Category Archives: 643

Transitioning

I’ve been toying for a while about what to do about this blog. I’m still working it out, but I think that I will probably keep writing. For one thing, I like to write. For another, I have things to say. Sometimes I think they’re pretty important. And lastly, I have a sense that somehow documenting my transition between being a perennial student and a professional is going to be meaningful to me personally. Maybe all those reflective exercises we’ve done in class have rubbed off? Scary thought.

So, here I sit, firmly between student and professional, for another few weeks.

Recently, I noticed that I’ve been really grumpy. Why the crankypants? I asked myself. You graduated. You have a job waiting for you. Life is good and adventure awaits. Turns out, what I was feeling was burn out. I’m burned out from a long, challenging year of thinking and talking, making and presenting. And feeling burn out before embarking on my professional life is pretty scary and, frankly, upsetting.

I am excited about my job and about becoming a librarian in reality. But I realized that if I didn’t hear about the latest libraryland scandal, I’d be fine with that. I just didn’t want to hear about it for a few weeks. The challenge is ignoring it.

My main avenue for libraryland news is my Google Reader, which is attached to my personal email account. My account also includes feeds for things that I like to read for fun, for relaxation, and for escape. Having all that in one place was stressing me out. I’d sit down to chill out with my Reader, and I couldn’t because right next to the deliciousness were articles about libraryland. I couldn’t get away.

It may seem a little redundant, but I’ve decided to move all my professional-type feeds into a separate feedreader. I’ve chosen Netvibes. This way my work and non-work life are completely silo-ed. I can sit at home and chill with my Reader without any libraryland freak outs encroaching on my chill-time. And when I’m at work, I can read through my Netvibes without “unprofessional” content creeping in. Or I can ignore it if I want and catch up when I have the mental space to deal with it. This arrangement has the added benefit of also allowing me to keep my personal email account separate from work if I want.

Netvibes was easy to set up and it has a cool interface that I’m just getting the chance to explore. It’s easy to export feeds from Reader and import into Netvibes:

  1. Create a folder with the feeds you want in it in Reader.
  2. Highlight the folder and choose the little arrow on the right hand side. This will open a menu.
  3. From the menu, choose “Create bundle.”
  4. Name the bundle and save it. Now you can variously share the bundle if you want. You can also unsubscribe from these feeds in your main Reader screen. The bundle will be saved so if you ever want to resubscribe, you can. For instance, once I got my job, I immediately created a bundle and unsubscribed from all the job ads I had in my Reader. The bundle is there to share with people or resubscribe in the future but I don’t have to deal with all those ads on a daily basis.
  5. To import, right click on the link next to the bundle that says “OPML file” and choose “save as.” Save wherever you can find it again, as you’ll be importing through a standard “browse for file” interface in Netvibes (or wherever else you might have a feedreader.)
  6. In Netvibes, you just click on “Add Subscription” in the upper left. It gives you the option to manually add feeds, but right below the text box is the option to import/export OPML files.
  7. Browse for the file and import.
  8. The end!

So far, this is working for me. What works for you?

It’s just the beginning

On today’s blogging agenda: webinar reflection and professional development. How perfectly these two topics go together in one blog post, since webinars as used by librarians are typically for professional development.

I thought the webinars I attended were effective. I appreciated the opportunity to do a webinar in a low-pressure setting. It’s a very different experience from teaching a class in person. For one, you can be much more attached to your notes than at an in person instruction session. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to gauge a room. I am not a huge fan of Elluminate, I have to say. It seems unnecessarily complicated. Ryan wrote about this before, and I have to agree. The problem with webinar software at the moment is that it’s trying really hard to replicate a classroom environment (a whiteboard? Really?). It’s not taking advantage of the uniqueness of a distance learning environment, and many of Elluminate’s features show this kind of thinking.

I also have to agree with Shauna about the chat box. I found it more distracting than helpful. If I listened to the presenters, I missed stuff in chat and had to scroll back to catch the thread but then I couldn’t pay attention to the presenters. Anyway, the conversations in chat rarely added anything to the presentation and frequently were off-topic. Maybe with a group of people who didn’t know each other as well as we do, it would be less of a problem. In my next webinar, I will strongly consider turning chat off until it’s needed for interaction.

I enjoyed the articles we read this week about professional development. They all have great ideas to think about. They all have a certain number of elements that are the same, however. They tapped into people’s desire to learn new things. They engaged participants in their own learning by using discussion groups or blogging. Participants received feedback on their practice through blogs or observation. The professional development encouraged play and experimentation while de-emphasizing perfection or knowing everything on a topic. And, 2 of the 3 used monetary or gift incentives to encourage participation.

I’m also interested in how these techniques can be applied to student learning in addition to professional development. The PLCMC model particularly, seems to have techniques and approaches that can be adapted to distance learning situations. Must explore this further….

