Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.

Generative AI & the Evolution of Academic Librarianship

During my first week as an academic librarian, many faculty discussions on campus were regarding the issue of generative AI software, such as ChatGPT. A majority of the faculty at a panel discussion held on campus about AI expressed concerns over plagiarism, copyright, academic integrity, etc. Those on the panel, however, commented on how beneficial using AI was. When asked more specifically on what faculty should do to combat potential cheating from using generative AI, the panel seemed in agreeance on an answer: educate your students on how to responsibly use AI.

I will admit; prior to starting my career as an academic librarian, I had never used generative AI. Of course, I saw generative AI blasted all over the news and saw updates on sites and apps like Snapchat, but I never understood what generative AI was. I did not have any interest in learning about it either. After attending the panel discussion, however, I was reminded of a book I read called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I was assigned to read Who Moved My Cheese? by a professor in graduate school and often refer back to it (I highly recommend reading it if you have not already done so). The book explains how change can happen unexpectedly, and when it does, it is better to adapt and move forward than be left behind. Feeling like I was being left behind while other faculty embraced generative AI, I decided to learn as much as I could about it.

Although I read numerous articles and watched hours of YouTube videos, I was still confused as to how generative AI worked. Near the end of August, my dean notified the library faculty of a course offered through ALA’s eLearning platform. The course was titled Exploring AI with Critical Information Literacy and taught by Sarah Morris. I enrolled in the course and learned about the development and usage of generative AI and machine learning, current discussions around AI, opportunities and challenges for AI usage in higher education, and how to engage AI as an academic librarian. Throughout the course, we examined AI through a critical lens and discussed strategies for AI to be incorporated at our own institutions. I enjoyed the course and found the lesson on prompt engineering to be the most intriguing.

One of the ways in which academic librarians can enter the generative AI realm in higher education is through teaching faculty and students prompt engineering. Prompt engineering is strategizing your generative AI input to obtain your desired output. While one can simply ask ChatGPT a standard question, prompt engineering recommends telling ChatGPT through what lens to answer the question. For example, if I was wondering how to craft a lesson for my class on implicit bias, I could plainly input:

“What lesson on implicit bias could I give my college class?”

Using prompt engineering, a better input would be:

“Act like an Academic Librarian teaching a college course on critical thinking. Design a lesson about implicit bias. Include topics for the class to discuss in small groups.”

While the results appeared similar, the detailed prompt elicited a result more applicable to my course by covering topics such as bias in information sources and media literacy.

Another way academic librarians can educate faculty and students on generative AI is on responsible use. More specifically, we can create lessons and workshops around copyright, academic integrity, and the reliability of the output. I tried this with my critical thinking class. I first introduced the university’s academic integrity policy, including definitions of cheating and plagiarism. Because the majority of my class was unfamiliar with generative AI, I briefly explained how generative AI worked. Afterwards, I had the students discuss the potential benefits and challenges of using generative AI. Using my personal account (my university does not support the use of ChatGPT), I asked ChatGPT and had the students read the output. I stressed that when used responsibly, ChatGPT can be a great resource for brainstorming; however, I cautioned my students from using it for writing assignments due to plagiarism, copyright infringement, and incorrect information. To illustrate this point further, I informed my students of the two attorneys in New York who acquired case law through ChatGPT. The attorneys did not fact-check the case law, and the judge discovered that the case law actually did not exist. The cases ChatGPT cited were made up. Overall, the lesson was a success. Many students chose to explore generative AI in more depth for the final projects.

By embracing generative AI, academic librarians can increase their skillset and become a useful resource for faculty and students navigating the rapidly evolving world of AI. It will be interesting to learn about how varying universities respond, if they have not done so already. I imagine we will see new policies implemented on campus, positions established, and roles altered.

Contract Positions and Leave Coverage for Academic Librarians

Contract and term positions are all too common for early-career academic librarians. Shrinking post-secondary budgets, demand for academic librarian positions, doing more with less, and persistent vacant positions means landing a permanent and continuing position can be challenging. Job precarity is a reality for many of our early-career colleagues.

Sajni Lacey, in the article “Job Precarity, Contract Work, and Self-Care,” convincingly writes that employers must do more to look after their precarious employees, including caring for and supporting contract library workers. Lacey’s powerful final lines read, “[w]e need to hold each other accountable for how and why we use precarious work in libraries.”

