untangled thoughts

The Set-Up

I don’t know what it is about Veronica’s posts*, but they always include a thought, or a line, or even a snippet of something that either unlocks a new thought, or clarifies something I’ve been thinking and couldn’t articulate.

In this one today, it was this line
Our emails to our colleagues always start with, “This week is CRAZY busy,” or “I have so much to do,” or “I have meeting after meeting; class after class.” I recognize that some of these statements might be genuine venting. People are tired and they sometimes need to share their woes.

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking — um, yeah, what’s surprising about that?  And I get that.  I am kind of saying it too.  See, this is about me. This line hit me right where I needed to be hit in the moment.  I’ve read and thought a lot about these issues and questions, and about related issues and questions as these conversations have emerged and re-emerged over the years (in many fields and professions).  I have a lot of thoughts, is what I am saying.

In this moment, something about this line and the way it was expressed made me step back and think about all of those thoughts and conversations together.  Thoughts about the cultural issues that valorize overwork, and the ways that the messages we send, implicitly and explicitly, shape those cultures.  Thoughts about performative or competitive busyness, and the ways that we reinforce that without (and with) intent to do so.  Thoughts about structural and resource issues, about doing more with less. Thoughts about rigor and gatekeeping and mission and values, and about hegemonicassumptions and vocational awe (though that last not as usefully before Fobazi named it as after).

In all of the years that I’ve been thinking about these interlocking questions, I have focused on the parts, not the whole. I’ve been struggling with the parts a lot (where “a lot” means both frequently and  intensely) this past year as a relatively new administrator and especially as someone doing that work in a constantly under-resourced and over-performing place. I mean, it’s a true fact that these questions are many of the reasons that I decided to continue in administration after my stint as a (rotating) department head was done — not because I had answers, but because I thought the questions needed answering and I wanted to be in a position to act on answers, that at least in some small ways pushed beyond the individual solutions we often end up with. 

In the reality of management, though, all of these intersecting issues and questions create a tangled mess.  I pull one thread, and the tangle unravels for a few yards and then reemerges and intensifies in another spot.  And when I read Veronica’s post, it unsnarled some of those thoughts and that’s what I really want to talk about here. This is going to be interesting (to me at least).  I’m talking about looking at a big issue more broadly, but about looking more broadly at my narrow experience.  These issues matter for lots of reasons, they’re big and they’re snarly and they extend beyond libraries and beyond academia.  They intersect with other big issues. And I’m going to be ignoring most of that for something that is specific, and grounded, and situated and about me and my relationship to these questions in this moment. 

Finally, The Point

I realized recently, though I didn’t have the words, that one of the things I’ve been struggling with is seeing and feeling the difference between these different forms and drivers of busy.  I’m experiencing these things in a space where trying to survive busy coexists with enthusiastic busy and switches off with overwhelmed and unhealthy busy and those all sit next to performative busy, and social busy and competitive busy. See – and this is important — the point is not that there is some busy that is real and some that is not.  

All of these types of busy are real. They are. And all of them matter to the organization and all of them matter to me. But some of these issues are cultural and some are structural and there’s also a healthy intersect between cultural and structural, and as a manager I can have power and ability and positioning to change things but only if I understand what it is that I am changing. Because changing structures isn’t the same as changing culture and its unlikely that anything is wholly one or the other. 

The types of busy that we might think of as performative or competitive, that are driven by a desire to meet expectations or align with norms — tacit, overt, assumed, experienced — get tangled together with the resource issues, the unexamined inequalities, the problematic reward structures.  I’ve written here before about how helpful I find this idea: culture is what people do. When busy is what we do, when it’s the de facto answer to “how are you?” then it can be really hard to untangle those pieces that make the solutions way more complicated than “so do something else.”  

