Category Archives: in practice

Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement

This spring has been a whirlwind of unexpected professional gains. I’ve given a presentation titled “Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement” in a number of different places with slightly different formats and time frames over the last few months. If you were not able to attend SUNYLA Midwinter, LibTech, or LOEX, I was recently asked to give this presentation for NCompass Live through the Nebraska Library Comission. You can find my slides below, or click through to their website for a full recording including Q&A.

Morty the Tiny Paper Skeleton

For the last few Halloweens, I’ve been using Morty the Tiny Paper Skeleton to promote the library Facebook page.



Morty was created one early October day in my first year as a librarian. I was feeling a little lost and not sure what I should be doing. I happened on a link to a paper craft skeleton and immediately printed it out and set to work at the front desk assembling it with no particular purpose. I reinforced him with cardstock and tape, named him Morty, and proceeded to take pictures of him all over the library.



Morty has promoted library products, like our iPads with this really amazing tree identification app, but mostly Morty is a trouble maker. For instance, last year he photocopied himself.

copier results


And did the backstroke in a bowl full of candy.

candy bowl


He has provoked the library mascot and nearly been mauled. In the end, Morty won the skirmish, and the Bobcat had to let Morty take a ride.

bobcat adventure

Morty even has a costume. Here he is as Tom Selleck.


This year Morty is going back in time to the days when Paul Smith’s College was Paul Smith’s Hotel in order to promote our newly digitized photo collection. Here he is with Paul Smith himself:

morty and paul smith

Did you know that Calvin Coolidge actually spent one summer just a mile down the road at White Pine Camp? It was the summer White House in 1926. I’m not saying Morty influenced federal policy, but that is him between President Coolidge and Phelps Smith, the son of Paul Smith who chartered the college after the hotel burned to the ground in 1930.

coolidge phelps and morty

Morty comes out of his graveyard (my bookshelf) for a few days a year, causes mischief, and then disappears again (back to my bookshelf). This year I nearly let Morty slide in the face of understaffing and mounting responsibilities but I’m so glad I didn’t. I forgot how much fun it is to dream up new Morty adventures, and I also enjoyed pulling out my rudimentary Photoshop skills and dusting them off a bit.

Do you do anything fun for Halloween at your library?

P.S. Looking to waste an hour or so? Don’t forget that PicMonkey has holiday themes!

Just do your thing


I’m now in my third year as a librarian, and I feel like I’m in a solid place with my teaching. I’m consistently expanding our reach into required and non-required classes. I’m designing classes that make sense in the curriculum and that scaffold the college’s expectations of information literacy from freshman through senior years. I’m also discovering that things I really thought worked well aren’t working for me any more. It’s not that I think they’re bad classes, they just aren’t jiving with my particular approach to teaching. And speaking of approach, I’ve discovered that I have one, and I believe strongly in it.

In many ways, the day-to-day of planning classes hasn’t changed for me since the beginning. I still use Evernote to plan classes. I still procrastinate a lot. I still spend too much time googling around for ideas before doing the thing my gut said I should do in the first place. The difference is, I now have some idea of what works, both for me and for the classes I’m teaching, and that’s why I’m so surprised at my currently instructional dilemma.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon this fall: A marked increase in the number of library instruction requests which amount to “oh, just do your library thing, and, no, I don’t care when you come it to do it.” This has been happening in both required and non-required library instructions. No amount of conversation between the professor and me illuminates the need for library instruction or when it could happen most effectively in the course schedule. My working theory goes like this. Everyone knows me now. My outreach efforts have been very successful, and they like me as a person. They know me to be intelligent and passionate and comfortable with public speaking. They feel they should have library instruction so they invite me to class, largely because they like me and not because they believe in the importance of library instruction.

What’s a librarian to do? I piloted one class this week that seemed to go well and could be adapted to different subjects. I had some idea of what the students were working on (a research paper and a debate) but no good idea about when these things were happening, so I divided the students into 6 groups and had them explore 6 different resources (a mix of databases, book catalog, and Google Scholar). I used a handout with specific questions to explore and asked them to evaluate the resources as it related to research on people, historic events, and current events. Each group gave a three minute presentation to summarize what they found and gave recommendations to their classmates for how the resource could best be used for class. It took about 30 minutes, and seemed to go over well. I was able to dispel some myths that came up in the presentations which probably wouldn’t have come up otherwise, such as “Google Scholar is the only place to get research when off campus” and “article databases contain books.”

