Again with curiosity (Library Instruction West 2014)

So, not only was this conference in Portland but it was also awesome.  Thanks one more time to Joan Petit, Sara Thompson, and the rest of the conference committee who put on such a great event.

Marijuana Legalization Papers Got You Down?  You Won’t Believe What We Did About It!

Hannah Gascho Rempel & Anne-Marie Deitering (OSU Libraries & Press)

Title slide for a presentation. The word curiosity is displayed across the top. Several images of sparks are below.

Download the slides (PDF)

Download the slides + presenter notes (PDF)

Session handout

Take the Curiosity Self Assessment

Scoring Guide to the Curiosity Self Assessment


Practice & the tenure question

I feel odd weighing in here, because I have actively not joined the conversation on twitter.  Between a conference, putting one project to bed and ramping another one up – I knew that I would not be able to keep up there so I consciously stayed away.  And I also knew that I needed some more time to think and process Meredith’s excellent post.

So as I tend to do with her posts, I’m going to write something about what I think about this issue, that doesn’t really engage with her post at all directly.  She’s really good at sparking those pieces of my brain that like to think about things.

multicolored cubes of Jello against a white background

some rights reserved by stevendepolo (flickr)

One of the problems I have with any discussion of librarian tenure is the nailing jello to the wall problem — when everyone is describing a different piece of the elephant it’s really hard to keep your footing in a discussion about a constantly shifting landscape.

Damn. I can’t think of any other metaphors to throw into that awful mix.

But you get my meaning – the conversations are almost inevitably pulled this way and that by the fact that we really in this profession have no consensus about what it means to be a tenured academic librarian.  We’re not inculcated into a tenure-valuing culture in grad school – not in the slightest.

And tenure for librarians is different things all at the same time.  Even within most of our institutions, we don’t know what being a tenured academic librarian looks like.  I’ve done a lot of external reviews where I get copies of standards that I should use for my evaluation.  Some are thoughtful and closely tied to the values and practice of librarianship. More  are not – they read like they’re trying to show librarians are “just the same” as everyone else. Many are neither of these – they’re lightly edited versions of campus standards (or totally not edited versions of campus standards).

Tenure standards do vary from place to place, and the culture around tenure varies from place to place — for all disciplines and fields.  But for us, it’s kind of all about that.  When you don’t have a sense out of grad school of what a tenured person in your field does, or what the value of tenure is, and when these conversations aren’t happening for you and yours in other places — then the tenure experience becomes all about the local institutional culture. I can say that tenure gives me a clear message that my professional activity is valued and you can say tenure hamstrings you and keeps you from engaging in that way.  We’re both right.  I can say tenure’s awesome because it protects professional activities for everyone, you can say tenure’s the worst because it doesn’t.  We’re both wrong.

Many of the conversations about tenure end up being about the state of scholarly publishing in LIS, and I’m not really going to go there. Except kind of. It’s confusing. Maybe I should keep thinking about this some more.

See, I get why conversations about tenure go straight to publishing; the one thing everyone knows about people who get tenure is that they publish stuff. You don’t publish enough or you don’t publish the right stuff, you lose your job.  You do publish enough stuff and the right kind of stuff, and you get rewarded with tenure, which means keeping your job.  But I’d like to see these discussions going beyond issues of rigor and volume — because at heart, those are still holding up other people’s research as the standard by which ours is found wanting. 

Barbara said what I was thinking in the initial discussion –  

 And Maura picked it up — 

As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.

So many people’s tenure experiences seem to reduce to what “counts” — with the subtext being that the stuff I do with real impact is different than the stuff that “counts” for tenure. And that makes me wonder why doesn’t it count?  Who decides what counts?  

some rights reserved by clarkmaxwell (flickr)

Sometimes yes, there are bad institutional cultures that stipulate a single pathway to tenure and that’s a problem.  And not just for librarians because tenured artists should look different than tenured anthropologists should look different than tenured biochemists and so on, but it might be a bigger problem for librarians for reasons I’ll get into in a minute.  But I honestly don’t think that’s the only thing in play here. 

We worry so much about being taken seriously as academics in general, and tenure-line academics in particular — sometimes the subtext I hear is that we have to make ourselves look like (what we think) “real” tenured faculty look like or they might just notice us and take it all away.  So we have to publish in similar journals and format our articles with methods sections even when we didn’t do any research.  And I can’t help thinking that some of the time those assumptions about what we need to do are just that, assumptions.  