I wouldn’t have thought this to be true, and maybe its down to being a beginner manager, but the issue is this — when the culture pushes us to busy and overwork, we can’t effect real change unless we deal with the underlying structures that shape the culture.  But when the culture is like that, it makes it super hard to see those structures to change them — to see what they’re doing, what they do, to tease out and draw those connections in a useful way.  It does. It really, really does.  And here’s the other thing.  I’m part of the problem, and I’m more of the problem as a manager and part of it because I am a manager. 

I understand feeling the need to match the busy I see around me — to keep up with the accomplishment and productivity and — really — with the busy. Weirdly — or maybe not so weirdly — this feeling has only gotten stronger as I’ve moved into positions with more privilege and more power within the organization. Surrounded by people who do so much and succeed so hard and shine so bright, well, if I have a named professorship, or become department head or AUL, shouldn’t I be the busiest one of all? And I feel that and it comes out in the answers I give when people ask how I am. I emphasize the busy, the deadlines, the meetings and all of the tangible output of the work I do. 

For sure, I do have those times when I am up against it. Sometimes it’s self-imposed and the result of too much yes. Sometimes it’s drop everything all hands on deck because the university says we have a fortnight to do three months’ worth of work. But a lot of the time, I’m not the busiest one in the room. I usually have a solid to-do list, but I also schedule time to read, to write, and to think. I don’t usually miss lunch. I go home and I have hours where I can knit, cook, eat, do laundry, and watch the Olympics. And I see almost fifty movies a year. In the theater. With my phone turned off.

BstGN-_CEAA4OMB.jpg

That’s me, reading, knitting and hanging with my dog.

So I became a manager in to have the power to effect change, but having that power has pushed me to behave in ways that entrench the culture that needs to be changed while it also obscures those structures that need to be changed to change the culture.

That’s a fun conundrum.

And it makes me wonder, when I talk to people about not trying to do more with less, or when the university talks about work-life balance, while at the same time we all answer every “how’s it going?” with “I have so much to do,” are we just giving people something else to feel inadequate about, or creating some other set of expectations that they have to perform to? I’ve noticed, as these issues have been raised by more and more people in more and more contexts (both in my library and out) that people are starting to put qualifiers on their statements of busy: “I know we’re all overworked,” “I don’t have more to do than _______, she’s REALLY busy,” or “I have four deadlines tomorrow, but it’s self-imposed, so that’s okay.”

(That last one is me. I said that.)

Of course, I am not saying we shouldn’t have those conversations, or that there’s no way to have those conversations without just swinging that pendulum wildly from one side to the other. I guess I am just musing on the challenges of moving these types of cultural conversations (conversations I value) in the workplace to where they need to be if the result is going to be meaningful, to dig into the structures, and to create the kind of change that requires trust.

Which brings me back to those feelings. I can start with myself, right? I can start when I’m not under the gun, under the wire, and needing to vent. I can start talking about the things that Veronica talks about when people ask me how things are going. I can be honest about not being the busiest person in the room. I can talk about reading and writing, even when I feel guilty that I have time for those things. I can talk about meeting deadlines and projects I enjoy and saying no and saying yes. And then, when the busy times inevitably come, I can talk about being busy in a way that maybe doesn’t send the implicit message that everyone else had better be busy too.

*So, obviously, I can’t wait to hear more about Veronica’s book deal.

#stealthgoals

Last summer I was observing a session of ACRL’s Immersion program. My purpose there was to observe the teaching as a future teacher, but as usual in the face of smart people with interesting things to say – my brain went to town on the content.

#stealthgoals

That idea of secret outcomes just grabbed my imagination and I had to share.  It captured Dani’s imagination too and #stealthgoals was born.

Why #stealthgoals?  

To be honest, we think it’s partly because “stealth” is more fun to say than “secret.”  And “goals” is definitely broader (and maybe therefore more interesting) than “outcomes.” Both of us came from the teaching and learning world, but we have also both recently taken on administrative and management responsibilities and let’s face it, #stealthgoals are just as interesting in that context.  And things re much more likely to be “goals” than “outcomes” outside of teaching.

