Culturally Responsive Teaching: Reflections from MILEX

Last month I attended MILEX, a Maryland library conference. The subject was Culturally Responsive Teaching in Libraries, and it gave me a lot to think about. The timing was great: I’ve been looking forward to reflecting on my teaching practices this summer. As I’ve written in the past, library school did not prepare me for productively thinking about pedagogy, so I’m always eager to learn about different approaches from my peers.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) was a new term for me (one of the reasons I wanted to attend this conference). Ashleigh Coren, the keynote, asked us to write our own definitions of CRT before sharing an “official” one. This exercise showed me that most of us intuitively grasp what culturally responsive teaching must include: understanding your audience, inclusive language, and Universal Design for Learning. Coren shared Gloria Ladson-Billings’ definition: “a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning,” with these main characteristics:

  1. Positive perspectives on parents and families
  2. Communication of high expectations
  3. Learning within the context of culture
  4. Student-centered instruction
  5. Culturally mediated instruction
  6. Reshaping the curriculum
  7. Teacher as facilitator

We spent the rest of the day exploring applications of CRT, discussing teacher efforts and exercises that successfully make space for multiple perspectives as well as those that were less successful. Here are a few of my main takeaways.

All of the presenters touched on the importance of disclosing a bit of who you are at the beginning of class. This might seem 101, but I truly never considered meaningfully introducing myself to students in a one-shot. I feel pressed for time and I assume they don’t really care who I am or why I do this work. I just launch in after a quick, “This is my name, this is what librarians can do for you” spiel. But CRT isn’t just knowledge of the identities, learning styles, and values students bring to a classroom, but an awareness of my own identity, worldview, and blind spots. These students are going to meet me for 50 minutes one day, and if I don’t share anything about myself, why should they trust my expertise? Why should I expect them to feel comfortable approaching me or admitting they don’t know something if I remain a complete stranger to them? This conference helped me see how the disclosure of personal information (to the degree that you’re comfortable) can build trust with your students.

For example, several people at the conference suggested sharing your pronouns as part of your one-shot introduction. I know a lot of librarians already do this, or have pronouns in their email signature or name badge. This not only reveals something about your identity, but also communicates a degree of inclusion, even safety, in your classroom. Again, this must be to the degree you are comfortable, but as a cis woman I see this as a simple change I can make starting today.

Another lightbulb moment for me: reach out to the faculty ahead of the one-shot and ask about the classroom culture. I never think to do this. I ask for assignment instructions, resource requirements, and maybe potential topics, but it would be great to know ahead of time if the class is shy, prefers small-group work, or has lively group discussions. Asking the instructor about her classroom culture also shows that I care about her students’ comfort enough to adapt my one-shot to resemble their classroom environment.

For me the best part of CRT is student-centered instruction, where the teacher is a facilitator rather than sole bearer of knowledge. For librarians looking to make one-shots more engaging, I recommend turning over some control to the students. For one thing, it introduces a little bit of the unknown to your classroom, which always spices things up. But also, as Coren said after her keynote, “students think they know less than they do.” In the reverse: they know more than they think they do, and I believe they know more than we think they do.

CRT demands awareness of the student perspective, but also appreciation for their insights and experience. No one is a blank slate. Anyone who has made it to college has encountered information already, using strategies that work for them. I don’t want to be an instrument of assimilation, telling students that there’s one right way to navigate ideas, that there’s one right way to measure truth. My way is not a blank slate either; it’s informed by my identity, my education, and my privilege. I want to foster a learning environment where students bring their own instincts and cultural values to the research process.

I wanted to end with specific strategies to make your classroom culturally responsive and welcoming to all, because the practical takeaways are always my favorite part of a professional conference:

  • Create a safe place for students. Disclose pronouns and establish ground rules for group discussion.
  • Introduce yourself and explain where you’re coming from.
  • Spell out library jargon. Specifically, write the words you’re defining on the board or in your slide.
  • Repeat directions. Go slowly.
  • Allow time for small group discussions before asking people to share their answer with the class (think-pair-share style). Lindsay Inge Carpenter suggested that collectivist cultures might favor this approach; it also helps shy people feel comfortable speaking up.
  • Make your classroom a “no stupid questions” environment. Tell students they won’t be punished for asking about plagiarism or other topics they might be nervous about.
  • Regularly do peer observation with colleagues.
  • Know that cultural competency is not a box to check, but a skill to build over time.

