project curve, part seven: open access publishing for learner engagement (aka oa ftw).

A note on my recent radio silence: these days I am doing more and writing less. While it is excellent to be this active with different sides of working life, I am consistently nagged by a lengthening list of events/ideas left unexplored in this venue. As unpleasant as allowing my compositional muscles to atrophy might be, the strict surfing and meditation regimen required to maintain (relative) sanity at this breakneck pace means that, for the duration, info-mational will remain infrequent and thoughtful rather than frequent and uninspired. So here goes.

My last project curve post described the teaching and assessment portfolios my coworkers and I are building for first-year instruction programs at the Claremont Colleges Library. This installment explores two recent Claremont collaborations that show the effect that expanding the audience of undergraduate academic work – preferably via publishing in open access forums – can have on learner engagement.

publishing as pedagogy

When dissemination is part of the pedagogical process (as opposed to a non-starter or an afterthought) it can build transformative learner insight into what it means to participate in a community of practice. Writing for a wider audience at the undergraduate level is a springboard for the cultivation of a student’s voice, interests, and expertise, and can expand the meaning of an assignment beyond a graded exercise. At its best, published undergraduate research can provide a substantive contribution to a knowledge area. And the larger and more realistic the audience, the more compelling and potentially significant the experience.

Extending a project’s reach beyond an instructor or small group of peers can not only make a significant impact on the quality and depth of student work; it can augment the effectiveness of research instruction and librarian collaboration. This can be achieved at a range of skill and disciplinary levels via traditional and/or social media. Over the past year I’ve worked closely with student publication in two main contexts, which I’ll explore toward the end of this post:

1) oa thesis uploads. An Environmental Analysis curriculum mapping collaboration that includes requiring seniors to submit their theses to Scholarship @ Claremont, our open access (OA) repository.

2) writing for wikipedia. An Intro to Political Science course at Pomona College in which groups of students wrote Wikipedia articles instead of term papers, part of a programmatic effort to transform Wikipedia through student assignments.

getting in on the scholarly conversation

If scholarship thrives on the exchange of ideas in public forums, it is critical to introduce students to the complicated experience of contributing to open discourse and mentor them in the social/academic accountability it entails. In my experience, this dynamic is too often absent from undergraduate pedagogy, or happens on a scale that is less than effective. Involving learners in the process of scholarship (as opposed to requiring them to mimic or witness it) invariably makes for more meaningful research and writing experiences. If a reading public looms, stakes are raised, concepts carry more weight, and the conversation invariably becomes more absorbing.

Publishing for learner engagement has been part of the undergraduate experience for years, long exemplified in the sciences by co-authored student/faculty publications stemming from collaborative laboratory research. More recently it is gaining ground in the social sciences and humanities through ongoing upload yours buttoncurricular integration of social and participatory media, technology-based disciplinary developments such as digital humanities, student peer review journals, and the establishment of library-supported open access digital repositories. (The highly dignified button at right is a recent outreach strategy designed in part to clarify the purpose of Scholarship @ Claremont, which I have noticed can be somewhat obscure to students.)

From a theoretical perspective, writing for publication falls squarely in the realm of constructivist and critical pedagogy – it is far more empowering to invite learners to participate in the scholarly conversation than it is to compel them to watch it pass with varying degrees of (dis)interest. This encourages a shift in the instructional dynamic toward teaching from a peer-based standpoint, one in which there is the expectation of and mentorship for quality work. (For ideas on how to utilize critical pedagogy in your teaching practice, I highly recommend Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods.)

libraries as community publishers: sxswi 2012

I recently had occasion to explore these ideas while sharing an awesome SXSW Interactive panel with Amy Buckland, Nate Hill, and Michael Porter. Our session considered different angles on libraries as storytelling/publishing platforms: developing a collaborative econtent initiative and infrastructure (Michael), libraries as digital maker spaces (Nate), and collecting and publishing student work via library-supported digital repositories and in open access forums (me). A recurring theme concerned libraries as spaces for knowledge production as well as consumption: a common digital-transitional narrative in libraryland.

My chunk of the presentation described the rationale behind cultivating student contributions to scholarly repositories, creating assignments that contribute to Wikipedia, and even simple act of encouraging students to publish exemplary work as means of active engagement in scholarly communication (session audio, my bit starts at about 40% in). You can see our full SXSWi presentation on Amy’s slideshare space.

I reference several theorists (Dewey, Freire, Mezirow, hooks), all of whom are radical, critical, and/or feminist pedagogues committed to breaking down the  “banking” model in (higher) education and (adult) learning. Freire’s banking notion challenges the concept of student as knowledge repository empty and waiting to be filled by a knowledgeable pedagogue, as well as the proliferation of rote assignments disconnected from active engagement. The familiar process that attends student assignments at the undergraduate level involves submitting work to a grading vacuum in which evaluation is conducted but substantive feedback or lasting products rarely escape (admittedly more often based on student to faculty ratio than some failing on the part of an instructor). In other words: assignments disappear, grades appear.

hindsight shortsight

I will happily admit that my own experience of writing in college was more meaningful than most. I attended a fancy liberal arts college at which detailed feedback from faculty was emphasized, yet I still recall feeling a sense of detachment from work that I knew would effectively vanish from the face of the earth after being evaluated by one pair of eyes. Same story with my graduate degrees: paper upon paper into to the grading vortex, and where is that work now?

There was one important exception to this rule. My culminating act as a Reed College student was producing a year-long, intensive senior thesis (the title of thesis parade, reed collegewhich I now find almost incomprehensible), a requirement for graduation of all students and the apex of our experience.

Beyond the camaraderie, commiseration, and ritual burning this entailed, the knowledge that one copy of my project would be bound in the “thesis tower” and another would circulate in the Library’s stacks were wonderful motivators. As a group, seniors wanted to produce interesting work, real scholarship that we could be proud to share with others years down the line. (That said, we also had a tradition of sliding a $10 bill into our tower copies and coming back years later to see if the money remained: someone with few scruples could make a killing up there.)

I loved my thesis and threw my heart into it. The opportunity to undertake the in-depth development of my own ideas in the context of broader scholarship was formative and memorable, and dramatically sharpened my abilities. The project was skillfully written, and (I thought) was well researched and respectfully attributed.

I have since come to realize that there were actually gaping holes in my inquiry and composition process. For example, JSTOR was the only article database I consulted, and my scan-happy, cavalier image (non)attribution style would have sent my better-informed current self running for cover. The confines of the thesis tower meant that these problems could hide in relative safety – I had an audience, but not a persistently critical one that extended beyond of the comfort zone of my academic community. I faced an orals board and deposited my copy on a shelf with thousands of others, but at that point the communicative life of my thesis effectively ended.

