Just do your thing

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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

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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

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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!

Catching up before leaving again

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Paul Smith’s College, the most beautiful campus in America

Why, hello there. It’s been a full summer so far. Balancing being at work and not being at work is sometimes a challenge. For instance, I meant to talk a bit about ALA, but then I was traveling directly after, and then I was enjoying being at home and not traveling, and by the time I got back to work and sat down to write out some observations here on this blog they seemed flat. Not that ALA was flat. It was, as it always is, hit and miss. In between discussion groups in which no discussion was being had and patronizing primers on how to recognize when your audience is disengaged (while failing to notice that the audience was, in fact, disengaged) there were a number of really great presentations. Two standouts for me were a presentation on threshold concepts for information literacy and “Sticking with STEM,” which had so much incredible info that transcended STEM I wanted to kick myself for not attending more diverse programs.

In the mean time, I’ve been working on FYS and trying to get as organized as possible before the fall starts. FYS is an extra contract for me, and, given how thin the library staff has recently been spread, choosing which balls to deliberately set aside and planning ahead as much as possible is key. My FYS syllabus is basically done (and, yes, I put in the effort to make it pretty) and the course schedule is falling into place. This makes me feel good, considering that I am leaving tomorrow for two weeks of vacation and then it’s a steep climb into the semester. Maybe I’ll share the syllabus when I get back? Would that be interesting?

So. How about some links?

Feature on Librarian Design Share

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Librarian Design Share is one of my favorite practical librarian websites. There are all kinds of good, reusable ideas there. I’ve definitely run with a few of them myself. Today I’m featured with  my approach to the book talk poster – an easy, eye-catching template that works both large-scale and small-scale. Head on over to check it out, and don’t forget to follow Librarian Design Share while you’re there!

New Digital Scholar

 

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If you’re an instructional librarian or teach writing and/or research skills, you’re going to want to get your hands on a copy of The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students edited by Randall McClure and James Purdy. Despite the buzzwordy title, this book is full of essays that explore the intersection of writing and research for undergraduate students. With a balance of theoretical and practical ideas to think about, it is an invaluable resource for people who work to engage undergraduates in meaningful fact-and-logic-based writing. I particularly enjoyed Can I Google That? Research Strategies of Undergraduate Students by Mary Lourdes Silva and Re-Envisioning Research: Alternative Approaches to Engaging NextGen Students by Rachel A. Milloy. Both lean towards practicality but show evidence of deep, methodical thinking. This is exactly the kind of work that easily pairs with the foundational writing assessment committee I’ve participated in for the last two years. Highly recommended.

First Year Seminar update

 

Here’s what my current process for planning my FYS class looks like. Merging two ideas in the comments from Kristin and Ilana, I have created a giant post-it note calendar of the semester. In the process, I learned that our weeks during the semester actually run Wednesday-Wednesday with the last Wednesday being a Monday. My head hurt a bit thinking this through and I scrapped my first plan to number the weeks. Who needs it when we already have a lovely, lovely calendar where Wednesday is always in the middle of the week and never rearranged?

Obviously, this wall-based approach wouldn’t work for planning multiple classes, but it’s working for me now. I have a rough sketch of crucial assignments, outings, and special lectures in place. Now it’s a matter of filling in the blanks with the slightly more mundane, day-to-day class stuff – readings and discussions, building and scaffolding.

I found that library instruction was one of the last pieces to fall into place for me. This class needs intentional structuring for library instruction to be really useful. If I had trouble envisioning where library instruction fits, I’m sure others do too. I’m wondering how I might help FYS instructors create meaningful assignments that address the required library instruction component. We typically do a lecture about evaluating information for FYS, although we change it up on request. Some instructors choose to include a debate for their final project, which is a natural fit for discussions about quality of information. Others do a “Global Journeys” project to help connect students to the world at large. Still others choose to go a completely different path. I will be contacting other FYS professors to see how we might work together to make the library instruction really useful.

The texts I’ve chosen are A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, a classic for FYS here in the ADKs and an excellent text for helping students connect to a very forested place, and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, which, besides being just fascinating, will provide some concrete examples of life skills in action. I’m also planning to use some exercises from Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo to help open the class and bring everything together at the end.

In the mean time, I’m also considering tweaks to our current FYS library instruction. What do you do for instruction in first year classes?