I went to TEDxBellingham last week. This is what it was like: http://ow.ly/r1nW5 I went in support of the Director of Everything Went Down, who gave a talk entitled “Better Living Through Music”. He rocked it! His talk will be live December 1st and I’ll post it then. Here are some images from the event: http://ow.ly/r1o7Z The wonderful Portland-based author Naseem Rahka http://tedxbellingham.com/introducing-speaker-17/ was there and I had the pleasure of meeting her. You should check out her book “The Crying Tree”. More soon!
It has been a GOOD long while since I blogged. And if there’s one thing I know about social media and blogging, absence means death. So I’m starting something new: a rebirth. Inspired by my good friend at Good Things Darling and author Gretchen Rubin, I’m setting aside 15 minutes a day to blog. I made this decision weeks ago, but it took until now to actually do it. I had all sorts of excuses: It’s been so long, no one will care! My blog and my online infrastructure is so old, maybe I should wait until I can update my entire online presence (ha)! I need a timer so I know exactly how long I will have! I need some ideas! Well, maybe no one will care–at least at first. But I bought a timer last weekend, and I’ve slowly begun to reinvigorate my online presence (though my website and blog space still need a great deal of work). I even started writing a list of topics on my new favorite online organization tool: Evernote (dear friend to list-makers and article collectors everywhere). And the fact is, THIS blogspace is here, now. I can still use it to begin this process of reinventing my online self and getting back into writing–something I miss terribly, beyond writing my daily emails and tweets. So here I am: I’ve shown up. I’ve decided showing up and being tenacious might be the most important things you can do in life. So that’s what I’m going to do: show up at whatever blog space is available to me for 15 minutes a day and write. I may write about professional stuff, like instruction and training, UX design, online tools, social media, libraries, and information literacy. Or I may write about life lessons I’ve been considering: like this whole “showing up” business, or how to network like an introvert. I may write about writing. Or something else entirely. I decided I’m not going to restrict my blog to the serious OR the silly. I think those days of clear strong lines between the two are coming to an end. So this blog is just going to be as thoughtful as I can make it–in 15 minutes.
I have been thinking a lot recently about the research paper as academic conversation. Conversation is where ideas form and are honed and exchanged–and this is what good academic research papers do. To me, this is both a very simple and very important concept necessary to academic pursuit as well as to life. I think it is an important thing to teach in our present (and hopefully future) climate of transliterate library instruction, where many different types of media are used to not only join in on the conversation but to create conversational opportunities. But how do we teach it and its importance? Conversation and idea exchange can be such ephemeral concepts. Not only that, many students (and, let’s admit it, people in general) want the ultimate truth: the final, correct, black or white answer, not the greys of the back-and-forth of discourse. But sometimes this isn’t possible in academia. Isn’t this the whole point of academic research? To advance further? To keep questioning and “conversing” with the discoveries and ideas that have come before yours?
What began my train of thought on conversation? Twitter. Twitter itself can create a visual of conversation and that’s what it did for me. Last Fall there was a (admittedly small) firestorm of conversation on Twitter about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on social networking’s lack of effect on social justice. I know I saw plenty of response in mine. People were also posting response articles they had seen to the Gladwell such as Maria Popova’s. Perhaps, then, Twitter is one way to teach and describe academic conversation: the back and forth; point and counterpoint; original thought and “retweets”–aka the thoughts of others with credited attribution (and hopefully one’s own commentary to build upon others’ thoughts). It seems to me there’s something about Twitter and the way it’s used as conversation in text that could help librarians and other academics teach about academic conversation–but I’ve not yet worked out how. If anyone has any thoughts or current uses along these lines, I’d appreciate your comments!
Speaking of Twitter and conversation, you might also check out this excellent and insightful article about Twitter’s interesting mix of orality and literacy from “Technosociology” .
I noticed a bit of Twitter buzz this week about a recent article on “The Creativity Crisis” in Newsweek. As so often happens, the article pulls you in with a scary research finding: “research shows that American creativity is declining”. (!!!) If that’s true, of course it’s unsettling, though one must always regard such research results with a critical eye. But what is more interesting to me about this article is what some educators are doing to nurture creativity. And, as I read the creativity-fostering examples in the article, I began to think about how library instructors, whether in K-12 schools or universities, might do the same.