1) upload this: environmental analysis theses

The first OA publishing collaboration example I’ll discuss is an intervention for this exact problem. A crucial aspect of the curriculum mapping & visualization work I and my colleagues are engaging in at Claremont involves building research literacy at the capstone level in preparation for published, open access thesis and project uploads.

A senior capstone is a powerful opportunity to invite students to participate in the process of scholarship as a peer and contributor. Long the mainstay of liberal arts education, large research institutions such as UCLA are beginning to recognize the value of senior capstones as a unique and culminating aspect of the undergraduate experience (Kelly Miller, Sharon Farb, and Reed Wilson recently discussed the challenges of Collecting Undergraduate Research at UCLA during an interesting session at ER&L 2012).

The conceptual learning opportunities involved in publishing capstone work are legion – everything from conducting exhaustive research to high-level information evaluation and synthesis to bibliographic style to issues of fair use and information privilege. Had I known that my own thesis would be available for the wider world and that a collaborating librarian provided an active resource for triaging the larger and lesser issues I faced, I am certain that I would have connected more clearly with the responsibilities of rigorous scholarship (I might even have been able to publish my thesis in another venue without a cease and desist letter.) Required/supported inclusion of my thesis in an open institutional repository could have provided both context and impetus for a) understanding and b) paying far more attention to those publicly problematizing aspects of my work.

Science Librarian Sean Stone and I worked closely with Environmental Analysis seniors this Fall to prepare their theses for publication in Scholarship @ Claremont, a fascinating ea thesis page in scholarship @ claremontand validating experience. We focused our efforts on the outcomes described above, and led with the message that thesis work can and should make an important contribution to the scholarly conversation. We conducted instruction sessions in two thesis seminars, designing an open access, interdisciplinary, and research “case study”-themed libguide using selected student thesis proposals, and conducting many 1-1 research appointments, a three-part approach which went over very well. In these contexts I was able to support students through many of the struggles I faced (and steer them around the pitfalls).

Assessments of this project have proved quite positive – qualitative and quantitative student feedback demonstrates deeper engagement with resources and a new level of awareness of open access scholarship. Sean I find ourselves cited in student acknowledgements, and EA program Director Char Miller has noted unequivocally that the collaboration resulted in better-quality, more in-depth research. Moreover, students are the proud owners of a dedicated page in Scholarship @ Claremont and find themselves indexed in Google Scholar and other OA repositories, able to track downloads and citations of their projects – all powerful resume fodder, particularly within a growing and applied field such as EA wherein many new graduates will enter the field as practitioners and professionals. Win win win.

2) writing for wikipedia: student-created poli sci articles

The second OA publishing collaboration I’ll outline is best framed as part of an ongoing movement to improve Wikipedia through student editing and writing. Last week I had the distinct pleasure of reading five newly-published Wikipedia articles written this term by groups of Pomona College students in (the awesome) Professor Amanda Hollis-Brusky’s Introduction to American Politics class:

Issue Voting
Unfunded Mandate
Greenhouse effect (judicial drift)
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Ethics and Public Policy Center

(Read them, rate them, edit them: that’s the point.)

These topics were identified by Prof H-B as either having no existing article or only “stubs” (short explanatory blurbs). Groups of 3-4 students were tasked with creating rigorously researched, unbiased entries that would withstand the scrutiny of Wikipedia uber-editors, not to mention the broader editing public. Over the course of the semester my colleague Sara Lowe and I collaborated with Professor H-B on assignment design, as well as with each group on ways in which concepts such as sourcing, attribution, bias, and authority could support their research and process.

Our goal was to help students produce articles of such unassailable quality that, in addition to not being flagged as problematic based on Wikipedia’s editing criteria, they would provide a useful and comprehensive resource for those who encountered them in the future. We blended a critical analysis of Wikipedia as sara poli 3 forehead gamea ubiquitously used yet perennially derided source of information with more traditional information literacy concepts. Our instruction was course integrated, consisting of a class visit early in the term to discuss Wikipedia as a cultural phenomenon and information platform, a hands-on session on research strategies, a libguide, training in Wikipedia authoring techniques, group appointments to review successive article drafts, and generally supporting the process as it unfolded. We’re in the midst of watching three days of student presentations on the project (see Sara posing as “judicial activism” during one group’s super-creative version of a post-presentation quiz), after which we’ll conduct a more formal assessment of the assignment.

This collaboration was easily one of the most valuable I’ve ever undertaken with a class, and has thoroughly convinced me of Wikipedia’s power as a viable platform for student engagement through writing for an actual, critical audience. The students’ work stands on its own merits – balanced and for the most part painstakingly attributed to a level readily acknowledged by Professor H-B. We had many critical conversations about who creates information in Wikipedia versus more transitional, peer-reviewed sources, how, and why: all gateways into information literacy concepts that held learner attention in significantly more lasting ways. I also heard positive feedback during the process about how much students appreciated the process of creating something that others could actually use, including comments like “I’m going to share the link with my friends and tell them I wrote it” and (not kidding here) “this is the best assignment ever.” Debriefing with Prof. H-B and student assessment will shed light on outcomes and what to tweak, but in all I’d say this is a wonderful model to pursue in other scenarios.

The products of student work in this case is rare for undergrads: textual objects that will continue to grow and develop, providing an ongoing platform for building critical insight into who creates the information we consume, and how, and why. To explore future opportunities to use Wikipedia as an information and research literacy platform, I’ve decided to apply to be a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador for the Claremont Colleges – an interesting program that creates possibilities for productive dialogue and pedagogical creativity, and I encourage teaching librarians to take a look.

advocating for openness

In sum, publication-based assignments emphasize the role and requirements of public discourse and build learner accountability. Librarians have concrete responsibilities and opportunities on this front. We are well positioned to encourage the dissemination of student work in open forums, many of which we are intimately acquainted with and/or maintain. We can identify and pursue these prospects with faculty and students and collaborate to ensure the best possible realization, and in so doing become more critically and holistically involved in the learning experience of our user communities.

Advocating for responsible and rigorous OA scholarship takes a great deal of peer and user education, not to mention marketing and message coordination – Claremont’s tireless Digital Initiatives Librarian Allegra Gonzalez comes to mind, who (literally) never stops providing learning opportunities around open scholarship and our digital repository. When teaching librarians collaborate with repository wranglers, fair, critical, and open information consumption and production can become an integral part of the overall learning experience.