Part of this is perhaps coming from a cynical place – I don’t think we’re doing a great job of looking like people who spend more than a quarter of their time on research anyway so clearly the rest of the faculty on a lot of our campuses aren’t looking all that closely if that’s really what they demand. And seriously, after years of hearing that I had to have ALA committees to get tenure — do I really think my colleagues in the disciplines are moved by the fact that I was the co-chair of the committee on committee nomenclature of the fourth-largest division in ALA?

(Apologies if there really is a Committee on Committee Nomenclature – I don’t mean to denigrate)

But most of it is more optimistic.  Our campus colleagues already know we’re not just like them – they know our profession is different and that we’re approaching our shared mission from a different place. Maybe it’s because I’m at a land-grant institution where we have another substantial important group of tenure line faculty (in Extension) working on the question of “what does this mean in our field?” but I usually get the sense that no one here is expecting us to look just like everyone else.  Which should be giving us the freedom to really articulate what tenure means for us.  The answer to the question, “what should an tenured academic librarian do?” should resonate with our values and with what we think is good for our profession, our campuses, and the world. 

And then, yes, it’s on us to make that case — but that’s part of what being faculty means.  Whether or not you have tenure, but as Barbara said, it’s especially a responsibility for those who do.

For me, one of the important aspects of any answer to that question has to do with the fact that we are not just researchers – we will never be just scholars.  We are also practitioners.


That’s why I love it too.  And that’s why I can’t imagine a good answer to the question “what should a tenured academic librarian be” that doesn’t reflect that. 

At OSU, our tenure standards call this out.  Full disclosure — I worked for almost two years on this project with my colleague Janet, who remains the librarian I most want to be when I grow up  — and I’m pretty happy with it:

The impact of the librarian’s scholarly activity will also be measured in multiple ways: by the significance of their contributions to the body of knowledge within the discipline and by how useful their contributions are to the community of practice within their area of librarianship.

“Scholarly activities” are defined broadly and reflect the connection between theory and practice: 

  • Conducting research that relates to archives, library and information science, and contributes to the appropriate scholarly community.
  • Communicating the results of research and engaging in professional dialogue with peers locally, nationally and internationally at scholarly and professional conferences; communicating directly with the national or international community of practice in their profession using appropriate media.
  • Documenting scholarly contributions in refereed journal articles, scholarly books and book chapters and conference proceedings.
  • Archiving and preserving work products in learning object, code or institutional repositories, and on professional websites.

This doesn’t make tenure fun, or painless, to earn.  The year you’re putting your dossier together is still awful.  It is. The process makes you think about everything you didn’t get done and everything you didn’t do as well as you would have liked. There is still a lot of anxiety.  In the balance between scholarly freedom and clarity we probably skew to freedom and that’s really stressful for some of us — and it really favors those with a certain kind of confidence (or arrogance) about the process going in.  

And it has by no means resolved those questions about “what counts.”  They still come up –sometimes in conflict with administration and sometimes because even though we are librarians who value consensus — we do not always agree.  But in the conversations we had while we were adopting these standards it became clear that we do agree that many things should “count” and that we value librarians who who contribute to the profession in many ways, and who write and speak to many audiences.  We value librarians who engage in both research and practice and who have impact in both.  We also agree that we value open access and that we value collaborative work — and both of those values are present in our standards as well.

And here’s the thing – if we were able somehow to fix the rigor problem in the LIS literature.  If we got the training in graduate school and if we had the skills and the disciplinary consensus it would take to establish rigorous methodological standards and required that, and only that, for practicing librarians to earn tenure — I think we’d lose something and I don’t think we’d gain what we wanted in the process.  

Because I know what rigor looks like – in more than one field.  And I believe strongly that we need rigorous research to inform our practice. I do.  I want it.  I really, really, really, really want it. I know that we’d benefit from longitudinal studies of student learning, or large-scale studies of information behavior.  I know that we really need tested, validated instruments that measure what we want them to measure.  

I know this.  I want this.  I don’t have time to do it.  At least, I don’t have time to do it right.  At least, I don’t have time to do it right at Project Information Literacy level.  Or at an 80-20 research/teaching load level.  Maybe once with a sabbatical, but not year after year. I don’t have time to do it at that scale AND contribute the way I want to the day to day practice of my library on my campus.  

