Changes, or what’s this new job all about?

Starting today, I’m moving into a new position – Head of the Teaching and Engagement department at OSU Libraries. Long-time friends might ask, “isn’t this your fourth job in this same library?” And I would answer, “why yes, yes it is.”

It’s complicated in that I still have my third job (Franklin A. McEdward Professor for Undergraduate Learning initiatives) though the tenure-track piece of that position is on hold while I serve in the 4th.

Long-time friends may also be asking how long this position will last, in that Head of the Teaching and Engagement department requires there to be a Teaching and Engagement department — and my departmental homes have combined, re-combined and changed their names every couple of years as long as I’ve been here.

(The most memorable iteration? Undergraduate Learning and Library Information Access.)

This question is important, though, in ways that aren’t semantic or job-title related. We, like most libraries (I suspect), have always hired people specifically to be division or department heads – we’ve hired in people to manage with the expectation that management will be part of their job description. When the departments have shuffled around and moved there have been challenges – especially when the number of departments has been decreased – but when you are primarily hired on as a manager for management skills, it’s maybe not such a weird thing to move to manage a slightly different combination of people? Maybe?

But in this case, that would be a little odd. Not insurmountable odd, but odd. Because in a real sense, I’m not just taking this on to do new things and be a manager, but to manage this particular department and to work with this group of colleagues. We’re thinking about how to manage ourselves in a new way – and I think we’re kind of in it together. And that aspect of it is big reason why I wanted to do this, and why I think it’s such an exciting opportunity (that also happens to show why I really, really love working for this library).

So what’s this about “new ways?”

Well, I did a full faculty interview for this position, just as I would have if I had been applying to be the new head of Teaching and Engagement for always and ever. The difference is – I’m not. For my part, the plan is that I’ll do this work for the next few years, and then when those years are over I’ll go back to my faculty position and professorship and pick up with the research and teaching I will have to downscale while I’m department head.

(Note – I’m going to stop typing “Teaching and Engagement.” We call it TED for a reason)

For the department’s part, the plan is that someone else will step out of their faculty position and pick up TED’s administrative reins when I rotate back to my professorship. This might sound similar to the way most academic departments share their own administration and there’s a reason for that — that is the model we’re looking at.

Why are we trying this? Well, there are several reasons. One is to give as many people as possible a chance to develop leadership and management skills. Like many libraries, we’ve lost people in the past who might not have wanted to leave but who felt they had to because the opportunities for advancement weren’t going to be available here for a long time. This model allows more people to take on leadership roles — and finding ways to do that is high on our library administration’s priority list.

But this is tied up with the second reason – and a piece of this that is important to me – we’re not just talking about the department head position as the only path to leadership — we’re also talking about building a structure that builds shared governance into what we do. In other words, I’m department head now and I won’t be forever is one change. But another change is that we start doing some of the decision making, goal setting and management together.

We’re hoping we can create a model where the department head takes charge of administration, plays a strong advocacy role (both inside the library and out), participates in management of the library as a while (and brings a big-picture, library-as-a-whole perspective back to the department decisions and discussions). But at the same time, decisions that should be faculty decisions – what we teach, what we need to develop and share our expertise — will be shared.

Make sense?

I hope so, even though I don’t think any of us can tell you exactly what this is going to look like.

One thing that is true is that this new model actually reflects the way work has already been done in our department for a long time – the people in this department work very collaboratively (we’re librarians after all) but there are also structural reasons why we’re very independent in what we do – TED is 7/8 faculty and 1/8 evening reference supervisor (and as a former evening supervisor – you have to be independent to handle that work. She’s pretty much in charge for most of the hours she’s here).

We have our own things we track and are in charge of, and that’s been true for a long time. We already have a graduate coordinator, a beginning composition coordinator – faculty members running point on reference services and classrooms (and a lot more). This new model provides a way to codify that, to recognize that leadership and to recognize that leadership development is an important thing for the department and the library to support.

