Information Wants to Be Free
It’s LIS Mental Health Week; a week focused on raising awareness of mental health. This post isn’t about mental health per se, but something that I think, for me, is very much exacerbated by anxiety and the constant negative self-appraisal that comes with it.
Two blog posts really resonated with me recently. Sarah Houghton (who I believe is exactly the same age as I am or pretty darn close) wrote about being mid-career and at a personal and professional crossroads without any clear sense of direction but knowing that forward is the only way to go. Veronica Arellano Douglas wrote about her feelings that she’s never quite doing enough professionally and how academia encourages this feeling through reifying busy-ness and overwork. I’ve been in a weird place for close to a year now and I’m not really sure yet how to push my way though it. It’s not terrible or anything. I’m not depressed. I really like my job. I love my colleagues and the students and faculty I get to work with. But I feel rudderless. I feel unsure about what my purpose is in this profession anymore and what I really should be focusing on. It’s not as if I’m not still working hard and committed to my job, but I don’t have the passionate sense of mission I used to with everything I did.
How do you develop a sense of purpose and direction that guides everything you do? I pretty much just fell into the things I was passionate about for the first decade of my career. My early-career experience was so bizarre because of this blog and the reputation I developed. I started my blog and people started to believe that I knew things even though I was just figuring everything out as I went along. I created a wiki and suddenly I was an authority on wikis. I pursued things like Five Weeks to a Social Library because I was passionate about affordable online learning for library professionals. I fell into every success I had. I did all of my learning and made all of my mistakes in public, some of which are painful to look back on now. So many people asked me for advice as if I had some kind of expertise when I was still just learning how to be a professional. I’m not complaining. It was exciting, weird, wonderful, gratifying, and also really hard for someone who deals with anxiety. I never felt like I deserved any of the awards or opportunities I received back then and I had a lot of guilt, though I worked so hard and spent nearly all of my time (pre-baby) focused on our profession. It never felt like enough. I look back and I wish I had enjoyed it all more because, in hindsight, I see how hard I worked for it.
Now that I’m 40 (gasp!), I’ve been devouring fiction and non-fiction (memoir, not self-help) about women at mid-life and how they reconcile the person they are, the person they were, and the person they want to be. So many books about women and personal growth at midlife are like Eat, Pray, Love where a woman chucks her old life and goes on a journey and is all the better for it. But I like to think about what that journey, that reckoning could look like if she stays in her life, as most of us do. Can you only have epiphanies while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, doing yoga in India, or kayaking remote waters alone? That isn’t a realistic option for most of us. I love reading about women’s messy midlife crises like Chris Kraus’ in I Love Dick, but it frustrates me that most of them are about men and sex. In my personal life, I know that I am exactly where I want to be. Professionally though? I almost feel like I need to do whatever the professional version of buying a sports car is, because I feel so rudderless. I want to metaphorically set fire to everything because I have no idea where to go from here.
I thought, for a long time, that the brass ring to reach for was becoming a Director. I thought so highly of my first library director and I moved in that “evidence of increasingly responsible experience” direction. As a middle manager, I loved supporting my direct reports and leading projects, but I hated that between a rock and a hard place experience many middle managers have, especially in toxic workplaces. After spending one year barely working the reference desk, I realized that I never really wanted to give up the “meat-and-potatoes” work of librarianship. I love teaching and working directly with students and faculty. There are aspects of being a director that interest me, but the schmoozing, budgeting, and spending my life in meetings aspects more than outweigh any positives for me.
Tenure and, in my current job, continuous appointment were things to work toward and “proving myself a valuable member of the team” was a solid sense of direction for the first three years of my current job. This Spring, I received notice that I’d be getting continuous appointment at work. After the drama of working towards tenure at my last job, it felt great to know I was finally “safe.” It was the first time I’ve felt I could relax in so many years. But I also experienced something of a letdown because I had been driving towards something for so long and working so hard and now what? I’ve felt this year a bit empty at work. I’m still really productive and passionate about my day-to-day teaching, but I feel rudderless. I’m not unhappy, really, just… I don’t know.
After having my son, I had to wrestle with my new identity as a mother and what that meant for me professionally, all the while dealing with epic postpartum depression. Even once the depression lifted, as the child of a stay-at-home mom, I spent a long time feeling like I wasn’t devoting enough time to parenting and feeling tremendous guilt. I remember trying to volunteer at my son’s school when he was in Kindergarten and make it work with my full-time job and feeling like I was burning the candle at both ends. It became abundantly clear to me that my son didn’t give a shit whether I was there to help his class make Jackson Pollock-esque paintings or plant seeds in the school garden or not and that no one was judging me for not being there (at least no one I cared about) other than myself. I still feel guilty every time a school volunteer opportunity comes across my email even though I know I shouldn’t feel that way. I’ve gotten really good at leaving my work at work and engaging with my family at home. But the funniest thing is that the better work-life balance I achieve, the less positively I’ve felt about myself. It’s like, even though I’m doing what I should be doing, I feel like I’m failing to do enough in both realms of my life.
I spent the first decade of my career so focused and passionate and now I just don’t have a clue what’s next. What do I want to deeply engage with? What am I most passionate about? Where should I focus my efforts at work to have the most impact? What can I do to make our profession better? What can I do to be a better person/wife/mother/citizen/librarian? I know my history of depression and anxiety with its obsessive focus on self isn’t helping me here and I honestly feel embarrassed to feel this way; first world problems, right? But I’ve read enough about the “female midlife crisis” to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
For those of you in similar straits, how are you coping with this “what’s next?” feeling? For people who’ve already navigated these waters, what did you do to get past it? How do you reignite that passionate spark for your work? Veronica wrote about how the idealization of overwork in academia leads to guilt and “leaves folks ripe for exploitation.” I wonder if it also leads “reformed” overworkers to this sense of rudderlessness when they try to let go of it. What do you think?
Reading this year has been so many things for me. An escape. A way to educate myself. A way to see my own struggles in a different way through another’s story. A way to understand the struggles of others. A way to better understand where I came from. This year I think I’ve read more than I had in any other year since college. I read 16 of the 22 books I’d hoped to read this year, which feels like an accomplishment. Books with asterisks are ones that I didn’t (because I couldn’t get into them) or have not yet read in full (as is the case of the books by Nguyen, Clinton, and Clements). I struggled this year to think of what my favorite book was, but The Underground Railroad, Little Fires Everywhere, The Hate U Give, and Bad Feminist were definitely highlights.
This year, I also listed the children’s books I’ve either read with Reed or on my own. Reed is part of an Oregon Battle of the Books team this year and I’m their coach, so I’ve been slowly reading the 8 books he was assigned to read so I can help quiz him. He’s finally gotten into reading, which I could not be more thrilled about. I remember having the same experience the summer before I started third grade: one moment, I hated reading; the next, I was in love.
Adult and Young Adult Fiction
- Willful Disregard: A Novel About Love by Lena Andersson
- All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
- The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
- The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes*
- The Idiot by Elif Batuman
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty
- Outline by Rachel Cusk*
- The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
- Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
- Since we Fell by Dennis Lehane*
- It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
- The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
- Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen*
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Chemistry by Weike Wang
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
- Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich
- My Name is Freida Sima:The American-Jewish Women’s Immigrant Experience Through the Eyes of a Young Girl from the Bukovina by Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz (which is actually about my relatives!)
