Apply to join the ACRLog Blog Team!

Interested in writing for ACRLog? We’re looking for a few new bloggers to join our team! 

We aim to have a group of bloggers who represent diverse perspectives on and career stages in academic librarianship. We are especially seeking librarians interested in writing about technical services, scholarly communication, technology, and related areas and/or those working at small colleges, community colleges, or private institutions, to balance the strengths of our other bloggers.

Members of the ACRLog blog team write on any issue or idea that impacts academic librarianship, from current news items to workflow and procedural topics to upcoming changes in the profession and more. 

ACRLog blog team members typically publish individual posts every 6-8 weeks and sometimes collaborate with other blog team members on co-authored posts. Blog team members also contribute to the work of blog promotion and management (e.g., participate in 2-3 blog team meetings every year). 

If you’re interested in joining the ACRLog blog team, please complete our application form. Applications are due January 31, 2022. 

Proposals will be evaluated by the existing ACRLog blog team. We will strive to consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, small colleges) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, 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 Jen Jarson at jmj12@psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you! 

Things I mean to know

I’m a big fan of using low-stakes passive engagement activities to informally gather student perspectives. For me, this has most often been simply posting a question or poll related to a timely topic on a strategically-positioned whiteboard. I’m always interested to see what students post–I look eagerly for new responses every time I pass a board–and I try to think carefully about the insight their responses can offer. 

At my current library, we’ve used these questions or polls most often to gauge students’ preferences for services or features we’re planning, such as new furniture or space changes. We’ve also used them as a small way to promote well-being or students’ sense of connections, such as by inviting students to share study tips, messages of goodwill, or plans for the break at the end of the semester. Pre-pandemic, we posted these polls or questions on a regular basis, often weekly. But in the past year and a half, we have gotten away from this practice. First, because our campus was physically closed due to the pandemic, then because of concerns about handling shared materials (like the markers students would use to post their responses), and more recently because we’ve just been out of the habit of doing it.

I’ve been feeling the itch to start this up again so last week I posted a prompt asking students what questions or topics they’ve been researching this semester. I like the range of responses so far: from phyllosilicates to Tyrion Lannister. I posted this particular prompt partly because I’m just interested in the work students are doing. But I also hope that seeing this prompt–their fellow students’ research topics, but also just the question itself–might plant a seed to inspire their own curiosity. It’s just one question on a whiteboard, of course, but you never know what gets someone thinking.

In fact, this little whiteboard question has made me reflect anew not just on the professional and personal topics I’ve researched this semester, but also on my own inquiry mindset. My own research is more often than not driven by an imminent deadline or in reaction to an issue or problem that has arisen in my work or life, rather than because of innate curiosity in a topic. Rarely do I find myself exploring a question for its own sake just because I was interested. I think time/workload are partly to blame, but I’ve long framed this as a personal shortcoming. I think often about how much I admire–envy, even–people with a strong naturally inquisitive nature and their drive to satisfy their curiosity. 

This all got me thinking about a podcast episode I listened to some years ago. My memory of it is spotty, but the episode had something to do with the theme “things I mean to know.” I think the idea was more or less about getting to the bottom of the facts about the world that we take for granted: how do we really know they’re true? At the time, I was inspired to generate my own list of facts and universal truths that I wanted to investigate. I felt enlivened by the sense of inquiry and optimism that having such a list engendered. It felt like the beginning of something exciting. But the sad truth is that I let my list quickly fall by the wayside; I don’t know where it is now and I don’t think I made much, if any, progress on answering the questions I brainstormed.

