My Thoughts on ACRL’s Springboard Event

Today was an important day in the history of ACRL. Even from my newly-minted librarian perspective, I can recognize this as a momentous occasion. ACRL listened to the needs of their members and offered their first ever free webcast. Only members were able to participate in the webcast, something that I think is completely reasonable. As Steven mentioned in his post announcing the event, it’s only right that we get something back for the hefty dues we pay. Believe me, as someone who has recently made the switch from student dues to librarian dues, the word “free” means a lot!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the webcast; according to the March 10 press release, the subject was billed as “a lively discussion examining the skills and fluencies students will need for the 21st century and what the library can do to prepare for the future of higher education.” I was a little nervous that the talk would be dry or, at the worst, irrelevant, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The featured speaker was an intelligent and interesting man by the name of Henry Jenkins, Peter de Florez Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. His talk today focused around his MacArthur funded New Media Literacies Project. I felt his presentation was thought-provoking and extremely relevant to modern academic librarianship.

Jenkins discussed a concept called the “participatory culture” that many young people live in. Characteristics of this culture include low barriers for engagement, strong support for sharing creations with others, informal mentorship, members who believe their contributions matter, and members who care about others’ opinions of themselves and their work. Since many students are growing up within this culture, there is the ever-present need for them to become media literate. This requires the students to build social skills and cultural competencies such as appropriation, multi-tasking, collective intelligence, and networking. Jenkins assured us that these new literacies do not, of course, replace traditional literacy: students will still need to know how to read and write in order to keep up in this participatory culture. To illustrate his points, Jenkins used relevant, real-world examples such as the potential “poster boy” for new literacy, Soulja Boy (a young rap musician who made it big purely through exposure on YouTube and MySpace and encourages fans to remix and circulate his hit song Crank That (Soulja Boy) through social networking).

So where do we, as librarians, fit in? Remember the “mentorship” component of participatory culture? That’s us. Jenkins stressed the need for librarians to act as information facilitators rather than curators of collections (we ought to market ourselves, as a cartoon he displayed so aptly put it, as “human search engines”). It’s important for students to recognize that we do have up-to-speed technology skills and that we are available as a sort of coach or mentor for communicating via social networks. This is especially vital for students who don’t have round-the-clock access to computers and the Internet. These students need to know that we can guide them through the use of these tools so that they don’t get left out. In the same vein, it’s important to stand up for students’ right to use social networking tools such as MySpace or Facebook, rather than banning them from library computers. We already know this is one of the main ways students communicate, and it wouldn’t it be better, instead of shutting them down, for us provide guidance to students navigating through the highly public, often ethically-challenging world of this new culture?

I’m happy to report that although this program lacked in cost, it most definitely did not lack in content. I hope many of our readers also participated in the webcast, and that some of you are willing to share your thoughts. Did you find the speaker/topic to be relevant? Was it worth your time? Would you “attend” another such event? Thanks again to ACRL for this great opportunity! I can’t wait to see what they offer us next time.

What I DID Learn in Library School

Since earning my degree, I’ve seen lots of comments on listservs (NEWLIB) and posts on blogs (Annoyed Librarian and Chronicles of Bean) about what people think they should have/wish they would have learned in library school. There’s the endless debate over whether or not our Masters programs are preparing librarians well enough or even whether or not they’re necessary. Well, I want to take a moment and say that I’m extremely happy with my MLIS education. Sure, there were plenty of things I didn’t learn and have had to pick up on the job, but most of these seem specific to my library and I’m sure I would have to re-learn them should I move to a new library (library instruction request procedures, reference policies, etc.). For the most part, though, I’m proud of my education and grateful that it provided me with a good amount of information and resources to survive (and dare I say, flourish) in this profession.

So, without further ado, here’s my list of things I’m glad I learned in library school:

1. The Importance of Continuing Education. From the start, our professors taught us that continuing education is possibly one of the most important aspects of librarianship. Whether you participate in a free web seminar, attend workshops at conferences, or set up journal alerts to keep up with the latest happenings, continuing education is a must. While in school, I was lucky enough to have many opportunities to participate in these sorts of things, which definitely helped me get into the “continuing ed” mindset.

