I’ve used the example of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. One of my favourite ways to illustrate the hero’s journey is using Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. I find it relates to learning quite well: there’s a problem, you set out on your journey with help from mentors, there’s transformation and atonement (and learning a lesson?!) and finally return. 

[Jen] I’ve gotten a lot of mileage over the past few years out of an anecdote I’ve drawn from Carrie Brownstein’s memoir in which she reflected on some of the key experiences of her adolescence that helped shape her as a musician. In short, Brownstein first described how enthralled she felt watching pop music giants perform in stadium-sized venues. The spectacle of those huge performances entranced and inspired her but they felt opaque and unattainable. “I had no idea how it [the music] had been assembled or how to break it apart,” she wrote. “I remained merely a fan …with no means of claiming the sounds as my own.” Brownstein went on to describe her experiences a few years later, this time at shows in small clubs. Here, Brownstein could get close to the musicians and observe their techniques and interactions. This is my favorite quote about her realization: “It seems obvious, but it was the first time I realized that music was playable, not just performable—that it had a process.” To me, her story showcases the power of uncovering process. At huge, heavily produced shows, she was an onlooker with no discernible entry point for her own participation. When the making of the music and the performances’ component parts were made visible at smaller shows, the performances felt more accessible and attainable; Brownstein could imagine doing it for herself. I’ve used this story time and again– when consulting with faculty on the design of research assignments, for example–to illustrate the power of uncovering the process of scholarly and creative work rather than focusing on polished products.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to library services, procedures, workflows?

[Maura] As a director I often find myself having to explain our work in the library to faculty and administrators on campus in a range of contexts: as library faculty progress through the tenure track, when sharing the institutional questions we get at our service desks in the library with Student Affairs staff, and especially when advocating to fill vacant faculty and staff lines in the library. The analogy I’ve found most useful is from the restaurant world: front of the house for Public Services, and back of the house for Technical Services/Technology. In my previous position I worked at a college that offered Hospitality Management degrees and this analogy was widely understood across campus. But with greater visibility in the media into food and restaurant services over the past few decades I think it could be a useful analogy for anyone trying to make visible the often invisible work that keeps the library functioning. 

[Justin] I’ve heard an interesting comparison from a friend of a librarian’s role to What We Do In The Shadows: there’s so much intellectual work happening behind the scenes, that not all of our students and faculty know about or are aware of. 

[Jen] I just started a new book and was struck by the proverb that the author used as an epigraph: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” I’ve never personally used this proverb although I’m sure I’ve heard it before. But I’m thinking about it with fresh eyes through the lens of this post’s theme. It seems to me that it might serve as a “story” to illustrate the interconnectedness of different domains within library work not to mention the value and importance of the many small details in our day-to-day work. 

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate library impact and value?

[Justin] My friend mentioned the metaphor of weight of books to me recently. He’s interested in knowing how much our library collection weighs – why? I have no clue. But he’s right: it makes for an interesting metaphor of the weight of information.

[Hailley] I’ve been recently working on updating our library’s mission and vision statement. In our revision, we did a lot of looking at other library mission and vision statements and the idea that kept coming up is how the library is the “heart of the university.” I don’t have any brilliant thoughts on this at the moment, but it’s definitely a phrase I’ve been thinking about and thinking about if this phrase is useful in defining the impact, value, and place the library has at an institution. 

What stories do you use? To what effect? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Work We Do: Reflecting on CARL’s Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries

The CARL Competencies

How do you envision your role as an academic librarian? With your job description? The vision and mission statements of your library or institution? Direction from your supervisor or administration? And do you have the knowledge, skills, and values to support this work?

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) developed a list of competencies for academic librarians, which were updated in 2020. CARL lists eight competencies including collaboration, leadership and vision, equity, diversity, and inclusion, curation, and assessment, among others.

I like how the 2020 CARL competencies spell out the difference between skills (“learning capacities to carry out specific tasks”), mindsets (“collection of attitudes, inclinations, or habits of mind useful in achieving an outcome”), values (beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding specific issues or ideas), and knowledge – and each competency has a combination of these listed. The CARL competencies are comprehensive because they combine hard and soft skills into each competency; I am learning both are integral to working as an academic librarian. For example, under collaboration, listed are skills to build relationships, knowledge of inter- and intra-institutional organization, knowledge of critical and scholarly engagement, and an understanding of how to work with and engage users of diverse backgrounds.

In searching for other academic librarianship-wide competencies, I noticed a lack from other large academic library organizations, such as ACRL or ARL.  There are the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, the Medical Library Association’s specialized Professional Competencies,as well as the Reference and User Services Association’s Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians, but not profession-wide competencies.

Why competencies?

Competencies can be useful for envisioning the landscape of academic librarianship: what youshould know, where and how you should professionally develop, developing vision and mission statements, and what is included in LIS curricula.

I think competencies help guide our profession. Competencies give bounds to a profession, but do we need bounds? Who has the authority to define a profession? What do I care if a large library association says I need to collaborate, engage, and curate?

The point of competencies shouldn’t be to dictate what work we should be doing — whether that’s an opportunity that comes up (e.g. leading an association or chairing a committee) or something I propose and develop (e.g. a library symposium or new library service) — but if you need ideas for areas of growth, you have a guide, useful for early-career librarians. They could also be useful for mid- or late-career librarians, who feel directionless or adrift, or otherwise want to continue to develop in different areas. By their very nature professional competencies are broad, to capture the wide-ranging work we are involved in.

