Posted by: char booth | 18 August 2011

project curve, part four: mapping (concept to curriculum).

Note, 10/12: You can see more recent work on this project at the Ubiquitous Librarian and view Claremont’s much-updated curriculum mapping template here. Finally, I’m percolating a big update post in the near future. -c

Welcome to the latest installment of project curve, my orienting-to-life-in-a-new-library series. Last on deck was the ProfDevLib; this time around (thanks to a well-aimed nudge from Brian over at Ubiquitous Librarian) I’ll describe recent forays colleagues and I have been making into concept mapping for curricular integration, organizational learning, project planning, and faculty outreach/collaboration.

I’ll do this in two stages. Today’s post focuses on concept maps writ large, software options, and several mapping strategies we’re exploring at the Claremont Colleges Library. Soon, I’ll follow with a description of a pilot project a colleague and I are currently undertaking, which uses curriculum maps and an IL rubric to embed library instruction throughout the core course series of the cross-colleges Environmental Analysis program.

First:

a gross oversimplification of the mapping process

Concept mapping is often used interchangeably with ‘mind mapping’, two of the most intuitive, personalisable, and lowest barrier to entry visualization methods I have encountered. Anchored in the depiction of related ideas, mapping a concept is as easily achieved via whiteboard or paper as with one of countless available software options. It can be applied toward as many ends as one finds productive, and the mapping process is simplicity itself:

a) select a purpose/outcome, e.g. gross oversimplification of concept mapping for blog post

b) identify a central idea or “node”, e.g., best breakfast ever

best breakfast ever

c) branch additional topics off the central node (e.g, bacon, chilaquiles, etc.)

best breakfast 2

d) and add sub-topics to these ad infinitum according to desired level of detail (click on images to enlarge).

best breakfast 3

creative utility

The more I engage with visual concept mapping strategies, the more useful personal and organizational purposes I discover. Concept maps can be applied as an interesting/effective communication and collaboration tool, applicable to presentations, outreach, and teaching as well as small-group or solo brainstorming, planning, strategic thinking, and non-linear documentation.

Once you grasp the method and applications, contextual visualization opportunities begin to present themselves readily. Moreover, they start to supplant or provide alternative approaches to traditional text-based workflows. For example, at a recent staff training on concept mapping, I asked participants what they could imagine mapping that might make their life or work easier. These are a few of the suggestions I received:

  • an instruction outline that could double as a classroom activity
  • data production/publication sources throughout the Colleges
  • a map of frequently-consulted administrative contacts
  • a half-marathon preparation plan
  • the framework for a website redesign
  • faculty contacts and research areas map
  • technical services processes

By the end of the hour-long training (and regardless of prior experience) participants had made considerable headway toward building drafts of each of these maps, and most expressed interest in revising and refining them in the near future.

cartographic context(s)

I’ve run on about the complexity of my organization before, but, for this post, touching again on the topic is instrumental. The Claremont Colleges are unique: a consortium of seven contiguous but independent institutions (five liberal arts colleges and two graduate schools), each with its own personality and array of majors, departments, and academic support programs (some institution-specific, others coordinated cross-colleges). One library mothership serves them all, which, needless to say, ups the complexity ante for all of our initiatives.

As a (relatively) recent hire going about the process of understanding this context, I found that my usual approach to organizational learning had been factored exponentially. If my purpose as Instruction Services Manager was to determine how to integrate relevant library and research instruction through the intricate curricular maze presented by a seven-college system, rather than developing a single strategy I had to consider the needs and realities of multiple, intertwined institutions.

It was instantly apparent that scanning across seven websites and piecing together bits of information about contacts from colleagues would be an inefficient learning strategy, so in my first month on the job I scrambled for non-linear methods of documentation.  I wanted an alternative approach that would allow me to, in essence, plot and understand the programs, academic support units, courses, contacts, etc. that existed across the Colleges, in order to strategize solutions that arched over all or focused on particular areas of need. That my institutional topography thwarted one-dimensional information gathering led me to the discovery that it could be visualized (rather beautifully: bonus) through concept and curriculum mapping.

mindomo mapping

After trialing several platforms, I chose to manage Claremont’s mapping project using Mindomo, a freemium web-based product with a straightforward Flash interface and an impressive range of features and functionality, including web and desktop/offline editing, sharing, collaboration, customization, interactive web publication, multiple format exporting and importing, multimedia linking and document uploading, annotation, and accessible HTML versions of published maps.

Mindomo has its quirks – chief among these are the mobile and accessibility challenges presented by the Flash interface – but I have found workarounds for all irritations and roadblocks thus far through a) the trusty undo-redo, b) exploring product functionality, and/or c) reaching out to a responsive support team (which is, incidentally, highly precious doing team-building activities on Facebook).

Mindomo provides for different levels of engagement – free for light users through a basic account (three maps) and more robust use through “premium” version, which allows the sort of centralized administrative capability I sought for an institutional project: a “mothership” account with which staff can share their maps for purposes of centralized management, archiving, format backups, and best practices communication.

An upcoming beta release appears at first glance to address several of my minor gripes, and, as should be familiar to any startup web app user, while I am knocking wood that Mindomo survives and thrives I am also regularly exporting maps in PDF, image, and spreadsheet formats for purposes of preservation. One of the aspects of Mindomo I appreciate is the web-based interface (the desktop app is a bit frustrating), but popular desktop mapping tools include FreeMind and XMind on the freeside, while Visio or Inspiration are popular desktop on the paid end.

collaborative visualization

Across multiple access and collaboration avenues, concept mapping lends itself to individual long-range documentation and planning efforts such as charting past instruction to tracking outreach to academic support units (click Mindomo interface image above for detail), as well as dynamic, in-the-moment public applications like brainstorming and group discussion capture.

