Monthly Archives: October 2007


First – if you support the NIH plan to make tax-funded research publicly available, take a minute to call your senators. Right now. There are some amendments to be voted on today that could gut the NIH proposal. Tell them to vote no on Senator James Inhofe’s amendments #3416 and #3417 to the 2008 Labor-HHS-Education bill.

Okay – are you done? Good.

Now, here’s some other news about access to research. The Chronicle reports that humanists will have a place to share their work in progress just as scholars in the social sciences have done for over ten years. This site for sharing documents is something between informal blogging and formal publication – more like a conference presentation without the hotel bill or airfare to pay for. The social sciences have had such an Internet forum since the SSRN was founded in 1994. There, some 131,000 papers have had over 4 million downloads in the past year. These are clustered into “networks” – rather like conferences – where people working in related areas can share their work. If you look toward the bottom of the page, classics, US and British literature, and philosophy have new networks. It looks as if these will be spun off into a new HRN – Humanities Research Network.

I’m not that familiar with how SSRN works and would be interested in hearing from anyone who has an insider’s view. All I know is that I’ve downloaded a lot of good articles from there, so I’m happy to see it expand into new fields.

Abracadabra: The Magic of Eye Contact

One of the simplest and most rewarding things I’ve done recently to improve my teaching, presentation, and even reference work has been to improve my eye contact. Yeah, eye contact. It’s that simple. If you don’t come by this skill naturally, or if you’ve been spending a lot of time with your eyes glued to a screen or in a book, read on.

I came across this idea in magician Steve Cohen’s book, Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship. In a chapter called “How to Command a Room,” Cohen states that eye contact is critical to establishing trust and making a connection with an audience. You can read all the instructional design you want, but if you don’t establish trust chances are you won’t be reaching as many students as you could be.

Cohen points out some simple tricks to help with this essential skill:

Fanning the Room. When you walk into a room, start by staring intently at the person sitting in the far right of the room, walking in that direction. Then stop and smoothly turn your head toward the left until you reach the person sitting in the farthest seat on the left. Then smoothly turn your head back to the right, reconnecting with people on that side. You have just made eye contact with everyone in the room.

Use imaginary strings. Pretend that imaginary strings connect your eyes to the eyes of everyone in the room. If you feel the strings sagging, make contact and tighten up the strings.

Reestablish eye contact. If you see an inattentive person, walk toward them and direct your speech and eyes to them. Direct your gaze toward others after the inattentives are brought back on board.

Hold longer than expected. Hold your gaze on specific people for longer than they would expect. Talk to them personally for 10 to 15 seconds. The attention makes them feel important, as if no one else is in the room.

Locate key people. With larger audiences locate key people who are attentive and responsive in different parts of the audience. Shift your gaze from key person to key person. The people around those key people will also feel your attention. Don’t just aim at clusters of people as many speakers do.

Check the other person’s eye color. In one-on-one situations, make an effort to check the color of the other person’s eyes. This simple trick forces you to make eye contact. If you start drifting, remind your self about eye color and check again.

I’ve put these simple techniques to work in my teaching and at the reference desk. I’ve noticed a big improvement in rapport and find myself making deeper connections with students. If you don’t make eye contact instinctively, or you’ve forgotten your eye contact skills, try these out and watch your teaching, presentations, and reference work improve like magic!

And I Heard Librarians Didn’t Have Time to Read At Work

When I accepted my first professional library position in late July, I was ecstatic. Less than two months had expired since I walked across the stage at Louisiana State University and was officially granted an MLIS. Like the other first-year bloggers, I was thrilled to land a job in the library setting of my choice (academic), doing something rewarding (library instruction). I started my first job knowing full well that the field of academic librarianship fosters continual learning and professional development. After all, how can we teach our students information literacy skills if we are lacking them ourselves? What I didn’t realize, however, is that this development would start my very first day of work. I am not embarrassed to admit that after my first day, I went straight home and watched several hours of television, just to clear my mind.

Soon, the pile of “to read” articles on my desk grew bigger and I spent quite a bit of time those first few weeks organizing my file cabinets into categories: Active Learning Techniques; Information Literacy Standards; and Reference Guidelines are just a few of the topics I began gathering information on. By now, most of the articles in that original pile have been read, highlighted, and filed away, but I never have a shortage of things to read.

Surprisingly, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the huge number of articles, books, and web sites available for my perusal, I feel grateful. It’s comforting to know that others started out just like me, as a new librarian with a lot to learn. I feel unbelievably lucky to have discovered a wealth of information that veteran and novice librarians alike are willing to share with one another. I have found fantastic ideas and lesson plans for making the most out of a one-shot LI session, and humorous suggestions for keeping Freshmen alert at 8:00 in the morning. I hope that someday I, too, will be able to contribute something beneficial that will be of use to my colleagues. I’m very happy (and appreciative) that I will have the chance to share my experiences with all of you on this blog. I look forward to reading your comments and seeking your sage advice. But to be honest, I’m mostly just happy I can finally see the top of my desk again!

Coffee House or Library?

Why not both?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College, discusses the social future of books in an article that has just appeared in the Journal of Electronic Publishing (which is published by the University of Michigan library’s Scholarly Publishing Office). Fitzpatrick examines CommentPress, an open source blog-like extension of digital books that enables a community of readers and scholars to add to, interpret, and discuss a text, as one instance of what the digital book might become.