2. Why We Should Pay Attention to the Environment. My Academic Libraries professor stressed the need to keep a keen eye on the world of higher education. She reminded us that academic libraries are intrinsically connected to the politics of their parent institution; trends in higher education can most definitely trickle down to libraries. For this reason, The Chronicle of Higher Ed is one of the top reads in my RSS Feed.

3. How to Collaborate with Faculty. Having a strong, friendly relationship with the faculty on campus is crucial to the success of an academic library. I learned this firsthand during my field experience. I assisted the art liaison in working together with members of the art department to select books and discuss programs. I have been very thankful for that experience in my current job, where collaborating with faculty is a huge part of what I do.

4. How to Give a Good Presentation. Another thing we were taught in library school was to never underestimate the value of a well-done PowerPoint presentation. It won’t hold its own, but it will certainly make what you have to say a lot more attractive. I can’t even count the number of group projects, presentations, etc. that we were required to do. I can tell you, however, that my presenting skills have stayed well-maintained and I always jump at the chance to use PowerPoint as a visual aid.

5. The Infamous Reference Interview. When I started library school, I had absolutely no idea what a “reference interview” was. When we had to role play in reference class, I thought it was a little odd … I mean, don’t people just ask what they want to know? Working at a reference desk has given me that answer: no. Although no library school could ever teach you everything you need to know about reference resources (that’s specific to your library), I value knowing how to find out what someone REALLY wants to know.

6. Networking, Networking, Networking. The professors couldn’t stress it enough — grab up every opportunity to network that you possibly can; you never know when that person can be of assistance to you down the road. This may seem obvious, but I had honestly never thought that much about networking before I got to library school. Now I feel a lot more confident making the initial contact, knowing how beneficial it really can be.

7. Taking Baby Steps in Publishing. Probably one of the most important things I learned is that the old “publish or perish” mantra doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Starting out small is the best way to lead yourself into the world of publishing. I know that the blogging I do for ACRLog and the reviews I write for Public Services Quarterly will make it a heck of a lot easier to finally get myself moving on writing an actual paper (a day that is probably coming soon!).

There are plenty of other things I’m glad I learned (including a number of very helpful ideas and theories in my Information Literacy Instruction class), but I’ll just finish off by saying a sincere “thank you” to Dean Paskoff and the faculty of the School of Library and Information Science at Louisiana State University. You definitely made it easier for me to make the transition from undergraduate to Masters student to new librarian!

Is Facebook this generation’s Rolling Stones?

I saw an interesting piece on Frontline (PBS) last night called Growing Up Online. I was interested in watching the program because of all the social networking talk that has been at the forefront of academic librarianship in the last year or so; it’s also been mentioned several times on this blog. The Frontline piece talked about how teens are basically growing up virtually; submerged in the online worlds of sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Youtube. The piece revealed several interesting, but perhaps not surprising, “facts” about this new generation of online teens: kids and teens spend almost all of their free time (in school and out) online, virtual networking is the number one way this group communicates with one another (it even tops email), and incidences of “cyber-bullying” are on the rise (disturbing, but true).

The piece also talked about how cheating is a source of struggle in high schools due to the ease of use and the accessibility of materials on the Internet. Several high schools students interviewed claimed to use SparkNotes, a set of free online study guides, almost exclusively while doing homework. One boy announced that he never looks at the actual books assigned, and instead was able to “read” Romeo and Juliet via SparkNotes in just 9 pages. He said that if there were 27 hours in the day, he would gladly read Romeo and Juliet, but unfortunately there are only 24 hours. The sad thing was, he actually seemed sincere. I found this especially interesting considering the recent uproar about Steve Jobs’s comment that people don’t read anymore. I don’t think this one teenage boy can speak for an entire generation, but it’s a little disconcerting to find out that many teens consider “reading” to be the consultation of a study guide.

Since libraries started creating Facebook and MySpace pages, I have felt rather conflicted about the whole idea. I understand the theory of wanting to connect with students where they are (because, obviously, Facebook is where they spend most of their time), but I’ve always wondered if it can be truly affective. I’ll be honest: I’m 25, I use Facebook to stay connected with friends, and if I were still in college, I wouldn’t be “friending” my professors and librarians. Hearing the interviews on Frontline only confirmed my suspicions that teens and young adults don’t want authorities online. They’re very secretive and protective of their niche, and they just don’t want the adults intruding. I believe this is true of any adult: parents, teachers, etc.

