Monthly Archives: March 2012

Webinars

Webinars are something that librarians and teachers are going to have to be increasingly more familiar with in the coming years. We have to “go where the users are” and increasingly they are online. If you’re going into academic libraries in particular, it’s important to understand the distance learning is a growing component of higher education. ALA released a set of standards for distance learning students in 2008 that says, “Every student, faculty member, administrator, staff member, or any other member of an institution of higher education, is entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where enrolled or where located in affiliation with the institution. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be.”

I think that the current conception of webinars for us as students is as materials for professional development, and certainly that is a valuable use of the webinar format, but I think that we need to readjust our frame of reference for webinars to include the use of webinars as a tool that many of us may be using as part of our jobs to reach students.

Webinars are a new kind of challenge for instructors. In a distance learning situation, you no longer have the forced intimacy of a classroom in which to create interactions. I think this is the biggest challenge of a webinar format. How do you create meaningful interactions among students who are not inhabiting the same space? How do you engage students in learning when it becomes very easy for students to metaphorically punch in and out on a time clock without actually learning anything? How do you, as the instructor, get over the feeling of being a talking head in a virtual box?

I appreciated the approach that Matos et al took in their paper. They are asserting, essentially, that embedded librarianship takes many forms. It is effective in many different ways depending on the needs of the communities the librarians are serving. We often get caught up in the idea that we have to be doing whatever is new and current, or that there is a “right” way to serve our communities. I appreciated that the article acknowledges that whatever works best for your community is the “right” way, no matter what the literature says.

I have a number of questions about the Montgomery article. I think it gives a good overview of the definition of a webinar, but I am concerned with her tone which seems to say, “We must do webinars because webinars are online and our students are online and they’re on YouTube so we must ‘provide the same experience!'” I think webinars are an excellent tool, but just because they are an online tool does not mean that they are automatically the right tool. She refers to the “dreaded one-shot instruction session” but I do not see how using a webinar is any different from a dreaded one-shot, except that your students have more opportunities to be disengaged because they don’t even have to keep up a pretense of manners in a classroom. She suggests that scheduled webinars can supplement in-class instruction, and certainly they can, but this seems to me to be no more than offering a virtual solution to a face-to-face meeting with a student.

I don’t want to come off as anti-webinar. The suggestions in Montgomery’s article are all valid uses for webinars, but I think it’s important that we not suggest that because students are online we must replace face-to-face interactions with virtual ones. Certainly, webinars allow us to reach out to students in a unique way, but let’s consider this a tool for the magic bag of tricks instead of the one magic wand. Just because students are online and our resources are increasingly more online does not mean that webinars are always the right approach to reaching students.

Having said that, you might want to think up answers to some of the questions I posed about how we create meaningful interactions with students in a virtual space. It may or may not have come up in an interview recently. Just sayin’.

One-Shot Workshops

I have to be honest. I don’t remember that much from my one-shot workshop or anyone else’s, frankly. This isn’t a reflection on their workshops or mine, but simply a reflection of my state of mind following three days that involved a conference presentation, a job interview, and a preparation-intensive workshop. By the time Monday night rolled around, my powers of concentration were completely shot.

Things I particularly enjoyed:

  • Chatting with people about library stuff
  • Making an e-book advocacy poster
  • Behaving like a college freshman (I was just trying to make it realistic for you, Mary and Ashley!)

Observations and tips for the future:

  • 20 minutes is really not a very long time, especially when you make them interactive.
  • There is never enough time to say everything you want to say.
  • Check the settings on your Google Docs before passing around the URL.
  • Also, check that your tinyurl goes to the correct Doc with the correct permissions.

Good work everyone!

Those date due slips

I’m still thinking about the Toronto Public Library’s decision to put ads on their date due slips.

What does the ad agency get out of this arrangement? As I understand it, the TPL farms out the ads to a contractor who sells the ad space, takes a cut, and gives the leftovers to the TPL. How much do you think an ad on the back of a library date due slip sells for? Why would a business want an ad there? It seems to me that the people who really benefit from this are the ad agencies and the contractors. But if we’re not going to be giving out patron info (and we’re not, right? I mean, even if you’re not a member of the ALA or ascribe to the Code of Ethics, I think we can all agree on this) what is the ultimate benefit for the ad agency? The potential payout to the TPL is ridiculously small. Economics aren’t the only reason to decide against ads on date due slips, but it’s unlikely that the contractor or ad agency are thinking beyond the economics.

And that’s not all. If you read the PDF provided in the Torontoist article, you can see that the advertising plan is not just about date due slips. In fact, date due slips is only part 2 of the first step in a multi-step process that involves hiring a consultant to “focus on understanding the potential for revenue generation, the relative merits of different Library channels and vehicles for advertising, and the costs, resources, impacts and infrastructure requirements involved in the implementation and management of a successful advertising program.” These library channels include but are not limited to: In-branch posters and brochure displays; Online text and display ads on the Library’s website; Networked computer screens including the Library’s in-branch wireless network, public computers and LCD screens; and the Library’s truck fleet, excluding the Bookmobiles. I’d be willing to bet that any social media presence the TPL might have will also be fair game.

