Library Open Mic

I work in a large library, and even after eight months, there are still people I barely know and certainly people whose work remains nebulous to me. And I continue to come up with new questions about one thing or another without any idea of who to ask. Which then means I have to direct my questions to someone at random and hope they can at least point me in the right direction.

This is probably the way of things in all large libraries and I know I’ll learn more with time. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that has helped me see more of the library and more of what others are doing. One of my first days on the job, there was what seemed to me a rather confusing event occurring, in which people were going to give lighting talks about…something. Since I was new, looking to fill my day, and looking to meet people, I went. And I’m so glad I did.

As it turns out, the event was slowly morphing into what is currently known here as “open mic,” in which people closely associated with the library (but not necessarily librarians!) give five-minute talks on topics that interest them: something they’re working on, a thought they had that they’re still exploring, an interesting new tool they just discovered. Each of the sessions generally has a theme, but the themes are broad, and you don’t have to stick to them if you don’t want to. I’ve found that the themes are helpful to get my brain started thinking about different topic ideas, even if I veer away from the theme in the end.

As a new librarian, this event has been extremely helpful for me. Not only have I heard more about what people are working on (a fascinating reading of letters to the editor on women’s place in golf, for example, taught me about our Turfgrass Information Center), I’ve also learned a lot more about my particular library’s culture. Presentations often lead to larger group discussions about broader trends in the library or projects that need more people to work on them.

Organizing these sessions was not my idea—well-deserved credit for that belongs elsewhere—but they have become something I look forward to every month. Since starting my job here, I’ve heard about text mining projects, Library of Congress crowdsourcing efforts, the Christmas tree economy in Michigan, and enjoyed a MARC-inspired sonnet. I’ve also heard from people all across the library, outside of my unit and outside of the area where my desk is, making me feel more engaged and more connected. I do feel like I’m still settling in, but these open mic sessions have certainly helped that process along. One day soon I’ll feel inspired enough to give my own little lightning talk!


How do you communicate across departments in your library? What opportunities do you have for more informal interactions concerning your current projects or interests?

Herd Immunity

I’ll add to the post-ACRL 2019 conference reflection writing with a nod to the presentation I can’t stop thinking about and sharing with colleagues:

When Research Gets Trolled: Digital Safety for Open Researchers
by Reed Garber-Pearson, Verletta Kern, Madeline Mundt, Elliot Stevens, and Madison Sullivan

This group of librarians from the University of Washington advocate for educating scholars on digital safety and privacy, particularly those who make their work publicly accessible, do research with or about people from marginalized groups, and/or identify as a member of a marginalized group. They acknowledge the risk that public intellectuals, or scholars who seek to make their work open, take on in this world of targeted online harassment, doxxing, and offline threats. People of color, and women of color in particular, are most likely to be impacted by these acts of sabotage and harassment; we need only look at Roxane Gay‘s Twitter feed at any given moment to see this kind of gross activity.

It is, quite frankly, terrifying.

The presenters make the case that this kind of trolling can have a serious impact on academic and intellectual freedom: If a researcher is brutally bullied online and threatened offline, will they be less likely to continue their line of research and make their work publicly available? For all that we in libraries push for open access to research, we need to be equally concerned about the safety and well-being of the researchers we are asking to share their work. In advocating for their safety and sharing information about protecting themselves online, librarians can help boost what the panelists’ referred to as “herd immunity.” Researchers who protect themselves online also protect their colleagues, friends, and families, as online harassers often jump between networks to target others.

As a woman of color who does most of her thinking and writing openly online, I will admit that this presentation hit me hard. I have friends and acquaintances who have been horribly bullied on social media and in comments (yes, I always read the comments and know it is the wrong thing to do). I always thought this was to be endured. Trolls gonna troll. I am so appreciative of this collective of librarians who are sharing ways to prevent, or at least mitigate this harm and harassment. I thought the presenters struck the right tone–not alarmist, but informative and considerate. They had the best interests of researchers–and yes, that includes us as librarians–in mind. Their goal was to embolden us, not frighten us into retreating. This presentation was a good reminder that supporting researchers doesn’t end when the research concludes. If we want to push for open access and a public discourse of scholarship we have a professional obligation promote the digital safety that allows this open exchange to flourish.