I have the skills, experience and time to do smaller, qualitative studies rigorously (albeit slowly) and now that I have tenure I can focus on those. And because my library will recognize and reward it as part of my tenure package, I can also look for outlets that will let me communicate case studies and practice lessons in a way that makes sense and that reaches the right audience.  And sometimes, not always, I am going to skip the IRB on my student learning assessment project because the value of being able to communicate more broadly isn’t going to outweigh the benefit of having actionable data to work with sooner and I don’t need to worry about generalizability (And that’s a perfect world scenario for me – a world where I have the time and capacity to get an assessment project right.)  Sometimes, not always, I’m going to skip that prestigious conference because I have a chance to do a professional development workshop for the faculty on my campus.

And that’s what I think tenure should look like for academic librarians – not in our details, but in the broader strokes.  I think it should reflect that we participate in and communicate to multiple audiences.  That our choices are going to skew towards research this time and practice next time. That we contribute to both our discipline and our profession.  But it shouldn’t look like practicing librarians fixing the research problem in LIS – the people who are paid to prioritize research are going to have to help us out there.

Tenure matters for me.  I’m glad I have it.  I probably don’t need it, but it does matter to me.  It matters to me because when those “what counts” conversations happen, I don’t have to worry about what administration thinks before I say what I think.  It matters to me because I enjoy doing research.  I enjoy preparing conference talks.  I enjoy writing this blog, when I have something to say.  If I didn’t know that my institution rewards those things with tenure it doing them at work would always feel a little bit like cheating.  It matters to me because it makes me feel protected.  When I decide to go through the IRB, or to submit that conference proposal I know my institution will have my back with what I need to follow through on those commitments.  I know this isn’t what it means for everyone, but it’s what it means for me.

 (7/30 – Minor edits for clarity)


thoughts about learning sparked by that note taking study

Remember a couple of weeks ago when news articles like this, or this or this were all over your social media?  Mine too.  I’m a little late to replying, but I didn’t want to do it until I’d read the actual study.  I read a couple of the news articles and something about the coverage was bugging me.  Me, an avowed taking-notes-by-hand-notetaker!  

Today, I read it, and I think I know what’s been bugging me.  It’s that when we didn’t have the tools that make things easy, we learned a lot, so the tools are bad narrative.

In other words, the technology (in this case, a pen) puts up a barrier, and what we have to do to get around that barrier turns out to be a useful learning experience.  We learn new skills because we’re motivated to get around the barrier, and we don’t even really notice we’re learning them because we have our eyes on the prize.

So when a new technology comes that removes the barrier we love it and adopt it, but worry about everyone who isn’t going have the important experience of getting over the barrier.  Or worse, we look at those who grew up without the barrier and decide that they’re deficient in some way.

Does this sound familiar?  Of course it does.  How many times have we heard variations of it in libraries?  A million?  A zillion?

The problem with ____________ is that students don’t learn how to _____________ anymore.

First, a quick recap of the study

(I crack myself up, it won’t be all that quick)

Context:  There are 2 main theories about the value of notetaking that were considered here:

  • External storage — this is the idea that notes give you something to study later.
  • Encoding — this is the idea that the cognitive work you do to turn information into notes improves your learning, even if you don’t review them again.

Since laptops enable a more transcription-like type of  notetaking, the authors hypothesize that they will find benefits to pen-and-paper notetaking over laptop-supported notetaking and they designed 3 related studies to test that:

Study 1 — let’s compare laptop notetaking to paper notetaking, without doing much else.

2 groups of students were asked to take notes on the same material, with no instruction on how to take notes.  They were randomly assigned laptops or pen/paper to do the task. Afterwards, they answered both factual/recall and conceptual/application questions about the material.  In addition, their notes were coded and analyzed by the researchers.

Both groups of students did about the same on the factual/recall questions, but the students who took notes by hand did significantly better on the conceptual/application questions.

Those who took notes in longhand wrote fewer words, and had fewer examples of direct transcription in their notes.

Study 2 — let’s do pretty much the same thing, but this time we’ll tell them not to transcribe.

So this time the students essentially did the same thing, but the students who got laptops were split into two groups.  One of those were told to take notes as they usually do, the other was also told that studies show transcription doesn’t work, and that they shouldn’t transcribe.

