I don’t think that humans should ever stop learning. With the amount of information that is now more accessible than ever before in human history, there is never of shortage of things to learn. And for professionals wishing to maintain their skills abreast with trends and currents in their field, the learning process must ongoing and iterative. Call it professional development if you prefer, but lifelong learning has many personal and social benefits. The obvious benefit is monetary, but I feel that the benefit of personal growth and expansion is far more valuable than anything economic. But maybe I’m just weird like that.
This week’s readings all focused on professional development. Fontichiaro (2008) and Blowers and Reed (2007) discussed methods for librarians to use online tools and resources as part of professional development. This is an area that requires constant reflection and exploration as technology is continually changing. At the same time, as the demographics of librarians change, and younger librarians seep into the workforce, I believe that there will be less emphasis on distinguishing between digital tools and techniques, since that’s what will be ubiquitously used by librarian professionals. I think that these articles capture a moment in time, when a transition in the proliferation of online tools was occurring. Nevertheless, the nature of technological, digital, or online tools requires that librarians strive to stay up to date with these tools in order to effectively utilize them in their libraries. The Semandi (2010) article demonstrated a collaborative approach for teachers to develop their skills. I love this. I think that we talk a lot about collaboration at UMSI, in a positive light, but putting the general concepts of collaboration into practice is something I like seeing and experiencing more of. And although it is true that every single group project I have worked on during these last two years is a form of collaboration, it is good to see that there are concrete, viable, professional examples.
I will continue to learn, whether it is through formal, institutional structure, or of my own, unstructured way for my personal benefit. Professionally, I look forward to continue my development throughout my career. And now that I am finishing SI 643, I feel that I am positioned to lead and implement professional development modules for myself and my colleagues. I know that I have a lot of experience to gain, and more to learn, before I can be an effective “developer,” but I feel I have the basics to move forward.
For this week’s class we presented and participated in webinars. As has often been the case in preparing teaching materials in this course, the preparation and delivery processes of a webinar are as educational as participating in a colleague’s webinar. I am glad that we were able to work on this assignment in groups of three, because managing the delivery of a webinar would have been extremely difficult, especially novices, individually. The various functions and tools of the webinar platform that make them conducive for participatory learning, make managing the presentation of a webinar ideal for a group task. Even the most talented multi-tasker would find it to effectively control the multiple aspects of a webinar. However, like all of the teaching tools we have used this semester, with practice and experience I am sure that conducting a webinar gets easier. One of the benefits using a webinar to teach material is the ability to completely script your lesson. Although any teaching method can be scripted, the webinar’s interface, and the fact that the participants cannot see you while your speaking, allows you to heavily rely on your script while presenting. This would not be possible if you were using the video option in a webinar, but for this assignment it was possible to read from your notes or script without seeming excessively awkward. This is beneficial for those of us that struggle at times when speaking publicly.
As for participating in my colleagues’ webinars, once again I have been completely impressed by the quality of work produced by my classmates. Not only was there great diversity in the topics classmates chose, but all of the webinars I attended were full of great resources any librarian would find useful. I think that we should all be proud of the work we presented for this assignment.
I don’t know if I’ll use webinars in my immediate future. Although I will be a graduate student teaching assistant beginning next fall, I will be doing so in person. However, there may be an opportunity to use webinars as a way to archive lessons, or create an alternative lesson to accompany Powerpoints, for students that cannot physically attend class. I guess it will depend on the institutions policy regarding this type of practice. In any event, I am glad I got to experiment with this tool and learn about attracting under-represented populations to the library in the process.
Last week we shared our experiences using Twitter, and talked more broadly about building a professional network. As I mentioned on my previous Class Reflection, I am not a huge fan of Twitter. However, I appreciate that it has value as a tool to develop your network. Two points that Kristen made in class are worth reflecting upon. First, she noted that for librarians that are in rural areas or working in under-funded libraries, Twitter is a good tool to stay abreast of trends and technologies which may not be readily accessible in their situation. This is true, and it’s no cost membership makes an ideal tool for cash-strapped librarians. The immediacy with which information is shared through Twitter allows for constant and continual access to all of the latest and greatest library fads and resources. I still have an issue with the ego-stroking that occurs on Twitter, but then again I am in a position of relative privilidge compared to librarians with limitied economic resources. So I can choose other media to gather my information, and don’t always have to choose tools that are free.
