Month: March 2012

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?

Book Group Prep: What We’re All Reading

This next Monday, we’ll all participate in a variety of different reading discussions during our class time. Each pair (and one trio) of students picked out a particular short piece of literature to use as the basis for discussion. Some of my thoughts regarding those readings (and related reflections on specific challenges or issues in book groups) follow:

  • Esti & Laura A. chose a webcomic called “All the Books in the World… Except One.” Although it was a short comic, it made me think about a lot of things: How books-as-objects can be valuable beyond just text, how personalization and memory can make books more valuable, and how what we choose to collect (hoard!) and value provides clues as to our own emotional needs, memories and connections. This, of course means that I’m curious what personal stories SI students and practicing librarians have about books or information sharing!
  • Ashley & Mary chose something very different in tone and topic, a piece from the Federalist Papers. I have to admit that my own emotional baggage from High School social studies class made me hesitant to (re)read this. The largest point that I was really able to take from this is just that early on in our development as a country — when we were just forming our documents and ideas about just what this government/arrangement of power might be — there were many difficult tensions that Hamilton and others were attempting to balance. I look forward to discussion of this, just because I feel like it will help get me beyond my previous baggage and push me to think more about the meat of the text.
  • Meggan & Kelly chose a short story by one of my favorite authors, Amy Hempel, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.” I had read this story as part of a collection a few years ago, and I think it made me cry then, but it kind of destroyed me this time, as only Hempel and Lorrie Moore seem able to do to me. This was the first story other than our own group’s pick, that I read in the cluster of stories that had to do with death and loss and grief, and it made me realize very acutely that although it is a beautifully written story, with so much I could talk about in a group related to its structure and phrasing and writing, I feel too emotional to feel comfortable discussing this story in a public setting.I am thankful, though, to have a realization about how and why a story might simply strike too close to a book group member’s sensitive territory. It’s probably hard to anticipate all of the ways in which this could happen in a reading and discussion group, but it’s important to consider, particularly in relation to a few points that came up last week about a book discussion group not being a support group and vice versa! Writing is inevitably going to strike strong emotional chords with people, though — so how can we honor that while still keeping the focus on the book? Part of it probably has to do with group members being aware of their own boundaries and comfort zones.
  • Although Leigh & Rebecca’s choice, “The Blind Spot” dealt with death, and specifically murder, the characters and tone made it easy for me to detach and I also felt like I began to anticipate what happened at the end, as I got closer. After reading this story, I was actually most intrigued by how Leigh and Rebecca came across this story, and why in particular they decided upon it for discussion. I don’t know if that’s really important to discuss the work, though — I suppose we might have the opportunity to ask those sorts of questions if our discussion is less of a Socratic Seminar and more of a general book group/club.
  • Terence & Xin chose Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (pp 20-25, UM login required for the link). Although it dealt with suicide, I had read the story multiple times before, and so it didn’t hit me as emotional, except for the actual mid-part of the story which actually feels somewhat joyful (the hunt for bananafish). I haven’t talked about any Salinger in a while, and so I look forward to the discussion of this story. The fact that I had previously read this story a few times also makes me think about how a facilitator or teacher might address having that happen with an assigned/class reading. It’s probably pretty common for one or two students to have read a particular title before a class reads it together, but how do teachers account for that and deal with it. Are those students still engaged in discussion, or does their prior familiarity mean that they sometimes lose interest or let their attention wander?
  • Our own group’s pick was “Murder and Suicide, Respectively” (pp 188-192) which, as you can tell from the title, also deals with death (what a morbid group we were!) but it’s mainly the death of lab animals, in a much more detached, scientific way. It uses the idea of death and its prediction as a way to get as some intriguing questions about predetermination, agency/free-will and time.

Although I know that each reading gets a separate discussion, the overarching themes of death and mortality make me reconsider the idea of “theme” book discussion groups that we talked about last week. I’m curious to see if we end up bringing up previous pieces of reading in discussion of other stories!

Reading & Discussion: Inner and Outer Circles, Identity & Gender

Inner and Outer Circles: Engaging and Observing

Last week we discussed various ways to talk about reading. Heading in to the session, I couldn’t really imagine how Socratic Seminars might work outside of a classroom environment.  While I still think that they would likely do best/be most appropriate for that setting, our discussion made me think a lot more about how elements of Socratic discussion/seminars might help with book groups that exist beyond the classroom.

Although it seemed that the “inner circle” of discussion participants and the “outer circle” of discussion observers (who also provided feedback) was somewhat of a result of lots of students in one classroom, I kept trying to imagine that inner and outer circle applied to almost any discussion.

I like the idea that for a time, it’s one’s job to observe carefully and to contribute to the discussion by providing feedback on the dynamics of the discussion itself. Observation — a time to be less oriented towards jumping in “performing” in discussion, and engaging — that seems really valuable to balance against the actual discussion in the “inner circle.”

Of course, there is a switch between inner and outer circle, and then active and observer roles are flipped, but this gives people a chance to be in both roles and see where they might excel. It gives people a chance to explore different ways to add value to a larger discussion group.

Do you think that specific observer and “discussant” roles could be helpful in places other than in a Socratic Seminar? 

Are there other areas in your life where “inner circle” and “outer circle” (and flipping those circles) are relevant?

Gender, Identity, and Who Book Clubs are “For”

The other significant idea from discussion that I’m still mulling over is that of book clubs-and-gender. In talking about book clubs, we came up against the idea that often the term “book club” is perceived as something particularly for women. We tried to pick apart just why this might be.  Was it because way-back-when, book clubs were often ways for ladies-who-lunched and new moms to get out and about for some social interaction?  Was it all because of darn Oprah?  In class, men and women alike lamented that having an “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker on the front of their book made them feel like they had to defend the fact that they were reading the book because it was good, not just because Oprah said so! Do women just read more of the genres that are traditionally served by book clubs — things like fiction?

How can we (and should we) shift this perception?  Are there ways we can go about making book discussion and talking about reading more accessible and comfortable for more people? And to the people who argue that men just don’t talk passionately about what they read — I’d invite them to visit a comic shop on a Wednesday to see the heated discussion that both men and women get into about latest issues of new comics!

Do you see book clubs are somewhat gendered? Are there ways to change this?

If you’re not or have never been a member of a reading discussion group — why haven’t you found them a good fit? Do you have any desire to talk about things that you read — from articles to comics to professional development-related materials, to novels?

Beyond just gender, do you see book clubs are just something “not for people like me”?