#ACRL2015 reflections – better late than never?

So, it’s May.  ACRL 2015 was in March.  I’m finally finding time to reflect on my conference experience (hey, they’re both M months, it’s practically the same thing), so here we go!

First things first:  Babies & Conferences

If there is one thing I take away from the ACRL 2015 experience it is this:  It is damn hard — for me — to meaningfully “do” conferences with a baby in tow (even if he *is* adorable).  

Baby in a Le Petit Prince onesie

Mon petit prince rocking the literary themed onesie for the library conference.

Things that made the trip possible:

  • a direct flight there & back
  • arriving the first evening – but going right to the hotel
  • departing the morning of the last day without attending any sessions that day
  • bringing a stroller (hello baby who doesn’t sleep in a stationary bed other than his crib at home!)
  • bringing my mother
  • verbalizing that it is okay not to milk every moment (or, said another way, redefining what ‘milk every moment’ means)

Speaking of milk, I was still nursing at the time so I appreciated that the conference offered a lactation room – though I never ended up using it.  I had all my pump and equipment and the whole kit and caboodle, but thanks to my mom I was able to nurse my baby before and after various sessions.  Seriously though, if I am ever nursing/pumping again and have the option to go to a conference that is overnight in any way, I will be saying no.  So. Not. Worth. It.

Picture of me & baby

We look pretty good for 4:30am local time, I’d say.

Because my partner had a schedule during this time in which he really wouldn’t have been able to be around for our son, I had to bring the baby.  The only way I felt comfortable doing that would be to also bring my mother to watch him while I was, at a minimum, leading the workshop my colleague and I were signed up to do, and if possible to watch him during other times as well.  She graciously acquiesced to be flown to Portland and watch her only grandchild (not a hard sell, I suppose); but I don’t know if I can ever ever ever do something like this again.  It was just too much stress!


Still, it was worth it this time

Despite juggling hurdles involving a baby, a mother, and a conference, I deem ACRL 2015 a success!  The workshop I co-lead was awesome (more on that below); and I emerged from the conference energized and with a few implementable ideas.

Some highlights

I got a ton out of a session called “leaving the one shot behind.”  In this session I learned about Library DIY which is one cool library interface.  Not that we necessarily can or should implement this at my institution; but it’s some delicious food for thought.

The presenters talked about several things including train the trainer and peer mentoring models.  But one small nugget I really liked in the presentation was around working with faculty as a way to scale up information literacy instruction.  They asked faculty “what skills do your students need to successfully complete the assignment?”  And then followed that up with “which do you explicitly teach them?” as a way to just acknowledge any disconnects.  I am choosing to interpret skills in a new-information-literacy-framework kind of way.  So, I think these are valuable questions as we here at Wellesley College go about working with faculty in our own scaling up of IL discussions.  Librarians do not need to be the only ones ‘teaching’ information literacy.  Faculty do it too!  And on that note, the presenter followed that point up with a point about offering workshops to faculty to help them create thoughtful / better assignments (which resulted in more information literate students).  Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, turnout was light.  But where implemented – it was effective.  I do wish we could have heard more about this assignment redesign workshop and saw some examples coming out of this, but ah well.

Then I was a huge fan of a session on teaching lifelong information literacy.  Learned about the BEAM model, created by Bizup in 2008, to help students understand that sources can be used for different means:  as background, evidence, to build an argument, and to provide a methodological frame. This model has been extended too – but these are the major ways sources are used in scholarly work.  In teaching with this model in mind, you can get students thinking about authority and relevance: one source may be great as E but not A.  Some ideas they provided around teaching this in the classroom included:

  • having students list the sorts of evidence they think would be useful for their research using at least two or three of the categories in BEAM
  • having students who have sources consider what type of BEAM source each is
  • reading an article and see how the authors use sources based on the BEAM framework
  • having students evaluate sources for authority based on how they intended to use the sources (as B, E, A, or M)

I quite enjoyed a very short session on reading strategies for undergraduates.  The presenters claimed that 49% students cannot read at the college level.  They acknowledged that scholarly articles are not written for students, and that reading these articles feels often like translation work.  So, some work we can do as librarians is to teach them some reading strategies.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this evaluation piece for some of my psychology classes and I do think it is the hardest to teach… because it takes real time and effort.  However, they outline several great strategies for starting the conversation with students.