Secondly, Kristen mentioned that the most important network librarians can create is the human one. I think she mentioned this in a sort of off-handed manner, but I think that it is very important. I hope that my classmates all caught it. As a student at UMSI, the process of creating my human network has begun. My fellow SI students are ones I would turn to as a professional librarian first. They are the ones that I have gotten to know in the world of professional librarianship first. They are the ones who suffered alongside me in school. They are the ones learning the skills we may be one day called upon to use professionally. When I look across the classroom in SI647, I see many talented students, who will undoubtedly become great professional librarians. I see all types of librarians, academic, public, and school, so my network is developing in broad-based way. If I ever encountered any issues that fell outside of the scope of my area of expertise, I already know a good group of young librarians I could turn to in order to get the perspective I may need to solve the problem. My network will continue to grow, as I attend conferences, workshops, and move on beyond the walls of UMSI, but I will always remember my fellow students as the foundation of my network. Now, I am wrapping up my time here at UMSI in a couple of weeks, so all of this may be pure nostalgia for this place. But I think it’s more than that. I think that we, as students, often forget that the connections and friendships we make here at UMSI not only shape our librarian skills and “worldview”, but also become the base of our fledgling network. So, yeah, I agree with Kristen that the human network is the most important one we can make to help us in our careers, and I think that this network is already growing with the relationships we’re building here with our fellow students.
A have an aversion to Twitter. It all began a little over a year ago when I chose Twitter as the social media I would use to work with during the Winter semester for my SI 500 project. My project focused on how citizens in Mexico use Twitter to inform themselves about drug related violence, and negotiate their violent landscape. I found that Twitter was a useful tool for people trying to avoid violent hotspots. I also discovered that Twitter, and other social media outlets, were also being used by violent, clandestine organizations to promote themselves, terrorize people, and demonstrate their (violent) accomplishments. By the end of the semester I was psychologically exhausted, seeing graphic images of violence, and reading about people’s struggles to live their lives in an extremely violent landscape everyday. When the project was over, I never used Twitter again. I didn’t delete my account, but I simple ignored it. There were too many tragic memories associated with it for me to comfortably use it.
Yet, time heals all wounds, or as my 9th grade history teacher used to say, “time wounds all heels.” So when I learned that we were using Twitter for this weeks network building exercise, I was hesitant , but not completely against it. After resetting my password, since I had forgotten it (maybe blocked it from my memory), the first thing I noticed were all of the connections I had made a year ago with organizations and news sources which focus on drug violence in Mexico. But, I proceeded with the task at hand, and tried hard not to let the past color my current objective. I see the advantage of using Twitter by librarians and information professionals. In many ways, it is the same advantage it offers people trying to stay alive by avoiding violence in Mexico, its concise immediacy. Information is succinctly and quickly exchanged on Twitter. Librarians, who are charged with staying abreast of all of the latest trends in their field, can use Twitter to do so in a condensed manner. If the subjects of tweets pique their interest, they can investigate the links or resources presented at a deeper level. If the subject is not relevant to their professional needs, they can quickly move on. The brevity of the tweets makes them a quick read. In a sense tweets are similar to reading an academic article abstract, a synopsis. Users can use Twitter to link to deeper meaning if needed, but it’s not mandatory. Users can easily ignore uninteresting tweets. The other advantage of Twitter is it’s social component. Librarians can interact with their colleagues across the globe (theoretically, I didn’t come across to much international librarian camaraderie) with Twitter in quick little soundbites. But, speaking of soundbites, that is one of the issues I have with Twitter. In a world were media relies heavily on soundbites and taking quotes out of context, Twitter adds to this shallow propagation of information. It is impossible to dig deeply into context on Twitter. I think that this influences the persona Twitter users portray, with witty, quirky short descriptions of themselves. It all just seems very shallow to me, at every level. But I know I’m jaded. If you don’t live in a place where walking to the corner store for a loaf bread can be deadly, do you really need a tweet about the latest trend in your profession? Can’t you just as easily look up the latest articles and tools through your browser? Can’t your friends and colleagues just send you text or email? I know that Twitter wasn’t developed so that Mexicans can figure out when it’s safe to walk down the street, but after seeing how people use it do just that, everything else seems trivial. I’m sorry Twitter, but your effective and immediate dissemination of important information ruined me from being able to use you professionally. For now anyway.
