Posted by: char booth | 30 April 2013

acrl 2013 and biennial milestones.

For the record, I tend to love this conference and this year was no exception. It is organized by people I respect, draws focused talent from a broad range of specializations, and I am invariably able to touch base with well-loved colleagues past/present/future. I have also found that ACRL seems to coincide with and/or create significant milestones in my working life, providing a convenient excuse to reflect at two-year intervals on the professional route I and others have taken, and how we view ourselves in relation to the field.

More thoughts on this front below, but (first things first) here are the decks and audio for three collaborative presentations I gave at ACRL 2013:

love your library: building goodwill from the inside out and the outside in

Audio for this fabulous panel session on creative and stealable library outreach strategies with Lia Friedman (USCD), Alice Whiteside (Mt. Holyoke), and Adrienne Lai (NCSU) can be found here. Our handout (PDF) links to templates and additional information for all that we discussed, and our hashtag was #makerlib.

methods behind the instructional madness: enhancing learning through mapping, rubrics, and portfolios

I also recorded this panel, which I had the privilege of presenting with two shining examples of smarts and collegiality: Sean Stone and Natalie Tagge, also of the Claremont Colleges Library’s Instruction Services Department. Our tag was #methodsmadness, and a big shout out to Sara Lowe and Alex Chappell, integral to the fabulous team that works on all of these projects at Claremont: couldn’t ask for better collaborators, truly.

powers of ten dialogue

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of teaming with the brilliant Kathryn Deiss of ACRL on an experimental dialogue session built around the ideas of scale and magnitude developed in Ray and Charles Eames’ wonderful late 1970s Powers of Ten concept/film (audio of the intro slides needs to be edited, and will be forthcoming here soon). The three themed dialogues we constructed drew many interesting and at times emotional perspectives from participants, and the result was far from typical conference fare. In other words, an approach worth repeating.

I was so harried by presentations/meetings this conference that I had less time than I would have liked to attend and (more importantly) digest programs, but content of note for me this year included Accardi, Drabinski, and Kumbier’s feminist pedagogy session, Friedman, Drabinski, and Freeman’s authority panel, several sessions connecting scholarly communications/publishing/oa with information literacy (1 | 2), and Brian Mathew’s invited paper on problem discovery.

Considering ACRLs past the significance of this conference for me was that it focused on collaborative efforts: I’ve had the sense over the last year of far too many solo ventures and not enough idea cross-pollination, so was interested in pursuing only co-contributions. While planning for these is more intensive, the result seems rich in a different and highly appreciated way. Now, a bit of ACRL conference retrospective:


In 2007, about a year into my first librarian job I gave my inagural professional presentation on an ill-fated but nonetheless interesting video kiosk a few colleagues and I built at Ohio University. It was held in the original Cyber Zed Shed in Baltimore, that year enclosed in a curtained hutch on the loud and social anxiety-inducing exhibits hall floor. I remember dissociating almost completely as I talked, and that the speaker platform was elevated so high that I could see the heads of milling vendors and librarians over the presentation space partitions. I also recall recognizing a few faces from UT and OU in the audience, and realizing at the time that, instead of making my nervousness worse, how key this was to staying grounded in public speaking. Speaking for the first time empowered a sense of voice and the confidence to continue developing ideas for public communication. Unknown to me at the time, grappling with that slide deck also catalyzed a long, obsessive love affair with information design. I don’t recall literally any of the programs I attended, but I do remember a sense of general excitement about technological innovation and thoroughly enjoying the city (especially a bizarre aquarium reception with, if memory serves, pinafores).


In 2009 the conference was in Seattle. I presented a paper titled If You Build it, Will They Care? Tracking Student Receptivity to Library Techonlogies with my friend and colleague Chris Guder, which dealt with research examining student interest in various twopointoey library tech experiments carried out when I worked at OU. It was also shortly after I moved to Oakland to start a (frankly, terrifying) new job at UC Berkeley, and a time of much professional excitement and nervousness. This was the largest audience I had spoken to, which was strangely both fine and energizing, leading me to realize that my skin was getting a bit thicker in terms of confidence in public address. At the same time there was a feeling of pressure and a need to prove and posit that would follow (haunt?) me for some time… any profession has its darker drives, and I was definitely about to submit myself to a terrifying degree of overwork. I also recall feeling a lot of pride that many early-career people I knew from library school and other arenas were making such awesome contributions to our collective work, a feeling that honestly seems to surge every year. If this conference signified the true beginning of a massive collegial love affair, I hope it never ends.


Fast forward two years and I found myself at ACRL in Philadelphia, where I gave the most significant presentation of my career to date, an invited paper called The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice. This talk was the culmination of my time at UC Berkeley and on the threshold of publishing a book I had been working on for several years (remember the overwork part?) plus moving to my present job at the Claremont Colleges. The presentation outlined ideas about design, pedagogy, and instructional literacy I had been developing for what felt like EVER, and its delivery came at a moment when a lot of people in the library world were forming a new orientation to their role as educators and seeking to empower themselves as such. It also banished much of the all-too-common impostor syndrome that drags the (by no means exclusively but far more frequently) ladygendered among us down in the confidence and actualization realms. Working very hard and very earnestly on something and putting it out to a thoughtful and critically positive reception is a marvelous thing, and one that finally allowed me to loosen my death grip sense of self-proving. Which is an even more marvelous thing.

Who knows what comes next, but what I hope to project two years out is continued engagement with brilliant colleagues and putting my heart into work I can stand by/behind (not to mention wandering Portland again).

Recently I’ve been reminded how effective consensual group hacking/editing can be when teaching (about or through) web-based presentation and authoring platforms. I am a big believer in the techno-pedagogical strategy of transparent co-creation and exploratory play, which can diffuse the anxiety and confusion that often attends learning a new tool (especially one that involves the additional stress-inducing content area of design). This post describes three examples of productive collaboratage from my own recent teaching/learning context.

please destroy this prezi

I led a face-to-face drop-in Prezi workshop for Claremont students/staff/faculty/librarians earlier this week that featured one simple (and eminently stealable) application of this strategy. In my opinion, the collective eye has become so accustomed to (and tired of) the bulleted Powerpoint format as to be trained to overlook it almost entirely – refer to the well-known work of Edward Tufte for more on this front. Don’t get me wrong: I use PPT 2011 for Mac for the majority of my own presentations, but I have found that wiping the slate completely clean of templated formatting and instead using creative combinations of images, shapes, and open fonts (see 1 and 2) is the only way to make them look innovative and interesting.

