25 April 2012

A Reflection on Leaving the Classroom

I recently taught my last class at Champlain College.  As of June 1st, I will be assuming the role of Associate University Librarian at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Exciting, for sure.  But that's not what this post is about.  This is a post about leaving the classroom.

I have always enjoyed teaching.  I am one of those people that has a particular gift for standing up in front of students and giving it my all.  And it usually works.  That is not to say that I have not worked on my teaching or tried to develop my craft.  As Ken Bain or Parker Palmer would swear, even the best teachers have to work on teaching.  I believe that quite deeply.  I think that is an area where librarianship, LIS education, and even our professional associations have fallen short.  But again, that's not what this post is about.

My last session at Champlain was very difficult.  It was a nightmare class, actually.  Students who were texting.  Students who refuse, and articulate their refusal, to participate.  Students who put their heads down on the desk.  It was a really hard way to go out of the classroom, especially because I have really developed as a teacher at Champlain, because I love our students, and because the class before this nightmarish one was so successful.  But, as I think more about it, it might have been the best class to go out on.  It was one of those sessions where I am reminded that I don't know what students are bringing into the classroom.  Parker Palmer talks about this extensively: we have no idea what is going on in our students' lives when they walk in.  That is particularly true as librarians who are trying to engage in an instant environment.  We don't know the students we teach, especially if you are not teaching a stand alone course.

I am also reminded that the impact of my session is not the session itself.  This is why asking students to assess a session at the time of the session cannot be the only measure of success.  I didn't actually realize this until two students from the class made follow up appointments with me for help.  They didn't say a word during class but they were listening.

Which brings me to what this post is really about: teaching is hard.  It is hard work to stand up in front of a bunch of students and a professor and show your stuff.  It is hard to prepare for it, to open yourself up to it, to reflect on it, to grow from it.  During LILAC, Megan Oakleaf said that if you walk out of the classroom exhausted, you are doing something wrong.  That is only true if your exhaustion is a result of doing everything for your students.  But, being an authentic, open teacher who welcomes questions, models inquiry, and is passionate about student learning is exhausting.

On second thought, perhaps that class was a great way to end my time in the classroom here.  For now.

17 April 2012

What are you busy about? Post LILAC thoughts.

Coming home from conferences are often frustrating for me because reentry into work is so overwhelming.  Perhaps because I am about to transition to a new position (more on that later), I am taking a bit more time to reflect on LILAC Glasgow.  The thing that keeps coming to mind is that I find myself thinking about a different set of questions than when I come out of ACRL or ALA conferences.  Rather than thinking about what I can try in the classroom, I am thinking about what I can do for information literacy on a broader plane.

I am specifically thinking about Drs. Geoff Walton and Mark Hepworth's presentation, "This house believes that librarians and their services are the barrier to information literacy."  The workshop's provocative title snagged me right off the bat.  But I was glad when the presenters asked the delegates to break up into groups and identify what barriers we see to the success of information literacy. The group responses were excellent but it was actually something small that Geoff said that really stayed with me.  He talked about "marginal gain" and defined that as small differences in small steps that eventually becomes a large step and will change the world.  This has continued to work on me: What are the small steps that I am taking to change the world that I inhabit: the library, information literacy, pedagogy, inquiry, higher education, learning?  Do the questions that I ask and the work that I do consistently propel me further towards change?  This reminds me of a quote by Throeau that I write on my to-do list, my whiteboard, my notebooks, "It is not enough to be busy; what are you busy about."

This is really the crux of my argument when I talk about "Real Deal Information Literacy" or about teaching identity.  There are hard questions that we need to be asking about the work we are doing for our students.  And some of those questions strike a tender chord because they challenge what the role of the librarian is.  The best example I can give, and the one I hope to write more about, is do we want our students to know something about libraries or something about information?  Do we want them to have skills for the information environment, or just our information environment?

So, as we work with our colleagues, our students, our faculty, what steps are we taking and towards what end?  What are we busy about?

12 April 2012

Back where I belong

Sitting in Glasgow, Scotland for this year's LILAC conference.  For anyone interested in information literacy, this is THE conference.  This is my third LILAC and every year, I am impressed and amazed.  UK librarians are having a very different conversation about information literacy than we are in the States. Very few presentations focus on "tips and tricks."  They are evidence-based, in large part.  Or they are presenting on models or ideas about expanding IL's reach and prominence within our institutions and communities.  Even more refreshing is the true IL that is under the microscope here.  The IL that focuses on critical thinking, not libraries.  The IL that serves a broad purpose, not just for an assignment.  It is refreshing, invigorating, exciting, educational, and thought provoking.  This is really my kind of conference.

I will be posting on a few of the talks I attend.  Check out the conference's hashtag at #LILAC12.  And start saving your professional development dollars: every penny is worth it at this conference.

02 March 2012

Starting with Why in the Classroom

We just finished our teaching load for first year students.  These sessions are always hard for me.  Admittedly, I prefer teaching about information more broadly than highlighting library resources.  And as I finished my own sessions and watched other librarians, I think I figured out why.

