Category Archives: recommended reading

Reading Lately


This summer I’ve read three books for professional development. I consider it professional development (and even included a list of professional books read on my promotion portfolio for my previous position) because they directly inform the work I do and the thoughts I think about the work I do, as you’ll see below. Here are the three books I’ve read this summer, in reverse chronological order:

Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information Literacy, edited by Troy A. Swanson and Heather Jagman. I’ve been working on this one, off and on, for more than a year, and finally buckled down to finish it. The book is a mix of theory-based essays, philosophical meanderings, and practical how-tos. I found particular resonance with the chapter “Librarianspeak: Metaphors that Reflect (and Shape) the Ethos and Practice of Academic Librarianship” by MaryBeth Meszaros and Alison M. Lewis. This chapter informed my recent essay in C&RL News, “Words Matter.”

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang. I picked this one up on recommendation for a non-library blog I follow. The premise of the book is that small changes create big results. The content is based in the science of learning but has a strongly practical bent. Many ideas are most easily implemented in a full-semester course, but others are adaptable to a library context. I used a few suggestions in a professional development workshop I presented to our Teaching Librarians Community recently titled First 10/Last 10. On this blog, you may hear more reflection from me on Chapter 3: Interleaving. This book has the benefit of being written in Plain English (not High Academese) and therefore is a fast, easy read.

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. This book breaks down an approach to teaching students how to ask questions, called the Question Formulation Technique. The examples in the book are in the K-12 arena, though the authors have successfully used this technique for adult learners too. Basically, its a way to base a classroom in inquiry. It’s an extremely practical book, and one that could be transformative for many teachers and professors. I’m not sure yet how I would apply this information to a library context; however, I think I may use this technique in the library instruction class I’m teaching this spring for the Library School.

I keep a reading habit going by taking small chunks daily and scheduling it into my day. I definitely make reading goals for down times of the year like January and summer. I keep smaller goals for other times of the year. When work is just too hectic, I back off and feed off the “fat” of slower times. Typically, my goal is to read one chapter (or article, if that’s your jam) per day, approximately 4 per week. Sticking to this schedule, my reading takes an average of 20 minutes a day (~80 minutes per week), and allows me to finish a book in about a month – a pretty good clip achieved in small moments. Personally, I do better with small daily goals, rather than reading for 80 minutes straight.

I also read quite a bit in my personal life in small chunks. This year I started keeping track using my private Instagram account. I don’t know if it’s because of keeping track, listening to the What Should I Read Next podcast, or simple luck, but I’m having an extremely enjoyable reading year. I’ve also been listening to audiobooks, which has been one of the joys of my year. I’m quite picky about narrators, so I only listen on direct recommendation for audio versions particularly. You’ll see those noted below. Here are the top few of my year (so far):

What are you reading? Any recommendations for me?

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.


“Let me know how I can help”

LittlemisshelpfulbookI’ve been thinking a lot about liaison work, what that looks like for other institutions and what that might look like for us. I’m developing a plan and trying out some ideas. Some of the ideas won’t work at all, some will need to be tweaked, and hopefully a few will actually produce results. The frustrating thing about building something is that it takes time to see results, and when the thing you’re building is relationships it takes even longer.

I clicked this link off of Facebook, a habit I engage in way more often than I’d like to admit, but it turned out to be a game-changer for me. The article suggests that by ending a communication with “let me know how I can help,” we think that we are giving the other person the space to identify their own needs when really we’re just dumping responsibility on the other person’s lap.

Inevitably conversations with new clients would reach a point where we needed to discuss solutions, and I thought by letting the client dictate what they wanted from me, I was allowing them to get exactly what they were looking for.

But the reality was this was a steaming pile of crap. By ending my emails like this, I was dropping a wheelbarrow full of work on my client’s desk and saying “Here. You deal with it.”

It reeked of incompetence.

I do this. I did this. I’m a librarian, a profession which prides itself on helpfulness. It’s basically written in our librarian genome to be as helpful as possible and to be open to what others want from us. Offering to be amorphously helpful, however, isn’t helpful at all. It makes us feel good, and from the outside it looks, you know, fine. Nice. But actually, we are undermining our own authority and creating work for others by not offering concrete methods.

