News from the trenches

via survivingtheworld.net

via survivingtheworld.net

Grading is hard. Among the steep learning curves I’ve had to hike in my stint as a First Year Seminar professor is accounting. Setting up a gradebook is the least of it. Next comes the day to day accounting of grading the assignments, making the judgments, and confronting your own rubric shortcomings. For instance, what do you do when you have required that powerpoint and outline are turned in, in addition to actually giving the presentation, but the rubric only covers the presentation itself? I’m asking for a friend.

It’s hard to reconcile black-and-white policies with the gray of everyday life. What do you do when a student who does good work while attending class and no work when not attending class runs into a rough patch and doesn’t show up for two weeks, jeopardizing his ability to pass based on attendance deductions alone. This student needs this class to graduate, and the work is there. But he isn’t. How do you give this student a fair chance to make amends and do the work you know they can do? Do you even give them a chance? Have they earned it? Who earns it? What is “earning?” What is fair to the other students in comparison? What is fair to you? How much more time should I spend worrying about this one student?

I am very sensitive to solving these kind of accounting problems in a way that is fair not only to the particular case but to the other students. I’ve been the student who showed up to every single awful class because missing class meant missing points only to find out that the prof couldn’t be bothered to take attendance and every person got full attendance points, even the ones who never showed. I know how terrible that feels. (Obviously the ones who never showed didn’t pass for other reasons, but that’s not the point.) I don’t want to be that prof. I also don’t want to be the prof who stands between a good but flawed student and graduation when a little bit of gray and some serious work on the part of the student could mean the two points that make a difference.

Black and white is about the big picture, the generalizations. Individuals are gray. Even though you are supposed to be teaching a classroom, you are also teaching 21 unique students. Sometimes the answer to “how does this class measure up to standards” isn’t as important as the answer to “how can I best teach this student.”

I turned in my final grades. All in all, I am pleased with how class went. I have a long list of things I would do differently next time, including being more precise on rubrics when I choose to use them. I’ve learned a ton from this experience in little and big ways. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it in the future. For right now, I’m deep in reflective mode, as it relates to FYS, my job, and my life. One of the confounding pieces I will continue to turn over in my head is the way that classroom experience, observation, student reflection in different contexts, and rubrics can tell very different stories about student learning and experience. Together they might give a big picture and that picture might be nuanced, but they rarely agree in a way that is easy to assimilate. What is the truth of this experience, for them and for me? What might we all say about it in a year’s time?

Wishing you a fruitful reflective season. See you in the new year!

Not at your service

I finally landed a work week that was a bit lighter and managed to read my way through the small stack of journal articles growing to the left of my computer. Directly on top was Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty-Librarian Partnerships by Yvonne Nalani Meulmans and Allison Carr. Lucky for me, it was truly excellent and spoke to my own instructional issues. There’s something to be said about journal articles that take a strong position, define that position, and support that position with both theory and practical suggestions. That something is “More, please!”

In this article, the authors argue that librarians must cease being at the service of faculty. That is, librarians need to decline the aforementioned types of requests, especially when they are not in the best interest of students. Instead, the authors advocate that librarians must sometimes say “no” to such requests and instead question, engage, and converse with faculty. By doing so, the librarian then places creating learning environments and opportunities for students as guiding professional value, over and above an individual’s discomfort.”

In addition to providing a compelling argument for why instruction should not be viewed or treated as a service model, the authors give many suggestions for helping individual librarians define useful boundaries as well as for communicating points of collaboration to faculty. As suggested in this article, I plan to revisit and define my own teaching philosophy and FAQ over winter break. As a bonus, I can use some points from the article to frame the library presentation to faculty at President’s Meeting in January. Is there a word for the serendipity of the right thing falling into your lap at exactly the right time? After reading it I felt both calmed and energized, and I immediately put together a plan for the future. May your holiday break work-reading do the same for you.