I also love the idea from Iris Jastram of “subversive handouts” for situations like this. I rediscovered this idea serendipitiously the day after I might have used in the class, but I plan to use it the next time I get a request to “just do your library thing.”

I’m sure we all have our approaches to this kind of request. How do you handle it?

Marketing: Results

From the top of Scarface Mountain on Saturday

From the top of Scarface Mountain on Saturday

You may remember this winter when I was making a real effort to be deliberate about marketing in my library. My first focus was on our Overdrive library, which was underused. Well, it’s time to report results. Good news: Usage increased by 50%! Bad news: It wasn’t enough usage to save the service in our recent round of budget cuts. You win some, you lose some.

Part of the issue with Overdrive was that we knew how much we used the service as a staff, and it accounted for a not-insignificant percentage of the usage. While community usage still increased as a result of marketing, my original hypotheses seem to be born out. We are not a campus of fiction readers in general, and ereader access is very small. (Although we do lend Kindles, through the magic that is DRM, accounts, logins, etc., we were not able allow Overdrive books onto our Kindles.)

This made me and my Kindle Paperwhite sort of sad. Although the library has a small fiction collection, many of the books we purchase are not things that I personally want to read. Not having the personal budget or, frankly, desire to pay mass market prices for ebooks, where could I get my fix of instant gratification reading? The New York Public Library, that’s where. Are you a New York resident? You, too, can have access to the NYPL’s ebook and audiobook collection, no matter where in New York you live. This is a beautiful thing.

Other beautiful things include the view from the top of a mountain in autumn, the smell of woodsmoke in the air, and the apple cider donuts that the Baking and Pastry Club will be selling on Friday morning. Since I took that picture at the top of the post on Saturday from Scarface Mountain, fall has arrived overnight. There are few places that are more iconically “fall” than the Adirondacks at this time of year. Here’s a secret: There are actually two falls. First the maples and aspens turn red and gold against the evergreens. The leaves fall too soon in a cold rainstorm a few weeks later and you think it’s all over. Wait for a bit and you’ll start to notice gold reappearing. It’s the tamaracks, outlining the boggy, wet areas. They are not evergreen as you might suppose, but deciduous, with pleasingly tiny cones and a habit of lingering on the tail end of fall. They are the indicator of the end of fall just as sap running in the sugar maples is a sign of spring. Winter may be coming, but I’m not ready for snow. Here’s hoping the tamaracks stick around for a while.

First Year Seminar update


Here’s what my current process for planning my FYS class looks like. Merging two ideas in the comments from Kristin and Ilana, I have created a giant post-it note calendar of the semester. In the process, I learned that our weeks during the semester actually run Wednesday-Wednesday with the last Wednesday being a Monday. My head hurt a bit thinking this through and I scrapped my first plan to number the weeks. Who needs it when we already have a lovely, lovely calendar where Wednesday is always in the middle of the week and never rearranged?

Obviously, this wall-based approach wouldn’t work for planning multiple classes, but it’s working for me now. I have a rough sketch of crucial assignments, outings, and special lectures in place. Now it’s a matter of filling in the blanks with the slightly more mundane, day-to-day class stuff – readings and discussions, building and scaffolding.

I found that library instruction was one of the last pieces to fall into place for me. This class needs intentional structuring for library instruction to be really useful. If I had trouble envisioning where library instruction fits, I’m sure others do too. I’m wondering how I might help FYS instructors create meaningful assignments that address the required library instruction component. We typically do a lecture about evaluating information for FYS, although we change it up on request. Some instructors choose to include a debate for their final project, which is a natural fit for discussions about quality of information. Others do a “Global Journeys” project to help connect students to the world at large. Still others choose to go a completely different path. I will be contacting other FYS professors to see how we might work together to make the library instruction really useful.

The texts I’ve chosen are A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, a classic for FYS here in the ADKs and an excellent text for helping students connect to a very forested place, and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, which, besides being just fascinating, will provide some concrete examples of life skills in action. I’m also planning to use some exercises from Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo to help open the class and bring everything together at the end.

In the mean time, I’m also considering tweaks to our current FYS library instruction. What do you do for instruction in first year classes?

What we mean when we say “research”

glasses in the forest

I’ve been working intensively with the foundational writing curriculum assessment team for the last two years. This is the kind of work I love to do – work with a team to dissect a problem and find a better/different/more suitable solution. Working with this team has been invaluable to me because, as a librarian, I never get to see the long term results of the instruction sessions I conduct and the impact I may or may not have on a final product. In this team I see these things, and not only that but I get to discuss and provide input on the curriculum at large. Working on this project has directly impacted what I do on a daily basis, and I enjoy all of the discussions that arise out of it.