In this case, the differences between the groups were less significant, but the handwritten notes group still did better.  There was no difference in the laptop groups — inserting a paragraph telling students “don’t transcribe” didn’t have an effect.

Study 3 — this time, we’ll have them study the notes again later.

Instead of TED talks, four prose paragraphs were selected and then read by a grad student from a teleprompter to simulate a lecture. The paragraphs included 2 “seductive details” — information that is interesting but not useful. Students were told they’d be tested later before they took their notes.  Again, some were given laptops and some were given pen and paper.  A week later they came back, half were given the chance to study their notes for 10 minutes, half weren’t.

The results here were more complicated.  You have to look at the intersection between notetaking medium and study time to find significant differences.  Those who took longhand notes and studied did better than any other group of conditions. Additionally, among those who studied, verbatim notetaking and transcription negatively affected performance.

Okay, enough recap, on to my thoughts:

(For more details about the study — see the end of the post. It’s paywalled, so I’m feeling responsible for making sure you have the details the news articles don’t include)

I want to start off by saying that I don’t have a problem with this study – I think it’s useful, I think it’s interesting, and I am fairly certain I will come back to it again and use it in real life.  My issue is with the conclusions that have been drawn from it — mostly in all of those news stories, but also by most of the people who tweeted, facebooked or tumblr-ed those articles.

Reading the actual study – there’s nothing in there that says much about the medium.  Beyond the fact that most people type faster than they write, and therefore can get closer to transcription on a laptop, there’s really nothing at all.  What the study found was that if you transcribe, you don’t learn as well and, as they point out themselves, we knew that already.

See, I don’t think the takeaway is “don’t take notes with laptops.”  I think the takeaway is — we have to start teaching people how to take notes. Better yet, we have to start teaching people how to use the information they gain from lectures, videos, infographics, textbooks, readings and learning objects.

There’s definitely no way one could consider the Just Say No to Transcription intervention in Study #2 “teaching” — this study surely did not prove that people can’t take good notes with laptops, it only suggested that they don’t.

There’s nothing magical about taking notes by hand that makes people process and think and be cognitively aware of what they’re doing — if that’s all you have and you want  good notes, over time you will figure that out because you can’t write fast enough to transcribe.  But that’s not magic, it’s motivation.  It’s still a learned behavior, even if the teacher could remain blissfully unaware of that learning.

And when we learned how subject headings worked, or that we could find more sources by using the bibliography at the end of the book, or that the whole section where that one book was had interesting stuff, or that both the article title and the journal title were important — learning that stuff wasn’t the point and we might not have noticed that learning.  But we learned how to think like the people who organized and used the information because learning that was the fastest and easiest way to getting our papers done.

(Hey, do you think that when copy machines were invented, and we could just make a copy of the article instead of having to read, digest and take notes on it in the library people argued for No Copy Machines?)

Even if we take laptops out of the classroom, I don’t think that students will feel like they have to learn how to think about, digest, remix and capture their thoughts about a lecture in order to function.  I think that ship has probably sailed, that horse is out of the barn, that genie’s out of the bottle.

If a student knows they can record the lectures on their phone, or if the slidedeck and lecture notes are posted before every class, they’re not going to feel like they have to get it down or risk failure.  And if the lectures are already recorded and re-watchable in a flipped or online class — they’re not going to suddenly think they need to be flexing their best cognitive muscles because they have a pen in their hand.

I don’t hear the “put the barriers back up” when it comes to digital information from instruction librarians much anymore.  And I think it’s fair to say that I’m hearing it less from faculty too.  But I still worry when I see things like the coverage of this study — because it’s not like I disagree that things are getting lost when these barriers come down.  Skill type things, tacit knowledge type things and also habits of mind type things — the tools I had to work with as a young learner left me with a lot that still serves me well now, when I have better tools. If my students can’t learn those things the way I did – and they can’t — how will they?  I don’t think answers like “ban laptops,” or “just use a pen” are going to get them what they need.