You can read notes from the panel on a collaborative GoogleDoc, view their presentation slides online, and begin thinking about how you can create digital herd immunity at your institution.

Study Hacks and Student Survival

I know it’s not true, but I feel like one of the only academic librarians who didn’t make the trip to Ohio last weekend! I’m looking forward to my fellow ACRLog bloggers recapping what inspired them, and I thought in the meantime I’d share something I learned from a past ACRL paper that has changed the way I introduce students to scholarly articles.

Margy MacMillan and Stephanie Rosenblatt’s 2015 paper is called “They’ve Found It. Can They Read It? Adding Academic Reading Strategies to Your IL Toolkit,” and it brought my attention to something I’d never noticed before, or perhaps had just gotten used to: scholarly literature is difficult for the new researcher, and yet most research papers require the use of scholarly articles, sometimes as the only permitted source.

I’ve also seen faculty forbid the use of reference books, at least as a source they can formally cite in their papers. This is unfortunate, since a subject encyclopedia is often the perfect source for a research paper in a general education course; the language is not so technical that it alienates the student, and the overview format ensures that the student understands the context of a topic. Turned away from subject encyclopedias and discouraged from using Wikipedia, students will develop their own research survival skills.

This brings me to the concept of study hacks. Buzzfeed, YouTube, and Instagram are popular sources for college survival tips and tricks, especially targeted to Generation Z readers. It’s interesting to read articles like this one from Buzzfeed or this reporting on Instagram how-to threads from the Atlantic. By reading the solutions this young-scholar community shares, I begin to understand what problems they experience and that gets me thinking about how I could help.

For example, I see college students on Twitter sharing this “hack”: If you want an article that is behind a paywall, just email the author and ask for a personal PDF copy. And as this tweet suggests, this strategy does seem supported by Twitter academics. But I can’t help but think, “What about interlibrary loan?” Personally reaching out to an author seems like so much more work to me than filling out an ILL form, but if students don’t see the usefulness or ease of our services, they will find their own means. I’m not going to warn students away from study hacks, because that’s like telling them not to use Google for research. It’s not realistic, and I can see the usefulness of their habits. Instead I will endeavor to pitch library services as their own kind of study hack, especially emphasizing how they can save a student’s time and sanity.

In fact, our friendly neighborhood blog coordinator Maura Smale addressed this in her ACRL paper this year: “Their strategies for understanding included searching for summaries online or using study guide websites like SparkNotes because “they break it down in a simple way.” Other students reported searching on YouTube, Google, and Google Scholar, as well as online (and offline) dictionaries for help with challenging reading.” These web tools might not seem as vetted as peer-reviewed research, but isn’t it better than a student having no idea what they’re quoting? Instead of telling them how they “should” conduct their research (pristinely, using only library resources, taking diligent notes, and using Zotero for every project), we should meet them where they are, and share healthy study behaviors in the name of “saving the time of the reader,” as Maura says.

MacMillan and Rosenblatt make a strong case for teaching students reading strategies, not only because the average student is not reading at the college level, but also because we are uniquely positioned to guide and encourage students in this area:

Not only is incorporating instruction on reading scholarly material our responsibility, but librarians, in many ways, are the people best equipped to do this. More than most faculty, our work requires us to read materials in other disciplines, whether it is to understand a new liaison area, develop a class, or assess materials for a collection. We are practiced in reading in fields that are new to us and likely more comfortable and accepting of it than others. This experience has given us strategies that we can pass on to students— novices in their own disciplines—to help them understand new jargon and unfamiliar information structures. We may also feel freer to criticize discourse in a discipline and to advocate for students against the incomprehensibility of densely-written articles.