This final example points to a map created during a series of organization-wide visioning talks for the future of core Claremont Colleges Library services. My colleague and co-facilitator, Natalie Tagge (whom, I should mention, recently revealed to me that she trained as a trick rider in her youth: amazing) and I used Mindomo to structure, record, and share our discussion, which focused on educational initiatives. If you explore the web version of this map, you’ll find image documentation, uploaded documents (agenda and evaluation), and our captured discursive thread, which was shared with participants live via projection and URL as well as through an emailed link after the event.

curriculum mapping

Among the most powerful uses of this visualization method I have found is curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping is a long-established process of plotting the core sequence and possible variations of subjects/concepts/courses/skills available to a learner in a particular context. Imagine understanding at a glance the potential paths and/or courses available to an English or Chemistry major at any two or four-year institution, as defined by the dynamic local interplay of faculty, course availability, outcomes, and requirements. For example…

Curriculum mapping is a window of insight into the student and faculty experience, and a method of understanding the combinations and recombinations of subjects and courses offered and not offered, required and not required, that lead learners from general prerequisites to a degree in hand. No two curricula are the same, and every potential path varies by institution. Perceiving the breadth of possibilities and tracks of specialization is the purpose of this exercise.

In libraries, mapping curriculum and other academic structures/relationships can be useful on many levels. The approach allows instruction/outreach/embedded librarians to understand where their research skills and information literacy efforts are best directed across the curriculum, provides liaisons and others involved in collection development with the ability to identify subject specialties and areas of developing research need. Digital publication and archives-oriented individuals can capture institutional contexts at moments in time in order to present changing institutional structure. Administration can gather and demonstrate a holistic perspective on the academic breadth and trajectories of an organization in order to apportion resources accordingly.

mapping strategies

Many curriculum mapping projects I have seen are laid out in a linear or grid format similar to a rubric. “Mapping” in this sense is better described as  “charting”, which lacks a visual component but acknowledges the core practice of identifying span and sequence of a major or disciplinary area. Dynamic products such as Mindomo facilitate what I believe is a far more intuitive and representative form of mapping, a literal mapping of curriculum through visual means, which allows for the identification of tracks, layers, facets, and connections too complex for unilateral rendering.

At the Claremont Colleges Library, we follow a “traditional” liaison model that matches subject librarians to one or more disciplines. In our seven–college environment, this translates to one librarian working with, for example, five psychology departments, seven math departments, four gender and women’s studies degree tracks, and/or a joint science program shared by three colleges. Each major has its a foundational core and path that may or may not be offered jointly. Classes are commonly cross listed and requirements are liberally distributed, meaning that most upper-level courses are likely to feature not only a crop of non-majors, but cross-college pollination as well.

Myself and a few pilot adopters began using curriculum mapping as a means to contend with this complex liaison landscape and develop strategic insight into our disciplinary areas toward the beginning of the summer. In so doing, I hoped for broader workflow and strategy insight that would lead us toward a larger  goal of engaging all of our subject liaison colleagues in mapping their respective departments in order to identify where instructional and collection development efforts could be best directed. Moreover, I hoped to equip them with objects (maps and rubrics) that can be repurposed for a unique approach to faculty outreach.

Our pilot mapping strategies have varied in detail and complexity and grown increasingly sophisticated. Take, for example, two early maps developed by my colleague, Science Librarian (and mapping genius) Sean Stone.

pomona geology courses

The above, which I would describe as a course map, is a simple listing of introductory, archived, and upper level classes offered through the Geology Department at Pomona College. Each class is linked to its catalog description, and departmental learning goals are also identified. By comparison, the below map, better described as a degree map, identifies the tracks, respective course sequences, and requirements available to Pomona Geology majors and minors.

pomona geology degree

Another, more complex example. The below depicts a detail from a larger degree requirements map created by another colleague and excellent mapster (and sharp dresser, might I add), Gender/Women’s Studies and Art History Librarian Alex Chappell.

gws degree map detail

Alex is actively applying her mapping work toward faculty collaboration on a curriculum committee:

I had a meeting with Chris Guzaitis, Asst. Prof. of Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) at Scripps College, ostensibly about how well our library collections meet the needs of the new queer studies track in the GWS major at Scripps. But I had just been working on my maps of the Requirements for a GWS major at the 5Cs and of the GWS/GFS curriculum at the 5Cs so wanted to show them to her. I began by explaining the pilot project to map the curriculum and then to use the maps as a way to locate opportunities for research instruction. I told her that we know that we are not consistently reaching the students in their middle years which leaves them ill-prepared for their senior thesis, and that we are trying to remedy this in a programmatic way. She was very enthusiastic about the maps, especially the map showing the GWS/GFS courses and cross-listed courses at the 5Cs. She thought the map would be useful for students, suggesting that it be included in the Intercollegiate Women’s Studies website, and that it could be useful for faculty when advocating for additional faculty or when curriculum planning. And the map was a useful tool in our conversation, since we could see all of the courses offered in her department, and talk about which ones have a research component and which ones would likely be made up largely of GWS majors.

mapping processes

Maps such as these are built by triangulating information from course catalogs, departmental websites, and direct communication with faculty, neatly forcing the creator to dig into the details of a given department up to their elbows. By far, this is the most immersive approach I have discovered to organizational and disciplinary learning. If maps are to be kept current and representative they must be reviewed and revised on a regular basis (we’re recommending versioned yearly maps), another insight upkeep strategy that follows from thorough outreach and curriculum mapping.

Through much trial and error, Sean and I have arrived at a hybrid version of the degree and course map that also identifies ancillary aspects of a major or department, such as student organizations, faculty, study abroad opportunities, and so forth. Combining several aspects of curriculum mapping into a single document leverages the depth of layering and multifunctionality that the approach can provide, thus cutting down on the proliferation of maps and presenting a more integrated view of a given disciplinary landscape. We have made this available as a shared template to our colleagues, not as a prescriptive requirement but a reliable structure that follows color, metadata, and annotation conventions and suggests potential angles of approach that provide a rounded and comprehensive perspective.

next up: curriculum mapping case study (environmental analysis)

We’ve begun training our colleagues in the process and rationale of curriculum mapping as a means of building insight, starting conversations with faculty, and identifying strategic areas in which to direct our efforts. Thus far excellent progress has been made, and my eventual goal is to collaboratively, as an organization, develop a series of disciplinary cross-colleges maps that are published and updated yearly as a unique resource provided by the Library (an entity with a uniquely holistic perspective on the seven institutions, and invested in clear understanding of all of their needs, community members, and academic offerings).