But a conversation earlier today, we also discussed whether one of the reasons that the concept resonated so immediately is tied to our experiences in that teaching role. In library instruction — and really in teaching and learning more broadly in higher ed — we are routinely pushed to think about our goals, our outcomes, our assessment from the students’ perspective, and to communicate that perspective directly to learners.  And as librarians we have to spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for informal learning, for tutorials or point of need services, for learning spaces, and all of the other parts of our teaching lives that go beyond the traditional for-credit course.

And a whole lot of that is fine!  When thoughtfully constructed and intentionally used, things like learning outcomes and rubrics are really great teaching tools, and really great communication tools. Some of our favorite conversations with colleagues and students alike have been sparked by the desire to really come to a shared understanding of why what we are doing matters.

But a little bit of it isn’t fine. Obviously, when it turns into a hoop-jumping exercise — when posting the outcomes becomes the goal, instead of a means to the goal — that can get disheartening. Maybe less obviously, though, we wonder if maybe sometimes we use that focus on the learner to avoid having the real conversations we need to have about our own agendas, priorities and values?  Does it allow us to ignore questions and issues of power and our place in our organizations? And this is a question that’s come up in many contexts, throughout the library — it goes way beyond the classroom and the teaching and learning context. If we limit our vision to the things that we think our users (or learners or clients or investors or stakeholders) value — what do we miss?  What falls outside of that frame?  

And, as you can see, this is where our subsequent conversations about #stealthgoals have gone way beyond the description in the tweets linked above.  

So we are thinking this might be an excellent topic for a panel of librarians, doing different work, and bringing different frames to discuss.  Maybe in public?  At some place like ACRL?  If this sounds like a conversation you might want to have, let one of us know.

Anne-Marie (email) (@amlibrarian)

Dani (email) (@danibcook)

The problem with context

“Judging from what you all, say” remarked Aunt Jamesina, “the sum and substance is that you can learn—if you’ve got natural gumption enough—in four years at college what it would take about twenty years of living to teach you. Well, that justifies higher education in my opinion. It’s a matter I was always dubious about before.”

— Anne of the Island (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Annbook cover with the image of a young man in a brown suit seated on a rock wall, looking at a red-haired woman who is looking away from him, with the title Anne of the Islande of the Island was always my favorite of the Green Gables books, not because (okay, not just because) it’s the one where Anne finally gets it together about Gilbert but also because it’s a college story. And I’ve had romantic fuzzy notions about college for pretty much my whole life. So because I’ve read and reread this book so many times over the years, I’ve been able to pull this quotation out to liven up a lot of reflective writing pieces about the value of education, college, training — you get the picture.

But I’ve been thinking about it lately from the other side. From the perspective of learning that can’t be shortcut, at least not entirely. I was scanning Twitter one day, and saw this tweet from Emily Drabinski, who was live-tweeting a talk about context and information literacy by Andrea Baer.

 

In my work, I end up talking a lot about evaluation and authentic evaluation. Especially to classroom faculty and teaching librarians. And so much of that is tied up with this idea of context. The tl;dr version is blah blah tools like evaluation checklists suggest that evaluation can be done with a close examination of the thing itself, out of any context, and that’s not how evaluation works. Evaluation is social and tied to how valuable a thing is seen in community, to the rhetorical situation and blah blah ….

Anyway, I’ve been churning on this tweet and my reaction to it for a while. I keep coming back to two relatively recent experiences with authentic evaluation in my own research.

Story 1

My colleague Hannah and I have been talking about curiosity in libraries in some different contexts for quite a while now. We’re trying to write up a piece of that this summer, which is always an interesting experience — to write up a piece of something that is still actively evolving. Both stories come out of this work; this is the more recent. And it’s probably the more typical when you think about why trying to contextualize your thinking in a new field, or why trying to contextualize a piece of information is hard.

