April 26, 2010

The “assessment piece” and reference strategy

I want to suggest a possible strategy for reference departments in academic libraries.

I think a lot of library administrators who have an eye on the future see less of a role for reference, at least in the way we currently understand it. As they see it, it seems to me, it’s a waste of money to have someone with a graduate degree sitting at a reference desk helping only a few people throughout the day. And as they see it, the demand for reference service is declining. They’re ready to staff the desk with paraprofessionals or students, and they’re ready to outsource much of collection development and consolidate that function to a smaller group of staff members. There is a vague idea of deploying MLIS holding librarians in new ways, but also a sense that they can save a lot of money by employing fewer of us. As I see it, that puts reference librarians in the position of having to strategize a future path and determine a role for ourselves that we actually want and that is suited to our particular expertise as the library’s connection to faculty and students.

At the same time that we are facing that challenge, there is a trend in higher ed that I think we can use as an opportunity. It’s the emphasis on assessment. It is an opportunity because the assessment mandate gets worked out to favor activities that have measurable learning outcomes and disfavor those that don’t. An accreditation body visits a university and asks them to improve its assessment practices. The university responds by asking units – academic departments and others – to develop their own assessment plans based on a list of educational objectives. The template for the assessment plan is designed with academic units in mind, and non-academic units may complain a little and treat the requirement as a bureaucratic hassle and a meaningless task, since they are not directly involved in producing educational outcomes the way academic departments are.

The opportunity for reference, and for the library as a whole, is to use the new assessment plan to secure a role where information literacy objectives (or related objectives) are emphasized. We can elaborate on what it is we teach in classrooms and while we are helping students at the desk or in our offices in order to create assessment measures that support what we want to do.

We can describe research skills that are not taught outside the library. ACRL’s information literacy standards talk about them in very general ways. I like to think about how we help students understand aspects of the bibliographic landscape of a field. Teaching them to make sense of their search results in the context of their own research problems is important educational work. The assessment piece gives us the opportunity to tell campus administration that we want them to hold us accountable for teaching students how to do research. The process tends to be designed to allow us to set our own objectives, so it gives us an opening and an opportunity to be proactive about our future in our institutions. We can take the bull by the horns.

April 21, 2010

Caralyn Champa reviews Slow Reading

Caralyn Champa has a review of John Miedema’s Slow Reading in the most recent issue of the German-English online journal Libreas. Caralyn’s review is a pleasure to read, like John’s book. She included the photo above as part of her review…

April 19, 2010

Integrity Note #1

I am proud of my integrity as a publisher (and in other roles), so from time to time I feel like making something clear that might not be.

The Social Responsibilities Round Table recently had an online meeting to discuss potential changes to the Newsletter editorial policies. I have heard some news about the situation behind it and read the meeting minutes, but I don’t feel like going into the issues right now (later I might write something about the current crisis in SRRT).

Right now I want to address one thing that an offline participant in the meeting, SRRT veteran Al Kagan, contributed to the discussion. Addressing a section of the proposed changes having to do with book reviews, Al wrote:

The proposed policy states that conflicts of interest should be avoided and full disclosure must be given. Full disclosure is important, but I don’t think conflicts of interest are important for us. For example, I have no problem in Rory reviewing one of his press’ new titles. I have no problem with a progressive author reviewing something that the person is involved in. In these kinds of cases, the expertise and passion for the issues are most important.

I want to state for the record that I have never written a review of a Litwin Books or Library Juice Press title for any publication and never will. I believe that to do so would be a conflict of interest and has to be avoided.

There have been a couple of blog posts out there that referred to our official description of a title as a review, but those were simply bloggers’ errors. We have never submitted a publisher’s description of a book to any venue for publication. These descriptions have appeared on the website and in the announcements we send out and post to this blog, but that is it. I never have and never will review one of our titles, and disagree strongly with Al about the appropriateness of doing that.

Since I am no longer an active member of SRRT and no longer on the SRRT listserv, I have not been privy to the discussion where the issue of book reviews has taken place. If anyone who has been a part of that discussion has any information about it that concerns Library Juice Press, I hope they will let me know.

Critical Library Instruction – editors’ chat

Maria, Emily, and Alana met in Google Chat, as they did often over the course of this book project, to reflect on the process and product of Critical Library Instruction: Theories & Methods.