At the very least, thinking about all this has made me compassionate for the students I encounter. Sometimes in the classroom I’ll ask something like, “How has reading scholarly research been for you so far?” and get shy silence until I add, “A little intimidating? Kind of dense?” The tension in the room immediately relaxes; we’re on the same side. From there I emphasize two things: 1) that academic research is not written for students in mind (we’re basically eavesdropping on a conversation at this stage), but 2) this gets easier with practice. You will learn the language of your major, and in the meantime, I’m here to give you strategies to get through this semester.

If you’re wondering, here are the strategies I now recommend:

  1. Read the abstract and conclusion first (your chance to make a “spoiler alert” joke that will only make the instructor laugh).
  2. Take notes as you read, even if that just means underlining parts you might want to use later.
  3. And finally, try to ask yourself what you specifically want out of a source. Looking for pieces of evidence rather filling a “2-5 reliable sources” quota makes it easier to read strategically.

Should I recommend these methods as “study hacks,” or will I sound like Steve Buscemi in a backwards hat saying “How do you do, fellow kids”? I don’t know, but finding new ways to explain intimidating academic concepts will always keep my brain busy at the desk.

Student “Ownership” of the Library

You’ve met them: the students who feel more comfortable in the library than most. They walk in confidently, they know where to find amenities and the section that houses their favorite topic or author, and they have no qualms about approaching a service desk to ask for information or assistance. We love these students! Many of us were these students. What I want to discuss is how we might be able to get more of these students.

I think that these confident, comfortable students feel like they own a little piece of the library in one way or another. They know someone behind the desk, or they contributed in some way to how the library looks or functions, and they truly feel that it is their library. If more students had these opportunities for “ownership,” they would also feel good about using and being in the library.

Some examples of what I mean by “ownership” include but are in no way limited to: interactive displays that ask for input (via Post-It notes, whiteboards, or more digital means like hashtags); being invited to curate and manage displays themselves; comment boxes (in-person or online); student and faculty art galleries or murals; dynamic spaces where students can rearrange the furniture without fear of scolding; or having their input solicited (via social media, in-person ballot box, etc.) on library matters, like naming everything from the repository to the fish. Events, contests, and programming also make students feel more connected to the library; if they attend a casual, fun program in the library space, they will likely feel more comfortable using that space later when they need help with research or a place to study.

An interactive display at Tidewater Community College, soliciting students’ answers about sports. The display also includes a variety of circulating materials about various sports-related topics. Some students answer seriously; others inject a little humor into their responses. Other themes on this display in the past have been books you would recommend to others, favorite foods, and where you’d like to travel.

There is also an opportunity to give students ownership whenever they feel comfortable enough to reach out and make a specific request. If it is heeded, that is demonstrable proof that a student can have direct impact on the library. (For example, right now, I am working on fulfilling a request from a class representative to install hand sanitizer dispensers in our library. It’s a simple request, but it’s important to these students. When they see the dispensers installed, they will know that they had a direct hand in improving the library for everyone in some way.) Even if a request cannot be fulfilled, assuring the student that their request is being seriously considered and you appreciate their input can make them feel respected, heard, and more comfortable with the library in general.

Some of these examples are reactive, where the library waits for students to say that they want something and then gives it to them (or doesn’t), and some are proactive, seeking students’ input or participation. Both are valid and useful, and a combination of the two would be an ideal approach.

There is, of course, a downside to students feeling too much ownership of the library. For example, they might get territorial about a favorite study carrel or study room, vandalize furniture or other library property, feel too much “at home” and act inappropriately or leave a mess, or get too loud and interfere with others’ use of the space. It is important to maintain a balance where students feel like they belong in the library, but not like they are the only ones who belong there.

How do your students take ownership of your library? Do you actively encourage it? If so, how?