Competencies add professionalization to our field. Those looking at academic librarianship can see our values and skills. This begs the question, are competencies for us or are they for someone else? Are they to crystallize and focus our work or are they for the people we help, so they have a better idea of the work we do?

I am reminded of the public presentations held for entry-level librarian candidates at the University of Manitoba. Many of the candidates based their presentations around the CARL competencies in answering the assigned question on what is required of today’s academic librarian. I know I referenced the 2010 CARL competencies in my own interview in Fall 2019. Here you have new LIS graduates looking to the competencies to envision their work and publicly present their idea of an academic librarian. In this way, competencies help students and new graduates have an idea of the work of academic librarians.

Identify your values and meaningful work

I find competencies useful in identifying work that is meaningful to me. Another way I identified meaningful work was when I came across the idea of personal librarian philosophies after attending a 2021 WILU (Workshop in Library Use) pre-conference session on teaching philosophies. The instructors — Dr. Betsy Keating and Dr. Margie Clow Bohan — suggested while teaching philosophies can be helpful for librarians, it may be more useful to develop a librarian philosophy that could guide not only your teaching, but your entire professional practice, including goal setting.  

After the conference, I set out to write my own librarian philosophy. In my philosophy, I commit to building relationships and community, doing meaningful work, lifelong learning, and supporting myself and the work of others – both inside and outside the profession.

I am reminded of Christopher P. Long, the Dean of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, and his idea of values-enacted leadership: identify core values that are meaningful to you so you can guide your work and check-in with yourself to ensure you are keeping to those values and infusing them throughout your work. My librarian philosophy identifies values that are meaningful to me and help guide decision-making and goal setting.

Our future as academic librarians

Does academic librarianship need more voices to tell us this is what we should be doing? On the one hand, I don’t think so since there’s so many voices already, and voices that need to be amplified. But on the other, we need new direction, vision, and leadership. Professional competencies can unite a profession, by identifying what work is important, or necessary, or meaningful.

By identifying and putting bounds on our work with competencies, we can envision what we’re doing now and where we want to go. Competencies give the profession a starting point, a place to think about the work we do. There won’t be unanimous agreement on which competencies to include. I think that’s okay. There’s something positive about looking inwards to identify the bounds of academic librarianship to expand and strengthen our profession. We need to continue to have discussions on the direction of academic librarianship, continue to identify what it is our work entails, and continue moving the profession forward to better support ourselves and our users.

The CARL Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries are available at https://www.carl-abrc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Competencies-Final-EN-1-2.pdf

Uncovering Expectations and Opportunities, Opening Doors 

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already wrapping up week two of the fall semester at my campus. This means that my information literacy instruction responsibilities are starting to ramp up. Teaching has been a big part of every library job I’ve had since grad school. So it naturally follows that teaching dominates a lot of my time and thinking, not to mention my posts here–from reflections on experimenting with specific activities or strategies in the classroom to the evolution of my teaching practice over the years and attempting to uncover the research process. It’s that last bit in particular that I want to pick up on here, with fresh eyes. 

For many years now, transparency has been a guiding principle of my approach to teaching and all information literacy-related work, in and out of the classroom. I aim to expose embedded–and often invisible–information literacy concepts, skills, strategies, and expectations in order to make the mysteries and complexities of the research process more accessible to students and engage them in it. 

A few weeks ago, I attended the faculty development series my campus offers just before the start of each semester. My colleague led a session about strategies that instructors can use to support neurodivergent students. Her recommendations included providing explicit and intentional directions about academic and behavioral expectations and providing options for student participation to give students some control. Her suggestions made sense to me–I could imagine how such clarity, as well as choice, might support neurodivergent students’ engagement, and neurotypical students’ engagement, too. 

I’ve tried incorporating some of her recommendations in the few classes I’ve worked with so far this semester. More specifically, I’ve tried to make clear at the beginning of each class how students might choose to engage in the session. I provided, for example, a list of what engaging might look like including participating in the in-class activities, asking questions, and contributing comments, as well as avoiding distractions in order to focus, actively taking notes, reflecting on how the day’s content relates or applies to their own experience, etc. I also articulated how students might accomplish these things: vocally in class, in the online platforms as part of our day’s activities (e.g., Padlet, Jamboard), or after class by emailing me or stopping by my office. I provided these expectations in writing on a slide and described them during class. I have always articulated how I hope students will participate in class, suggesting that they ask questions or share their thoughts. This new level of intentionality and detail at the outset, though, brought a more focused spotlight than I have been in the habit of offering. To be honest, it felt a bit awkward to me. I was concerned that it might feel forced or be perceived as juvenile or even didactic. So I’ve attempted to frame these introductory remarks as an invitation to students rather than a patronizing prescription, explaining that I understand students might be uncertain about how to participate given that I’m an unfamiliar guest instructor and I want to be clear that I hope they’ll actively engage in the class. To me, that framing feels more comfortable and authentic.

I’ve only tried this in three classes so far this semester. It’s a limited sample, but I have to say that I’ve been struck by how engaged many of the students in these three classes have been. Of course, that could have nothing to do with this tweak! But maybe…

What strikes me now is how this new, small change is, in fact, so closely aligned with the transparency I’ve been cultivating around information literacy. This intentionality in being explicit about class engagement options is just another kind of unveiling, another way to increase clarity, accessibility, and inclusion.

It makes me wonder what else I could be working to uncover and clarify for students in and out of the classroom. Where else might I be making assumptions? What other paths and processes– established and expected to me but invisible to students–could be unveiled? How and where do you practice transparency in your teaching? 

Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2021-2022 FYAL bloggers Ramón García and Heather Bobrowicz . We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Tuesday, September 6. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!