Obligatory caveats: not all student work is publishable, so I’m not advocating that every paper should be pushed into the light of day. To be sure, undergraduates should learn the processes of writing and research in order to produce work that can stand the test of peer review. Also, publishing work at the undergraduate level raises issues of future negative impacts on career, a scenario which often creates heated discussions among students and faculty (also the reason repositories typically have limited IP download or after-the-fact work removal clauses). These issues compel important and challenging conversations around advocacy, responsibility, and the lasting impact of information sharing: topics too often overlooked, so bring on the debates.

My hope is that more educators and librarians begin to develop opportunities for expanding the audience of student work, whether through an institutional repository, Wikipedia, or other digital media. When we introduce students to the uncomfortable/amazing sensation of putting their ideas in the public eye and its related skills and responsibilities, we offer them the chance to experience the products of their labor on a critically meaningful level.

xoxo, ccl

Last but not least: I realized this morning that it’s the anniversary (so to speak) of my arrival at the Claremont College Library – heartfelt thanks, colleagues/students/friends, for an incredible first year.


project curve, part six: collaborative instruction portfolios.

My last post described our increasingly fantastic rolling library project (check out a recent v-day Maker Break cart excursion and a alendar developed using the free version of LibCal). This post focuses on something considerably more stationary: collaborative teaching portfolios, one area discussed in a recent SCILWorks 2012 presentation given by myself and my two Instruction Services comrades, Science Librarian Sean Stone and Instruction Librarian Natalie Tagge.

The theme of the conference was strategies for “The Ubiquitous One-Shot,” so our aim was to explore curriculum mapping, rubrics, and portfolios, three interrelated efforts at the Claremont Colleges Library that are being used to better understand and target the collective teaching and outreach efforts of our community of librarians, which are (is as so often the case) frequently packaged in one (or two)-shot course-related workshops.

First, preso details and slide deck:

Methods Behind the (One-Shot) Madness: Enhancing Instruction through Mapping, Portfolios, and Rubrics

In-class techniques and e-learning tips can undeniably improve one-shot sessions, but collaborative management and outcomes-driven assessment of an overall instruction program is key to increasing instructor effectiveness and student learning in even the briefest of interactions. This presentation explores three pilot initiatives designed to build a structured and strategic framework behind “traditional” undergraduate instruction at the Claremont Colleges Library: instructor portfolios, curriculum mapping, and information literacy rubrics. Instructor portfolios collect teaching materials, student work, and coordinated evaluations in an integrative attempt to holistically assess one-shot library instruction from the perspective of faculty, students and librarians. Curriculum and knowledge mapping is a way of visualizing the path a learner takes through a discipline, department, or degree, as well as an engaging planning and brainstorming tool. Rubrics help define specific student outcomes as well as provide a quantifiable tool for assessment of information literacy skills.  When applied in tandem, these approaches can be used to gather powerful insight into the learner experience and create the impetus for more collaborative, creative, and lasting library instruction.

Our core message was that no one-shot is an island. Library instruction should be aware of and integrated within a wider learning context at the institutional and organizational levels, a process that requires planning, coordination, and reflection outside of the virtual or physical classroom (and preferably among colleagues). By taking steps to investigate and strategize in respect to a broader learning culture, even the briefest teaching interactions can be better organized in advance and have more impact during and after the moment of instruction.

portfolios as vortex abatement

Instructor portfolios provide a planning and evaluation platform for all of these temporal phases. Portfolio assessment has been applied in student learning and instructional development contexts for many years. A constructivist approach to achieving what Natalie described in our presentation as “holistic assessment”, portfolios are a collection of elements or assignments that, compiled over time, provide a fuller picture of a given learning experience. At the process’ completion, specific elements or the portfolio in its entirety can be reviewed and revised, thus creating a sense of progress and continuity as well as a coherent, intentional body of output.

Portfolios are often an individual exercise, but can also be used to excellent effect within a community of practice. For some time I have compiled simple personal portfolios of my own teaching efforts (e.g., a virtual folder and sometimes supplementary tangible file of course-related materials and assignments, planning docs, etc. I use with a class, presentation, or training). This is a productive process, but I have always been irked by the fact that so many useful templates and teaching materials are relegated to what is in effect an instructional vortex: e.g., my own machine or in clouds only I can access. I am also regularly vexed by the fact that, while I appreciate being able to see and learn from the strategies and approaches of my colleagues, they are similarly squirreled away in the deep space doldrums of digital and physical filing cabinets.

Our local project augmented the positive aspects of personal portfolios by using them as the basis of a shared, programmatic attempt to understand and assess a first-year library instruction program. This provided a structured basis for assessment and communication as well as reducing the all-too-common invisibility of individual compilations of instructional materials.

id1 portfolio project

This effort involved ten teaching librarians at CCL, who worked collaboratively over Fall 2011 to create virtual teaching portfolios for each of the 29 sections of our first-year library instruction program at Pomona College (known as Critical Inquiry: ID1). With no set syllabus or definitive subject area, ID1 courses range across disciplines, vary according to assigned faculty, and require a great deal of faculty/librarian communication and customization of course content and teaching strategies. In the past, librarians taught their respective ID1 sections largely independently and employed no common methods of evaluation, which, while fostering highly customized strategies and content, also resulted in a distributed teaching experience with minimal internal contact or collaboration.

Based on these strengths and constraints, I initially conceived the portfolio project to bring CCL teaching librarians together in a forum that would achieve three objectives:

1 To create collective librarian, student, and faculty assessment strategies that could be used in diverse teaching scenarios,

2 produce a robust archive of course-related and library instructional materials, and

3 foster collaborative ownership of the focus and outcomes of ID1 library involvement while also preserving individualized teaching strategies.

A longer-term goal was to test whether instructor portfolios might be scaled to other first-year and disciplinary teaching initiatives across the seven Claremont Colleges.

community (of practice) building

Instead of imposing the work these objectives required in a top-down manner (bad move for a new instruction coordinator), the hope was that a collegial process would identify points of common interest and generate buy-in and skill-sharing among participating librarians, thus facilitating group and individual instruction outcomes while teaching myself and several other CCL newcomers about the needs and priorities of our colleagues and the programs we work with.

