#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!

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!  🙂


Friday in the Stacks: Sociology Time

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Prompted by a vendor email, this week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking around what we have in these – I’m not sure what you call them – large reference works packages provided by Credo, Reference Universe and SAGE.  These platforms let you search for reference content across many electronic reference works.  They can be confusing at first (what am I looking at?  Entries for “baseball” in multiple different encyclopedias?  What source is this coming from?).  But when you spend some time browsing their sites, it becomes clearer what you are looking at.

In any case, the vendor had suggested that I purchase a book (the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies) but it turns out we already have this book – though it’s not located in our reference collection.  It’s upstairs in the circulating collection!  Hurray!  So I thought today I’d do a bit of digging in the circulating collection for quasi-reference works – for things like this Handbook.

I perused this morning, in a fascinating TWO hours I am not ashamed to say, four books:

The two handbooks contain selected readings by various authors organized to convey a landscape of the field of sociology as it is now and the field of globalization studies (a topic of growing importance in the last decade or two).  The Routledge globalization handbook contains over thirty entries organized around major theories, major issues, new institutions and cultures, and solutions.  Sociology, it turns out, is very applied!  While there is no overall introduction to the work, the table of contents is enough of a guide to find a chapter of interest.  Chapters seem to be often grounded in real-world stories but many are heavy on the theory.  Skimming a few, I think these could be really useful to students if they knew to find the book and then look through at chapter headings (it’s a print book so they’d have to think to use the book first).  Luckily, the subject headings are quite easy to return to (globalization — social aspects, globalization — economic aspects, etc.)  Now that I know about this source, I will definitely put it on a guide for my sociology courses that touch on globalization – and I’ll remember it for those reference interactions that involve globalization.

The SAGE handbook feels more of a sociology textbook, I think.  This volume covers research methods, societal processes (e.g. the culture of work, the sociology of the family, the institution of money, class, race, ethnicity etc.), and major recent debates in sociology (e.g. how to connect micro and macro levels of analysis, marrying politics with global inequality issues, etc.).  Each entry again is written by a different author – and it covers quite a range of topics.  The subject headings in the catalog are scanty: simply “sociology.”  We have 922 books with that subject heading, and I think a student would be hard-pressed to find this in a catalog search.  Only were she browsing might she happen upon it.  There are certainly useful entries – for example, Chapter 11 by Patricia Hill Collins on the Challenges for the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity asks some interesting and critical questions (such as “Why has a field whose mission remains the study of social relations of race and ethnicity been repeatedly caught off guard by racial and ethnic conflict?”)*  Great read, but hard to find for a student!  Again, glad that’s why I’m doing this I suppose.  Now I can walk a student over to the stacks and find this and other handbook-type sources that may have chapters covering important topics in sociology that also would be valuable to her.

I had to pick up The Promise of Sociology – it’s written by a guy whose last name is Beamish which makes me think of “come to my arms my beamish boy!”  In truth, this is basically Beamish’s ode to introduction to sociology courses everywhere.  It’s a fabulous (and reasonably short) book covering classic, traditional sociology from Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and then contemporary sociology.  It’s written for undergraduates and I love it.  I am tempted to take it out to bolster my own knowledge but I’ll leave it on the shelf for now.  But, if you’re looking for an overview of sociology with a bent towards how the discipline has evolved, this is your volume!

Finally, I found myself engrossed in Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life.  Just couldn’t put it down.  How prescient.  There is a chapter – this was published in 2002 – on grossly massive racial inequalities in East St. Louis, IL (that’s basically just the other side of St. Louis – which is near Ferguson).  There is an entry by Jill Nelson on her first interview with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and the racial tensions underlying it.  Each entry seems to be an excerpt from a book-length work (I could be wrong but I recognized several books that were summed up as chapters here).  I could have spent hours reading the entries and then googling the authors, searching the catalog for their books, etc.  Again, this work is more like a textbook with chapters organized by theme to tie together the major challenges and opportunities of sociology, but it reads so well.  At the end of each chapter there are some discussion prompts.  A few of these chapters could have worked perfectly for my book club back in Ann Arbor (that I so desperately miss right now)!  Ann Arbor Paginators – consider a chapter or two from this for some month coming up!

