Category Archives: Uncategorized

The book is here!

Last week, my book quietly launched. You can read more about it or purchase it through the ALA store. A lot of people compare a book to a baby. Generally, I’m not on board with that comparison but I will say that holding a book that I wrote in my hands is similar to birthing a baby in that I didn’t quite believe it until it was here. It’s here!

Is it too much to contemplate rearranging my work-from-home space so as to have it prominently featured in my Zoom background?

Outlander and the research process


I finished reading Outlander 3 recently. (Formally titled Voyager, but I’m not great a remembering titles in series, and especially not when I read them on Kindle, which is how I read this 1000 page monster.) In the back there’s quite a bit of supplementary material, including an interview with the author, Diana Gabaldon, reproduced almost entirely here, where she talks about her research process.

Her process is extremely non-linear, and in fact her writing process is no more linear that the research process. Typically, she writes scenes non-sequentially until she has about a book’s worth, and then she starts to move them around until things fall into place. I assume there’s a significant editing process where she smoothes out the logic, plot, and prose, but the point is, her process is a true inquiry into character, historic setting, and plot possibility with a hefty dose of tapping into the creative place where ideas come from (or, possibly where ideas come to you, if you follow Elizabeth Gilbert). It is not a “research process” (or, frankly, “writing process”) that we in the research+writing world would necessarily advocate for but it works marvelously well for her. She says:

Hearing about this process does, btw, infuriate people who write linearly. I once had a woman sitting on a panel on writing processes with me inform me that I couldn’t possibly do this, because “you have to have a logical foundation! You can’t put the roof on your building unless you’ve built solid walls to hold it up, can you?”

“Of course I can,” I replied. “There’s no gravity in the mind, after all. I can make the roof and just leave it hanging there until I have time to build walls under it. You don’t have to write a book from beginning to end, just because that’s how people will read it.” She Wasn’t Pleased, but the point here is that people’s minds are wired up differently, and a good deal of writing successfully lies in figuring out how your own mind works best, and using it that way. There is no “right” way to write a book. Anything that lets you get words on the page is the right thing to do.

I love the idea of DOING until you need to figure something out, FIGURING IT OUT, and then keeping on DOING until the process repeats. Most of the time when I’ve taught myself something it has followed this pattern. I also like how she relates that people don’t really like to hear this. I’m assuming that’s because she doesn’t follow a typically taught process.

It got me thinking about what we teach, its strengths (linearity, repeatability, confidence) and shortcomings (linearity, rigidity, time-bound). I’m not sure how education can replicate a more organic process at scale, and at the same time I’d much rather work with students who come to me and say, “I’ve been DOING and now I’ve got to FIGURE THIS OUT. Can you help me?” than students who are married to a prescribed process.

I don’t have answers. I’m still thinking. What would it look like, research-wise, to make a roof and leave it hanging until you can build the walls?

REFRAMING: One-shot instruction


I want to return for a minute to a chapter in James Lang’s Small Teaching, which I mentioned before felt relevant to library teaching. “Chapter 3: Interleaving” tackles the learning principle of distributed or spaced learning. The idea here is that massed or block practice (aka, cramming) is very effective for short-term retention but spaced learning is the clear winner for long-term and transferrable learning. The science points to memory retrieval being the key. Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, quoted in Small Teaching and the authors of Making it Stick, offer the following explanation.

Embedding new learning in long-term memory requires a process of consolidation, in which memory traces (the brain’s representations of new learning) are strengthened, given meaning, and connected to prior knowledge – a process that unfolds over hours and may take several days. Rapid-fire practice leans on short-term memory. Durable learning, however, requires time for mental rehearsal… Hence, spaced practice works better. The increased effort to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting has the effect of retriggering consolidation, further strengthening memory.

Lang refers to interleaving as “spiraling.” “The first time you approach the material, you are making a single spiral at the bottom level,” he says. “The next time you return to it you are circling back through the material but at a slightly higher level. Spiraling can feel frustrating to the learner because you are, in a sense, going around in circles. However, you are also moving upward with each spiral, adding new layers of learning every time you push back through the material.” I like to think of this as switchbacks. Anyone who’s ever traveled in mountains is familiar with switchbacks. They’re a way to ascend or descend a steep slope by going in zigzags. Each zig takes less effort, albeit over a longer distance, than trying to go straight. Safer, too.

