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.

27 July 2011

Exercising the power in my fingers

The internet is Jim Gillian's religion.

pdf2011 on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Jim's story is powerful and profound. But even more powerful is the activism that he reminds us of. The creator and change agent in each of us as we blog, as we read, as we write emails. Seemingly mundane and trivial. But together, powerful.

Is that something we are reminding our students of? Is that something we are remembering ourselves? Information Literacy spends so much time talking about the evaluative. Are we thinking about the active, about the creative component? Are we thinking about how the information we find and ultimately put to use can impact the world?

This video reminds me of a bigger framework, a bigger picture in which to think about the work we do with students. But it also makes me remember the power that lives in my fingertips. Have I exercised it today? Have you?

14 July 2011

Serious fun

The Teaching Librarians have been working on our lesson plans for the fall over the last week. One of our sessions is with our third year students.  I love working with third years.  Something seems to happen by the junior year where many, if not most, of our students really understand that you are a valuable resource.  They don't sleep through class.  They ask questions.  They ask for help.  Hallellujah!

We are 100% committed to active, inquiry-based learning and to having fun in the classroom.  As we thought about how to engage our students, we started talking about how third years seem ready to be serious.  We don't have to "trick" them into participating or learning anymore.  We can treat them like fellow researchers.  It's kind of exciting.

In this case, students are tackling their first literature reviews.  As we thought about what students need to do this assignment well, we found ourselves digging into some pretty advance research skills.  As we talked about the what and the how, the question arose: how do we make the session fun while also imparting the serious nature of the assignment and the task?  Can we be serious but also have fun?

We talked about a number of ways to engage our students.  We talked about metaphors.  We talked about using technology, music, Youtubes.  We talked about relating to things they care about.  We talked about the process, the outcomes.  And we came up with a lesson plan that is feeling pretty solid.  But still, the question haunts me.  Not because I think I know the answer but because I think it is revealing about our own attitudes towards what we offer and sometimes teach.

I think fear factors into it.  Fear of boring students and being boring, fear of messing up in front of them, fear of lacking authority, fear of not being invited back, fear of descending reference statistics, decreases in funding....AHHHH! (she runs and hides under her desk).

This fear is natural I think.  We've been told for decades and longer that we will soon be outdone by computers.  By golly, I watched Desk Set the other night and realized that we were already manifesting that fear in 1957!  But while this fear is natural, it is also exhausting.

A particular axiom comes to mind: Ensure your own good time.  What is it about databases that makes it fun for you?  For me, I love how it makes me think about a topic in a different light.  And that excites me.  When I have to show databases in class, that is what I share about it.  How this tool excites me and makes me feel like I am on an adventure.  Dorky?  Sure.  By god, I'm a librarian!  I am dorky!

Can we make serious research and serious teaching on research skills fun?  YES!  But it has to come from within.

So when it comes to the serious stuff, what is it that you (yes YOU) find fun about it?  How to share something fun is way easier than sharing something boring, right?

Do you have a story to share about something serious you made fun?  I'd love to hear it!  Share away!

12 July 2011

Where are the librarians?!

I love reading about Wikipedia and love when I learn about new ways to use it. So, it was exciting to read this article from Inside Higher Ed about Wikipedia's efforts to expand and improve their reputation in higher ed. I wish I could have gone to their first conference on Wikipedia in Higher Ed!!

Wait a second...why didn't I?
And come to think of it, why didn't you?
Where are the librarians in all this?

Know anyone that went? Know anyone that blogged it? And if not, why?

23 June 2011

What to teach and when to say enough

While scrolling through my RSS this morning, I came across this article by Steven Bell. In it, Steven suggests that academic librarians welcome the opportunity to include financial literacy in our teaching. His argument is compelling and I applaud the idea that financial literacy is "the ultimate information challenge, and the consequences of the decisions can be life altering." Absolutely. Admittedly, I am still dealing with some poor decisions from college and directly after. I would love to help students learn to make sound decisions about the wide variety of financial information that is out there.