On this round of assessment, we have reached a critical point in the life of our current English 101 course. What is happening in that class is good work, but may not be the same size and shape as the hole it’s meant to fill in the curriculum. One of the ideas that was tossed around this week was to remove the research paper from the course, which in the past has been the final project of the class. The research paper is then proposed to move to a new class called “Research Methods” that does not currently exist.

Through conversation, I finally came to understand that the writing faculty see a class on research methods to be the “finding stuff in the library for the purpose of writing a research paper” class. A real research methods class is not this at all, but rather a “how to conduct effective original research” kind of class, involving the specifics of data collection, organization, and analysis. Research methods, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is usually first encountered at the graduate level. This was my first clue that we’re not all talking about the same thing when we use the word “research.”

The term “research paper” has come to mean a very specific, very unnatural kind of writing. We are taught to follow a strict process, completely divorced of authentic inquiry. Come up with a topic, neither too broad nor too narrow. Get it approved by the powers that be. Find a specific number of resources about that topic. Stop when you’ve reached that number. Write an annotated bibliography and/or an outline. Get it approved. Write a rough draft, attempting to make the resources you’ve found that contain the words in your topic fit into something that may or may not resemble a coherent thought process. Peer review. Final paper due. This is “research.”

The term “research paper” does not describe anything terribly useful about what this final product looks like. Is it a statement of facts resembling nothing so much as an encyclopedia article? Could be. Is it a comparison paper? Maybe. Is it a platform for pushing a personal agenda with limited consideration of other opinions? Often. Is it a persuasive argument? Might could maybe. All of these papers could be written by following the “research paper” process above. Yes, specific direction from faculty could remove some of the less desirable types of papers from consideration as the “final research paper,” but the fact remains that the “final research paper” is not only a distinction of limited usefulness for the purposes of instruction but also a bit of a misnomer. I doubt anyone teaching foundation level writing is asking their students to conduct original research. Instead, they are asking their students to find information to support the claims that they make in the process of writing a persuasive argument or a comparison paper and calling it a “research paper.” When we use the term “research paper” we aren’t describing the end result so much as we’re invoking a particular set of assumptions about what a “research paper” is.

The faculty are telling me that they just don’t have the amount of time they feel is necessary to devote to teaching students to write a good research paper. Everything just gets so overwhelmed at the end of the semester, and with the demands of revisions and backwards instruction on papers that have already been done, they just don’t have the appropriate amount of time to teach students how to “do research.” While I would never turn down the opportunity to be more involved in the critical thinking processes of freshmen, the view from my angle looks very different.

I’ve seen the freshmen research papers. I’ve read the bibliographies. They could be better. They could be a lot worse. All told, they’re about where I would expect a bibliography of a first semester freshmen to be. A few good sources, a few that could be acceptable if they were used and contextualized properly, and a few that obviously only contain the words of their topic and not the substance. The trouble from where I’m seated isn’t “finding it in the library.” It’s the word “research.”

So let’s stop using it. If we remove the word “research” from our discussions of what a final project in a freshmen writing class looks like, we move suddenly and astoundingly beyond the fear that professors and students have of the word and directly to what we want students to be able to do. We aren’t getting hung up any longer on what “doing research” is or isn’t. We’re talking about appropriate analysis of argument. We’re talking about the ability to support a position. We aren’t talking about “research methods” any more.

Obviously, removing the word “research” from our discussions of freshmen writing does not remove the need for finding information to support an informed argument. We aren’t removing the library. We aren’t removing information need. We aren’t removing the steps necessary to resolve that information need. We’re removing hang ups around word usage. We’re removing knee-jerk assumptions. We’re removing a haze of fear and dread.

Can we talk about the library’s role in student writing without using the word “research?” Can we say “looking for conversations” or “finding stuff out?” Can we use the actual definition of the word and talk about “investigating systematically?” Changing the words we use does not change what needs to happen. It may, however, change the way we approach it.


30 minute citation class

Attribution chart from Austin Kleon's new book Show Your Work.

Attribution chart from Austin Kleon’s new book Show Your Work.

