Challenge and Change

I like to think that I’m pretty good at change, or, at the very least, not change-averse. I may not be the earliest of technology adopters, but I’m always up for an adventure. Although many changes in the last few years have been overwhelmingly positive in my personal and professional life, it has been a challenge to my ability to wrap my head around the sheer volume of change. Here are few highlights from the last year:

  1. I got married! Admittedly, I found the wedding planning process to be… not the most fun I’ve ever had, but I’m thrilled to proceed with the business of building a life with my new husband. Incidentally, I’m also changing my name, which you will see reflected in this website. Personally, I find the double letters in Meggan Press to be very satisfying.
  2. Speaking of name changes, our college is also pursuing a name change! It’s not official official yet, but it’s certainly created quite the whirlpool among the campus community.
  3. The proposed college name change came on the heels of a tempestuous year, most of which I did not talk about here. In the last year or so, my college has declared financial exigency, laid off 20-ish percent of its already lean faculty and staff, and hired a new president, quickly followed by a new leadership team including provost (whom I am proud to say I had a hand in hiring as a member of the committee), chief marketing officer (a position that, shockingly, has never existed at our institution), vice president of enrollment (position has been largely vacant for the last 2 years), and vice president of business and finance (also vacant for about 2 years). My boss is retiring, which started some reorganization in the library and educational resources, which allowed us to hire a Student Outreach Librarian and also means that I have a “new” job and a “new” boss.
  4. I’m the Teaching and Learning Librarian! I think of it like the Provost of the library. While job duties between librarians are somewhat fluid here – we all pitch in to help where needed – my areas of leadership will be in curriculum, instruction, and faculty liaison-ing. It’s my old job, shifted sideways and deepened. I’m thrilled to be able to largely design my own job and also to shift jobs within my institution, something that I wasn’t sure was possible given the relative size of the college and library.
  5. We added a new person to our team! I’ll introduce our new Student Outreach Librarian when the time is right, but I’d like to report that I’m absolutely over the moon with our new colleague and I cannot wait to get stuck in to making the library even more awesome than it already is.
  6. I’m teaching FYS again this fall! I almost didn’t do it. My experience of last fall was significantly colored by an unusual and upsetting student “event” that came after final grades were posted and lasted into the early weeks of the spring semester. Frankly, in the shadow of that event, I wasn’t feeling great about what I had accomplished or my desire to do it again. Most of my feelings about the class were colored by that final experience. I knew I wanted to teach FYS again, but wasn’t sold on the idea of doing it right away. After a bit of time and some encouragement, I saw the benefit of teaching in consecutive years. It’s easier the second time, they say. You can be sure I’ll report back on that wisdom. I’m keeping my theme of “Cultivating Resilience” but I’m changing things around a bit. It has new texts (featuring readings from Carol Dweck’s Mindset) and a new project (problem-based learning for the win!) and, of course, new students and new personalities to navigate. I’m excited and also nervous. Seems about right.

And, so, you see where my head has been the last months. It seems absurd to say “now that things have settled down a bit” in proximity to the start of fall semester, but truly that is how I feel. Now that things have settled down a bit, I hope to spend more time in this space. I have another post idea lined up, but, well, you know how change can be. While sometimes you can see change coming, you can’t always predict people’s or institutions’ reactions to it. In many ways, I feel a kinship with my FYS students who are asked to consider their resiliency and personal and community responses to challenge and change. Hmmm, how might I incorporate that into class…..?

What’s changed in your life recently?

Come work with me!

upstairs stack

We’re hiring a Student Outreach Librarian this summer! It’s a great opportunity for a librarian who is passionate about students and small academic libraries. Here’s the basic outline, directly from the description:

We are seeking candidates for the position of Student Outreach Librarian. Paul Smith’s College is a very small private college nestled in the beautiful Adirondack Park among forests and lakes that offer recreational opportunities and vibrant community events in all four seasons. The Joan Weill Adirondack Library at Paul Smith’s College Library is a central hub of campus, and it is widely praised and very well utilized by our community. The library staff is a small, nimble, healthy, collaborative group that is student-centered and dedicated to delivering excellent services that fulfill the mission of the college. We are seeking a creative, ambitious team player who is excited about the mission of academic libraries. The successful candidate will work collaboratively in many ways while providing leadership that creates opportunities for student outreach, engagement, and learning, both inside and outside of the library. Creativity and thoughtfully planned experimentation are encouraged. Additionally, this librarian will work closely with our Teaching and Learning Librarian to develop curriculum and deliver in-class instruction and resources to help our students achieve their academic goals. Extensive interaction with students is a major component of this position. A self-motivated, positive attitude is absolutely essential.

The full description can be found here.

P. S. I’m the Teaching and Learning Librarian.

Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement

This spring has been a whirlwind of unexpected professional gains. I’ve given a presentation titled “Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement” in a number of different places with slightly different formats and time frames over the last few months. If you were not able to attend SUNYLA Midwinter, LibTech, or LOEX, I was recently asked to give this presentation for NCompass Live through the Nebraska Library Comission. You can find my slides below, or click through to their website for a full recording including Q&A.

Winter

I have been quiet in this space lately. It’s hard to know what to say. I’d like to talk more about FYS, but I’m currently dealing with some circumstances relating to final grades that are not appropriate to talk about here, and those circumstances are coloring my experience. I don’t have more to say except to reiterate my last post on the subject: Policy is black-and-white while people are grey. Assessment is helpful except when it isn’t. What and how we choose to assess may provide more murkiness than clarity.

In the midst of the murkiness, a few huge points of light have emerged. Last Friday I gave a webinar at the SUNYLA Midwinter Conference titled “Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement.” The webinar went really well and I got some great questions. I was very happy, not only because I felt the webinar went well but also because the 20-minute webinar is the seed for some much larger happenings this spring. I am so pleased to tell you that you will find me at LibTech and LOEX presenting an expanded and enriched version of that webinar. In addition, I will be able to attend ACRL this spring through the support of my college and an Early Career Librarianship Scholarship from ACRL.

It seems it will be a spring of presentations and travel. I will be traveling not only to conferences but also back to Michigan a few times because, you guys, I’m getting married and we decided it would be a good idea to do that in less than 6 months. I’m in that excited/overwhelmed/grateful place where I’m not quite sure what I’m feeling at any given time. I imagine the feeling will continue for a while. In the mean time, it will probably be quiet around here a bit more than usual.

What are you looking forward to this spring?

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.