Study details

Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science.  doi:10.1177/0956797614524581 Study 1

  • Princeton students.  n=67 (33 men, 33 women & 1 other).
  • Laptops had no internet connection.
  • Students watched 3 TED talks and took notes.  No instruction on taking notes.
  • Taken to another room to provide data:
    • complete 2 distractor tasks
    • complete 1 taxing working memory task
    • answer factual/recall questions
    • answer conceptual/application questions
    • provide demographic data
  • Notes were coded and analyzed.
  • Results:
    • factual/recall = both groups the same
    • conceptual/application = laptops significantly worse
    • more notes = positive predictor
    • less verbatim notes = positive predictor

Study 2

  • UCLA students
  • Laptop groups = 1 control (take notes as you normally would), 1 intervention – studies show that students who take notes verbatim don’t do as well on tests. Don’t do that.
  • Data:
    • Complete a typing test
    • Complete the Need for Cognition Scale
    • Complete Academic self-efficacy scales
    • Complete a shorter version of the reading span task
    • Complete the same dependent measures (questions) as study 1.
    • Demographic data
    • Notes were coded and analyzed
  • Longhand students did better, but not significantly.
  • None of the other measures had an effect
  • Longhand students took fewer notes than any of the laptop groups and took fewer verbatim notes.
  • Telling people not to take notes verbatim had no effect.

Study 3

  • UCLA students
  • 4 prose passages were read from a teleprompter by a grad student standing at a lectern simulating a lecture.
  • Students saw the lectures in big groups, wearing headphones
  • 2 “seductive details” — interesting, but not important information — were inserted into the prose passages.
  • Students were told they would be tested on the material before taking notes.
  • Tests were 1 week later.
  • Study group was given 10 minutes to study notes in advance of taking the tests.
  • Data:
    • 40 questions, 10 per lecture, 2 in each of five categories:  seductive details, concepts, facts, inferences, applications
    • notes were analyzed
  • No main effects of note taking medium or chance to study.
  • Significant interaction between note taking medium and chance to study.
  • Longhand notes + study = significantly better than any other condition.
  • For those who studied, verbatim negatively predicted performance.


The new way of taking lecture notes. Some rights reserved by Natalie Downe (flickr)

reading my notes. Some rights reserved by gordonr (flickr)

pen. Some rights reserved by Walwyn (flickr)

Copycard. Some rights reserved by reedinglessons (flickr).

Sailboat. Some rights reserved by jordaneileenlucas (flickr)

So much more than you wanted to know about that one session on culturally relevant assessment

Just wish assessment acknowledged roles race/class/etc play in student learning outcomes. Not being able to pay for books affects learning.

— Emily Drabinski (@edrabinski) May 9, 2014

Guest Post! Speed friending in the Library

This is a guest post from my awesome colleague Laurie Bridges.  She’s been working hard over the last couple of years to expand and improve our outreach, instruction and programming for our very quickly growing international student population.

Laurie said that she had written up a lengthy description of her most recent innovation – a speed-friending event in the library that brings international students together with students from the U.S., so I asked her if she’d be willing to post it here.  She was, so here it is.


Librarian Laurie Bridges looking straight into the camera and smiling

Laurie Bridges, OSU Libraries & Press

Speed Friending!
Co-sponsored by the Valley Library & INTO OSU
Laurie Bridges (OSUL&P) and Mary Hughes (INTO OSU)

By Laurie Bridges, Instruction & Emerging Technologies Librarian

What we did

Approximately one year ago, I was passing through our University’s Memorial Union when I saw a poster advertising “Speed Friending.” The title, but none of the details, got lodged in my brain. Months later, while working with international students and listening to their stories, an idea popped into my head, “International students are in our library…maybe speed-friending would help them connect with domestic students.” I floated the idea by a few people, including Anne-Marie. Everyone I spoke with was supportive of the idea

(Note: it probably helped that our library’s strategic plan includes working toward “building community” within the library.)

To gather more information, and hopefully a plan, I contacted the Memorial Union to find out who had sponsored the speed-friending event the previous year. The staff looked through their calendar, and found no record of it. I then went online and googled “speed-friending” where I found a few mentions of the idea, some advertisements, but no information about how to organize and run such an event. Despite this setback, I mentioned the idea to a program manager at INTO OSU (our international English language program), Mary Hughes, and she was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea. We collaborated on the first event winter term, and held a second event spring term.

We plan to continue with one speed-friending event each term. In addition, the College of Business and the College of Engineering are meeting with Mary and I this summer, and may possibly host speed-friending events for their domestic and international students in the fall.

The most difficult part of the event is getting American students to register and then finding the “hook” to get them there; this is in large part why we offer free pizza and host the event in the evening around dinner time.