Here’s the outline for the citation class I was having trouble wrapping around my head. It is based on this idea from Iris Jastrom. This little workshop was at the request of a 300-level Canadian Studies class that wanted me to cover MLA and APA citation. I prepped handout packets for small groups to examine in the activity. I used one each of book, journal, and newspaper in order to bring up more questions of what kind of information is valuable to a citation. The class lasted about 25-30 minutes.

Citation has many goals. Avoiding plagiarism is only one of these goals and the least interesting reason to cite. These goals have to do with the fact that writing is inherently communicative, and communication happens primarily within a community of inquiry (a group of people interested in and questioning the same kinds of things).

Why do we cite? Here students brainstorm ideas that I type up on a blank Powerpoint slide for why we cite which can include but are not limited to:
  • to share information
  • to join a scholarly conversation.
  • to reflect the careful work you have put into locating and exploring your sources
  • to help readers understand the context of your argument
  • to help people who may share interests find more information
  • to give credit to the authors and ideas that have inspired your work
  • to illustrate your own learning process
  • to participate in your community of inquiry
There are three interlinked rules that all citation styles strive for:
  • Rule of Least Confusion (get your readers to exactly what you want them to see)
  • Rule of Brevity (Accomplish the first rule as succinctly as possible)
  • Rule of Readability (Think of it like a code.)
EXERCISE: Working in groups, look at these three articles and build your own citation style that fulfills the three rules of citation and that reflects the values of the “community of inquiry” that is your class. Report back what you decided to include, exclude, and why. Questions to consider: What pieces of information does your community value? What pieces of information would you need to find these sources on your own?

Comparing MLA and APA
The pieces you choose to include reflect the things your community considers to be important. These things might be different depending on the kind of material we’re using. Can you tell which of these citations is a book and which is an article? Bonus points if you can tell me which citation style this is. How do you know? MLA is designed specifically for the humanities, such as languages and literature. You notice that the author’s full name is used and the date appears late in the citation. This style considers who wrote it and the title of the article to be the most important pieces of information. This is because most work in the humanities isn’t time sensitive and is focused instead on the people doing the work and their ideas. APA highlights authors and dates. It is used by the sciences where information is very time sensitive.  Consider a book on climate change from the 1970s or a computer instruction manual from the 1980s.

Where do I find help?
This is where I talk about the citation page on the library website, the books on permanent reserve, and the ability of the databases (if you’re looking for articles ) to cite automatically. I always give a caveat about the database citation feature because I regularly find errors in the citations they produce such as titles in caps lock or no spaces after periods. I tell students that the auto cite feature can help them get to a perfect citation but that they will just want to double check that everything looks standard before handing in their papers.

In the sense that the professor was very pleased, the class was quite successful. 30 minutes is a long time to hold attention on citation, and by the time I left class, the students were ready to move on. I think the exploratory activity was a great way to get students to consider a standard of academia that they probably had never examined before. This would probably work even better in a lower level class without such preconceived notions on that is “correct” in citation. I will probably tweak this again the next time I teach citation, but I’m glad to find an approach that satisfies my need to do something more than talk and wave my hands in class. I’d like to incorporate the attribution chart at the top of the post, too. It’s visual and neatly sums up everything.

Marketing in real life

Between the trees by subadei, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  subadei 

In my last post I mentioned that I wanted to read more about the work of librarianship – the on-the-ground, day-to-day, how-do-you-do-that kinds of stuff. If that’s what I want to read, then that’s probably what I should write. So, as a follow up to gaining confidence in marketing, here’s what the campaign to get the word out about OverDrive looks like in my library.

Firstly, I skimmed through portions of Brian Mathew’s book Marketing Today’s Academic Library: A Bold New Approach to Communicating with Students. I’d read it cover-to-cover before, but Chapter 8 Promotional Building Blocks was particularly helpful in identifying the different avenues I might choose for this project. Then, I familiarized myself with OverDrive’s self-produced marketing materials.

I made a list of the different places I wanted my message to appear and then assigned those places to particular weeks in the semester. So, for example:

Week 1

  • The Thinker (our monthly bathroom newsletter.)
  • Bookmarks and Getting Started guides next to circulation
  • Image to library webpage carousel

Week 2

  • Directed emails to campus community
  • Table tents. I used the other side of the table tent to promote another program. Waste not, want not.
  • Library news feed blog. Appears on the library webpage and also on Facebook.