Correction: Originally I had misattributed Ashleigh Coren’s quote about student knowledge to her keynote. The quote came from the Q&A that followed, not from her formal address. This post has been updated to reflect this.

Preparing for #ACRL2019

The time has come, our slides and posters are hopefully published online, our bags are (mostly) packed, preconferences are about to begin, and we are ready to be in Cleveland this week. It seems a little wild to me that it’s time for ACRL again. In 2017, this ended up being a pretty pivotal conference for me as a new professional to the field. In 2017, learned a lot in Baltimore, met the ladies who I would co-found The Librarian Parlor with, and met others who I consider good colleagues today. So needless to say, I’m excited to be in Ohio catching up with colleagues, learning about new programs and initiatives, and meeting new librarians.

However, as much as I’m excited about ACRL, I also know this can be an overwhelming conference. There are so many sessions, things to do, and a city to explore. It’s great to have so many choices, but also can feel like too much all at once. With that in mind, I wanted to bring together some tips and tricks for making the most of this conference as well as highlight some great ways to meet new folks.

Sessions

With so many panels, papers, roundtables, posters, and lighting talks, it can be hard to decide on where to go and what to attend. Here are a way fews to think about choosing your sessions:

  • Before the conference, I like to take a look at the schedule, mark any and all sessions I’m interested in, and then choose a few that I will attend, no matter what. These might be sessions my colleagues or friends are presenting at, a topic I’m really interested in, or something I’d like to learn more about. Having a few concrete sessions helps to create an outline for each day and then the rest, is up in the air, and based on how I’m feeling and who I run into.
  • Create some learning outcomes for what you’d like to accomplish and learn about at the conference. Use the learning outcomes to guide what sessions you choose.
  • Experienced conference go-ers recommend choosing one session/activity for the morning, one for the afternoon, and then setting aside some time to meet up with colleagues you do not see on a regular basis.
  • Attend the First-Time Attendee Orientation on Wednesday evening to learn more about ACRL and get a sense of what you might like to attend later in the week.

If you want some guidance on which sessions, we have had a few folks put together some lists of related sessions. These can be great ways to create your own theme to the conference, or find people who are interested in similar areas of librarianship.

Now, I know looking at all those sessions makes you realize there is so much you will miss. It’s important to remember that you won’t make it to everything (and that’s okay). Some recommend attending sessions for things you do not know much about, in order to make the most of your time at ACRL. For all those sessions you miss (or want to know more about), you can review any contributed papers on ACRL’s website, download slides and handouts from the online conference program, and send an email to presenters to learn more. You’ll see what you’ll see at ACRL, but that doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop once you leave Cleveland.  

Twitter & sharing resources

At a conference like #ACRL2019, Twitter can be a great way to learn more about what’s happening, connect with other colleagues, and share resources. Some folks will live tweet the conference, and others will tweet out their slides, surveys to fill out, and questions for the general #ACRL2019 community. It’s definitely worth following the hashtag and contributing tweets. The hashtag can also help you decide what sessions to attend. Along with Twitter, sometimes folks will create digital community notes to gather insight from sessions and share resources. For example, LibParlor has a shared community notes document where we’ll discuss a few sessions throughout the conference. These can also be great documents to return to once the conference is over.

Snacks, hydration, and breaks

Fun fact about me: I’m very pro snacks. I would highly recommend having a few snacks tucked away that you can have throughout the conference. We all know that conferences like ACRL can take a lot out of you. Knowing this, it’s important to take breaks and stay hydrated. Sometimes you just need to go to a quiet corner of the convention center, or take a little walk outside. Trust me, you’ll feel better when you do.