As I survey today’s additions to the what-are-you-researching whiteboard prompt, I’m thinking about a still more abstract goal at the core of this little exercise. I also posed this question because I’m always looking for little ways to expand students’ understanding and awareness of research–big and small, academic and otherwise–as relevant to their interactions and experiences in the world, to see themselves in that word. And the same goes for me, really. The reflection brought about by writing this post first led me to think that perhaps I should generate a fresh list of “things I mean to know.” Surely, articulating a list of topics to pursue and questions to answer will invigorate me and offer a renewed sense of purpose, I thought. And that’s likely true, for a time. But, turning this lens on myself, I can see with fresh appreciation where my more innate inquiry tendencies–strengths, even?–lie. As a “process person,” I often relish uncovering, understanding, and effectively navigating the steps and behaviors that make up the path to a goal or product. I’ve long recognized and valued how empowering it can feel to have an understanding of the process–the how. I have typically used this as a guiding principle for my librarianship and focused on growing students’ awareness of process in order to support and advance their inquiry experiences. It’s been some time since I saw this spark, this drive as the way I motivate my own research, as a mark of my own curiosity.

Join the ACRLog Blog Team!

Interested in writing for ACRLog? We’re looking for a few new bloggers to join our team! 

We aim to have a group of bloggers who represent diverse perspectives on and career stages in academic librarianship. We are especially seeking librarians interested in writing about technical services, scholarly communication, technology, and related areas and/or those working at small colleges, community colleges, or private institutions, to balance the strengths of our other bloggers.

Members of the ACRLog blog team write on any issue or idea that impacts academic librarianship, from current news items to workflow and procedural topics to upcoming changes in the profession and more. 

ACRLog blog team members typically publish individual posts every 6-8 weeks and sometimes collaborate with other blog team members on co-authored posts. Blog team members also contribute to the work of blog promotion and management (e.g., participate in 2-3 blog team meetings every year). 

If you’re interested in joining the ACRLog blog team, please complete our application form. Applications are due January 31, 2022. 

Proposals will be evaluated by the existing ACRLog blog team. We will strive to consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, small colleges) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, 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 Jen Jarson at jmj12@psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you! 

From clicks toward concepts in the information literacy classroom

I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter the other day when a tweet caught my eye. I wish I could find it again to do it justice, but it was essentially a critique of the author’s missteps in the classroom early in their career by way of a funny apology to students. It immediately transported me back to some of the most disappointing and embarrassing teaching experiences in my own early career days. My whole body still cringes when I remember those moments: the one-shots where, for example, I droned on about database navigation and put students, and myself, to sleep; the ones where I stuffed every minute of class, often with insignificant minutiae, thereby camouflaging what really mattered. I didn’t know how to prioritize or pace instruction, much less how to engage students. 

I’m grateful to say that almost everything about my teaching has changed since then, and for the better. Now, more than a decade later, my teaching is much more grounded in constructivist pedagogy and organized around cultivating students’ awareness and understanding of their research processes. My approach then could perhaps be described as tool-driven and largely based in demonstration. It was common for me to develop some kind of resource guide for the course–essentially a long list of links to recommended databases, books, websites, etc.–and then to spend our time in class focused on modeling and practicing effective use of those tools. Of course, there are still plenty of occasions when it makes sense to orient students to effectively using library databases. But now uncovering, conceptualizing, and shaping the process of research–the methods, stages, and purpose–is my organizational blueprint. Today–guided by constructivist and metacognitive principles, active learning pedagogy, and formative assessment techniques–my teaching is much less about tools and much more about strategies, much less about clicks and much more about concepts. 

While the impact of this long transformation has reaped many rewards in student engagement and learning, as well as my personal interest and satisfaction, I know there are many ways I could further improve what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it. I hope to keep iterating and advancing. Specifically, I’m thinking about a technique that I’ve long recognized as a weak spot in my teaching and that could support this road from clicks to concepts: storytelling. 