Why it matters

Libraries are often viewed as “safe” spaces on college and university campuses; they are spaces where students of all backgrounds come together to study and socialize. Libraries can and should have a role in helping students create an inclusive campus environment. We should all take steps to help prevent misunderstanding and create cultural bridges in our libraries.

After the jump

The rest of this post is my “brain dump” about the events, organizing, planning, and assessing. Hopefully this will help more campuses and librarians organize their own speed-friending events and improve on the format and structure we have created.

(And please, send any ideas you have for improvement: Laurie.Bridges @

students sitting on either side of a long, rectangular table laughing and talking

Photo courtesy of INTO OSU (Facebook)

Continue reading

on the Makerspaces thing

Unless there actually was a thing? This post isn’t about a specific thing, just about makerspaces and libraries.

I was at an event last week where a student from a local high school explained how his initial reaction to the word “maker” was that it was a buzzword, something not to be taken seriously.

And that was definitely my first reaction too. Even though I am a committed maker in that I make things and I make things a lot — makerspaces, maker culture, maker movement — these things just sound a little bit made up.

(I also tend to make things in that 19th century artisinal way that’s frequently mocked on Portlandia, not with 3-D printers, so there’s that)

What happened?

About a year ago when I had some money left from the allocation that comes with my professorship and a really smart colleague who wanted to explore makerspaces, I thought that sounded like a good idea.

And now, after she’s been exploring and doing stuff for a year with some more of our colleagues, I’m really, really glad we did that.

What did we do?  We bought a 3-D printer for the library, we found or started tons of conversations around campus, and we built the outreach cart I talked about last month to take it all on the road.

(And by “we,” I mean Margaret and the team she put together)

screenshot of the Oregon State University webcam showing the library's 3-D printer

That’s the webcam on our library 3-D printer.  The reaction to it has been pretty striking.  We have about 50 jobs in the print queue all the time, our students have been really excited, and the university put a webcam on it so y’all can watch it all day long if you want.

Poster advertising an April 2014 event at Oregon State called A Community of Makers

Flyer for A Community of Makers Event

Two weeks ago a lot of Margaret’s hard work turned into A Community of Makers – a keynote talk by OSU alum Travis Good followed by a lot of events bringing different campus and community groups together — including a Micro Maker Faire.

So why am i really, really glad — just because that event was fun and the 3-D printer has a bunch of stuff in the queue?

Well, certainly other people being excited is cool.  But it’s why they’re excited and how that excitement ties to some pretty core values of libraries that has me so happy.

Starting with something simple — the library is where people learn things.  That’s pretty basic, right?  I don’t have to explain or document that one?

books on a library shelf, with the title Metalcraft for Amateurs visible

metal working books in the OSU Libraries

We’ve always supported making stuff in the library.  We have cookbooks and knitting books and carpentry books.  With our books you can learn how to create historically accurate costumes, or edit digital videos.  You can learn how to build houses or how to build bridges. You can learn how to propagate seeds, build garden structures and preserve your harvest.  We have all that stuff – you probably have all that stuff – we have it even though we’re an academic library.

One piece from Travis Good’s talk that stuck with me was the idea that learning about things doesn’t look the same in a world where we have technology that makes us feel like we’re living the future plus a complex system of networked computers that makes it possible for us to share what we know in major new ways.  He acknowledged that making is not a new thing, but argued that in the past, making usually involved thousands of hours of apprenticeship and training, resulting in skills that were held by the few.

In some areas, technology now allows those skills to be shared by the many.  Using tools like 3-D printers, 3-D scanners and laser cutters, people can make things that used to take a different kind of skill/knowledge acquisition to make.  He argued that this accessible (to use) technology, plus the widespread availability of designs and patterns that have been shared on the Internet creates a world where people can jump in and play and learn by doing.

The library is the place where everybody can learn things.

And I mean this in a couple of ways –

We have a lot of 3-D printers on our campus already.  We’re not only a research university, we’re a land grant research university with a lot of emphasis on technology and applications for it – it’s not at all surprising that we have all of this equipment on our campus.