This topic converges with two things that are at the forefront of my mind: professional development and sustainability of information literacy programs.

The Teaching Librarians at Champlain are reading Char Booth's book "Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning" for our summer book (we read something together each summer). In the beginning of the book, Char talks about academic librarians' underpreparedness for a huge part of our jobs--teaching. If we are to take up Steven's call, how are we going to prepare ourselves for that teaching? Is this an opportunity to bring a new type of sponsor to ALA or ACRL? Will we see the likes of Citibank or TD Banknorth offering us bags and mugs with sessions about financial literacy? Or, are we going to take it upon ourselves to learn how to teach this vital literacy. As echoed earlier, financial decisions have lasting impact. Are we prepared to teach those skills, that literacy? Some of us might say yes because we are experts at evaluating and THAT is what they would share with students. Bravo, I say. But there is a lot wrapped up in taking something like this on. Do you have the time and the resources to prepare yourself and the other librarians to do this teaching? Do you know how to prepare yourself for it? I would urge us to think about this call as an opportunity for collaborations and new kind of professional development. It has potential to be wonderfully fruitful! But I don't think we should jump into teaching financial literacy without some help and training on our end too.

On to my second point: sustainability. We have had a number of visitors at Champlain lately. Some amazing librarians from Keene State came to talk about embedded information literacy. We then had the incredible Megan Oakleaf on campus to talk about the same and the value of academic libraries. As usual, I came away from these experiences with a long wish list. A list of ideas for our program, for the Teaching Librarians, for our faculty, for our students. As I sat in my office looking at these ideas, something truly eye opening dawned on me: it will never be enough. You could give me my own course to teach on IL (and I don't mean library skills...I mean, what I am calling, "real deal" IL). You could give me multiple visits to classes. You could give me a lecture series, student ambassadors, a marketing campaign, faculty toolkits, mentorships....give it all to me. And I will still want more. I will still think of things that I think we should think about with students. It will never be enough.

Are you laughing at me? Some of the more experienced librarians or managers might be because I imagine everyone comes to this realization at some point. I don't say this to deter you or myself from consistently reviewing our program, session content, or delivery strategies. Not at all. I say it to remind myself that some things will make it from my notebook to the design session and all the way to the classroom and even to assessment. And somethings won't. And that's ok. Financial literacy would be a terrific thing to add into my sessions. But where we are at Champlain, for something to come into a session, something has to come out, at least until we find a way into more sessions. And even then, it is never enough.

The best that I can do as a program manager is to work with my team to decide what are the skills and habits of mind that are essential. We move from there, knowing that we have more ideas to draw from when our students' needs change. There is something very grounding about that. And something inspiring and focusing about it as well.

What do you think about librarians taking on financial literacy?
Do you feel prepared to teach different literacies?
What training do you wish you had for teaching?
Are there ways to broaden our teaching strategies beyond sessions or classes for something like financial literacy?
Do you find something like "it will never be enough" disheartening or empowering?

17 June 2011

Thoughtful Technology in the Classroom

Andy and I presented at the Vermont Library Association's Special & Academic Library section on Tuesday in gorgeous Castleton, VT. We were even able to get the group into an inquiry exercise....pretty fun!

And the tuna melts at the Birdseye Diner was pretty awesome.

If you want to talk fun tech in the classroom, let me know!

16 June 2011

Creativity on demand

Randy Hensley was the keynote at NELIG a few weeks ago. Many of us know Randy as an instructor at Immersion and have learned so much from him in that environment. What he spoke about at NELIG was creativity. He talked about the attributes of creativity rather than modalities. Some of the attributes he listed included creativity as starting from an unusual place, as problem solving, as visual. But one thing he said that has really stuck with me is that creativity is not something that you turn on. It is engaging in a series of processes.

Creativity is not something you turn on.

Randy talked about preparing people to be creative rather than springing something on them in the hopes of creative bursts. He points out that 98% of us don't get creative that way. Rather, we need to prepare for it. To marinate on the topic. To develop creative approaches.