The title of this post is in reference to a comment in the Frontline piece that “the Internet has created the greatest generation gap since rock ‘n’ roll.” Associate producer Caitlin McNally, who is in her 20s, noted that even she felt somewhat out of touch with the students she interviewed:

Maybe even more striking to me was how social networking sites have become fully integrated into kids’ lives. I didn’t build my first profile until after college; it felt underground and novel, like being in on a joke. I’d never even heard the term “social networking.” Having a profile on the Internet was ancillary to my “real” life, while for the kids we met, it has become a fundamental element of what they do each day and how they represent who they are.

I’m with Ms. McNally on this one. I am surprised at times to feel a disconnect with the students I’m teaching, when many of them are less than a decade younger than I am. When I think about it, though, I doubt many of the students would want to hang out with me in real life; why would they want to hang out with me virtually? Thus, I’ve come to this conclusion: instead of “joining” students in their virtual space, I think we should try to focus on catering to their virtual learning styles. Whether this means offering more online workshops, or virtual reference services, or blogs and podcasts, I’m not sure. I’m just not convinced that implanting our libraries into Facebook and MySpace is making quite the splash we think it’s making. But, hey, I’m just a new librarian!

Notable Events of 2007

Well, it’s time again to look over the past year’s posts and discuss some of the most notable ones. This year, the ACRLog veterans are letting a few of us first-years take a stab at reviewing the important events of 2007. In a few days, you’ll see Part 2 of our ’07 recap, courtesy of Kim Leeder. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how these events have (or perhaps have not) influenced your year as an academic librarian. Please, also, leave a comment if there is something you think should have been included in our recap.

Academic Librarian of the Year Named

In February, ACRL presented the 2007 Academic/Research Librarian of the Year award to Lizabeth (Betsy) A. Wilson, Dean of University Libraries at the University of Washington. This award was well-deserved and the ACRLog bloggers joined academic librarians around the country in congratulating Betsy on such a great honor.

The Changing Role of Academic Librarians

ACRL published an interesting report based on an invitational summit held in Chicago in November 2006. The summit report focused on three tasks individual libraries must take on to heighten exposure on campuses (such as promoting their institutions as gateways to reliable information sources, providing more services and guidance to users, and becoming active participants in asserting the evolution of their institutions), as well as outlining several potential roles for ACRL in the future. Among these roles, it was suggested that ACRL facilitate communication and open dialogue with key constituencies, make a nationwide attempt to foster successful learning, embrace the changing environment of libraries, provide leadership in assisting librarians in using technology in their libraries, and take a more active role in communicating and embracing the paradigm shifts and changing demands of the academic world. ACRL made a point of encouraging feedback from academic librarians on the summit report, and designated ACRLog as the official “comments collector.” Thanks to all of you who contributed thoughts and suggestions.

ACRL Joins World of Podcasts

Following the 2007 ALA Midwinter meeting, ACRL unveiled a new podcasting series, which is designed to recap various programs. Steven Bell posted on the first podcast in the series, which featured ACRL vice-president/president-elect candidates Erika Link and Scott Walter answering a round of questions about academic librarianship. The podcasts are an excellent way for those unable to attend Midwinter to still benefit from ACRL’s many important programs and talks.