Which, of course, takes time. If I don’t have enough time to work from a wiped slate and have web access, Prezi provides a fast and freemium alternative method of creating a fancy-looking presentation (there’s a for-pay desktop version as well). This is even easier to achieve thanks to a recent Prezi interface overhaul that includes a much-augmented set of templates and themes, including an import-from PPT feature. Because I tend to use Prezi when I need to create an impressive-looking presentation in a short amount of time, I framed the workshop as a practical hands-on intro that also presented a critical comparison to “traditional” (e.g., linear and slide based) presentation platforms.

I have found that for a group of learners relatively inexperienced with its interface, Prezi can be difficult to teach hands-on due to its non-intuitive approach to spatial sequencing that is quite different from most presentation software. Therefore, anything one can do to make its interface more accessible and its introduction lower-stakes is a great facilitator.

Which is where collaboratage comes in. My lesson plan for a 75 or 90 min Prezi session is simple. I ask registrants to create a free Edu account before arriving to cut down on administrivia, and, after engaging all comers in introductions and an exploration of experience levels and workshop expectations, I give a brief 10-15 min presentation that models Prezi’s strong points (crisp/simple graphics and spatial rather than linear organization) and weak points (nausea-inducing zoom/pan) and gives an overview of its interface and basic areas of functionality.

I end the presentation with a shared shortlinkprezi shared shortlink image that invites participants jump into the Prezi I just gave as authors, and then I challenge them to edit the hell out of it for the next section of the workshop. I jump in through my account as well (snafu warning – only 10 collaborators at a time!) and continue to point out different editing features, all the while watching the presentation itself go absolutely nuts in real time.

The before and after images below are static but link out to my Prezi account due to WordPress embedding issues (sigh). This is what we started with:

pre-collaborative dit prezi

And this is what we ended with:

post-collaborative edit prezi screenshot

Voilà, super fun. The final 10-15 minutes of the workshop involves people creating their own Prezis from scratch, which they are far more prepared to do after having played around in an existing one with full license to mess things up. I first used this strategy in 2010 in a staff training at UC Berkeley, where it produced an similarly hilarious effect and had participants deeply engaged in exploration.

In all, this is a simple and effective way to reduce performance/design anxiety among participants while leveling the playing field, and translates well to many other creative software platforms that allow group real-time editing. This example comes from a f2f setting, but it could also be successfully applied in a synchronous digital environment.

Aside: One of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on at Claremont has been revitalizing the drop-in series that features this Prezi session, which we call (Love Your) Library Workshops. When I arrived a few RefWorks sessions were offered per month, but(Love Your) Library Workshops schedule image - Oct 2012 we have since expanded to a robust slate of (frequently but my no means universally) well-attended research and academic tech-focused workshops on things like comparing citation software, research with mobile devices, and authority/credibility. In my experience drop-in programs like this are something of an awkward stepchild in the instructional realm, but we’ve had a lot of success through a combination of creative marketing, keeping the sessions democratic and open to all comers, managing sessions and registrations using free version of LibCal (Springshare, I love you!), creative arm-twisting on my part to drum up instructors, a common end-of-session evaluation, and (of course) sexy workshop titles. I’ll do a longer project curve post on this in the future, but suffice to say it has been triumphant to build this series into a sustainable and dynamic instructional platform/marketing campaign with my colleague Natalie Tagge (I will be speaking about our DIY marketing adventures at ACRL 2013).

google project research docs

Group editing also provides excellent fodder for active research in a digital or f2f classroom setting. Another recent (and admittedly less sabotage-oriented) application of collaboratage came in an Environmental Analysis capstone workshop my colleague Sean Stone and I developed a few weeks ago, which involved small groups working on open Google docs that we created to facilitate strucured project inquiry during the session and beyond. (1) This class is a seminar attached to a semester-long client-based group project that produces a an EA-focused deliverable for a community stakeholder. In contrast to the traditionally academic thesis that the same students produce and publish in Scholarship @ Claremont (our  OA repository) in fall, the info-gathering tasks involved in this context are far more application and action-based and geared toward demographic, on-the-ground, and market/industry research (as well as to the discovery of model and benchmarking projects).

2013-02-21 11.06.29 am

We have discovered in tandem with EA program director (and my namesake!) Char Miller that this process requires conscious/early research delegation as well as ongoing source management to be successful, which is the origin of the collaborative editing strategy. We created an open (aka accessible through a link, no account required) Google doc for each project, linked them through the learning management system (Sakai) for persistent access, and divided the f2f workshop into a largely independent series of research tasks within that doc that each group pursued collaboratively on laptops. Tasks involved collectively brainstorming information needs within each project topic, working out research delegation, and starting to compile a preliminary bibliography of each interest area. The specific steps were as follows:

Step 1 (10 min) – Determine Information/Research Need(s) in Project Prospectus
Step 2 (10-15 min) – Brainstorm Resource Leads, Angles, and Tools
Step 3 – (10 min) Designate Group Research Roles/Responsibilities
Step 4 – (10-15 min) – Build Preliminary Source List

At the end of the session groups reported out on their work as I showed (with permission) each in-progress doc. This structure worked well for almost all of the groups, particularly those who had a clear focus and had already met with their client, which supported their ability to confidently move forward with research tasks. One group had a confusing scenario they needed to resolve with their client, which made the assignment was virtually impossible to pursue – this team ended up strategizing about how to solve project issues, so at least the time was not lost. Other groups went so far in the space of an hour as to create tabled delegation structures and lengthy source lists.

The different rates/levels of progress through the docs and the independent nature of the group work in the class itself will likely result in our creating a less time-structured approach next year, albeit keeping the same categories of activity. It will be interesting observe at the end of the term how many groups continue to develop the docs for research/project management – at a glance it looks like work has continued in several since the workshop, which implies some degree of ongoing utility. Note: I offered during the session to add students as editors to the Docs, but all are thus far sticking with the open/editable link format.

group wikipedia editing

A final (and not at all sabotage-oriented) example of collaborative editing comes in the form of the second iteration of a Wikiepdia authoring assignment, also described in a previous project curve post that discussed OA thesis uploads. In tandem with the awesome Pomona prof Amanda Hollis-Brusky and my equally awesome colleague Sara Lowe, this term we’re using the same basic structure of small groups creating new Wikipedia articles or filling in stubs on topics relating to American politics in lieu of a traditional research paper. Whereas last year’s project was done somewhat under the official radar, I’m now a Campus Ambassador through the Wikipedia Education Program, which has developed a strong base of educational resources and outreach tools that can help facilitate a successful Wikiepdia assignment, which IMHO provide extraordinary fodder for teaching critical information literacy.

in sum

There are many web-based tools that facilitate collaboratage, and I highly recommend experimenting with a few to engage/enliven otherwise educator-focused and potentially isolating learning interactions. And, of course, I would love to hear from others who have had success using similar approaches, particularly in the online arena.

