The Learning Continues…Professional Development

It seems pretty appropriate that our last week’s readings all have to do with continuing education and development. Depending upon the context, the term “professional development” can either seem exciting or like a chore. Usually, it’s something that excites me (I love to learn in general), but when it’s some sort of mandatory corporate talk or video, that’s when I start to feel itchy. I think that having some power and autonomy over what one learns when can be far better for encouraging employees to be life-long learners in regards to job skills.

All three of the articles we read involved giving teacher-learners/librarian-learners ways to pursue professional development. However, the delivery methods for this learning were a little bit different from a standard seminar or lecture — instead, the options were much more self-directed, either in pace, content or both. In “When Teachers Drive Their Learning” from Educational Leadership, Joseph Semadeni emphasizes that:

Choice is a powerful motivator in adult learning. Offering teachers a menu of alternatives for what they will learn is highly motivating.

I certainly agree with that line of thinking. In my own life, the jobs where I had the most ability to choose topics, times and ways of learning that fit me best were often far more satisfying than jobs that offered a specific, prescribed track of sessions. In some ways, I’m guessing that those environments willing to give their employees more autonomy and choice in their own learning (and encouraging real learning in the first place) probably gave me/other employees more autonomy in general.

I’m glad to be considering and reflecting on this topic as I consider my own next professional steps. I received a good tip from a fellow soon-to-be-grad of SI — although pay rates are not always negotiable, professional development resources sometimes are. I value my ability to continue learning and growing highly, and so I’ll be keeping that in mind as a priority as I weigh the pros and cons of various organizations and institutions.


Webinars: Creating, Listening Watching

Over the past two weeks our 643 class structure shifted a bit. We split up into small groups to work on webinars, and then viewed other groups’ webinar sessions. We didn’t meet as an entire class so that we could use that time for both preparing our own sessions as well as attending our classmates’ sessions.

Although I have been on my share of webinars (as an attendee), live demos and Skype calls, putting together our own webinar to present felt like something new, a bit of uncharted territory. Still, it was a fun experiment.

I learned that since I lose my voice during peak allergy season, I probably shouldn’t sign myself up for much public speaking (online or off) in April! I learned some of the quirks of Elluminate, and I feel like having a live webinar was a good way to learn by doing — there were things with audio and interactivity that we hadn’t anticipated (nothing major, just a few little bumps). I think that our own webinar went OK, but based on my own gut feelings as well as the post-session participant survey, I feel like if I were to do it again, I would tweak a few things.

First of all, I got some great ideas from the other webinars on how to incorporate more interactivity with participants.   Using the whiteboard (despite its error/warning messages and lag) would be something I would definitely do next go-round. Secondly, I think that with three moderators switching, it would be wise to make sure that everyone has not only earphones, but a mic attached to those earphones.

Yet again, much like with the one-shot workshop assignment, I was really pleasantly surprised by the topics that my classmates chose. There are a few webinars that I wasn’t able to attend live, but I still am intrigued enough by the topics that I will probably watch some of the recorded versions.

Some of the topics covered:

  • English Language Learning
  • Serving ex-prisoner populations
  • Copyright and open access
  • Assistive tech and considerations for patrons with either learning or physical disabilities
  • The library as incubator
  • Using census data to find (and serve) specific segments of the population your library might be missing

There were a lot of excellent topics, and people had great delivery too. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I did really especially enjoy the “using census data…” webinar. The presentation was crisp, clear and easy to understand, and I’m positive I’ll go back to re-watch the recorded version whenever I need a refresh on census data and how to map  out specific demographics.

Our own webinar focused on “young professionals” as a population often underserved by public libraries. Several of the case studies I presented stressed the point that unless libraries are paying attention to research about the potential patrons in their area, they may be far off in their assumptions of who makes up community.

In one specific case, a library in Nevada believed that the folks living in their service area were largely retirees and young families. However, once the library began doing market research is became clear there were many, many young professionals without children, and that the library could be doing a much better job articulating its value to there potential patrons.