* These days, I find my thoughts rather consumed with dread, sadness, empathy and hopelessness with what has been happening in our country recently around institutionalized, system-created, system-propagated racism and police brutality. So I’m gravitating towards chapters on the topic.

Lynne Viti and the Supremes!

The Supremes

Laura (right) and I (left) dressed up as Supreme Court Justices

Last Friday I did not spend time with my reference books as I was otherwise occupied impersonating a Supreme Court Justice for Lynne Viti’s first year writing seminar on the Supreme Court.  Lynne invited me and my colleague and officemate, Laura, to her course to hear students argue four cases currently in front of the Supreme Court.  These were:

What fascinating cases!  Already we’ve had one decision come down from on high (the real life court decided):  the court ruled that workers do not need to be compensated with overtime pay for the time they spend in a security clearance line after normal work hours.  The (real) justices were unanimous in their decision on this one.

I must say, when asked to fill out the survey on how I would vote, I think my gut told me the decision should be one way for each of these cases but that the law and precedent do not always lead a justice to that decision.  So, it was really neat to be in such a mock trial situation.

Clearly, I am eagerly awaiting all the other decisions!

Friday in the Stacks: Sources on the U.S. Government

“For forms of government let fools contest / whate’er issue best administered is best.”

Alexander Pope

Today I spent my hour reviewing a few reference works on American government and public policy: A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, the Encyclopedia of American Government, the Encyclopedia of American Public Policy, and the Encyclopedia of the American Presidency. The Historical Guide to the U.S. Government and the Encyclopedia of American Government were most similar in terms of what they set out to do, so I decided to do a little exercise in comparing the two.

Though published in 1998, I found the Historical Guide reasonably enjoyable and fairly comprehensive. This work seems appropriate in scope and intended audience. Entries tend to be on various agencies, departments and groups of the federal government such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Library of Congress, the Mint, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. These kinds of entries help explain the structure of government. But, there are also some entries of extended essays on topics such as “Accountability in the Federal Government,” “History and Historians in the Federal Government,” and “Regulation and Regulatory Agencies.”

Because I’m interested in libraries, I did a little looking into the Library of Congress entry. Whenever I read anything in the stacks, I always come up with little project ideas… threads I will never unravel and re-sow but threads nonetheless. This time was no different. In the entry on the Library of Congress, I read:

“For a while, the Smithsonian Institution emerged as a rival to the Library of Congress.”

That one little line is likely to hide a fascinating history! It references that tumultuous period in our nation’s history: the 1850s-1860s. Ah, if I had all the time in the world, I’d satisfy that little itch I have to learn all about organizational culture and organizational drama – in this case in the early history of the Smithsonian and reasonably early history of the Library of Congress. In another life perhaps. (Clearly, I simply must start a “to do when retired” list). I digress.

Why would a Wellesley College undergraduate find herself in the stacks reading entries in this book though? The book is written by well credentialed authors, entries are short enough to be unintimidating but long enough to be substantive. If I were at the desk, I might guide a student to this source if she were starting on a paper or project and needed to know more about some entity in the government. I am dubious that she would wander to find this book on her own (as Wikipedia might solve her immediate needs – indeed, it has more about the period I am interested in for the LOC). But that is, perhaps, besides the point. It’s a good source. I like it. And now I know more about it.

I was not so pleased with the Encyclopedia of American Government. This four volume set read to me as if it were written for a high school student. I compared a few similar entries between the two works, and found the Encyclopedia lacking. For example, when I skimmed entries on the G.I. bill in both, I found the Historical Guide’s entry to be clearer, more concise, and ultimately more useful. So, I will likely not point my inquisitive Wellesley student this way anytime soon. Ah well, you win some and lose some, yes?

This week, I picked these resources to look at because I’ve got some decisions to make (thankfully with input from others!) about a few purchases for the political science reference section. One thing I realized this morning was that I need to consider what purchases might be redundant. For example, do we need another guide to the U.S. Presidency? Or does our 1994 Encyclopedia of the American Presidency offer what we need for students right now? (Actually that’s an unfair example because we also do have a Guide to the Presidency that is from 2008 which I didn’t look at this morning).

In any case, I think these are the kinds of questions I’ll be mulling over across each of my six departments over the weeks, months, and years… but for now, I think I’m beginning to develop some sense of the current scope of our collection as well as what updates and additions would be welcome.