(1) The inspiration for this assignment came from a recent job talk at my work, and while I so much wish I could give credit to its developer it would breach confidentiality without consent. If you’re out there reading this, thank you and please feel free to claim credit in a comment!

Posted by: char booth | 11 February 2013

backlog part three: questioning learning styles.

This is the third installment in a series dedicated to dredging the recent past for things unposted.

ALA Annual in 2012 was a fittingly Anaheim affair – meetings bracketed by frantic bike rides between bizarre hotels featuring piped-in lobby smells. In spite of overscheduling I was able to make an early morning drive to Huntington Pier with my sweetheart for a brief surfing session on a borrowed board. I recall that the water was much colder than expected, around 62 I’d guess, making my spring suit totally inadequate. I lasted for thirty minutes that consisted of many failed attempts, one decent rid1930 north side Huntingon Pier image from Library of Congresse, and a close dolphin encounter (in other words: worth it).

In addition to my date with hypothermia, I spoke on two highly enjoyable panels. The first I’ve backlogged elsewhere, the second was an ACRL IS affair on the history, applications, and criticisms of the controversial field of learning styles theory (co-panelists Lori Mestre/ Jean Runyon, moderated by the ever-awesome Anne-Marie Dietering).

Panel organizers provided a list of five foundational readings (PDF), most of which I refer to in this post (see bibliography at end), including H. Sanderson’s excellent and highly recommended 2011 article Using Learning Styles in Information Literacy.

I have an unfortunate habit of forgetting to record myself in presentations where capture arrangements are otherwise unmade, so to mitigate the stream of inscrutable slide decks I’m trying to at least provide detailed post-facto annotations – see the presentation narrative section at the conclusion of this post for an explanation of the onion, as well as historical perspective and a timeline of the development of four schools of learning styles theories.

I was asked to take the reverse of my typical skeptical position on learning styles (i.e., to argue as pro, which I managed at least to reframe as respectfully neutral in my examination of claims and evidence). This was an interesting (albeit uncomfortable) challenge in which I learned a great deal more about the troublingly small and typically commercial subset of learning styles instruments that have actually been confirmed as valid and reliable, e.g., the Kolb-based Learning Styles Inventory (LSI), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and a few others. The research I undertook to prepare tended to support my opinion that at a practice level that learning styles are usually translated into overly simplistic and mutually exclusive categories that tend to pigeonhole the ways in which educators perceive learners  (e.g., “visual,” “aural,” and “kinesthetic”). However, it also confirmed that there are solid principles of instructional design to be derived from the relatively obvious notion that people learn in different ways, and several potentially useful applications of tested learning styles instruments.

learning styles: wreck

My main critique of learning styles theory stems from a perverse and powerful personal desire to sabotage all self-inventory questionnaires, which tend to force subjective self-representation into narrow and all too obvious categories (think Teen Vogue quizzes). Learning styles inventories often rely on forced sensory modality sorting (e.g. “do you prefer to experience a learning situation hands-on? visually? verbally?”) without confirming that selected modalities actually produce better learning through authentic assessment. In fact, research indicates that self-stated learning styles preferences do not correlate to improved performance on subsequent tests (Kratzig and Arbthutnott, 2006; Dembro and Howard, 2007).

Another danger of learning styles theory is the decontextualization of learning, in all respects an environmentally nuanced and highly individualized experience. An uncritical instructor teaching to learning styles risks giving primary consideration to a balance of sensory elements rather than to learner/educator strengths, cultural differences, community/power dynamics, (dis)ability status, student motivation, and content characteristics that lend themselves naturally to different media and modes of delivery. Several years ago I gave a presentation on Deconstructing the Learning Pyramid, a powerfully misleading and widely cited instructional graphic based on the unsubstantiated idea that, regardless of context or content or character, some ways of teaching inherently lead to more learning than others. While many learning styles schema are rooted in more evidence than the (wholly unsupported) learning pyramid, they run the same reductionist risk.

learning styles: salvage

I mentioned earlier in this post that there are useful principles of instructional design supported by the underlying idea of diverse styles of learning. In short, the benefit of learning styles theory is that it reinforces two central aspects of strong teaching practice: engagement (keeping the participant interested in the scenario and content) and differentiation (changing it up, not relying on one delivery mode or teaching style). Whether you are concerned with online or face-to-face learning or a blend thereof, creating multimodal, differentiated instruction that is content/audience-sensitive can facilitate more meaningful learner engagement and application (Sanderson, 2011).

Another advantage of considering learning styles theory is to encourage reflective practice. By using learning styles inventories as platforms metacognitive self-evaluation, an instructor can begin conversations with students and/or colleagues about beliefs, preferences, contextual efficacy, and universal design for learning. For example, in her section on learning styles in the context of e-learning, co-panelist Jean Runyon described an exercise she frequently uses at the beginning of her own online classes; asking students to complete a learning styles self-assessment to raise awareness of their and others’ learning orientations as well as to inform her delivery of content within that class.

Critical reflection on learning styles can be particularly useful in the context of instructor development. An example: this summer I observed ACRL Immersion co-faculty member Beth Woodard (a true spitfire) masterfully model learning styles best practices during Immersion Teacher Track in Burlington, Vermont. Her approach was to leverage the results of participants’ Kolb inventories to help them perceive how modality preferences might unconsciously bias their own teaching, followed by activities in which groups of “types” triaged problems inherent to instructional formats. This approach demonstrated to me that a critical orientation to a valid assessment of learning styles can stimulate important exchanges about differentiated instruction from the learner and educator perspective.

learning styles: verdict

As easy (and subtly satisfying) as it might be to offer knee-jerk criticism of a maligned theoretical tradition, it is far richer to examine its origins and debates for evidence of applicability. Case in point: in a subsequent Immersion session I was able to use the insights offered by this presentation research to provide far more nuanced critiques of learning styles theory (not unlike building a house then respectfully tearing off a wall to examine flaws in its construction) in order to foster discussions about theoretical traditions and the importance of dialectic. Given the persistence of learning styles in the literature, I would of course love to hear other praxis-based examples of using learning styles to good effect in digital or analog learning scenarios.