For example, the European Union has apparently been trying to institute “problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults”. That phrase “real-world inquiry” particularly caught my eye. I realized such inquiry is as important to consider in library instruction (whether “formal” or at the reference desk) as it is anywhere else. It seems to me that our job as reference/library instructors is to guide patrons and/or students as they try to solve their “real-world inquiries”. And when a patron has a question they are personally invested in finding out the answer to, something that is really relevant to them, they are going to go to more lengths to find out the answer—and they might be open to creative ways of doing so. Therefore, it behooves us to connect our library instruction sessions to students’/patrons’ assignments or “real-world inquiries”—or at least as close as we can get to their “real-world inquiries”. Basically, this article reminded me of the importance of embedding library instruction in the school or university setting. Show the relevance of the research and information gathering process at the point of need and give students the tools, guidance, and skills they need to get creative in answering their research question or solving their problem. Yes, the research process can be quite creative! Perhaps we librarians should be sure to point that out and talk about the ways we’ve gotten creative in finding information for our own lines of inquiry.
I encourage you to read the article. Once you get past the fear-of-creativity-decline stuff, pay attention to those “real-world inquiry” curricula I mentioned earlier. I particularly loved the story about the “National Inventors Hall of Fame School” in Akron, OH. Notice that the first creative activity the fifth graders engage in is what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger calls “fact-finding”—sound familiar? It seems to me there might be a role for librarians in helping nuture creativity at all levels of the research process.
It’s been about a week since the American Library Association’s annual conference in DC, so I thought it was about time I shared what I saw and learned. Here are some of my personal highlights:
- I met so many interesting young librarians who have been out in the professional field for a few years now and are doing amazing, interesting, and cutting-edge research (and practice) in libraries. Having just graduated from library school, this was an inspiration. On Saturday, I wandered into a poster session down at the far end of the exhibit floor and ended up meeting librarians involved in building online community through a digital academic repository/clearinghouse and studying and promoting the use of ebooks and mobile devices (from Holly Tomren and Lisa Carlucci Thomas, who were both an absolute joy to meet). I have decided that poster sessions are excellent places to meet and connect with other innovative librarians and I would highly recommend that other newly-minted librarians (or, really, librarians at any stage!) do the same when attending conferences.
- Listening to David Lee King, Bobbi Newman, Toby Greenwalt, and John Blyberg talk about “Designing Digital Experiences” for users was a treat (click the links for David, Bobbi or Toby to see some of the presentation material). It was also pretty exciting because I’d been hearing about all of them on Twitter or in my classes for quite a while! They all had thought-provoking things to say about creating a holistic user experience for library patrons from the website to the brick-and-mortar. I particularly liked what Toby Greenwalt said about making the digital experience more human by combining digital and human interaction at “pinch points” (aka providing service where things get difficult for patrons). At his library, there’s a chat window located on every page of their online catalog. He also talked about using QR (“Quick Response”) Codes (I heard a decent amount of buzz about these at this conference) as another way to marry the physical library to technology at a point of service. For instance, as part of a physical display for a teen photography contest at Greenwalt’s library, patrons could scan a QR Code with their smart phones and get a video interview relevant to the physical display they were standing right in front of. (Sidenote: It seems to me the creative possibilities for the use of QR Codes is endless).
- I learned a lot about the importance of needs assessment in terms of information literacy instruction, especially at the ACRL Instruction Section’s session on Evidence Based Practice in information literacy instruction with Megan Oakleaf and Diana Wakimoto (read Diana’s blog post on ALA including her overview of the EBP session). They were both engaging and dynamic speakers who really brought home the importance of pre- and post-assessment for any library instruction endeavor. What does that mean? To me, it means that to guide your patrons/students in the best way possible, you must find out what they need to know and learn — really, that’s what assessment and evaluation is all about. Don’t just guess at what you think they need — find out! As Diana said, Evidence=Good, Anecdote=Bad, When in doubt, ask! Having grumbled my way through an evaluation and research class as part of my library degree, it was good to see the relevance and importance of needs assessment and evaluation in a part of librarianship I want to practice.
- This post is getting quite long now, but I want to make a quick mention of two other highlights. The “Starting Out? Start With You!” session, with Lisa Carlucci Thomas and Karen Sobel gave some good advice to those of us starting out as librarians (e.g. Ask yourself these questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What’s your expertise, talent, niche? Make it so — build your brand). And the “Yours, Mine, and Ours” session covered a hot information literacy topic that I’m particularly interested in: the transition from high school to college and how instruction librarians can help. I’m glad to see this topic receive more and more attention!
