Professional Development

Wow! It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last meeting of SI 643, and for me, the last class at UMSI. I enjoyed the course, and was glad to have learned a lot of new skills to aid in my professional development. One of these skills was creating webinars, and I was able to practice this last week with two classmates. We presented a webinar about easing the transition to college for students from rural areas. I think that it went well and our feedback was generally positive. I mentioned in my previous entry that there were issues with the Blackboard Collaborate software. My recommendation is that it is absolutely essential that you get to know the software, because you definitely do not to be working out the kinks when presenting. I think that we were also successful because we ran through our script a few times, making us sound more polished when it was time to hold the webinar.

The readings this week all dealt with professional development, among elementary school teachers, public librarians, and school media specialists. Joseph Semadeni discussed a professional development model called Fusion that is used in a school district in rural Wyoming. What I like about this professional development program is that it really takes the teacher’s schedule into account. It provides incentives for learning more effective teaching methods, and allows teachers to attend sessions during work hours thanks to a roaming substitute who can take over regular teaching duties. I think that it is a great idea to have professional development events take place during work hours. We all know what it is like to be overworked, and I am sure that goes double for teachers. Making professional development activities easily accessible is a win-win for both teachers and students. I am also glad that the Fusion system has teachers practice with each other the learning techniques they will be using with students.

Helene Blowers and Lori Reed discuss change in public libraries, particularly how technology plays a driving role in change. While it is ideal for librarians to keep up with technological innovations, it is not always the case that they can keep up. Blowers and Reed discuss strategies for classifying where librarians are in learning core competencies in technology. When the librarians’ level of knowledge is ascertained, it is then possible to know where to begin teaching. This system also makes a serious effort to include all librarians, make the training accessible, and ensure that the teaching is effective. What I particularly like about this program is how it has those who were able to attend the session teach the skills learned therein to those who could not attend.

Kristin Fontichiaro’s article discusses professional development through online modules for school media specialists and teachers. Fontichiaro discusses the challenge of instructing teachers how to use multiple emerging technologies in an environment of budget cuts. Her design builds on Blower’s and Reed’s strategy, but focuses on having the teachers involved in the activity play with Internet applications themselves, seeing how well they are able to teach themselves, and then having them discuss their experiences face-to-face. I think that this module is a good way to approach learning new technologies: repeating rote instructions is, in my experience, more difficult to recall than learning by doing. However, I also have experience with some patrons who are not particularly comfortable with emerging technologies and still view the successful operation of a computer as “a matter of learning the proper combination of keystrokes.” I would like to hear more about how to educate people who have this set of ideas and seem unable or unwilling to change their approach.



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Tweets and Webinars

Well, it finally happened. I have a Twitter account, and I don’t even hate it! I think that much of my initial resistance to Twitter came from the fact that it was so incredibly hyped when it was just starting out, which for me was kind of a turn-off. Anyhow, I believe that it is useful as an initial way to inform people of new trends and events. Because Twitter users are forced to keep their tweets to 140 characters or less, this form of communication excels in cutting out superfluous information. A one-sentence summary of an article in a tweet could save me time so that I don’t have to skim an article and figure out whether it is of interest to me. I think that it is also a useful tool that can help me stay current with trends and what is being talked about among librarians in the twittersphere.

I followed a number of librarians whose blogs I already read, and also followed a number of their followers in the hope of getting a broad picture of what is currently happening in library land. A lot of people discussed the ACRL conference, which just ended. I feel like I am missing out because I was unable to attend! I was particularly pleased to read a number of tweets about there being a positive correlation between GPA and library use in academic libraries. The trouble is that most tweets relating this information do not include the source of said information. It seems that the Twitter user must be extra vigilant in following up on information from tweets and, if they are using the account for professional purposes, they must also filter through a lot of posts about what people are cooking for dinner. To me, Twitter seems like a useful but imperfect tool. I will be keeping my account, however, because nobody likes a curmudgeon, especially a curmudgeon in his late 20s!

In other SI 643 news, we are working on creating our first webinar! I am excited and I hope that it goes well. My group is discussing the difficulties that poor and rural students face when attending college for the first time. One issue that we ran into in class and later when working as a group was difficulty using the webinar software. Blackboard Collaborate works fine for us once we get it up and running, but I would like to see what other webinar software options are out there. There were just too many frustrating moments, both in class and meeting with my group, and all of these frustrations dealt with figuring out how to run the program.