In the soon-to-materialize part two of mapping (concept to curriculum), I’ll explore an ongoing curriculum mapping and integration project Sean and I are developing with faculty in the five-college Environmental Analysis program.

In a nutshell, we have

1 mapped the EA curriculum

2 identified high-impact core courses that would give us the opportunity to offer tiered and scaffolded research and information skills instruction to EA majors

3 developed an IL competencies rubric and instruction plan for these courses:

4 presented our map, rubric, and proposed strategy to EA faculty

5 refined it based on their feedback, and

6 are currently in the planning stages for providing instruction to each course this Fall (EA 10, 20, 30, and Thesis).

This strategy, we hope, will provide a tested/proven two-fisted (map and rubric) approach and templates that will scale up to other liaisons and subject areas.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Posted by: char booth | 19 July 2011

project curve, part three: profdevlib.

I don’t know about the rest of academic libraryland, but I have definitely overcome any delusions I was harboring of a summer work lull – things have been hilariously busy. Between building community and a structure of tools/strategies for the coming year at Claremont, winding down a long research consultancy for a consortium of California community college libraries, and preparing for my first time participating in ACRL Immersion as a faculty member (stay tuned for posts on all topics), the only palpable difference is that I no longer wear a wetsuit when I swim in the ocean. So, independent of breathing room, project work continues to forge ahead. And really, would I have it any other way?

The previous installment of my orienting-to-Claremont series outlined an assignment design rubric a colleague and I adapted for faculty collaboration; this post describes the creation of the ProfDevLib, a local staff professional development library. profdevlib sign

My goals for establishing this diminutive collection were five-fold:

a) create a shared cache of learning/productivity materials,
b) highlight local librarian publications,
c) provide fodder for an all-staff reading group,
d) identify strong contributions to the professional literature,

and, last but not least,

e) finally put LibraryThing to good use in my own practice.

The idea for an informal professional development collection came from my recent days at UC Berkeley; Moffitt Library featured an oft-consulted staff library near my office cubicile. The collection at Cal focused on academic librarianship, assessment, research, instruction, web development, etc., and was tremendously useful to have close at hand. I usually had between four and six things signed out at any given time – materials circulated from a clipboard, and our department admin assistant would periodically hunt down offenders (such as myself) who kept items for an unseemly duration.

I wanted to create the same type of resource at Claremont, with a few embellishments (catalog discoverability, formal location code, a LibraryThing profile, staff purchase request form, new acquisitions feed, reading discussion group, etc.). Armed with a generous budget and blessing from my director, I determined a location and circulation strategy, sought staff suggestions and bought the first round of fifty-odd items, requested a non-circ location code (HON PROF DEV), forwarded materials to our tech services unit for cataloging processing, requested a Blais featured list and new items RSS feed, built the LibraryThing profile, made up a few signs using our library typeface template, enlisted the help of my awesome new colleague Natalie Tagge to determine a reading group strategy and transition a few items from the circulating collection, and, finally, scheduled an unveiling with food/fanfare. All told, about $1500 and a month of low-intensity doings.

In the interest of recycling good copy, I’ll end with the wrap-up message I sent out after the unveiling event:

Thanks to all who came to watch the – literal – unveiling of the ProfDevLib from under a plaid blanket this morning (especially Adam, who provided a bagpipe serenade, and Natalie, who supplied fruit salad). For those jealous folks who didn’t make it, you can take items out of the collection anytime. More details on the ProfDevLib’s location and circulation “procedure” follows below the photos, info that will also be listed in the Resources area of the Library Staff Sakai site. Also, stay tuned for our reading group!

profdevlib unveiling pic

profdevlib unvelining pic

profdevlib unvelining pic

profdevlib unveiling pic

profdevlib unveiling pic

ProfDevLib itemshttp://tinyurl.com/cclprofdevlib.

ProfDevLib details:

The collection is located near Marsha and Mauricio in Iris North (signs point the way). It’s available for anyone to use, and its items are arranged in call-number order.The ProfDevLib will operate on an informal sign-out system via clipboard, but for discoverability purposes items are cataloged as non-circulating in Blais with the location code HON PROF DEV. Call number labels reflect this new location, and are also marked with a handy red dot to discourage you from sticking them in a book return.

Please keep the suggestions coming at http://tinyurl.com/profdevlibpurchase. *If you’ve authored or contributed a chapter to a book, I want to include it!*

Our CCL ProfDevLib profile on LibraryThing lists all titles with reader descriptions, rss feeds, ratings, and links to previews in Google Books:

http://www.librarything.com/profile/claremontlibprofdev

We have a ProfDevLib Featured List in Blais:

http://blais.claremont.edu/ftlist

Reading Discussion Group:

Thanks to a suggestion at the Educational Initiatives discussion this week, we’re starting a monthly discussion group featuring selections from the ProfDevLib. You’ll soon be seeing an invitation to the first event, where we’ll read and discuss:

Long, D. (2011). Embedded right where the students live : a librarian in the residence halls. In C. Kvenild & K. Calkins (Eds.), Embedded librarians: Moving beyond one-shot instruction. (199-209) Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Items are now circulating and five additional purchase suggestions have come in since the unveiling, all of which is a nice early indication of use/interest. A final goal is to “encourage” (e.g., target) individuals who suggest purchases to select excerpts and lead the discussion group from time to time. What remains to be seen, obviously, is how much productive use the ProfDevLib actually gets, and whether the approach needs to be tweaked in any direction. In all, a seriously fun project.