Finally, I went to a fairly interesting session on ‘high / low / no tech’ instruction strategies.  I think the high and even low tech examples they talked about were too much work for things I would be trying to accomplish in the near term.  These are things like creating fairly impressive videos; moocs; stop motion videos; etc.  But the no tech section raised something that I’ve since had a lot of success with on an individual basis that I hope to bring into a classroom setting and develop further.  It’s simple really – physically place bound journal volumes in students hands and have them look through them.  In their example, the presenter said they used this strategy to teach citation (here’s their handout), but I think one could really do a lot more with this.

Since ACRL, when I’ve worked with students individually and shown them these bound volumes we have to back up first and talk about what the heck those weird dividers are in the middle of the “book.”  Oh!  Those are “issues” – and then we talk about the process of scholarly communications in this discipline, and how physically when the library receives some number of issues that fill up some amount of space we bind them in a little set (sometimes a full volume, sometimes a partial volume, sometimes 2 or more volumes at a time).  So there’s a lot of opportunity there – and this session made me realize that I should really find opportunities to bring these physical print journals into the classroom when I’m thinking about these elements of information literacy.

Some lowlights

Life is just too short to waste time in really terrible conference presentations.  I left two sessions for this reason.  Sounded great on paper (and thus, perhaps, the rooms were full for both); but totally not worth my time.  In lieu of the first, I practiced my workshop talk; and in lieu of the second, I went to my second choice session – which was a winner in that case.  I wonder if there is an etiquette around this that I am not paying attention to?  I was in the back or side for both near an exit so I did not cause too much disruption I don’t think.  But what do others think?

Also… I never made it to any social functions!  Thanks baby!  #sarcasm

Process Mapping Workshop Reflections (slides // handout)

Um, okay – this was the most fun thing ever.  Yes, I mean it.  A Process Mapping Workshop.  Most fun thing.  One attendee said it was “super interesting” and “high-energy.”  Hurray!  Okay but enough about that – here’s what we did and how it went.

A process map is a tool that lets you quickly and fairly easily (if done well) visualize the steps, tasks, decisions and actors involved in some process.  It’s also a great tool that enables organizational assessment (as my co-presenter Megan Hartline and I argue here).  But, it’s not the final map itself that creates a culture of assessment but rather the process of process mapping.  Bear with me here.

Creating a process map is hard work and can be fraught with tension.  Oh, I’m sure there are processes that are a breeze to map and everyone is clear, on the same page, and all can easily identify where breakdowns are occurring and how to solve them without anyone’s feelings getting hurt – but those are processes that don’t really need some extra TLC to improve.  The work of process mapping involves getting the right stakeholders together at critical moments to think about the work that is done when/how/by whom and to have conversations about what that looks like right now.  Once those conversations begin to happen, everyone starts to see the work they’re doing with an assessment hat on.  It’s neat.  But these conversations are tricky to lead and take some practice.  So Megan and I submitted this workshop proposal* wherein we would tell our attendees about process mapping and what it’s good for and then give them lots and lots of guided practice in actually doing it.

Ah it was so great.  People really got into it – and they realized many of the lessons we were trying to impart:  that this is difficult but worthwhile, that it can take quite a while, that a facilitator is useful, that the act of generating the map is more important than the final map, and that managing scope is critical to success.  We got some great feedback afterwards – and I’m hoping people will be writing us with magical success stories of their own mapping endeavors soon.  (I can hope, right?)

Whew.  The end.


* As an aside, we finished the proposal the very evening I went into labor.  I’ll kind of always associate process mapping with the birth of my first child.  Weird, right?

Technology & libraries & children… oh dear?

