Thinking like librarians

So the other day I saw someone say that thing, you know that thing – where people say “we don’t want to teach them all to be LIBRARIANS.”

And now I can’t remember where I saw it or who said it. But it doesn’t really matter, right? Because we’ve all seen that before. Just like we’ve all seen “librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find.”

So I hit the limits of my tolerance for that search…find thing about a half-dozen years ago. It took me a little longer to hit the wall on the teaching everyone to be librarians thing. But you know what, I got there too.

Before I go any further, this is not going to be a piece about teaching everyone to be librarians. Of course it isn’t. But it is going to be a piece about why I don’t like that phrase — with a bit about disciplines and information literacy and survey courses thrown in.

To clarify where I’m coming from here (because I’m sure other fields and other schools have different contexts) — my background is in history, as are the survey courses I’ve taught. On every campus where I taught or took these courses, they weren’t really intended for majors. They were the 100- level courses; the “introduction to being a history major” courses were at the 200- level. Yes, they might attract majors, but they weren’t really about or for the majors.

students sitting in a large lecture hall

And they were kind of unidirectional, banking metaphor, broadcasting the truth type courses — after all, they weren’t intended to teach people to be historians. They were intended to share the insights of those who really did the history. They were more like textbooks than monographs, the way that textbooks eliminate all traces of authorial voice or point of view.

(See also, textbookese)

And that’s what a lot of the survey courses I have known and guest lectured for over the years have been about. We don’t want to teach them all to be biologists — we’re giving an overview of what biology knows. We don’t want to teach them all to be geographers — we’re giving an overview of what geographers know.

And here’s the thing. I got into libraries in large part because I didn’t like those courses. I was lucky enough to teach for some mentors who were very invested in the idea that first-year students in survey courses should still get to do some history. But even in their courses those activities were limited to one paper of many and the majority of work in the course went towards sharing a narrative or interpretation of the events under question. Sure, we always said “we’re open to your interpretations, you don’t have to argue what we do” but let’s face it. We were spending a lot of energy giving them one excellently documented, skillfully argued narrative that had been honed over years of study — they could choose to argue something else, but if they did, they were on their own.

Honestly, I never cared enough about the narrative we were teaching to be a good history survey teacher. I’m not saying that was a good thing. I think it is good that others did care. It’s good that they did the work, and dug into the sources and developed the story and cared about it enough to share it. For me, though, it was always about the lifelong learning – about what would happen when that student wanted to do their own history in 20 years. What I realized when I started working in the public library was that in the library I could do the kind of teaching I liked to do.

Increasingly, I think that old-fashioned view of the survey is just that — old-fashioned. The explosion of scholarship in the post-war years means that most survey courses cannot truly give a meaningful overview of a field anymore. More and more, I hear the people who are really innovatively thinking about gen ed talking about courses that give a sense of what it is to “think like a geographer” to “think like an oceanographer” or to “think like an historian.”

My husband teaches a course like this at Western Oregon. He organizes his survey of cultural geography around key concepts, and he’s designed a variety of “field exercises” that give his (mostly) first year students a chance to create their own meaning using the concepts and methods of the field.

20140401-213006.jpg

And earlier this year, my colleague Anne piloted a “history lab” approach with a faculty colleague in an Honors section of the American history survey here at OSU, to great success.

So that brings me back to that “teaching them to be librarians” comment we’ve all heard. It sounds to me like just another one of those one-way, banking metaphor, let’s share our truth ways of thinking about teaching. We’re not going to share how we think – just lay down the knowledge. It’s old-school, and not in a good way.

The recent revision of the Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education has led to some conversations asking if information literacy is a discipline. Information literacy as a discipline doesn’t make sense to me. The whole idea of information literacy as something that can be understood as something neutral, consistent across contexts and definable and understandable on its own – separate from institutional or other structures has never seemed useful to me. And it means that information literacy as a thing really can’t help define a way of knowing, or of inquiring, the way that a discipline or field should.

(Not to mention that the whole neutral thing seems to lag so far behind the far more complex and interesting and useful ways literacy is conceptualized in other fields)

Which isn’t to say that we don’t have a field. Information science or library science is a fuzzy and squishy field, but that hardly sets it apart. There are many fields that haven’t managed (or don’t want) a single common theoretical perspective, or dominant methodological approach.

(Though most are probably better than us at arguing about those things)

So, processes related to organizing, utilizing, preserving, sharing and describing information — these are widely applicable and certainly relevant to many, many fields. Marcia Bates suggests that “information science” means examining those processes through a particular lens – focusing on “the features that matter to the organization and retrieval of [information] rather than in terms of mastering its content.” Organization and retrieval might be too narrow (or really, might not, they’re broader than they seem). But if this lens adds some coherence to the field, does it also suggest what it means to think like a librarian? To think about information for itself, to think about the meaning and implications of what we do with it?