I have almost always asked the teaching librarians to turn on their creativity, to brainstorm on the spot. As I think about the dynamics of our team, I realize that I was not tapping into their most creative ways. I am one of those people that can, and enjoys, brainstorming on the spot. I have had to learn to adapt the way I prepare for teaching and Randy's talk has also taught me that I need to adapt how I approach creativity with others. It makes me think about how I approach prep for teaching, how I prepare for meetings, and how I can really allow everyone to engage in the creative process.

But it also made me realize what I need for creativity. I need to feel safe to speak and safe to fail. I need to know that not everything I say will be taken seriously. I need a partner in creativity (Andy, thank god, has been my partner and a darn good one. Apparently he's a good blogger too.)

What do you need? What circumstances really get your juices flowing? Or don't? When do you feel the most creative?

08 June 2011

Using Mobile Phones in Info Lit Instruction

Andy and I presented at the New England Library Instruction Group's Annual Conference this past Friday. Such a great day! I will be posting later on Randy Hensley's awesome keynote (he's incredible). Here are our slides on using Poll Everywhere in first year instruction. We had a terrific group in our session who posed a number of good questions about the technology, our program, assessment, and faculty reactions. If you have questions, please share them in the comments! Enjoy!

25 May 2011

Just model it.

We recently ended the Faculty Collaborative at Champlain. This annual event brings faculty together for three weeks to have conversations we've been vying for but for which we never have the time. Anyone that has met me or worked with me knows how much I love things like this. Nothing feeds my soul more than listening to and participating in conversations about our students, our teaching, our curriculum, or our institution. I am one of those people. I love it.

As you might expect, one thing that came up a lot was our students. Faculty expressed a drastic increase in their frustration over a lack of curiosity in our students. And a lack of reading. It's no question that reading habits have changed over the course of all Americans but particularly young people in the last decade or longer. TV, computers, texting, video games. There's a lot of ways to entertain yourself. "Back in my day", my dad would walk in the room if we were watching TV and turn it off, no matter what was on, and tell me to go read a book. I did and here I am, a librarian and avid reader. There doesn't seem to be as clear a way to get kids to read today. My husband and I have paid a lot of attention to the literature about early childhood development and reading. Hence, our daughter gets at least one book a day (more like five) and she is only four months. But, I digress. The point I want to make is that there seems to be a shifting tone to the conversation. A tone of great concern and of disappointment and shock. One professor suggested locking all the students' cell phones in one room and forcing them to the stacks to read. I smile even as I write that down.

I don't think there is anything new here in terms of adult incredulity at student learning or student interest or student apathy. But I do think we are facing a change in terrain. I suggested to faculty that they neglect to realize how much reading students are doing. Just a reading of a different kind. I credit my friend and mentor, Rob Williams, for pointing this out to me when I taught an online class. When I shared my assignments with him he reminded me how much reading and writing students are doing on discussion boards. Or how much reading they are doing just to attend the class. He pushed me to make the readings I do assign more essential, more vital.

Today, we had a candidate for our librarian position field a question from a faculty member on this topic. The professor asked how we can get students to take their position as student more seriously. The response from the candidate was that we need to make a case for reading, for books, for whatever we want students to read. We need to be compelling rather than admonishing. I agree but I also think there is a component that is missing there. We need to model the behavior. We, as educators, talk about and know the value of this in writing. My 15 year old niece was just telling me how she wished she were a better writer and I immediately responded that to achieve that goal she should read more. She immediately went on to say that she hates to read but I reminded her that she doesn't have to read fiction. She can read magazines, newspapers, history, science, sports writing....whatever it is, she should read more of it. Turn off the TV, I said, and read anything of interest in any format but pay attention to how its written. If you like something in particular, try to write in a similar fashion. Model it.

And that, to me, is a fundamental need that is often overlooked. In libraries, in the classroom, modeling the behavior and the type of questions we want to see from students provides essential scaffolding to their learning those skills. If we want students to ask questions in a new way, let's stop asking them questions in the same way we have always done. If we want students to try new things, experiment, and get comfortable in new information environments, I think we have to ask ourselves if we model that behavior. One thing that Champlain librarians do exceptionally well is communicate the amount of fun we have helping students find information. And that invites students to have fun with us. But I wonder what behaviors I expect from students that I don't model.