It was heartening to see a library respond in such a robust way once they realized a potential gap in their service. It was even more encouraging to see that they had a positive response from the community. An additional benefit of their efforts (perhaps initially unintended) was reaching out also boosted the library’s reputation as an organization willing to take risks and try new things. As I’ve been considering my post-SI path, I know that I am particularly drawn to organizations that are willing to take calculated risks and experiment a bit with programs and outreach.

Twitter, Continued…

In last week’s class I found the discussion of Twitter to be pretty interesting. Some of it was about tips, tricks and tools (things like HootSuite, Tweetdeck and filters), but a lot of the discussion was just people reflecting on their experience with Twitter — the good, the bad and the surprising. 

Given that this was a class in SI, I was somewhat surprised at the number of people who really hadn’t previously explored Twitter, but at the same time, it was really valuable to get a more fresh perspective from people on it. It was even refreshing to hear some skeptics… I have been at events before where everyone is so busy documenting what’s happening (taking pictures, tweeting, etc.), I feel like they are missing out on actually being in the moment and truly experiencing what is happening. I don’t like gatherings when everyone is a slave to Twitter/their tech, and so I like to hear some good, Twitter-skeptical voices now and then!

Overall, though, I would have to saw that the response by Twitter newbs to their experience was a sense of surprise at what they actually were able to get out of Twitter/following specific people relevant to their interests. The conversation touched briefly of different folks’ ideas/senses of both influence and relevance, and also revealed that some people were more into personal connections while others didn’t find that type fo connection very appealing overall. 

Talk of relevance and influence, however, made me think of a few recent conversations I’ve had about these topics with regard to services like Klout and other tools that claim to measure a particular person’s “influence.” While there is some validity to that, it’s always struck me that the content of someone’s particular tweet has a lot to do with perceived relevance/likeliness to share, too. Interestingly enough, this recent study from researchers at Indiana University, highlighted in this Atlantic article, seems to bolster my thinking that relevance/connectedness is key — ie: “having the right message for the right people.” There are some interesting visualizations in this study, and this sort of communications research is really fascinating to me!

Blogging About Tweeting About Libraries

This particular blog post feels oddly meta. In any case, for those playing along at home and not actually in SI 643, this week our at-home assignment (besides beginning Webinar research) was to open an account on Twitter, and begin following the bloggers we had followed earlier in the term on Twitter. We were then supposed to add/follow a handful of people to our Twitter feed who seemed professionally relevant to our interests.

Right now, we’re at the point in the semester where everything gets extraordinary chaotic leading up to finals and final projects. So, I was kind of relieved when I saw the assignment! I’ve had a Twitter account since 2008 or 2009. Although I’ve gone through various phases of using it/letting it lay dormant, I’ve been pretty active overall. My first account was created when I was a Community Manager in my past life, and way back then, I was one of the first CMs at my company to be using Twitter — I even remember giving a short list of “Twitter tips” for newbs!

I’m not one of those people who is obsessed with Twitter, though — I tend to get distracted by a lot of immediate, IRL things sometimes, but I have done a decent job over the last few years of staying relatively active. And I do enjoy popping onto Twitter and finding out about great links, things to read, and topics of conversation.

You can probably guess that as I entered grad school, new folks I would follow often had passions related to tech and communities. And as I progressed through the program at SI and found myself more drawn to libraries, I started following a lot of librarians as well as people who worked in libraries in other roles. So, following people working in libraries was already a cinch!

The next part of the exercise for class was to tweet or RT at least 5 times using the #si643 hashtag. That was easy, too — and fun. I found that the hashtag was a great way to find and follow my fellow students, as well as to get a feel for some of their interests via their tweets and replies. I am eager to hear what people have to say in class on Monday, particularly those folks who are new to the whole Twitter experience!