Alana: Hello!
Emily: Morning, y’all!
Maria: Hi!
Emily: How’re we all doing?
Maria: I’m doing okay. Nervous about my presentation at noon today. I’m talking about Critical Library Instruction for our library’s “A Little Knowledge” series. It’s a monthly event the Library hosts, where we invite someone on campus to talk about their research in an informal, conversational lunchtime session. Faculty, staff, and students are all invited. I’m starting by talking about critical pedagogy, and then information literacy, and then putting those together, which is where the book was born. And then I focus, like my chapter, on assessment.
Emily: When you say you’re talking about ‘critical pedagogy,’ what do you mean by that? I know that my own definition has sort of changed over the course of the book.
Maria: Well, I define it first in Freirean terms, and then i explain how other critics and theorists and etc. have expanded upon it and so on. For me, bell hooks is my inspriration. I have a slide up there with some quotes from “Teaching to Transgress.”
Alana: Is there a part of hooks’ work that’s especially significant to you, Maria?
Maria: Yes. She cares about students. Learners are people with souls, and we should teach in a manner that respects and cares for their souls.
Alana: I feel there’s also a strong emphasis in her work on teaching as a practice of living, a part of everyday life — especially in her work on engaged pedagogy. This connects with our shared interest in thinking about the selves & embodiments we bring to the classroom, and how we interact w/our students’ (whole) selves, their personhood?
Emily: Part of what’s helped my perspective has been moving from Sarah Lawrence to LIU-Brooklyn, and working with two very different student populations. I just don’t see how we can do anything but start with who is sitting right in front of us–not the ACRL Standards–when interests, needs, and experiences are so different.
Maria: Exactly. Standards erase difference– “pasteurized processed student product” is the phrase i used in my chapter.
Alana: They also erase context.
Emily: Exactly. I’ve been doing some work lately on the Greek idea of kairos, which means ‘the right moment for speaking.’ What it’s possible to say and what it’s possible to hear depends entirely on a complex set of intersecting factors. That’s one of the reasons I really loved the Smith and Eisenhower chapter (“The Library as ‘Stuck Place’:Critical Pedagogy in the Corporate University”). It addresses these factors directly. While it says some scary things about the context in which we work, it’s helpful to have a sense of what limits what we can do.
Alana: I love the way those authors move well beyond the classroom, and beyond the institution, to situate our practice in broader contexts of neoliberalism & global capitalism, emphases on flexible labor, and creating flexible laborers. They give us a model for how to think-through our situation.
Emily: And it’s a challenging perspective–what are we supposed to do under so many constraints?–but the fact that we might actually find real freedom in our marginality was an interesting perspective.
Maria: But still, there are things we can do, which the book makes clear.
Emily: Yes–we have methods! Like problem-posing instruction, student-centered instruction, etc. Then again, much of this is pretty standard in the instruction approaches recommended by ACRL. Do you think having a politics around this stuff–which we and our contributors do–makes a difference?
Maria: Well, it makes a difference to me!
Alana: It makes a difference to me, too, especially since learning activities are just one part of teaching and learning. There are cases when, if I’m taking power-sharing seriously, I might step out of my role as Expert, and that doesn’t seem like part of the ACRL approach.
Emily: Yes. It also requires changing the way I teach things like ‘authority.’ That’s probably the biggest thing that has changed for me since we started putting this book together.
Maria: Yes. Authority is complicated.
Alana: It also means, as some of our contributors show, that what we teach — in terms of resources, critical approaches to library tools themselves, nontraditional/alternative resources — matters, too.
Emily: And that commitment, for me, comes entirely from my political commitment to acknowledging and making clear the constructed nature of all knowledge.
Alana: Right. For me, it comes from an investment in paying attention to how knowledge is produced.
Maria: Yes. Yes to all of the above.
Alana: Were there other things from our contributors that surprised you?
Emily: I worked with one author (Margaret Torrell, “Negotiating Virtual Contact Zones: Revolutions in the Role of the Research Workshop”) who is a composition teacher. She wrote very clearly from the other side of the fence much of what librarians struggle to articulate about questions of authority. It was a real reminder to me that we need to be talking to our comp friends!
Alana: And I was pleased to work with Lisa Hooper (“Breaking the Ontological Mold: Bringing Postmodern and Critical Pedagogy Into Archival Educational Programming”) on her chapter. Somehow, even given my own interest in critical archival studies, it hadn’t occurred to me that we should collaborate with archival educators, too.