What ways do you model "good" behavior? What strategies do you use to engage students that brings results?

10 May 2011

Notice something new?

After five years, I have made a few changes to the Sheck Spot.

Funny how one sentence can say so much.

"After five years": it's hard to believe I have been blogging for that long. While I go back and forth sometimes about whether intermittent blogging is ok, I deeply appreciate the space to think and develop ideas that a blog offers. It's not always pretty but as I look back at posts from these last few years, I can see how much I have grown as a librarian, as a teacher, even as a thinker and writer.

"I have made a few changes": well, the template is the most visible change. Changing the look of the blog is a lot like moving the furniture around in the living room. It's awkward at first. And I need a few mornings of looking at it, coffee in hand, to decide whether I like where I put things. Knowing me, a few changes are still to come. But it is kind of refreshing. Yet, I will admit that I did use the templates from blogger. I have neither the skill nor the inclination to customize so heavily as to tap into the code of templates. Sorry.

"The Sheck Spot": One thing I'd like to point out is my new tag line or subtitle. Previously it read, "Ruminations on Libraries, Technology, and the space between." And for years, that is what I was doing. "Exploring New Technology" was a big part of this blog as was Wikipedia. But again, I've been blogging for five years. And a lot has changed. Recently, I was asked for a bio for a presentation Andy and I are giving at NELIG's Annual Program. As I was writing it, I realized how much I focus on teaching and information literacy in my writing, particularly on my blog. Oftentimes when I write about technology it is in frame of teaching. So, let's call things by their proper names. The new tag reads, "Trying to make explicit what is implicit about information literacy, teaching, and libraries." The purpose, "trying to make explicit what is implicit" says a bit more about my process in the classroom. Whether it be our assumptions about students or our assumptions about our value in the university, I try to dig down a bit. I am a gardener, after all.

So, there are some changes a foot. Can I promise more posting? Not necessarily. But it feels good to open the windows and let some fresh air into the blog.

Happy Spring.

15 April 2011

Librarians as Teachers: the Question

A very close friend and colleague, Cinse Bonino, directs Champlain's Center for Instructional Practice. Essentially, it is our teaching and learning center. But Cinse is such an incredibly creative and original, it is not your run of the mill teaching and learning center.

In preparation for an all-campus retreat that is coming up, Cinse asked professors around campus to answer a series of questions about teaching for a video. She also asked the librarians to participate. As she said, we are teachers too.

Yes, we are teachers too.

At ACRL (by the way, the proceedings are now available!), I attended an excellent talk by Laura Saunders about librarians as teachers. During the talk, Laura made the point that it is not particularly revolutionary to think of librarians as teachers. Indeed! But she did point out that librarians are in need of professional development as teachers.

So, in the name of deepening our understanding of ourselves as teachers, in the name of concretizing the librarian/teacher identity, in the name of hard questions....let me pose the question Cinse posed to me.

Why do you teach?

To tell you the truth, I really had to give this some thought. This is a different question than "why are you a librarian", which I can easily answer. But, why do I teach?

That's harder.

Why do I teach?
I teach because I am curious.
I teach because I want to learn and I believe I learn by asking and helping to answer questions.
I teach because I want to do something other, something more than make money.
I teach because I like to see synapses fire.
I teach because I want to share what I know.
I teach because I want to have an impact.
I teach because I believe I can have an impact.
I teach because it teaches me.
I teach because I am good at it.

As I read those over, two thoughts come to mind: first, it's not a terribly academic answer. Rather, it is a very personal, heartfelt one. Second, it is not so much about students as it is about me. Who I am. What I am. What I enjoy. What I want.

I want to teach because I enjoy it.

I think that is an important component to the push for teaching in libraries: do we do it because we must or are expected to, or, do we do it because we love it?