- What Happened by Hillary Clinton*
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
- Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle*
- Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos*
- Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
- The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine di Giovanni
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren*
- I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
- Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
- The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan
- Becoming Habsburg: The Jews of Habsburg Bukovina, 1774-1918 by David Rechter*
- Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
- The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
- Alien in My Pocket by Nate Ball
- The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett
- Wild Life by Cynthia deFelice
- The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John
- The Terrible Two Get Worse by Mac Barnett and Jory John
- Keepers of the School Book 1: We the Children by Andrew Clements
- Keepers of the School Book 2: Fear Itself by Andrew Clements*
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 by Lauren Tarshis
Here are some of the books I hope to read in 2018, though as always, I know that serendipity and the vagaries of Overdrive hold lists will impact my decision-making. If any of you have thoughts on these or alternative suggestions, let me know!
- Beartown by Fredrik Backman
- We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta Nahesi Coates
- Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
- Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
- Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
- Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay
- Class Mom by Laurie Gelman
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Exist West by Moshin Hamid
- Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
- This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jenkins
- Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
- Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
- Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
- Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
- On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- The Best Kind of People: A Novel by Zoe Whittall
“I would like this wiki to be a one-stop-shop for inspiration. All over the country, librarians are developing successful programs and doing innovative things with technology that no one outside of their libraries knows about. There are lots of great blogs out there sharing information about the profession, but there is no one place where all of this information is collected and organized.
I originally got the idea for the wiki when I became frustrated by how large my Bloglines backlog had become as I’d bookmarked lots of posts with amazing ideas that I wanted to save for later (when they were more relevant to what I was working on). A blog is such an amazing medium for sharing information, but what do we do with the information once we’ve read it? Where do we collect it? In del.icio.us or Furl or whatever is the latest social bookmarking tool? In theory, people can find what other people bookmarked in del.icio.us, but in reality, with all the different tags we could use, it’s not quite so easy. And now there are so many social bookmarking tools that I find them more useful for bookmarking stuff for myself than in finding what other people bookmarked. I think a wiki is a fantastic place to collect all of these great ideas related to librarianship. All of those posts and websites you thought were brilliant. All of those successful initiatives you heard about. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find it all in one place? So when you decide you want to bug your colleagues about switching to IM reference, you can easily find lots of posts and stories about other people who did the same thing.
If you’ve done something at your library that you consider a success, please write about it in the wiki or provide a link to outside coverage. If you have materials that would be helpful to other librarians, add them to the wiki. And if you know of a librarian or a library that is doing something great, feel free to include information about it or links to it. Basically, if you know of anything positive that might be useful to other librarians (including useful websites), this is the place to put it. I hope this wiki will be a venue where people can share ideas with one another and where librarians can learn to replicate the successes of other libraries/librarians.”
Knowledge-sharing has always been a passion of mine and a wiki was a good tool (at the time) for collecting knowledge from a diverse array of librarians across the world. In 2005, Facebook didn’t exist (to the public at least). Twitter didn’t exist. Google Docs didn’t exist. Google Sites didn’t exist. A whole bunch of other collaboration and CMS-type tools didn’t exist. At the time, a wiki was one of the only free ways to collect knowledge from lots of different people, many of whom the person creating the wiki didn’t know. And it received contributions from thousands of librarians and certain pages were THE place to find information on that topic.
But now, other more stable tools exist for this. Mediawiki software is vulnerable to spam and is not the most stable thing out there. I (and my husband when it’s beyond my capabilities) have spent so much time over the past twelve years troubleshooting the software, reverting spam, and blocking spammers. And, all the while, usage of the wiki has declined and many pages have become painfully stale and dated.
With a heavy heart, I’m announcing that, unless someone else wants to run the Library Success Wiki on their own server, the wiki will be going dark on February 2, 2018. This should give people time to move information important to them to other collaboration tools and for a knight in shining armor who wants the hassle of managing the wiki themselves to emerge. It can be hard to let go of services that no longer have the ROI they used to, and I’ve wrestled with the idea of saying goodbye to the wiki for years. It’s time. It’s past time.
It’s been a busy Fall term so far and I haven’t had much time to spend on Twitter, but I usually check it first thing every morning. When I did one day last week, this thread caught my eye:
Sitting in a FB thread of professors complaining (nicely) about unqualified librarians doing shitty instruction sessions. They’re not wrong.
— Archivist Wasp (@nnschiller) October 5, 2017
Of course I want to “NOT ALL LIBRARIANS!” but defensiveness never won me an argument. Plus, they’re not wrong.
— Archivist Wasp (@nnschiller) October 5, 2017
So I apologize & say most of us have developed reflective & skilled pedagogical practices, but I’m full of shit, aren’t I?
— Archivist Wasp (@nnschiller) October 5, 2017
This just made me feel really sad, particularly that Nick felt he had to apologize for us and that he has so little confidence in librarians’ ability to teach. I’m certainly not going to deny that there are bad library instructors, but I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. I also find it funny that when people talk about the quality of library instruction, they always assume that they are the good ones (not just you Nick, but all of us). How do we really know that? I have never assumed that I’m great at teaching. I know that I’ve improved, based on assessments I’ve done and how students and faculty respond to my teaching, but I want to keep improving. If you think you’re a great instructor already and don’t need to improve, maybe you’re the problem.
And even great instruction librarians have awful sessions. This happens to disciplinary faculty too; I’ve had conversations with friends who teach outside of libraries and we all have horror stories. It sucks that one bad session can sour a disciplinary faculty member on library instruction entirely, especially when they should recognize that they’ve probably had bad one-off teaching experiences too. We’re all human.
But, still, I agree that there are librarians who are bad at teaching and bad at engaging students. There are also plenty of librarians who never wanted to teach in the first place. At my first job, everyone taught, from the the Head of Tech Services to the ILL Librarian to the Systems Librarian. There are a lot of libraries like that. But I also think that library schools don’t make it clear that teaching is part of being a librarian in so many library jobs, especially in academia. And in this job market, people will take jobs that include things they really don’t want to do so that they’re employed. If a librarian doesn’t want to teach, how motivated will they be on their own to try to improve?
Looking at my alma mater, Florida State, here is the recommended coursework if you’re going to focus on academic librarianship:
LIS 5603 Introduction to Information Services
LIS 5511 Management of Information Collections
LIS 5442 Information Leadership
LIS 5602 Marketing of Library and Information Services
LIS 5603 Introduction to Information Services
LIS 5485 Introduction to Information Technologies
LIS 5105 Communities of Practice (variable content areas)
LIS 5203 Assessing Information Needs
LIS 5241 International & Comparative Information Service
LIS 5260 Information Science
LIS 5263 Theory of Information Retrieval
LIS 5270 Evaluating Networked Information Services & Systems
LIS 5271 Research in Information Studies
LIS 5442 Information Leadership
LIS 5417 Introduction to Legal Resources
LIS 5474 Business Information Needs and Sources
LIS 5590 Museum Informatics
LIS 5602 Marketing Library and Information Services
LIS 5661 Government Information
LIS 5736 Indexing and Abstracting
LIS 5787 Fundamentals of Metadata Theory and Practice
Their only instruction-focused class, LIS 5524 Instructional Role of the Informational Specialist, is recommended for people focusing on “Reference” and “Youth Services,” not academic librarianship (yet somehow we all need Museum Informatics??? WTF FSU?). When I was at FSU, the class was 100% geared toward students planning to become Library Media Specialists so I didn’t take it. Based on the courses offered at FSU, I had NO IDEA instruction was a huge part of library work. I’m tremendously disappointed to see that they STILL aren’t doing more to promote courses on instruction and instructional design. Talk about out of touch!