The portfolio-building process was simple. We:

a) co-developed common assessment strategies for students, faculty, and librarians during a pre-instruction retreat, then deployed each evaluation at different points during the semester,

b) collected and uploaded course-related materials over the course of the term for each of our class sections (between 1-6 per librarian), and

c) met in a post-instruction retreat to reflect on our experience and evaluations in order to assess the project and inform future iterations.

sakai portfolio exampleStructurally, the local learning management system (Sakai) provided the basis for portfolio management, an enduring authenticated space involving little to no learning curve on the part of librarians.

This initiative revolved around each individual librarian or teaching pair conducting specific tasks at different points during the semester, such as uploading assignments and sending faculty surveys. Therefore, a portfolio checklist that laid out tasks and timing (the bright idea of Natalie Tagge) plus a few email reminders over the term aligned efforts and managed the weight of additional work that may otherwise have made the process unscalable.

collective assessment

The process of meeting in retreat to vet and revise student, faculty, and librarian assessment instruments was among the most valuable aspects of this process. In a situation where each librarian(s) communicates closely with a faculty member to customize instruction, common assessment strategies can be particularly difficult to achieve. In the case of the portfolio, I drafted initial student (end of class) and faculty (post-class and end-of-term) surveys and developed a group critique activity for our first portfolio retreat wherein three small groups critiqued and suggested revisions for each questionnaire, which significantly changed (and vastly improved) the assessments.

Student and faculty surveys were created in Google Docs and collectively administered so that responses fed into a common and transparent data pool, but were also subdivided for each class portfolio so that individual instructors could view their own evaluations separate from the group. Survey returns varied based on delivery method, with sizeable participation from students but much lower rates among faculty (revisions that will address this issue in subsequent portfolio projects is to develop an in-class instrument for faculty and adjust timing of the final assessment). For purposes of self-evaluation librarians completed and uploaded a three-question reflection shortly after their last in-class interaction with students, a strategy which prompted them to consider a positive and negative aspect of the learning interaction, as well as to identify an area for future improvement.

Students completed post-instruction evals in-class (typically embdedded as tabs in course guides) at a 59% rate of participation, while faculty post-instruction and end of term surveys (20% and 7%, respectively) were delivered to faculty via email. We also sent faculty end-of-term requests for anonymous examples of poor, average, and excellent student work. The feedback received from students was extremely valuable both on an aggregate and individual instructor level, providing concrete input into strengths and improvement areas (see below image for an excerpt of our evaluations). Faculty (post-instruction and end of term) and student survey instruments are available online.

student assessment exampleAlthough student work examples were submitted by only one faculty member, discussing these anonymized papers (which included the instructor’s comments and grades) during our post-instruction retreat was among the most valuable exercises of the project. Our instruction so frequently catches students mid-stream that library educators aren’t often able to view authentic course output, effectively cutting us off from the very outcomes we hope to achieve. It is an eye-opening experience to understand the level and quality of student writing and research skills, and to gain insight into faculty evaluation priorities.

archiving instruction

An important deliverable of this project is that it creates an lasting, annualized archive of the cumulative efforts, learning objects, and outcomes related to a given instruction program on both the course and aggregate level. This strategy addresses previously mentioned preparation/assessment vortex that is created when teaching librarians collect and archive their work solely in inaccessible spaces – huge amounts of valuable syllabi, assignment prompts, handouts, exercises, slide decks, and assessments that, if organized and shared collegially, could inform stronger institutional communication and practice and vastly reduce duplication of effort.

Portfolio projects of this nature also streamline group efforts and produce ready programmatic evidence of instructional effectiveness and outcomes, crucial to the processes of accreditation, review, and value demonstration so many academic libraries are engaged in. The approach can be easily scaled to smaller and larger programs and participant groups, and can utilize many other learning/project management tools such as Google Apps or an institutional intranet – anything that provides a secure but accessible location to house instructional materials and evaluations.

aligning efforts

Perhaps most importantly, compiling and designing this project as a group fostered a transformative and project-based instructor development environment which was, to quote Jack Mezirow, “more inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of experience.”(1) At our post-retreat, participating librarians characterized the portfolio project as a valuable exercise that increased the sense of community and collective effort in an intensive teaching scenario, additional work that they found well worth the effort. We assessed involved learners and stakeholders in a voluntary and structured manner, empowering participating librarians with the ability to contribute views and suggestions we well as learn from their peers. In other words, our portfolio project combated the all-to-common satellite/black hole effect in academic library instructional design and assessment while  facilitating shared learning among a community of practitioners.

A significant number of revisions offered by the group will be included in the next iteration of this and other portfolio projects, including the aforementioned revised faculty evaluation strategies, collaborative rubrics of librarian content and teaching competencies that would align our messages while preserving teaching autonomy, as well as longer pre- and post-retreats.

Stay tuned for the next project curve post, topic ytbd.

(1) Mezirow, Jack. Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 74, Summer 1997. p 5.

project curve, part five: library on wheels.

It’s been a spell since I wrote for the project curve series, but not for lack of inspiration: my inaugural Fall semester at Claremont was an engaging blur of teaching, trying, making, and doing, leaving me for the first time in a long while with scarce time to write. Which leads me to compose

a CCLove note

heart on speeve graphic

I wanted to wind the first half-year at my new organization down with a salute to my fabulous new CCL colleagues, whom I have come to know (and love) over the past months. I work among dedicated/creative individuals who take a heart-on-sleeve approach to pretty much everything they do, which fosters an excellent level of service and a close and supportive community of endeavor.

Thank you all for your energy, dedication, and up-for-it attitude: I am proud of the work that we do, as should we all be. This feeling extends into the student, faculty, and staff community of the Claremont Colleges, where I have felt welcomed/included/ challenged: taking stock, I couldn’t feel more at home.

the mobile shift: not exactly news

Now, down to project business. Mobile platforms and services have become one of the most handily bandied-about concepts in libraryland over the last few years, and for very good reason. Recent research from ECAR, PIL (pdf), and Pew (among others) documents a mobile shift in personal and academic connectivity, communication, and access among learners. My own research for the Council of Chief Librarians of California Community Colleges in 2011 examined in part the receptivity of participants to mobile library functionality, which resoundingly confirmed mobile trends. Figure 27  shows mobile library interest among smartphone/web-enabled mobile device owners, which represented 56% (N=1,453) of our five-campus survey population (CCL LTES Final Report, p. 36).

Chart showing mobile device receptivity, CCL LTES 2011 Project report

In all categories, a majority of respondents indicated they were very or fairly likely to use mobile library content, research, and support options from their device, significantly higher than other technology applications such as location-based services and social media (with the exception of a Facebook and YouTube). See Figure 26 (ibid., p 34).

