Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Students Are Not You At That Age

"my brains - let me show you them," by Liz Henry

In last week's post, "Ten Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, Academic Edition," the first thing I listed was about how present day undergraduates are not the same as we were. For the most part, it's not a "kids these days don't know nothin'" thing. As I said:

"Think about it this way: if you're an academic librarian (or want to be one) chances are pretty high that you liked college and were a good student, otherwise you wouldn't be thinking about spending your life in academia. Many of the students with whom I talk every day are here either because Mommy &/or Daddy made them, or because it's the next logical step. There will be students who want to be at college, but that's not every student."

After I published the post, I had a few people ask me how I deal with students like this. The truth is that I still struggle with it on a semi-regular basis, although I know that I'm better than I was when I got my first job. I have days, sometimes weeks, when I am instinctually calm and don't have to remind myself of the items I listed below. But I don't get too upset when I do struggle. Practice makes perfect, right?

Anyway, I deal with students by remind myself:
  1. In some ways, students ARE you at that age (but you have probably forgotten what it was like because your brain has finished maturing). To put it colloquially, teenage & early/mid twenties brain chemistry/structure is MAD crazy. Not only are their brains constantly growing and changing, they are doing it at an amazing rate. Another side effect of this is that teens & young adults process social input from a much more primitive part of the brain than you do. Brain chemistry and structure changes are why students can be so surly, so I try to be patient.
  2. The person in front of me could be a first generation college student. Statistics vary from school to school, obviously, but 40% of my undergraduate population falls in this category. I don't. Not only do I come from a long line of college graduates on both sides, both my maternal and my paternal grandfathers taught at the college level. This means that when I arrived at my undergraduate institution, I knew what was expected (at least to some extent). First gen students don't have that knowledge, so I try to help them fill in the gaps.
  3. It's about good customer service skills. Bear with me while I tell you a quick story. I put myself through my first graduate degree by working at a mid-range, fancy-ish restaurant. I had my regulars who always sat in my section. For them, I'd explain the specials and then pretty much get out of their way. I also had plenty of first time customers, even at that fancy pants place. With them, I'd explain every single thing about the restaurant, the menu, the bar, and so on. If I did my job well with a new customer, and the circumstances were right, I'd eventually have a new regular. That's what I want in the library - someone who knows what they are doing and only needs to have occasional pointers - so I put in the time with them when they are freshmen.

Any thoughts? And, for those of you who have a bit of experience, do you have any advice you can add to mine?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ten Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, Academic Edition

Eric Riley wrote a similar post about public libraries that you should also read, since plenty of academic libraries (especially large, urban ones) have the same issues. However, I had a request for a similar post about academic libraries. So here it is, for the most part in no particular order: ten things I - an academic librarian - didn't learn in library school.

1. Undergraduate students are not you at that age. Sometimes the differences can be chocked up to growing up in an earlier era, but not always. Think about it this way: if you're an academic librarian (or want to be one) chances are pretty high that you liked college and were a good student, otherwise you wouldn't be thinking about spending your life in academia. Many of the students with whom I talk every day are here either because Mommy &/or Daddy made them, or because it's the next logical step. There will be students who want to be at college, but that's not every student.

2. Every college/university has its own way of treating librarians. In my first professional position, we were purely members of the professional staff - except we were required to march with faculty in official events like graduation. In my current position, we are a weird hybrid of faculty and staff, without tenure or sabbaticals but with extensive committee responsibilities and voting power in faculty meetings. I know lots of academic librarians who are treated just like faculty, with publish-or-perish mandates hanging over their heads.

3. For most students, asking a librarian for help is a last resort. They will ask other students, and then maybe a teaching assistant or a residence assistant they're starting to sweat. Students will turn to their professors next, and the librarians dead last. If I'm honest with myself, I can admit that I didn't go to the librarians at my undergraduate institution too frequently. But wow, this reticence to ask for help surprised me when I realized it.

4. "We tried that before in 1987, and it didn't work then, so it won't work now." This is an extreme version of resistance to new ideas, but it's not too far off from something that I was told. I don't know that this mentality is exclusive to academic libraries, but it was one of the biggest surprises I encountered after leaving graduate school. While pursuing my MLIS, I spent all that time reading about innovative programs and approaches and being praised for my original ideas. I understand it now, but it was hard to hear at first.

