Dorodango

Earlier this week, I went to an engrossing presentation by Christopher Nunn. Chris is a community educator in Indianapolis, and his heart belongs to arts education. I attended at the invitation of the head of our Education Library. I have to say, if you’re a teaching librarian, making friends with the Ed Librarian or the School of Education in general is a great strategy for creating your own community of practice and accessing professional development opportunities. 

The description of the workshop was very intriguing, although I have to say that the trajectory of the talk was different than I imagined based on the description. Chris primarily talked about the ideas that have inspired his teaching and learning journey, which were in themselves intriguing. A number of ideas have stuck with me, and I have a few readings to follow up on.

The first thing that strikes you about Chris is his presence in the classroom. Only one other time have I encounter a teacher who is as present in a classroom as Chris. He explained that one of his foundational ideas comes from Bill Pinar who said, “I be with my students.” I be with my students. He was certainly present to this workshop and as a result time seemed to suspend. I took the invitation to be as well, and felt more engaged in observation and excited about creating than I have in a long while.

He talked about how art is not in the completion of a piece, but in the process of making it. That in order to be present with our students as they are figuring things out, we must first explore and wrestle with materials. This is art. A number of participants brought prototypes of their work to show, and in this conversation Chris introduced his own prototypes – dorodango

A dorodango is a traditional Japanese craft of school children. They are balls of mud that have been shaped and polished until they resemble stone. The dorodango Chris brought were of variable size, somewhat lumpy, often cracked, and completely captivating in their tactile imperfections. He developed a process of making dorodango that is more consistent and reachable for the classroom. The process begins with a piece of clay which is rolled in the palms. The first thing he says he learned about dorodango is that they may be the original fidget spinners. Give a group of preschoolers balls of clay to roll and every single one will listen with full attention to whatever you have to say. I can certainly believe it, because when he pulled out a bag of clay and invited us to begin our own dorodango, the atmosphere of the room immediately changed to one of intense focus.

In Chris’s method, the dorodango is kept in a baggie and taken out a few times a day to roll between your palms. After a few days, it develops a crust, and after a week or so you can begin polishing it by rubbing it on your sweater. I immediately felt focused and at peace while rolling my dorodango between my palms – free to think and wonder but not overstimulated. It has been a great thing to grab this week when I’m feeling stuck. It is interesting that after I mentioned feeling “sloppy in the muddy process” of figuring out creative outlet for all the knowledge I’m accumulating recently, I find myself in an illuminating encounter with mud. Literally.

I’m still working on my dorodango. As you can see it is not shiny yet, but it is something – an imperfect object and a perfect representation of art, of creativity, of making. And so, I will continue to make my dorodango, just as I will continue to wrestle with the library materials, spaces, and processes in order to be with our students as they are learning.

Upcoming

It is, perhaps, last minute to mention that I will be presenting (along with my fabulous colleague, Amy Pajewski) at the New York Library Association conference on Friday, November 10th. We’ll be doing a redux of a workshop we first presented at LOEX way back in May 2016 that emphasizes strategic outreach. Description:

This workshop introduces participants to use personas in the outreach process and identify target markets to provide concrete solutions for users’ needs. Effective outreach is built on the principle that not everyone cares about everything. Simply distributing posters or blasting social media ignores one of the central tenets of marketing: Differentiation. This workshop will begin by introducing participants to the use of personas in the initial outreach process. Groups of participants will use guided inquiry to define the real-world struggles of target audiences and identify real solutions to those problems that can be adapted for any institution. Participants will create a framework for developing outreach initiatives and growing partnerships that can be taken back to their institution and enacted immediately.

I also owe a big thank you to everyone who generously voted for my conference proposal for The Collective. Our proposal was accepted! I’m particularly excited about this conference because it emphasizes active learning and skill-building in its presentations. My colleague, Leanne Nay, and I proposed a session titled “Common Ingredients, Unique Perspective: Library Instruction Meets Test Kitchen.” Here’s the short description:

Inspired by the Great British Baking Show, this session uses a similar format to encourage experimentation, adaptation, and flexibility to promote outside the box thinking. Through three fast-paced challenges, participants will use common ingredients and unique perspectives to quickly iterate various possibilities for the library classroom. Participants will work in small groups using crowd-sourced instructional scenarios to create at least three new instructional ideas to adapt and implement at their unique institution.