Most importantly – it allows us to think about what our department looks like moving into the future in new ways. The way I see it is this – we’re not rejecting the idea of vision and leadership so much as recognizing that we have vision and leadership here in spades here at home — we’ve been moving forward for a long time in teaching and instruction and reference, and we know where we want to go. Shifting to a rotating system of leadership means that we still add new people, new voices and new ideas when we can — but we don’t look to them for a vision or direction for the department — we think about the skills, the expertise and the research agenda we need in our department — and build in the idea that everyone shares in the governance, the success and failure of the unit from the start.

(You too will someday be department head!)

We were already well along this path before Menucha last fall, but we were inspired a lot by Barbara Fister’s description of shared governance at her place of work. One major difference between what we are doing and what happens there is that we are a unit within the library and they are the library. Of course, what we’re trying won’t work without the help of library administration. We’re not going to figure it all out right away – we’ll need the freedom to try and fail and figure things out.

But that said, I think that allowing us to try represents a pretty extraordinary amount of trust in us. In my interview when I got the classic question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” — my answer started with “I don’t think I’ll be the department head anymore.” I think it’s safe to say that no successful candidate for a department head position at OSU libraries has ever given exactly that answer before — and everyone’s willingness to accept that idea – embrace it even – and engage in real conversation about what it might mean was really exciting, inspiring and why I love working here.

Sloppy statistics – steroids for scholars?

Reading this article next to #overlyhonestmethods – well it’s not all rosy.

One reason I like the hashtag is because it humanizes a process that I don’t think is humanized very often – finding out that, yeah, we ran that for this many hours so we could not get up at 2:00 am – that’s a nice reminder that scientists and scholars are real people.

And some of the rest, well it humanizes the process too, but in a different way.  Instead of a reminder that scientists and scholars are real people who need to eat and sleep and interact with others and have fun and the rest of it – some of it shows scientists and scholars as real people who know exactly where their professional rewards are coming from, and who (no matter what Forbes may think) feel pressure to do the things that will earn those rewards.  And there are consequences there, and no bright line to separate the shades of grey.

Simonsohn stressed that there’s a world of difference between data techniques that generate false positives, and fraud, but he said some academic psychologists have, until recently, been dangerously indifferent to both. Outright fraud is probably rare. Data manipulation is undoubtedly more common—and surely extends to other subjects dependent on statistical study, including biomedicine. Worse, sloppy statistics are “like steroids in baseball”: Throughout the affected fields, researchers who are too intellectually honest to use these tricks will publish less, and may perish. Meanwhile, the less fastidious flourish.

Christopher Shea (December 2012). “The Data Vigilante.” The Atlantic.

Something clever about pictures, thousands of words and 140 characters

So it is probably not shocking that sometimes I can’t express myself in one tweet.

(It is probably more shocking that I ever can)

I was talking about the ACRL-OR/WA Fall Conference, which was hosted this year by ACRL-OR at the Menucha Retreat in the Columbia Gorge, and about which I went on in this post.

(View from Menucha)

Jim Holmes from Reed College did an amazing job running technology at the conference – and captured all of the amazing women noted above while he was doing so.  The results are available now.  If you weren’t able to join us (or even if you were) –

Barbara Fister gave an inspiring and thoughtful opening keynote.  Ignore the fangirl  giving the introduction.

Rachel Bridgewater put together a two hour program called Fair Use as Advocacy Laboratory, integrating a remote talk from Brandon Butler at ARL (who was also fantastic)

And Char Booth wrapped up the conference with a closing keynote that built on and wrapped around the themes of the previous two programs.  It was like magic.

Thanks again to everyone who put so much work into this conference, which means every single member of the ACRL-OR Board.  Interested in being a part of the next one?  ACRL-OR elections will be happening in the next few months.  Watch the ACRL-OR blog for the announcement.

this is the science of information, yes?

Impact factor.  No, not that impact factor – impact factor for news.  What would that look like?  In particular, what would that look like beyond “was it seen?”

