Gone Camping

It’s summertime, so last week I packed my bag and headed off to camp: LibCampNYC, a library unconference held at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

This was the first unconference I’d ever attended, having narrowly missed out on signing up for Library Camp NYC in 2007. One of the defining features of an unconference is its loose structure. I have to admit that I came into the day somewhat skeptical that the model would actually work, that 100+ people would be able to plan the day’s events on the fly first thing in the morning. While the organizers had done some pre-planning, arranging the topics proposed by participants on the preconference wiki into clusters of similar themes, the 4-5 sessions that ran in each timeslot were determined by the entire group. It was amazing to watch the schedule coalesce right before our eyes.

I went to four sessions over the course of the day, opting to stay in each one rather than move around. Lots of interesting things were discussed:

  • In the How should we handle the dinosaur known as the reference desk? session, the point was made that at academic libraries students may not feel comfortable approaching the reference desk when it’s not crowded because the librarian on duty looks busy, and students don’t want to interrupt. On the Twitter backchannel, bentleywg shared that his library places signs in front of the librarians’ computers on the ref desk that read “Please Interrupt Me.” Such a great idea!
  • I co-facilitated Information literacy instruction and strategies, and I was especially pleased that so many public librarians came to that session. It was so interesting to learn about the variety of opportunities that public librarians have to teach their patrons, from kids through adults, aspects of information literacy. I’ve often wondered about how my library could partner with the public library, since we only have our students for four years and public libraries have them for the rest of their lives (but that’s probably a topic for another post).
  • The Open access session was fairly free-form, with discussion on the topic ranging far and wide. Advocacy was a recurring thread, especially how academic librarians can educate faculty about open access on their campuses. One of the most interesting suggestions was to engage students in advocacy, as discussed at the SPARC session on this topic at ALA’s Midwinter meeting in 2008. For example, Students for Free Culture, a multi-campus organization, seems like a great partner for librarians working on OA issues.
  • The final session I attended was Critical pedagogy/critical information literacy, a topic I’m very interested in though just starting to read and learn about. A big theme in this discussion was the “tyranny of the one-shot,” with many librarians chewing over how to bring critical pedagogies to a library session that may be restricted to as little as 45 minutes.

The day went by in a flash and was great fun. My only small frustration was that the sessions seemed too short. By the time the participants said a few words introducing ourselves and expressing our interest in the topic and the conversation really got going, the session time was nearly half gone. But it’s also true that longer sessions = fewer sessions, and I wouldn’t have wanted to drop any of the four that I attended.

Longer sessions would also have allowed for more space to accommodate the variety of experience with and interest in a topic that everyone brought to the sessions. And while I do think that this diversity of perspective added depth to our discussions, sometimes a conversational thread that was interesting to me was snipped short and I wished we had more time to for it. But of course that’s the spirit of an unconference, that the program evolves continuously. And that made the event one of the most exciting and learning-filled professional events that I’ve ever attended.

But I think that what I valued most about LibCampNYC was the ability to connect with librarians from across the profession. I spend most of my time with academic librarians, and it was great to have the opportunity to learn from my colleagues in public, special, medical, and other libraries. I also appreciated the diversity in experience — the mix of both newer and more seasoned librarians in addendance. And of course this was much more participatory than a typical conference, because the program and topics were determined by all of us, together.

If you’re interested in reading the session notes, you can find them on the LibCampNYC wiki. I can’t wait to go library camping again!

Thinking About the Future

As the end of the semester rolls around I’ve been sorting through the evaluations that we ask our English Composition I students to fill out at the end of their required library session. I was scrolling through the spreadsheet of student responses the other day and one in particular jumped out at me: “How will this help us in the future?”

It’s often said that there are no bad questions (and I agree), but there are also some really good questions and that’s one of them. Why DO our students need what we teach them in a library session? How will they apply what they’ve learned in our classes to their lives in the future?

I spend the first part of my classes trying to emphasize that information literacy and the research skills they’ll begin to learn in college are transferable knowledge. I give them concrete examples of the relevance of information literacy to their careers (preparing for job interviews, staying current in their fields, etc.) and their lives beyond college (finding health information, moving or traveling to a new place, etc.). I’m at a college of technical and professional studies, and planning for their future jobs is always on students’ minds.