Hope to see you there!

 

Tips for new places

bean blossom bridge

I’ve been in my new job for about three months now. It’s a difficult (invigorating!) fact of academic life that a new job most often means a new place to live. The logistics of such a move are not insignificant and are more complicated now than the last time I did such a thing, as a single, twenty-something. One of the realities of moving to a new city is needing to find “your” places again – the gas station with the free air pump, the grocery store with your favorite products, the coffee shop with the best vibe, or whatever those places are for you. You also need to rebuild your network, finding the people in the know and hopefully identifying kindred spirits. Here are some strategies I’ve employed for trying to settle myself in our new city:

  1. Find an opportunity to play music. This is always the first thing I look for when moving to a new place. Thanks to the Jacobs School of Music, a playing opportunity emerged for me very quickly here. I’m currently a member of the Southern Indiana Wind Ensemble, wherein I had my first audition in many years. The repertoire is fun, the leadership is strong, and the people are nice. I couldn’t ask for more!
  2. Get food acquisition sorted. For me, this starts with the Farmer’s Market and food co-op. Indiana is in a very different frost zone than upstate New York, and delightfully so. We gorged ourselves on Indiana peaches for the first six weeks. I think the baby liked them best of all. Food co-ops are also a great place to scan fliers and find out what else is going on in town. We’ve set ourselves up with a fall/winter CSA and we’re excited to be eating farm fresh produce up through Christmas.
  3. The local library. Nuff said.
  4. Facebook groups. Any more, I use Facebook almost exclusively for the groups. I sought out a number of local groups of use to people with young children and I’m learning a lot about local amenities.
  5. Instagrammers and Instagram hashtags. You can glean a lot about a place by following people on Instagram, from great places to hike and get coffee to what’s ripe in the Community Orchard.
  6. Other librarians. I lean heavily on other librarians for guidance and recommendations. If at all possible, ask to be connected with local people whose concerns are similar to yours. I benefitted immensely from insight and recommendations from other librarians with young kids.

Invariably, moving to a new place and starting a new job means a certain period of time feeling a loose ends. For me, it often means a period of time saying “yes” to lots of things in the short term that I may not be saying “yes” to in the long term. I don’t consider this a bad thing. How will you know if it’s right for you if you don’t try? How will you know what path to take if you don’t move a few steps forward? This time it has also meant feeling bloated with consumption of new knowledge and sloppy in the muddy process of figuring out what a productive outlet of that knowledge is. That is, until I remember this handy blog, wherein I may create and reflect to my hearts content, however small and insignificant. And so I find myself here this rainy Friday afternoon, working to put an imperfect something out there in the hopes of returning to a practice that has reflected my professional life until now.

If you’re still hanging in here with me, I hope to see you back in this space again soon.

Strength through Unity

Just popping in quickly to recommend this wonderful, thought-provoking comic by Maia Kobabe. I learned a lot about the root of the word “fascism” and have been thinking ever since about the world our children will see as “normal.”

On a related note, you can go here to quickly and easily comment on the FCC’s new rules about net neutrality. It took less than 5 minutes.

I struggle with knowing what to do, how to balance the very real concerns of my daily life with what’s happening in the world. I’m not perfect, but today I spoke out. I hope you do the same.

Adventure On

I’ve always tried to frame my life as an adventure. From the mundane-yet-challenging-with-a-baby (We’re going on an adventure to the grocery store!) to the scary-yet-thrilling (I’m going on an adventure to a third world country!), I try to choose to meet life with an attitude of excitement and anticipation, even when underneath I’m often feeling a lot of conflicting emotions. In truth, I’m feeling a lot of conflicting emotions right now, but oh, the adventure! The adventure! You see, I have accepted a new job as Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington.

It is not easy to think of leaving Paul Smith’s College. This has been a wonderful place to be, for so many reasons. I’ve learned, grown, and gained a tremendous amount from diving head-first into the adventure that was coming here in the first place, not the least of which was gaining a husband and a son. But it is time to find our next adventure and I’m so, so excited to join the incredible faculty of IU. I look forward to the next years, where I hope the adventure continues.

In want of the assessable objective

For a long while, assessment of our instruction program and workshops has taken a backseat to more pressing concerns, like the day-to-day running of the library and building of a coherent instruction program. This spring I decided to pilot some assessment in our English 101 courses. At PSC, ENG101 has two required instruction sessions, and I targeted one particular ENG101 for this pilot with the goal of embedding assessment into both sessions.