Until the next installment, when I’ll introduce you to project curve, part four: faculty swag bags.

 

Posted by: char booth | 21 June 2011

ala 2011 wear/whereabouts.

I wrote a Librarian Wardrobe post yesterday with some info about what I’ll be up to at ALA Annual in New Orleans:

Packing for conferences is all about wise shoe choices, so I’m including a triptych of the four to five pairs that I’ll be bringing to New Orleans. Flips and boots are the other likely suspects.

To each its own function: topsiders for whatever, oxfords for presenting, disgusting Toms for running/spelunking.

To see the oxfords in action, you can catch me Friday the 24th at 9:30  keynoting the RUSA Preconference Strange Bedfellows: IT and Reference Collaborations to Enhance User Experiences, Sunday the 26th at 4 at the EQUACC Progress Panel, and hopefully (if I can swing it), at The Right to Read: Increasing Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Panel on Sunday the 26th from 1:30-3:30.

Happy conferencing, and don’t be afraid of heat/humidity: it’s a beautiful combination.

I’ll also be at a ACRL Immersion Faculty retreat on Thursday, the Mover/Shaker lunch on Friday, the IS Soiree, a bunch of discussions and panels (will tweet enroute) and am making my way to many committee meetings (including the LITA Accessibility Interest Group on Monday morning). Last but not least, there is no way I’m missing Dan Savage, Molly Shannon or Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Posted by: char booth | 15 June 2011

project curve, part two: research guidance rubric remix.

Continuing a project-focused series on my initial months at the Claremont Colleges Library (I first wrote about Maker Breaks, our button press goings-on), this post explores an example of one of my favorite pastimes: repurposing the good work of others in order to avoid reinventing a wheel.

The wheel in question is a very well-designed and useful Research Guidance Rubric (RGR), created by a pair of librarians at Grand Valley State University, Pete Coco and Hazel McClure. This rubric presents a practical, faculty-focused approach to addressing the increasingly well-documented problem of poorly designed research assignments (see Project Information Literacy’s report, Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students (PDF) and the frustration they create for students (and librarians, by extension).

the rgr at gvsu

My colleague Alex Chappell attended LOEX 2011 and was impressed by Pete and Hazel’s work as presented in their session, “Rigging for Rigor: Guiding Classroom Faculty Towards Richer Research Assignments with the Research Guidance Rubric.” A program description from the LOEX 2011 site:

Proceeding from Project Information Literacy’s recent report documenting student needs being left unmet by many research assignment prompts, two librarians developed a tool for faculty to self-assess their assignment prompts. The Research Guidance Rubric (RGR) functions both as a self-evaluation tool for faculty and as a “conversation-starter” between the disciplinary expertise of professors and the information literacy expertise of liaison librarians. We’ll discuss assignment collaborations as we plumb the questions that premise the RGR: what makes a collaboration successful and how can librarian-created tools move the conversation on research assignments toward better student outcomes?

Parts 1 and 2 of their preso are available via YouTube.

Pete explained to me that one of their goals of presenting at LOEX was to “get the RGR into the hands of other librarians for their use and local adaptation… All we ask is 1) attribution, 2) a web link to our original with any adaptations and 3) that you keep us posted on your experience with it.” He and Hazel have “plans to create a companion document for students and a web version that includes examples for users as well as boilerplate text for some of the elements of an assignment prompt… We’ve begun collaborating with our own writing center on the RGR and it seems like an avenue rich with opportunity. Hazel and I both come to librarianship from the writing classroom, so its always nice to see our work resonating with those folks.”

Finally, from Pete: “We really appreciate your advocacy for the tool and, more broadly, the sort of librarianship it envisions.” Hear hear: a librarianship built on shared solutions and local customization.

modifying the rgr

On hearing Alex’s recommendation, I reviewed the RGR and found it to be a tool that could be put to immediate (read: last-minute) use in a faculty planning seminar related to library instruction in Critical Inquiry ID1, the common first-year interdisciplinary course requirement at Pomona College. When asked if my colleague Gale Burrow and I could modify the RGR with attribution and expand it to include potential librarian/faculty collaboration scenarios based on a course and its assignment outcomes, Pete and Hazel not only generously (and quickly) agreed, they supplied a .doc version of the RGR to aid in our 11th-hour remixing project.

ID1 has long had a collaborative (and highly individualized: all syllabi/assignments are unique) library component that often consisted of one-shot sessions and some individual librarian/student appointments, but the Library now finds itself operating with increased instructor capacity (three new teaching-focused librarians) and in the process of developing new e-learning tools and research support avenues. We therefore wanted to use our time with Pomona faculty (one hour) to advocate for a more collaborative and customized approach to library engagement in ID1, supported by well-articulated and scaffolded research assignment prompts with clear outcomes and applicable library instruction strategies. Here is our modified “Research Assignment Design” (RAD) rubric:

We embedded the RAD rubric in our faculty presentation and distributed it in print as a takeaway, using the document primarily as a platform for engaging faculty in a discussion about effective research assignment design and low, medium, and high-intensity librarian collaboration scenarios in the context of ID1.

The strategy and rubric were well-received and relatively successful within the context of the faculty workshop, but our sense is that ongoing revisions to Pete and Hazel’s original are still needed on our end: we changed the RGR to make it align with a different desired outcome (suggesting collaboration methods as well as assignment design guidance), and still have work to do to facilitate said outcome. We plan to continue tweaking RAD to include concrete librarian collaboration scenarios that help faculty imagine beyond the one-shot concept.

When using the rubric as a faculty presentation engagement tool in the future, it struck Gale and I that we should devote more time to exploring its design and applications rather than covering it glancingly, and/or use it to engage faculty in discussions about library collaboration and assignment design at the individual level. Finally, we’re going to suggest the RAD rubric as a resource to teaching librarians at our own ID1 library instructor retreat later in the summer, and will post it to our own website when it’s in a more ship shape and in a version universalized to all of the Claremont Colleges.