ACRL Storms Baltimore

This past year’s ACRL National Conference was held in Baltimore, MD, home of John Waters and Chesapeake Bay cuisine. Several of the ACRLog team attended the conference, and the blog benefited from their reports. Here are a few highlights, based on the various experiences:
*Michael Dyson started off the conference by encouraging librarians to using traditional stereotypes to our advantage by drawing on them to promote change and creativity in higher education settings
*ACRL unveiled a new conference bag, which offered useful amenities such as a water bottle holder and cell phone pocket
*Professor Emerita at Towson University, Luz Mangurian, offered insights into how people learn, and how librarians can use this information in their teaching. One of the main points she stressed was skipping the traditional lecture, and getting students involved with the learning processes – this will help information find its way into the long-term memory
*Bill Miller, Jerry Campbell, and Brian Matthews gave tips and suggestions for improving reference services by asserting the value of our services to students, collaborating with faculty to get students serious about quality research, getting out of our “comfort zones,” and connecting with users through social networking. According to our blogger, the main emphasis in this presentation was “pre-emptive reference.”
*It was suggested that ACRL could do a better job with increasing attendance on Sundays, the last day of the conference. Perhaps a last-day brunch or an extra booth with door prizes or drawings would benefit those smart enough to stick it out until the last day.
*There were many programs devoted to social computing, or “Library 2.0” (blogs, wikis, etc.), with the highlight being PennTags, a project that uses tagging in catalogs.
*Another popular topic was cooperation with fellow librarians. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open if you want to run a successful library and implement the aforementioned social tools.
*One of the most important aspects of conferences such as ACRL is networking. Academic librarians have the perfect opportunity to talk with like-minded individuals and meet colleagues they can partner up with on a new project. It’s important to foster these relationships even after you return home from the conference.
*If you missed out on the conference, or want to relive the wonderful moments, check out the conference video produced by Nick Baker (of “March of the Librarians” fame).
*Finally, in the words of blogger Marc Meola: “Charm City lived up to its name. Everyone loved Baltimore and John Waters.”

University of Michigan Skips MLS Choice for University Librarian

Some heads turned when the University of Michigan decided not to choose an MLS-degreed librarian to fill the position of University Librarian and Dean of University Libraries. Instead, UM hired Paul Courant, former provost and professor of Public Policy, Economics, and Information Science. At the time of hire, Courant was a Distinguished Fellow at the Council on Library and Information Resources. This appointment raised questions in the world of academic librarianship as to whether or not there is a new trend of hiring non-librarians for administrative positions. While this is not the case with Courant, who has experience with academic libraries and higher education, the issue may be compounded by the fact that some libraries hire administrators that have little or no experience with or knowledge of academic librarianship. This “trend” is definitely worth watching, as it could have quite an impact on academic librarians in the future.

Thanks again for your loyalty to ACRLog. Our readers are very important to us, and we hope our posts have given you new perspectives and insights into the trends and stories that have shaped academic librarianship in 2007. The entire blogging team sends well wishes for a fantastic new year; let’s hope 2008 proves to be just as exciting and newsworthy!

Why Do I Feel Like I’m Still in School?

As my first semester as an academic librarian comes to a close, I can’t escape the feeling that there’s something I’m forgetting. This is just the way I always felt towards the end of a semester in college, when final assignments were due and tests were a commonality. Maybe I am just suffering from the misguided notion I had that the end of my first semester as a librarian would bring peace and quiet. Instead, I feel like the students who are in the midst of finals; I’m rushing around, trying to finish last minute projects and work in meetings before everyone leaves for the break. It’s as if the entire campus is in a mad rush to neatly tie up loose ends so we can all start fresh in January. I’m not sure what gave me the impression that these last few weeks of December would be easy. Sure, there is the occasional office party to attend or vacation plans to discuss, but most of my time has been spent meeting deadlines and making lists of things to work on when I come back to work after the break.

Part of what has kept me so busy is my appointment as co-chair of a sub-committee for my library system. We’re charged with assisting in the current information literacy initiative, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of work. I was excited to be asked to sit on the committee, and it’s actually been a great learning experience. I’ve learned more about information literacy programs, assessment, and learning outcomes in the last several months than I ever thought possible. Likewise, being co-chair of the sub-committee is an excellent opportunity to learn more about leadership. We’ve been very busy planning presentations, assessing our information literacy tools, and meeting several times a month to discuss it all. I’m extremely thankful for my co-chair, and the other committee members, who are all great at what they do and a perfect group to work with. But, did I mention it’s a lot of work?

Add all of that to the instruction requests I’m already receiving for next semester, the library workshops I’m coordinating and advertising, and the bulletin boards I’ve been feverishly working on, and you have one tired first-year librarian.

However busy I’ve been, though, I do believe I’ve had a great (and in my eyes, successful) first semester. I wrote a web site review for a peer-reviewed journal, I’ve “attended” some really great webcasts, I’m lucky enough to share my thoughts on this respected blog, and I think I’m even getting better at networking. And I know one thing that separates me from the students (well, besides the paycheck): being able to relax and enjoy my vacation without worrying about grade point averages or tuition for the upcoming semester. There are benefits to being a professional!