I’ve long been frustrated by the approaches to assessment for library instruction sessions. The general approach seems to lean heavily on pre-/post-testing, which I am loathe to do. I can hardly imagine a circumstance that would leave a worse impression on a student than pre-/post-tests for a guest lecture. I need my assessments to be as unobtrusive yet fruitful as possible.

For the first session, I collaborated with the professor to design a journal, to be assigned after the session, which asked students to find some articles for their forthcoming annotated bibliography and then ask them to unpack their process and thinking a little. This assignment was for a grade in class. For the second session, I brought out my trusty notecards and asked students to reflect on how class changed how they might use their sources and to explain their next steps in research. Something is better than nothing, I figured, so let’s just start there.

Well, I have to tell you I learned a lot, but not much about what students did or did not learn. I learned that my learning objectives leave a lot to be desired. It’s not that these workshops don’t have learning objectives. They do! It’s just that assessing the objectives as written doesn’t lead to an understanding of whether or not students learn something. I can assess whether we are doing what we said we would do in the workshop – yes, the students are making and revising a mindmap – but without rewriting the objectives, I can’t assess whether making a mindmap had any effect on the students’ final projects.

For the objects that are well-written, I focused on the wrong end of the statement:

  • Students will revise their mind map and research plan in order to understand that a paper or research project may be effected by the information that is found.

In this instance, I focused on whether or not they were revising, and not on their understanding. I looked at what they were doing and not what they were learning.

So, I have some work to do there. All in all, though, I’d call that a successful assessment. I learned something that will cause me to go about it a different way in the future.

I need to read more

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with Veronica about writing and publishing. I’m taking the year off conferences because, well, babies, so I’m looking for opportunities to double down on writing. After we got off the phone it hit me that the biggest thing missing from my writing life was reading. READING!

It’s not that I haven’t been reading, per se. I haven’t been reading deeply in the LIS or SoTL literature in a way that stimulates my thinking. When I do read the literature, it’s hit or miss, jumping around from topic to topic. I have breadth but little depth. I read a blog post, follow a few links, end up on an article, and if it’s good I save it in a Zotero folder for “later.” The problem is, I’m not connecting any dots. “Later” never comes. I’m just… reading. Admittedly, lately my capacity for thinking is somewhat limited by the amount of uninterrupted sleep I get, but I can certainly be more intentional about my reading depth.

What I’d like to do is something like Zoe Fisher’s #100infolitarticlesin100days project. Get myself a curriculum of some kind. Or at least pick a direction and start walking, er, reading.

To that end, I recently purchased the following books:

I’ve marked also a number of articles from the In the Library with a Lead Pipe spring reading list. I can’t say I’ve totally picked a direction, but it definitely appears that I’m heading towards “question formulation” with a distinct flavor of William Badke. We’ll see where I end up.

I read a lot in my non-professional life, too. These days, it’s mostly in the middle of the night after night feedings, but it still counts. I have pretty strict rules about what is appropriate for middle-of-the-night reading, and I really enjoyed The Boys in the Boat this fall. I love the What Should I Read Next podcast for bibliophile talk and book recommendations, which is where I heard about The Boys in the Boat in the first place. Apparently, it’s also great on audio if that’s your thing. I also just today discovered a great Chrome extension called Library Extension that will search your libraries for books you find on Amazon. Just enable the extension and add your libraries. The next time you search for a book (or are redirected to a book, such as those above) on Amazon, you will also be able to see if your library has it and check it out from there. Genius!

What else should I be reading?

Sparking Curiousity

I read the post “Sparking Curiosity-Librarian’s Role in Encouraging Exploration” by Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel on In the Library with a Lead Pipe last week and it’s been open in my browser ever since. There’s a lot truths open here. I especially resonated when they talked about Head and Eisenberg’s research:

“In their qualitative analysis Head and Eisenberg identify a metaphor that sheds some light on how students feel about topic selection: gambling. To students, committing to a research topic is like rolling the dice. When students choose an unfamiliar topic, they don’t know what they will find and they do not know if they can ultimately meet their instructor’s expectations. Even worse, they must invest weeks and weeks of work into a project that may or may not pay out in the form of a good grade (Head and Eisenberg 2010).

