Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fighting a Pedagogy of Convenience

One of my biggest pet peeves in education is what I think of as the Pedagogy of Convenience. One way we see this is the faculty member who has a conference or an off campus meeting and wants a librarian to do an information literacy session while s/he will be away (grrr and hiss, right?). Never mind if it's too early in the semester to teach students about our resources. Never mind that it's obvious the faculty member in question is only looking for a substitute teacher and doesn't seem to understand that his/her students will forget all the skills by the time the paper/essay/whatever is due.



I'm sure most if not all of the academic librarians out there can relate to that particular frustration, but remember the old saying about how when you point a finger there are four fingers pointing back at you? Well it's true here as well. I've seen librarians - heck, I've been guilty of it myself - committing acts of convenience. Teaching something the way "we've always done it," even when we've seen better ways of doing teaching/demonstrating whatever. Even though I am far from the stereotypical "sage on the stage," I still talk more than the students in my sessions. It's a problem, for sure.

That problem is never far from my thoughts, so it's no wonder that it was my first thought after I finished reading "A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned" (posted on Grant Wiggins' blog but written by someone else). It's a good read if you have the time, even though it's not exactly on the same topic. However, two points from the blog post resonated strongly as libr* related:
  • Students "feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long." The author's examples and suggestions for dealing with this are more appropriate to a semester long class, it's true. But it isn't hard to extrapolate to a library perspective. It makes me think about how, for each student who asks a question - like where the stapler is or how to long onto our resources from off campus - this is an important question. Rather than making our patrons feel like they are bothering us, we should be empathetic and helpful. Sure, it's more convenient to point to the instructions for logging onto the computers, but could we instead walk a patron over to the computer and help them?
  • "Students are sitting passively and listening during 90% of their classes." The author makes a brilliant suggestion we in libraries can adopt: "offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heals." (I've done this and should probably write it up. At the very least, I need to start using this approach again.)
I know I'll never completely overturn the Pedagogy of Convenience, but maybe I can start to chip away at it?

How about you? Did you read the piece? Do you think you'll change your practice at all? Did anything else stand out from the article as applicable to your library?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tall Poppy Librarians, by Erin Leach

Source

I’ll get to to the meaning behind the title of this post in a moment.

If you are one of the "young" librarians who read this post, welcome to the profession. Chances are your ambition made you stand out from the other candidates for your new job. The people above you in your library’s organizational chart have the sense that you can help save their library from drowning in stagnant waters. New blood can be good. You’re not the first person to experience this phenomenon. In a 2011 post, The Library Loon dubbed this new-hire messianism. As a result of being treated like a new-hire messiah, you may feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for your library’s well-being. Hopefully you are supported by your supervisor and your colleagues. It’s possible, though, that you are being treated unkindly by some of your more change-averse colleagues. They feel threatened by your new ideas and your ambition because they feel like you signify their marginalization. This treatment can feel isolating, but you’re not the only one to be treated this way. In a follow-up post, The Loon shares the thoughts of a fellow new-hire messiah. I hope you take comfort in them.

Unfortunately, Tall Poppy Librarian, your poor treatment probably doesn’t stop in your library. You may experience people you encounter, both online and in your work with the professional association of your choice, who attack you for your success. Your goal-oriented nature and your drive to succeed reveal in them an anxiety about opportunities your attackers missed and they respond cruelly. This is especially true on social media where people can hide behind perceived anonymity. As with new-hire messianism, you are not the only person to experience this phenomenon. In fact, that’s why I called you “Tall Poppy Librarian,” because this phenomenon has a name: tall poppy syndrome (brief summary – it’s the tallest poppies that stand out and are more likely to be a target). This happens in all fields, but lately it seems that librarians are especially terrible about cutting down the best and brightest in our field. And it’s not fair to you, Tall Poppy Librarian.

This all sounds pretty grim, right? I imagine you’re ready to flee librarianship for a more welcoming profession. Don’t go, Tall Poppy! We need people like you to make librarianship a better place. Admittedly, librarians have driven some of our best and brightest into other, more welcoming professions. But it would be a shame to lose you just after you’ve arrived. You’ve probably already learned that drive can be isolating and divisive. But that doesn’t mean that you should be ashamed of being a high achiever.

The good news, Tall Poppy, is that you are not alone. There are other high achieving librarians like you, both in your own library and in the professional association of your choice. Find those people and build a community that supports one another, both in achieving your goals and enduring criticism. Continue to develop as a professional by taking advantage of opportunities offered both at your own library and through the professional association of your choice. As colleagues retire (admittedly a slow process with this economy, but it does happen), there will be a growing need for librarians to step into middle and upper management positions. Your ambition makes you a perfect candidate to assume such a role. Speak up, Tall Poppy, in meetings and online. Be present on social media and consider starting a blog. I am certain that you have awesome ideas and I, for one, can’t wait to hear them.