Chart showing receptivity to social, etc. library technology services, CCL LTES 2011 Report

the other mobile

While crucial to acknowledge growing patron demand for mobile access, it is also important to consider historic and more contemporary manifestations of mobile services, and the actionable attributes they share with the device trend (e.g., bookmobiles, Street Reference and other roving models, all of which call upon portability, flexibility, and a degree of informality).

One such example is the “Library on Wheels”, a recent slant on peripatetic librarianship that we’ve been experimenting with at CCL this term.

Picture of Sean Stone and library cart

The brainchild of Science Librarian Sean Stone (pictured), what began as a no-frills vendor pushcart has been transformed into the cheapest branch library there ever was. Ringing in at about $2500 (with shipping) from a company called Big Top Carts, a semi-hefty initial purchase has provided a priceless answer to our relatively unique problem of providing outreach and research services to seven contiguous campuses. Several of the Claremont Colleges are quite distanced from the physical Library – Harvey Mudd and Pitzer in particular – making the cart an excellent means of reaching students and faculty on their own turf. (It also helps that we are in Southern California, making outdoor outreach a year-long possibility.)

cart staffing

Librarians typically take the cart to a given campus for a shift of 1-2 hours during peak student foot traffic times, e.g., lunch or between classes. On a typical outing, the Mobile Library is loaded with everything from a laptop to water to flyers to buttons to other branding/marketing materials to craft supplies to free gift books, plus extra swag and edibles at special events. It’s heavy but by no means impossible to maneuver, providing (imho) an excellent quad/glut workout on hills. Timing and placement of the forays are key, so we are building a custom Google Map of cart locations and spots for flyering, etc. on each of the Claremont campuses as we discover them.

ccl cart outreach map

number/nature/quality of interactions

The cart is so garishly eye-catching (whether stationary or in motion) that it’s almost impossible to walk past without at least consciously attempting to ignore. In the first four months of Mobile Library activity, we have logged well over of two thousand cart-based interactions, both in typical “shifts” on the campuses as well as over the course special events (outreach gold mines that I’ll describe in greater detail below).

With a combined FTE of around 6,000 at the Colleges, I read this as a relatively incredible achievement in terms of raw community penetration. Using the cart this term has facilitated an untold number of new user impressions, shared Library messages, learned faces, and new connections. Sean and Natalie Tagge, Instruction Services colleagues, Mobile Libray program managers, and the most frequent cart wranglers, report anything from between 15-50 interactions in a typical one or two-hour shift, staffed solo or with a partner. At a recent event outside the dining hall at Scripps College, my colleague Sara Lowe logged over 130 interactions in a single hour.

students at library cartInvariably, interactions include significant reference or research-related queries. Ongoing transaction logs and statistics-tracking indicate that everything from friendly (or incredulous) interactions to informational queries to in-depth reference transactions with students/faculty/staff occur.

(service) personality shift

As Science Librarian, Sean in particular has observed that cart forays are an excellent way to build relationships with faculty and students who, though physically elusive, may be heavy digital users with important collection and service input. The Mobile Library provides a literal just-in-time resource, wherein students can stop by and ask a random question they may not have tracked us down for, but that materialized when the cart was spotted. These “drive-by’ interactions are infinitely more difficult to achieve when not pounding the pavement to the respective Colleges.

At the cart, my own service ethic changes: I have found that it is impossible to be passive. Not unlike a carnival barker, I find myself hollering, huckstering, beckoning, cajoling, and gesturing people over. Some approach out of curiosity, others out of recognition. At a desk, the atmosphere is far more internalized and quiet, more appropriate for a library but sometimes perpetuating the unapproachability complex that so many of us struggle with. In my experience, roving reference inside a library is sometimes met with incredulity – somehow, open-air approachability cuts down on the Library narc/hall monitor effect.

holiday/thematic shtick 

halloween cart posterThemed forays and cart-wheeling to special campus events are proving particularly useful, and there are no end to holiday-related ideas. The presence of the cart is far more visible than a simple table setup, hence more effective at attracting attention and sustaining presence. When we collectively staffed the 5-college “Turf Dinner”, an orientation gathering of student organizations early in the term, we made contact with over four hundred (mostly first-year) students, handing out information/swag and making sure they left with a clear Library impression of accessibly quirky and involved approachability.

sean in banana costumeA Halloween cart event was hugely successful, rolling to the five undergraduate colleges and handing out candy, etc. on an open sign-up basis for all Library staff, many in full costume. Over the course of the day, we interacted with upwards of seven hundred students, also succeeding in serious staff bonding.

Most recently, Natalie spearheaded mobile “Research Therapy” hours at each campus, providing last-minute support and sustenance to students during crunch-time, handing out free books, and accepting items as a mobile return system. Again, we reached over 300 across the campuses. At the wrong place at the wrong time, however, the numbers can be quite low – during a Research Therapy foray to the Claremont Graduate University (my first cart visit to that college) I only interacted with a handful of individuals over the space of an hour. That said, all engaged in long conversations, providing ready Library feedback, asking questions, and giving strategic insight about cart timing and placement.

research therapytriage & next steps

Aside from the fact that the plexi exoskeleton is in danger of chipping when you accidentally ram into something, the cart is working beautifully (that this is my only complaint speaks volumes). We recently held a Skillshare discussion in which we developed a daily cart outreach schedule to try on a more regular basis in Spring – Sean is developing a public Cart Calendar that will show hours and locations on a more permanent basis. Collective brainstorming produced simple ideas for improvement (such as a card rolodex on deck and a magnetic letterboard for changeable signage, among other small improvements). Eventually, we’re thinking of tagging the cart somehow and having it register on a dynamic location map – more on that in the future, I hope.

Final thought: Hats off to Sean, Natalie, Sara, and all others who have poured sweat and mashed toes into this experiment: big win for the home team.

Stay tuned to the next round of project curve, part seven: curriculum mapping, revisited/reflected.

love your library button templates (and more): project curve, part one revisited.

A while back I started this series with a post on ‘love your library’ buttons, maker breaks, and other handmade projects we’re working on at the Claremont Colleges Library. After about five months of trying pins out in different outreach contexts and reworking the designs to various ends, I can unequivocally vouch for the soundness of a library button press purchase. These tiny objects are eminently appreciated: students love them, faculty love them, staff love them, librarians love them, patrons love them, parents love them. Cheap and easy, plus local elbow grease (as opposed to outsourcing) tugs at heartstrings… how can you lose?

repurposing and social making

A brief aside before I get to the templates. When you start turning out diy marketing materials, it definitely behooves to always consider how you can 1) take one product and remake it in another venue (aka design recycling) and 2) make the making itself an engaging community-of-practice activity  (e.g., we’re holding pressing parties at orientation and other times of dire need).