Lacey’s final line is prescient when looking at my library at the University of Manitoba. Several years ago, our librarians discussed our usage of contract positions to cover for librarians on leave– whether that’s research, administrative, sick, or parental leave. We were wondering if there was a better way to cover for librarians who go on leave than relying on term positions. A committee was struck to survey how other Canadian academic libraries handle leaves, document our current process, and to offer recommendations.

I volunteered for the committee since at the time, I recently obtained a continuing position; prior to this I was working in a term position. In this term position, I was in a newly-created position at our library: a Leave/Vacancy Replacement Librarian. These positions are intended to swap in and out of our different libraries, covering the duties of librarians who are on leave or for vacant positions. The job description is very general, as you could be placed in pretty much any library or unit in our system. Though on contract, it’s a faculty-level position, giving you a fair salary and health benefits, although you need to go through the faculty-level interview process to get the position—as well as each time to interview for future continuing positions.

Our committee’s process was to see what other Canadian academic libraries do to cover leaves—if anything—, identify the core work of librarians that needs coverage, and provide recommendations to how this work will best be covered. Some of the questions our committee asked were: What’s common at other Canadian academic libraries? What are the core duties that could (or should) be performed by coworkers and those by a replacement? Is there a way to transition from term to continuing positions? What would this look like for covering leaves?

One suggestion, and the suggestion that led to the committee’s formation in the first place, was to make the term coverage positions continuing. Since librarians on leave still receive their salary, this makes it difficult to hire continuing coverage librarians. As well, as someone who had recently been in this position, I couldn’t imagine being a coverage librarian permanently; it’s disruptive to move positions every six months to a year.

After our committee surveyed other Canadian academic libraries—many of whom do not cover leaves at all—and discussed various issues specific to our institution, we collaboratively wrote up our findings in a report and fine-tuned our conclusions and recommendations. Ultimately, we were going to continue with our faculty-level term positions for covering librarians on leave. Thankfully, these positions provide health benefits, vacation time, and PD funding, all things that Yoonhee Lee touches on in an American Libraries article, despite these positions being precarious.    

After our research, discussions, and writing, we realized that the status quo is the solution – and that’s okay; “[p]recarity within and outside of libraries is tied to larger structural forces, and no one library or librarian can craft a universal solution,” Lee writes. We did thoughtful and intentioned problem solving, in earnest, and continuing to cover leaves with librarians on term was the most realistic answer to our committee’s question.  Sometimes the best way forward is to continue doing what you’ve been doing. Our committee did make progress, though; you don’t know if the way you’re currently going is the best way, if you don’t look deeper into it.  

How does your library handle contract or part-time library work? I’m interested to know if you get leaves at your library, and if so, whether your library covers for librarians on leave?

Focus on Institutional Change

The transformation of Higher Education institutions has been an ongoing journey, gaining momentum due to the sweeping changes triggered by COVID-19 and a growing awareness of existential threats like climate change, inflation, housing insecurity, and institutional discrimination. These shifts have left a lasting imprint on the way academic libraries operate, offer services, and stay relevant. During the pandemic, academic libraries often led the way by swiftly returning to on-site operations to ensure core services were accessible to students and faculty. The landscape has changed significantly, with many institutions experiencing dramatic shifts.

My personal experience, beginning at my institution in May 2020, reflects this turbulence. In just two years, I had four different bosses, each with their unique vision for my role and department. Additionally, we welcomed a new University President and Provost. As I prepare to transition to a new role after three years, our Library Director is also stepping down. My story is not uncommon. The importance of higher education and libraries is being reevaluated, and the changes brought on by remote learning have given rise to new service models and expectations. Many library professionals have opted for retirement, while the needs and expectations of students on campus have evolved. As colleges and universities redefine their objectives, adopt new technologies, and revamp their methodologies, libraries are prompted to adapt as well. This adaptability is crucial for libraries to maintain their role in the academic ecosystem.

In the coming year, the ACRLog team will share posts that delve into these areas and more, showcasing how different institutions and individuals are navigating change. We’ll highlight instances of tension, failure, and success, with the hope of inspiring our community to engage and share what’s working. We acknowledge that there’s no perfect formula for managing institutional change, but we believe that the insights we share will stimulate discussions and help us all support one another as we shape the “new normal” for academic libraries.