I am not a librarian catering to babies and small children.  However, I am a mother of a young child and deeply supportive of / interested in / engaged with libraries, so when a mother-friend asked me a question yesterday about children, libraries, and technology, I just have not been able to get it out of my mind.

The question

My friend goes regularly to a public library with her two children (one six months and one three years).  The children’s section of this library recently got computers and placed them on very low tables in the area catering to the under 4 crowd (e.g. board books are nearby).  Her older son now, understandably, zooms in and becomes entranced by the glowing screen of wonder.  When they move to look at books, the inevitable bloops and beeps emanating from the row of enticing screens call to him and make it hard to focus on the books.  She asked me if there was anything she could say or do to avoid this exposure to screens for her young kids.  Her dread and discomfort were palpable as she explained that she heard the library was soon to start using iPads in the same section.  She doesn’t want to stop going to this library as it’s got wonderful programming and is a convenient location, but she is committed to minimizing screen time.

My first reactions

Well, my gut reactions at the time were:

  1. Libraries are universally excited about implementing technologies of all sorts (I cited our 3-D printer and the makerspace movement).
  2. This library probably got some grant to do this and really feel it fits with their mission; and there’s probably not much she can do.
  3. That said, since she was nervous about approaching the librarians at that library (for fear they would label her ‘that outraged mom’ – I assured her, if the librarians are at all ethical and good at their jobs, even if they felt that way about her they’d never let on :-P), she could go to our local library which does not use technology to this extent in the children’s section and inquire about what is happening at the other library, why, and what kinds of questions or requests she could make (and how to make them) so that this point will resonate with them.

This suggestion felt highly unsatisfactory, and the issue started to get me annoyed as well.  I did a little more thinking and a little digging and here are some things that are floating around in, as Hercule Poirot calls them, my little grey cells.

My thoughts 12 hours later

Public (and all) libraries are constantly thinking about relevance, new and exciting services, and how best to meet patron needs and desires (both known and unknown to the patrons).  There is a lot of energy around reinventing library spaces with a primary focus on building and doing.  These are common refrains when accused of being irrelevant in the face of “everything being online” (everything is not online, and libraries now do so much more than provide print books but those are other stories for others to tell).   Lots of good is coming from this, especially with regard to offering technological workshops and gadgets, and of course free internet – all of which serve to minimize the digital divide; a deep, systemic, socioeconomic problem that public libraries have been a part of tackling.

All of this energy can be contextualized, too, against a backdrop of a long-standing philosophical conversation around providing what the people want (Fifty Shades of Grey! Romance novels! Cookbooks!) versus providing what’s good for them, what’s educationally, morally, and ethically valuable for the community (this book by Wayne Bivens-Tatum has a nice chapter talking about the history of public libraries).

Alright, but what if what people want is in some way bad for them?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says (my emphasis added),

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

They also say,

The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

I just see such a conflict with these statements and all the energy and excitement around integrating technology into the children’s sections of libraries.  A few brief searches of the Association for Library Service to Children’s blog posts suggests an overwhelming excitement and enthusiasm for exposing children of all ages to technology.  I don’t think that’s inherently bad, but I feel very very unhappy about posts like this one which argues that only passive screen time is bad screen time and that rich experiences (like learning a programming language or creating something on an iPad) are great.  I think learning programming languages and playing with iPads can be rich learning experiences, but there’s nuance too:  how many hours a day is a child glued to their minecraft game?  How old are they?  Again, as the AAP states,

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.

The ALSC does have some posts addressing this age question.  Here’s one advocating for screen-free story time that I really like as it grounds its points in the AAP recommendation.  I love how Kleckner closes:

The new screens and screen uses are in many ways exciting and even amazing. They are part of a very new and enormous cultural change in how technology is used today. Still, screen use is not appropriate and beneficial everywhere, for everyone, at every occasion. Like at the family dinner table or while driving, story times at the library are best without it.

Yes.  Agree.  100%.  And I’m surprised the ALSC doesn’t have any statements to this effect at all.  What advisories I did find on their website related to helping young patrons avoid stumbling onto explicit and dangerous content online (and even this was written 15 years ago at this point).  Real missed opportunity in my opinion.