Anyway, I’m going to keep it short and pithy this week because I need to get back to working on our webinar. I’ll let you know how it goes!


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Webinars and knowing your audience

Soon I will be creating a webinar. I am not yet sure what it will be about, but this week’s readings for SI 643 have given me a solid foundation to work with. Coincidentally enough, the readings were also, in part, about giving students a solid foundation to work with. I read another chapter of How People Learn that emphasizes the importance of a teacher being knowledgeable about the subject(s) they teach. It argues that students learn more effectively when they understand the theoretical underpinnings of a subject, and uses examples of history, math, and science taught in K-12 environments to illustrate this. A common thread among all these subjects is that in order to effectively teach concepts, the teacher must know their students and how their students learn best. What I liked about this chapter was that in many cases, the teachers were able to use the students’ (often incorrect) preconceived notions as elements of instruction, using models and examples to show where such notions were incorrect. I also liked that even first and second graders could discuss why they thought the way they did, I do not remember being so thoughtful at the time.

This is relevant to me because in my work at the Clark Library, I teach GIS and geographic information in general to patrons. GIS software has a steep learning curve, and it helps me to know what a person hopes to do with GIS to decide how (or whether) to teach them and where to begin. The article “The Embedded Librarian Online or Face-to-Face” examines two subject liaisons at American University, a music librarian and a business librarian. Both believe that it is essential to be physically near the departments they serve, but this also adds the challenge of ensuring that communication remains strong with the library to ensure that the library, the academic department, and the librarian are all on the same page. They find added flexibility in online tools such as webinars, but they are still no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The business librarian seems somewhat more confident that as distance learning increases, instructional tools like webinars will play a greater role in his work.

The challenge in creating a webinar appears to be getting a good idea of what your audience looks like and then tailoring your instruction to them. In my case as an academic librarian, there are potentially thousands of library users who could participate in one of my webinars, so how can I make my instruction meaningful to such a diverse group of people? Susan E. Montgomery’s article “Online Webinars!” discusses webinars in the context of embedded librarians, most of whom have already participated in face-to-face instruction in class settings or are familiar with the goals of the academic department they work with. I am curious to see how my webinar and those of my classmates will turn out when we are essentially starting from scratch. Our situation is certainly different from that of librarians who spend most of their workday among the intended targets of their instruction.

I enjoyed the one-shot workshops in class last week. One shortcoming that I and many other people found in them was that they were simply too short. My group, for example, discussed the recent Pew Study on Libraries in the Digital Age. I think that we could have discussed the study more fully if we had had more time. On the other hand, in our feedback many participants said that they were interested in reading the full study, so our one-shot workshop was successful in the sense that it piqued the interest of its participants and got them to think about how the study affects them as future librarians.


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Workshops and Ethics and Ads (oh my!)

There were no readings this week because my group is busy preparing for our one-shot workshop. As with the Socratic seminar, I do not want to give away too much information before we hold the workshop, but I can give a brief outline. We are discussing the recent Pew study Library Services in the Digital Age and how the results of this study will impact our professional practices as librarians. One thing that I have taken away from this survey is that people expect a lot out of their public libraries. They take advantage of the services that libraries offer, expecting both cutting-edge digital services and the traditional model of the library as a quiet refuge. With my two groupmates, we will lead a discussion of how we can reconcile these public demands (and if I know librarians, we will definitely try our hardest to reconcile seemingly competing demands!).

I see this one-shot workshop taking the form of an academic conversation on some level. One trend that I have noticed in library instruction as seen through the lens of SI 643 is that librarians seem to take a much less formal approach than full professors. I know that I am more comfortable with this approach. I think that part of the ethos of librarianship is that we are the pathfinders, we start people out on their journey but do not claim to have all the answers. The one-shot workshop as we design it assumes that the participants’ answers may be just as good as ours, and we do not want to presuppose a “right” answer in our presentation because that risks limiting the conversation. This may, however, be a weakness. One of the comments on our group’s Socratic seminar presentation was that we should not be afraid to insert our own opinions into group discussions. What do you think? Is this just me, or is this reluctance to insert one’s own opinion a characteristic of librarians?