Twittering, roughly one week later

I’ve been checking Twitter regularly for the last week. Honestly, not that much has happened. I did find a great blog post about libraries as software that I would highly recommend. Since not that much was happening, I talked to other people about Twitter and whether they used it and in what capacity. Nearly everyone I know has an account, but they don’t actually tweet. They just follow other people. Often it’s not even people that they follow but other organizations. I guess I’m just not following the right people, because my feed has mostly been a wash.

I definitely see how Twitter can be important for organizations, especially considering the number of people who seem to use their account only for following people. Having a Twitter feed is definitely a consideration for libraries, especially since it is so easy to set up and you can cross-post to Facebook.

Personally, Twitter has a number of features that annoy me. The 140 character limit means that links have to be shortened, and I dislike the uncertainty of where those links are pointing. They feel like advertisements instead of information. In addition the links are generally not accompanied by more than the title of the article or blog post. Rarely is any information provided about why the tweeter thinks the post is worth reading, so generally I don’t click. Knowing where a link is pointing or having a preview of the link  helps me decide if it’s worth my time, especially when I don’t know the person who is tweeting. When I don’t have that information, I generally choose not to follow through, which limits its usefulness for my professional development.

Unlike some people in class, I really don’t care what people I don’t know are eating for lunch or where their cat is at that exact moment. In fact, even if you are my friend in real life I probably don’t care, but I am much more tolerant of this kind of thing when I feel that it connects me to people I know face-to-face. I am not a “personal life junkie.” (See related, “I don’t watch reality TV either.”) I also don’t like how retweets appear in my feed as the person who originally tweeted them, not the person who retweeted (who is someone that I follow). Once again, I only care what you tweet in so far as you are a person that I know and trust.

So people I don’t know are advertising links to me and not even telling me why they think the links are important. There is no particular thought happening on the feeds that I can see, although I understand how what happens there might spark thought. I’d just much rather read your blog than your tweets.

I’ll probably keep my feed to follow conferences if nothing else but it won’t be the bulk of my PLN. The relationship I have with my RSS reader, however, is deep and abiding. Blogs 4ever!

Twittering

Well, I’ve gone done it. I’m on twitter @doubleG2718. My initial reaction was very similar to my reaction to betting at a racetrack for the first time: Oh! Now I get how this is addictive!

Twitter very helpfully provided me with a list of people to follow who I know very well in real life as well as various celebrities. Sure! I’ll follow all the people! Why not? Oh, hey. I guess I should probably track down those librarians I talked about in my blogging reflection. Ok, cool, got them. Check it! There’s that guy who wrote that really great book about mobile technology in libraries. I’ll follow him too! The class hashtag! Sweet! Now I can track down all the people in class, too. Not that much happening on the hashtag yet, but at least one former SIer is excited to see the hashtag start back up again…

And suddenly, there goes my entire evening.

It seems to me that Twitter occupies a space between blogging and Facebook. It can be very professional, like a blog. There are lots of opportunities for talking with people you’d never get the chance to talk with otherwise about professional stuff. You can follow conferences that you aren’t able to attend. You can get into tangential conversations about librarian geekery. But at the same time, my twitter feed has quickly become cluttered up with people complaining about their life, like on Facebook. Lots of posts about cats, wine, and insomnia. Lots of semi-personal conversations that should probably take place in another forum. I don’t especially like that links aren’t previewed on Twitter like they are on Facebook. I understand that’s the limitations of the medium, but it does send my paranioascope whistling.

I haven’t yet seen an instance of really deep thinking or interactions on my feed. I suppose it could happen. I’m a newbie after all. I guess I’m not pro- or anti-Twitter at the moment. I’m just letting it unfold organically.

Ok, reflections from last class. I’ve been thinking a lot about embedded librarianship and distance learning lately. We came up with some great suggestions in class about how librarians could become more embedded. I think that distance learning offers librarians the opportunity to become integral to the learning experience. I’m thinking about librarians being allowed into virtual classrooms and about librarians following student blogs. This way librarians can extend the amount of time that they spend really understanding the individual students and their needs. They can address these needs in various ways (screencasts, blog comments with resource suggestions, etc.). In many ways, having virtual learning spaces may help to solve some of the problems librarians have always faced in really getting to know and understand student needs because librarians can be constant observers in the process.

At the same time, this idealized view still suffers from a few problems that won’t ever go away. Not all faculty want you around, maybe especially if you’re going to be lurking constantly. You are not an instructor in their class, so why should you be given access to their classroom? Many librarians see themselves as instructors, and putting them right in the middle of a classroom could lead to turf battles that will not be beneficial to anyone, especially students. Exactly whose job is it to tell a student that their research topic isn’t great? The teacher’s or the librarian’s?

I really like the idea of a “buddy librarian” in a virtual learning space, especially if the librarian has some access to student work as well. One of the biggest problems I can see of distance learning is connecting students to resources. Having a personal librarian could go a long way towards helping students get what they need (even if the personal librarian is calling up the student’s local public library to set up a meeting with a librarian there) while helping them feel connected to their learning institution.

 

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.