So I think about the people who want to improve, but don’t have the time within their work day to develop professionally and improve or just don’t know where to start. Not everyone has the luxury of time and money to support their professional development. If you’re doing so much teaching and working at the reference desk that you don’t even have time to reflect on how classes went, how are you going to get better? And the fault for that does not lie with librarian, but with the institution that doesn’t support their improvement.
In response to what Nick Schiller tweeted, my collaborator and friend Lisa Hinchliffe wrote:
I wish librs would stop hiring ppl to teach it aren't good at teaching. Hurts lib reputation+traumas librns. Align hiring w duties!
— Lisa Hinchliffe (@lisalibrarian) October 5, 2017
Here was my response to that:
There’s not being good and there’s being green (which oft. looks the same). Most libraries throw ppl into the deep end w/o training/support.
— Meredith Farkas (@librarianmer) October 5, 2017
I did a little informal survey on Twitter to get a sense of how many librarians were prepared in any way — either by their LIS programs or by their workplaces — to teach information literacy.
Did you receive training on effective #infolit instruction before you were expected to start teaching?
— Meredith Farkas (@librarianmer) October 5, 2017
That is tremendously depressing. I have worked at three different academic libraries and at none of them did I receive any training in how to teach. I could understand that more in my second and third jobs, because they had some expectation that I knew how to teach (though I really had to relearn how to teach when I came to PCC and started working with community college classes). In my first job, I was thrown into the deep end with zero support and am sure I did a crappy job early on, especially since all of my classes in college had been lecture-focused so I didn’t have any models for active learning-style classes. Over time, I read books and articles and tried to learn as much as I could about how to be an effective instructor. I started to incorporate more activities into my teaching so students were actually doing (and sometimes teaching!) instead of me being a sage on the stage all the time. But I got no help from my colleagues because, though they had more experience, they had not been taught how to teach effectively either. We were all just fumbling around.
When you think about how few workplaces actually prepare librarians to teach, it makes me wonder whether those places think teaching is something anyone can do or if they just don’t value instruction. Reference and instruction positions are usually seen as entry-level, which is ironic, since they have the most contact with our students and faculty. They, to a large extent, determine how the library is viewed by faculty, which is hugely important! Administrators who don’t have a formal training program for library instruction, do you think this work is something anyone off the street can do? Or do you not value it? If neither of those things are true, then why are you not setting your library staff/faculty up to succeed?
I think having a formal training program around information literacy instruction for all librarians who teach when they are new to an institution is critically important and I urge every library director, dean, and AUL to consider why they don’t have something to on-board librarians for teaching at their institution. If it’s for all new hires who teach, it then becomes something that is supportive and not accusatory. Even experienced librarians have something to learn and instruction looks different at different institutions with different goals and different student populations.
As a former head of instruction at two institutions, I know how much ego and defensiveness can crop up around efforts to support instruction librarians with their teaching. It can feel like a threat to some, like an accusation that they are doing a shitty job. I’ve written about my own efforts as an instruction coordinator to support instructional improvement and there are a lot of ways to approach this. But, really, we’re no different than disciplinary faculty who are often equally uncomfortable being observed and/or critiqued. The difference is that we always have an instructor watching us when we teach, while they don’t.
Sometimes it’s less about the quality of the instructor and more about the approach the instructor takes. Every librarian has their own style; their own way of teaching certain concepts that may be more or less embraced by the people for whom we are teaching. My colleagues are all great teachers, but we all have widely varying approaches. At my library, each of us has instructors who request us specifically. I’ve been warned about instructors I loved teaching for and I’ve had classes go badly with instructors other colleagues love working with. I know instructors are sometimes frustrated that they will get a different approach to the outcomes depending on who is assigned to the class, but, again, we’re no different than they are. They don’t all teach the same either.
Any librarian who teaches information literacy also knows that there are things completely out of their control that impact how the class goes. Sometimes it’s the culture of the class. I remember once working with three sections of a criminal justice class in a row with the same instructor. Two of them went really well and one just was flat. The students were really low-energy and didn’t want to participate in activities. The instructor told me that class was like that with her as well. For some classes, I get to sit in on part of their class before I provide instruction, which gives me an interesting little window into the culture of the class. I’ve seen instructors who keep their students in rapt attention and instructors whose students look comatose. Not surprisingly, the students in classes where they are more engaged by their instructor are also usually more engaged when I’m teaching them. The instructor can really set the tone. Of course, we can still screw it up and I have, but how the instructor manages their own classroom makes a big difference. I’ve sometimes felt like a rock star leaving a classroom when, really, so much of the credit for how it went should have gone to their regular instructor.
We often walk into classes with incorrect or incomplete information about what the students are working on, where they are, and what they struggle with because their instructor doesn’t communicate the information to us. We walk into classes where students know nothing about the assignment even though the instructor told us they’d have selected topics by then. Sometimes they are doing their assignment later in the term, but the instructor requested that day because they couldn’t be in class. Sometimes in response to asking about their goals, instructors just tell us to do the “usual library spiel” or the “usual library tour” as if such a thing existed. Some instructors make it really difficult for us to create a tailored lesson plan for their class and sometimes we end up having to throw that plan out the window because we were misinformed. I recently wrote numerous times to an instructor who’d requested instruction to find out what they were working on and never received a response to any of my inquiries!
Our time and expertise is sometimes disrespected. We get instructors who request instruction because they’re going to be out that day. Often, we don’t find that out until the last minute when the instructor doesn’t show up. We have instructors who sit in the back and check email instead of participating in the class or even just being present. We get instructors who have noisy one-on-one conferences with students in the classroom while we are teaching (which isn’t at all distracting, right?). We get instructors who don’t give us enough time to cover the outcomes they want us to focus on or that give us time but then take the first 20 minutes to cover class stuff without warning us in advance. I’ve had instructors show up on the wrong day with their classes. One got angry at me about it, even after I showed them the confirmation email I’d sent. I ended up teaching the class (totally unprepared) and she never requested instruction again. Back in my first job, I was just starting a jigsaw activity with an English 101 class when the instructor said “I don’t want them doing that. That doesn’t sound useful.” Can you imagine how demoralizing it is to be contradicted in that way when you are teaching?
These stories do not represent the majority of the classes I work with. I also work with plenty of fantastic instructors who I love to work with year after year. I have instructors who really collaborate with me around determining the shape of library support for their classes. I have instructors who are totally game to try new things, even if they don’t always go well (and they’re kind enough to sympathize when things don’t go well). I have instructors who adequately prepare the students for what I’m going to cover in the information literacy session — they set the table for me. I have instructors who are active participants in my information literacy sessions. I have instructors who show they appreciate what I do. And those classes, not surprisingly, tend to go better than the ones where the instructors are checked out, disrespectful, or dismiss the work we put into tailoring a session to their students.
As I’ve mentioned before, I teach a class for San Jose State University’s iSchool on library embedment, which is mainly focused on embedding information literacy instruction and support into the curriculum and beyond the curriculum. A lot of what we read early on is focused on librarian-faculty collaboration and students always notice that there is often a lot of misunderstanding and also ego on both sides (am I the only person who now hears Donald Trump every time I hear or write “on both sides?” — barf). Librarians often assume that instructors are not teaching information literacy themselves and if they are, they’re certainly not doing it well. Instructors often underestimate librarians, seeing them more as service providers who demo databases rather than as instructors, experts, or collaborators. You can see it in the language both groups use. I witness that disconnect every time I see someone requesting a “library tour” when they don’t mean “walking students around the library” but actually mean information literacy instruction.