(1) presentation narrative

The following is a quick/dirty narrative of the presentation based on my preparatory slide notes (which are basically what I will myself to say but rarely end up nailing in the moment). Notes never turn out to be anywhere near as interesting as flesh/bone talks anyhow, which are always so vastly improved by audience input and energy: more motivation for future on-the-spot recording, I suppose.

Slide 1. Framing quotes:

Cassidy (2004): “there is general acceptance that the manner in which individuals choose to or are inclined to approach a learning situation has an impact on performance and achievement of learning outcomes… whilst, and perhaps because, learning style has been the focus of such a vast number of research and practitioner-based studies in the area, there exist a variety of definitions, theoretical positions, models, interpretations, and measures of the construct.”

Sanderson (2011) “Learning styles… are a fragmented, confusing field of educational theory.”

It’s my unenviable task to describe this half-century plus of learning styles work in the next seven minutes, so consider this a crash-course in the history, definitions, major models as well as their applications and presence in the information literacy literature.

Slide 2. Learning styles theory has a long history. The notion of different learning styles has its origin in cognitive style theory, described as long ago as 1937 by Allport as “an individual’s typical or habitual mode of problem solving, thinking, perceiving, and remembering.”

In the literature, cognitive style and learning style are often conflated or used interchangeably. learning style can be understood as applying directly to teaching and learning scenarios, or, “the application of cognitive style IN A LEARNING SITUATION.” (Riding and Cheema, 1991)

Slides 3-6. From this origin in cognitive style theory, in the sixties and seventies the development of learning styles theory began in earnest, proliferating into a number of similar approaches and terms: style, strategy, and prefernece.  Learning strategies (e.g., during studying, Hartley 1998) and preferences (format based, such as online versus face to face) are sometimes used interchangeably, but can both be understood as aspects of learning styles.

This raises an important point to consider – the “state or trait debate” – a central question in learning styles theory. In short, are learning styles a stable element in an individual over time (e.g., structural = trait) or are they fluid and responsive to each learning scenario (e.g., process = state). (Cassidy 1994, 421).

Slide 7. To begin to answer this, a few definitions of learning style: Claxton& Ralston (1978) – “A student’s consistent way of responding to and using stimuli in the context of learning.” Keefe (1979) – “The cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment.” Scarpati & Fradd (1985) – “Ways in which individuals perceive, organize, and recall information in their environment.” Cassidy (2004) – “the preferred way in which an individual approaches a task or learning situation.”

Slide 8. Given these range of definitions, how do we parse through the vase literature and myriad approaches to assessing (and teaching to) in physical and digital classrooms?

Slide 9. Curry’s (1983) onion model suggests a helpful metaphor, which is where the graphic comes in. Curry took 21 major learning styles models, analyzedthem, and found that only 10 contained baseline criteria for validity and reliability. These she divided into four organizational “layers” (three on the first round, four on the second, actually) that can be understood as corresponding to the layered states and traits (again, back to that central question) of an individual learner. The more central the layer, the more fixed or inherent the view of the learner and their particular state or trait. In other words…

Slides 10-14. At the center or core of an onion/individual are basic personality traits, and the influences of these on personality on learning. Which aren’t easily changed. Then comes the info processing school of learning style theory, an individual’s intellectual approach to adapting and assimilating information. Then social interaction, how studentsinteract within learning environments. Then an individual’s preferred environment or mode of of learning. Again, the inner layers of the onion/individual are the most stable and least susceptible to change (e.g, personality is core), while the outer layer is most potentially subject to change over time (e.g., if someone acquires a piece of new tech or mobile device).

Slides 15-16. Personality models (core) = Witkin (1962) field dependence/independence, Pavio (1971) verbalizer-visualizer, Meyers/Briggs (1972) sensing or intuition and thinking or feeling, extroversion v introversion, etc.

Slides 17-18. Information processing models (next innermost layer) = Kolb (1976) theory of experiential learning, learning and individual development, grounded in dewey & importance of experience, lewin, activity, piaget, etc. divergersassimilators convergersaccommodators

Slides 19-20. Social interaction models (second to outermost layer) =  Grasha (1972) six types of social learners, dependent independent competitive collaborative avoidant participant, also Dunn Dunn and Price (1989)

Slides 21-22. Instructional preference models (outermost layer) = Canfield learning style inventory (1980) related to hierarchy of needs & motivation. Scales in four areas conditions of learning, content (numeric or qualitative, etc.), mode (listening reading iconic etc.) & expectations (perceived grades) & Letteri learner types (1980)

Slide 23. ACRL IL standards mention learning styles directly in its pedagogy section, encouraging the IL educator as one who “responds to multiple learning styles.”

Slide 24. So how do learning styles actually manifest in our classrooms and learning objects? Sanderson (2011) identifies the challenges of applying learning styles for IL instructors, stemming often from vague understanding that we’re here today to collectively challenge. These include the difficulty of accounting for multiple learning styles into short instructional scenarios, and confusion about the particulars of implementation.

Slide 25. In my observation, applications in libraryland include incorporating active learning, varying instructional delivery across media and modality in an attempt to appeal to visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners, such as interspersing lecture with active learning opportunities and/or multimedia in an attempt to reach individuals with varying learning styles. This facilitates reflective practice on the part of the instructor, who, by considering this approach to differentiated instruction, becomes more aware of learner strength and preferences in order to faclilitate learning interactions that carry greater impact.

Slide 26. In short, the benefits of learning styles theory for IL instructors is that it reinforces two central aspects of strong instructional practice, learner engagement (keeping the learner interested in the scenario and content) and differentiated instruction (changing it up, not relying on one delivery mode or style all of the time).

references and suggested readings

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Holt & Co.

Cassidy, S. (2004). Learning Styles: An Overview of Theories, Models, and Measures. Educational Psychology, 24(4), 419-444.

Curry, L. (1983). An Organization of Learning Styles Theory and Constructs. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (67th, Montreal, Quebec, April 11-15, 1983). ERIC Document.

Dembo, Myron H., and Keith Howard. (2007.) Advice about the Use of Learning Styles: A Major Myth in Education. Journal of College Reading and Learning 37: 101-9.

Desmedt, E., & Valcke, M. (2004). Mapping the Learning Styles “Jungle”: An Overview of the Literature Based on Citation Analysis. Educational Psychology, 24(4), 445-464.