That gets to the question of who we are, how we see ourselves, and ultimately, why we are essential to the academic experience (eg. why we are valuable).

So, let me put it to you....why do you teach?

07 April 2011

ACRL 2011: A view from a few steps back

So here's the thing about becoming a mom: I haven't been at work for a while. I haven't been reading library blogs or articles. I haven't been keeping up on technology. I haven't been "in the loop". I didn't even know delicious was wrapping up (not happy about that, by the way). So, going into ACRL was a different experience for me. It was a chance to put my head back in the game. But it also offered me a different perspective; to look at our work as academic librarians from a few steps back. To listen to talks with less of an opinion than I normally have because I haven't had my finger on the pulse.

It was different. And enjoyable. But also a bit frustrating. Here's a bit of a breakdown:

The tweeting. Steven Bell just wrote about the efforts of the conference organizers to encourage and support tweeting of the conference over at ACRLog but he makes some really interesting points about tweeting as a plus and a minus. He suggests that people that are tweeting aren't really listening. Sorry, but I disagree. For me, tweeting the sessions I attended really helps me find the nuggets I want to keep and share from a session. Granted, retweeting and responding during sessions can be a distraction. But for me, tweeting the session was the equivalent of taking notes. And ">sharing my notes (posts of said tweets that are forthcoming). But real quick here, I am kind of surprised by Steven's post. Especially given so much emphasis on teaching and instruction at ACRL, as Char Booth well points out.. Over and over we talk about the need for different approaches to instruction because students learn in so many different ways. The same is true for librarians, in the classroom and at conferences.

This brings me to a point of frustration: I heard an awful lot of the same talk as I've heard before. Not everywhere. And there were some pretty exciting new presentation styles, the UNconference and Cyber Zed Shed in particular. But...there were not a lot of surprises in the more formal talks I heard. Is it really a risk to talk about librarians as teachers? Is it really a risk to question how we determine our value? Is it really a risk to talk about engaging students with new media? Sorry, but not really. I feel like those are the same talks we've been having on blogs, in articles, and at conferences for years. And that is frustrating.

My husband, who is a project manager, always is frustrated by people who say they don't like how something was done but offer no suggestions for improvement. I dare not commit that crime here. I would like to make two suggestions, one logistical and one conceptual.

-Logistical: ACRL, please consider rescheduling the call for papers closer to the conference. If you truly want innovation at this conference, I think we need to recognize that trends change. And sometimes quickly. I wonder if we hear the same talks over and over because they are easy to write about a year out from the conference?! I respect and realize the amount of organization that goes into something as massive as ACRL but, please think about whether this could be somewhat remedied. Thank you.

-Conceptual: I wonder if we, and I mean academic librarians, need to ask some different questions than we have been. Instead of asking how we can engage students in the classroom and ending up with answers we already know, perhaps we should think about why students aren't engaged. Instead of asking how we can increase our value, perhaps we should ask ourselves why we have to fight this fight? I am suggesting something perhaps less positive, less congratulatory. But truly educational. I think back to LILAC last year and one of their keynotes, Ralph Catts. He stood up and told a room of librarians what we don't do well. It was hard to hear. But I walked out of that room inspired to improve, not feeling like I am on the right track but really thinking about what track I want to be on, how I might get there, and who I might ask to help me define it or acheive it. That is what I want from my conferences.

I guess that brings me down to it: what do we want from conferences? Is it a space to feel affirmed? Is it a space to see what others have been doing? Is it a space to question? Is it a space to be challenged? Does it need to be all those things? Can it?

I think bringing a keynote like Jaron Lanier is a step in the right direction. Bravo on that one, ACRL, and thanks.

I am not saying I didn't get a great deal from ACRL. I did and I will go again. But, having taken some time away, I saw ACRL a little differently than usual and it made me stop and think. And that's worth sharing, isn't it?

01 April 2011

Where, oh where has The Sheck Been?

Could you tear yourself away from this? Neither could I.

I'm at ACRL this week so I will be posting some thoughts about that and about going back to work (eek!). But I thought a picture would speak louder than a lengthy explanation.