Webinars: Weird Word, but Worthwhile?

Ok, before we get into a recap of last week’s class, I have to get something out of the way:

I really, really dislike the word webinar. To be fair, I don’t hate it as much as my friend Amy  hates the word moist. It just seems like one of those terms that is destined to become outdated, like “information superhighway.” Or maybe it’s that it seems close to those overly corporate words like “leverage” and “synergy.” Certain academic programs definitely have these sorts of words too — if you’re in SI, take a drink of water the next time someone talks about “stakeholders” or “deliverables.”

To be a clear though, I don’t actually hate Webinars themselves — I just think that the word (some odd attempt to tack “web” on to “seminar.” doesn’t quite get at what they are. And although sometimes Webinars are a little too sales-pitch-y for my tastes, there are plenty that aren’t overtly trying to sell you something. Many of them relay useful information in a format that allows for presentation with some ability to ask questions or respond to the speaker (from afar).

I like the idea of watching something, being able to ask questions in the moment, but then also being able to watch recordings later. I have to admit that in learning some useful tricks about ZenDesk, MailChimp and Batchbook, I’ve been really grateful that previous webinars are archived. It really helped me get a review on necessary features without having to schedule some specific time to join a live session.

But, as we discussed in class, there are downsides to webinars, too. It’s sometimes difficult to give the webinar your undivided attention. You’re on your computer, the speaker is covering something you sort of know, and so you drift off. Next thing you know, you have 5 windows open, you’ve finished a homework assignment, you’ve bought a birthday gift for your brother on Amazon, and you’ve made a veterinary appointment… but you’ve totally lost what the presenter was saying. Not that I have ever had this happen to me personally or anything — this is just a hypothetical situation. But yes, distraction can creep in easily.

We also discussed (and saw) how allowing a chat backchannel can be distracting. I think that most of the time, that chat/question feed can be really useful, but I’m fairly convinced that while the main presenter is talking, there needs to be a deputy on chat duty, monitoring, tossing important questions over to the presenter, etc. Otherwise, the backchannel conversation can diverge so seriously from the presenter’s agenda that it’s almost like there are two (or more) simultaneous seminars happening. As a user, that can be distracting and sometimes frustrating.

I’m curious to be a part of actually leading/presenting a webinar, and also enthused to see what my classmates will chose to present. I have a good team and I’m excited about the topic that we’ve selected — focusing on patrons who are post-college but pre-kiddos (sometimes falling under the Young Professional category) as a population that may be underserved by/under-connected to their local library. We’re still gathering our research, and although we have some great stuff, we’re open to more case studies and information, so if you have specific resources or stories to share, please do!

What about you? Have you ever led a webinar? What was the best webinar that you’ve attended? The worst?
Like me, do you really dislike the word webinar? Or am I alone on that one?
(It’s OK.)

Embedded Librarianship: What Does it Really Mean?

I’m a bit out of sync on my blogging/class schedule, which of course makes me think back to my reflection on the word practice.  Although I’ve been fairly able to carve a regular time to read, reflect, comment and write, I have to admit that it’s still been tricky. My grad school work and class schedule, plus scheduling demands of my part-time jobs aren’t quite as regular as I’d like, which sometimes means that what I think I’ll be able to do on one day just doesn’t happen.

Such is life — not just school! But I have to admit that I’m sort of looking forward to the day when at least one aspect of my life has a bit more predictable schedule. I think it will really benefit multiple areas of my professional and personal life. I’m used to juggling a lot, but the race towards the end of the semester does always get a little too chaotic for my tastes!

That’s just my short disclaimer as to why I’m only now summarizing some readings that we completed last week. I had these skeletal notes sitting in Evernote, but hadn’t pulled them together. The readings addressed various ideas of what embedded librarianship might be, as well as dipping a little bit into talking about webinars.

Here are the articles that we read:

We also read Chapter 7 of How People Learn, and although it was interesting, I’m not sure that it ties in directly enough to pull into this particular blog post too.