Stay tuned for project curve, part three: profdevlib.

Posted by: char booth | 12 June 2011

unlocking hathitrust: an interview.

I have an article in Library Journal this week on HathiTrust, the giant “digital library by libraries for libraries.” It’s an interview with Heather Christiansen and Paul Fogel, two key HathiTrust staffers that I’ve enjoyed working with in the past. An excerpt:

As librarians and users, we constantly encounter digital discovery interfaces and collections, but we don’t necessarily interact with the individuals who make them happen. This contributes to a widespread lack of insight into what these operations actually require. Who are the people behind the products? How do they work? When the human element is missing, interfaces can seem inscrutable.

The more I communicated with HathiTrust, the more I realized that they are a surprisingly small group of library-minded folks doing a herculean job not only participating in mass digitization projects with Google and the Internet Archive, but building a new, large-scale digital library with its own features and services. Enter the inspiration for this follow-up interview: to correct my (and others’) misperceptions about this important and emerging librarians’ digital library.

Among other things, Paul and Heather demystify aspects of large-scale collaborative digitization, and describe HathiTrust’s already enormous holdings (here rendered graphically by LJ):

The inspiration for this interview came from the realization that, while I might use digital collections often, I really didn’t understand the work it took to create and maintain them. I had unwittingly developed misperceptions about their quality and functionality.

Misperception correction is a familiar activity for most of us. Think about it: how often have you countered policy claims, re-explained misunderstood services, or, say, stopped a tour guide before they finish telling a group of prospective students that the library provides free year-round soft-serve?

It is impossible to blame the user for getting it wrong from time to time. Patrons don’t have the monopoly on misperception. Uber-specialization, departmental divide syndrome (otherwise known as the silo effect), and inadequate cross-training creates a climate of mutual un-awareness among colleagues and institutions. The digital transition provides an additional learning curve. As products, service models, and access methods develop, it’s easy to lose our bead on the things we don’t “own” (tech-focused or not).

In this climate of constant change, we are all candidates for misperception correction. It is important to recognize that there will be moments when prevailing assumptions about a particular tool, technology, or subject are simply incorrect. These are important learning opportunities, chances to gain new perspective on issues you thought you knew.

Posted by: char booth | 1 June 2011

project curve, part one: maker breaks.

love your library buttonIn my last post I set the stage for a series: to explore my learning curve at a new job at the Claremont Colleges Library through a few initial projects and collaborations. This is part one.

Several stereotypical (yet accurate) generalizations: librarians are nerds, librarians like crafts, and librarians tend to have lots of interesting maps, books, magazines, covers, and other ephemera lying around, some of it waiting to be weeded, discarded, and/or recycled.

I have long loved makerism and diy marketing, and have been itching to try an idea I first observed at the downtown San Francisco Public Library. At SFPL, they make buttons and magnets out of what I assume are their graphics-heavy discards (dictionaries, magazines, etc.) and sell them for a few bucks apiece in their small library store. Many libraries order promotional pins from retailers, which is great, but actually procuring the press itself can be a much more powerful/versatile investment.

use 1: maker breaks

Week one at Claremont I asked my director, John McDonald, if I could buy a button machine for projects of this nature. True to form, his response was “totally.” In all, this purchase consisted of a button press, a circle cutter (very necessary), and 1000 pin components. The buttons/machine can be used for any number of things, from one-time outreach to ongoing library marketing. Approximate total cost, $400, and I bought the 1” maker from American Button Machines (fast service, hardy materials).

craft discards cartI put a call-out to my coworkers to comb their offices and donate craft fodder in the form of any and all printed discards, maps, mags, etc. they could find lying around on a booktruck outside of my office (now stacked with all sorts of oddness.) I’ve also been digging through the recycling, copying images from art books, etc., and scouting garage sales for crappy dictionaries, 1970s chemistry textbooks, etc. that are in dire need of repurposing.

Each semester during finals crunch and our 24-hour staffing period, Honnold/Mudd Library puts on an event called Study Breaks, where, for five or six nights, we feed the throngs of students camped out in the library pizza, sandwiches, fruit, and caffeine to fuel their desperate rush to semester’s end. It is a much-appreciated service, and definitely diverting to staff (haggard toilers can become increasingly punchy during periods of “rest.”)

I thought, why not try and provide a cognitive break in addition to a sustenance break? I found a local craft store where I bought a couple of inexpensive stamps (heart, arrow, etc.), ink, and fancy paper, whipped out and printed a quick few custom button designs using Illustrator (“love your library” and “good luck” with a horseshoe) the night of the event, rolled it all downstairs, and set up the press, discards, and templates on a table in the Study Breaks room with a minimalist (i.e., totally ugly: time crunch) sign.

maker tableInitially, there was a bit of confusion about what the table was there for. I stood around pressing the love your library buttons (see a how-to video made with the help of my colleague Alex Chappell, which is also embedded near of this post, for a demo). Some students would take a pre-made pin and thank me, many wandered off eating with a promise to  come back in a few. If and when they did return, I’d show them how to use the machine, punch, and point out all the imaging materials they could choose from. Once they got the point that they could make something personal out of any graphic they wanted, they generally started to freak out a little and go after it wholeheartedly.

maker break tableBefore long, each night the table was 6-10 people deep, comparing ideas, asking for advice, elbowing each other out of the way, and making awesome pins out of interesting bits of pictures from their own perspectives. It was an excellent way to get to know my new student community, teach a crafty skill, and afford them a small amount of cerebral release before they returned to the grindstone. As one student confided, “thanks, this was what I needed – it was like an actual break.” It also, I hope, gave them a different perspective on the types of things that librarians can do, and provided me with an important opportunity to introduce myself as an individual (not just in front of a classroom or behind a desk).