A large portion of the class last week was spent on discussing the comments made by Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, concerning the proposed park to be built next to the downtown branch. (http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/03/library_director_sounds_alarm.html http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/03/qa_josie_parker_talks_about_he.html) At the core of the controversy is the assertion by the director that “weird” things happen at the library, and that building a park in the immediate vicinity of the main library branch would exacerbate the problem. By “weird” things I’m talking about criminal activity, including heroin use. Now, I have only lived in Ann Arbor for a little over a year and a half. But I know that the reputation of the public library district is great and internationally recognized. I think that the citizens of Ann Arbor value their library and are proud of it. But the reaction by the city council (in general) and the community (commenting on the news articles) made me wonder how often most people use the library services. For the people that do use the library, I believe that the comments made by Josie were not as scandalous as others perceived them. I think patrons are more aware of the issues facing the library than the city council. I have never been into the downtown branch, but I walk by it often. Every time I walk by, there is always someone on the corner selling “Groundcover”, a homeless newspaper. By causality, I assume that many homeless use the library services in Ann Arbor. Josie never uses the word “homeless” to describe the “problem” patrons which are doing illegal activities at the library, so I just proved that my conditioned stereotyping is in-line with the general population of Ann Arbor. Yay me, I am an official Ann Arborite. The tact and diplomacy Josie uses to address these serious problems at her library are impressive, she truly is a librarian and library director to be emulated in her political intelligence. It is fascinating to see how greater social issues concerning the community come about in a discussion of public space surrounding the local library system. In effect, she is informing the community about social problems she witnesses and deals with on a daily basis. But the community doesn’t want to believe her. Why? Are we in denial about the problems in Ann Arbor? Do we want to believe that it is only a specific segment of the community, a segment that really is a sub-community, that brings these problems into Ann Arbor? During my first eight months in Ann Arbor I read mLive (http://www.mlive.com/#/0), at the time known as Ann Arbor News, every day, and I read about heroin overdoses. Could I be the only one that remembers those deaths? The library is a microcosm of the community it serves, for better or worse. You find children, adults, and the marginalized in your local library. So, if “weird” things are happening in the library, those things are certainly occurring outside the library as well. The fact that we are reluctant to accept this makes me wonder what we want our library to be and represent. Maybe it’s just a status symbol. Maybe if we have a world renowned library in our community it reflects our literacy and culture. Who cares that we never go downtown and use its services, we know it’s there and it makes us looks good, like driving a German sports car. So when the director is trying to inform us that “weird” stuff happens in the library, we deny it. We need to, because if we admit it, how would that reflect on us? And even if we begrudgingly accept that “someone” might be doing “something” illegal “down there”, they don’t represent us. They are different from us. So, it’s their problem, not ours.
My experiences in the area of Digital Humanities has provided me with a definition of “embedded librarianship.” Within the realm of Digital Humanities, an embedded librarian works with scholars in creating academic products that use digital data and are presented digitally. The librarian’s participation in these projects varies, but generally they coordinate the ideas of the scholars with the technical tools and practices needed in order to generate digital materials. This may include text mark-up, schema development, and content management software implementation. The push within librarianship to collaborate directly with scholars in all stages of the project, versus being a service provider to the intellectual contributors, is what makes this type of librarian work embedded within the project. This may or may not conceptually differ from the definitions of embedded librarianship provided by Montgomery (Public Services Quarterly, 6: 2. 2010) and Matos et. al. (Public Services Quarterly, 6: 2. 2010), but the environments where this embedded work takes place certainly is different. Perhaps because of my own experiences of collaborating in Digital Humanities projects, in addition to the technological inclinations of UMSI, I found these readings to be old news. The idea that it is beneficial to offer library services in the space (virtual and physical) where users are working seems logical. And given the nature of librarians need to be relevant and useful to patrons, it makes sense to create, develop, and use technologies to ensure that we are always available to provide service when and where needed. Of course, this means that we need to be present online, since that’s were students and information seekers of all flavors are learning and working. The challenge and interesting concept from this week’s readings is our (librarians) ability to anticipate the obstacles students and users may encounter on their learning or searching paths.