Here are a few examples of 1), or how we’re starting to rework the original love your library concept into other materials and forums (and much thanks to Alex Chappell for the awesome button photo, Natalie Tagge for the Illustrator work and maker party action, and Sheree Fu for busting out the stickers):

drop-in workshop flyer
drop-in workshop flyer
love yr library libguides box
libguides box
love yr library sticker
multipurpose sticker

button press templates

Ever since I posted about the button press, I’ve been getting requests from other maker librarians for template trades. Without further ado, here are several downloadable button designs. All I ask is that if you use any of these and it works out for you, consider sending the following my way in one forum or another:

a)    a pic of the final product in action

b)    a descriptive comment on this post, and/or

c)    a template design of your own in return (I’ll spread the word if you like by adding yours to this post or SlideShare or linking to its location).


All of these are made for a 1’’ button press and circle cutter (I haven’t tried them in a larger system, although they would likely scale up fine) and are creative commons sharealike for non-commercial purposes. When you print on 8.5×11 paper, don’t “fit to printable area” as a setting (it will scale the designs down by a few percentage points: not the end of the world but noticeably smaller during the cutting phase). Advanced makers: please charbooth at gmail me if you’re interested in the .ai files.

Some of the templates are pre-heartstamped and colored for those time-pressed among you, while others are blank: you can customize by printing on fancy paper and stamping your own designs or take a finished template and run. The last and simplest template can be imported into InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop, etc. and used to build new buttons from scratch.

View more templates, presentations, and docs from char booth.

Happy making, and love your library.

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.


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.

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 items

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 *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:

We have a ProfDevLib Featured List in Blais:

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.


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.

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.

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.

open access as pedagogy.

I’ve long preached the message of open access publication/sharing of student work via platforms like OA institutional repositories and Wikipedia as an unparalleled means to engage students and turn the “banking” model of higher education on its head. I do so because have witnessed firsthand in many learning scenarios the effect that public readership can have on the research/writing process particularly among undergraduates, and I advocate for this practice whenever possible as an application of critical and feminist pedagogy in information literacy (IL).

open access logo via

As many in libraryland well know, OA publication of student work can be a hard sell among some faculty and administrators – case in point the recent (misguided and retrogressive, IMO) American Historical Association recommendation that History PhDs embargo their dissertations for a staggering six years. AHA’s decision is largely tenure-based, claiming damaging effects of OA dissertations on subsequent monographic publication through university or other presses – I’m not going to go into the AHA issue in depth in this venue, but a recent NYT article provides a good overview of AHA’s rationale and reactions from SPARC and others who argue against restrictive ETD sharing.

OA and undergrads

When applied to undergraduate work, the OA conversation is subtly different, and often settles on issues of questionable rigor and the validity of ‘expertise’ contributed publicly before an advanced degree is sought. I do not mean to downplay legitimate quality issues in some student output and/or concerns about premature publication of ongoing labwork, nor fail to acknowledge (largely exaggerated) fears about diminished potential of post publication that many faculty raise. In fact, these are all necessary and important conversations to have when seeking movement on the issue – the AHA decision and other reactive stances to OA as a legitimate and desirable form of  practice (let alone pedagogy) in higher education are the only way we will have a conversation large enough to shift the tide scholarship irrevocably toward open.

Moreover, reasoned and well-informed debate on OA issues is the best means to make invaluable faculty allies in the effort to open scholarship, which sets the background for the real purpose of this post – to share the most ringing faculty endorsement of the pedagogical value of OA student work I have ever heard. This comes in the form of a recent keynote address I had the privilege of attending at the USETDA conference by Char Miller, W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College and a close collaborator. Char, myself, and CCL colleagues Sean Stone and Allegra Swift have worked together over the past three years to tweak and re-develop Pomona’s senior EA thesis seminar to become focused around mandatory inclusion of theses in Scholarship @ Claremont as a backdrop for IL instruction. Char’s talk in its entirety follows at the end of this post, but first a bit more background on our OA/IL collaboration.


In the EA thesis seminar and in our interactions with EA seniors, we approach OA-as-pedagogy from multiple angles, such as using the concept of ‘information privilege’ (the best conceptual phrasing I’ve come up with to make clear the distinction between working behind and outside the institutional paywall), encouraging appropriate attribution and permissions practices, and exhorting students to understand their own voices as valuable contributions to an ongoing interdisciplinary discourse. I will share more on this collaboration in the future, but suffice to say that the quality of student work has improved so noticeably in the EA seminar that grades have actually gone down (Char’s speech gives insight into this apparent paradox).

If you work with undergrads on any and all things information literacy, if you are involved in advocating for scholarly communications, OA, and/or institutional repositories, then Char’s talk below is required reading. His effect on the crowd of OA pundits at USETDA was galvanizing – if ever a room full of librarians was electric, this was it. I could tell you more about how he approached the issue(s), but he does so masterful a job of it there is little room for embellishment. The text of his talk is also available in PDF through Scholarship @ Claremont.

Riding the Wave: Open Access, Digital Publishing, and the Undergraduate Thesis

Opening Keynote: USETDA 2013 Conference – 25 July 2013

Char Miller, Pomona College[1]

I am deeply grateful to Marisa Ramirez and the USETDA for the opportunity to speak to you today, and doubly so to my esteemed colleagues Char Booth, Sean Stone, and Allegra Swift for schooling me on the intricacies of and pedagogical opportunities embedded within contemporary information literacy and digital librarianship. Their impact –collective and individual – on me, my students, and on the five-college Environmental Analysis program in Claremont, has been transformative.

But then librarians and libraries always have been an important part of my life. My mother was a librarian, starting as a volunteer at our elementary school in Darien CT, and ultimately organizing and stewarding the school district’s library system. So these special educational places, along with the local public library, became my second home. That was in part because of the enticing riches they contained (all those Bobbs Merrill childhood biographies, rip-roaring adventure tales, National Geographics; all those words!) And in part because of what they did not allow: in the library, my caterwauling parents had to Be Quiet. That silence was golden.