I think both librarians and disciplinary faculty should try to better understand and respect what the other does. I think we should cut each other some slack when it doesn’t always go well and also be willing to offer feedback, which I know is difficult (both for librarians and disciplinary faculty), but makes things better. I have saved many students from bad and unclear assignments by gently questioning the instructor about them and I would love to know what I can do to make their class’ experience better.
The problem of people who are poor instructors or lack motivation can only be solved by the Library. More resources should go toward training and on-boarding librarians to teach. The library should be set up to support the continuing development of veteran instruction librarians too; we all have more to learn. This won’t fix everything — there will always be people who just don’t care and aren’t motivated to improve — but everyone I have worked with earnestly wants to teach well and really cares about students. If we all had better support, the vast majority of us would be better instructors; and that includes our disciplinary colleagues.
Image credit: UIUC admissions blog
My dad recently shared with me a book, written by a distant cousin who is a professor in Israel, about her grandmother’s immigrant experience and her relatives. Her grandmother just happened to be my grandmother’s first cousin, so my grandmother, great-grand-parents, and great-great-grandmother figure in the book. Given that I knew next to nothing about my great-grandfather (who died before my dad was born), this book is like a revelation to me. There’s a picture in the book with our whole extended family in the 1930s, both relatives who had already emigrated to the United States from Bukovina (modern day Ukraine, but it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Romania and then the Soviet Union when my family lived there) and those who were visiting from there. Later in the book, we learn what happened to those relatives who stayed on their farms in Bukovina when the Nazis came, how few of them survived, and how they couldn’t go back to their homes even after because many in that area had taken Jewish homes and were killing the Jews who came back. Knowing that people who shared your blood experienced this is a weight you feel deep inside of you that never goes away.
This, and what happened in Charlottesville, were potent reminders for me that I belong to a group that has only had conditional whiteness bestowed upon us for a short period of time and that it could be taken away from us at any time. It’s a reminder that there is something innate in me (something I can’t even see or understand) that leads people to hate me. The Holocaust is only one example of the massacres and oppressions my relatives have suffered throughout history. Over the years, I’ve experienced microaggressions, overt racism, and harassment because of my Jewish heritage, so the existence of anti-semitism wasn’t a big surprise to me, but it still causes a visceral hurt every time I’m reminded of it. I think I was more hurt by the fact that so few of my non-Jewish friends expressed any support for the Jewish community after Charlottesville. This essay describes perfectly how I’ve been feeling, both recognizing my privilege and recognizing that few seem to think Jews are deserving of support. It always makes you wonder, deep down, if your non-Jewish friends hate that part of you that is Jewish.
I write this to illustrate that what is happening with this new emboldening of neo-Nazis and other hate groups is very personal for me and not just academic. So when David King published his post Ugly Beliefs, Free Speech, and Libraries, I read it both as a librarian who believes in library values and as a Jew who is hated by the groups he thinks should be allowed to speak in the library. I’m not so quick to write off what he wrote because he’s a white, male, Christian administrator and only cited other white men in his post (I saw many tweets that touched on these things). I don’t believe in writing anyone’s ideas off because they belong to certain groups, because that logic could just as easily be applied against oppressed groups. I didn’t even write him off when he compared atheists to neo-Nazis (since both groups are, according to him, “bigoted”) and then apologized not to me, but to a male colleague (and mutual friend) who called him on it after I did (I’m guessing he doesn’t even realize how offensive and hurtful to me that was). I might have written him off personally after all that, but his ideas around the Library Bill of Rights are ones that many share in our profession and deserve a rational response.
I was a card-carrying ACLU member long before I ever became a librarian. I have always believed in free speech, even when it means giving people who want me put in an oven the right to spew their hate. I am a huge supporter of intellectual freedom. I had a intellectual battle last year with a respected colleague who wanted to either withdraw Jonah Lehrer’s books (he’d just learned about the author’s fraud) or to put a warning note on them about the fabrications. I argued that we can’t guarantee the intellectual purity of our collection and putting a note on one book or withdrawing it suggests that everything else has gone through a similar process. We have books by climate change deniers, books on alternative therapies that are not supported empirically, and other books that have been shown to include plagiarism or fraud. I will go to the mat for crappy books I don’t even care about when doing so is in line with our professional values.
However, I struggle with the idea that libraries should give hate groups a platform to spew their hate if those groups request to use library space. The Library Bill of Rights says both that “a person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views” and that “libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.” What if by letting one group have a platform in the Library, other members of the community do not feel safe using the Library because the former group is arguing for the extermination of the latter? Is fear of being hurt or killed not an abridgment of their right to use the library?
David King argues for a neutrality that has never really existed in libraries. Libraries have never really been neutral. The Library Bill of Rights has existed since 1939, yet most libraries were segregated in the Jim Crow South. It wasn’t librarians, but black activists who got libraries integrated in the South. Yes, friends, in spite of whatever “vocational awe” you may have, libraries have not always been hotbeds of freedom and civil rights unless it was the civil rights of white people. Their so-called “neutrality” often reflected the racism and oppression existing in the larger society. Look at how Library of Congress subject headings have changed as they went from terms that matched racist (miscegenation, mixed blood, mammies), sexist (delinquent women, wife-beating), anti-immigrant (illegal alien, Yellow Peril), homophobic (sexual perversion) and ableist (idiocy) thinking of a time to the terms we use more commonly today. Some still reflect the whitewashing of racist injustices (Japanese Americans–Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945 anyone?). True neutrality would have meant using terms that were neutral, but libraries have long reflected the same oppressive conditions we see in the rest of civil society.
Now, many librarians are arguing that libraries must not be neutral if they want to truly provide equal access to everyone and to properly serve their diverse communities. This means making a special effort to buy diverse books to ensure that everyone in their communities has materials that are of interest to them and reflect their lives. It means focusing library hiring toward having a diverse staff that looks like the communities they serve. It also means not giving hate groups a platform to spread hate in our libraries when doing so would make the majority of our patrons feel unwelcome and unsafe. We can’t promise that libraries will be completely safe spaces — we provide access to materials that might challenge or alarm people — but we can prevent people who encourage violence against others from having a platform in our libraries. There are limits to free speech and incitement to violence and “forms of intimidation that are most likely to inspire fear of bodily harm” are included. The dividing line of what is and isn’t incitement to violence and what is and isn’t a form of intimidation that inspires fear of bodily harm have changed over time, but I think we as libraries owe it to our communities to not give a platform to any group that preaches violence and harm against another group in our community. As Barbara Fister suggests, our tolerance should stop where others’ intolerance begins.
And ALA seems to be moving towards supporting this thinking if this “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights is any indication:
Libraries should not merely be neutral places for people to share information, but should actively encourage socially excluded, marginalized, and underrepresented people to fully participate in community debates and discussions.
However, the ALA website also contains this narrower interpretation of the meeting room aspect of the Library Bill of Rights which says “if meeting rooms in libraries supported by public funds are made available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or based on the ideas that the group advocates.” It seems like the ideas of encouraging oppressed groups to fully participate in the library and allowing hate groups to speak in the library are in direct conflict. And I struggle with this, as a long-time civil libertarian and as a librarian who does not believe in the so-called neutrality of libraries. But, in the end, I choose to support the members of our community whose very existence is threatened by these individuals and groups.