This idea, explained by Lang, immediately brought me to an “aha!” Library instruction is, at its core interleaving, and that’s actually optimal for what we’re trying to accomplish, which are skills for a lifetime, not momentary retrieval. The greatest gain in this idea isn’t in the suggestions he makes for enacting interleaving in the classroom but the language for taking what library instruction can do and explaining it scientifically rather than didactically. It is true that library instruction is typically in a one-shot format because of circumstance, but we can also reframe this circumstance to see it as a scientifically optimal way for achieving our goals. What would happen in our conversations with instructors and administration if we were able to bring research to bear on the necessity of including librarians frequently and at multiple points in a curriculum? “It’s important,” we say, and they nod, but what if we truly backed up our claims the way that students are required to in their papers?

The downside to this approach from the student perspective, as you have observed and Lang notes, is that students can find it frustrating. Students tell you (or tell their instructor, who then tells you) that they’ve “learned all this before.” They tell faculty that they don’t need you to come back to class, or the faculty themselves decide that the students have received enough instruction, usually at some removed distance from the class in question, and don’t need any more because “it’s been covered already.” Lang admits that “students might not respond with unbridled enthusiasm” to a fully interleaved approach, which is more intense than what is typical of library instruction. I admit that this lack of “unbridled enthusiasm” can create challenges to convincing instructors to include more library instruction, but it can also be the point at which we pull out the literature to back our claims. Consider: “Blocked study or practice deepens our association between a learned skill or concept and the specific context in which we learned it; interleaved learning, by contrast, forces us into frequent transfers of information and skills across contexts, which helps us develop the ability to recognize when a learned skill might apply in a new context.” The whole idea of transferability is the holy grail of education, and a good counterargument for the traditional assumptions regarding students ability to transfer skills between contexts and subject discourses.

The critical component here isn’t simply repeated exposure to the same material, but the incremental leveling up. It’s retrieval of previous information and the expectation of applying that information in a more advanced way each time it is reintroduced. This is what creates meaningful, lasting learning that persists beyond the classroom.

What would change if we reframed for ourselves the limits of one-shot instruction as interleaving, a scientifically optimal mode of learning for the long haul? What would happen if we communicated one-shot instruction this way to our students, faculty, and administration?


Words Matter

words matter

When I started working in libraries, I realized pretty quickly that I did not resonate with the words the libraries choose to describe the people who use libraries. Customer, client, patron, user, none of them seemed to me to be an accurate representation of the relationship between libraries and people. When I started working at Paul Smith’s College, I started using the word “community,” which had the resonance I was seeking and which helped direct so much of the thinking behind the work I did there. So I guess you could say that I’ve been writing an essay in my head on the topic for the last 6 years.

A few months ago, I decided to put that essay down on paper, and this month it was published in C&RL News. I’m extremely proud of the essay, but I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of the issue. There was more I wanted to say but which didn’t fit the format. I want to continue this conversation about the words we use in libraries and the ways that they do or do not serve us and the underlying currents they mask. I’d love to know what you think and notice at your own institutions.

Primary Sources and Information Literacy


My colleagues recently published an article in Library Journal about the Primary Sources Immersion Program which was hosted by IUB Libraries shortly after I arrived on campus. This program is fantastic – and continuing! I can’t take much credit for the Immersion Program itself since I had been on campus for about two weeks when it began, but I can take credit for the rubric mentioned in the article.

The rubric was designed as a way to assess primary source literacy in a particular course participating in the PSIP. I based the rubric on the SAA/RBMS Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. While the rubric does not explicitly address the skills present in the Framework, I believe that this rubric can be mapped to the Framework and can be used to assess information literacy at the same time at the same time as primary source literacy.

I don’t have results from using the rubric just yet, but I’m working on a few other projects that may use a similar approach. I’m curious. Have you done anything like this?

A Searching Story

Stick with me, here:

Recently, I went looking for a book. I was looking for it to use for a book chapter proposal, but I treated this as an opportunity to closely observe how this kind of thing might work from the point of view of someone using the library. Being still fairly new in my current job, I still have this kind of authentic perspective, for a little while longer anyway.