Libraries, in their pursuit of academic support, must remain agile, adaptable, and forward-thinking. Embracing change is fundamental to maintaining their role as essential academic partners. As institutions evolve, academic libraries have a responsibility not only to adapt but to thrive in the new environment, continuing their legacy of nurturing knowledge, innovation, and intellectual growth.

Embracing Vulnerability as a Perpetual Learner: Starting on the Tenure-Track as a Mid-Career Librarian

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Nimisha Bhat. Nimisha (she/her) is a subject librarian for social sciences at the University of Cincinnati, and is passionate about helping students make connections between ideas and information.

I’m always telling prospective library school students that the best part of my job is learning something new everyday – I may not be a subject expert, but every time I have a research consultation with a student, they teach me something new while I determine the best way to connect them with the information they need. 

This is also something I have been trying to remind myself of everyday since I started a new tenure-track library position earlier this year. As a mid-career librarian ten years into academic librarianship, this is my first time navigating and developing a completely new identity as a faculty member. 

As a subject librarian, I’m used to leveraging new facets of information retrieval every time I pick up a new liaison area. I dedicate a large amount of my time to reading up on particular subjects before I do collection development. I’ve experienced my fair share of feeling like a fraud as I stand at the front of classrooms and speak to students about research in subjects in which I have no educational background. I’ve been teaching without any training in instruction or pedagogy for at least eight years. But like many librarians, what I lack in theoretical learning I’ve made up for in experiential learning as a practitioner. I’ve done my best to do deep reflection work in relation to my practice and engage in scholarship and conferences to learn from my amazing peers and colleagues doing this work in their own areas. And slowly over the years, I’ve been able to navigate my job in a way that satisfies me while also leaving room for curiosity and growth.

So here I am once again, adding another new facet to my work with which I lack experience – tenure-track faculty status. A brand new set of criteria, rules, and recommendations to measure myself up against. It’s an unmooring feeling, being considered a “mid-career” librarian while also feeling brand new at the same time. And since many of the reflections and guidance out there about starting the tenure clock and developing a research agenda are written by and for a largely early career audience, it sometimes feels like I’m “behind.” I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes across all of my past jobs since graduating from library school over a decade ago – shouldn’t these feelings of doubt and vulnerability be behind me by now?

I had always been in positions before where research was not required, expected, or supported, but I loved to dabble in it anyway. Which is why I became a contributing and then lead editor for The Librarian Parlor, a blog where students and practitioners share their experiences, knowledge, advice, setbacks, and successes related to LIS research in an effort to demystify the process for our community. LibParlor’s mission was so important to me even at a time when I wasn’t pursuing research for reappointment, promotion, or tenure purposes. Now it feels serendipitous to be reading our past posts as an “official” researcher trying to develop my own research agenda and librarian-researcher identity. I find myself pulled in so many different directions, to research all of the different topics related to the profession that I find fascinating and important. Now that I have the institutional support to pursue the research I want to work on, where should I even begin? Will I ever feel like an expert in anything?

Thankfully, I have mentors and colleagues to learn from and with at my new institution. There is a genuine investment in us as junior faculty, and everyone is always willing to share what knowledge they have. I’ve created a cohort with my fellow junior faculty so that we may navigate the reappointment, promotion, and tenure process together, share and document answers to our questions and institutional resources, and serve as accountability partners to one another. We’ve expressed a desire to create documentation and guidance on all of this as we go, so that everyone coming up after us has the answers that we didn’t. I also find that as a person of color, I’m often unsure of how I’m being measured against my white peers. I’m hyper-aware that there are things I could be judged for differently, and so having clear and concise directions about how I’m expected to conduct my work as a faculty member is important to me. I’d especially like to be able to provide that kind of direction to fellow librarians of color in an effort to remove barriers to and increase retention in our profession, which is also something I’d like to make a part of my own research agenda.

So here I am again, learning something new and reminding myself that I love that aspect of my job. I am notorious for quitting things that I’m not automatically good at the first time I try it, which is why I have a tub of craft supplies buried in a closet related to various hobbies I’ve picked up and put down over the years. But now I’m trying to be more open, more vulnerable, more willing to ask questions in order to improve my craft and help others do the same. And instead of feeling like I’m behind, I’m going to embrace the part of me that loves learning. 

Are you a seasoned librarian navigating tenure for the first time? I’d love to hear how you’re feeling!