So, the more we think about curiosity the more we think about affect. Curiosity and uncertainty can’t be separated — to be curious pretty much inherently means that there are things you don’t know. Not knowing stuff can be fun and exciting! But in terms of research assignments, which are perceived as (and which are for real) fairly high-stakes assignments in a course context, that not knowing can be less exciting than it is scary. So how to encourage students to try new things, use new sources, research unfamiliar topics when they have good reasons to be wary about doing so?

As we spend more time working directly with faculty on these questions, we’ve started to wonder what’s out there about risk taking, emotion and writing pedagogy?  At conferences people have suggested to us that fields like creative writing and creative arts might also be interesting places to look for more. And as I moved through these literatures I came across a creative writer with a huge body of work in writing pedagogy, who engages specifically with the idea of risk: Wendy Bishop.

Now before I started digging into Bishop’s (substantial) body of work, I started doing the additional digging I needed to do to contextualize it. On the one hand, this was a necessary step to understanding it myself. Her work is several years old now, and I don’t have the chronology of the debates in this field at my fingertips. I don’t think you can really understand work like hers without knowing what she was responding to, in her field and in the world. On the other hand, this is also a necessary step to evaluating the work, to put this back into the infolit context raised above.  Because this is a field I am working in, or at least alongside, I need to know how the community understands the work to predict how it will be perceived, questioned, critiqued and accepted before I can decide if and how I want to use it.  And I knew from this article, that the answers to those questions might be complicated.

Rhet/Comp is a field I know a little about, not a lot.  And what knowledge I do have is uneven and idiosyncratically collected, heavily influenced by wonderful people I’ve worked with and know. Still, I didn’t have to start from scratch this time!  So I knew what to ask, I knew some things to look for, and I knew some of the complicating factors.  Long story a little less long — it’s almost 3 weeks later and I’m still working on building this contextual understanding. And this is something I know how to do.

I can use information tools I already know how to use to do it.  I can use reading and thinking and organizing skills I already have to do it well. I am spending most of my time in genres I understand and know how to read. I have a working knowledge of many of the theories in play, and I know how to find out more about those that are less familiar. I can pull books I’ve already read off my shelf. I can call on people who know this scholarship (and who knew this scholar) and just ask my questions.  Okay fine, I also have a full time job and other projects — but that’s pretty much my main barrier. Mostly, making sense of a new context or conversation is something that just takes a lot of work — even after the How and Why learning curve is behind you.

Story 2

Now, this contrasts a lot with this earlier experience with a new body of literature — which in many ways was the thing that sent us in this direction in the first place.  When Hannah and I first started working on curiosity and poking around to see what was there, we did so in a very interdisciplinary, broad-net kind of way.  We found curiosity talked about a little, but not a lot, in many fields. We found lots of definitions of curiosity. We found it talked about in ways both similar and distinct in conversations that didn’t seem to intersect. And most of these mentions, and conversations, studies and definitions neither grew out of nor directly applied to our higher or adult education context.

In this exploring, we came across the work of an educational psychologist named Jordan Litman. It wasn’t hard to place his work in its disciplinary context which, to be honest, wasn’t a context we were super interested in. Litman is interested in curiosity as a personality trait. He and his partners develop and validate instruments to measure different types of curiosity, the data from which can then be analyzed next to data measuring other types of traits, states and behaviors.

There is a huge body of discussion around the very idea of personality traits. And honestly, we didn’t want to get into that. Our interest was sparked by this research because it made us think about curiosity, and how curiosity plays out in research assignments, in new and different ways. It helped us see past our own assumptions and our own experience to consider a way of seeing and knowing the issue that we’d been blind to before. On that level, it didn’t really matter if Litman’s approach was the best, if his work was highly respected or marginalized, or if it was basically ignored within his community.  And even there, trying to navigate between the “marginalized because of quality and marginalized because of a less hip topic” possibilities didn’t seem worth it or necessary. Whether these curiosity types behaved just as the research said they did didn’t really matter.  For our purposes, the idea that curiosity can be sparked in many and varied ways was the important thing — much more important than whether or not curiosity types can be definable or measurable or predictable. And so we decided not to do the weeks of background context-building that it would have taken to really understand this work as it was being used by the researcher.