Krätzig, Gregory, and Katherine Arbuthnott. 2006.Perceptual Learning Style and Learning Proficiency: A Test of the Hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology 98: 238-46. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.238

Pashler, Harold, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork. 2008. Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9: 105- 19. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x
Riding, R., & Cheema, I. (1991). Cognitive Styles–An Overview and Integration. Educational Psychology: An International Journal Of Experimental Educational Psychology, 11(3-4), 193-215.

Sanderson, H. (2011). Using Learning Styles in Information Literacy: Critical Considerations for Librarians. Journal Of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), 376-385.

I mentioned in my last post that I have been in a long phase of non-writing, so in order to clear a backlog of matters undiscussed I’m now taking (literal) pains to re-engage the habit.

The break has been welcome for purposes of battery-recharging, but a subtle sense of disjointedness has been one of its unintended effects: I have found that it has taken longer to meaningfully parse and process patterns that arise in the course of my working experience. It would then seem that one of the virtues of regular writing (blog-based or otherwise) is to provide a space in which to draw composite and superficially unrelated things to better examine their junctures. In the absence thereof, connections can go unnoticed until a moment of eureakish revelation.

Case in point: during a speaking trip to Oregon in late October I discovered that one intersection I had been searching for was hiding in plain sight. The pieces: a) the ongoing library crisis narrative in media and professional discourse, b) the memory (collective and individual) that comprises our institutions, and c) advocacy, the near-constant task of justifying our own existence in the face of said crisis narrative. Their juncture: quixotic ferocity, that most useful of qualities which compels the library-minded toward the increasingly difficult work of holding it all together.

(dis)empowerment mentorship

Quixotic ferocity (i.e., idealistic determination, visionary stubbornness) is the impulse that has long motivated the unarguably daunting work of organizing/preserving cultural memory and facilitating its access, which is as given to change, deprioritization, and disaster as any greater good. It is also the quality that we most need to cultivate among those who are entering the field in such (euphemistically) interesting times, when “Libraries in Crisis” gets its own library closure google timeline results HuffPo section, and a search for “library closure” in the now defunct Google Timeline produces a rather sobering graphic. The crisis narrative (e.g., the library oh-shit narrative) is coming through loud and clear, and we’re all going to have to deal with it. The question is: head-on, or ass-over-endtable?

Which is where quixotic ferocity comes in. My perspective on the necessity of this quality to the survival of our species crystallized in a series of amazing conversations with current and future information science students I was privileged to meet on my Oregon trip and recent elsewheres,¹ who will all (nature willing) help stem the tide of doomcrying from within and without.

I often field inquires from those interested in pursuing librarianship, from undergrads at Claremont and other schools to old friends/acquaintances looking for first or second or third professional paths. I won’t deny that one of the persistent challenges of mentorship in this field is how best to respond to them. I am torn between caution and enthusiasm, left brain seeing the job market and organizational shifts for what they are, right brain compelled to build a viable generation of librarians to be. The upshot is that this is such a good and important path that it’s impossible to be completely discouraging. My advice: to a) fully believe in the work and engage an activist heart, b) develop a broad skillset, moxie, and creativity, c) know well that the “traditional” library market is very, very tough, and d) understand the wide range of information and design work you are actually training for. Thankfully, most of those who proceed embrace all points.

Unfortunately, I have observed that in recent years one offshoot of the aforementioned crisis narrative is a particular strain concerning library/information school students being hoodwinked, undersupported, overenrolled, and underprepared. Perhaps this is so in some cases, but it is also a vexingly disempowering, lambs-to-the-slaughter type of perspective on a cohort of individuals who in my experience know exactly what (and why) they are getting into, and who need all of the support they can get to help funnel their visionary stubbornness into the places that so desperately need it. Not only that, they are drawn to the work with an advocate stance and enough courage to confront a struggling profession in a struggling economy in a struggling information context. I hardly need to point out that those who thrive will be well equipped to make us all stronger.


In addition to renewing my hope for the next wave of librarian and infoworkers, my October trip was significant as a fully circling remembrance of things past. After many years away, I was invited to give a talk at Reed College, my alma mater, on Reedbrarians: Activism, Advocacy, and the Future of Access (slides and audio). Shortly thereafter, I spoke among excellent company at the ACRL-OR/WA conference on Revaluing Libraries: Content, Container, or Concept? (slides and video).² In the spirit of backlog transparency, here are both presentations side/side, mutual borrowing in full glory.

Despite their visual similarity the talks are quite different. The former focuses on why the Reed library produces a disproportionately large and characteristically boundary-pushing cohort of librarians from its ranks, and how libraries themselves are pushing the boundaries of authority and openness in scholarship and publishing. The latter deals in more depth with the crisis narrative in libraries and its implications for our cultural, institutional, and personal re(e)valuation.

The two themes are closely tied. My experiences as a Reed student helped define what I believe libraries can and should be across the human spectrum (i.e., individual, social, organizational, cultural), and fed directly into the spirit of quixotic ferocity I try to engage in my own librarian life.


Another theme runs throughout both presentations: memory, which will help me circle back to crisis and quixoticism. I’ve long invoked memory as a means to compel audiences and learners to examine how deeply ingrained their mental models (e.g., schemata) of various objects and concepts are; from libraries and librarians to educators and learning.

We build these concepts experientially throughout our lives, but they begin in childhood. Which begs the question: What library memories are being built today, in this moment and in this society? Particularly in places like California, the certainty of forming one’s initial library/librarian concepts in primary and secondary school is increasingly uncommon, as is the public library branch to a lesser extent. Academic librarians should therefore consider that we may form among the first direct library experiences many (of those privileged enough) in our culture will have, a reality thick with implications.

library memory slide by char boothI have argued that libraries are essentially comprised of memories; from the cultural record we collect and organize to the individual perceptions that shape how and when and why and if we are used. And collective memory feeds cultural narrative, crisis-based or no.

Collective memory only resonates among those who share compelling enough mental models, experiences, and convictions to be interested in their (re)definition. Otherwise, what remains is a series of foregone conclusions hardly worth fighting for. In other words, libraries mean only as much as they meant when first encountered divided by how they shall be redefined. The two should not become so distinct as to be dissonant, which can give rise to the conceptual polarizations of nostalgia and indifference. Nostalgia is memory that regrets perceived loss, whereas indifference is schemata un(derin)formed or forgotten. Those of us who facilitate the construction of personal, cultural, and institutional library memories must achieve a flexible familiarity so resonant with existing concepts that it continues to shape and challenge them.