I’m using the word storytelling quite broadly for my purposes. Perhaps examples is more accurate (and less lofty and self-aggrandizing)? Yet examples feels just a bit narrow. I’m not referring only to developing instructive sample searches to demonstrate how to keep keywords simple yet precise or selecting the ideal sample article to model how to effectively organize a literature review. Of course, those are important kinds of examples and, when done well, very impactful ones. But when I say I want to use storytelling or examples, I’m thinking more about allegories, anecdotes, and analogies, case studies and real-world problems to wrap around the research strategies and concepts at the core of each class. I’m imagining that such storytelling techniques could extend or enhance information literacy teaching and learning by making abstract or technical concepts more accessible and concrete, facilitating recall, demonstrating relevance and impact, prompting reflection and meaning-making, not to mention simply providing inspiration or general interest. I’ve so far been thinking of these as discrete stories to insert at key moments in class to illustrate a point, hook a students’ interest, or propel us all toward moments of understanding.

The small amount of reading on this topic that I’ve done thus far seems to affirm the effectiveness of storytelling and precise, compelling examples in teaching (not to mention other domains like management and leadership). And the tips I’ve stumbled on so far suggest that, like many things in teaching, it’s best to start small by focusing on a single area or concept that students regularly struggle with in order to integrate storytelling where it’s most needed. Otherwise, I’m still a bit at sea here on how to do this best. It’s one thing to be able to identify where a story would be most helpful; it’s another to compose a compelling story that helps students reach a meaningful takeaway and recognize why that takeaway matters. I certainly need to do more research and thinking, but I’m curious about your experience. Have you incorporated storytelling and examples in your teaching? What kinds of stories? And to what effect? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Another post on burnout, or A pep talk on cultivating an empathic attitude

I’ve been in this profession long enough to know that it’s often around this time of year that I usually start to feel really burnt out. Looking back through some of my old ACRLog posts, I found one from some time ago where I reflected on this very feeling…and tried to see past it. It makes sense that a transitional period or even a breaking point can follow the pace and workload of the ever-hectic academic year. 

Of course, this wasn’t a typical academic year. The pandemic–and all its related professional and personal stressors and uncertainties–exacerbated the strains we all regularly endure. As a result, I think my sense of end-of-year burnout has been amplified, as well. I’m referring to the sense of fatigue, detachment, lack of motivation, and difficulty focusing that are typical hallmarks. But what strikes me most this time around relates to my capacity for empathy. 

I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person. In recent months, though, I’ve been feeling that my capacity for empathy has diminished. I’m thinking that the course of the last year and a half has made me feel more emotionally strained and, therefore, more emotionally ungenerous or inflexible than I’ve felt in some time. Because I’m closer to my own limits, I feel more emotionally stingy with others.

I’ve generally taken pains to practice empathy and considered it to be a foundational characteristic of my personality and–in my professional sphere–my teaching, leadership, and managerial styles. Empathy fuels my interest in and perspectives on the world: it motivates me, facilitates effective communication, and strengthens collaboration. So to feel diminished in my capacity for empathy feels like a pretty big deal. 

If you’re at all familiar with the research literature, media coverage, or even just the general conversation on burnout, you know that it can show up in different ways or arenas and that strategies to address it may vary accordingly. These range from creating space for breaks and reflection and practicing self-care and compassion to reducing workload and setting and maintaining boundaries and much more. Of course, individual strategies can only take us so far; organizational approaches are needed for wider cultural change. 

While none of these strategies are a surprise, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement or sustain. So as I sit here at more or less the midpoint of the academic summer–lamenting how much of my “break” is already behind me, how much I have to accomplish, and how much of a real break I still need–I’m thinking about how to recharge, assert my agency, and affirm the meaning of my work again, like all the articles say to do. It’s here that I begin to wonder if my symptom might, in fact, also be my solution. Rather than waiting for the stars to align and my capacity to return to me fully restored, I’m thinking instead about how to pursue it–how to intentionally cultivate empathy, even in small ways, and reflect on the value it adds to my outlook, my work, my relationships. If I can re-frame it as a choice to make, a habit to practice, and an attitude to cultivate, then it becomes a path I can follow. Perhaps focusing my attention on taking steps to reclaim my capacity for empathy will be precisely the treatment I need to address my burnout.

How are y’all faring? How do you restore or maintain your capacities when burnout strikes? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.