In class last week, we also discussed issues of ethics, particularly whether it is ethical for the Toronto Public Library to allow advertisements on due date slips that are printed when patrons check out materials. My knee-jerk reaction was “No!” because I personally am tired of being bombarded with advertisements everywhere I go. Thinking about the recent Pew study, wherein many participants want the library to be a place of refuge, the presence of advertisements also seems invasive. My discussion group tried to think of this issue from a purely fiscal point of view, but even there it does not look as though having the advertisements is worth it. The library would not save enough money for it to make a major difference, and the companies that advertise would probably get the most out of advertising. You can read the article here. It states that the library would save $20,000, but in the context of the budget of a large public library, that is not very much. Most of the commenters on that article appear to agree.

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Librarians: Gatekeepers or Guides?

I really enjoyed this week’s readings, which deal with ethics in libraries. The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics reminds me of the reasons I wanted to become a librarian in the first place: to ensure intellectual freedom and freedom of access to information. I am glad that in reading our professional code of ethics, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly; it shows that I have picked the right profession.

As with most philosophical considerations, however, the issues are often thorny. Mark Lenker’s article Dangerous Questions at the Reference Desk examines where he believes our professional standard of helping patrons no matter what the request could lead to hurting others. He argues that we must consider the virtues and vices inherent in a potentially “dangerous” reference question and decide what action to take after taking these virtues and vices into account. While this is an interesting thought exercise and it is always useful to fully examine where our ethical standards are coming from, I believe that there is too much room for Lenker’s system to be abused and ultimately put librarians in a paternalistic mold where, directly contrary to the ALA’s Code of Ethics, we are restricting information rather that helping people access it. You will notice, for example, that I put the word “dangerous” in quotation marks. I did so because I take issue with the idea of a dangerous question. Libraries are, after all, places of learning, and the idea of branding certain questions as dangerous strikes me as authoritarian.

In the article, Lenker uses the example of a patron asking at the reference desk about the explosives needed to blow up a small suburban house. He sees the fact that most librarians helped this patron as showing “a disturbing lack of concern for the consequences of their actions.” This would be true if the librarians knew that the man was actually planning to blow up a house, but this is not the only possible explanation for why somebody would want that knowledge. He could, for example, be writing a story where a house is blown up, and wants the details to be accurate. In each case, if there is a possibility of danger, the librarian must use their judgment to figure out whether to help the patron, which is what Lenker argues. Making assumptions about a patron’s motives, however, ultimately does libraries a disservice by making them places where information is kept from people rather than accessed. Also, if the library were really concerned with this possibility, why would it have books about explosives in its collection in the first place?

Lenker’s example of a patron asking for information on how to grow marijuana plants also made the article somewhat difficult to take seriously. Perhaps this is because I live in Ann Arbor, but it seems like such a mild example of illegal behavior. I was surprised to see such concern over marijuana in an article from 2008. While there may be times that the greater good is served by not helping a patron, those times are so few and far between that for the most part, this discussion is purely academic. It is so subjective what an individual librarian would consider a dangerous question that, in my opinion, there is more danger of creating a chilling effect in libraries than there is of catastrophic events happening as a result of what people read.


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Book Club Readings

I had a lot of fun with this week’s readings, they made me long for my days as an English major when I could read fiction for class!  For this week’s readings, our class broke into groups that each chose a short reading that is in the public domain by virtue of its age or a creative commons license. For my group, the readings were “The Crime” by Victor Hugo, “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf, “The Street That Got Mislaid” by Patrick Waddington, and the traditional poem “The Queen of Hearts” as illustrated by Ralph Caldecott. Tomorrow in class we will hold a Socratic Seminar to go over these readings and our impressions of them.

Because my subgroup is in charge of leading discussion of our selection, “The Crime” by Victor Hugo, I will withhold commentary of my interpretation to avoid influencing the opinions of readers should they stumble across this blog. “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf is, unsurprisingly, the densest of the reads. In this story, a ghostly couple searches for something throughout an old house, eventually finding it in a sleeping (living) couple, one ghost exclaiming “Look, sound asleep, love upon their lips.” My impression is that the ghosts are searching for love and the short story highlights the fleeting nature of love and all emotions. The ghosts’ discussion remembers times that they spent together, and the repetition of “safe, safe, safe!” in the story suggests that this safety cannot be taken for granted. It seems to me, therefore, that love is the “light in the heart” to which Woolf’s narrator refers. I am curious to see what other readers in my group think.