Brace yourself….

ygritte-meme-snow-already-came

 

This post is brought to you by the fact that I scraped an inch of snow off my car this morning before heading to work. I’m going to have to start remembering to get up early to do weather-related chores before I can leave the house. I’m not bitter about winter. Living in the North Country, you have to embrace it or you go crazy. I am, however, slightly traumatized from last year after waking up for weeks on end to temperature in the -20 to -40 range. Here’s what I do to make working life in the frigid north just a little bit better:

  1. Forced heat is rough on my body. I recently purchased this travel humidifier and set it up in my office. My skin, nose, and office plants are happier for it. Plus I can take it with me when I stay in overly-dry hotel rooms. Humidifiers also can help keep you from getting sick.
  2. Due to office placement right next to the front doors of the library and an overly complicated heating arrangement, it can get really cold in my office. Scarves, shawls, and all things snuggly and wooly are my best friends. I keep an emergency shawl in my office drawer that I can use if I forget a scarf or I can use it as a blanket on my legs if it’s really bad.
  3. One word: Ponaris. If you suffer a chronically bloody nose for 6 months out of the year like I do (TMI? Sorry.), you need to get Ponaris. I have used saline gels in the past and they do make me more comfortable but since Ponaris is an oil it helps to mend the problem and last longer than the gels.
  4. I use coconut oil on my face and body when winter sets in for real. Only a tiny bit alleviates dry skin almost immediately. It soaks in quickly and doesn’t feel greasy or thick at all. Coconut oil is readily available in most grocery stores and is sold with the cooking oils. It’s hard and white but melts readily at skin temperature and also tastes fantastic in peanut butter cookies. Just sayin’. One container will last you many winters (I did say just a tiny bit, right?) or one winter and a few batches of peanut butter cookies.
  5. I’m a little sensitive about getting sick this year. Libraries are surprisingly filthy places filled with lots of people. Germs are inevitable, but after I ended up with both strep throat and mono AT THE SAME TIME last spring, I’ve been really jumpy about working to stay healthy. I usually rely on a combo of Airborne and Cold-Eeze when I’m feeling something coming on. My aunt swears by Buried Treasure Acute Cold and Flu, which she sent when I was sick in the spring. It didn’t work wonders for me at the time because mono, but it did give me a burst of energy after taking it. I’m keeping a bottle around this winter and we’ll see how it does.
  6. And, since I’ve already admitted to putting cooking oil on my face, I may as well fess up to one other out-of-the-ordinary thing I’ve been doing to stay healthy – fermenting foods. Now you know my secret. I may look like your average librarian but underneath I harbor hippie tendencies. Probiotics are a known component in an active immune system and fermented foods give you a boost. Yogurt is a good place to start but has a limited range of bacterial strains. I’ve been making and drinking kombucha for a few months and I love it. Also, fermented dilly beans from the summer. I’m not a huge fan of sauerkraut but I’d like to try my hand at kimchi.

What do you do to take care of yourself at work or home in the winter?

Morty the Tiny Paper Skeleton

For the last few Halloweens, I’ve been using Morty the Tiny Paper Skeleton to promote the library Facebook page.

thisismorty

 

Morty was created one early October day in my first year as a librarian. I was feeling a little lost and not sure what I should be doing. I happened on a link to a paper craft skeleton and immediately printed it out and set to work at the front desk assembling it with no particular purpose. I reinforced him with cardstock and tape, named him Morty, and proceeded to take pictures of him all over the library.

ipad

 

Morty has promoted library products, like our iPads with this really amazing tree identification app, but mostly Morty is a trouble maker. For instance, last year he photocopied himself.

copier results

 

And did the backstroke in a bowl full of candy.

candy bowl

 

He has provoked the library mascot and nearly been mauled. In the end, Morty won the skirmish, and the Bobcat had to let Morty take a ride.

bobcat adventure

Morty even has a costume. Here he is as Tom Selleck.

costume

This year Morty is going back in time to the days when Paul Smith’s College was Paul Smith’s Hotel in order to promote our newly digitized photo collection. Here he is with Paul Smith himself:

morty and paul smith

Did you know that Calvin Coolidge actually spent one summer just a mile down the road at White Pine Camp? It was the summer White House in 1926. I’m not saying Morty influenced federal policy, but that is him between President Coolidge and Phelps Smith, the son of Paul Smith who chartered the college after the hotel burned to the ground in 1930.

coolidge phelps and morty

Morty comes out of his graveyard (my bookshelf) for a few days a year, causes mischief, and then disappears again (back to my bookshelf). This year I nearly let Morty slide in the face of understaffing and mounting responsibilities but I’m so glad I didn’t. I forgot how much fun it is to dream up new Morty adventures, and I also enjoyed pulling out my rudimentary Photoshop skills and dusting them off a bit.