This is not an intellectual argument for many non-white, non-Christian, non-cis-gendered, or not straight individuals; this is an existential threat. It is to me. And, in the end, I struggle to excuse the behavior of a colleague who doesn’t even seem to at least agonize over this question and what it means for members of his community who lack his privilege. Even if you come out on the other side of this question, at least recognize what it means to people who are not you to allow hate groups to spew hate in your library. I was defending David’s character on Twitter yesterday and by the end of the day I wondered why I felt the need to do this when he couldn’t even be bothered to express support for the groups targeted by hate groups in Charlottesville, which included people like me who he’s known for more than a decade.
I’d rather be on the right side of history than hide behind a neutrality that has been used to oppress and exclude marginalized groups throughout the history of libraries.
Photo credit: Jewschool
I knew something was very wrong toward the end of Freshman year at Wesleyan. I’d begun to withdraw from the circle of friends I’d become so close to over the year that two of them came home with me over Spring Break. I either couldn’t fall asleep at all or slept 12 or more hours a day. I perseverated over every little thing and yet felt like a zombie. I kept my grades up, mainly because it felt like the only thing keeping me going. I wasn’t “me” anymore. It was my first brush with a major depressive episode, one that would last another year and a half and nearly kill me. By late Fall of sophomore year, when I had to meet with my advisor about my schedule for Spring term, I didn’t really feel like I’d make it to Spring term. I broke down in front of this highly respected history professor and told him I didn’t think I could stay at Wesleyan. I don’t remember exactly what he said to me, but I came out of that meeting feeling like someone cared about me and believed I could make it. He got me set up with campus mental health for counseling and checked back in with me a few times. His small kindness felt so very big to me at the time (and even now).
In addition to depression, I had a mean case of impostor syndrome, which was exacerbated by being at such a rigorous university. While I’d gone to a mediocre Florida public school, most of my friends went to the best private schools in the country where they’d studied things like Foucault in Freshman year. Some of my friends’ parents were nobel prize winners or famous playwrights, filmmakers, and authors. I felt constantly out of my depth; I didn’t know how I’d even gotten accepted.
But I was also so excited by what I was learning. I came to college wanting to better understand philosophy, history, and human behavior and I took so many courses that illuminated for me the human mind. I ended up writing a thesis that combined the three, a look at how the philosophical movement in Prussia from enlightenment thinking to romanticism (and the nationalism that came with it) led a tremendous number of the Jews of Berlin to convert to Christianity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But I almost didn’t do an honors thesis at all, had I not been convinced to do it by the professor who would become my thesis advisor, Oliver Holmes. He persuaded me that I could do it and that my crackpot theories around this topic were not actually so crazy. He even went to the powers that be to get me registered as a thesis student since it was after drop/add. He kicked my butt all year, made me read insane amounts of content, and made me a better writer than I’d ever been before. And had he not encouraged me, I would have missed out on one of the best intellectual experiences of my life.
Had I thought that either of these professors might have tweeted or shared information about me (even anonymously) on some other social media platform, I would never have approached them in the first place. I approached these two professors because I trusted them. I find the idea of my professors complaining about me mortifying. But that’s the world we seem to live in these days; a world where instructors take to social media to blow off steam about their students for infractions big and small or to share the funny things they say or requests they make. I call it “Dear Student” culture, for the truly awful blog that was a part of the Chronicle of Higher Ed for a while.
Jesse Stommel wrote a terrific piece about the “Dear Student” column and how it compelled him to quit writing for the Chronicle himself. I really appreciated these bullet points and his views on venting about students in public:
What everyone working anywhere even near to the education system needs to do:
- Treat the least privileged among us with the most respect.
- Recognize that the job of a teacher is to advocate for students, especially in an educational system currently under direct threat at almost every turn.
- Laugh at ourselves and not at those we and our system have made most vulnerable.
- Rant up, not down.
I certainly understand the need to vent. My professional colleagues and I vent to each other privately in areas in which we could not be overheard by students. Twitter is not such a place.
The other day, I saw a professor write about a student who had asked for the syllabus for a Fall course in July.
"Hi Professor. I know it's only July, but do you have the syllabus ready that we'll use in the fall? I want to.." pic.twitter.com/thHNCI5EC8
— Charles W. McKinney (@kmt188) July 6, 2017
Cute, right? At many universities, faculty do not have to have the syllabus done until the first day of class (though at other institutions, like San Jose State where I work part-time students can view the syllabus before they select classes for that term). If the syllabus isn’t ready, of course it’s reasonable to say no to the student. I might have sent the student an old copy if one existed, but I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should have to create something to satisfy the student. The original post was certainly not even in the same league of awful as the “Dear Student” articles (though he later argued with me that the students’ request was “utterly unreasonable” which made me give some side-eye), but the thread went on and others tweeted things that were more offensive to students, some of which the original poster agreed with.
“Overachievers finish last and piss us off!!!”
“This ridiculously early email should make up for the lack of interest I’m about to show once I’m enrolled”
“Now if only they were so interested in looking at the syllabus, *during* the semester…”
“…do you have the syllabus from for years ago Spring for my transfer…..Still No”
“My own view (since no one asked)? That is a human being who needs to learn to breathe. Deeply.”
“And then this student will fall silent and send out reply emails the last week of class asking for extra credit for all assignments missed!”
“Doesn’t the dimwit know to download the spring version and to get the quizzes and homework solutions then, too?”
“Hi profesor! Im premed lol kin u tell me bst way 2 gt As n ur class??? Thx uuuu!!!!”
“Some students think that putting a course together takes about as long as they take to write a paper (a few hours)! ;-)”
“this isn’t high school instructors don’t owe your fragile ass shit & neither does the world. Learn that in your four years & u may be ok”
“Plus, they’re really NOT going to get started on that reading. Told my senior seminar students what to read this summer. I’ll bet they don’t”
A student who looked up their professor for Fall and found this tweet would see all of those responses. I would imagine that the original poster is very busy with other work and research-related pursuits this summer. Maybe he is even overburdened with things he wishes he didn’t have to do. I don’t know. I agree 100% that having boundaries is definitely a good thing in academia. I know my first year as a librarian, I was so “students first” that I was answering research questions from students on Christmas day. I learned that I had to set up boundaries to have time with family and friends, because work could easily eat up every waking minute. But that student’s request was not “utterly unreasonable.” It is not utterly unreasonable to request a syllabus. Some instructors might have it ready and others won’t. If they then complained about the “no,” that would be unreasonable, but the question itself was not. And complaining about students or commenting on things they said on Twitter to get laughs or commiseration or whatever is just not a good idea.
I work at a community college now where a large portion of our student population are first-generation and returning students. These populations historically have come into college with a pretty low sense of self-efficacy and without some of the skills of “studentship” because they hadn’t learned them before. They come in not knowing the “rules” of academia and discover that, in fact, different instructors can have very different rules and practices. Even as a relatively privileged individual, I didn’t really understand much about how academia worked when I got to college and I certainly didn’t understand issues of academic labor. I hear from students all the time who tell me they feel like they don’t belong in college because they’re struggling. A lot of the students I deal with have experienced trauma in their lives, so knowing that they can trust the people who are paid to support their success is critical. For people who have experienced bullying or abuse, finding that their instructor wrote about something they said or asked on Twitter could destroy their trust not only in that instructor but in the institution.