Week 3

  • Facebook

For all of these things, I either directly used the materials provided by OverDrive or slightly modified them while still using the same imagery and language in order to preserve recognition. Having access to OverDrive’s materials made things much less time consuming than it could have been. I did have to design the table tents on my own, which, as with any formatting challenge, took longer than anticipated. I made a simple two-sided, tall triangle out of regular printer paper. Next time, I’ll look into doing a three-sided, round-ish table tent and possibly use cardstock. The ones I made for this are pretty flimsy.

I could have kept going, printing flyers and large posters, etc. but I don’t want to overwhelm the community with the message. Plus, I’ll be promoting other services and programs over the course of the semester and I don’t want to exhaust my allies. I’ve planted the seeds, and I’ll check in regularly with our statistics to see what’s happening. Throughout the semester, I might post book suggestions to our Facebook page, and I’ll make sure to refresh the message for the summer travel season.

The meaning in the pattern


When I was learning to code, I started to recognize a pattern. I’d work and work and get 80% of the way to functional code. Then, I’d run into a problem I couldn’t work my way around. I knew what I needed the code to do. I knew what needed to happen afterwards. I didn’t know how to overcome the obstacle. I’d stew and research. I’d go back over the code and re-read the textbook over and over. Nothing worked. Then, I’d complain to a friend, explain what the problem was and how I couldn’t do fix it, and suddenly, before the friend could make any steps to help, the answer would appear fully formed inside my own head. Telling someone else I had a problem was integral to my ability to solve it myself, even when the other person did absolutely nothing besides listen.

In that vein, thank you for listening to me complain about teaching citation. I have found a solution, or at least an approach I can make my own. The seed comes from Iris Jastram at Pegasus Librarian. Her approach to the goals of citation is one that I use when I teach citation, namely that the least interesting reason to cite is to avoid plagiarism. We talk about this in class, but I love her approach to getting students active with citation, and I will definitely be trying it out.

I read a lot of blogs in order to keep my head in the librarian game, but a relatively small portion of those blogs deal with the work of librarianship rather than the ideas in librarianship. The ideas are incredibly important, but without the everyday work the ideas mean nothing. I want to see more blogs that talk about successes and failures on the ground in libraries. Here are a few that buoy me:

Well, you could teach citation.

I counted it as a major victory last semester that I wasn’t once asked to teach citation. In my experience requests for teaching citation come in conjunction with other instructional goals, and usually in classes with required library instruction. “If I am required to have library instruction, I guess you could teach citation” seems to be the subtext of these requests. I loftily assigned subjective meaning to this lack of requests: No one asked me to teach citation because having seen what I do in class, they now know that I have more to offer than that. Possibly true. Of course, then again, I just got a dedicated request to come and teach MLA and APA (in the same class, no less) without any curriculum imposed required library instruction. So there’s that. Jessica Olin wrote a great post on why she’s still a citation curmudgeon, and I find I fall firmly into that camp.

I’m not exactly sure where the idea that librarians are experts on citation came from. We work with the materials. We may be more helpful than your average academic at determining what the material is, and therefore, what form to use to cite it. But teaching how to properly cite is not the business I want to be in.

For one thing, writing a citation is basically just following a set of directions. Once you’ve determined what type of material it is (a legitimately confusing process at times) all you need to do is fill in the blanks, follow the form. It’s that simple.

Secondly, I am not the one who grades the papers. I should not be making the final determination on whether a bibliography is correct. The professors grade the papers. The professors are the final word on whether or not a bibliography meets requirements, not the librarians. They are the experts in their fields and should be making all judgments on what is professionally appropriate in context.

Thirdly, there are so many free and easy places that can help with citation. We have a dedicated webpage to citation resources on the library website. We have materials on permanent reserve. Our databases cite with the click of a button. There is Easy Bib and Citation Machine, which many of our students come to campus having already used. While it is true that professors may not know about these resources, I think that most citation instruction requests come because the professors themselves don’t want to teach it, not because they feel a librarian is more qualified.

I did not say no to the citation instruction request I received today, but I did make it clear that covering the resources requested would take no more than 10 minutes. I also suggested a few other lesson outlines that might be of use such as how to manage research or how to use research effectively. No go. I truly believe that face time is valuable time with students. This is why I didn’t say no even though I feel my skills are better used elsewhere. I am working to move away from point and click instruction as much as possible and I’m struggling to teach students how to cite follow directions in a way that is not painful for me or for them. You know the kind of lesson I’m talking about. The kind where you stand up in front of the classroom and just show people where to click on a website, talking the whole way. This is just as boring for me as for the students.

I’m in a bind, here. Does anyone have an engaging, active lesson that they use to teach citation?