Do you do anything fun for Halloween at your library?

P.S. Looking to waste an hour or so? Don’t forget that PicMonkey has holiday themes!

Just do your thing

Hang_Glider_1920s

I’m now in my third year as a librarian, and I feel like I’m in a solid place with my teaching. I’m consistently expanding our reach into required and non-required classes. I’m designing classes that make sense in the curriculum and that scaffold the college’s expectations of information literacy from freshman through senior years. I’m also discovering that things I really thought worked well aren’t working for me any more. It’s not that I think they’re bad classes, they just aren’t jiving with my particular approach to teaching. And speaking of approach, I’ve discovered that I have one, and I believe strongly in it.

In many ways, the day-to-day of planning classes hasn’t changed for me since the beginning. I still use Evernote to plan classes. I still procrastinate a lot. I still spend too much time googling around for ideas before doing the thing my gut said I should do in the first place. The difference is, I now have some idea of what works, both for me and for the classes I’m teaching, and that’s why I’m so surprised at my currently instructional dilemma.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon this fall: A marked increase in the number of library instruction requests which amount to “oh, just do your library thing, and, no, I don’t care when you come it to do it.” This has been happening in both required and non-required library instructions. No amount of conversation between the professor and me illuminates the need for library instruction or when it could happen most effectively in the course schedule. My working theory goes like this. Everyone knows me now. My outreach efforts have been very successful, and they like me as a person. They know me to be intelligent and passionate and comfortable with public speaking. They feel they should have library instruction so they invite me to class, largely because they like me and not because they believe in the importance of library instruction.

What’s a librarian to do? I piloted one class this week that seemed to go well and could be adapted to different subjects. I had some idea of what the students were working on (a research paper and a debate) but no good idea about when these things were happening, so I divided the students into 6 groups and had them explore 6 different resources (a mix of databases, book catalog, and Google Scholar). I used a handout with specific questions to explore and asked them to evaluate the resources as it related to research on people, historic events, and current events. Each group gave a three minute presentation to summarize what they found and gave recommendations to their classmates for how the resource could best be used for class. It took about 30 minutes, and seemed to go over well. I was able to dispel some myths that came up in the presentations which probably wouldn’t have come up otherwise, such as “Google Scholar is the only place to get research when off campus” and “article databases contain books.”

I also love the idea from Iris Jastram of “subversive handouts” for situations like this. I rediscovered this idea serendipitiously the day after I might have used in the class, but I plan to use it the next time I get a request to “just do your library thing.”

I’m sure we all have our approaches to this kind of request. How do you handle it?

Marketing: Results

From the top of Scarface Mountain on Saturday

From the top of Scarface Mountain on Saturday

You may remember this winter when I was making a real effort to be deliberate about marketing in my library. My first focus was on our Overdrive library, which was underused. Well, it’s time to report results. Good news: Usage increased by 50%! Bad news: It wasn’t enough usage to save the service in our recent round of budget cuts. You win some, you lose some.

Part of the issue with Overdrive was that we knew how much we used the service as a staff, and it accounted for a not-insignificant percentage of the usage. While community usage still increased as a result of marketing, my original hypotheses seem to be born out. We are not a campus of fiction readers in general, and ereader access is very small. (Although we do lend Kindles, through the magic that is DRM, accounts, logins, etc., we were not able allow Overdrive books onto our Kindles.)

This made me and my Kindle Paperwhite sort of sad. Although the library has a small fiction collection, many of the books we purchase are not things that I personally want to read. Not having the personal budget or, frankly, desire to pay mass market prices for ebooks, where could I get my fix of instant gratification reading? The New York Public Library, that’s where. Are you a New York resident? You, too, can have access to the NYPL’s ebook and audiobook collection, no matter where in New York you live. This is a beautiful thing.