There is a sense that if children don’t get on the tech bandwagon, they’ll be at a disadvantage.  And again, that digital divide across jarringly unequal socioeconomic lines is real.  But, where does this leave us?  Are the children’s sections of public libraries talking about this?  Are they and the AAP connecting?  Are parents just clamoring for tablets and other technologies and therefore libraries are simply providing services that are being asked for?  What’s the ethically right thing to do in this case?  Is this just an extension of whatever reasons a public library will stock Fifty Shades of Grey?  Or is there something more here that should make us pause and think again about the technology we are offering to our youngest among us?

What say you, children’s library workers??

Friday in the Stacks: Another Gem in the Collection

My officemate, who supports history among other departments, showed me this sweet resource in our reference stacks the other day:  we have many books in the American Guide Series!  What is the American Guide Series, you ask?  It’s a series of books commissioned and published as part of the New Deal – an effort to support writers (over 6000!) in America during the Depression.

I flipped through a few and they are precious, fabulous, and a great primary resource.  They have some maps and photographs, cover the history of the state and several key cities, and list a number of “tours” of the state via the state and federal highways.  What a lovely set of resources – and we have all the states (with the exception of Hawaii which wasn’t a state at the time), and several cities.  Here are some images from the South Dakota book… hey look!  Mount Rushmore:

Pages on Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Pages on Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

My partner and I went to a wedding at Sylvan Lake a few summers ago – this was the backdrop of the wedding!  Many of the guests stayed at Sylvan Lake Lodge!  Ahh – so fun!

Pages on Sylvan Lake in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Pages on Sylvan Lake in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

And on the inside cover, there was a lovely map of SD (on the back there was a pocket with a much larger map you could pull out and really explore):

Inside the front cover of the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Inside the front cover of the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

These books are really interesting to read, too, in the context of another book I’m currently reading –  The Warmth of Other Suns (you all should read this!), the story of a vast migration north and west of black Americans in the interwar period.  This phenomenon drastically reshaped and influenced in a multitude of ways urban and suburban areas in the north and west.  In any case, in the Michigan book in the American Guide Series, one chapter details the general history of different people populating Michigan (with a notable absence of mentions of Native Americans).  This chapter discusses the rich history of European influences over the decades – but also references the “Great Migration” (even though this was only published in 1941!) detailed in the Warmth of Other Suns book.  As Spock would say… fascinating!

On brainstorming & committing

Be warned – this is a self reflection post so it feels very “me” focused.  There are “I”s scattered all over the place!  Hopefully you, dear readers, get something out of it or feel there’s something to respond to.  Otherwise, sorry!  :-)

I am an enthusiastic brainstormer.  Especially when I get excited about some idea, a common occurrence.  I feed off that wisp of energy emanating from a person who is beginning to work through something in their mind.  My first instinct is to say “Yes yes! Tell me more!  How can we make this happen?”

This is a blessing and a curse, I tell you.  For the most part this is, as I say, a blessing:  I enjoy these conversations, I feel happy about my day when I have them, I feel good about myself when I think I have helped someone accomplish something creative or new, and usually learn quite a bit from them.  When can it be a curse?  When I over-commit.  Oh and I am an over-committer.  I am a very bad offender of this egregious issue and always have been.  I get so excited by brainstorming with people that I often volunteer to do things: oh yes!  I will help you write that up; I will look into that data for you; I will… etc.  This is fine – it’s very good to be a team player, but if it gets in the way of other work that’s a problem.

Thankfully, this year, however, our professional goals process here at the library are helping me acknowledge that I have this tendency AND helping me realize what my true priorities are.

So for example, a few months ago I saw someone write a post on an email list whose name I recognized.  I had cited him in a paper I wrote!  So I wrote him to say “Cool paper, we cited you!”  To which he responded something to the effect of “Thank you!  Also, would you be interested in being on more papers on this topic unrelated to the topic of the paper you mentioned?”  I was thisclose to saying “um, SURE!” and then I had an epiphany moment:  no no no.  This topic is very interesting but I have ways to plug into that work here at my library.  I do not need to sign up for something that will result in a publication because that’s just not one of my goals at the moment.  I do not need to sign up for something that will take away from the other more important uses of my time (e.g. developing a plan for integrating information literacy into our psychology curriculum).  So, I declined.  It felt good.