In this context, it is not surprising that students prefer topics they have used before, or that they know many other students have successfully used before. These topics represent safe choices. They know these topics will “work,” because they have worked in the past. Students may not know exactly what they are being asked to do in their first “college-level research paper,” but with these topics, they know they are giving themselves a reasonable chance at success.”

Or how about this one:

“When learners are anxious, worried, or concerned that they cannot complete a task, they are less likely to make room for curiosity. The uncertainty inherent in choosing an unfamiliar topic can be too much to bear. In the context of a traditional research assignment, a student’s choice to play it safe, and avoid the gamble of an unfamiliar topic, is eminently sensible. Years of experience with school have taught students that they will not be evaluated on their willingness to take risks, but on their ability to meet predetermined expectations. The risks inherent in taking a curiosity-driven approach to research may seem too great to overcome.”

They go on to say that given the level of trust necessary to overcome these risks, it’s impossible for librarians working in the context of a one-shot session to convince students to take a risk that might jeopardize their ability to meet their professor’s expectations. I feel this keenly in an instruction session. All the niceness and encouragement in the world occurring for only 50 minutes is not enough to launch true curiosity and exploration, particularly in a freshmen English class.

I wish the article had more concrete explanations of how they actively encourage exploration, particularly as it relates to exploring different sources early on. Their suggestions of using language of curiosity, however, were right on the mark as I consider how I will collaborate with faculty in the future. For instance, encouraging “learning about” a topic rather than “finding sources” or writing about a topic they are “passionate” about. What effect might even that simple shift in language have on the outcomes and interactions even within our usual one-shot structure? I’ll try it out and report back.

 

Collection Development Survey

Part of the restructuring of librarian responsibilities that’s happened around here in the last two years involves liaison work and collection development. Previously, our (now retired) director did all of the collection development work and I did all of the liaising. These days, both of those responsibilities are distributed into a more formal liaison program with boundaries that are still a bit fuzzy. I coordinate the liaison program but not collection development although collection development is a responsibility of liaisons.

I am liaison to two of the most difficult programs on campus in terms of library-faculty relations, Culinary Management and Business and Hospitality. I don’t know how things run for other places, but here it’s like pulling teeth to get any feedback from the faculty on collection development. Asking for lists generally produces less than 20 recommendations per year. Simply opening the door and saying “let me know how I can help” has a predictable result. And I find that simply opening the floor to feedback generally doesn’t produce anything actionable. So what’s a liaison to do?

I had an idea to sort of prime the opinion pump. Rather than asking for a full blast of all the opinions ever on the library’s collection development, I would be like a magician directing the faculty’s attention where I wanted it to go. First I asked myself what I wanted to know and what action I was hoping the resulting data would indicate. Then I designed a short survey that looks something like this:capture

The full survey contains 5 books purchased for that department in the last few months and asks for directed feedback on those books. It also contains three short questions at the bottom, asking faculty how often they use library resources, how often they recommend students to the library, and if there is anything they would like us to do differently in purchasing resources. It’s meant to be deployed in person, on paper, at the beginning of a department meeting, to be collected at the end. Basically, I’m hoping to entice direction from the faculty without asking them to approve book lists.

By carefully selecting the books to cover a range of topics and interest levels, I hope to have more information on what kinds of books the faculty would like us to purchase. Asking about library usage will hopefully provide jumping off points for future conversations. And, of course, providing room for open response will allow for any opinions that might be lurking under the surface. Deploying in person, on paper, during a set time period will hopefully mean that the surveys will be filled out. And, fingers crossed, we will have data that we can use, however minimally, for this spring’s collection development binge.

I can’t promise that the books will get checked out, but it’s a start.

 

Making space for the next great thing

sssposter2016final

This week was supposed to be the 4th annual Student Speaker Series. The Student Speaker Series is an event that allows students to share their expertise with the larger community. With the support and mentoring of the library, students gain experience in public speaking and have a platform for synthesizing the skills they learn in a classroom setting with the ideas they find especially intriguing regardless of their major. This is a program I started in my first year at PSC, and one that I consider a personal passion project. I’m passionate about giving students opportunity to become great speakers and articulators, and I believe that my background in performance puts me in a unique position to make a difference. The first year, the Student Speaker Series made the front page of the local newspaper entirely by accident and attracted crowds of around 100. Those of you who live in small towns know that this is a Big Deal.