Outside the conference

Personally, I think some of the most memorable times at a conference isn’t necessarily in the sessions themselves, but during all the time before, between, and after sessions. ACRL hosts both an exhibit reception (Wednesday) and a conference reception (Friday, 8 PM, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), which is high-energy and a nice way to celebrate the end of the conference. Beyond the ACRL reception, there are a variety of other social events. ACRL has organized a dine around for Thursday evening, some iSchools host a get together for their past and current students, and interest groups might put something together near the convention center. All of these events can be opportunities to meet new people, or connect with colleagues. I will shout out two Thursday evening events:

  • WOC + LIB Social Hour: Last week, a great new blog launched to showcase women of color in librarianship. Join co-founders LaQuanda Onyemth and Lorin Jackson to discuss future collaborations with the blog.
  • LibParlor Meet & Greet: Join me and the rest of the LibParlor Editorial Team at ACRL. Learn more about the blog, discuss all things research, and discover ways to get involved!

Other tips

I know I’m not the only person who has put together a list of tips and tricks for making it through conferences like ACRL. Take a dive into these posts here at ACRLog and over at Hack Library School. If you have more tips or questions, feel free to comment below.

Safe travels to all and I hope to see some of you at ACRL. Oh, and with spring weather in Ohio, it’s always a good idea to pack an umbrella!


Featured image by DJ Johnson on Unsplash

Reflections after the Association for Asian Studies Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the Association for Asian Studies annual conference. This conference has been a staple of my repertoire since I started library school, because along with all the usual scholarly panels, there are also several meetings of librarians. With two years under my belt, I was excited to approach this conference as a professional, voting on CRL global resources projects for the first time, and actually representing an institution instead of just coming along for the ride to observe discussions.

I also wanted to approach this conference thinking about librarianship more broadly and how subject librarians interact both with the world of their subject and the world of librarianship. At least in my areas, I sometimes feel like I’m splintered off from the rest of the library world, focusing on regions outside of the United States and languages other than English, which sometimes bring with them different challenges than what the rest of the profession in the United States might be facing. I wanted to make sure I paid attention to all facets of my librarian identity during this conference.

This year also happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia, which meant an extra celebration and a lot of reflection. Many librarians, including me, presented on some aspect of their work, either highlighting unique collections or discussing collaborative relationships between institutions both in the United States and abroad. We also honored retiring and past members, which was a good history lesson for me: there’s a lot of work that’s been done already for me to build upon. I appreciated this introspective and retrospective time, as it showed me all the things that have been done and helped to inspire me to do things like work harder on building my own library’s collection. I’m now thinking about might make the collection here unique and how I can help in that process.

A good portion of all my meetings also focused on looking outward. Even if we’re dealing with materials from our subject areas, we still encounter the trends seen throughout librarianship. For example, an increasing demand for electronic materials means that we had discussions about everything from digitization initiatives to projects collecting electronic journals from South and Southeast Asia. It was exciting to hear about everything that was going on, and a little intimidating as well. A big lesson from my year so far has been that I need to be involved but that I also need to be selective about my involvement. When I hear about all these initiatives, I want to participate in all of them, if only to learn more about them. There were definitely times during the conference when I had to sit back and remind myself that I can learn from the sidelines, at least for now.

Finally, there were also discussions about more unique concerns for area studies librarians, such as support for cataloging in languages other than English. With problems like this one, which seem so specific to a certain subset of librarians, it might be useful to take a step back and look at librarianship more broadly to see what solutions there might be. One thought that particularly interested me was to work on training librarians within the countries of origin. While we did not follow through on this discussion, it does take me back to broader questions I’ve had recently about collaboration and how collaboration that crosses geographic lines can be accomplished. We’ve managed it in other projects, can we manage it in realms such as cataloging as well? What considerations—such as indigenous systems of organizing information—do we need to take into account? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m trying my best to crosspollinate what I learn in subject-specific conferences with what I learn in library-specific conferences: I’m very excited to see what new ideas and potential solutions ACRL’s conference will bring.


What sorts of conferences do you regularly attend? How do you leverage information from conferences that aren’t focused on librarianship?

Notes on the National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Zoë McLaughlin, Resident Librarian at Michigan State University.

At the end of September, I had the opportunity, as part of my diversity resident librarian position, to attend the National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC). This conference is sponsored by ALA’s five ethnic affiliates and offers a forum to discuss issues of diversity within librarianship. For me, it was an opportunity to meet colleagues, attend some amazing panels, and exist amongst a crowd of librarians of color—a novel and welcome experience.