The point is, your ambition is nothing to be ashamed of and your drive is nothing to hide. Change threatens people and social media emboldens people to act like jerks. But that’s nothing for you to worry about. Your concern is to work hard, dream big, and continue to ask thoughtful questions about the future of libraries and librarianship. You can do it, and I will be thrilled to see the amazing things you’re able to accomplish.


Erin Leach just started as Head of Serials Cataloging at University of Georgia and is still trying to figure everything out. She is Chair-Elect of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. She tweets about music, running, beer, and libraries at @erinaleach.  After her last go-round on Letters to a Young Librarian, Erin started a blog called Constructive Summer with Rachel Fleming, a fellow LtaYL alum. Erin and Rachel can be found at Unified Library Scene. Despite her seemingly cynical exterior, Erin embraces Jessica's theory on brutal optimism and loves librarianship for better and worse. And, yes, Erin is a fellow ambitious librarian

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hiring Student Workers



When I first started in my current position, things were a bit hit-or-miss with our student workers. Some of the people we hired were incredibly helpful and worked hard; others, not so much. I don't want to go into details about specific problems we had, since these are real people here, but I will let you know that there was a lack of service orientation. So, seeing a problem, I did what librarians do: I did some research. I...
  • talked to people around the school to find what they were doing and to see if they were happy with their student employees; 
  • talked to librarians at other schools to pick their brains; 
  • talked to my staff about what they wanted to see.

After gathering all that information, I reworked our hiring process. The first change was to create an employment application. The form we use is a pretty basic one, but it gives us a lot up front. We ask for things like availability, of course, since we have certain priorities for front desk coverage. We also ask obvious questions like, "Why do you want to work for the library?" There aren't any wrong answers to that, but when we see something like "because the library seems like a nice quiet environment," it gives us the opportunity to explain how the library isn't (nor should it be) always quiet.

Then there's the interview. We came up with a script that we follow with each candidate:
  • How would you handle an angry patron/customer?
  • When you use libraries, how do you use them?
  • How do you like to learn?
  • How do you handle work/volunteer projects you’re given?
  • Tell me about a previous job, either volunteer or for pay — what did you love and what didn’t you like?
  • How do you respond when you don’t know the answer to a question?
  • What is good customer service?
  • How would you handle it if the phone rang right as a line formed at the circulation desk?
  • What questions do you have for me?

If it's not already obvious, let me point out to you the distinct focus on patron service. These students who work for me are frequently the first person that a patron sees when they walk in the front door of the library. We want friendly and outgoing and service oriented individuals who will work hard. We ask about learning because we are counting on having to teach them the day-to-day stuff. Heck, for some of our student workers, this is the first job they've ever had. We can teach them how to check out books and pull holds; we can't teach them how to be friendly and outgoing.

The results of the new process are easy to see. The students who work for the library are great members of our team who are eager to learn and to assist our patrons. Of course, part of this is also tied to the training they receive, but that's a whole other blog post. Regardless, we're all very happy with our group.

How about you? How do you hire student workers? Or, if you're at a public library, how do you hire pages?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Just for Fun: A Panoply of Song

I've heard plenty of people cast aspersions on creative writing degrees. "What are you going to do with that? Almost nobody makes money with a creative writing degree!" However, the lead singer of The Decemberists, Colin Meloy, turned a creative writing degree into a mountain of highly literate and literary songs with the help of his bandmates. How could I not devote a "just for fun" post to this band?

For instance, look at the title of this post: "a panoply of song" come from the song "June Hymn," off the band's most recent album - The King is Dead. (In case you're curious, "panoply" means "a group or collection that is impressive because it is so big or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things," according to Merriam-Webster. Yes, I did have to look it up.) I mean, come on! Who uses words like that in a rock-n-roll song? The Decemberists, that's who.

Here are some more of their songs:



By the way, "The Crane Wife" is based on a fairly famous Japanese fairy tale.



Don't you just dig the cinematic awesomeness? Gorgeous stuff.



Rhyming "legionnaire" with "disrepair"? Seriously? How cool is that?

So how about you? Are you a fanboy or fangirl? If not, what do you think? You going to give this amazing band a chance?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ello? Nope.



This was originally going to be a long-ish post about the ins and outs of ello. I got an invite early last week and immediately started playing around with what seemed like a new toy. I spent time learning how to upload, how to post links and gifs and whatever else, and how to use ello. I had lots of notes and was gathering quotes from other newb users, but then I saw something that had me change my mind so much that I deleted my account.