In Chapter 7 of How People Learn I found that identifying these learning obstacles is the key to successful teaching. I especially liked the idea that “expert teachers” have a “cognitive roadmap that guide” their teaching. These experts know their discipline so well, that they can design their curriculum to ensure that students obtain a deep level of understanding in the subject, rather than memorizing facts and procedures. The “conceptual barriers” which limit students progress are discipline specific. Potentially, they are student specific as well, but if a teacher has a deep understanding of their subject, they can recognize patterns of universal sticking points where students generally struggle. As we have read in this book before, there are many components which come together in the learning experience. One of them is past learning experiences. So it may be that teaching may require a teacher to un-teach previous concepts and methods, in order to remove the obstacles from the students. My concern as someone with limited teaching experience is that this type of understanding only comes with years of experience. That is something which I am willing to strive towards and eventually can overcome. But, what about the need to make sure students succeed in the tangible ways which administrators measure? In other words, can you have students be successful in standardize tests while ensuring that are learning deeper forms of critical and analytical thinking which is beneficial to society at large? The idealist in me says: “Yes. Students that develop critical thinking skills can transfer them to standardize test taking.” The cynic in me is less sure. Balancing the pressure of delivering good test scores and developing socially contributing citizens is difficult. Especially when your own job is on the line. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about this. Maybe I should focus on how I can create webinars or other technological tools that help my library patrons find what they need by trying to understand what obstacles they may encounter in their searches. But, maybe eschewing the broader social implications of what and how we teach has gotten us to this data and test score driven educational landscape. Maybe it is time to really ask ourselves what we want our students learn. The examples of the exercises the teachers used in Chapter 7 of How We Learn are inspiring. But, are we willing to risk our jobs in order to teach more effectively? Is it fulfilling as a teacher to be complacent? Teaching is vocation which is less and less appreciated everyday. This is reflected by the salary teachers receive. Yet, we demand that teachers do more and more. Until we, as a society, start asking these tough questions, our kids (of all ages) may not be getting everything they could be receiving from their education. This conundrum is an obstacle I hope we can overcome.
Our last class was spent away from our regular classroom as we presented and participated in a One-Shot workshop session. The two components of the class, presenting and participating in my classmates workshops made the the entire class time an opportunity to reflect on the practices and effectiveness of a One-Shot Workshop. In preparing to present a workshop, my teammate and I encountered some obstacles which we overcame in varying levels of success. Firstly, finding a topic which was both interesting to our classmates and topical to the overarching themes of the class was difficult. We decided on presenting the World Digital Library, a free digital library containing primary sources from around the globe. This decision was based on the idea of diversity which has arisen in class often throughout the semester. We thought that although we have addressed (somewhat) the concerns and issues of libraries and librarians serving a diverse population in class, we haven’t discussed diverse materials. It may be simple conjecture to assume that an ethnically diverse population would seek linguistically diverse resources, but the content found in the World Digital Library would meet that demand and much more. It contains materials which are relevant to most users around the world wanting to find historical primary resources. Once we found a resource to share with our class, the next challenge we faced was presenting it an informative and engaging way. Thanks to the materials we had as guides to prepare for this assignment, we had a a relatively straightforward recipe for creating a workshop. However, we found that the time limit of twenty minutes further challenged our task at hand. I understand that as an experiment and in-class exercise the time limit must be imposed, but we did struggle to plan for what we thought was a short workshop. Balancing introduction, explanation, hands-on experimentation, and a conclusion was difficult to deliver. Which brings me to the final challenge, the actual presentation of our workshop. Although we had a well prepared (I thought) script, I felt like I struggled in presenting our plan effectively. I got a little lost during our presentation, and felt that I wasn’t able to nimbly negotiate through the workshop in order to provide an effective introduction and sampling of what I still regard as a great resource to all types of librarians. But, better to experience this in the safe and familiar environment of my class. In the future, based on what I learned in presenting our workshop, I know that I will have to prepare more prior to delivering a workshop. I felt that my partner and I did a good job preparing the materials we would use to guide our presentation, but I now realize that we could have rehearsed more. Rehearsing the presentation more would have allowed me to react better to the unexpected moments that arise during any workshop. Additionally, more rehearsing would have given me more confidence, which is reflected during the delivery of a presentation, and is picked up by the audience. This confidence makes for a better presentation overall, adds validity to the topic being discussed, and engages the audience more in the workshop. Lessons learned.