My last post was about my favorite TED talks and I listed Simon Sinek's as one of them.  His argument that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" has helped me reach a tipping point in my teaching.  In librarians' classrooms, we need to start with WHY.  Why are library resources worth the extra effort?  Because let's be honest, they are more, a lot more, effort.  If we want our students to use our resources, showing them all the features doesn't inspire them to use them.  And that is what Sinek is talking about: inspiration.

So why do we want students to use the library and what we have to offer, even if it's harder to use and even scary for them (and I think it is partly fear that keeps them with Google)?  I've heard some librarians talk about it in terms of quantity (we have so much stuff), or that their tuition affords them access to restricted content (it's expensive stuff).  Others talk about meeting their professor's expectations (it's scholarly stuff) or completing an assignment well (it's required stuff).  When I try those explanations on, they don't quite fit.  They aren't inspiring me so I doubt that they would inspire my students.  These are academic arguments.  In his "The Art of Teaching," Jay Parini talks about Robert Frost as a teacher who said that he hated "academic ways".  Frost says, "Think of what time we waste in trying to learn academically--and what talent we staunch with academic teaching."  

So if not these academic arguments, what then?  Why do I want students to learn to use the library?  For me, it's about adventure.  It's about challenge.  It's about growing and curiosity.  The library not only houses materials but it is a way of being, a way of thinking: it is about considering more than you know.  It is about getting your hands dirty in other people's minds, thoughts, and ideas.  How is that different than the Internet?  In some ways, it is very similar.  But, the internet is many many things.  The library is where you can explore without judgment, without someone interrupting, without any ulterior motives. 

Is this inspiring for students?  Maybe not.  But it is inspiring for me.  And that is a good place to start from.  If I know why I use the library, I can start there in the classroom.

13 February 2012

Brain Candy: My Top Five TED Talks

Recently, I was speaking with my parents and said something about TED Talks.  You can imagine my surprise that they had never heard of TED.  Wow, I said, you guys are in for something very special.

TED Talks are like candy for my brain.  There are many evenings when friends will come over and we will kick back to watch each other's favorite TED Talks.  There are many lunch breaks when I will reboot by watching TED.  By far, TED has become arguably my most important resource for inspiration, creativity, and learning.

So, Mom and Dad, as an introduction to this incredible library and compendium of ideas and ways of thinking, here are my top five TED talks.

1.  Sir Ken Robinson's Do Schools Kill Creativity.  It's hard to pick which one of Sir Ken's talks to show.  I love his most recent TED talk and I love the visualization video that gives a history of current education paradigms and how they need to change.  This seems particularly apropos to a conversation my father and I had over dinner where my dad pointed out that one facet to America's problems is that our vision of the future is based on the past (don't you love solving the world's problems over dinner?)  This video demonstrates how true that is in education.

2.  Barry Schwartz's talk on the Paradox of Choice is certainly one of my favorites.  It is particularly important, in my view, to librarians' understanding of search habits and information overload.  This talk is funny while challenging what has become a fundamental principle of our culture.  Great stuff.

3.  Daniel Pink's talk on the Surprising Science of Motivation.  Again, I love how funny Pink is while challenging our traditional notions of motivation.  Especially as I think about the kind of leader and manager I want to be, this talk is on the top layer of my tool box.

4.  Simon Sinek's talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  Again, perhaps because I am focusing on leadership but this talk is wonderful.   This is a talk that is vital to teachers.  For today's students, we must give them the WHY.  

5.  Benjamin Zander's talk on Music and Passion.  I know this will be my parents' favorite talk because of their deep love of classical music (which I share).  But I love this talk because it inspires me as a librarian, teacher, thinker, and parent.  I have used Zander's process of coming home as an instructional design model (very successfully) and I deeply appreciate his passion for teaching and connecting with us.  Marvelous.

Selecting my top five TEDs was actually quite difficult.  I have been watching this video by Michael Wesch a lot lately and I think this talk by Sheryl Sandberg is inspiriting, especially as a Smithie.

So, give it a go: what are your favorite TED talks?  Which ones would you share to someone just meeting TED for the first time?

30 January 2012


Blogging after a long hiatus feels kind of funny.  What have I been doing that has kept me away?

We've been busy at Champlain and last week, our hard work has recognized by our peers: Champlain was awarded ACRL's Excellence in Academic Libraries Award.

Needless to say, everyone at the Library was delighted.  Andy talks about the application process in his post and I couldn't agree more that the writing of that kind of award was enormously gratifying.  For me, hearing the Teaching Librarians talk about our information literacy program and our team-based design process as what they are most proud of made me so proud of the work we have done here.   Being part of such a collaborative, creative team that takes risks and faces challenges is pretty special and I value it deeply.

Champlain College Librarians and Staff....superstars.

28 July 2011

Best Twitter Experience Ever

What did I do in my library life today?

I had the best Twitter experience EVER by trying to be a librarian to the White House Chat (#whchat) on the debt ceiling. There were a lot of rants and opinions slamming @whitehouse but there will also some genuine questions that I tried to answer. Some examples:

  • What is the history of the debt ceiling?
  • What is the difference between default and bankruptcy?
  • What might (notice the word MIGHT) happen if we default?
I tried to answer a few questions and ended my tweets with "From a friendly #librarian".  

It was pretty awesome to get thank you's from other tweeters.  People I do not know and never will.  But maybe they will ask a librarian another question.  Just maybe.