Thankfully, library memory is still strong in many places. Our organizations, when threatened, are often fiercely (if not always successfully) protected, as evinced by to the massive advocate energy directed toward the salvation of services in the past several years. But in regards to the library crisis narrative and its more positive analog – the future of libraries narrative – beyond the clear imperative for funding viability in this modern age, library memory turned protectionism (aka nostalgia) comes at a price. When the more challenging and perhaps less resonant measures of our evolution are perceived as threatening (read: technology, digital content, deaccessioning, restructuring, etc.) we risk fostering stasis in systems that should be shifting. Which is, of course, as dangerous as its opposing threat: reactive and ill-conceived change masquerading as progress.


If we lose our agency as shapers of library experience, we risk self-perpetuating the dominant cultural/media refrain in the US and so many other hyperdeveloped cultures that we are being outmoded, displaced, and in decline.  Which is precisely why it is incumbent upon us to remember that the library crisis narrative is not only not new: it is constant, eternal, natural, inevitable, and – bear with me – necessary.

Part of the role of the infoworker now and in years past has been to steel oneself to the reality of our own precariousness.  The indicator species metaphor I’ve employed in posts and presentations past argues that free/open cultural institutions are often the first targeted in times of crisis; in other words, museums, schools, and libraries. Throughout history and into the present, libraries in particular have been threatened and protected, razed and rebuilt, whether by conquest or defunding or a combination thereof. This targeting occurs in several forms, from deliberate destruction to incidental decline to the more recent (perceived and actual) displacement by digital/electronic information modalities.³ Whatever form our crisis may take, libraries are embattled precisely because our value is both ephemeral and vulnerable.

There is no faster road to complacency than comfort, and the Carnegie century was a time of uncommon plenty in the historical trajectory of libraries. In other words, we have passed “peak librarianship” in the sheer volume sense. Rather than causing us to despair, this knowledge can help make us sharper, leaner, and more able to redefine and articulate what future, precisely, we think is worth fighting for. I’m not advocating that we celebrate unemployment, cuts, layoffs, and other depredations – what I’m suggesting is that instead of interpreting these realities as a new and improved form of decline, that we accept them as yet another spoke in the cycle of our perpetual redefinition.

ease impact

Which is another way of saying that this work is not supposed to be easy; if we assume that, we have lost perspective on our own history. This is why so many of us come equipped with loud voices and sharp minds, ready to employ each in good measure to re-articulate the role of libraries in preserving and providing wide and open access to the greatest good: information autonomy and intellectual empowerment in the face of bias and the knowledge-for-profit imperative.

library bill of rights and valuesMy final point: libraries have never and will never be “safe,” but they have always been dynamic and founded on conviction. Therefore, it is high time to recast crisis into the library change narrative that has existed all along, and to celebrate those who tend libraries as innovators and advocates.

Exhibit Library Bill of Rights, created in 1948 and a perfect example of quixotic ferocity in action. The LBoR points to those concepts which should undergird our transition in all its forms: access, intellectual freedom, advocacy for self-directed learning, democratic inquiry, and open public space. At the intersection of crisis and future, our first imperative is to support and sustain these foundational contributions of librarianship and kindred pursuits in information altruism, all of which run counter to the powerfully unpleasant alternatives being offered up.

In sum, may we tilt ever onwards/upwards against the forces that challenge us (ourselves in particular).


¹ Big shout to Eli Gandour-Rood, Lauren Woody, Melissa Lewis, Peter Vanderhooft, and Erin Gentry.

² Many thanks to Dena Hutto for inviting me to Reed and Anne-Marie Dietering for the Menucha invitation.

³ I owe decline and displacement to the excellent works of R. Knuth.

Posted by: char booth | 19 November 2012

backlog part 1: come hell or high water.

Last weekend I took a surfboard to the side of the head on a truly beautiful day. I stayed in the water and rode a few lopsided waves, mostly to convince myself that I didn’t have a concussion: the Pacific having dropped to the high 50s helped stave off the swelling, and all proved no worse than a headachey notch in my humility belt. It was one of those lucky bell-ringings that didn’t (apparently) result in any real injury beyond the insult-to variety, which served to remind me yet again that the things worthiest of loving/doing usually also risk inducing the most pain.

The inevitable discomfort of pursuing that which is worthwhile inspires this post, the first in a long-overdue ‘backlog’ series. The rationale for beginning is that I woke up this morning with a feeling I haven’t experienced in some time: the desire to actually write something. I spent the last five years or so publishing at a relentless pace, but have taken an almost total break from the practice since spring: down-time that has been wholly necessary for reasons work/life balance (a euphemism for finding myself with a lot less time to do something that had started to feel seriously unpleasant). Too busy plus sick of is a powerful combination.

audience and accountability

Since starting my current position, I’ve come to write less due as much to an increasingly teaching/project/presentation-centric workload as to motivation run dry. The development of a more visual/experiential and less discursive practice has been welcome, but it’s also produced an odd sensation of stasis and delayed rumination, as though these months have entailed a subtle shift away from considering my working experience through the lens of a hypothetical critical reader. I blogged back in April about the power of audience and access to compel excellence in student work, and the same seems to be true of my own. This has brought a concurrent realization that the reader is missed, and moreover might be essential to the best-case processing of my experience.

The relative absence thereof has resulted in the piling up and/or passing by of many experiences left un- or underexamined, and so I dredge up backlog exhibit a). This summer at ALA Annual I gave one segment of a highly enjoyable panel on publishing. I was deep in a trough of equal parts fatigue and self-imposed break, so my presentation came filtered through a slightly affectionate (but mostly frustrated) sense of aversion:

My point was simple, and is the motivation behind forcing myself to start posting again: writing is difficult, but it is precisely the agony of drafting/revising/editing/rejecting from which its value is derived. Writing (particularly about ones work) can be soulless, boring, hollow, and tedious; it can also be meaningful, exploratory, and challenging. In my own output, I find that what separates the latter from the former is a sense of conviction and/or urgency behind the themes, words, and ideas, and a dogged acceptance of the nauseatingly steep ratio of change that occurs between first and final draft. Conviction and acceptance evaporated for a spell, leaving many posts half-finished and dismissed. This created not only a layer of calcification over my desire to engage, but a skepticism about my ability to do so in the first place.

small-w writing

I realize, though, that I’ve pushed through the block in other ways. One of the messages of my publishing presentation was that writing does not have to be a major task that you sit down to do: the development of one’s voice can and should occur in all forms of text, and it is possible to consider any written communication meaningful however superficially trivial it might seem. The more you engage with the iteration and recursivity of composition in even the randomest of messages, the more meaning individual and collective derives from the result (and the sharper your abilities will stay).