Participating in my classmates workshops also added to my ideas about how to coordinate this type of teaching method. I was impressed by the topics my classmates had chosen to present, primarily as they demonstrated the variety of concerns we have as future librarians. Some were better than others, but the quality overall was good. I was also impressed by how engaged and respectful my classmates were as participants. Everyone participated in the discussions and activities wholeheartedly. Kristen often mentions in class how the librarian community is a nurturing and supportive one, and during the workshops this became evident. I am glad to have the opportunity to learn and practice these new skills in such an environment. These tasks (screencasts, book clubs, one-shot workshops) are often intimidating and daunting (for me anyway), but knowing that I am not being unjustly criticized by my peers helps. I am not sure that I will find the same environment teaching undergrads, or if they will be as engaged and involved as my classmates. But, during this stage of my learning and experiencing these new (to me) methods, it is reassuring to know that I can fumble and make mistakes without being torn apart by my peers. I feel that this environment truly helps me learn from my mistakes and allows me to reflect on them without beating myself up. I better enjoy while I can, because the real world is just around the corner.
Last week in class we discussed the ALA Code of Ethics. The discussion reminded me of my first semester at UMSI in the intro to archives (SI 580) class, and the discussion on the SAA (Society of American Archivists) Core Value Statement and Code of Ethics. Dr. Paul Conway argued that the inclusion of a “code of ethics” in a society or association was more of outward facing (towards the public, not its members) document that gave the group professional validity, rather than a guide for its members. And in that same vain, both of these documents are good points of reference for non-librarians and non-archivists to better understand what these professionals generally hold as their principles. The fact that the ALA code is not legally binding makes me feel that it does serve more as an introduction to what librarians believe in, rather than a guide. Yet, it can be reflected upon by librarians when a sticky, ethical issue comes up at work.
The fact that most, if not all, of the eight principles in the ALA code are espoused by all of the librarians I’ve met and worked with also makes me wonder: which came first, the code, or the beliefs held by librarians? The original 1939 ALA code must have been debated by and created by librarians, so it makes sense that it would reflect the values librarians held at the time. But now, seventy five years later, I wonder how much influence the code has on developing librarians? Is it a coincidence that most of the students in my cohort have similar opinions concerning access, privacy, intellectual freedom etc.? Or has the profession been shaped by the code which serves as a professional guide and window to our beliefs to the public, shaping the way we as students learn the profession? I am not naive enough to believe that all librarians equally believe in these principles, but it seems to me that overwhelmingly these principles are genuinely agreed to and lived by most librarians. Perhaps it’s the nature of our work. Being a public servant implies a devotion to serving the community and those that may need more help than others to access books and information. Maybe it’s the fact that librarians like to read, and that reading makes one sympathetic to various perspectives and world-views. Regardless, the ALA Code of Ethics may appear to us library students and librarians as common sense and common knowledge. Preaching to the choir. But it may be beneficial for us as students to reflect on how these principles have come to color our professional development, and how the code can be utilized as public relations tool.