Maria: I found it exciting to work with Troy Swanson’s chapter, especially. I’d read his previous work so it was pretty cool to get to correspond with him personally. His exploration of personal epistemology was really thought-provoking. As critical teachers, we resist the banking method model of teaching. But what happens when students prefer it? Troy takes this up in an interesting way.
Emily: One thing that really amazed me was how on time our authors were, which is more than just a hey-we’re-lucky! thing. I had the sense that people were really anxious for a place to put down the incipient ideas and practices that many of us are working through in isolation. I heard a lot of “I’m so grateful for this project” from my writers.
Alana: And I was so happy with how willing everyone was to really respond to our questions, to elaborate their arguments, to really revise
in ways that meant re-thinking or re-visiting initial arguments. I think this was a tricky collection to contribute to, in part because we’re interested in both theory and practice, trying to bring those two together, creating space for ideas in ways that we don’t usually see in the literature on instruction. It’s hard work!
Emily: I was so grateful to get some of those heavy-theory chapters, too. Practitioners are rarely asked to think very hard, which is a real shame. For me, the book has been like finding a home. As a thinker who goes to work every day, having a place where those two identities can exist has been really amazing.
Alana: And it’s been a reminder that it’s okay to take time to think, to question.
Maria: It is! It has been like that. Working with my authors challenged my thinking. It helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one thinking about these topics, that there is a conversation happening, and that we were helping to facilitate it.
Emily: It’s not a perfect book.
Alana: I’d be really worried if it was the perfect, definitive volume on critical library instruction.
Emily: I’d really like a more extensive discussion of critical library instruction and service learning, and I’d like to see more stuff along the lines of institutional/global critiques.
Alana: I’d also like to see more critical engagements with race,
Emily: and queerness,
Alana: and disability.
Maria: It’s a conversation starter, I think.
Emily: Yes, and one of the core themes in this book is learning as a dialogue, that knowledge doesn’t ‘settle,’ isn’t ‘final.’ We don’t offer a Top Ten Critical Pedagogy Tips and Tricks. It’s about having conversations, between students and teachers, students and students, teachers and teachers, and everybody else.
Alana: And this is why we need more, better instruction about instruction at the level of LIS programs.
Emily: I didn’t have a single instruction class. Not one. Nothing about pedagogy.
Alana: Me neither. Well, one-half of one of my reference class sessions addressed instruction.
Maria: Neither did I. The one class Pitt offered didn’t fit with my schedule.
Alana: I got my training and experience at Ohio State, where I experienced critical pedagogies from the position of teacher and learner, in my Comparative Studies courses and through working with the first-year writing program.
Emily: I’m getting it now in my composition and rhetoric program.
Maria: I first learned to teach in the writing center and then the composition classroom in my MA program at the University of Louisville.
Alana: I was so hungry for examples of classroom practice when I started learning about critical pedagogy.
Emily: Me too. I was in a conversation with faculty recently about this book, and I said, with no guile whatsover, “I believe this book could be a game changer.” It elicited huge laughs! I mean, the book is about library instruction! But I really think it could be, if it invites people to step away from ‘mastery’ and towards discussion and engagement with critical teaching practices.
Alana: That approach feels aligned with what happens in our individual teaching — we experiment, make mistakes, find some things that work super-well on one context & not in another…
Emily: We have to be able to struggle and fail, which is all political work is anyway, or the work of life.
Alana: Right on. Excellent connection.
Emily: I made the shittiest yam and bean stew over the weekend, but I’m having it for lunch because it’s what I have to eat. But now I know for next time–fewer chipotles.
Alana: And you’ll make other soups.
Emily: Many many others, probably a new one tonight. And that hooks back up with hooks–this is all part of the wholeness of us as instructors, right?
Maria: Yes, we are imperfect creatures, soft animals, even when we are teachers.
Emily: I have to go to a desk shift in a minute, so can I ask one last question? I always say in my classes, “If you take one thing away from this session, it’s that.. You can do this/you can come see me/you have a right to succeed here, etc.” What’s the ‘one thing’ you hope people take away from this book?
Maria: I hope people will take inspiration from the book to try something new, to rethink their practice.
Alana: For me I think it’s what we’re already talking about: what happens when we create spaces of possibility — by taking time to think, to experiment, to take risks in (thought-out, reflective ways).
Emily: I guess I would hope people would read the book, or even part of the book, and then turn to the librarian next to them and tell them what they thought. I hope we start conversations.