Consider this example: You are not feeling well. Your nose is stuffy, it feels like a large mammal is sitting on your chest, and your brain has all the connectivity of a cotton ball. You mention your burgeoning cold to a friend who commiserates with you and says, “Go home. Sleep. Feel better. Let me know if I can help.” You go home, park yourself on the couch with some tortillas and peanut butter within reach (that’s all that’s left in your fridge, actually), and get lost in a haze of naps and some kind of BBC miniseries. Around 7pm you think to youself, Man, some curry with a Sudafed chaser would really feel good right now, but you don’t have any of that stuff in your house so you fall back into your sniffly, hacking, BBC miniseries nap haze. You do not let your friend know how she can help even though curry and Sudafed is a pretty small thing and she offered. Now, if your friend had simply told you that she would show up at 7pm with curry and Sudafed, you would have been stunning grateful. But you’re not going to ask for it because you think you’re putting her out, or maybe she didn’t mean it, and anyway it’s not that bad. Plus your phone is way over there. You’ll live.

Think what could happen in our libraries and in our liaison programs if we simply offered concrete next steps in our communications. This is what happened for the article’s author:

Just by suggesting a next step at the end of my email, I was able to double the amount of people who responded to me.

This next step was different for every email, but it always followed the same 2-step structure. I would include:

  • My suggested next step
  • What we could do in the event they don’t want to do that

Sometimes every line in my email would lead up to this 2-step solution. Sometimes the solution was the entire email.

If someone wanted a meeting, I’d suggest a time and instead of saying, “Let me know if this works for you.” I’d switch that out for, “If not, than [sic] X time/day also works or I’m free at X time/day.”

As practice, in the next email communication with a faculty member discussing a developing syllabus and project in conjunction with library instruction, I changed the ending of my email from “Let me know when you have the specifics of the assignment worked out” to “When you have worked out the specifics of your assignment, send me a copy. If I don’t hear from you by X day, I’ll follow up with you.” The faculty member got back to me immediately to set up a meeting to talk about integrating library instruction into the assignment from the start. I’d consider that a pretty immediate result.

Here is my New Year’s Resolution as a librarian: I will no longer end emails with any form of “let me know.” Instead I will end all emails with next steps so that the person on the other end knows what to expect from me. I’ll know I’m on the right track if, as suggested in the article, the person on the other end can reply “sounds good!”

Read anything life-changing lately?


(h/t Kelly Davenport for the Facebook link!)

FYS at Midterm

This year’s First Year Seminar is a substantially different ball game in the best possible way. It really is easier the second time around. It’s the power of editing rather than creating from scratch. Filling a blank page is way more difficult than editing something that’s already there, even if what’s there is total crap. I’m much more comfortable as a teacher in this class, and I’m more willing to take some calculated risks. I like to think that I have something to do with how well the class seems to be going so far, but I know that there’s only one of me and 19 of them. They have as much to do with the success of the class as I do. Still, I did a few things at the beginning that I think made a difference.

Early on, I committed to “debunking” my students expectations and fears. I handed out 3×5 cards and asked them to write their expectations of class on one side and their concerns about class on the other. I addressed every comment in class. Two things came up that I thought were especially important to address and then I was very up front about them. Firstly, one student mentioned that he expected class to be very hands-on. There is a constant tension in our FYS classes between the students, who expect class to be about going canoeing and hiking, and their professors, who know that there are learning objectives we’re meant to address. I was clear that class would be very hands-on, but that hands-on doesn’t always look like playing in the woods. Sometimes hands-on means discussion and other times it means group work and still other times it does mean playing in the woods. Second, one student admitted that he feared this class would be a waste of his time. I looked my collective class in the face and told them that if they came in to class thinking that it was a waste of time and there was nothing of value, they undoubtedly would learn nothing and find class to be a waste of their time. If, however, they chose to come to class and to participate and find something of value, well, it might never be their favorite class but it definitely wouldn’t be a waste of their time. I really think this primed them early on to approach class with an open mind. I have had no attendance issues and every student is passing the class. (So far, anyway.)