Other beautiful things include the view from the top of a mountain in autumn, the smell of woodsmoke in the air, and the apple cider donuts that the Baking and Pastry Club will be selling on Friday morning. Since I took that picture at the top of the post on Saturday from Scarface Mountain, fall has arrived overnight. There are few places that are more iconically “fall” than the Adirondacks at this time of year. Here’s a secret: There are actually two falls. First the maples and aspens turn red and gold against the evergreens. The leaves fall too soon in a cold rainstorm a few weeks later and you think it’s all over. Wait for a bit and you’ll start to notice gold reappearing. It’s the tamaracks, outlining the boggy, wet areas. They are not evergreen as you might suppose, but deciduous, with pleasingly tiny cones and a habit of lingering on the tail end of fall. They are the indicator of the end of fall just as sap running in the sugar maples is a sign of spring. Winter may be coming, but I’m not ready for snow. Here’s hoping the tamaracks stick around for a while.

Affinity love

IMAG1037

I made my FYS class do an affinity wall. No one cried. Not even me. In fact, it was an incredibly successful exercise.

I had always been somewhat amazed at the affinity wall that my team created in grad school while working with a local toy store in project management class. The insights we gained were nothing that any of us could have come to on our own, even though the information we had in front of us was the exact same information on hundreds of little post-its. Our final recommendations were based entirely off the insights we gained from our affinity wall. Yeah, it was a lot of work, but it was completely worth it.

When I came across a very similar exercise in Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo, I knew I would be doing an affinity wall early on in my FYS class. We are working with the idea of resilience in class. In order to create a group understanding of what resilience is and then build future assignments off that understanding, I first had to establish what the class knew about resilience. Enter: Affinity Wall.

I handed out small stacks of post-its and asked the class to spend 5 minutes brainstorming everything they could think about resilience – words, images, ideas. Each word, image, or idea got a new post-it, and each student needed to have at least 5 and could have many more. All the post-its were put on the whiteboard and then the fun began. I asked the students to rearrange the notes to put things together that seemed to belong together. There doesn’t need to be a defined reason, just a feeling. Soon large collections of things will start to develop. Once a majority of the post-its had found a group, I walked around with a marker and started loosely defining the groups that I saw developing. Notes that didn’t seem to belong anywhere got put in a “parking lot” and the others needed to find or make a group. When all of the notes had found a spot, we created a label for each of the groups. I would read aloud some of what was inside the circles and the students would shoot ideas back at me for what to call it. Sometimes there was complete agreement and sometimes we used a couple of words. In the end, we had a much deeper understanding of what resilience is and what it looks like. I now have a touchstone on which I can base any number of other assignments and reflections. We will be using it all semester.

There are, of course, any number of different brainstorming techniques and approaches. I like the affinity wall because it requires input and participation from every member of the class. I love a technique that requires the students to do most of the hard work of thinking and participating while I act as a guide. Every student has literally touched the project, and I hope that this means they have more buy-in to the end result. We’ll see as the semester goes on. In the mean time, you can see a transcribed copy of our affinity wall here.

Happy first day of class! Here’s your syllabus.

I realize I didn’t have to make my syllabus pretty. I did it anyway. I’m a big believer in creating materials that engage and invite exploration. While I don’t always have the time to dedicate to making the prettiest possible materials, I put the effort in for this instance. I was heavily inspired by work that others have done on their syllabi, particularly Tona Hangen’s highlighted in this article from ProfHacker.

syllabus 2014

syllabus 20142

syllabus 20143

I used my beloved InDesign as per usual. The images are all ones that Col. Chris Hadfield (whose book we will be reading in class) took from space. The first is of a former-island-now-peninsula in Italy and the second is the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in winter.  The colors look slightly different on screen but you get the idea. Have a great start to your school year!

The Collaboration Question

While I was traveling this summer, I had lunch with the fantastic Kristin Fontichiaro at my favorite falafel place in all the land – Haifa Falafel in Ann Arbor. We landed on the subject of librarian/teacher collaboration and talked about the roots of librarian dislike of teaching a class solo. I’m still thinking about it.

As librarians, I think our default reaction when asked to teach a class without the professor present is one of resistance. We might feel that this indicates a lack of respect from the professor or a lack of buy-in on the importance of library instruction. We may rely on the presence of the professor to subtly communicate to students that library instruction is important and to manage class behavior. If asked on short notice and/or while the professor is still on campus, we might feel that we are being asked to babysit a class at the professor’s convenience. And sometimes we might feel we are being tested by the old guard professors for our ability not only to think on our feet but also to be effective in our instructional goals without their support. I have been in each of these situations and felt all these things at different times myself.