The New York Times is hosting a Knight-Mozilla fellow to tackle that question.  I read today on Twitter that that fellow is going to be Brian Abelson.

I took a look back at the job description to see what “impact factor” looks like in the mind of someone not immersed in academia, and found this language, which could apply just as well to research (or to teaching, really, but this is not a learning assessment post):

What we do not have are ways of measuring how a piece of journalism changes the way people think or act. We don’t have a metric for impact.

What’s interesting is the implication here that the obvious solution is the data, particularly the immense amount of it now available:

But the math changes in the digital environment. We are awash in metrics, and we have the ability to engage with readers at scale in ways that would have been impossible (or impossibly expensive) in an analog world.

November is for writing

No, I am not doing NaNoWriMo, DigiWriMo or AcWriMo this year. Given my heavy reviser writing style, I’m not sure that a project that is focused so much on getting words on the page would work for me – getting words on the page is never my issue. Getting words on the page that I want to keep on the page – that’s a different story.

But more than that, I think of these as projects kind of like those fitness bootcamps – intended to kickstart you into figuring out new habits and workflows. I might be wrong about that – see above re: never done any of these before – but that’s how these projects make sense to me.

And so they don’t seem appropriate for just doing what I would be doing anyway. And I have a ton of writing to do this month, but it’s writing with hard deadlines that are in December, so it doesn’t really matter if this is NaNo- or Ac- or Digi-i month – I’m going to need to be writing a lot of words anyway.

But still, all of the project posts I’ve been seeing have me thinking about process, and about being more proactive about setting time aside. So here’s the heavily revised and rewritten version of Chapter 6 of The Academic Writer as it exists after 3 hours of focus today.


Of course, given the heavy-reviser-ness of my writing style* there is little to know chance that the manuscript I turn in in December will bear much relation at all to what’s up there on the wall. But at least now I have a starting point to start writing – so I can figure out what I really have to say, and how to say it.

*Meta alert. I learned about composition styles, including heavy revisers, in an earlier version of a textbook by Lisa Ede, which is now… The Academic Writer.

lifelong learning

In our strategic planning meetings there has been some pushback against the phrase (not the idea) of lifelong learning – the feeling exists that we’ve been using this phrase so long in libraries that it’s starting to lose some meaning.

I saw a couple of things today that got me thinking about this phrase more concretely – not just in terms of what it should mean, but also in terms of what it really means for a university (or a university library) to support it.

First, Karen muses on Coursera, not from an “OMG the future of higher ed” and not from an “OMG the sky is falling” perspective — but from the perspective of someone actually taking one of the courses as a, yes, lifelong learner:

It’s funny, we pretty much give up on learning things once we graduate and get jobs.  Or at least, there’s no further cultural support for continuing to take classes unless they’re Crossfit or cooking. When really, taking classes is one of the most awesome things in the world.

Then, a little bit later you’d think I was reading thoughts from Ta-Nehisi Coates about football fandom at The Atlantic, but really, I’m reading about lifelong learning again.

I’ll be pulling together a bibliography of sources which I hope to consult while pulling together this piece. I started with Clifford Geertz’s “Notes On The Balinese Cockfight.” This is the sort of thing that normal educated people read in undergrad. But again, I would not have been ready for this at 18. I am delighted to take it in at 36, an age where my tastes are a little broader, and my excitement flames high.

I did read this article as an undergrad and while I remember it, and I’m pretty sure I liked it, I didn’t get as much out of it as I got out of other texts and conversations.  I understand that one of the reasons why I was required to read lots of stuff as an undergrad was that every piece isn’t going to have that impact on you at the moment when it’s assigned and the best way to ensure that students do get those life- and perspective-changing moments is to make sure they read lots and lots and lots of potentially transformative stuff.

But it got me thinking – how great would it be if there was a way we could revisit some of the stuff we read as undergrads, to think about it again with all of the experience and perspective we could bring to it now?