Let me say it again. The library will be hiring a consultant to identify potential for advertising in a library space, the revenue from which will be small once everyone has taken their cut. I’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis of this, or at the very least a spreadsheet of projected revenue versus projected outlay. Because this isn’t quite adding up.

 

Ethics

The ALA Code of Ethics, what a wonderful document – carefully crafted, succinct, and pointed. I appreciate that the code of ethics is clear not only about the standards of the profession but also includes distinct points about how we treat our patrons and how we treat our colleagues.

One could say, “Why do we even need a code of ethics? We’re all after the same things here.” I suspect that these same people don’t see the point in naming a secretary, instructor liaison, project manager, and client contact in group work. I feel it’s extremely important not only to name job roles in group work but also to be up front about ethical expectations. When you announce your intentions in this way no one can claim ignorance, and ultimately the time spent in codifying a working structure (whether it is temporary like in group work or somewhat permanent as in a code of ethics) saves everyone time in the end. Things just run more smoothly when everyone knows where they’re headed.

I do have some frustrations, however, with the way that “dangerous questions” of the type that Lenker poses are typically handled in reference classes. I understand that these questions are not meant to represent the totality of a patron interaction and are intended to provide a starting point for a discussion. This is valuable and important. We should be trying to understand and develop a framework for handling “dangerous questions” before we head out into practice, if only to make what is bound to be an uncomfortable exchange slightly less panic-inducing for a new librarian.

I am bothered by these questions because they are presented in a way that completely ignores the possibility of a reference interview. The questions are asked and then we are expected to report back on what we would do. Never is the answer to what we would do, “I would give the patron a reference interview.” We don’t discuss the value of answers to questions like “What in particular do you want to know about bomb making?” or “Are you looking for books or journals?” to finding out what the patron is really after. While the exercise is important, are we teaching new librarians to overreact initially to situations that aren’t nearly as bad as they sound? Why aren’t we engaging new librarians in the practice of crafting thoughtful questions to find out potentially sensitive information without asking directly “Who are you bombing and when do you plan to do it so I can call the police?” There must be a way of doing this that allows us to engage in valuable ethical discussions about our obligations as librarians versus personal moral compasses while challenging us to create a meaningful line of questioning that could be useful at a reference desk.

Reflections of the book club variety

I know you’re all anxious to hear to what extent depressing themes make a depressing book club discussion. The answer? Not as much as I feared. I thought the discussions were really great, and I liked that there were consistently questions asked by the facilitators that were different than I anticipated and really caused me to think.

I’m generally a pretty quiet person, but I found myself participating in interesting and unexpected ways. For instance, I found I had more to say about the Federalist Papers than about nearly anything else, which I could not have anticipated before the questions were asked. For stories that I found more personally engaging (like “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”), I didn’t say anything at all.

The feedback we got on our survey was really great and helpful, too. Once again, I had some rather unexpected observations, internally and externally.

  1. It was really hard not to participate in the discussion about my own book. There were parts I really wanted to discuss and letting the book club do its own thing was a challenge.
  2. The thing that people consistently mentioned on our feedback had almost nothing to do with the story. The title of our story was “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” but Al Jolson never figures into the story otherwise. Al Jolson was a singer and we played some of his music while people took the survey. Nearly everyone mentioned the music and/or Al Jolson in the survey. Is this related to it being the last thing we did or because people were really intrigued by Al Jolson? I guess we’ll never know, since none of the cohort was in my book club. (Did you do that on purpose, Kristin?)
  3. Silence is powerful, and people commented that they would have like more of it to think deeply about the questions we asked. Time, however, was limited.
  4. I’m… sarcastic? Yup, I got that on the feedback form. It wasn’t said negatively, and it might have had something to do with my joking around about coffins. (You had to be there.) I’ve never thought of myself as sarcastic, although I suppose I could be without being aware. I do like to laugh about stupid stuff, but no one has ever commented on my sense of humor before, aside from shooting me strange looks and rolling their eyes.

All in all, I’d like to say Bravi Tutti!* to my book club. Everyone did a very nice job and it was fun to chat with you all!

 

* What? I’m a musician. Fa schifo.

 

Book Club Readings

I’m not exactly sure what to say about the readings for book club on Monday. None of the cohort are in my book club group, so anything that I say is pretty irrelevant to you all.

My main observation is how depressing nearly all of the stories we’re reading are. We’ll be talking about themes of loss, death, suicide, murder, and politics. Certainly, I can’t call myself exempt from the depressing themes. The story Kelly and I picked (“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel) deals with death and grief. It’s a great story, but not especially uplifting.

A couple of the stories are told almost entirely through dialog – “The Blind Spot,” “Murder and Suicide, Respectively,” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I do appreciate a story with good dialog, and these three stories are an excellent spread of examples for using dialog effectively for different reasons. They’re really great examples of the art of writing, and I wonder how much the discussions will get into this. Kelly and I tried to keep our discussion outside of the realm of writerly craft, largely because Kelly is a writer and former writing teacher and I have minor in writing, so we could probably talk at great length on topics that are… um… less than engaging to most people. Give us an inch, we’ll take a mile. Fair warning.

I will be curious to see how the discussions about these stories turn out – whether or not I’ll find the discussions to be as depressing as I am imagining them to be and to what extent the conversations will overlap and flow together, considering the similarities between the texts.