Ethics in librarianship is a topic of upmost seriousness. The ALA’s Code of Ethics is a succinct expression of the guiding values librarians should use in their professional lives. The cornerstones of the Code are access, intellectual freedom, and confidentiality. When it concerns the librarians responsibility to filter information in an effort to protect the patron and the community, I think principle VII is the most useful to help the librarian negotiate any dilemmas. Principle VII states: “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.” If we as librarians can remove our own beliefs from our work, then providing equal service to all patrons becomes easier. And ethical concerns fade away. Mark Lenker writes in the Journal of Information Ethics, “Dangerous Questions at the Reference Desk, A Virtue Ethics Approach” (2008, vol. 17, no. 1): “Requests for information that would enable a patron to endanger himself or others can leave the reference librarian in a tricky moral predicament.” But, if we as librarians follow principle VII of the ALA Code of Ethics, then any information request we may receive cannot be deemed as dangerous. Presuming and inferring what a patron is going to do with the book or magazine they check out is beyond our role as librarians. So, there is a tension between trying to gather information from our patrons to better assist them, and being as unbiased as possible regarding their requests. In a sense, the librarian must be robotic in their ethical approach to patron requests. This is ironic, since we are continually battling to prove that the human component of librarianship, human librarians, are essential to contemporary and future libraries. Yet, our human nature to judge and assess the people we come into contact with may be a hinderance. A hinderance to what? A hinderance in emanating trust and respect for privacy to our patrons.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was working the reference desk, a patron asked me if it was possible to view the circulation records of certain books. I explained that I couldn’t share that information. The patron then went into a long explanation of why they wanted these records. Their argument was that by seeing who had checked what books, people could come together and share ideas based on similar reading interests. They were very excited by this idea, and expressed that it would be great if people across the globe could access this information, as people with similar interests could connect more easily. I listened to the argument, and agreed that it could be beneficial information, but that ultimately, the privacy of patrons was more valuable than the possibility to connect with others. The patron was not satisfied with my response, and suggested that my library should reconsider its position. I then explained that this was not the position of my library specifically, but that privacy was a major ethical concern of the ALA. And as a member of the ALA, we had no leeway regarding privacy. Although the patron was not satisfied, I was glad that I had a piece of governance to lean upon in order to confidently respond the request. And although I didn’t think the patron’s idea was completely off base, it was more undergrad naiveté than anything else, it didn’t matter what I thought about the request or the patron making it. I know what the ALA position on privacy is, and that’s all I need to know. Now, this was a fairly straightforward “Dangerous Question”, yet the ability to remove my personal bias from the situation made it even less “dangerous” for me.
Our Socratic Seminar experiment was a very interesting use of our class time. The readings my colleagues chose varied from fairy tales to non-fiction articles. Since there were three fairy tales in all, we had a continuing discussion across the tales that enabled to analyze comparisons and contrasts between the three. The genre of fairy tales makes for great discussion, as they are full of symbols and anecdotes, aimed at transferring cultural and moral lessons. It’s no wonder that fairy tales continue to be used as entertainment, even if the medium has changed from text to primarily animation. The tales proved to provide the grounds for vibrant discussion, but paled in comparison to the readings, excerpts from “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon and “Why the Best Children’s Books are Written in Blood” by Sherman Alexie, which one group presented.
When I first read these excerpts, I think I felt much like most of my colleagues, that Gurdon had placed too much responsibility on the librarians to do the work of parents. In fact, I still feel this way, but the emotional discussion we had around these readings proved that it is a very sensitive subject. And while I would never want to censor reading materials from patrons as a librarian, when the patrons are children or “young adults” it becomes complicated. Nevertheless, these special patrons still have the right to read what they want. Controlling what type of books are published is not the answer to ensuring our kids read appropriate materials, but making our kids capable of choosing the books that will enrich their lives is. Of course, the development of these skills begins at home, and is reinforced at school. The sad truth is that life is complicated, and if young readers gravitate towards complicated or uncomfortable books it is a reflection of that societal complication. Through our discussion, I think we all came away with a clearer understanding of how complex the issues surrounding young adult reader decisions are. That clarity we gained proves that things are not clear. I hope this leads to a deeper awareness of all our patrons complexities, but especially with children and young adults. As adults and librarians, we have to balance our responsibilities to freedom of expression and accessibility with our work as educators. So, although we cannot supplant the work of parents, we can be beneficial instructors in the development of young readers.
Given the level of discussion achieved in our group, the exercise was a success. Some of the important takeaways for me as a discussion leader were the importance of choosing engaging readings, being knowledgeable about the context of the readings, and the ability to nimbly move the discussion forward when it stalls. For the analysis of readings, the Socratic Seminar is a great way to truly involve students and delve deep into the text. As I think about my future, I know that I will utilize this method, but I realize that I need more practice in leading this type of discussion. So, like many of the aspects of this course, this was a great introduction to an effective teaching method, but I need more practice.