I think that that lens is important – and that that lens should be a part of the curriculum. Information and what we do with it shouldn’t be understood as something neutral, that can be understood the same way regardless of context. We should own it — and give students their own chances to think like librarians.

Shiny! Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

You know how to brighten up the Friday of Dead Week?  Getting your new outreach cart delivered to your office!  Even better? Getting it hand-delivered by the senior Engineering students who designed and built it from scratch with their own hands!

We were inspired in part by the Mobile Library cart at Claremont colleges. The initial inspiration came from the small group we have exploring makerspaces and maker culture.  That group is headed up by my colleague Margaret, who really deserves most of the credit fort this project.  She developed the initial plan and proposal here, and talked to people all over the library to figure out all of our requirements.  We found out that the OSU Press unit had an interest in it as an outreach tool, a number of our teaching librarians would use it to participate in outreach events around campus as well as the the Maker group, which has plans to do popup maker spaces.

Display area in front, storage in back

Students in the School of  Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU complete a Senior Capstone design project. They choose from a pool of projects that have been submitted, and then work in groups with the clients who submitted the projects to bring the final product to life.  Margaret created the proposal for this cart and submitted it to the school for consideration.  We were lucky enough to have one of the groups choose our project.  Margaret met with them throughout the process, answering questions as they came up and managing the sometimes complicated financial end of things (we paid for the project out of the research and project fund attached to my professorship).

Battery + power

You can see the display area across the front for Press books, 3-D printed objects, or whatever.  It’s lockable, if needed.

There’s a battery in there too.  It has power enough to run a laptop, and to support the maker activities.  Although, we were told that its ability to run a hair dryer for long “depends on the hair dryer.”

It’s waterproof.  We are in western Oregon after all.  The students tested it by pouring water on it for several minutes – to simulate a steady and significant rain.

Along the back side, there’s a storage drawer and a pretty significant storage cupboard for maker materials, extra books, a laptop, the 3-D printer – whatever is needed.

I’m so excited – they did such a great job. And it’s pretty cool to have something to support learning that was itself the product of a significant learning experience.  But, at the end of the day, the best part of the whole thing is always getting to meet the students.  Because they’re awesome.  And this is a public thank-you to Margaret for making it happen and for including me in that part of it.

Before you tell me not to take notes

Don’t.

I mean it.  Please don’t. Just don’t.

You’re not encouraging me to engage with your talk; you’re not making your class more fun or easier for me.

hand writing math notes with a green stylus on a tablet computer

some rights reserved by Viking Photography (flickr)

I need to take notes, preferably by hand. These days that means with a tablet and stylus.   I use a tablet and keyboard when I forget and bring the bad stylus and in meetings. And in some situations, I post notes on Twitter.

When you tell me not to do any or all of those things, you’re actually alienating me. You’re making me feel unwelcome. And you’re stressing me out.

(And if any part of your talk has to do with reaching all learners – you’ve lost me already)

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying that everyone should take notes.  I’m not saying that anyone but me should take notes.  I’m not going to project my preferences and my learning habits on to you — I’m just asking that you don’t project yours on to me.

Here’s a secret.  My brain is a super busy place. Not always a productive or focused place. Seriously, say one interesting thing and I am off to the races. It doesn’t even have to be interesting, really. Even something that just reminds me of something that’s interesting will do.

handwritten mindmap describing faceted classification including circles squares arrows and text

some rights reserved by Jason-Morrison (flickr)

(Okay, that probably isn’t much of a secret)

And I’m not complaining about this. I spend a lot of time in my brain and most of the time, I like it there. I like to think. I get excited by ideas and connections. I get an almost visceral thrill when thoughts snap into place.

And don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s almost nothing you can do, no amount of humor or engaging activities you can build in, that will be more fun or compelling to me than thinking about what you say. The more awesome you are? The more I want to play with your ideas.

Taking notes is how I stay grounded in your thoughts. Taking notes is how I stay present. Taking notes keeps me from chasing my thoughts down those intellectual rabbit holes right now – I wrote a note, I drew a star and a circle and an arrow to the other thing, I can relax now and go back to it later.

And I know you’ve given me a handout or put up a website with all your references on it. I really appreciate it – I do! I do this too. Who wants to be scrambling to write down sources and links? I don’t, but I’m going to write down the why, and draw the circles and the arrows to show how they fit in and work for me.

(And if I ever gave you the impression I didn’t want you to take notes when I pointed out the URL for one of those resource lists – I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant!)