Those of us who think and write about learning think and write about the importance of reflection, and metacognition, on the learning process.  On my campus we talk about figuring out how to get students to reflect on their gen ed experience, to reflect on their major experience, to reflect on all of the different learning experiences they have in college — because that reflection is essential to the learning process.

So much of what we try and teach and do in higher education is create a framework for lifelong learning – so many people say to me that they didn’t really understand the point of a particular course, or assignment or even whole field of study until long after they left school.  That’s one of the things that makes assessment in higher education so tough.  It makes me wonder how much the conversations recently about how higher education must change – should be focusing less on today’s students and more on what we could be doing for yesterday’s.



Menucha registration now open!

Libraries Out Loud: New Narratives of Enduring Values

We live in interesting times. From experts, pundits, and next-door neighbors, we hear that the future of academic libraries is uncertain, that the future of higher education itself is uncertain, and that libraries in general are in crisis. Faced with this narrative, it is tempting to change who we are and what we do in order to remain relevant, and to demonstrate our value to our schools and communities.

We must realize, however, that it is precisely who we are – and who we have always been – that makes us even more relevant and valuable in the face of changing times. We are committed to creating informed, literate citizens; to advocating for free speech and access to knowledge; and to creating spaces where intellectual curiosity and individual expression are welcomed and fostered. Our tools, techniques, and buildings may have changed, but our core identity remains – and remains vital to our communities. We must not change who we are; we need only change how we communicate our value.

Join us for two days of conversation about the value and importance of academic libraries in these interesting times. You’ll leave energized, inspired, and with some good ideas about new ways to share your library’s story.

What I will be doing at the end of October

So this summer has been all kinds of crowded in terms of my schedule, but one of the best pieces has been working with the executive board of the Oregon chapter of ACRL to plan the fall conference we host every other year (trading off with our friends in ACRL-WA).

Things are finally coming together (largely because the Board is just an awesome group of people to work with) and I’m getting so excited for the final result.

We have a title!  Libraries Out Loud: New Narratives of Enduring Change

We are going to have exciting, thought-provoking keynote addresses by Barbara Fister and Char Booth.

(Two people who, if you asked me “name 10 people you would choose to provoke your thoughts” would totally be right up at the top half of the list).

Local copyright maven Rachel Bridgewater is going to lead everyone in a meaty, substantive discussion and activity about the Code for Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, and we’re going to be (virtually) joined in that by the people from ARL and the Center for Social Media who put that document together).

There will be poster sessions, and lightning talks and a party- and it all happens in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Columbia River Gorge.

October 25-26, 2012.  Registration opens soon!

View over the Columbia River

(Photo by flickr user Nietnagel)

If you don’t use peer-reviewed sources you’ll be SO grounded!

I have more writing to do right now than I have time, so it has of course become vitally important to write this blog post that has been buzzing at the back of my brain RIGHT NOW.

My life as a parent isn’t a big topic of conversation on this blog, but a little background is needed here.  One of the reasons I don’t talk much about my family in this space is because one of the complexities of adoption is learning how to talk about your experiences while respecting the fact that your child has her own story and her own experiences and only she gets to decide when and where and how to share that story.  Part of this journey is her story alone, part of it is ours.  And some of it is mine and Shaun’s – and this post is coming from that part.

So one of the things that happens when you navigate the adoption process is that you take way more classes and trainings about parenting than you probably otherwise would.  Some of these are to really learn things and some are to show how interested and committed you are to being a good parent.

This wasn’t an awful thing – if you’re like me (and like Shaun) you can find something to chew on in almost any class and these classes were full of enough brain development data and learning theory and interesting personalities that even when the classes didn’t totally work, the after-class conversations were pretty awesome.