What happened? Well, I learned about their business model (tl;dr is that the people behind the business took money from venture capitalists which means ello might not be selling our information now, but they will almost certainly sell us out later on). There's no mention of the almost $500k they took on their page about why they don't have advertisement on the site. The old truism of "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product," isn't always true, but it's something I keep in the back of my mind when I hear about "free" things. And it came back to me when I learned about the venture capitalism.

The truth is, I should check out these things ahead of time. However, the allure of an ad free, privacy oriented online social network was more than I could resist. I should have known better, really. And okay, I'm a bit of a hypocrite here... I've sold my soul to Android/Google and am 90% comfortable with that. I've also sold my soul to Twitter and Facebook, with varying degrees of comfort. I do have one frequent shopper card... I cringe every time I use it, but I still use it. And now I find out I bought the magic beans again? Again, I say, "nope." And, to quote one of my favorite movies, I say...


Update on 10/2/14: I'm still getting email from them even though I deleted my account and have tried unsubscribing. No, I'm not happy about this.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hospitality and Your New Staff Member, by Megan Brooks

Oh new manager, a staff member left your team and lucky you filled  that opening with someone new. New manager, you’re responsible for orienting your new staff member so they can begin doing their job as quickly as possible - moving from them knowing information to having knowledge. . And while it’s easy to forget to plan an orientation, don’t! You’ll cause your staff member unnecessary angst.

Image © gapingvoid and used after permission was secured by the author.


My philosophy for orienting new staff members revolves around the word hospitality. Blame my college education at Benedictine Catholic institutions and my exposure to the Rule of St. Benedict (particularly Chapter 53). I believe being hospitable and offering “warmth, acceptance, and joy” as I welcome new staff is the best possible way I can imagine to establish a mutually respectful working relationship. Plus, regardless how you feel about monks from the 6th century, it’s fun to be hospitable!
welcome.png


But hospitality takes effort. New manager, you must work hard to prepare for your new staff member. What you’ll find below is how I prepare for new staff member Taylor to join my workplace.

Pre-Arrival
Make sure Taylor fills out ALL applicable paperwork at Human Resources as soon as possible, well before starting work. Why? Taylor likely won’t be able to get any computer accounts, phone accounts, or paychecks until the paperwork is complete. To be without email or access to a computer on day 1 is a particular form of preventable torture, and not hospitable at all.

Have office keys ready. Make sure their computer is wiped clean, both physically and digitally. Clean their office and desk before they show up. Cleaning desks not your job? Pshaw. Put on some gloves, grab a trash can and some disinfecting wipes, and get to work. Would you expect a houseguest to change the sheets before getting into bed at your house? This is no different.

Fully prepare an orientation schedule and email it to Taylor a couple of days before they start. Also email:
  • information about where to park or how long it will take to walk to the library from public transportation
  • what normal working hours are and when you expect them to arrive on their first day
  • food: is there a fridge to store lunch, are there places to eat nearby, or are there vending machines available?

Finally, let Taylor know that you will eat lunch with them their first day, and will invite the search committee to join you. While brown bag may be your regular routine, I recommend going out that first day solely to save Taylor the stress of having to pack a lunch.

(Note: I have forgotten to do these each of these things with different staff members in the past; learn from my embarrassment - it’s mortifying!)

The First Day
Unless you have an unforeseen emergency or a long-planned trip happening, be there for Taylor’s first day at work. Don’t expect to get anything else done at work that day - clear your schedule entirely so you can focus solely on Taylor (even though you won’t be together the entire day.)

  • Welcome them as they walk through the door.
  • Get them settled into their office, give them office keys, and make sure they can login to their computer and that email, phone, and any other accounts work.
  • As part of the tour you will give them, make sure they know where the all the bathrooms, kitchen, and emergency exits are located. Taylor may prefer to use a gender-neutral bathroom or require the use of a lactation room; ensure you know where those spaces are and show them as a matter of fact in the tour. Actions like this make an important, welcoming first impression.
  • Introduce Taylor to as many people as possible while you are on the tour. Not introducing your new staff member to people in the library is weird and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Don’t be weird.
  • Eat lunch with the search committee and Taylor, but as the person who will see the most of Taylor, try to be quiet and let others have the chance to get to know Taylor.
  • Give Taylor  time to settle into their workspace  and to start working on the to-dos on their draft orientation schedule.

Finally, on that first day, you and Taylor should have high-level discussion about their first few weeks in your organization. Go over the orientation schedule, update it if there are changes, and let them know that you’re available to answer any questions they have at any point.

