Playing with Fall Planning

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Jade E. Davis to the ACRLog team. Jade is Director of Educational Technology & Learning Management at the University of Pennsylvania Library. She leads a team committed to strategic technological innovation in library spaces, student engagement, play, teaching, research, and learning support. She was previously the inaugural Director of Digital Project Management and Columbia University Libraries. She has a PhD in Communication studies with a focus in media, technology and culture from UNC Chapel Hill. Her research looks at new modes of knowledge production, how digital information complicates information literacy, the ethics of digital knowledge production, digital media & learning, and empathy culture. Prior to earning her PhD she worked in digital project management and production, a digital humanities lab, and HASTAC.

Happy Fiscal Year 2022-23 to those who celebrate! On my team we celebrate by beginning our fall planning. I started my current role at the beginning of the remote phase of the pandemic. A significant portion of my work, to date, has been attempting to counterbalance burnout (of staff, students, faculty, etc) with new ways of bringing our community into our work, and thinking differently about how we approach our work. For the part of my team that manages our Commons spaces we are focusing on undergraduate engagement and something that has caused some organizational tension: play. There are three reasons for this.

  1. Supporting students, especially undergraduates, supports the health of the University.
  2. Play is a low-stakes, high-reward way to bring people together. 
  3. Play can be cultivated given the Academic Library’s super power*.

*The Academic Library’s Super Power According to Jade

The Library is a central part of the university with access to a plethora of resources, material and flexible spaces. Our engagement with patrons is not bound by time in the way courses are. We can create many of our own assessments without the baggage of grades. We know why our audiences are here: to learn and create knowledge. We can participate in and create co- & extra-curricular activities, and experiential learning through play that facilitate the generation of new ideas and approaches which, in turn, supports the mission of the University.

Why Now?

A pattern we’ve seen when we look at surveys of faculty now is faculty feel they have less time for research and service given their own pandemic+ burnout. Faculty, graduate students, and other lecturers feel they are spending more time providing support to students, not just for course material, but in general as students try to figure out how they fit into the campus community. Generally there is a sense that the remote period or other dynamics (there are so many dynamics right now), have led to student disengagement, which we are seeing reflected in patron counts. This is where play comes into play.

I like to call “play” a total empowerment move because it addresses so many things. It creates a space where people are able to meaningfully engage social dynamics and take risks with controlled consequences. It allows for creativity, exploration, discovery, and joy for participants and staff. In my experience it also reminds people that they play all the time by doing things like playing with ideas and finding solutions to problems. There is a good amount of research on play and learning/pedagogy, and there’s been a recent uptick in looking at play in Higher Education. I’ve put together a talking points table that I use to walk people through how play-empowered libraries, students, and culture & society are better able to navigate our current context and develop resilience and shared purpose based on takeaways from the research. 

Play Empowered

LIBRARIESSTUDENTSCULTURE & SOCIETY
Are inclusive engagement spaces by design. They allow multiple ways to engage. This creates a safe space for exploration and experimentation.Are allowed to be more vulnerable, take risks, and play with ideas including their own positionality and power without fear of failure.Imagine and create different worlds because we know we can be in the world together differently.
Create community within the University. Students are accountable to themselves  and to each other.Practice being part of a paraprofessional community through  low stakes, high reward socialization.Understand that society is a network/global and our choices produce results and consequences.
Cultivate a productive and positive  orientation towards the moment and “failure” by experiencing surprise and delight through experimentation without the risk or anxiety of getting a bad grade.Navigate unexpected obstacles or changes because experimenting with different solutions, materials, and expertise is possible and encouraged.Recognize that current problems are temporary but require intentional engagement through collective action to be remedied.
Empower students to define their own success by making space for multiple destinations and ways of getting to the end.Have agency to imagine and design the future relevance and applicability of the material and skills.Assess their positionality and subjectivity by asking who am I in this? What is my impact? What are my choices? Who or what am I adding to, taking from?
Allow for and validate emotional responses & reactions in learning and coping through taking detours and non-linear pathways.Fully engage in the process of learning by acknowledging feelings of accomplishment, joy, and levity, in addition to stress, overwhelmedness, and other emotions/feelings.Become lifelong learners

The Work Right Now

Like many libraries, we had an exodus of staff during the pandemic. Once it became clear that the burnout being experienced was going to exist in waves, I rethought some of the roles on my team. This fall will be the first semester with Program Coordinators of Technology and Play. It was a title I campaigned for because it attracted people who already understood “play” as a powerful mode of engagement. To date, they’ve carted equipment and material from the Maker Space to the main Library to host some very successful pop-ups. The pop-ups allowed them to meet students, faculty, and staff semi-organically, and see what would be interesting for specific populations while still being fun for the staff. We are planning to expand these across the Library and bring in other units in the fall because they were so successful. And we are just starting to put together our fall plans. They’ve been given my one rule for cultivating play:

Design an experience YOU will be excited to be a part of. 

So, how about you all? Are you planning any play-filled activities or events to reintroduce patrons to your spaces and resources in the fall?

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