5. Students don't know how to find a book in the stacks. Not all students, but more than you'd expect. This is a corollary to #1 above, but it was a shocker. I distinctly remember the first time I handed a student a piece of paper on which I'd written a call number and got a blank look in response. I grew up going to libraries, so I learned this skill pretty early. That's not everybody's story.

6. Collection development is done differently in every library. Collection development classes are all well and good, but you won't really learn how to do it until the first time you have to order books. From talking to colleagues at other institutions, I know that no two academic libraries do it the same way. Some  have carefully constructed formulas that consider how many classes, students, professors are in a department versus how widely their materials are used versus the direction in which the wind is blowing at that moment. Others divvy the money up evenly. Some academic libraries get offended at the thought of popular reading materials in their collections. Others actively embrace and pursue such ideas. Collection development is all about the context and the parent institution.

7. Members of the faculty can be your best friends, or your worst enemies. It's important to remember that they have their own agendas, and you need to figure out how to marry your goals to theirs. Even if you have faculty status, your jobs are only related to theirs - you aren't doing the same work. This can be a source of friction if you're not careful.

8. The library (the department) is not always in charge of how the library (the space) is used. Everyone will want to use the space. It is prime real estate on most campuses. You may even end up having to share the space with other departments, which has good and bad ramifications.

9. Sex will happen in your library. If you're lucky, the only evidence you'll find will be the used condom. If you're unlucky, you will witness the act and have to do something about it. And yes, masturbation counts in this category. With all those raging hormones and all the porn out there on the web, I'm surprised I haven't witnessed more.

And I've saved the biggest shock I had for last:

10. You will spend more time in meetings than you can imagine. One on one meetings, campus wide meetings, task force meetings, ad hoc committee meetings, standing committee meetings, search committee meetings, and so on. During a good semester, I spend less than 25% of my work hours in meetings. However, I've had weeks where I spent more than 50% of my time in one meeting or another. Some will be useful. Some will be inane. Every once in a while, you'll be in a meeting so bad that you'd swear you had died and gone to hell. True story: I was once part of a campus-wide "retreat" (in quotes because we were still on campus for this meeting) where an administrator actually wanted us to come to a consensus about what we meant by "consensus."

How about the rest of the academic librarians in my reading audience? What shocked you? What did I leave out?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Posts: The Biggest Hits

Don't have a new guest post to publish this week. As usual, that means me asking if you have something you want to see on the blog or write for the blog... if so, get in touch.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd remind you all of some of the most popular guest posts I've published:

There are 41 other guest posts on a variety of topics, but please let me know if there's some topic you'd like to see covered - for the first time, or again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Library Science Is Not Enough

Obviously I want you to read libr* stuff, since that's what this blog is. But we need to fight the insularity and get outside the echo chamber. This isn't the first time I've brought this up. Back in April, I wrote a post about the reading I do outside of library science, but that was all about books. This time I want to talk about some of the non-libr* blogs and websites I read for professional development purposes, so here they are:
What about you? What kinds of non-library oriented blogs do you read?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Finding Your Voice, by Maureen Barry

Wright State students help prepare Chesterhill Produce Auction for it's opening during their week-long service trip to southeast Ohio last spring break.

When I was on the job market in 2004-2005, as I was finishing my MLS, I applied for both tenure-track and non-tenure-track positions. I preferred non-tenure because, like many new librarians, I hadn’t yet discovered my voice. Why jump into publishing if I didn’t have anything to say yet? This idea came back to me in the response I got to a question I asked during a phone interview, “What are the benefits of the non-tenure position?”  She said, “I like this situation [non-tenure] because I don’t feel pressured to publish, but I am supported if I want to publish.” 

It wasn’t until about five years into my career that I got the urge to start publishing. It happened when one of my friends, Dr. Sarah Twill, a social work faculty member at my current institution, introduced me to service-learning. Service-learning is a teaching and learning pedagogy that closely ties together course content with service to the community to help solve real-world problems. It’s different from volunteerism in that service learning is a delicate balance of curricular materials, service, and reflection.  It’s also different from internship because an internship is usually done after your coursework is complete. (See Andrew Furco’s continuum for further explanation.)

The more I heard Sarah talk about service-learning, the more I was hooked. One day, I thought to myself:  How can I use service-learning in the for-credit information literacy course that I co-teach? Has it been done? My thought was that incorporating service-learning would attach a real-world component to the course making the class a more meaningful experience not only for me, but also for my students and our would-be community partner.

