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.