Unfortunately, I’m still not there yet.  Another “for example”:  I found myself on a college-wide committee that is turning out to be more work than I anticipated and I’m not feeling like I am doing it justice.  I’m not sure exactly how to fix this:  once our big thing is written I can scale back my volunteering within the committee or attempt to leave it entirely?  There’s no set term limit that I can see.  We shall see – this one may be a wait it out.

Now what?  Well, I have definitely started to label moments of brainstorming (verbally!) as they are happening.  This is a good start.  From here, I have started to say to myself – alright, this is a brainstorm.  Do you really want to commit to anything coming out of this?  If so, what limits might you place on that?  Maybe none?  Maybe a lot?  In general, I think it’s okay to be wrong about “hey, this seems like one of those times I can say no!” because just the practice of saying no is hard to get into for me.  Still, I never want to go overboard towards the other direction:  it’s still fun to say yes and try new things.

In some ways, there is a connection to be drawn between this kind of back-and-forth in my brain about small and medium commitments that add up to a lot of time for maybe not the best overall wise use of my time with the tension between scheduling a lot of one-shot instruction sessions and lamenting the fact that there is no time or energy left to infuse a department’s curriculum with higher quality information literacy work.  I think it’s a matter of scale – we’re (I’m?) looking at the small picture:  my fun brainstorm & ensuing tasks; the one-shots all the faculty are asking for) and saying “Good! These things are fun, good and needed!  People are asking for them!”  But in doing so, there is less time and energy for the larger landscape:  how do I make sure that at the end of the year, I’ve really re-thought XYZ or re-imagined and planned out something valuable at a deeper level in terms of information literacy within and across curricula?

Just drawing that connection right now makes me hopeful that I will keep pondering these issues as I weigh little moments during the day against long term goals – be they personal or professional.

A favorite thing

NOTE:  This post was mysteriously not published back in March, 2014 (when I was still at Michigan).  So, here you go!  Enjoy!


One of the things I love most about living in this University town for a number of years is attending the dissertation defenses of my dear friends.  It fills me with a special kind of joy to watch people I know in one capacity present some overview of all that they have accomplished in their work from the last four to eight years.  Woah.  Serious stuff!

It’s fascinating to see the difference of styles between departments, the different presentation choices different people make, and the truly vast range of topics covered – really, it’s humbling and inspiring.

Inspiring this post, I’ve just attended a defense talk by a friend about the genes and proteins involved in a blood disorder (something akin to hemophilia but not quite).  Important work and a job incredibly well done.  I may not have understood most of the talk, but I think it speaks well to the speaker that I understood the major issues and major conclusions (and their implications).  Go Lesley!

But, I’ve been to quite a range of these talks – which is just the best!  Many that I’ve been going to recently are for folks getting MD/PhD’s (in that category, my husband’s was obviously a highlight; especially after hearing five practice talks…)!  I’ve enjoyed going to the defense talks of others from his lab, too, though.  One recent defense talk from his lab started in a lovely way: “This could be a story of two loves, but the story of meeting my wife will take too long so I shall only be able to cover my love of science.”    Well played, Alejandro, well played indeed.

One memorable talk I remember just might have been my first dissertation defense talk I had ever been to outside of the department I was in at the time (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology):  Leo’s math talk!  He literally gave a chalk talk (the only defense talk I have been to that used no computer, no slides, no projector… just chalk and the board).  Leo started off with, “So Euclid said…”  After those words I was lost, but it was amazing to watch him give this lecture summarizing his whole PhD using the board.  Math.  That is one incredible field of study.