Many academics are working at institutions where administration has increased class sizes, cut faculty development funding, and done other things that have made our work lives more difficult and less pleasant. I remember when all of a sudden my teaching load for the LIS class I taught at SJSU doubled from 15 to 30 with no additional compensation. I realized after a term that if I wanted to keep my sanity, I needed to change my assignments to make my grading load less intense. I feel like many faculty are frustrated with the labor conditions they are put under by administrators (which many don’t feel safe openly posting about on social media) that it creates an environment where they interpret even innocuous requests by students through that lens. And see students as adversaries with more privilege than they have. And it leads some of them to punch down, because there are no consequences for it and it allows them to let off steam. The students are not the enemy in these situations and treating them like they are doesn’t fix anything.
I think back to the class on Modern Political Thought I took with Prof. Holmes before I wrote my thesis. I was so shy and insecure that I almost never talked in class, which is pretty hard to do in a class of 10 students. The professor could have interpreted my silence as apathy or laziness or whatever. He could have made fun of my timidity. Instead, he gently tried to get me to talk. He encouraged me. He gave me good feedback on my essays. He believed in me. I can’t tell you what that meant. I was so fragile then that being called out would have wrecked me. And I know I’m not the only one. Jesse Stommel wrote a follow-up piece where he talks about some comments he received from students (btw, I love the post he links to under “student voices”).
What I listened to most intently during the aftermath of “Dear Chronicle” were the student voices, a number of whom commented anonymously on my piece:
“Part of the reason why I never asked for help was because I saw what my professors thought of those who did.”
“I dropped out of college, in large part due to the hoops I had to jump through to get my disabilities recognized. I was always so tired of having to justify myself and I didn’t want to have to argue ‘but I’m not like those students’ because then I’d be no better than the people judging me.”
“It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re not made to feel like you’re stupid or a liar. It’s a lot easier to focus on studying when you’re not focused on having to justify yourself.”
This is where the conversation starts. By listening seriously to the voices of students and recognizing that students can be drivers of the conversation about the state of education. Teachers have anxieties. Teaching is one of the most emotionally difficult jobs I have done and can imagine doing. Of course, we need to vent. But it is not productive for us to continue creating spaces for teachers to vent that students can eavesdrop on but feel excluded from. I agree that we need to talk openly about real concerns, but there are better ways to have those conversations than by stereotyping, mocking, and shaming.
I have definitely had moments where I’ve felt overworked, under-appreciated, and burnt out. I’ve had moments where I’ve lost sight of why I was doing this work. I’ve felt annoyed with students at times. I’ve vented to colleagues, as I mentioned before. I don’t think that I’ve ever badmouthed a student on social media, but I’m willing to imagine that maybe I slipped up at some point. We all get into these negative head spaces sometimes, but we should remember that students are not the enemy and our role is to be their champions; to do what we can to help them be successful. My role is to facilitate their learning and help prepare them for the rest of their lives. My role is not to nitpick them, not give extensions when they are dealing with terrible things or are ill, assume they’re liars, or make fun of them for the amusement of my friends.
Do I think the faculty member who posted about the student’s request for the syllabus is a bad instructor? Of course not! I’m sure he cares very much about his students and did not mean any harm with what he wrote. I think in this era it is a very human thing to vent on social media about how busy we are, and it’s not a stretch to do that in such a way where you use a student’s question to that end. But writing about students on social media in any way that is other than positive is a bad idea. I would say that the same cautions apply to talking about students that way at conferences (which many of us learned from the ACRL Conference) and in articles.
When a student makes a request of an instructor, we often don’t know what issues and external stressors in the student’s life are behind the request. Just like they don’t know about the issues and external stressors in our lives. Approaching student requests with compassion rather than lumping them in with “all the students like them” builds the sort of student/faculty relationships that support student success.
Other articles/posts that have influenced my thinking about this issue:
- This Conversation is Sort of About That, But Also Really Not: ACRL Reflections Part 1
- I want your fight: On shame and #ACRL2017
- Do Better
- Dear Student? How about Dear Provost?
- Venting About Students: Punching Up or Down?
- When Teachers Talk about their Students on Facebook (some of the comments on this — which ranged from students deserve it and should toughen up to Ratemyprofessor justifies it! to I work hard and get paid peanuts and deserve to let off steam this way — made me want to barf)
Last week, I gave an online presentation about the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for the ACRL Student Learning & Information Literacy Committee. It was entitled Framework Freakout: How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Live with the Framework. Way more people attended than I’d expected (you know how webinars go) and it ended up being a lot of fun with a plethora of good questions. You can check out my slides or watch my archived talk embedded below.
I wasn’t able to get to all of the questions, so I thought I could answer some of them here (I believe this was Rhonda’s off-hand suggestion and a good one!). I want to preface this by saying that I am not “she who has all the answers.” I am not an expert. I am not the most knowledgeable about the Framework by a long-shot. I’m just a fellow-traveller on this journey to improve our teaching and student information literacy. I have engaged with the Framework some and have integrated it into my teaching where it makes sense. I would like to do more in the future, but, to me, the focus for all of us should be open-minded engagement with the Framework and incremental improvements to our teaching. Making people feel like their teaching is not Framework-y enough or that they need a philosophy degree to really do anything with the Framework is counterproductive. As Zoe Fisher says in her great post about critical information literacy (which I would argue has barriers similar to the Framework in terms of engagement and implementation), “Do Your Best and Fuck The Rest.”
Can you give the full citation for the Schroeder article?
There are actually two articles by Schroeder and Cahoy about affective components of information literacy:
Schroeder, Robert, and Ellysa Stern Cahoy. “Valuing information literacy: Affective learning and the ACRL standards.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 10.2 (2010): 127-146.
Cahoy, Ellysa Stern, and Robert Schroeder. “Embedding affective learning outcomes in library instruction.” Communications in Information Literacy (2012).
How does student self-reflection work when your contact with students is very limited?
I kind of answered this in the talk, but I think I can expand on it a little. Reflection doesn’t need to take much time and you can definitely incorporate it into a one-shot. You can have students share (anonymously) in the beginning what aspects of doing research they feel confident in and what areas they’d like to improve. You can ask them what they hope to learn from this session. You can use this as formative assessment data to tailor your session (that’s especially easy if you get the instructor to have students do this in advance. You can have them reflect in the middle of class on things that confused them, that they have questions about, or that they’d hoped you’d cover that you haven’t yet. This again is a reflection that you can act upon in the session. Finally, you can have them reflect at the end of class in the form of a minute paper or similar. I usually ask them about something useful they learned, something that they’re confused or have questions about, and how they feel now about their ability to complete their assignment. I probably wouldn’t kludge three reflections into a one-shot, but you could absolutely do one or even perhaps two of these in your teaching (I usually just have one).
You could also collaborate with the faculty member to have students reflect later on what they learned in your session that was useful in completing the assignment and how they’ve grown as a researcher over the course of the class. That could even be built into the assignment for students to do at the end, which will help to cement the lessons learned for students, and will help the librarian to see what value they provided and consider what they might want to do differently next time.
If a class is coming in for one single session, how do you prioritize content? The framework ideas are interesting and likely most beneficial long-term … but aren’t we doing them a disservice, by not focusing on task at hand i.e. how to find/evaluate/select sources needed for particular assignment?