Man with wedding ring  scanning a handwritten notebook page into Evernote with his cell phone

some rights reserved by Evernote (flickr)

If it makes you feel better, I even take notes when I’m alone. I couldn’t start reading on my tablet until I figured out a note taking workflow.

For marginalia and highlighting, that’s PDF + stylus + Notability, if you’re interested. But there’s also my Evernote moleskine, which I use to create my holding pen notes — a writing trick I learned from Vicki Tolar Burton that I also use now for reading.

The holding pen is basically a place to put all of those questions and thoughts I don’t want to lose, but which will keep me from reading to the end of the article (or writing this paragraph or section) in the time I have if I don’t put them somewhere –

This might explain that theme we pulled out of the interviews, but I can’t remember exactly what she said. Argh, didn’t that Juarez paper I read last year dealt with this trait. Hey, Laurie’d be interested in this to help turn that one project into a paper idea. Oh, maybe that term will work better in PsycINFO. OMG that’s a good example to use in class. Wait, no, I don’t think that’s what she was really arguing in that book. Ooh, that methodology might work for me with the other study.

Basically, I’ve been doing this a long time – learning in classes, in workshops, from books and texts, in lectures and presentations. I’ve had decades at this point to figure out how to make learning work for me, and while there’s always more to learn, I need you to trust me that I know what I’m doing, and to remember that for some of us, engagement looks a little different.

Conference Snow Day Make-ups

I don’t know about you specifically, but my twitter & Facebook give me the impression that my kid’s school is not the only one struggling with the “how do we make up all of these snow days” question.

(I realize that some people are still accumulating the snow days and might not have moved on to that question, and to those people I can only say – I hope it ends soon)

Anyway, as you know from this space, we had a conference here get nailed by a freak weather event and the conference organizers have also been dealing with the question of how to move forward.  They are awesome and there’s a plan and it is happening –

All week, they’ll be posting online versions of the conference talks on the Online Northwest Blog.  Ours isn’t up yet, but it should be — we sent in our stuff.  And then this Friday, from noon-1pm the keynote speaker, Andromeda Yelton, will broadcast her presentation live and participate in a Q & A.

(ETA – our stuff is up there now)

This is a pretty great solution, and an opportunity for more people to check out Online Northwest.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know this as a conference I regularly attend and regularly call one of my favorites. So this is also a chance to find out why.

What? So What? Now What?

So last week I was at the First-Year Experience conference in San Diego a couple of weeks ago.  There were many highlights — starting with a conference that is actually in my time zone, to my excellent walking commute –

View of the Little Italy sign in San Diego, California

Walking commute from Little Italy to the conference hotel

– to the views from the conference hotel.

View towards the harbor from the Manchester Grant Hyatt in San Diego

trust me, this wasn’t even one of the best ones

Another highlight came in a late session by Catherine Sale Green and Kevin Clarke from the University 101 program at the University of South Carolina.  I wasn’t the only OSU person at this conference (far from it).  After I got back to campus, I was helping Ruth, who coordinates our FYE, with an info session for faculty thinking of applying to teach FYS next year and she started to say “what? now what….” and I finished with “so what” – because while it was a content-rich session, that short phrase was probably the most memorable part of it.

What?

It’s a guide to help students with reflective writing. Three simple questions to answer.

So what?

It probably won’t shock anyone to know that I find reflective writing pretty easy. It’s a reason this blog exists, and definitely a reason for the tagline. While the actual writing of some reflective documents (teaching philosophies, anyone?) kills me as dead as anyone, the how and the why of reflective writing has never been difficult for me.

Honestly, when I realized that it doesn’t come easily for every one (or even for most people) I started to feel more than a little narcissistic.  I realized that pretty quickly once I started teaching — I’d assign the kinds of reflective writing prompts I used to see in classes, and I’d get back papers where the students really struggled with trying to figure out the right answers, or what I wanted to hear, but that lacked any real reflection of their own thinking.  The problem is, when you’ve never had to (ahem) reflect on how to do something or why to do it — it’s super hard to figure out how to help people who are struggling.

What I like about these three questions is how they start with something relatively simple — description is usually straightforward — what happened, what did you do, what did you notice, what did you learn, and so forth.  But they don’t let students end there.  They push to more complex analysis — why does that thing matter?  And then they push beyond that to something equally challenging (what does it mean for you) that, if students do it successfully, will also demonstrate the value of reflection or metathinking itself.

Now what?

(Wikimedia Commons)

Well, here’s the thing – I will undoubtedly teach credit courses again and when I do I will undoubtedly assign reflective writing.  So this is going to help me there, in its intended context I have no doubt

But I also think this is a fantastic way to think about the process of analyzing and evaluating information.  We all know I don’t like checklists when it comes to teaching evaluating.  Truthfully, I’ll argue against any tool that tries to make a complex thing like evaluation simple (seriously – it’s at the top of some versions of Bloom’s! The top!)