A journey into the literature revealed NO instances of such a course, although there was some discussion about the parallels between information literacy and service-learning (see Riddle, 2003). Hmm. I realized I might be on to something here, even though no one else appeared to have tried it yet. So I went for it. (If you’d like to read more about the course and how it came to be, see my article, “Research for the Greater Good:  Incorporating service-learning in an information literacy course at Wright State University,” in the June 2011 C&RL News.)

Then I had a light bulb moment near the end of my first quarter of teaching the service-learning information literacy course. I was walking across campus with my supervisor when I said, “I may have found my niche with service-learning.”  She responded, “If you want to be known for service-learning, you need to start a blog.”  All I could think was, “Ugh. Really? A blog? Do I really want to write THAT often?  She’s right though – it’s what we librarians do.” And now, looking back on it, I’m really grateful to her for giving me that push.  At the time, I really didn’t want to blog; but when your boss suggests something, it’s hard to say no.  So, here I am, the self-labeled Service Learning Librarian.    

Because of my blog, I was invited to write a two part piece for LOEX Quarterly (Part 1; Part 2). Loanne Snavely, an academic librarian, recognized from my blog that my course engaged students with the library in a unique way, so she contacted me because she was seeking chapters for Student Engagement and the Academic Library. I have also been invited to be a panelist for the Women’s & Gender Studies Section of ALA’s President’s Program at the annual conference in July 2013. And finally, just a few weeks ago, I was contacted to blind review an article about service-learning in library education.  All of these opportunities presented themselves because of my blog.

In addition to my for-credit information literacy course, my success has helped me seek new opportunities to partner with faculty and instructors who incorporate service-learning pedagogy.  Over the past few years, I helped instructors pair information literacy and service-learning in English composition courses. I was the embedded librarian in an honors interdisciplinary service-learning course about sustainability in Appalachia, co-taught by Dr. Sarah Twill and an instructor in Earth & Environmental Sciences.  This course includes a week-long service trip to southeast Ohio.  Yes, in case you were wondering, I went on the trip.  It was without a doubt the most meaningful interaction I’ve had with students at Wright State.  Another benefit is that these experiences have provided new material about which I can write and present.

Service-learning has been a rewarding way to serve both my community and my profession. I’m grateful that I discovered the concept here at Wright State. Or, perhaps it discovered me. Either way, I found my voice, and I continue to develop it through seeking new service-learning experiences at my institution, giving presentations, writing, and also a little reading, of course.

If you haven’t found your voice yet, don’t worry. It will come. It doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged. It took me almost 5 years to figure out what I could possibly offer to my field that was new and different.   

Maureen Barry is the First Year Experience Librarian at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. She tweets @SLLibrarian and blogs at Service Learning Librarian.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Burning Books? Been There, Done That.

You read the title correctly. I have burned books. I would do it again, despite getting a snoot full of smoke because I didn't move quickly enough when the wind changed direction.

Some of my handy work.

I know what you're thinking: "But wait, Jessica, didn't you post not just once but twice last week about Banned Books Week?" And the answer to that is much the same as my answer to your assumed question about the title of the blog post: Yes. I have written about Banned Books Week. I would do it again, despite the flames I encountered in a comment I ended up deleting.

The thing is, these two activities aren't actually mutually exclusive. It's all about intent. I burned the books to create a display for my library in honor of Banned Books Week. I burned the books to get attention for the display, and the display was for educational purposes. I burned the books, created the display, and then didn't think beyond that. I had a busy week last week, so I didn't really have time.

Then the unexpected happened: people got offended. They wanted to know how I could do such a thing. Burning books is BAD, after all.

Do I care that people got offended? No, not really. The truth is that the books in question had been offered up in multiple Friends of the Library book sales and had been passed over every time. Besides, a couple of them smelled like my grandfather's basement. They were on their way to the recycling dumpster when I gave them one last chance to be useful, to impart knowledge one more time. Would I burn books for the same reason again? Well, I hate to repeat display ideas, but if I'm ever at another library and need an idea for a Banned Books Week display... Heck, yeah, I'd do it again.

So, no, I don't care that people got offended. On the other hand, I do care that there was a difference in perception. That's why I want to write about burning books in my blog, so I can clear up that misunderstanding. I know my scribblings are read more widely, but this blog is geared towards new professionals and library science graduate students. I have admitted before that I'm trying to influence the kind of librarians you will be in the future, and I'm consciously trying to influence you with this post. So let me be completely clear about how I feel about books:

Personally? I love books. Love them to pieces. I'm a bibliophile of the first order. I love the smell of old books, the soft *crack* when you open a new hardcover book for the first time, and the rustle of pages turning. I grieve when someone tells me they don't like to read, because reading is such a huge part of my life.

