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.