Yet the world of books my mother introduced me to and the hushed sanctuaries in which they were housed are not the same environments they once appeared to be. USETD librarians know much better than I how dramatic the shift has been, how tectonic has been its jolting power. The flow of information into and out of libraries – the kinds of data now available, the varied formats in which it is delivered, who has access to it (and who does not) – is changing the way we read, study, research, and archive this material, and the physical and virtual contexts in which these activities occur.[2]

A Tale of Two Theses

It has also upended how we teach, or at least it should. As an example of this overturning, consider the context in which two undergraduate theses were researched, written, and completed – 36 years apart.

1975 – That was the year I researched and wrote my senior thesis at Pitzer College, the youngest of the Claremont Consortium. It probed the political activism of Alfred Mitchell Bingham, editor and publisher of Common Sense, a left-of-center magazine in the New Deal era that spoke to and for those who hoped to push President Franklin Roosevelt into enacting even more progressive reforms. That project was the impetus for my dissertation, “Fathers and Sons: The Bingham Family and American Reform,” an exploration of five generations of that distinguished family, which included missionaries in the Pacific, a Connecticut senator who earlier had rediscovered Machu Picchu, and Alfred Bingham’s son, Jonathan, a civil rights lawyer who had been implicated in the failed effort to free George Jackson from San Quentin prison. Luckily, Temple University Press thought it had the makings of a book, and after considerable revisions, the volume appeared in 1982.[3]

That’s a wonderful trajectory, to be sure, but what about the thesis itself? How was it written and evaluated? Who has read it and where now is it located? There was no required thesis class at Pitzer when I was a student there, no formal way by which I was introduced into the mysteries – as they then appeared – of academic scholarship. When the project was completed, I defended it in the office of my first reader, political scientist Lucian Marquis, with three historians also squeezed into that tiny space. They read my thesis, my mother and father may have done so, but I cannot imagine anyone else has because it was not – and is not – available. A colleague at Pitzer mentioned that a copy is located in that college’s archives, and I know I donated mine to Special Collections of the Honnold/Mudd Library of the Claremont Colleges; either way, it is interred.

2011 – My students’ experience with the thesis process is decidedly different. Consider another Pitzer graduate, Mary Ferguson’11, who wrote her study of “Sediment Removal from the San Gabriel Mountains” under my direction.” She enrolled in the required thesis class at Pomona College, EA 191, the syllabus of which included three class sessions with Information Literacy/Digital librarians (the aforementioned Booth, Stone, and Swift); she and her peers were required as well to set up subsequent meetings with subject-relevant reference librarians to learn more about the tools and data sets that available to them. The first in-class assignment that Mary and her compatriots completed was to read and critique earlier theses as a way to introduce them to the level of analysis their predecessors had achieved (or not), to enter into an intellectual dialog with these young scholars, and to set the baseline for their work to come. Over the semester, the students also presented their work to their peers, including a final public presentation before the campus and community. The final requirement, which I instituted in 2011, was the posting of the finished thesis on The Claremont Colleges Library’s open-access site,

It turns out that this latter requirement has proved to have pedagogic legs, that is, it is continuing to affirm the students’ evolving sense of accomplishment. “By the way,” Mary wrote me by happenstance in May 2013, “my thesis has been doing surprisingly well, at last count it had about 270 downloads and I was listed as one of the most popular authors in both the Forest Management Commons and Natural Resources Economics Commons.”[4]

Mary’s scholarship is not the most heavily downloaded by any means:

As impressive as those numbers are, deciphering their significance is difficult as it is not yet possible to determine who is downloading the theses and to what end they are putting this work. That aside, the most striking result is what this information conveys to the students. Knowing that so many people ware reading her work led Mary Ferguson to recognize its ongoing value, confirmation for why the Environmental Analysis Program decided that all senior theses must be posted on “I wish I had more time with it to add more content and polish it up a bit, but I’m thinking of writing some sort of follow up on the whole thing.” Open Access opened her up to a world to which she did not know she could contribute.[5]

Why Push Open Access for Undergraduate Research?

Open Access (OA) is largely associated with faculty scholarship. Faculty and librarians have been using OA as a way to break down for-profit publishing monopolies and the insidious barriers that this has created for the creation, transmission, distribution, and consumption of ideas and information.

SPARC – the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition – has been a powerful advocate for such openness. Because, as it notes, “Different stakeholders in the system of scholarly communications can and will benefit from no restricted access to research and data,” its list of OA’s advantages is definitive and revelatory[6]

  • Researchers as authors: immediate visibility for research output and thus increased visibility and usage of their results. Open Access may even lead to an increase of impact.
  • Researchers looking for information: access to literature everywhere, not only from a campus but also from any site with wifi access.
  • Funding agencies: increased return on investment (ROI), increased visibility.
  • Universities & research institutes: greater visibility, clearer management information.
  • Libraries: increased access for target audience, financially a more attractive model than the current subscription model.
  • Teachers & students: unrestricted access to material, enriched education, allowing equality of learning in poor as well as in rich nations.
  • Science: enhanced and accelerated research cycle.
  • Citizens & society: access to knowledge / access to the results of publicly funded research.
  • Enterprises: access to critical information.
  • Publishers: transparent business model, ultimate online article distribution, ultimate visibility for articles.

What SPARC has done, and brilliantly so, is to identify the universe of idea generation and denote who should control its meaning, flow, and accessibility. Yet this listing also creates a top-down dynamic of its own, no less inimical than that which it purports to disrupt. It privileges faculty control over the production of knowledge. These individuals, and the professional organizations to which they belong, are the experts, the key definer of what constitutes legitimate research and knowledge.

This privilege and status grants them power, power that is then revealed in the most common critiques of undergraduate (and graduate) OA publication. Some, but not all, scientific disciplines fear releasing data before the faculty is ready to publish. In the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences there is also assertion that student scholarship is immature and unpolished, drafts not-ready-for-primetime. These worries embody as well the often unstated anxiety that if the faculty’s name is associated with an undergraduate thesis posted on a digital commons, then its perceived quality may undercut the faculty’s academic standing. So concerned is the American Historical Association about OA publication that it is promoting  a six-year embargo on all history Ph.D dissertations; argued in the language of protecting junior colleagues’ intellectual property rights, its logic is specious and guild-centric and has been receiving considerable pushback from librarians and scholars.[7]

In its own small way, the senior thesis class I teach is designed to break down some of these ill-advised barriers to the dissemination of knowledge. EA 191 challenges the SPARC and AHA hierarchical dynamic through its requirement that all seniors post their theses on It grants privilege and power to student authors, gives them space to assert their intellectual agency, allows them to enter the academic conversation, and, as Mary Ferguson has come to see, maybe even alter some professorial paradigms. The class also proposes that students have the capacity to produce and distribute their ideas and arguments with the same kind of open access that many faculty profess to value in their professional lives. Open Access empowers all scholars, not just those with a Ph.D appended to their last names.