But like a lot of research universities, our campus is pretty siloed.  The colleges do their own thing, and our students quickly identify as much with their college as with the school as a whole.

round buttons with the slogan Choose Civility

Civility campaign buttons in the library lobby

A couple of years ago we launched the Civility Campaign — a campaign to raise awareness and start building a culture of civility within the library space.This campaign took off like I don’t think any of us really expected — it got a lot of campus-wide and state-wide attention, and students embraced it.  Or at least they collected the buttons.

About a year after the campaign started, I was sitting on some focus groups the library was having about a new strategic plan. One thing that came out of those really stayed with me — there were people who said that the civility campaign “could only have worked in the library.”

The suggestion there was that because so much of the campus is turfed out – owned by one group or another – there’d be politics and baggage inherent in any similar effort to have this kind of campaign.  Our campaign has at its heart the message that the library is a shared space, not owned by any one group and open to all — they argued this could only have worked in a space that walks that walk.

Believe it or not — that idea has come up again with the 3-D printer.  We have all of this technology out there.  Some of it siloed by policy.  Some isn’t – but it’s still siloed by practice, or by location.

Let’s face it – it’s  hard to picture a student from any college but the College of Engineering walking into a COE building and asking to use their 3-D printer, no matter how much COE makes their stuff open to all.  And that’s true for any College – not just Engineering.

Before we got the printer we asked students what they would like us to do with a newly opened space in the library learning commons, and 3-D printing was #2 on their list — even though we knew (though they may not have) that they could see and use this technology on campus already.  Putting it in the library means that it is everyone’s — and students are more comfortable figuring stuff out on something that’s theirs.

Right now, the excitement and wonder at the new technology is pretty universal — but pretty soon, I’m guessing that won’t be the case.

We have a big huge SmartBoard in the library classroom.  I was going to take a picture of it for this post but there was a class in there so I didn’t.  I don’t know what class it was, but I know they weren’t using that SmartBoard because we hardly ever use it anymore.  When we first got it though — most of our students had never seen such a thing as a screen you could control by touch. It was magical.

Within a couple of years, students at the better resourced high schools had seen SmartBoards already.  And of course now, lots of people have touchscreens in their pockets.

I can see this coming with 3-D printing.  Right now, everyone’s excited – hardly anyone has seen it in real life.  Pretty soon, students from the better resourced high schools will come in and they will have used one already in AP chemistry or Intro to Engineering or something.  Not long after that, students with means will have them in their homes.

But there will still be others who won’t have had those experiences — and who won’t get them from their home departments at OSU.  The library is about access and about making knowledge available to all — I think this is what it looks like now, at least some of the time.  No one is going to learn about this technology in a book – you learn about it by doing it.

I’ve had enough students tell me in the last month that seeing it was important to them — that the printer being in the library meant that they got to see it and play with it — that I’m sold.  Just seeing the printer in the library is important  to these students — seeing it and getting to try it out and play with it, even more so.

Context and Community

The other thing Margaret has been doing is starting and joining conversations around campus – bringing people together.  Like I said, we have a lot of siloed things happening on our campus — we also have a lot of partnerships and interdisciplinarity.  But the thing is, those usually only involve some of the players.

The conversations around 3-D printing have grown larger, and the conversations around making and learning by creating now include people from many colleges – from the humanities, social sciences and STEM fields.  And every time there’s another conversation a new potential player emerges.

At Menucha 2 years ago (that’s Pacific Northwest-speak for the ACRL-OR/WA Fall Conference) we were taking about the enduring values of librarianship in breakout sessions.  As the conference chair, I was flitting between groups and I landed on one that was talking about the enduring values of collections.

One thing that came up was how few spaces there are on a campus where the connections between fields and disciplines can be experienced — and that a traditional library collection provides one way of seeing those connections, particularly when it’s browsed.

This isn’t about the collection, or even the library space really — but that value – that broader view of knowledge and the connections within it – that’s a value that endures.  And that’s the value I’m seeing in these connections and conversations about makerspaces and learning by creating.  Everyone wants that connection to happen – everyone wants and understands the shared context – and the library – through its librarians – can provide the point that allows those swirling conversations to coalesce.

We’re an academic library, but we’re still our community’s library.  They still need us to be the place where everyone can learn, and where people come together.

We’re probably not going to build a makerspace tomorrow.  Or ever.  We don’t think that’s what our community needs from us.  There will likely be a makerspace on our campus, and soon — and the library will we right there.  Not in the stands, but on the ground, shaping what it becomes. And I’m excited about that.

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.


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.