Still, two almost identical Love and Logic classes was a lot, even for us.  Like many self-help-y or how-to-y type things that develop huge and devoted followings – L&L is based on some fairly simple ideas which are then applied in many ways.  In parenting-class world that means many, many sessions reinforcing the same basic concepts.  In taking-the-same-class-twice parenting class world, well…. this is a long intro to explain why my brain has had many hours to connect those simple concepts to many things.

milk spilled on a wood laminate countertopSo the basic premise of love and logic is grounded in the idea of natural consequences (and empathy, but this post is really more about the natural consequences part).

In other words, the idea is that kids learn best when they have to face the authentic, real, organic consequences of their choices.  Artificial consequences that aren’t connected to the choice the kid made (most routine punishments fit in this category — taking away TV privileges for breaking a window = consequences that are probably unrelated to the bad choice) just seem arbitrary and capricious and the kid ends up blaming you (or whoever imposed the consequence) instead of their own bad choices — which does nothing to teach them not to make bad choices in the first place.

Here’s the basic L&L mantra:

  1. Give your child a task you know they can handle.
  2. Hope they mess up.*
  3. Let empathy + natural consequences do the teaching.
  4. When the opportunity arises let them try again.

*Note:  the debater in me never came to terms with the “hope they mess up” part.  There were parents in my classes who really hated this line and who also hadn’t quite grasped the “learning comes from mistakes” piece.  I did grasp that part – that’s the part of this I like — but that doesn’t mean you have to actively hope they mess up.  I mean, take it to its logical conclusion.  If my kid never, ever, ever messes up — there’s no bad outcome.  Yes, they may not have learned from mistakes, but those mistakes also never happened so she either learned some other way or didn’t need that learning.  So I debate-proved to myself that I don’t have to actively hope she makes mistakes, I just have to be sure I see the value when she does.**

**Second Note: Seriously, we spent NINETY minutes on this concept in one class session.  It is not my fault I thought about it this much.

Like many of the simple ideas that turn into Something Big, this is a fairly compelling argument.  This was one of the pieces of Love and Logic that worked for me pretty well, which isn’t to say it all did – I have some real problems with some of the other concepts connected to this that I can go on about at length, but won’t here.

And while natural consequences is a L&L cornerstone, it’s by no means limited to that set of books and workshops — this is a concept with legs, that comes up over and over, generally as part of a larger idea that lecturing doesn’t work.

And I’ve been thinking about it in terms of library instruction.  And not just because we have an knee-jerk anti-lecture response at this point too.

I’ve been thinking about it because I think it highlights that we spend a LOT of our time “lecturing” – even if we do it with clickers.  Because lecturing in this context doesn’t mean just “talking,” “broadcasting” or other words that essentially mean “one-way communication” — which is generally what we mean by “lecturing” in the classroom context.

No, in this context, “lecturing” means explaining the consequences of bad choices instead of demonstrating them.  And I think we do that a lot.

Not in the steps — we do a good job of letting our students discover the consequences of choosing the wrong database, or choosing the wrong search terms — within the parameters we set up and the assumptions we’re making about what they need to know we have developed lots of ways to help them discover and learn for themselves.

No, I’m talking about in the big picture — in the WHY should they do these things at all part — that’s where we’re lecturing.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone raise this type of question on ILI-L –

“how can I convince my students that they really need to be using these sources?”


“how can I convince my students that there will be consequences if they don’t cite properly?”

And what’s the subtext here?  It’s — how can I convince my students not to make mistakes?

Because here’s the thing — our teaching in libraries is more similar to the type of teaching parents do than I ever thought it was.  Yes, parents can impose plenty of consequences themselves on the day to day level —  “no tv until you finish your homework” but the ultimate goal for most parents goes beyond finishing the homework tonight – they’re looking to raise up kids who can learn stuff, and who are organized to get stuff done and who can go off to college or out into the world and meet deadlines and achieve goals, and am I right?

And library instructors can impose some consequences when the students are actually in the library class – that’s basic classroom management stuff.  Yes, some are better at it than others and we never have the power that the grade book or the parental relationship gives – but we are in a position of some power in that context.  But that in-class power, that’s not the real goal.  We’re looking to teach skills and concepts that students can take with them out in to the “real world” and use to be successful and get stuff done — just like parents.