Montgomery seems to see the future of embedded librarianship as converging with the push for more librarians to be accessible online. In this version of embedded librarianship, librarians are meeting patrons “where “they are, which is online. I agree that chat reference/text reference, and access to online resources can be very helpful. However I’m not sure if I see “online” as a “where” or a place.

I also think that as libraries devote more resources to these types of (admittedly very useful!) services, they have to keep additional ideas about usability, findability, follow-up and the desire for personalized services in mind. For example, the article cites a lot of stats about the amount of money spent on online databases.  Anyone who has helped undergrad (or grad) students or even faculty with those sorts of databases realizes that just having the databases might not mean much if the interfaces are confusing and not intuitive. Similarly, research guides are great, but are we making sure that those who need them even know they exist or how to find them?

Montgomery seems very excited about the potential for webinars as a way to provide training and instruction — for example, they might be able to help patrons in learning the interface of a specific database. However, my gut feeling is that short(er) screencasts/videos that could be accessed asynchronously right when patrons need them might be even more valuable. I don’t have data to back this up, just my own experience of how I used (and replayed) short video clips in learning to code.

Matos talks about a different type of “embedding” librarianship. He makes the point that in a more “traditional” take on embedded librarianship, the:
librarian is placed into a department or unit for a set of specific library and/or information related activities that support the students and faculty of the specific unit. (Dewey, 2004)

However, the “second type” of embedded librarian that Matos focused on is a:

hybrid of a reference-instruction librarian and a collection manager. This type of embedded librarian will spend a significant amount of time within the university library, leaving to go to the program(s) they support only for instructional sessions or other invited events. This differs from the liaison model of librarianship in that this individual will be the sole point of contact and service provider for the entire program’s needs: reference, instruction, collections…

I found this model pretty interesting, especially within the context of a music center/program as is featured. However, I don’t know if it makes sense for every academic unit.

I think my overall takeaway from these readings, as well as the short period of time we talked about this in class, is that several different approaches to “embedded librarianship” are helpful to know about, and it’s good to keep these ideas in one’s potential “toolbox” for strengthening connections to a specific academic or public community.

However, the right mix of delivery and strategy will really shift according to context. This, of course, makes things tricky, because our first conception of what types of “embedding” may work best within a given context may not prove to be 100% on target. In order to get to that optimal mix, we need a bit of freedom to experiment, to tweak, and to tailor our services, our roles, and even in some ways our professional identities in order to truly, meaningfully connect with our patron communities.

A Mini-Conference in Class + How to Tell Patrons the eBook Story

I’m impressed. Really impressed. It’s not that I didn’t expect to enjoy last week’s class. I figured that my colleagues would pick out some interesting topics upon which to focus their workshops. However, I honestly didn’t expect the range and relevance of these mini-workshops to be so dang good.

Yet again, I’m grateful to be in a program where my fellow grad students are so actively engaged in the world of libraries. The workshops didn’t have the feel of “this is just some assignment I have to do.” The topics felt carefully chosen, and led to some excellent discussion. I felt like I was at a lightning-version of a professional conference. Having just returned from SXSW Interactive, I can say that my cohort exhibited thoughtfulness and passion above what some SX presenters exhibited! (No offense SXi, you had some great sessions too!)

I feel like many of the short workshops in class could be expanded upon to make solid additions to something like QuasiCon in the future.

Topics for the workshops included:

  • Issues related to ebooks in libraries
  • An academic writing intro for college freshman
  • Google’s new privacy policy
  • The library as a third space
  • The Patriot Act and its implications for libraries
  • Ethical Considerations of Libraries as Maker-Spaces/Content-Creation Hubs (my group’s)

I could write a post on each of these topics, but there was one specific question raised by the ebook group that has really stuck most with me, so that’s the thread I want to pursue in this post.