I’m planning a series of Maker Breaks, hopefully branching into silkscreening, laminating, stampmaking, fabric arts, etc. Toward this end I’ve been polling my colleagues to get a bead on their diy skillset and hope to involve them in similar forays into maker productivity. [Update: see this post for downloadable 'love your library' (and other) button and sticker templates].

texas buttonNext up is a staff-focused button Maker Break at our off-campus Records Center. Thanks to my colleagues Bonnie Tijerina and Jason Price, we will also be pressing waffles.

use 2: out-of-the-blue, customized moxie

One of my best initial moments at Claremont was the first evening I used the button press at Maker Breaks. I was testing the equipment on a map discard (maps make the best pins, in my opinion) and noticed a student outside my office that looked extremely mentally/physically dug in to a pile of physics books. On a whim I made him a map-based pin that looked like it might be his style (and matched his shirt) and handed it over randomly. He was extremely stoked and surprised: it was like dispensing drive-by moxie. I did this a few of times with the more desperate looking students (sometimes just with a good luck pin) and it always went over well.

use 3: circulate the press

So much student interest was shown in the button press that I’m figuring out how best table setupto put the system on short-term reserve (e.g., drill it onto a board, slap a bar code on it, and suss out how to handle dispensing the four components that make up the finished pin). Once available, it will be excellent to market to student organizations, small on-campus businesses, and assorted activists. Case in point, I hope to take the press to the Queer Resource Center to have a pin-designing/pressing Maker Break with them in Fall semester… many possibilities on this front.

use 4: elbow grease marketing

After handing out love your library pins to my colleagues, faculty, and students, it’s seriously gratifying to notice them floating around on shirts and bags in the course of a day, and I think the fact that they are obviously handmade (e.g., a little busted, each one different) adds a nice touch. They were one of the items included in another last-minute project that went over very well, new faculty swag bags, which I’ll write about in another installment.

The best part about engaging people collectively (students, coworkers, whomever) with the press in a Maker Break exchange is that you can essentially a) trick them into creating library marketing materials while b) teaching them a new skill and c) giving a second life to items that would otherwise be on the scrap head. Win-win-win.

use 5: library as maker lab

I think that in general libraries are perfectly suited to this type of productive laboratory approach (a point also observed by Seth Godin in a recent, somewhat inexplicably controversial post). I have larger hopes (shared by another colleague, Sheree Fu) of making Honnold/Mudd more of a maker space in and of itself, whether by creating a dedicated lab with diy tools/craft fodder that students can use for projects and inspiration, setting up stations with different maker/doer possibilities around the building, or perhaps tool libraries, bike repair stations, etc. that could help users figure out how to do functional and interesting things. I have heard tell of similar experimentation out in libraryland, and would love to know more about successful approaches to this kind of thing. Other Maker Break suggestions?

Stay tuned for project curve, part two: assignment design rubric.

Posted by: char booth | 27 May 2011

learning curve: month one in projects.

As I have observed relatively recently, communities of practice are groups of individuals bound together by characteristics, traits, rituals, and norms that 1) distinguish them from other communities, and 2) orient their members some sense of collective purpose. The process of integrating into a new community is complex, involving acclimation on a number of levels. Understanding a community’s context/culture and the interplay of its distinguishing characteristics is critical to successful integration into and interaction within it.

Which is the exact reason why starting a new job tends to involve a geometric, migraine-inducing learning curve. “Short-timer syndrome” is the well-known phenomenon wherein an individual who knows they will soon be out one door or another becomes increasingly useless/shiftless, often despite their best efforts to the contrary. I believe that the root of this syndrome lies as much in the loss of the short-timer’s organizational learning imperative as it does in the distracting and inevitable process of mental projection into one’s next context.

newtimer syndrome

Newtimer syndrome is the opposite of this phenomenon. When you start a job, you learn and orient so rapidly on so many levels, from intellectual to spatial to interpersonal, that your brain verges constantly on overload.

I have been at the Claremont Colleges Library for approximately four weeks, and, as anyone who has ever started a new position can attest (i.e., most people), the first month is a process of acculturation that appears simple on its surface, but is actually very complex. Simple in the straightforwardness of the tasks faced (e.g., become settled, start creating relationships with coworkers, begin to understand the organization), complex in the near-impossibility of processing, sorting, and retaining pertinent bits of the information deluge these tasks produce.

I adore this learning curve, and for many reasons. It throws you out of the climate you know and forces you to understand another from the dual perspective of insider and outsider. While the end goal is to reduce your outsider view as you come to understand how to operate successfully as an insider, the initial comparative perspective is immensely valuable in how you reflect upon and assess your new organization and its needs.

This concurrent learning/unlearning process is in many ways antithetical to what “settled” work becomes. The acclimation to any position, however dynamic it is in the day-to-day, includes the development of a certain sort of routine, an ongoing workflow, that shifts in predictable ways based on the time of year or project at hand. Determining this workflow out of the gates is anything but predictable, and it is the time in which you have paradoxically the most and the least control over your own productive trajectory.

cultural acclimation

Switching narrative gears, I’m happy to say that I adore my new job and its particular learning curve. I could rattle off a long rationale, but at the moment will limit myself to two reasons:

First: a fabulous, welcoming group of colleagues with a dedication to service and independent get-things-done attitude that has made my first days/weeks an engaging blur.

Second: the unique challenge of working at a library that serves seven liberal arts colleges grouped in a contiguous consortium and loosely wrapped around our building (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Claremont Graduate University, and the Keck Graduate Institure, combined FTE +/- 6,000). Each campus has its own fiercely unique culture, curriculum, architecture, and library perspective.

organizational complexity

While Honnold/Mudd Library serves all of these campuses, we face a particular hurdle: we are ancillary to the research, teaching, and learning of each college, yet outside of their immediate bounds and with little integration in campus governance or decision-making at the operational or academic level. No college “owns” us, per se,  making the typical challenge of outreach and cultural connection that much harder and more important: bridge-building is critical in this environment.