CommentPress grew out of two assumptions: that “something in the current system of academic publishing is broken, and that radical change will be necessary to fix it; and second, that the purposes of such publishing must be regrounded in the desire for communication amongst a body of scholarly peers.” She discusses the second point in terms of the library and the coffee house:

The library model of textual circulation, once understood to be a communal enterprise, now comes to seem profoundly individualistic: books are checked out and read by one person at a time, in retreat from interaction with the world. Indeed, when we imagine scholarly interactions with the bulk of printed texts today, particularly within the humanities, the primary images that arise are of isolation: individual scholars hunched over separately bound texts, each working individually, whether in their separate offices or even collectively, in the silent reading rooms of the major research libraries. . . .

[I]n attempting to reproduce the form of the book electronically, technologists have for too long focused on the isolated practices of reading — the individual reader, alone with a screen — rather than the communal practices of discussion and debate to which those practices are, on some level at least, meant to give rise. Scholars operate in a range of conversations, from classroom conversations with students to conference conversations with colleagues; scholars need to have available to them not simply the library model of texts circulating amongst individual readers but also the coffee house model of public reading and debate.

The academic blog operates within the pamphlet and newspaper tradition of the coffee house, but the book remains lodged in a less-interactive mode, partly because long texts don’t lend themselves to the back-and-forth and free-form argument of a blog. Yet reading has always had a social component that Fitzgerald feels should be included in the digital book.

Fitzgerald looks to libraries as an example of how these two modes of intellectual engagement – individual study and group discourse – are merging, and she suggests that this blending of the individual and the social should become a model for scholarly publishing.

One question that remains is whether the library model of the circulation of single-author, long-form texts, meant to be consumed in relative isolation, over longer periods of time, might similarly benefit from the kinds of interaction that blogs produce, and if so, how. The library in such a model would become not simply a repository but instead fully part of a communications circuit, one that facilitates discourse rather than enforcing silence. Many libraries are already seeking ways to create more interaction within their walls; my institution’s library, for instance, hosts a number of lecture series and has a weekly “game night,” each designed to help some group of its users interact not simply with the library’s holdings, but with one another. Games may seem a frivolous example of the contemporary academy’s drive to cater to the younger generation’s relatively nonintellectual interests, but it is in fact hoped that patrons who use the library in such a fashion would not only be more likely to use it in traditional ways — more likely, for instance, to feel comfortable approaching a research librarian for help with a project — but also more empowered to collaborate with one another, breaking the library’s stereotypical hush.

Given that libraries are already interested in establishing themselves as part of a scholarly discursive network, putting the emphasis in the development of electronic publishing technologies on an individualist sense of the book’s circulation — on the retreat into isolation that accompanies our stereotypical imaginings of the library — threatens to miss the point entirely, ignoring the ways that the book itself has always served as an object of discussion, and thus overlooking the real benefit to be derived from liberating the book’s content from the form of the codex. Network interactions and connections of the types provided by blog engines can, I’d argue, revitalize academic discourse not just in its pamphlet/coffee-house mode, but also in its book/library mode, by facilitating discussion of a text, by promoting that discussion within the text’s own frame, and by manifesting the ways that each individual text is, and has always been, in dialogue with numerous texts that have preceded it, and that are yet to come.

If you’d like to respond to her thoughts on the future of the book, you can do so at the CommentPress version of her article.

The Wonderful Lightness of Being [a Librarian]

The first installment from Kim Leeder, in her first year as Reference and Instruction Librarian at Boise State University.

Ridiculously enthusiastic. That’s how I’ve been describing myself to anyone who has asked me how I’m doing in my new job. Ridiculously happy, ridiculously relieved, ridiculously lucky. The extremity of the emotion is directly related to what I believed was the unlikelihood that I would land a job, much less THE job I was seeking as reference librarian in a university library.

You see, not only did I have the usual challenges of tight job market and limited experience upon my graduation from library school in May of ’06, but I faced the added complication of an academic spouse who was offered his perfect job in a small city with very limited career options. Yikes. If you know anything about academic couples, you know those odds. They’re nothing you’d put money on in Vegas.

But somehow it happened! The job opened, I applied, and a hundred years later they called me for a phone and then campus interview. In July I began the Adventure of the First-Year Librarian, which so far has been all I could wish for and more. The variety of things I get to do is both intimidating and exhilarating: reference, instruction, collection development, outreach, and special projects galore. My first few weeks on the new job, as summer session wound down, were quiet, but a tornado of activity began in mid-August that surprised me even though I expected it.

I am fully certain that this is going to be the toughest job I’ve ever held, and you may hear me whining about the stress sometime in late November (my sincere apologies in advance). If that happens, I promise to take a step back and remember the feeling I have right now: the feeling of holding a winning lottery ticket I’m just about to cash in.

I have so much more to say but I’ll have to save it for future posts. I look forward to sharing my first-year adventure with you here, thanks to the kind organizers of ACRLog. I hope that my stories will enlighten or at least entertain, and that you’ll spend more time laughing with me than at me. More to come soon!