Building from the Bottom, Up

Even as it confronts some of the guild-like qualities governing the source of knowledge and information, EA 191 also offers students a real-world immersion in the complicated processes by which ideas are generated and then revised and then placed before an audience.

The students develop research proposals in the spring of their junior year, rework these over the summer even as (I hope) they are conducting relevant research into their topics to verify their subject matter and to build the requisite data they will employ to sustain their arguments. Their subjects are often drawn from a rich mix of personal fascination and academic experience (some of which are derived from initial research while on program-specific study-abroad programs), and as they wrangle this interdisciplinary array of material into manageable form and narrative focus, they are by definition learning too that their need to be accountable for their claims is part of the larger process by which they will remain active, life-long learners and engaged citizens.

That said, they are not operating in a vacuum. The students are in constant dialog with their faculty readers and their peers (and the source instructor). They are in contact with the librarians in and out of class, safety nets that support their work but which are not designed to do more than that. Indeed, the real goal is for the faculty to step back from the process, to be guides on the side that allows for a relinquishing of authority that in turn allows students to assert their agency.

With that newfound power comes responsibility; with Open Access comes exposure. That is also built into the course’s pedagogical ambitions, for OA creates a clarifying urgency that leads these already ambitious students to dig deeper into primary and secondary sources, to think harder about their meaning and value to their scholarship, and to argue more effectively and write more forcefully. Underlying this engagement is a healthy mix of pride, drive, and ambition, fear and anxiety, commitment, conviction, and uncertainty – a mixture that is no less a part of every writers experience.

Assessing Student Success

Not all success can or should be measured by grades, but one of the surprising consequences of integrating a significant library component into the class, with the added dollop of the OA requirement, is that the average grade for EA 191 has declined:

2008 – 3.93

2009 – 3.73

2010 – 3.76

2011 – 3.43

2012 – 3.50

That may seem counter-intuitive, especially in an age of grade inflation, but in fact it is a logical outcome of the course’s more robust set of interventions and requirements. Faculty readers know the training students have received from the librarians on research, information literacy, and attribution/citation – they have higher expectations for what the students can be expected to accomplish and so have toughened up their standards even as the students themselves are working at a higher level. The awarding of fewer solid As, in this case, actually means that students are writing more effectively and that faculty are utilizing tougher evaluative rubrics.

A more rigorous assessment of student outputs is also underway. In conjunction with Claremont librarians Booth, Stone, and Margaret Hogarth, the EA Program is conducting a rubric-based assessment of undergraduate theses. Starting in the spring of 2013, a group of librarians and EA-affiliated faculty meet for a norming session, discussing their reactions to a senior thesis read in common. The group then sampled a random set of six theses each year from 2010 to 2012 across the Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, & Sciences to score them relative to the Claremont Colleges Library Information Literacy Rubric. In August 2013 the group will meet to discuss results and plan responses to upgrade and/or tighten relevant elements of EA 191.

Scaling Up This Model?

It is not clear how easy it would be to replicate this model on other campuses under different conditions. That is particularly true of the OA aspect of the class, its insistence that students participate directly and publicly in academic debates. Among the most daunting impediments is the faculty’s sense of power and privilege, the ingrained faith that their expertise grants them authority over the construction of knowledge, its production, distribution, and consumption. This resistance, conscious and unconscious, may be more likely at research universities than at teaching-centered liberal-arts colleges such as the Claremont Consortium, but here too there is often a reflexive privileging of the faculty’s primacy.

That clout is receiving scrutiny from another direction that OA librarians can make use of in their efforts to integrate OA into campus culture. Over the past decade or so, accreditation organizations have transformed how they evaluate the success of American colleges and universities, and the metrics they now impose now longer focus on what classes faculty teach (inputs) but on how they students learn and demonstrate that new knowledge (outputs). This has had the healthy consequence of decentering faculty and (re)asserting the student experience as the core of the educational enterprise. That being the case, these new rubrics offer OA librarians a handy rhetorical device for opening up a conversation with departments and programs about the possibility of advancing similarly integrative concepts in the classroom and through OA posting of student research; every download signals at least in part that others see value in a student project or thesis, a mark of how well these young authors have absorbed and reflected on their education.

This principled effort to build a more open and inclusive academic environment as part of the senior capstone process must come conjoined with a set of classroom experiences that make full use of the skills, insights, and talents of information-literacy and digital librarians. If their expertise is not built into a thesis class’ goals and objectives, if the values of OA are not inculcated into the students’ experience as they research, write, and publish their theses, the end results probably will not contribute substantively to the larger debates in the academy or the community. We will have failed to empower this rising generation of writers and critics, and as such the resulting theses might as well remain, as mine has, in a filing cabinet.

[1] Char Miller is W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, Claremont, CA. In 2013, he was a recipient of the college’s Wig Distinguished Professor Award for excellence in teaching. His recent publications include On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest (2013) and Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot (2013); he also is co-author of Death Valley National Park: A History (2013), and co-editor of Between Ruin and Restoration: An Environmental History of Israel (2013). This essay constitutes a revised version of his keynote address to the US Electronic Theses and Dissertations Association annual convention, “Waves of Change,” Claremont, CA, July 25, 2013.

[2] See for example, Stephanie Davis-Kahl and Merinda Kaye Hensley, eds., Common Ground at the Nexus of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication, (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2013).

[3] Char Miller, Fathers and Sons: The Bingham Family and the American Mission, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982).

[4] Mary Ferguson to Char Miller, May 29, 2013, email communication; her thesis has since topped 300 downloads.

[5] Ibid; for a closer look at the pedagogical implications of Open Access and student research, see Char Booth, “Project Curve, Part Seven: Open Access Publishing for Learner Engagement”; and Char Booth, “Breaking the Bank: Library Publishing for Learner Engagement,” presentation at SXSW Interactive 2012, slides and audio available at

[7] Marisa L. Ramirez, Joan T. Dalton, Gail McMillan, Max Read, and Nancy H. Seamans, “Do Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations Diminish Publishing Opportunities in the Social Sciences and Humanities? Findings from a 2011 Survey of Academic Publishers,” available online at; Jennifer Guiliano, “I’ll see your open access and raise you two book contracts: or why the AHA should rethink its policy,” available online at; “The historians proposed embargo on dissertations,” available online at

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