While we know from following library blogs that ebooks are a hot topic in library land, this workshop helped make the topic much more personal — we each had to draft a poster that would inform patrons at our own library about what the heck was up with ebooks.  Seeing others’ examples was really helpful here — some folks chose to highlight the fact that certain publishers weren’t playing nice, while others seemed made to catch the patron’s attention and then direct them to ask/talk to a librarian.

A really important question came out of this session, though, and I’m intrigued to know what other folks think might be the answer. In a lot of the blog discussion and even in the signs librarians have made, <em>publishers</em> Penguin, etc. have been highlighted.

However, does the average library patron know/care/recognize the books they can/can’t get by publisher?  My sense is no.

Might it be more effective to list specific titles or authors whose work is harder/impossible to get via ebook because of the actions of publishers wrt libraries? Is listing publishers only meaningful for librarians?

Might this be a more clear way to communicate, and a better way to educate patrons and/or get them to care/take action about the implications of publishers not always playing nice with libraries?

The Changing Role of Libraries & How To Consider the ALA Code of Ethics

Since we didn’t have official readings for this next session of class, I figured that it might be helpful to do a little setting the stage for my group’s upcoming workshop.

Last week was chock-full of thinking about ethical considerations in libraries and as librarians.  There’s no question that the role of libraries within their respective communities are shifting. While a library certainly can’t (and probably shouldn’t try to) be everything to everyone, libraries do have a long history of providing the public (or a particular population) access to resources that would be unavailable to most people on an individual basis.

A public library may be able to provide access to a database of articles and stats that wouldn’t be affordable to most people. Their offerings of books, movies, games and other media will vastly outnumber the personal collections more folks will have. Libraries can provide access to technical equipment and specialized skills and training. Another specific example — this last week in Austin, I noticed a library had a specific free workshop to help family members learn how to navigate systems for elder-care and other resources to help care for relatives who needed an extra hand. On a physical level, libraries can provide meeting space for community groups. Though there are many definition of infrastructure, in some ways it could be said that libraries provide resources and infrastructure that can be used/shared my many folks.

So, if we extend the idea of resources, support and shared infrastructure, who’s to say that providing digital recording and editing suites, a 3D printer/maker-bot, collaborative spaces, and platforms for community publishing wouldn’t fall within those general ideas of what a library “should/could” provide too?

There’s some great conversation going on around this topic — so much that I will probably be linking to/talking about these ideas in future posts.  However, for now, I want to bring things back to the idea of library ethics.

Last week, we read the ALA Code of Ethics. Although many of the ideas and themes in the code remain the same, how might the code shift as what libraries do and are shift? As libraries move beyond points of access to resources, and become a part of the creation of resources & media, what additional questions or conflicts might arise? There’s a lot of room for thought here, and our team’s in-class workshop intended to delve a bit into this territory and begin sussing out just how and why (or why not) the ALA Code of Ethics (and/or our own interpretation of it) might need to change.

Library Ethics: Sophisticated Confusion

From the closing of

Mark Lenker (2008). Dangerous Questions at the Reference Desk: A Virtue Ethics Approach. Journal of Information Ethics 17 (1):43-53.:

Although virtue ethics provides no easy answers, the “sophisticated confusion” that students come away with should elevate their awareness that the librarian’s path must be traveled with care.

I appreciated learning more about the Virtue Ethics framework via Lenker’s writing. He walks us through several case studies which highlight how there is not one “real question” with other issues sinking into the background, but how indeed a lot of difficult situations and questions at the reference desk involve a complex weighing of multiple factors, not one simple formula that leads to “the right thing to do.”

I concur that students in LIS or iSchool programs should indeed have some practice walking through a few case studies (or sharing their own on-desk/on-chat, etc. experiences with others) in order to get a feel for the intricacies and difficulties of addressing ethical questions in a reference context.  However, at the end of Lenker’s article, I left feeling that “sophisticated confusion” was my main take-away. Although I think that acknowledgement of confusion, of ambiguity and of grey areas can be extraordinarily important, I couldn’t help but still feel like I’d been left hanging.