I also point out that becoming a proficient searcher is relevant to their work here at college, when they’ll need to search for library materials, and for searching the internet (again, both in college and in their everyday lives). I stress that different questions require different information to answer, and the importance of evaluating information, especially on the internet but also “traditionally” published information.

Our time in the library sessions always seems too short, but I feel like I do a reasonably good job of explaining the relevance of research skills and information literacy to the lives of our students both in college and in the future. So, what happened in that class? Did the student come to the session late, or sleep (or web surf) through the beginning, when I usually cover these topics?

Or are the reasons I give to students not compelling enough? Maybe they’ve heard it all before, that every subject they’re required to study is relevant, and since they haven’t actually gotten to their post-college careers and lives it’s not real for them yet.

Whatever the student’s reason for asking the question, it’s still a good question. I’ve written it on a post-it and stuck it above my computer monitor so I can keep it in mind when thinking about the future of our information literacy and instruction program, too.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back?

Editor’s Note: We welcome Maura Smale to the ACRLog blog team. Who is Maura Smale? If her name sounds familiar you may recall that she reported on her transition from archaeology to librarianship (with a sideline in online media) in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online Careers column. Maura is the Information Literacy Librarian at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. In addition to an MLIS she has an MA and PhD in Anthropology. Her research interests include undergraduate scholarly habits, information seeking behavior, games in education, and instructional technology. We look forward to Maura’s posts on these and other topics in academic librarianship.

Recently I was disappointed to read over at Caveat Lector about the rejection by the University of Maryland’s Faculty Senate of a resolution in support of open access publishing. I appreciate Dorothea’s point that this news is a reality check, a counterpoint to the OA mandates by Harvard, MIT and Boston University, and something to remind us that we still have a long way to go. But honestly I felt disheartened by this news all week.

As a librarian it’s easy to get behind open access. We’ve just been through a round of cost cutting at my college, and we’re going to lose several journal packages I’ve recommended to students and faculty during my library instruction sessions earlier this semester. It’s depressing to realize that I won’t be able to point students to those same resources in the fall. But our faculty colleagues in other departments don’t come to collection development meetings, and many are probably much less aware of the crisis in scholarly communication that’s so often a topic of conversation among librarians.

And in some ways I can relate to that perspective, because for me this is an issue that didn’t really gain relevance until I became a librarian. I used to be an archaeologist, and when I was in graduate school I knew very little about the intricacies of copyright and scholarly publishing. I photocopied articles for reserve for my advisor’s classes (before the large-scale availability of journal article databases), and I appreciated when coursepacks of readings were available for my classes. When the local copy center ran afoul of copyright law and stopped offering coursepacks, I was mightily annoyed by the inconvenience of having to make my own copies at the library instead.

The economics of scholarly publishing were unclear to me then, too. Of course I knew that faculty published articles in peer-reviewed journals, but I had no idea that the publishers typically retain copyright. It never occurred to me that institutions are paying twice for the results of research they fund: once for the faculty member’s salary, and again to the publisher for the journal subscription.

Then I started my MLIS program and it all became clear. I’d hoped that things had changed since I was in grad school, but since becoming a librarian I’ve been shocked (shocked!) to learn that faculty in other departments often don’t feel the same way about open access. For many it probably hasn’t occurred to them to consider the inner workings of scholarly publishing, similar to my own earlier experience.

What can be done? Certainly encouraging tenure and promotion committees to consider newer, open access peer-review journals in addition to the old standards should help push OA into the mainstream (as mentioned in Scott’s post and Laurie’s comments). And institutional mandates at large research universities definitely raise awareness of open access issues.

I wonder if faculty might be motivated to support OA if budgetary limitations force libraries to cancel subscriptions to the journals in which they publish. But what about smaller institutions and teaching colleges, like my own? Our budgets are small, too, and our faculty may already be publishing in journals that we can’t afford for the library.

At my library we’re working to increase our outreach to faculty on open access. A colleague of mine offered a faculty workshop on open access publishing twice this year, and is planning to offer it next year as well. We didn’t do anything special last fall for Open Access Day, but this year it’s been extended to a whole week and I hope that we can take advantage of that extra time to do some extra outreach.

What other ways can librarians help spread the open access word?