There were a few questions around the question of teaching content vs. teaching the Framework. I don’t see these two things as distinct nor are they an either/or thing. When I am designing learning outcomes and experiences for a class, I first look at their assignment and see what they need to do. My feeling is that the content in the Framework IS what students need to learn to be successful at their assignments. I don’t think that teaching “information creation as a process” is not relevant to a class where students need to find and evaluate a variety of types of sources. How will students successfully evaluate sources if they don’t know what goes into their creation? How will students be able to use sources rhetorically if they haven’t considered that “authority is constructed and contextual?” Integrating aspects of the latter frame into a one-shot may be as simple as having students do a pair-share about how people become experts and then facilitating a discussion around different types of expertise and how different audiences might be swayed by different kinds of expertise. Integrating the former might be as simple as using process cards (which I discussed in the webinar) discussing what students discovered, and then showing them how to find those different types of sources. It doesn’t matter if students know how to use a library database if they haven’t learned how important language is to searching and how to brainstorm keywords and related terms. Depending on the assignment and learning outcomes, I might spend more or less time on mechanical skills. Embracing the Framework doesn’t require you to never again show a student how to use a database. It just might mean that instead of just showing them how to use it, you explain what it is, what goes into the creation of the different kinds of sources in it, or what to consider when determining which sources to select. I’ve never found it a big departure from how I taught before the Framework was adopted, though it is a big departure from how I taught when I was fresh out of library school (ugh).
Also, I cover mechanics less by having students view videos before class that cover the mechanics. Sometimes instructors show them in class, or sometimes students complete pre-assignments I design in Google Forms or Qualtrics where they watch videos and then do the things described in the videos (brainstorm keywords on their topic, search the database, etc.). The great thing about the pre-assignment, beyond freeing up my time to focus less on mechanics, is that I have all of this formative assessment data I can use to focus on where students are struggling. You can see some examples and specifics on my pre-assignments in my slides from a preconference workshop I gave last year: The Mindful Instruction Librarian and the One-Shot (see slides 16-27).
How can I find the page that holds PDX’s All Learning Objects?
Not sure here if you meant PCC’s instructional videos or if you meant the Information Literacy Toolkit. Our tutorials are all housed on our Handouts and Tutorials page, but the toolkit is still in development and won’t be released until shortly before Fall.
Has anyone implemented Poll Everywhere for student reflection/assessment in your sessions? Hoping to start doing that this semester!
I have not used Poll Everywhere, but I have used Padlet, which is somewhat similar in that all students can anonymously post content to a collaborative whiteboard. I’ve used it more for research question and keyword brainstorming than for reflection, but both certainly could be used for student reflection. I find it easy enough for students to post to a Google Form or a collaborative Google Doc, so that’s what I use.
What did you call the short sessions you did at Portland State in advance of the full one-shot session?
Warmth sessions, which are borrowed shamelessly from the work of Dale Vidmar (Southern Oregon University) and Constance Mellon.
Vidmar, Dale J. “Affective change: Integrating pre-sessions in the students’ classroom prior to library instruction.” Reference Services Review 26.3/4 (1998): 75-95.
Mellon, Constance A. “Library anxiety: A grounded theory and its development.” College & Research Libraries 47.2 (1986): 160-165.
Also, do you have suggestions about how to explain the Framework in easy-to-understand terms. I have faculty that tell me what can you do for my students and do not care about the lingo, such as “information literacy.” It’s what can you do for my students.
What about non-librarian faculty framework freakout? as in…just teach them how to use the databases…
As to the first question, I never use info lit jargon with faculty. As a liaison, I work with a diverse portfolio of departments, each of which requires different approaches to outreach. With our developmental education faculty, we have shown them aspects of the framework because they are a population that groks reading apprenticeship, metacognition, and the idea that helping students develop positive habits of mind is as important (if not more so) as mechanical skill development. In my more content-focused disciplines, a different approach is needed.
In this era of declining budgets and neoliberalism, colleges and universities are more focused than ever on ensuring that students are developing the skills employers are looking for. I think the Project Information Literacy research around how students navigate information in the workplace as well as additional research I’ve seen here and there about the information skills employers want can be very persuasive in framing information literacy as workplace readiness. But really, the key is to know your audience and what they’d find persuasive.
In terms of pushing back on faculty who want us to focus solely on “how to search databases,” this isn’t a tension I encounter much at PCC and maybe that’s the community college difference (I don’t know for sure). I think letting faculty know that learning how to use a library database does not mean that they will be able to brainstorm keywords from their topic that will help them find relevant sources or that they will be able to evaluate the sources they find to select ones that are both relevant and of sufficient quality for the task at hand. Databases aren’t magic. If we only focus on searching, students will not be able to do research effectively as there is so much more that goes into the process. Framing things in terms of workplace readiness may also be persuasive, but it really all depends on the instructor and what you think will persuade them. But, as I said, at PCC, our faculty for the most part respect our expertise in this area and trust us to make good decisions about what to teach.
We’re in the process of creating tutorials for faculty to embed into their online classes. I’m curious whether your have created assessments for your faculty to use with your tutorials.
Not assessments per se, but we are in the process of creating (and have already created a few) suggested activities that faculty can either have students do in class or have them do as homework around the learning outcome covered in the video. This will give the faculty member the opportunity to see how well students have internalized/mastered the lessons in the video so they’ll know whether further emphasis/teaching is required. They will live in the Information Literacy Toolkit.
Can Meredith comment on the applicability of the Framework in the community college context, versus the other contexts she also has work experience in? Does it apply “equally yet differently”?
It’s hard for me to know what is specific to my community college vs. what is specific to community colleges in general, because I’ve only worked at one. So your mileage may vary. I think having a lot of non-traditional students and being a conduit either to a trade or to a four-year institution helps faculty think differently about what we do here. I think the Framework and teaching in a Framework-y way is an easier sell at my community college. I’ve already talked about the developmental education faculty and how they are very much on the same page as the Framework, but faculty here in general do recognize that there are a lot of things that go into learning that go beyond content and mechanical skills. We see students who are being held back by their lack of self-efficacy, lack of good studentship skills/dispositions, etc. We know that building student self-efficacy and good studentship are as important (if not more) than the content we teach in a particular course. There is also a strong focus on making students employable, which encourages a focus on what students need beyond the content and after school is over. At PCC, one of our core outcomes is self-reflection so that metacognitive work is respected here at the College. I feel very lucky to work where I do.
When I took my current job at PCC almost three years ago, I gained so many things: work I love, amazing engaged colleagues, a mission I identify with, terrific students, and great faculty collaborators. One of the things I lost was sufficient professional development funding. I haven’t attended an out-of-state conference in almost three years, and while I miss my professional community, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.
I was especially sad to miss the ACRL 2017 Conference in Baltimore, so I followed a lot of the twitter backchannel (#ACRL2017). While there were plenty of Twitter posts summarizing points from so many great presentations and keynotes as well as posts that showed me what the people I care about were up to, I was surprised by the amount of negativity, bitterness, and snark I was seeing. Some of it was around presenters (particularly about whether they should be presenting on their chosen topic and mostly targeted at white men), some of it around comments during the presentations themselves, and others around the Q&A sessions (particularly after Roxanne Gay’s keynote, but I saw quite a few other complaints from other sessions). It might just be that the people I follow make for a skewed sample, but I haven’t seen that level of negativity since Twitter first came on the scene and people didn’t know it was kind of awful to insult people while they were presenting.