#ACRL2019 reflection: My first, large conference

Last week, I attended ACRL 2019, which was my first, major conference. I prepared for the conference by selecting anything that looked interesting on the app (everything looked interesting. Woops), reading through posts like Hailley’s, and talking to my my ACRL buddy that I was paired with. I’m still thinking through the panels and sessions I attended, and I’m using this post as an opportunity to reflect on my experience and prepare for my next conference.

Meeting new people

For me, the highlight of ACRL was meeting so many cool people. I’ve admired people from afar on Twitter, and this was the first opportunity I’ve had to meet them in person or attend their talks. I was able to have lunch with many of the people who write for this blog (thanks for putting that together, Maura!), and it was nice to put names and faces together. There was a #libparlor meetup one night, the reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, vendor parties, and informal opportunities to meet and talk with people after the conference was done for the day. Socializing during and after the conference was as valuable as attending the conference itself.

I also mentioned above that I was partnered with a librarian, Emilie, who answered my questions before the conference and then met up with me during the actual conference to check in and chat. For anyone who is attending their first, large conference, I highly recommend taking advantage of buddy programs because you’ll be paired with someone who has experience attending that conference. Emilie had great advice about choosing sessions, using the app, and finding special events at the conference. It was also an easy way to meet someone new who had similar job duties and interests as myself, and I hope we stay in touch.

In addition to meeting new people, I was able to catch up with old friends. With everyone spread out around the country, this was one of the few opportunities I had to see everyone.

Attending conference sessions

The main, and most obvious, reason that I attended ACRL was to hear from colleagues. I’m anxiously waiting for the panels and sessions I missed to be uploaded because it was impossible to attend everything. I also plan to read through some of the papers and view the posters that I missed at the conference. I chose my sessions based on topics, but also based on the people I wanted to hear from. some of the time slots were a bit weird, so I had to be careful about choosing sessions that didn’t overlap. I realized later in the conference that some people attend multiple sessions in the same time slot. I won’t go into detail about every panel or session that I attended, but there was something to take away from every conversation that I was a part of. I’ve started creating a list of action items I want to tackle over summer (and in the future) based on the panels and talks I attended. Attending sessions also allowed me to reconnect with people I’ve met in the past, sparked new ideas for research, and helped me identify gaps in my thinking or understanding. I’m sharing out what I’ve learned with my workplace as well.

Presenting work

I had a lightning talk accepted, so on Friday during the conference, I had five minutes to talk about my topic. Five minutes, it turns out, is not a lot of minutes. I’d given two lightning talks before, but was given more time. I’m a fast talker as it is, so I had to be very cognizant not to jam too much stuff into five minutes. I discussed connecting athletics and libraries (and if you’re interested in working with student-athletes too, I’d love to chat with you about it!), and my first challenge was to decide the points that I wanted to make. We were then supposed to make 20 slides, with each slide transitioning every 15 seconds. I spent a few hours practicing the talk, switching slides around, and making sure that there wasn’t too much content on each slide. The day of the talk, I was very nervous and had consumed too much coffee; however, I am told that the talk went well. As I mentioned, five minutes goes by fast, and I definitely zoned out and don’t remember what happened. I am thankful for friends and colleagues who showed up to the talk because it was easy to focus on them and their encouragement. I’d love to expand this topic out for a longer panel or session in future conferences.

Next steps

ACRL 2021 is going to come around faster than I think. In preparation, I’d like to get some of my own research together so that I can submit proposals for panels or papers. To do this, I plan to connect with people who can help me make that happen. There are some projects that I can do on my own, but some things are easier and more complete with collaboration.

I’m considering what I’ve learned from this conference and how I can apply it to my own work and workplace. I think that there’s a lot of projects that I can start over summer that are inspired by what I heard from others at the conference. I’m also talking to others about what I attended, thinking about what can apply to my own teaching, and finding more to read so that I can keep on learning. The #acrl2019 hashtag is still live on Twitter, so I’ll continue going through that and finding recommendations and resources from others.

Overall, this conference was a positive, though overwhelming, experience. I think I greatly benefited by attending, and I can’t wait to attend more conferences in the future.