And I’ll argue against any tool or trick that suggests you can evaluate all types of information the same way without context and without… yes… reflection, on your own needs, your own message, and your own rhetorical situation.  That’s my problem with checklists.  At best, they are useful tools to help you describe a thing.

An example — the checklist asks, “who’s the author?”  The student answers – William Ripple.  That’s descriptive, nothing more.  But think about it with all three questions.

Some rights reserved by Gouldy99 (flickr)

What?  The author of this article is William Ripple.

So what? Pushed to answer this question – the student will have to do some additional research.  They will find that William Ripple is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Forestry, and the director of the Trophic Cascades program.  He has conducted original research and authored or co-authored dozens of articles examining the role of large predators in ecological communities.

Now what? This question pushes the student to consider their own needs — what they’re trying to say, who they’re trying to convince and what type of evidence that audience will find convincing.

Now, move away from that fairly obvious checklist item and let’s consider a more complicated one, bias.

I’ve linked here before to this old but still excellent post explaining why identifying bias is not evaluation.  And yet, we all know that this is still where a lot of students are in their analysis — they want facts, bias is a reason to reject a source. But bias is no different than author – identifying it, being able to describe it, that’s not evaluation.

What?  I actually think this one could be a step forward in itself — instead of just saying a source is biased, a good answer will specify what that bias is, and what the evidence for it is.

So what? This could push a student to consider how that bias affects the message/argument/ validity of the piece.

Now what? And this is the real benefit — what does this mean for me? How does this bias affect my use of the source, how will my audience read it, how might it help me/ hinder me as I communicate my message?

Now, of course, a student could answer the questions “this source is biased, that matters because I need facts, so I will throw it out and look for something that says what I already believe.”  That could still happen.  And probably will sometimes.  But I like the idea of teaching evaluation as a reflective process, grounded in a rigorous description and examination of a source.

FYE Conference – notes and links

ETA - Presentation slides (they’re image heavy, and only moderately helpful, but here they are)

Information Literacy

Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once they Enter College. Alison Head/ Project Information Literacy. December 2013. (PDF)

The Citation Project Pilot study. Howard, Rebecca Moore, Tanya K. Rodrigue, and Tricia C. Serviss. “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences.” Writing and Pedagogy 2.2 (Fall 2010): 177-192.

Rempel, H. G., Buck, S., & Deitering, A. M. (2013). Examining Student Research Choices and Processes in a Disintermediated Searching Environment. portal: Libraries and the Academy. 13(4), 363-384.

Kim, K. S., & Sin, S. C. J. (2007). Perception and selection of information sources by undergraduate students: effects of avoidant style, confidence, and personal control in problem-solving.The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33(6), 655-665. (Elsevier paywall)

Curiosity

Curiosity Self-Assessment  - try it yourself!

Scoring Guide

Based on:
by Jordan A. Litman & Mark V. Pezzo (2007). In Personality and Individual Differences 43 (6): 1448–1459.
by Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Spielberger (2003) in Journal of Personality Assessment 80 (1) (February): 75–86.
by Robert P. Collins, Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Speilberger (2004) in Personality and Individual Differences 36 (5): 1127-1141

Exploration

What we used in FYC:

WR 121 LibGuide

Science Daily

EurekAlert!

Twitter (for example: @HarvardResearch, @ResearchBlogs, @ResearchOSU)

Creating an embeddable twitter timeline (we are using the List Timeline option)

Mapping OSU Research – Google map

7 Ways to Make a Google Map Using Google Spreadsheets.  Note: ours is made by hand right now – but there might be interest in these options.

Other possibilities:

Newsmap – treemap style visualization of Google News.

Tiki-Toki — timeline generator

TimelineJS (integrated with Google Spreadsheets)

Good Library Assignments – The Outcome

So remember when I said that the 3-part Good Library Assignments brain dump was in preparation of a workshop? That was true.

And I’ve done the workshop a few times now and I’ve completed the accompanying materials.  Both of these are (obviously) intended for a faculty-librarian audience and both are entirely shareable.

There’s a LibGuide.  This was created as the “further reading” site for the workshop. It includes that information, as well as the slides and a transcript from the actual presentation.

Effective Research Assignments – LibGuide

There’s also a WordPress site where you can find sample assignments. Many of these are from Catherine Pellegrino and the awesome people at Saint Mary’s College.

Sample Assignments

Shameless begging – if you know of/ have used an activity or assignment that reflects these principles, would you share it?  I’ll totally be your best friend.