This degree of organizational complexity is one of the many reasons I came to the Claremont Colleges. Fiercely unique cultures and curricula in a practical sense creates a situation in which a subject specialist in my library might work with five to seven separate history, chemistry, etc. departments, all with their own (but frequently cross-listed) degree tracks and core faculty. Also, it results in seven new student orientations, five writing centers (for the undergraduate colleges), seven instructional technology departments, and so forth. Systematic integration of information/research literacy instruction (and assessment thereof) across the curricula of these institutions is central to my role, meaning I am in the process of strategizing a programmatic approach… factored by seven. Luckily, I love nothing so much as a challenge.

inverse productivity

I have spent my career in large/public research universities, and, having acclimated to that context, am finding that as I experience the transition to a small/private environment its distinctions are thrown into sharp relief. There is an inverse relationship between institutional girth and the rate of actualization of almost any deliverable, particularly those that occur at a organization-wide level. Meaning that, whereas I have been working on large initiatives that required considerable committee and task force collaboration and vetting from formal groups of representative stakeholders, I now find myself in a project-oriented environment in which small teams go forth and do, taking concept to buy-in to roll-out on a rapid timeline.

In the first four weeks I have spent here, this has translated into getting an immensely satisfying run of fun/interesting things off the ground. All have started small, all will hopefully build toward ongoing initiatives and larger goals, all are means of testing unfamiliar waters, and all are methods for understand my new colleagues, students, and faculty.

Therefore, each of the next few posts I write will be dedicated to one of these exercises in productive acclimation: Stay tuned for project curve, part one: maker breaks.

Posted by: char booth | 4 May 2011

ongoing goings-on.

I’ve been a bit slow on the blogging uptake lately, thanks to a full slate of projects and the massive learning curve that occurs when one starts an (excellent) new job, not to mention residual writing trauma after finishing RTEL. Future posts on all of the above are percolating, but I can at least share some of what has been eating my writing time, such as:

a) The slidecast of my 2011 ACRL invited paper: The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice:

Booth ACRL 2011 slidecast image

This was one of the most gratifying talks I have ever given, thanks to the audience humor/interactivity level and my own investment in the subject matter. The audio is clear despite my perennially terrible microphone etiquette, and the fact that these slidecasts are open for a full year at the virtual conference site (until April 2012) is a masterful stroke on ACRL’s part.

b) Another (extremely enjoyable) presentation I gave last Friday at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians 2011 meeting, an excellent regional conference among a tight-knit community of librarians:

I also had the good fortune to meet/share beers with some amazing current and future Wisconsin SLIS students – shoutout to Jenn Huck, Joe Morgan, and Brianna Marshall, among others.

Also,

c) Libraries and E-Content: Towards a More Universal Design, a post I wrote for the EQUACC blog (ALA Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content). The Task Force’s scope is wide ranging, and I’m involved in the work of the Accessibility sub-group specifically, the core of which is to raise awareness of accessibility challenges inherent to libraries and digital content.

Until I pull my head above water, signing off.

Posted by: char booth | 6 April 2011

post-acrl post.

Having returned home after nearly a full week in busted/beloved Philly, I’ve had a bit of time to process ACRL 2011. Based on my three times attending, it’s as close to a model conference as one can get in terms of on-point collaborative utility. I’ve invariably come away with contacts and tech/teaching strategies that have implementation potential, and venues are always thoughtfully chosen (win/win on the Academy of Fine Arts reception). It is also clear that much care is taken with the selection of content, and it is welcome to experience frustration at the overlap of quality programming rather than underwhelm at its dearth.

situated co-learning

I was encouraged that so much of this year’s conference was solidly instruction and assessment focused, validating my sense that academic librarians are engaging with the pedagogical missions of their institutions in a responsive and culturally conscious manner, and often in ways that challenge the traditional information literacy paradigm. Among the sessions I found most useful were Carrie Donovan, Dunstan McNutt, and Anthony Pash’s Instruction Deconstruction: Perspectives on Critical Information Literacy, Megan Sitar, Michelle Ostrow, and Cindy Fisher’s Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs, and Megan Oakleaf, Michelle Millet, and Rachel Fleming-May’s Evolution or Revolution? Strategies for Demonstrating the Library’s Impact in a New World of Assessment (make sure to check the conference schedule proper for their handouts, etc.: all three sessions have them at the ready).

From my podium-clutching perspective, it felt like the invited paper I gave went very well: the audience was extremely participatory, which breathes life into any content one might attempt to share with a group of people confined to chairs. My message was one of self-reflection and engagement with the teaching and learning side of one’s librarian identity, and a greater recognition of the communities of practice that comprise our institutions and our unique ability to perceive and create connections between them.

There is a live screencast available via the ACRL conference site through April 2012, or you can view my slides:

The crux: by focusing on communities of practice, engaging in situated and participatory learning, cultivating instructional literacy, and seeking a “good enough” mentality (e.g., neither striving for unattainable perfection nor being unfairly critical of our own efforts in the classroom, etc.), skill-building occurs organically and makes the process of designing learning objects and experiences more flexible and effective.

librarian as indicator species

The community of practice concept was affirmed by the conference itself: there was striking synchronicity of ideas between almost every teaching/learning session I attended. In my own case, this was particularly true of Carrie Donovan’s characterization of critical information literacy as a means of developing a shared professional identity as library educators. She described the challenge succinctly: traditional information literacy has focused more on the what of instruction than the why or how: in my book and in the ACRL preso, I have tried to emphasize that, particularly for teaching librarians who have not necessarily been trained in instructional techniques and design, the acquisition of skills can and should be an ongoing process over the course of one’s teaching experience.