Professionally? I'm a librarian, not a curator of a collection of books. Books are just one (sometimes small) part of what I do for a living. Further, being a librarian means I get rid of books sometimes. I get rid of books that are duplicates or inaccurate or damaged or smelly. I get rid of books to make space, to improve the look of the collection, and to make sure I have up-to-date information. I get rid of books that were donated to the library but for which the library has no use.

I get rid of them, most times without the slightest regret, because books are NOT sacred objects. They are just objects.

On the other hand, information (and access thereto), education, and learning ARE sacred. Educating my community about the need to value access to information is why I burned those books, and why I would do it again.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Banned Books Week, Part Two - My Favorites

I have a confession to make: I don't seek out books that I know have been challenged or banned or removed from the shelves of a library. I feel like that's how it should go, but for me the process always seems to happen in the opposite direction: I read and love a book, then find out that someone has challenged/removed/etc. the book.

Now that I've got that off my chest, here are some of my favorite books that fall into this category:

And Tango Makes Three by written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole.

Cover Art
This is a true story about the time a zookeeper decided to give a spare egg from a boy/girl pair to a boy/boy pair of penguins. They hatched the egg. Everyone was happy at the end of the day - the boy/girl pair, the boy/boy pair, and the penguin chick. The illustrations are vaguely anthropomorphic: enough to make them super cute, but without making the animals cartoonish. Bonus points go to this book because it takes place in one of my favorite zoos of all time.

So why is it challenged? Detractors claim that the story supports same-sex marriage, and those puny brains think same-sex marriage is bad. Never mind that And Tango Makes Three is a true story, and never mind that the events portrayed in the book had been covered extensively in the press prior to the book being published. Those penguins are sinners.

In the Night Kitchen, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Cover Art
A little boy falls asleep and dreams/fantasizes about helping three very fat bakers with their batter. Sendak is one of my favorite illustrators, and his pictures in this book do not disappoint.

So why is it challenged? NUDITY! The little boy's PENIS is shown a couple of times! HOW DARE SENDAK?! (Shown below in all its offensiveness.)

Look away if you're easily offended.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

Cover Art
The protagonist decides to go to a high school off of the reservation where he lives with his family, and attends a school that is mostly white. Partly as a result of this decision, he has some troubles both on the reservation and at the school, but in true coming-of-age-story form, he survives and is better for all his experiences. (Words alone cannot describe how much I loved this book, but that's not what I'm writing about today.)

So why was it challenged? Because the protagonist thinks and acts and talks like a teenage boy. Here's the passage that gets most people riled up:

"Yep, that's right, I admit that I masturbate. I'm proud of it. I'm good at it. I'm ambidextrous. If there were a Professional Masturbation League, I'd get drafted number one and make millions of dollars. And maybe you're thinking, 'Well, you really shouldn't be talking about masturbation in public.' Well, tough, I'm going to talk about it because EVERYBODY does it. And EVERYBODY likes it. And if God hadn't wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn't have given us thumbs. So I thank God for my thumbs."

It's that honesty that endeared this National Book Award Winner to me, but honesty is too much for some people I guess.

So how about you? What is your favorite frequently challenged book? And if you know, share why it has been challenged in the past?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banned Books Week Part One - The Read Out

In case you haven't caught on to the fact from tons of related posts on every social network under the sun, it's Banned Books Week. From the ALA website:

"Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular."

At my college, that celebration takes the form of a Read Out. I pick some campus space outside of the library, bring a bunch of books and some snacks, let the community know where I'm going to be and what I'll have with me, and then sit back. We take turns reading passages from our favorite challenged and banned books, and discussing why they were challenged and/or banned. I always have food available - in prior years it was cookies and cider, but this year we're holding the event during lunch at the dining hall. I always have a bit of swag - usually buttons. That's it.

The first time I did this, I wasn't sure how it would go. Would people even come? It's an academic/intellectual topic, after all. I wondered if students would care. I needn't have worried, though. Students did show up, and they show up every year. It's not as well-attended as some of the other events I run, but it attracts a decent group consistently. Makes me so proud of my community, especially considering this year marks the 4th anniversary of the first Read Out.

So, what are you doing at your library and/or with your community for Banned Books Week?