I know from experience that yielding to fear or impatience associated with a task introduces a subtle pause and/or sense of doubt, which, if left unchallenged, metasticizes into bigger doubts and longer pauses. While composition shouldn’t be forced, it can be coaxed, developed, and pushed forward according to the context at hand… even when said context is highly unpleasant (like now, for instance). Committing myself to working through both block and backlog of half-explored projects feels a bit like surfing to prove I don’t have a head injury, but in the end it achieves the same effect: abiding by that which doesn’t come easy.

char inside at swamis

inside at swamis – image by lia friedman

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.

Posted by: char booth | 16 February 2012

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.

Posted by: char booth | 19 December 2011

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.

When I was in library school at UT Austin circa 2003, I salvaged a stack of crumbling bibliographic how-to posters from a throw-away pile and have been carrying them around ever since. These 18”x 20” beauties were created under the supervision of  an apparently visionary librarian, Ruby Ethel Cundiff, during the late 1930s and early 40s at the George Peabody College for Teachers, for their “course in teaching the use of the library.”

Several are framed in my office, and I’ve watched so many new and seasoned librarians, faculty, and students grow misty-eyed (and saliva-mouthed) over them that it’s high time they were shared more widely. Last week I brought the batch to the Claremont Colleges Digital Library to get the ball rolling for an archival quality collection (many thanks to Gabriel Jaramillo for his generous digitization help). I’ll write a post on the instructional value and visual content (a design-minder’s dream – hand drawn!) of these images after the ideas have percolated, but in the meantime the set is linked at libraries past/present: peabody visual aids in flickr.

mopac, nopac.

What I Want Is FactsAnother impetus for digitizing the series is a talk I’m giving a talk this month at the University of Connecticut Libraries, called “Library as Indicator Species: Evolution, or Extinction?” My project is to explore the cultural, ideological, and social meaning of libraries at a liminal moment in their/our history, in order to address several questions: Are libraries as an institution in decline? Are our representative values persistent? Are we content, container, and/or concept?

I ask these questions because the social and fiscal context of information use continues to transform. Not only have  tectonic shifts in media and access method brought the very idea of the “traditional” library into question among many, our shared professional reality of consolidations, defunding, closures, and layoffs gives the topic true urgency. If these are our earthquakes, their aftershocks are ongoing and widely felt.


From the late 19th to about the turn of the 21st century, libraries in “developed” counties were to a certain extent culturally reliable in the in the sense that they had become integral to the structure of many civic and educational institutions (e.g., municipalities, universities, grade schools, businesses). In the current context, this is no longer certain.

In “developing” countries, where libraries and other types of public learning spaces are often emergent, the discussion of library relevancy takes a completely different tone. In many regions, the establishment of new libraries (be they physical, digital, or both) is a dire need and a mark of privilege, important to nascent educational and social institutions and feasible only in areas of relative stability. I have a cousin who is a public health educator (Lauren Dunnington). She recently spent several years working on a project with her employer, I-Tech, to train medical librarians in Tanzania in fundamentals such as cataloging and classification, building professional community, and basic computing skills. These and other pop-up projects support critical knowledge infrastructure in areas where the type of library culture most North Americans have grown accustomed to (or taken for granted, or already miss) is being built from the ground up.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, does the catalog card (or disappearance thereof) tell us about a developed and digitizing information context, where we are prompted to ask new and difficult questions of and about libraries? The physical catalog has been dismantled for the most part, but mobile, social, and crowdsourced versions have developed in its place. Libraries continue to provide access and space to explore knowledge, virtual and analog, yet as open and closed digital resources grow and institutional resources dwindle, we are left fighting for self-determination.From Cover to Cover

shifting perception

A tension in the social/cultural perception of libraries has developed since the advent of the internet, and is is only intensifying with the rapid popular adoption of e-content. At every academic library I have worked, I have had as many conversations with faculty who lament the decline of the print journal as those who applaud it. Libraries are in constant flux, prompting some users to adapt their access strategies as others simply learn the “new” library as though it was the library that has always been.

How many of the knowledge areas described in the Peabody visuals are actually still relevant? Seventy years out, I find it fascinating that so much of my daily experience as a librarian and researcher is reflected in their content. While many of the tools the posters reference are outmoded, the extent to which their organizational strategies currently apply is a bit mindblowing. More importantly, beyond resources and strategies, I find that they represent the values upon which librarianship unarguably still pivots: information access and intellectual freedom.

memory construction

These are my beliefs about libraries, yet library perception is highly individualized. Values by no means transfer by rite or osmosis. Far more nuanced than buildings and websites, libraries are comprised of the experiences, memories, priorities, and needs of their users. Each of us builds a bibliographic history (or lack thereof) within ourselves, whether it is one of dread and evasion or love and solace. In turn, every library has a history and personality unto itself, forgeMen of Markd by its surrounding community, collection, staff, and symbolic representation. To generalize about the relevance of libraries is as daunting a task as generalizing about the existence and meaning of any other group of individuals or institutions, who may hold characteristics in common but remain very much distinct.

Think about it – who was your first librarian? Can you remember a public or school library you went to before you were, say, ten? Many of us (librarian or no) have visceral memories of buildings, books, experiences, and individuals – I can rattle mine off at length, both positive and negative. These memories are not relegated to the internal or personal – huge amounts of scholarly and artistic output has idealized libraries over the centuries, adding to the collective memory of their meaning and makeup.

If libraries exist in the minds of individuals and the context of communities, we are filtered (and funded) through their respective/collective value systems. Prejudices, perceptions, and nostalgia follows and defines us, as important to challenge as to acknowledge and respect.

last(ing) bastion

The Circle of Classified KnowledgeTo me, libraries might represent the pinnacle of an free intellectual democracy, while my cousin might think of them as a key tool in combating infant mortality. You might see the misappropriation of scarce public resources, whereas your partner might question the need for the institution if information is now free and ubiquitous.

In terms of external perceptions, this means that the radical changes occurring in many of our organizations and practices are perceived with great diversity, from a) unobserved and lost to the ether, b) resented departures from the “life of the mind”, c) welcome adjustments to a digital era, to d) nostalgic spasms of fiscal waste.

While all of these narratives are strong, I believe that the image of the library as a reliable, quiet bastion of bookdom has the most dogged cultural persistence. There is as much support in this perception as there is danger of obsolescence. We represent many things to people, but when we go about the process of changing, some of those representations begin to look and feel unfamiliar.

fixed dynamism

In my observation, library users tend to want and expect a consistent experience, and one that reflects their understanding of the purpose of the institution (free and unbiased access to materials,  information support, public space, warehouse of print journals, etc.). Patrons desire free and easy access to content and assistance, which librarians want nothing more than to provide. However, when our methods and media of provision shift, some are better served by change while others are not.