Way back in 2010, I wrote about the value of Twitter at conferences and how the back-channel could just as easily become a hostile, negative, and distracting force as it could be a helpful force for connecting and sharing ideas. Back then, I shared the case of danah boyd‘s speech at the Web 2.0 Expo, which is a cautionary tale if there ever was one. In that case, the backchannel showed up on the screen behind the speaker, humiliating them in real time. At most conferences, the speaker or questioner doesn’t even know that they are being criticized, insulted, or made fun of on a publicly-accessible backchannel. Is that better? I try to consider, when live tweeting someone’s talk, how I would feel if what I wrote were projected on the screen behind them. I don’t always get it right, but I keep that in the forefront of my mind. That doesn’t mean that I never criticize via Twitter, but I try to think about how I frame it.
Erin Leach from Constructive Summer: Building the Unified Library Scene (one of my favorite blogs) wrote this about the Twitter backchannel at ACRL 2017:
I had a real love/hate relationship with the social media back channel at this event. I found myself using the back channel to say some things that weren’t very kind about situations and programs in which I found myself. I feel like everybody has to decide for themselves how they use social media, so this is more a self-critique than a hot take on the social media back channel writ large. At some point, in wanting to build a brand and cultivate a following, I lost track of my authentic voice in favor of something snarkier. And I don’t like how I feel when I do that. I think I need to spend time thinking critically about how I use my voice in online spaces.
I feel that. The desire to write something pithy or interesting on social media can definitely pull us towards being snarky and even mean. I’ve had moments where I’ve looked back at something I wrote on Twitter and cringe. I think Twitter can really bring out the worst in people because of the positive strokes we get from being snarky or joining in a pile-on. I appreciate Erin’s interest in reflecting on whether that is what she wants to put out there in the world. I’ve had many of the same thoughts about myself.
The awesome Zoe Fisher (who has one of my other favorite blogs) had a very valid criticism she shared on Twitter at ACRL blow up big time. She shared an appalling slide where some librarians called their students “our sweet dum dums” in response to looking at their work for assessment purposes. YIKES. I’m sure we’ve all complained about students or faculty members to our colleagues when we’re blowing off steam (though calling them dumb seems beyond the pale), but I truly cannot understand what would make a group of people think it was ok to put such a thing up on a slide. Anyways, Zoe shared it and there was an avalanche of tweeting about how horrible it was, then how one of the speakers (Erin) was running for ACRL Board and we shouldn’t vote for them. It was the typical social media pile-on, which I’ve written about before. I read it all last week and felt my usual discomfort with the pile-on, though I did think the language was egregious and deserved to be called out. What made me most uncomfortable was that no one confronted these people directly when something so offensive to students and ableist was shared. Days later, the woman running for ACRL Board was clued into the kerfuffle by a friend and posted a public apology on Twitter. Though I know Zoe had planned to contact Erin, I could very easily imagine a situation in which none of the speakers would ever find out that people were tarring and feathering them online and thus would never learn from the situation.
Some of the complaints I saw on Twitter were calling out microaggressions (generational, ableist, racial, etc.) or situations where people exercised their privilege in a way that reinforced existing power structures. It wasn’t just a sucky talk people were writing about. The biggest concern I have with that is that the message is rarely getting to the perpetrators like it fortunately did in Zoe’s case. Although it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, only a minority of our profession is on Twitter, which means that we’re usually preaching to the choir (or the echo chamber) when we post something like this.
That said, I totally understand that sometimes we’re not going to feel safe or capable of calling someone out. There are lots of reasons why people don’t confront things that are wrong and Kate Deibel articulates many of them here on Twitter. I have a really hard time holding my tongue in the moment and have often paid for it when speaking out against things I felt were wrong. I have totally been in the situation where people have said they agreed with me and had my back when I said I was going to bring an issue up in a meeting and then they sat silently making me look like a lone crank. I also suffer from social anxiety and am very much like George Costanza in this clip below — tongue-tied in the moment and then thinking of what to say after hours of rumination.
Whether we feel safe speaking out or not, I think it’s worth recognizing that the things we don’t like will continue to happen unless we educate the people doing them. This is especially true when it comes to things like microaggressions where people rarely even realize the wrongness and hurtfulness of what they’re saying.
And I think it’s more than just not feeling safe, especially for people who are in a position of privilege in a particular situation. Like so many things with social media, Tweeting about something we see that’s wrong can feel like “doing something.” And sometimes, indeed, calling it out can get someone else to act, but more often than not, it starts and ends with a Twitter storm. Certainly tweeting scratches an itch many of us have to be liked and be right. It positions us as someone who does right because we point out the wrong. We’re not like “those people who do that” because we point it out, so it distances us from people with whom we don’t want to be associated. It often results in a bunch of “I agree” and “you’re awesome”-type responses, which again hits the reward centers of our brain. It seems like a win-win, especially because the risk of putting ourselves out there in that way on Twitter is so much lower than actually saying something to the person/people you’re writing about.
And I say “us” here because I’ve done it too. I remember complaining about this guy some of us called “the mansplainer” at two successive Library Assessment Conferences because he would basically use the Q&A as an opportunity to demonstrate how much he knows and then (finally) ask a question that is designed to demonstrate that the speaker knows less and demean them. I complained about him on Twitter, but I never said anything to him. And I should have. Maybe he’s just a twerp who would write off my criticism or maybe he would realize that we all see right through him and would stop doing it. But he’s not going to learn anything if people like me just keep talking about him on the backchannel. It was a fail on my part.
In her blog post, Zoe quoted something valuable Roxanne Gay said in her keynote: “‘I don’t want your shame,’ she said. ‘I want your fight.” Zoe meant that in terms of the people who wrote the “dum dum” comment taking action to be on the side of their students. I want to see that fight come out when people see someone doing wrong in a conference presentation (or really anywhere). Especially when we are in a situation where we have privilege, we are being a good ally when we use that privilege to call out people for microaggressions against or disrespect of people with less privilege. It might be uncomfortable for us to do that publicly, but consider how much more uncomfortable it is for the target of the microaggression or disrespect. This post on Allies and Microaggressions describes what it feels like to experience microaggressions when their “allies” don’t speak up until after the fact. We need to not just point out on Twitter the sucky things people do, but to actually confront the perpetrators publicly about it when we can. A whole lot of people complained about the Q&A sessions at the conference: maybe they should have been seen as opportunities to confront speakers about issues with their presentations.
It would be lovely if this were all clear-cut, but it isn’t. It would be great if we could just say Twitter=bad or suggesting people directly call out offensive things=tone policing. Twitter sometimes can be a great force for good and change. It can also bring out the absolute worst in really nice people because of how snark, meanness, and cattiness is rewarded. Twitter can help bring to light bad actors. Twitter can also sometimes make people think they’re making a difference as an ally when they’re not really being one in real life. Tone policing is bad. But so is silence when you have privilege and someone you know who doesn’t is being made the target of a microaggression. We’re not going to be perfect all the time. We’re going to get it wrong sometimes. But I think recognizing the importance of confronting wrong in a way that educates the person who did wrong and encourages change is the key. For someone like the incredible Emily Drabinski (who is active on Twitter and was confronted there for something she said in a conference session) that might be a fine way to deliver the message. But especially when the things someone said may have hurt people in the audience, calling them out publicly in the session both educates them about the wrong they did and makes the injured parties feel supported. We won’t always be able to do this, of course, but let’s never stop wanting to do better.