We hope you’ll join us in talking about critical approaches to library instruction. Maria, Emily, and Alana will be making room for these conversations at http://librarypraxis.wordpress.com.

April 13, 2010

The Market Colonization of Intellectuals

A very intelligent op-ed on Truthout about the present situation for public intellectuals: Lewis R. Gordon, “The Market Colonization of Intellectuals.” I’m not a regular reader of Truthout, but maybe I will pay more attention to it now. Gordon is writing about the new economics of academia, and intellectual work within and outside the academy.

To be engaged it’s necessary to see things as they are now and not get stuck in picture of how things were. Not that studying the past is not important, but old habits don’t fit the always-new world. This article by Lewis Gordon helps make it plain how the situation has changed for intellectuals. But what should we do?

Thanks to Barbara Fister for the link.

April 10, 2010

Library Juice Press Gift Certificates


Library Juice Press / Litwin Books gift certificates are great as personal gifts or as library-related awards. You can pay for a gift certificate in an amount of your choosing with funds in your PayPal account or with a credit card.

April 4, 2010

Which is friendlier to the environment, a book or an ipad?

Today’s New York Times has an informative little item comparing the environmental impact of producing an ipad versus that of a paper book: “How Green is My iPad?

April 2, 2010

Interview with Lauren Pressley

Lauren Pressley is an Instructional Design Librarian at Wake Forest University, and the author of So You Want To Be a Librarian, from Library Juice Press. I interviewed her about her book by email the other day so that you could hear what she has to say about it at this point, now that the book has been out for a little while.

Why don’t you describe the book So You Want To Be a Librarian?

So You Want To Be a Librarian is a book for those thinking about entering the field, or those just starting library school. I was excited to work on the project because I find it really rewarding to work with people who are just getting started. This book seemed like a way to reach a broader group of people, rather than those who happen to be part of my network or geographically nearby.

The book is structured around basic information about the field. The background it provides will be useful for readers who are trying to imagine what type of work they might like to do and the different possible career paths they might take. I give an overview of types of libraries, types of jobs within libraries, current professional issues, and getting the MLS. I also was able to interview several librarians about the field and the included interviews provide a variety of perspectives and a broader view of the field than I could have provided alone.

So You Want To Be a Librarian is designed to be a quick and easy read, while still containing a lot of useful information. If you have questions after reading it, feel free to leave them on the website: http://laurenpressley.com/librarian/questions/ I’d be happy to continue the discussion in the blog!

What has the response to the book been like?

It’s been surprising! I’ve heard more than I expected from people who have read it and are already working in the field. I didn’t expect current librarians to read it, but several have said they were interested in reading my perspective. These librarians have said that they were surprised the book made them appreciate their work and profession more. Now that I’m further from library school, and more specialized than I was in the beginning, I can understand that reaction a little bit better. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, and the book is designed to provide just that view.

I haven’t heard directly from very many people just considering the field, but I have heard good things from those who have contacted me. There aren’t many reviews up on sites like Amazon or GoodReads, so at this point I’ve either heard from people directly or seen messages pop up on Twitter or in discussions on library related blogs.

What was the process of writing it like and what have you learned from doing it?

I learned that writing a book is a bigger project than I realized it would be! Getting the words on the page was pretty easy for me, but the follow up work was challenging.

Since I only have one job, I wanted to be sure to have experts in each area read through what I had written to make sure I didn’t misrepresent anything. I had to write pretty quickly, and get the text into a format that I was comfortable with early in the process, so I could divide up the text and send it to people working in different areas and in different types of positions. People very kindly took the time to read through what I wrote and gave me some good feedback. Organizing the interviews also took a while because I wanted to find people to represent many different types of libraries, positions, and perspectives.

Writing a book was a meaningful experience from me. Both the easier and more challenging times helped me learn how to take on projects of this size. And the process itself helped me gain a better understanding of what life is like for the faculty members that I work with every day.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Library Juice. I’m glad that writing the book was rewarding. As you know, I am very happy with how it turned out and thank you for your work.

Note added 10/16/2012: Library Juice Press and Unglue.it are campaigning to “unglue” this book so that the e-book version will be available under a creative commons license.