This year, there is no Student Speaker Series. The surface explanation for why is lack of student interest. The number of applications (one) certainly supports that theory.  The deeper explanation is more complicated.

The environment changed. When I started, there were very few opportunities for students to publicly share ideas in an academically supported way outside of Capstone. In the last few years, more and more student-run organizations are providing space for public discourse, including one using the title “The Wildlife Society’s Student Speaker Series.” I did have a chat with this particular organization about naming and branding and the availability of a very similar platform through the library, but the fact remains that other venues are now available.

The Student Speaker Series has been a positive touchstone for the library with the faculty and administration. They LOVE the idea of it, but nevertheless when faculty rally about the “lack of opportunity for public presentation on campus,” they are startled when I mention the Student Speaker Series as such an opportunity. It isn’t what comes to mind for them, and without faculty support it is quite difficult to convince students to stand in front of a group of peers and talk for 40 minutes.

It is impossible to know if I could have made a stronger pitch to faculty and students about the Student Speaker Series. It is hard to get past the feeling that I could have done something better or more. But then I look at the list of places and ways I reached out and ask myself what more I could possibly have done.

  • Multiple, escalating emails to students and faculty
  • Posters large and small all over campus including dorms
  • Digital signage
  • Table tents
  • Restroom newsletter spots
  • Wrote a short blurb for The Apollos
  • Posted to The Apollos Facebook page
  • Posted to the Library Facebook page
  • Announcements in large and small faculty meetings
  • Announcements in classrooms
  • Individual outreach to a few key professors asking for support in actionable ways
  • Incentives offered to students

Sometimes the time has passed for an idea. Sometimes the right time hasn’t happened yet. It could be a great idea, but so much about the success of an initiative has to do with external circumstances and timing. The Student Speaker Series no longer has the right circumstances to succeed and it is time to consider what is right for right now.

We talk a lot about maximizing our resources and doing more with less, but the fact is in many instances that the more important and more difficult question is “what can we stop doing?” What is holding us back from serving the needs of now? What has become burdensome and more work than reward? What needs to be shelved for a year or so to be reconsidered when the right time comes? What is central to our core and what is simply pretty? Even without the threat of budget cuts and “downsizing,” we need to make space for the next great thing.

I am sad to see it go. It was mine. It had so much potential. It failed. In this time of incredible change and transition at our institution, however, it is probably just as well to let this baby go in service of other babies in progress. My days have been filled with the kind of revisioning that generally happens with large scale administrative turn-over – strategic planning (college and library), reorganizing of structures and jobs, policy and procedure. There has also been a lot of the dirty, day-to-day that is technically my job but would fall under “other duties as assigned” on my job description – hiring, contract issues, and budgets. There hasn’t been as much as I would like of the kind of work that has a direct impact on students, and I am sad to miss the thrill from seeing students rise to a challenge and exceed their own expectations this year. This is not the time and the Student Speaker Series is no longer where my effort is most needed.

Nor can I forget about this other baby that I’m growing, the one with a due date in mid-September, right at the beginning of the busiest time for library instruction. The baby that means this fall I expect to be spending a lot more time on the couch lovingly immobilized by an 8 pound weight than in the classroom challenging students to ask better questions. The baby for whom I am planning to complete my promotion portfolio  6 months early so that I won’t be doing it while on leave or while making the transition back to work. The baby for whom my effort is most definitely needed.

(And with that, a plea to other librarians and academic parents for support and advice on how one does this baby-raising thing, particularly as it relates to leave and daycare and, egads, the million other huge and tiny ways that academic life and rural living makes things both easier and harder.)

What needs to shift to make room for the next great thing? I debated for a long time about what or whether to write in this space. None of us would prefer to dwell on the initiatives and projects that haven’t gone according to plan. I suspect it would be in my best professional interest to wait for the next great thing to come along before writing and to completely omit the seismic change my personal life is about to undergo with the introduction of a child, but this space for me has always been about my personal learning, reflection, and growth. I do not write for my professional interest, but for my own.

And on that note here is a short list of great things I am looking forward to:

  • Immersion, oh yes.
  • LOEX
  • Continuing to develop our faculty liaison plan and organization
  • Benchmarking IL skills in our Natural Sciences department
  • Working to assess library student learning outcomes, possibly in ENG101