Another friend, Katie, defended her dissertation in Classics last year – but I wasn’t allowed to attend!  They were not public!  I was so distraught – tracking down friends who are defending is really my thing and I was very sad to miss this one.  Luckily, I helped her with her (ultimately highly successful!) job talk and that sufficed as a defense talk.  Heracles had quite the wild ride, I learned.

A few former housemates were in the Astrophysics department and I went to about three defenses for that program covering the formation of stars, the formation of galaxies, and the formation of the universe.  Those made me feel quite small!  Mark, another former housemate, defended an applied physics dissertation wherein he looked at how we could image breast cancers more effectively.  Turns out it’s quite a challenge to capture a picture of a cancerous mass in some squishy tissues.

Finally, I have loved attending a number of defenses from folks in the Ecology department – particularly those in my original cohort who went on to get PhD’s.  I’ve heard about plant farts (just kidding, plants don’t fart – but they do produce chemicals that can hint to predators of their herbivores that there might be tasty snacks for them), earthworm impacts on forest litter dynamics, predator effects on tadpole communities, complex food web dynamics, community ecology of agroecosystems, aquatic microbiology, and… so much more.

I think what I love most about attending these events is that it’s clearly a time to pause and say, “Gosh, I have done a lot.  Some of what I’ve done makes the world a better place.  Some of what I’ve done really furthers my field and opens up new avenues for research.  And I’m proud of that.”  I don’t know that we do that “pause” in the working world enough.  Preparing for a defense takes a certain amount of effort – and sometimes, it seems to me, the defender feels like they’re on mile 25 of a marathon and is running on fumes.  But, I think it’s valuable to reflect on what one’s research amounted to (even if some projects didn’t work out or failed outright).  In doing that reflection, I think the defender can come out of what, at times, may have been a truly harrowing experience with some down-in-the-dumps time and realize all that they have accomplished, all that they can do, all that they have learned how to do, etc.

In the question period of Lesley’s defense, one astute audience member asked about the ratio of effort to data in this defense.  The audience member speculated that that ratio might have been high (as in, over the course of a PhD, one puts in a lot of effort pursuing one project after another – or many at the same time – and not all yield fruit).  Lesley had a very gracious answer in response, but I find this question to be highly apt for many PhD’s.  It seems to me that in doing such an endeavor, one DOES put in a lot of effort going down paths that aren’t fruitful (on the face of them).  But that exercise is the process of learning to do science.  Sometimes things don’t work out!

Other insights from this exposure?

Crafty Creative Time

At our library, mimicking Google’s 20% time, we spend a (small) percentage of our time on something creative.  Many people take MOOCs, many pick up new skills somehow, and until recently I was blogging about my collection weeding efforts and the new resources I was finding.  I will pick that up again shortly.  But since January, I’ve embarked on a collaborative crafty project with my officemate…appliqué and embroidery!

Let me back up.  When I married my husband, my sister created a beautiful quilt for us by sending out squares to our family and friends to design.  See how lovely it is??

Wedding Quilt

Then, when my son was born last year, she presented us with a blank quilt of the same style.  As I got to know my lovely officemate, Laura, I learned she was incredibly crafty (alas, an adjective one would not ascribe to yours truly).  So, we decided to embark on a collaborative project ourselves:  she’d mentor me and help me stitch on something related to Henry’s first year.  Et, voila!

Me holding Henry's quilt Henry Quilt 2 Henry Quilt 3Butternut squash!  Always a favorite :-)  And I seriously could not have done it without the amazing mentorship and calming vibes of the amazing Laura R.

Happy springtime, dear readers!


Friday in the Stacks: Weeding Project!

Our library plans to renovate at some point in the future.  The consequence of this is that the reference collection needs a bit of weeding to clear space for other more fruitful uses.  Therefore, I’ve decided to spend my weekly stacks hour working through each of my collection domains exploring titles that may be fated for the chopping block.

I started this morning.  I’ll write more about this in future weeks, but I haven’t been able to get a little thought out of my brain:   There simply must be some reality show in here, right?  So… what’s it called, people??


Would any of you watch?

Seriously though, if you’ve ever weeded a collection, please send thoughts and advice!  :-)