The book is Indiana University Libraries, 1829-1942, and it isn’t a book. Properly, it’s a dissertation by a woman named Mildred Hawksworth Lowell who was completing her degree in the Graduate Library School of University of Chicago. One assumes that there was no library school at IU at the time of her dissertation – 1957 – but I haven’t been able to confirm this yet.

I started with our federated search and, in performing a little voodoo (title search, limit: dissertations), I returned a list of 11 items for the exact thing I was looking for. Five of those were books in the physical collections somewhere in the IU system. The other six were Google Books and HathiTrust (inaccessible, copyright reasons), some bare records that seem to indicate that maybe ALA had published it in 1961 (but also maybe not, because the description states: published or submitted for publication), and a few other records whose reason for existence is opaque, even to me.

Those five records represented 10 copies. From a searcher perspective, I’m not sure why so many records are needed. From a librarian perspective, I guess it has something to do with the various subjects tagged differently for each. Of those 10 books, three are at the medical library located in Indianapolis, two are missing, one is checked out, one is in the special collections, one is in the music library “frontlog,” and one was located at “Well Libray – Reference Coll. – Reference Desk.” Thinking the last one was my easiest access point, I asked my colleague where I might find that particular collection.

Ladies and gentlemen, his response was, “I’ve never seen that designation before.”

Momentarily stymied, I tried again at the actual reference desk.

“Huh. Never seen that before.”

Twenty minutes later we had checked and double-checked the likely places, went through all the cupboards at the reference desk, and called two separate people in technical services about the designation. No one was able to explain the designation, or, it should be said, find the book.

Next I went after the book in the music library’s “frontlog.” I knew about the frontlog from a tour I’d had this summer. You know how a backlog is stuff that’s backed up and hasn’t been processed yet? In this case frontlog is a collection that’s been processed just enough to be findable but does not live on the shelves. The books have a numerical designation but are not classified. It’s accessible only by search and requires a special request to access. I called up my colleague in the music library, she went into the basement to see if it did exist, found it, gave it to the circulation desk, and I walked over at the end of the day and picked it up.

All this for one, single book.

My point here is that search is HARD. Even when you know what you’re looking for. (Especially if you know what you’re looking for? After all, I needed the exact item and could not be satisfied with anything else.) I had everything going for me – specialized knowledge and extraordinary persistence – and still it took me hours of active search time to locate this book. And I haven’t even read it yet.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, here. All I can wonder is what a student would do in this situation. Would they find what they needed? What would they do first? Last? Maybe it’s good for search to take effort? Challenge is the source of growth, after all. But maybe (probably) they’d just give up and move on to Google or another “easier” topic.

And why does search have to be so hard and complicated through the library? It’s hard and complicated because there’s no money attached to the outcome and, therefore, no incentive for techies to take it on. From a library perspective it would take an extraordinary amount of money to pay the going rate to do it right.

I talked to some colleagues about this process and the general consensus is that this was an edge case and not representative of most library searches. Probably true. And yet search is still not easy, even for those of us who are professional searchers.

Come work with me!

From the job posting: The Indiana University Bloomington Libraries seek a creative and enthusiastic individual to join the Department of Teaching & Learning as Learning Commons Librarian.  Working in a highly collegial library, the Learning Commons Librarian is responsible for collaborating with library and university partners to envision, develop, and sustain student-centered academic support in the Learning Commons, a dynamic 24/7 environment that fosters learning, research, writing, and use of technology in a collaborative atmosphere. The Learning Commons Librarian will build upon the department’s initiative of integrating information literacy into co-curricular environments by capitalizing upon partnerships with librarians, teaching faculty/instructors, and campus units to provide a rich learning experience for students in the Learning Commons, with an emphasis on addressing targeted needs of undergraduates.  The successful candidate has the unique opportunity to help shape the department’s direction by imagining and developing new ways of integrating information literacy into a flexible environment that supports active learning.  Candidates who have knowledge and experience with student engagement, pedagogical practices, and collaborative leadership will be given the highest consideration. This is a tenure-track position reporting to the Head of the Department of Teaching & Learning.  The Indiana University Libraries are committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.  We encourage all employees to incorporate fully their diverse backgrounds, skills, and life experiences into their work and towards the fulfillment of our mission. More information available here. 

I am not on the committee for this job; however, I will be working closely with this position as a member of the Teaching and Learning Department. I’m happy to answer questions!


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.


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.