There’s been a lot written already about how librarianship is overwhelmingly white, so I won’t belabor that point. Instead, I will say that this was the first time I was surrounded by librarians and felt like just another face in the crowd. It was affirming to strike up conversations with strangers and know that we were coming from similar places in terms of experiences and concerns in the field. I am not the most outgoing and struggle at conferences, but noticed that I felt calmer and more interested in interacting with people than I have at previous conferences. I think this had to do with the overall energy of the conference: everyone was open, welcoming, and excited to talk about past experiences and new ideas moving forward.

I also found that I learned about the work of the different ethnic affiliate groups, something I had not expected but definitely appreciated. As a new librarian, I’ve tried to get involved without overextending myself, which has meant focusing on one ethnic affiliate and only occasionally seeing a forwarded email from the other groups. Having all the affiliates in one place meant that I had the opportunity to talk to people about their work heard from all the affiliates during JCLC’s gala and by visiting them in the exhibit hall. I’m now more interested to see what sort of collaborative and crossover work can be done between groups, such as AILA and APALA’s Talk Story project.

And then, of course, there were the panels. (See the program here.) It was exciting to hear from some important people in the field (see Fobazi Ettarh, April Hathcock, Jennifer Ferretti, and Rebecca Martin’s panel “Our Librarianship/Archival Practice is Not for White People: Affirming Communities of Color in Our Work”), as well as to hear from my peers (see Kalani Adolpho, Jesus Espinoza, Twanna Hodge, and Madison Sullivan’s panel “Under the Hood: Exploring Academic Library Resident Programs in Practice”). While “Our Librarianship/Archival Practice” dealt with taking care of yourself while facing the realities of the profession and working toward the way we want the profession to be, “Under the Hood” discussed similar issues in the specific context of residency programs. Having just started a residency program myself, I found it helpful to hear from other residents about the diversity of their experiences, including what went right and what went wrong. As was spoken to at the panel, diversity residencies can be isolating experiences because the position is often misunderstood and because the resident is often one of few other librarians of color in the institution. I’m lucky that in planning my residency this was taken into account, so I’m part of a cohort and haven’t had to jump in alone.

My favorite session, though, was Mara Clowney-Robinson, Karen Downing, Helen Look, and Darlene Nichols’s “Mixing it Up: Libraries Embracing Intersectionality of Multiracial Identities” because it hit so close to home for me. The panel began with a brief history of multiracial identity in the United States, as well as how libraries have treated this identity over the years. Panelists noted that the population of people identifying as multiracial is growing, meaning that this is a group institutions—including libraries—should be paying attention to, in questions of collection development and cataloging as well as in outward presentation, such as in brochures or displays.

This panel, and the conference in general, made me think about what I want to be doing to advance diversity and inclusion within libraries and librarianship. The inclusion of multiracial identities, for example, is important to me personally, but I don’t often bring this out in my work. Should I focus on it more? How can I be an active advocate for issues that are important to me within my own practice of librarianship?

In another panel, one of the audience members raised the point that most librarians of color haven’t come through programs like Spectrum, IRDW, or residencies. As someone who has benefitted from these programs, how can I use this to also advance others? JCLC was exciting because not only did it offer me a space where I felt welcome and felt like I belonged, it has also inspired me to find ways to contribute concretely to diversity in librarianship and to think about how I can bring these ideas into my day-to-day practice.

Emerging as a Community-Engaged Librarian: Reflections on the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop

Context of the workshop

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW), sponsored by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. This workshop is meant for PhD students and junior faculty who consider themselves engaged scholars or aspire to be engaged scholars. For those who don’t know about engaged scholarship, just look up Ernest Boyer, he’s the guy around this topic. At its core, engaged scholarship is about academia collaborating with the local community to share and leverage expertise and ultimately, make social change.

The workshop is meant to give participants an inside scoop on the history and current context of the field, connect them with their peers and mentors, and in general, get jazzed around doing community engaged scholarship. All workshop participants brought in a community project, and we had several hours of dedicated mentor time to talk through these projects and make some strides forward. I decided to explore building a community of practice for the undergraduate interns at our library (more on that later).