You can see that I have committed to being very honest and open with my students in challenging them to take charge of their own educational experiences. While we ask our students to do deep reflection in class, it can be very uncomfortable to dig deep in the presence of someone you feel you don’t know very well, so I committed to being personally open with my students, too. On the first day of class, I let them ask me anything they wanted to know about me. I did, of course, keep some appropriate boundaries, but I tried to be a good interviewee and answer the question they asked as well as including any relevant surrounding information. I have also used our out of class experiences such as hikes to have real conversations with students so we get to know each other a bit better. It’s been very personally rewarding, and I think it’s made a difference in class.

I have read a few books in the last year that really helped me to grow into FYS. First up is Discussion as a Way of Teaching by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill. Last year in the final evaluation of the class, my students thought that the discussions were really great. I didn’t agree. I resorted to a lot of think-pair-share with handouts so I could evaluate their contributions for participation and preparedness later and it was basically the same all the time and I was bored with it. This book gives a lot of different suggestions for ways to facilitate real discussions. The book is geared more towards classes which are mostly discussion, which my FYS is not, but there are tons of tips that are applicable to any course with discussion as a component. As a class we created a discussion charter early on to establish norms. While I still use some form of paper record for evaluation, I often change up what happens on the paper. Sometimes small groups are the only discussion. Sometimes I have the small groups come up with discussion questions for the whole class (sometimes on themes pre-determined by me and sometimes not.) Sometimes we just talk as a group. I’ve used their method of having a big framing question on the board for class, as a sort of answer to “why are we doing this?” I’ve also adapted their method of gaining feedback on the previous day’s discussion, called a CIQ  or Critical Incident Questionnaire, for gaining feedback in general.

discussion as a way

I also love and use Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. In particular, their approach to affinity walls is something that I love to use for my FYS. I have also used Brainwriting, an approach to brainstorming that is a sort of mash-up between an affinity wall and one-sentence stories, Trading Cards, for getting-to-know-you, and Memory Wall, for wrapping up the semester. The games are divided into categories like Games for Opening, Games for Exploring, and Games for Closing, which is helpful if you’re looking for an activity to fill a niche. The term “game” is kind of a misnomer, though. Really, these are just active learning activities that require that the participants put in at least as much work as the facilitator. In other words, exactly my kind of teaching.


While I haven’t actually read Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning by James Davis and Bridget Arend, I saw Bridget Arend’s keynote at LOEX and promptly put the book on my Amazon wishlist. We all intuitively know that different modes of instruction have different strengths and weaknesses, but rarely do many of us think strategically and critically about the modes we fall into. Lecture is good! For certain things! Service learning is also good! But not for the same things as lecture! I credit her keynote for breaking open a piece of FYS that I knew wasn’t working. I revised by starting with a mode – Problem Based Learning. Add in a community based problem for connecting to the campus community, assign groups for a bit of diversity, slot library instruction neatly in the gaps, and, you guys, I hesitate to say this too loudly but it’s working!

seven ways of learning

I don’t want to celebrate too ecstatically without proverbially knocking on wood, but I’m really happy with my decision to teach FYS again this year. It’s not something I thought I would ever do, but I’ve learned a ton, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Would you teach FYS at your college?

Not at your service

I finally landed a work week that was a bit lighter and managed to read my way through the small stack of journal articles growing to the left of my computer. Directly on top was Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty-Librarian Partnerships by Yvonne Nalani Meulmans and Allison Carr. Lucky for me, it was truly excellent and spoke to my own instructional issues. There’s something to be said about journal articles that take a strong position, define that position, and support that position with both theory and practical suggestions. That something is “More, please!”

In this article, the authors argue that librarians must cease being at the service of faculty. That is, librarians need to decline the aforementioned types of requests, especially when they are not in the best interest of students. Instead, the authors advocate that librarians must sometimes say “no” to such requests and instead question, engage, and converse with faculty. By doing so, the librarian then places creating learning environments and opportunities for students as guiding professional value, over and above an individual’s discomfort.”