My favorite story of the bunch was “The Street that Got Mislaid,” which concerns a file clerk who discovers a street in Montreal that had been completely overlooked by the city’s planning department for many years. Upon visiting the street and discovering the near-idyllic life lived by its inhabitants, the protagonist is able to transcend his love of bureaucracy and join them. This story appeals to me because I think in all of us, there is sometimes a desire to start a new life from scratch, and this idea becomes ever more impossible the more interconnected we become.

The final reading is the well-known rhyme “The Queen of Hearts” (you know, the one who makes tarts that the knave of hearts steals). What makes this story interesting is the beautiful illustrations by Ralph Caldecott. There are so many of them, and they are so lush and detailed, that they really do transport you to the Queen of Hearts’ world. It goes a long way toward explaining why the medal for excellence in children’s book illustrations is called the Caldecott.

A quick note on last week’s class: we discussed an article by Marc Prensky suggesting that a university should deliberately set out to become the first to entirely ban paper books, because doing so would make them famous. I was horrified by the article, and so were my colleagues, so I take comfort that the future of the profession is in good hands. Our fear, however, is that someone in a position of power will take this idea and run with it, without thinking of issues of preservation and the readers who will be left behind.

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Book Clubs and Socratic Seminars

The advantage to new technology, according to Beth Dempsey, is that it enables more interaction between patrons and the library. Dempsey focuses particularly on the book club, and shows how librarians have been able to successfully take advantage of people’s interest in sharing their opinions on sites like Amazon and Goodreads to attract them back to the library. Even in cases where attendees cannot make it to the physical library, they can attend book clubs through video chat, or hold the meetings at bars or coffeehouses. In my opinion, this is a great development: anything that brings more people to the library (as long as it does not compromise the ethics of the profession) is good news. This is primarily an issue of outreach, and most of the cases highlighted in Dempsey’s article are examples of successful outreach. For the most part, these book clubs are leisurely rather than scholarly, which is fine: making reading a chore never works in the library’s favor. I do, however, like examples of libraries that have kits ready made for book clubs. If a group of people want to start a book club but do not yet have a book picked out, the library could provide many options with varying degrees of difficulty. Our own Ann Arbor District Library, for example, has The New Jim Crow for book clubs, a choice that is both thought provoking and challenging. The example of the Johnson County Library in Kansas leading a book club for prisoners shows the library actively reaching out to improve people’s lives, for example providing juveniles with books that “feature teens succeeding in life despite difficult circumstances.”

Barbara Hoffert’s article, like Dempsey’s, states the advantages of using emerging technologies to connect to library users. Her article differs, however, in its focus on the content of book clubs themselves, recommending that the clubs organize around a theme with members all reading different books rather than everybody reading the same book. This is certainly an interesting approach and could be successful in forcing participants to think more critically about what they read. In a situation where everybody reads the same book, it is much easier for somebody to hang back and offer non-substantive commentary like “I liked it,” or “I agree with her.” My one concern about this is that if everybody reads a different book, confusion could result from comparing your book to multiple books you have not yet read. There is also the issue of spoilers if you plan to read somebody else’s book. Overall though, this is an interesting idea that certainly bears further examination.

In terms of understanding content, Lynda Tredway’s Socratic Seminars: Engaging Students in Intellectual Discourse and Margaret Metzger’s Teaching Reading: Beyond the Plot discuss using Socratic Seminars with high school and middle school students to conduct close readings of various texts. The idea behind Socratic dialogue is that “through doubt and systematic questioning of another person, one gets to the ultimate truth.” Metzger’s piece shows how Socratic Seminars in her class of high school freshmen increased their critical thinking ability as well as their self-esteem. Socratic Seminars are undoubtedly effective, but I was still somewhat confused as to their actual operation, especially having an inner and outer circle that take turns discussing. While this system looks great for the classroom, I am not sure if this would translate well to the library. We do not have the same control over discussion as a teacher, nor, I think, should we want to. Libraries have always been for more open-ended learning than the classroom, and it is not for us to decide how patrons should run their book clubs. We could, however, incorporate suggestions among questions that we give to book club members, giving them the option to hold book clubs as a Socratic Seminar should they choose to do so.

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