I have a feel that I would have gleaned a bit more meaningful-feeling knowledge if I had been able to attend our class session last week.  However, I’m thankful that discussions like this have also come up in other courses such as SI 647.  I’ve already been in classes where there has been a lot of talk about the tangle of potential issues and sensitivities necessarily for handling tough reference interactions. I’ve found that the more helpful sessions have definitely involved hearing from those who’ve had real world situations to relate (librarians or those already working on reference desks), or even just from some role-playing exercises (even though I often cringe at the words role-playing).

I feel like bringing up “dangerous questions” or tough situations within a classroom environment should leave students with more than just “sophisticated confusion” — that is only a first step to encourage thoughtful reflection.  However, I think one other strong point I took from Lenker’s article was simply the fact that he highlighted the conflicting demands/expectations of what “the right” thing to do might be. In reading this, I got the sense that he felt it irresponsible in certain circumstances to simply say “the policy is the policy/I don’t make the rules” and abdicate any personal agency/responsibility. I think that reassurance of some agency on the part of the librarian is reassuring to me. As he mentions, we are not merely “robotic” or cogs.

Reflecting on Our Book Club Experience

This last week in class, we split into smaller cohorts to lead and participate in various book discussions. I previously went through our cohort’s reading selections, so I want to spend this post thinking more deliberately about the actual discussions themselves — the dynamics between facilitators and discussion participants and perhaps some of my own take-aways and lessons learned.

I’m curious if any of the other cohorts ended up with a group who felt like a more specific Socratic Seminar format was really the best fit for their piece of writing as well as their participants.  In our cohort, nobody said anything like “pretend you are 9th grade lit students,” but that could have been pretty interesting.

Within our cohort, there seemed to be just a general “book club”/discussion format across all groups/works. We weren’t pretending to be any audience/set of readers in particular, and there were no set rules set out. I think that I was pleasantly surprised by the difference that various facilitators brought to each group simply by the nature of their own styles of teaching and interacting, as well as their individual backgrounds. Some questions took on a more literary tone, others focused on thinking through historical context.

Our own discussion group was 2nd to last, which could be a little bit of a challenging spot.  Nobody’s eyes had glazed over by the time we started into our session, but I was a little bit wary of that. I’m thankful for my smart group-mates, who suggested a specific activity to kick things off. We saw from the evaluation that people really appreciated a little bit of time to think about something individually, to reflect and collect some thoughts before jumping in to discussion.

Overall, it felt (both in the moment, and in our evaluations) like our discussion was mostly successful.  However, our group dynamics were a little bit skewed, and I think I’d be more deliberate about considering that the next time I facilitated a group like this. While most of the facilitators were in pairs, our group had three folks. And, to be honest, all three of us like to move conversations along, are eager to share our thoughts, and aren’t very timid about talking. These can be great qualities at times, but a strength overdone can be a weakness (and vice versa). It’s all about modulation and knowing when it’s appropriate to jump in and when it’s best to practice listening and using a very gentle hand in facilitation.

I don’t think we were terrible in this role, but just speaking for myself, I think that I could have hung back a bit more and let the group members unfold their own discussion a bit more. After the session, I felt very much like Metzger in her Socratic Seminar piece — students asked her to take a step back and leave the “inner circle” and let them take the lead in discussion.  And ultimately, I think that a lot of groups can be trusted to guide topics along their own interests. It’s not an insult to be relegated to the observer role for a while. In fact, that’s oftentimes the best way for participants to feel truly engaged in their own discussion and figuring-things-out process.

What do you see as the difference between leading and facilitating?

How do your ideas of “teaching” or “instruction” fit with these terms?

Have you had experiences where you felt you needed to modulate/pull back your “teacher” role in order to let students have more stake in their own learning?