I have been wanting to participate in this workshop for a few years now, mainly based on a recommendation from my graduate school mentor, Martin Wolske.  I’d say Martin was the one who showed me what community engaged scholarship could like for librarians. He did that through his day-to-day work as a community member and librarian and by bringing me on as a Community Ambassador for the grant, Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, where community-engaged scholarship was the first outside the class thing I did in graduate school.

Overall, the workshop, and corresponding conference, was great. I did learn a lot, found some new language to talk about my job, and connected with new people. While I made an initial stab at my thoughts post workshop on Twitter, below is an expanded version of what I took away from participating in EESW.

Questions of identity

The workshop was billed as a space for PhD students and junior faculty (me). PhD students outnumbered junior faculty at least 2-1, which was not usually the case at previous iterations of this workshop. I was also the only librarian at the workshop, which meant I got to have a lot of conversations about what I do and why I was a participant with EESW.

At times I felt a little out of place. As with any space where you’re the sole librarian, there are questions about what we’re doing in that academic space. Do we actually do scholarship? What does an LIS research agenda look like? Can we really achieve tenure? As expected, talking about my faculty status, my ability to achieve tenure, and my research interests was the way in, and I definitely opened up some eyes. I will say that this space was incredibly welcoming; I had thoughtful peers who wanted to ask questions about my job and share experiences they have had with their subject librarians. My assigned mentor, Diane Doberneck, was also amazing. She’s doing great work at Michigan State and had such insightful feedback for my project around building a community of practice.

This workshop also reminded me that I do know a lot, more than I give myself credit. For example, we spent one section of the workshop talking about the tenure process and how to write about engaged scholarship in your dossier. While some PhD students had never discussed what tenure looks like, I felt prepared for the conversations and actually made good strides on my dossier (draft due soon!). Or, in one of our mentoring sessions, we talked about frameworks that supported our community projects and I was able to share reading suggestions (like Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s many articles on intersectionality). In those moments, I felt like a librarian, passing along information, while also showcasing a bit of my expertise.   

Where do I want to go? And why am I doing this work?

As the workshop progressed, a few questions kept popping up for me. The first was, “Where do I want to go with this work?” And that question was quickly followed by “Why am I doing this work?”

Bottomline, I want to be a community-engaged librarian scholar. In learning about librarianship, it has always been in relation to communities – the community of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, New York City, Urbana, IL, and now, Penn State. As a librarian, I do my job better when I listen, include, leverage, and support communities. Decisions about services, resources, and programs should be made with the community, not on behalf of the community. Communities can be vibrant, complex, come with a lot of baggage, embrace a rich history and traditions, or be ready for change. I love discovering all those threads as a librarian.

Furthermore, I see community engaged scholarship as a foundation of my research agenda. The work I’ve been doing as the Student Engagement Librarian has been building relationships, getting to know the various communities I engage with; these relationships will allow us to conduct meaningful research. To be a community-engaged librarian scholar means that understanding and working with communities not only drive forward my day-to-day, but influence and shape my research. Everything I do should be in service to or connected to the communities.

Finding the language and lingo

Recently, as my second-year tenure documentation due date looms, I’ve been low key freaking out. Some of the freak out was due to the me wanting to be intentional about how I build my dossier and the words I use to describe my work. I wanted to paint of picture that both my tenure colleagues AND my non-librarian colleagues can understand. This pressure, totally put on by myself, stopped me cold from getting some of that legwork for my dossier completed.

This workshop was exactly the push I needed to think about that language again. Our pre-readings and then workshop conversations highlighted how I could use community-engaged scholarship lingo to describe my work. I am grounded in community, and for me, I define and work mainly with communities connected to Penn State – undergraduate students, library student employees, undergraduate and student affairs professionals, and my Commonwealth library colleagues. I am hoping framing my work through a community engaged scholarship lens will resonate with others (we shall see!).  

What’s next?

Well, I have emerged as an engaged (librarian) scholar. I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and know those conversations will stick with me for the next few months. I would encourage others to consider applying and attending this workshop, especially for those who work closely with communities, in academia or with the local community. Does anyone else do engaged scholarship at your institution and if so, what does it look like? I’m always trying to find more community engaged librarians!  


Featured image by Park Troopers on Unsplash