Paradoxically, libraries are at once fixed and dynamic by nature. As our collections, structures, strategies, and staff evolve constantly to reflect the needs and resources of our communities, they do so based on an unchanging commitment to access and discovery. From the user perspective, I observe that this dynamism has long been obscured by an oversimplified end product: content. Both the principle and process of the library life cycle have been hidden from the public for decades by design, acquisition and description and redefinition occurring under wraps and behind closed doors, poorly communicated and seldomly vetted. In other words, the what of libraries stands in the way of our why and how.

Get it Right

As this why and how is called into question, our changing impact on the collective experience merits careful consideration. Are libraries doing the work to foster future memories, enthusiasts, and advocates? Are we creating irreplaceable and unique experiences, or has the cultural context changed to the degree that these experiences are being had elsewhere? These questions are well worth exploring, and present interesting challenges on the path to relevancy and redefinition.

depth perception

In my opinion, those of us who help define libraries should keep one creative eye on the future and one reflective eye on artifacts like the Peabody posters. Service innovations, new roles and collaborations, contributions to the digital transition, physical and digital facility redesigns, participatory media projects, and process redefinitions such as patron-driven acquisitions are not enough. It is critical to communicate the why, how, and what of new library iterations with equivalent urgency, and connect them to the unique cultural role and principle of libraries past and future.

The more I look at these images, the more clearly I observe that not only have core library values remained true through tectonic shifts, they have shaped the shifts themselves. As we open and adapt practice and process to the user, we should always remember (and relentlessly remind) that, in addition to materials, it is individual experiences and irreplaceable principles that make libraries libraries. This cumulative advocacy will ensure that our organizations are understood, shaped, and perceived as of enduring value to the collective social memory.

From Card Catalog to the Book on the Shelf

In 2009 I published Informing Innovation, a research report that tracked the library and technology use, perceptions, and needs of Ohio University students. Over the past year, I have been privileged to consult on a similar project for a different (and vastly larger) student population in California.

I’ve been working with the Council of Chief Librarians of California Community Colleges (CCLCCC) to develop a coordinated online user study strategy that could feasibly scale to all 112 community colleges in California. The trial run of this survey occurred in February of 2011, and involved five colleges throughout the state (East Los Angeles College, Merced College, Mendocino College, Mission College, & Santa Barbara City College). A total of 3,168 students attempted the LTES survey at an 80% completion rate and a 12% rate of return based on total full time enrollment (25,625 at the combined campuses).

The Student Library and Technology Engagement Survey was designed to address the following goals:

Understand local users. Examine the library, information, communication, and academic technology characteristics of California community college (CCC) students.
Track technology trends. Chart the use of emerging media platforms and communication tools by CCC students.
Support learning needs. Determine the library’s role in the personal learning environments of CCC students, and identify how to respond more strategically to academic/information needs.
Prioritize and refine services. Evaluate and adapt traditional and tech-based library services based on user insight.
Foster cohesion. Provide a common user research strategy for CCC libraries.

Each school sampled their populations via different methods (all-student email v. social media, etc.) in order to test rates of return and data quality. This differentiated research design limits the generalizability of pilot findings, but sheds significant light on survey promotional strategies and the insights that can be inferred from varying sampling methods.

The final project report summarizes the research strategy and initial findings of the CCC Student Library & Technology Engagement Survey, and includes an open access sharealike questionnaire template for non-CCL member institutions to adapt and use in their own contexts:

key findings

Survey results provide insight into the connections between library and technology perceptions, use, and receptivity to emerging library platforms (mobile, social, etc.) at each pilot campus:

Library Engagement
• Student populations interacted frequently with their physical and digital campus libraries (though significantly more so with brick-and-mortar facilities), and tended to access information resources for research purposes at varied points during the semester based on assignment-related information need.
• “Library as place” was a central theme among participants, who consistently expressed the desire for longer hours, larger facilities, and more resources.
• Respondents frequently cited the quiet, clean atmosphere of campus library facilities as conducive to academic productivity, often in contrast to their home environments.
• Participants rated their information search abilities in an open web context significantly higher than their library research abilities.
• Students who had participated in library instruction reported more positive library perceptions and higher levels of library use and awareness than those who had not.
• Students accessed course readings using an array of web, commercial, library-provided, and informal methods.
• Open-ended comments conveyed a widespread perception of library value as well as a positive reaction to the survey project itself, which can be interpreted as creating ancillary outreach/awareness effects for participating campuses.

Technology Engagement
• Participants owned and used a wide variety of technology devices, web tools, and social media sites, but also expressed a lack of awareness and/or interest in some technology platforms relative to others.
• Participants reflected an ongoing trend toward reliance on mobile devices such as smartphones, which they applied to diverse academic and personal uses.
• Students valued their technology skill development at community college.
• Information technology use was perceived as a positive factor in learning, academic productivity, and collaboration.
• Social and multimedia platforms were often used in the context of coursework.
• Many participants reported challenges affording necessary academic technologies.

Library Technology Receptivity
• Participants demonstrated interest in library services delivered via social media platforms. Among the available options, respondents were most receptive to services offered via Facebook and YouTube.
• Respondents indicated high levels of interest in library services delivered via mobile platforms, but expressed greater receptivity to some types of mobile library functionality over others (e.g., hours, overdue notices, and renewal features rated higher than “ask a librarian” options).

additional background

This effort arose from an acknowledgement that, at a time of widespread transition and resource scarcity in higher education, robust inquiry is needed at the campus level to understand the diversity of user needs and characteristics. If known, these factors can facilitate a streamlined library and academic technology framework that supports student learning through evidence-based practice.

In coordination with the CCL Executive Board, myself and a working group consisting of pilot participant library directors, including Tim Karas of Mission College (Chair), John Koetzner of Mendocino College, Kenley Neufeld of Santa Barbara City College, Choonhee Rhim of East Los Angeles Community College, and Susan Walsh of Merced College, developed and administered the study between Fall of 2010 and Spring of 2011.

If you have questions about this study or its open access questionnaire template, please visit or contact me at charbooth at gmail.

copyright & citation information

This report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Booth, C. (2011). California Community College Student Library & Technology Engagement Survey: 2011 Pilot, Final Report. Sacramento, CA: Council of Chief Librarians of California Community Colleges, available from

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