After the First Day
My rule of thumb for scheduling Taylor’s first week is (when possible) no more than 3 scheduled things per day. MPOW requires staff to work at a busy, complex service desk, so much of our initial training revolves around desk operations. Your positions may be different, but make sure that operational training starts early and continues often.

This file contains a modified version of a recent staff member’s orientation schedule. They were hired as a research and instruction librarian, had never worked at our kind of service desk before, and started a month before the academic year began. The top part lists things I expected them to complete on their own; the middle lists daily meetings for their first two weeks, and the bottom lists other useful information. Feel free to use this as a template or guide for your new staff members, or to come up with something completely different that suits your needs. But, for the happiness of your new staff member, don’t just wing it! Prepare for them, welcome them with warmth, acceptance, and joy, and above all, show them hospitality.



Megan Brooks is no longer technically a young librarian, having earned her MLS way back in the 20th century. She is currently director of research services for Wellesley College’s Library & Technology Services. She’s on Twitter as @librarygrrrl. This is the second post she's written for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Job Fit Revisited: What to Do When You Are the Square Peg."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's Data Got to Do with It?, by Elizabeth Psyck

Source

Let’s get one thing out of the way: While “data” is technically the plural of “datum”, colloquial usage has shifted to make the use of “data” as a singular acceptable. I have a Google frequency map that backs me up on this.

Whether you agree with me or not on the singular/plural use of the word data, it’s hard to argue that data is becoming more important to libraries and librarians. Whether you are collecting and analyzing your own statistics to see whether your library still needs a reference desk, or reading the latest ITHAKA report, it’s almost impossible to avoid. Like many librarians, I don’t come from a data or statistics heavy discipline and learned everything I’m about to share while on the job. Trust me, even if it looks scary right now, you can do it. With these 7 handy tips, you’ll soon be a data superstar! Or at least someone who can look critically at a report full of numbers and ask the right questions about what those numbers might mean.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Qualitative research involves descriptions, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and other things that can be observed but not measured. Quantitative research involves numbers and measurements and cold hard facts. Neither type of research is objectively better, but they do impact the questions you can answer and the arguments you can make.

Independent vs. Dependent Variables
Independent variables are the inputs or the things you do that influence (directly or not) the dependent variable/the results/the outcome. (For that to make sense, you also need a theory as to how and why these variables are related.) My personal (possibly unpopular) opinion is that it’s incredibly difficult to frame library work in terms of independent and dependent variables and we should be careful about getting too hung up on those terms, which can imply causation.

Causation vs. Correlation
Closely related to my last point, correlation is not causation. Correlation is when one variable changes consistently with another. Causation is when one variable causes the other to change. It’s really, really hard to argue causation in the real world because people and behaviors are complicated. That means it’s nearly impossible to isolate influencing factors. Did Student A get a better grade than Student B because A met with a librarian? Or is it because B had 3 papers due that week and is only taking this class for a general education requirement and was ok with getting a B-? I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever argue causation, but isolating the impact of the library in order to rule out all other possible factors (which is how you prove causation) is extremely challenging.

Samples Matter
Convenience samples – a research group chosen because they were available and easy to get involved – are bad. Don’t be a bad researcher. Ok, that’s probably a little harsh, but I do think that libraries rely way too much on convenience samples. I understand why, but research involving convenience samples don’t support sweeping arguments that they are often used to make. Example: asking the people in your library whether it’s a welcoming environment tells you whether people who are currently using your library at that time/on that day find it welcoming. It’s a biased sample because many people who don’t find your building welcoming just won’t come in the front door. A random sample in this case would help you find those people who study in a coffee shop or the student center instead of the library.

Age Matters
Data goes stale. Your library’s last large survey on information literacy might have taken place in 2008. That doesn’t seem so long ago to many of us (myself included), but to give you context I was still an undergraduate in 2008. My undergraduate classmates have finished law school and are assistant district attorneys. Old data doesn’t represent current students. Think of data as a snapshot that represents a single moment in a rapidly changing environment.

Anecdata
Humans are storytellers, which means that stories are more meaningful to many of us than numbers. Just because a story feels meaningful, doesn’t mean it actually is. Don’t fall into the trap of anecdata, giving more weight to the stories we tell (patron X writes a letter about how important a service is) than the numbers (only 10 people used the service in the past 6 months). Remember, each anecdote is a single data point.

Be Consistent
Whatever you do – be consistent about the questions to ask and how you interpret results. If you aren’t consistent, your results aren’t comparable.


Elizabeth Psyck is the government documents librarian at Grand Valley State University. If you’re extremely angry about her use of data as a singular, you can reach her at psycke@gvsu.edu or @psyckology. She finds writing biographies in third person weird, but not quite as weird as writing them in first person.