There were some things about the conference that could have been better. Mostly, I have to agree with Buffy Hamilton (who I am SO sorry I didn’t get to meet) that there could and should have been better spaces, both virtual and real, for social and professional networking and informal learning opportunities. I love what she says about crafting the conference experience to be closer to the three Ps to make it more portable, participatory, and personalized. Buffy has some great suggestions on how this could be done – like having a better-designed Networking Uncommons space (which didn’t seem very welcoming to me at this conference), space for division or topic-specific lounges for hot topics and emerging themes, and expanding the Unconference to more than one day. I would have loved to have more of a chance to participate in the Unconference, but I couldn’t be at ALA on Friday while it was happening. And certainly, the ALA conference website could be better designed and more social-media friendly. Buffy mentions redesigning the site to pull together social media streams for the conference, which I think is an excellent idea. Twitter is just one of the places people seem to find out the most about what’s happening at the conference — surely the ALA website could make better use of that fact. And I think many of us can agree that HUGE telephone book of a conference program does not make life easier for anyone. I also think it makes those new to the conference experience feel more overwhelmed.
That’s my experience. I definitely encourage you to seek out posts from others who attended, too, since there’s no way one person can cover it all at a conference as big as this one. And please feel free to share your experience in the comments or in your own post!
One of my former classmates in Meredith Farkas’s class on Web 2.0 technology in libraries said that if there are to be social networking policies at a library, they should be less restrictive of speech. She wrote, “Libraries should keep in mind their role in promoting free and open access to information, opposition to censorship, and the commitment to intellectual freedom. Libraries should consider how ideals fit with social software policies and the tools themselves.” I completely agree. But might it also be possible to extend such a policy beyond restriction, or lack thereof, into future vision for use of these tools?
I think that libraries definitely need policies regarding the use of social networking tools. If your library’s new social networking tool is to have any staying power, you, your staff, and your patrons need to know why you are using it and how it is to be maintained and I think having a clearly written policy is an important part of this. But I think a policy could and maybe should be more than just a “do’s” and “don’ts” document that restricts. I wonder if it might be a good idea for libraries who are serious about implementing social networking technologies to have a policy that includes not only rules for implementation, interaction, maintenance, and patron guidelines, but also has policies for growth – a kind of vision and mission statement regarding the present and future of such technologies. I think “vision” and “mission” included with policy can perhaps help a library consider its ideals and commitment to open access, intellectual freedom, and etc. Moreover, I think a library’s maintenance and future planning for use of social networking technology could be greatly enhanced if the staff sat down and wrote down not only guidelines, but a larger vision and mission for the present and future of social networking and 2.0 technology in their library. It occurs to me it could even be done via wiki that could easily be added to and changed. I think having a plan and vision and letting patrons see that, even if they are not set in stone, along with the do’s and don’ts could help protect and enhance social networking initiatives.
Why shouldn’t we let patrons in on the grander vision behind what we are providing along with telling them how we expect them to behave?
After doing some reading on what it takes to build community online, it seems like there is a pretty strong consensus on what works. Once I heard some of the “best practices” described, I realized there was a lot of common sense out there that may be worth considering for those trying to build an online community.
So many, including Nancy White and Martin Reed point to the fact that you need to ask the question: “Why do you want an online community?”. Both of them seemed to be saying you need to have a purpose for having your community online. Don’t just do it because everyone else is or because it seems “trendy”. This seems especially important when considering library communities. In one of my library classes, we talked about it over and over: make sure you’re considering your community of users before implementing technology. If they are not going to use it, it will be sitting out there on the web, dying and ghostlike, making your library look bad.
Another piece of “common sense” that I don’t think I fully realized was how much time and effort it takes to build, maintain, and moderate an online community. Nearly everyone across the board says this. As part of the same class I mention above, I had the opportunity to hear how much effort it took over seven years for something like WebJunction to get as far as it has. As Martin Reed says in his article, “Community building takes a lot of time and effort. Results take a long time to arrive – do you have the time, patience, commitment, spare time?”. Once again, the consideration of time and effort seems important for libraries looking to build online communities. With limited staff and budget, make sure your community building efforts are purposeful and necessary.
With all of that said, it seems to me that community building can be quite fun even if it is hard work. Most of what I’ve read and heard has been inspiring. It’s especially inspiring to hear how the successful community builders really want to include the ideas and suggestions of their members. They seem to really remember that the community is about its members – and they practice what they preach. I had the privilege of hearing WebJunction’s Chrystie Hill tell a story about running into a member at a conference who had an idea for a forum. She said to this member: “That’s a great idea! Why don’t you set it up?”. I think we librarians know by now that our members, or patrons, are essential. Integrating these community building practices, online or otherwise, are vital to our success.