In my talk I described an analogy I often use to engage students to think about the broader context of librarianship: the librarian as indicator species. That is, as a group of individuals possessing qualities representative of a thriving intellectual democracy (intellectual and social freedom, information access, intrinsic motivation) that are among the first to be threatened in times of strife and scarcity (case in point: now). It has always been clear to me that librarians share a collective sense of purpose, and that in the current climate we are considering our value and how it translates in the midst of a relentless paradigm shift. My belief is that when we discover the most authentic way to situate within our environments (rather than simply “embed”, which has always evoked images of librarian-as-projectile), we are able to demonstrate the value of our species rather than assume or describe it.

reflective practice

Recently inspired by one of Kenley Neufeld‘s own presentation moves, in the final minutes of the talk I asked attendees to leave me evidence of their experience of the event: that is, to write a brief synopsis, suggestion, impression, or question that would help me understand the what had transpired and its impact. I received hundreds of comments, and reading through them has been equally productive and emotionally exhausting (as any teacher or presenter knows, evaluating personal feedback of this nature, however positive, takes serious backbone). The insights I received expressed collectively faced teaching difficulties (not to mention the fact that my slide text is way too small), and unexpectedly revealed a widespread concern with relevance, efficacy, and simple library survival.

When I speak at a venue like ACRL, my goal is to express my own convictions and commitment to librarianship in a way that encourages my peers to see the depth of value in what they do and to productively assert this in their own context. While I received many comments validating this goal, one was by far the most powerful, and is something I am tempted to bedazzle and frame for inspiration in those inevitable work-is-killing-my-soul moments:

"You may have saved my career" card.

Many thanks to whomever wrote this, for a) making me feel like the work I poured into this presentation was worthwhile, and b) encouraging me to always remember that there is value in acknowledging the most challenging aspects of our experience.

The power of our community of practice is that, whether in venues like ACRL or in the day-to-day of the workplace, when we engage with one another we are able to perceive ourselves in a different (and often vastly more sustainable) light.

Posted by: char booth | 28 March 2011

preso projection: acrl 2011.

Having successfully shifted from one end of California to the other and into (among other wonderful abodes) this unbelievably dreamy airstream office space, airstream officeI can finally hammer the last rivets into the subject of this post: the invited paper I will be giving this Thursday at ACRL 2011: The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice.* Per usual there were twenty-nine directions I wanted to go with this talk, and as always I tried to keep down it to a manageable three (or less, god willing). In a nutshell:

Whereas librarians in higher education

1) are uniquely suited to facilitating academic growth through objective interpersonal and intellectual mentorship,

2) are unequivocally equipped to observe, understand, and reflect our academic communities,

3) and possess an unassailably strong conviction of our enduring purpose and value,

we can become situated educators, melding to our contexts, leading our efforts with instructional literacy, and engaging our constituents with critical inquiry.

These ideas have been percolating over years of library instruction and while researching and writing my recent book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. With luck my presentation will express the entirety of these convictions, in a heart-plus-brain-on-sleeve style. There is a podcast preview at ACRL Insider, if you’re so inclined.

root pitching

It’s always odd submitting a presentation proposal or description months or even a year before the fact, the point at which you need to lock in a subject that you know full well will flex by the date of delivery. In my experience, a title and summary pitch should consist half of what will signify interest and utility to a prospective audience, and half of tactical vagueness that should, when the time comes to actually do the work, remind me what I committed to speaking about while so specifically as to preclude inevitable adjustments. Because I tend to digress and run on and change things down to the last minute, at the root of it all should be an idea or conviction strong enough to withstand shifts in time and perspective.

My root for this particular talk is that librarians are de facto educators, teaching in the briefest moments and interactions. We help individuals discover their intrinsic motivation, feel confident in their own intellectual enthusiasm, and be honest about what they need and want to know, and why. We are academic confidants and counselors, and we are a persistent (and often vulnerable) aspect of a representative knowledge economy. We support the contents of people’s interrogative character and make no judgments about rightness, only feasibility. We understand our organizations, customizing our content to disciplinary and cultural needs, exposing connections, affordances, and efficiencies within complex systems that might otherwise remain hidden. It is this work that should be recognized as vital, and cultivated for what it is: essential, and unique.

channeling convictions

In general and despite the gnawing anxiety factor, I tend to enjoy teaching and presenting. One of the reasons is the singularly raw energy they create, which, if channeled productively, manifests in a strong and/or slightly bizarre delivery. When I present and/or teach it is typically on some aspect of librarianship, a craft for which I possess inordinate amounts of enthusiasm. When I communicate my thoughts on its more personal derivations (research, culture/context, technology, access, education), I have noticed that this admittedly begins to resemble something closer to possession. As in channeling, testifying, being caught by the spirit. Demons out.

Enthusiasm for something like librarianship or [insert 99% of all job titles here] can be difficult to explain to those external to its orbit: the range of rationales that call an individual to one profession or subject over another are vast. Once you are within a particular niche, much of the impetus drawing you towards its center becomes inscrutable to others. This is the same struggle that occurs in front of a live or virtual classroom: maintaining one’s motivation for a subject while attempting to engender enough of it in others to sustain their attention. The trick is, it is precisely the conviction that does the convincing.

My conviction in teaching and librarianship is rooted in a sense of rightness, a recognition that not only am I doing what I was set on this earth to do, but that this act is undeniably good. While there are plenty of other things I can imagine doing day in and day out, few feel as accurate, fitting, justifiable, and altruistic a match for me than librarian. I believe in what I do, and further the necessity of our existence is the core to our definition and redefinition and the locus of our contribution to society, individuals, and the learning collective.

situating library education

Which brings me back to the talk in question. I am exploring librarians’ educational impact on the academy and the researchers and learners who comprise it, and, how we can extend this impact by building our convictions in the form of instructional literacy. In the panoply of literacies, instructional literacy is an awareness of ourselves as teachers and the cultivation of the complex array of skills and convictions this implies. By cultivating these skills and applying them in communities we have taken measures to understand, librarians can become situated educators, that is, strategic, participatory, and engaged for greater pedagogical impact.

Be there or be square.

* Thursday the 31st from 3:15 to 4:15 in the Marriott Liberty Ballroom.

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