It’s a liberating feeling to decide not to do this — to decide that “this thing is valuable because it’s useful to me.” Being able to do this, however, also means climbing that How and Why contexualization learning curve. It comes from knowing what questions might be asked, and knowing how to justify our choices in our context. And it comes from a position of privilege and control over our practice, and from knowing our expertise is respected by those who share this work with us.

So what?

These cases look different on the surface, but in both we’re drawing on some similar things.  Both of us bring years of experience to this work, experience developed in different disciplines and different professional communities.  Hundreds of papers, presentations, proposals and posters, directed at different audiences and for different purposes, helped us figure out what we need to know to communicate well. We’ve learned — through trial and error, by applying effort and feedback — what we need to know to understand context.

When I was first starting out as a librarian more than ten years ago, I came across the Harvard Writing Project. One of the conclusions of that study that has stuck with me ever since was that feedback — delivered early and often and from many perspectives — was essential for students to learn to write and think. And of course, because students come to college already knowing how to write and think, we know that what this and other studies are really saying is that opportunities to write and get feedback early and often are essential to learning how to write and think in this new and unfamiliar academic context.  

And in the years since, this has been borne out over and over: students who get the chance to write and create for different audiences, with helpful feedback, do just fine. They develop processes for writing, researching, thinking, and organizing that are useful (and well-used).  They figure it out. They learn what they need to know to get the work done by doing the work.

I was talking to a colleague in Comp recently about some topic coming down from administration  — hybrid classes, or maybe Adaptive Learning —  and he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “you know, we know what works.  Small classes, lots of feedback, and lots of opportunities to write different types of things for different types of audiences.  And it seems like all of these things we’re asked to study and adopt and add to the curriculum are just trying to find ways we can avoid investing in that thing we know works.”

We do know what works, but it’s expensive. And this all makes me worry about information literacy instruction. Ironically, not so much about the tools demos as the beyond-the-tools conceptual pieces that we talk about when we talk about infolit. I worry that when I talk about evaluation in a one-shot, I’m inevitably complicit in suggesting that there are generic, context-free ways to do the kind of thinking that we associate with evaluation or creation.  I worry when I argue for context and for teaching these things authentically I am setting up my colleagues to feel inadequate or less than the kind of learning that only experience, and repeated, meaningful experience can enable.  And most of all, at the end of the day, I worry that we’re supporting the institution in an effort to successfully create a world where they can measure “gains” in learning in research and writing and critical thinking without investing in the infrastructure and faculty needed to give students the repeated and meaningful experiences that help people really learn how to do these these things in context, no matter how that context changes.

Which all seems to point to Aunt Jamesina being wrong – that college or college-like experiences can’t substitute for experience.  But that’s not it at all.  I’m not talking about sink or swim, throwing students in at the deep end to see if they can figure it out when I say they need lots and lots of chances to figure it out.  I still think there is a lot we can do to create structured, supported experiences. A lot we can do to reveal the unwritten expectations of the culture and context that new college students need to understand. A lot we can do to encourage the metathinking needed to make sense of those experiences.

And I think that doing so in a way that reveals academic writing as communicating in a rhetorical situation that is culturally specific and not universal – is helpful to people who will have to navigate many such situations in their lives. But I’ll admit, I can’t wrap my head around where to start with the kind of work it takes to meaningfully contextualize in the one-shot, in the LibGuide, in the tutorial. And my brain shies away from the problem altogether. Which may be something to work on.

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)

 

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.

Shiny! Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

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

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

Display area in front, storage in back

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

Battery + power

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

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

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

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

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

What? So What? Now What?

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

View of the Little Italy sign in San Diego, California

Walking commute from Little Italy to the conference hotel

— to the views from the conference hotel.

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

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

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

What?

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

So what?

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

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

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

Now what?

(Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

Some rights reserved by Gouldy99 (flickr)

What?  The author of this article is William Ripple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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