In addition to providing a compelling argument for why instruction should not be viewed or treated as a service model, the authors give many suggestions for helping individual librarians define useful boundaries as well as for communicating points of collaboration to faculty. As suggested in this article, I plan to revisit and define my own teaching philosophy and FAQ over winter break. As a bonus, I can use some points from the article to frame the library presentation to faculty at President’s Meeting in January. Is there a word for the serendipity of the right thing falling into your lap at exactly the right time? After reading it I felt both calmed and energized, and I immediately put together a plan for the future. May your holiday break work-reading do the same for you.

The Collaboration Question

While I was traveling this summer, I had lunch with the fantastic Kristin Fontichiaro at my favorite falafel place in all the land – Haifa Falafel in Ann Arbor. We landed on the subject of librarian/teacher collaboration and talked about the roots of librarian dislike of teaching a class solo. I’m still thinking about it.

As librarians, I think our default reaction when asked to teach a class without the professor present is one of resistance. We might feel that this indicates a lack of respect from the professor or a lack of buy-in on the importance of library instruction. We may rely on the presence of the professor to subtly communicate to students that library instruction is important and to manage class behavior. If asked on short notice and/or while the professor is still on campus, we might feel that we are being asked to babysit a class at the professor’s convenience. And sometimes we might feel we are being tested by the old guard professors for our ability not only to think on our feet but also to be effective in our instructional goals without their support. I have been in each of these situations and felt all these things at different times myself.

But what if, Kristin asks, the professor is asking out of profound respect? What if their request represents complete confidence in our ability to do our job well instead of representing on-call convenience? As Kristin said to me, “I don’t let just anyone take my classes.”

Obviously, each interaction between librarian and professor is different, but what if, instead of raising our hackles at professors’ requests to take classes without their presence, we choose to read their request as confidence? How would that mindset effect our interactions?

Kristin and Jo Angela Oehrli wrote two interesting articles for Library Media Connection on collaboration between teachers and librarians. Each have been both a classroom teacher and a librarian and have lots of insights on what makes collaboration work and what points of miscommunication seem to happen frequently. The articles are written for a school library audience, but there are plenty of solid pieces of advice that apply to all teachers and librarians. Citations:

  1. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part I: planning for success. Library Media Connection, 34(4), 36–38.
  2. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part II: reflecting on success. Library Media Connection, 34(5), 34–36.

New Digital Scholar



If you’re an instructional librarian or teach writing and/or research skills, you’re going to want to get your hands on a copy of The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students edited by Randall McClure and James Purdy. Despite the buzzwordy title, this book is full of essays that explore the intersection of writing and research for undergraduate students. With a balance of theoretical and practical ideas to think about, it is an invaluable resource for people who work to engage undergraduates in meaningful fact-and-logic-based writing. I particularly enjoyed Can I Google That? Research Strategies of Undergraduate Students by Mary Lourdes Silva and Re-Envisioning Research: Alternative Approaches to Engaging NextGen Students by Rachel A. Milloy. Both lean towards practicality but show evidence of deep, methodical thinking. This is exactly the kind of work that easily pairs with the foundational writing assessment committee I’ve participated in for the last two years. Highly recommended.

The Responsive Library

Credit Cut in Imperial Telecommunication by Stéfan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Stéfan 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our library is serving (or possibly not serving) our community. Over the course of the last year and a half, I have learned enough about my library and my community to know that there’s a lot I don’t know. I’m making plans to fill in those gaps. At a college that places emphasis on teaching above research among faculty members, I’m wondering how exactly the library is or is not supporting the faculty’s teaching responsibilities. I’ve come across an article that I just love, partially because it opened a mental door for me, and partially because the tone of the article is just delightful. In response to the overwhelming nature of gathering information at a large institution Linda Rambler (1982) says:

The systematic analysis is left undone. Consequently, library resources are often deployed using a mixture of formulas seasoned with intuition and a dash of political savvy. A responsive library sometimes becomes an added benefit rather than the primary goal.

A responsive library. I love that idea. That’s an idea I can run with.

Rambler, L. K. (1982). Syllabus Study: Key to a Responsive Academic Library. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 8(3), 155.

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.