And this is also a reason why it’s not like regular classroom teaching.  The regular classroom has a more immediate set of primary goals than lifelong learning.  Yes, I suspect that many, many teachers have life long learning as a goal — I certainly did when I taught history.  But the fact that that was a primary goal for me was also a big reason why I stopped teaching history and went into libraries.

I expect that most teachers would prefer that their students cite sources properly in all of their classes. They have a commitment to producing good students in the major, and good graduates of the institution, but that doesn’t have to be their primary goal in a classroom interaction.  In my own class, I can say “two points off your grade for every MLA formatting mistake” and then I can MAKE THAT BE TRUE.*  I might hope that the impact of that is that they use MLA perfectly in their next class, but mainly, I don’t want to struggle through improperly formatted citations in the papers I have to grade.

*Note:  I do not ever do this.

So what are we doing when we say “how can I convince my students…. “?  We’re talking about consequences that we have no control over — we’re talking about those life consequences.  We’re talking about all of those things that we know because we have more life experience (and more college experience) and if they would just LISTEN to us they could avoid those mistakes. But here’s the thing – I think maybe we should be letting those happen.

And I think this not just because I think it would be good for the learning — I also think this because of what it would mean for us.

Take First Year Student X – coming into OSU with a gaudy 4.0 GPA from a decent high school, has never had any trouble at all getting A’s on her research papers using her favorite library sources — books and the online Encyclopedia Britannica.  She’s never read an academic journal and she thinks of “peer review” as trading papers with a classmate and making comments.

How much energy do I have to spend to “convince” her that she needs to use peer-reviewed sources in her college research papers?

Alternatively, what happens if this highly motivated, intelligent student turns in a paper sourced from the encyclopedia, her textbook, and some 15 year old monographs from the library’s stacks?  Probably two options — she gets negative feedback on her sources by her instructor or she doesn’t.

if she does?  She’s going to learn from her mistakes. And I can help her get where she needs to be much more effectively. If she doesn’t – then no amount of energy spent by a librarian to convince her that she REALLY needs to use different sources will make a difference.

Now see my first extra note above and don’t get me wrong – I don’t actually want my students to make mistakes. I would prefer they make the choices I would prefer they make. I think using a variety of interesting sources, including those that represent more than opinion or anecdote, is important and I want students to do that. I’m all for giving those students who are ready to learn to do things in a new way the information they need to do so.  What I am saying is that I think we’re spending a lot of energy in library instruction trying to ensure that all of our students won’t make mistakes when they do research — and that that’s counterproductive.

See, the thing that is the same about parenting is this – it makes a lot of sense to choose those places where your energy is best spent – and it’s just rarely best spent trying to convince your kid that consequences exist when he has never experienced them for himself.  To do this, you have to do a lot of thinking for him and spend a lot of time imposing rules and consequences he’s going to think are arbitrary.  And if you’re going to do that, shouldn’t you wait for a real life-or-death health and safety issue?  Especially when it is so much easier and so much more authentic to convince him that consequences exist after he has experienced them.

And the thing that is different than parenting is this – with the slight exception of natural adult-related authority and good classroom management skills, for us the whole ballgame is what our students do with our teaching after they leave us – whether we’re talking about transcendent information literacy teaching that leads to powerful reflective thinkers and lifelong learners — or just about skills that they can apply to do well on that paper that’s due next week — success or failure for us is hardly ever about what happens when they are in a room with us.  Some of the teaching parents do really is about making life at home, life in the family, better – in library instruction it’s always about making something, somewhere else better.

So I think we need to re-think our relationship to that somewhere else – connect our focus as teachers to what they’re learning, naturally and authentically out there — and not try and teach in advance in the classroom those things that life will teach them better.  And if they’re not learning what they need to from natural consequences, from authentic feedback and meaningful responses to their work — then we need to be working on that level, with their teachers and employers and mentors.