But what if, Kristin asks, the professor is asking out of profound respect? What if their request represents complete confidence in our ability to do our job well instead of representing on-call convenience? As Kristin said to me, “I don’t let just anyone take my classes.”

Obviously, each interaction between librarian and professor is different, but what if, instead of raising our hackles at professors’ requests to take classes without their presence, we choose to read their request as confidence? How would that mindset effect our interactions?

Kristin and Jo Angela Oehrli wrote two interesting articles for Library Media Connection on collaboration between teachers and librarians. Each have been both a classroom teacher and a librarian and have lots of insights on what makes collaboration work and what points of miscommunication seem to happen frequently. The articles are written for a school library audience, but there are plenty of solid pieces of advice that apply to all teachers and librarians. Citations:

  1. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part I: planning for success. Library Media Connection, 34(4), 36–38.
  2. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part II: reflecting on success. Library Media Connection, 34(5), 34–36.

3 Design Tips (plus miscellaneous advice)

Image credit: Austin Kleon

Image credit: Austin Kleon

I’ve received a few questions lately about how I go about designing things for my library. There’s some good info in past posts if you follow the “design” category, but I thought I’d put together some tips and strategies in a more formalized post.

I use InDesign almost exclusively for my design work, but you don’t have to. I like it because I like control. Haha. InDesign is an Adobe product that you can access through a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. I happen to have a desktop version from before Creative Cloud existed. If you’re not in the market for the whole Adobe suite, you can pay subscription access to just one or two products. You can, however, do similar work in other programs like Publisher and Powerpoint. I learned InDesign through a combination of help from slightly more informed friends, Google, and Lynda, which I have access to through the Northern New York Library Network. I can’t say that I use it “correctly” but I get the job done. I’ve heard good things about this book, and I’ll be adding it to my office soon.

There are two, no three, things that will help your poster level up, no matter what software program you’re using: fonts, color, and layout.

  1. Free fonts are great. I never pay for them. My two favorite free font sites are Dafont and 1001 Fonts. Browsing is helpful if you have a specific idea of what you’re looking for (see below on inspiration). I often use Pinterest to help track down free fonts and font combinations. I even keep a board for fonts specifically. Another thing to keep in mind about fonts is dingbats. You don’t have to figure out a way to make artful frames, curls, and tiny robots on a computer screen. There’s a dingbat for that. Save yourself the headache.
  2. Limiting your color palette and using color wisely are the difference between chocolate chip cookie dough and superman ice cream. Colorzilla, a browser add-on, is a good place to start and help you pick up exact colors that you like from the web. Pinterest is another good place to look for color palettes. They’re mostly for home decor, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use them elsewhere. Sometimes I really care about getting an exact color, like the colors used on my school website, and sometimes I just use a standard color picker in the software to slide around until I find something I like.
  3. Layout is the most fundamental piece of poster design. What is the hierarchy? How much info is necessary? Does the flow make sense? Is it clear? I like to block out rough shapes on a piece of paper before going to the computer, and then I constantly check the layout on screen and also in print. Printing out a rough copy on a standard sized piece of paper helps you make the little tweaks in color, gradient, size, and shape that make a difference. I can’t emphasize how powerful seeing your design in print can be.

When looking for inspiration, I often do an image search in Google, especially for an event poster. I take advantage of the fact that other places have art school students who help with graphic design for events. I don’t copy directly, but I do use the images for text layout, fonts, color combinations, and other assorted pretties. I have a board on Pinterest to collect poster ideas because I’m already on Pinterest, but you could just as easily use Evernote Web Clipper or something else to save the images for future reference. For instance, for the Student Speaker Series poster this year, I started with the top image, which inspired the following pieces of advertising:

Inspiration image

final poster

I also teach a class on poster design for culinary capstone students who present their capstone in poster format rather than as a formal presentation or paper. You can see the subject guide here. I’d like to present the workshop to campus in general this year, since it is one of my favorite workshops to teach. I’m happy to share my materials for this workshop. Just send me an email.

Happy designing!