While I’ve been working on sketching out a post that really does relate to the theme of this blog(!), I’ve also been thinking about something else. For me, in my own mind and heart and work, this ties together education and library science and other major components of my profession and my life. (But yeah — it does stray away from the theme a bit. No excuses. 🙂  )

Recently I’ve been doing some organized soul searching — among other things, receiving some amazing mid-career coaching from my friend Janneke — and I have developed a new practice. It’s changed things.

When I find myself hesitating to take a professional leap right now, I try to pull apart the layers of emotion that are guiding my choice. What’s really there, layer upon layer? What’s keeping me from taking action? Sometimes there are perfectly good reasons — the time isn’t right, or I need to think through the options further, or…sometimes it’s just a case of common sense!…but sometimes there’s a layer of fear.

And if it’s fear without a good reason, I try to look at the situation and the choices without that layer of fear. What does the answer look like now? Powerful magic, my friends.

What we can learn from each other: Librarians and university faculty

Welcome to the new year! May it be a year of learning from each other.

I spend a lot of my working life in academic libraries talking with university faculty. (At my institution, librarians are faculty as well. But I’m talking about English professors, art professors, engineering professors…you get the idea.) I spend a lot of my commuting & research time reading articles about academic libraries, and about both P-12 and higher education. I spend a lot of time in my doctoral program debating and discussing and binding with teachers and administrators from a wide variety of settings. So you can guess some of the things that I think about.

One of the most pragmatic, given my work is–my gosh, there is so much that academic librarians and university faculty can learn from each other! Another is–why aren’t we talking more about this? That and other connections between the fields of LIS and education–which can so intimately inform each other–is indeed the theme of this blog.

So let’s talk. First, what can academic librarians tell university faculty? Here’s a list to start with:

  • We have a longitudinal view of students’ academic and personal development. We often work closely with a small but meaningful number of students from the first time they choose to connect with the library until they graduate.
  • What do students really know about research? Ask a librarian. For many of us, that’s our life.
  • Students share their challenges, victories, fears, and complaints candidly.
  • Rather profoundly, students often verbalize how they are applying ideas learned in one class, in another class. We see transfer of learning on the large scale.
  • Similarly, students often explain assignments’ requirements to us. We have a good idea what kinds of instructions trip students up, and what supports smooth sailing.
  • Although you could argue that the students we work with may not represent campus demographics accurately, we do work extensively with both high achievers and struggling students. Academic librarians have insights into what students with different academic backgrounds and/or levels of preparation find helpful, struggle with, and so on.

What can librarians learn from university faculty? A few ideas based on my experiences:

  • Faculty know individual students deeply. They have a detailed view of individuals’ performance, needs, and more.
  • Likewise, they often have powerful narratives of individual students’ experiences to share.
  • While we know how assignments pan out on the reference desk or in the library instruction classroom, faculty know how they pan out across the semester. Sometimes my head is so deep in my own work with students that I need that reminder.
  • Faculty are wonderful sources of insight on trends in teaching & learning.
  • No matter how up to date I think I am on trends/requirements/changes/etc. on curriculum at my institution, faculty always have a lot to tell me. This is a favorite topic for a bit of conversation when I run into my favorite faculty members.

How do we find opportunities to connect? Some of my favorite opportunities are before, after, & during instruction; at university symposia; on university-level committees (I’m a committee junkie–I actually enjoy committee work); over coffee (no one says no!); and by offering to write posts for various university blogs & publications.

Whew! Librarians, what else can we share with university faculty? What else have you learned along the way from these interactions? Let’s talk.

Here’s to a vibrant new year! Thanks for being a part of it.

Brainstorming session: Creating Wicked Students

Hi, everyone!

So, getting back to the original purpose of this blog–let’s talk about some of the riches of the world of education & how we can use them in academic libraries. And why do we imagine that divide, anyway? Education and libraries are so closely, passionately, powerfully tied together anyway that I believe that we should be keeping an eye on each other’s thoughts and discoveries all the time.

Recently I participated in a professional book club through my university’s Center for Faculty Development. The sessions were focused on Paul Hanstedt’s book Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World. The book is really worth reading(!!), but you can get a good sense of the major themes from a presentation on Creating Wicked Students provided by AAC&U.

The book focuses on the value of & methods for incorporating what Hanstedt calls “wicked problems” into college courses. What is a wicked problem, you ask? Wicked problems are typically the complicated, meaningful, messy problems with no perfect solution that we see in the real world. They’re the problems that we see in real jobs every day. To imagine that in the field of LIS…a wicked problem might be asking Master’s students in LIS to plan materials & instruction for an online, sophomore-level physics course where they’d been asked to serve as the course’s official librarian. They get a few hints from the fictitious professor ahead of time: for example, at this institution, about 10% of the students speak English as a second (or more!) language, so the librarian will need to take this into account. Also, a number of students have expressed interest (but not a deep knowledge…yet) of astrophysics early in the semester, so astrophysics is definitely a subtopic to include. This in and of itself would count as a “wicked problem.” The LIS students could be challenged even further by, for example, learning that the fictitious professor would miss a week due to unexpected surgery & that the course librarian would be asked to “cover” for that week on the spur of the moment.

Here’s where I am at the moment. I can imagine plenty of wicked problems for LIS. No problem there–my LIFE is wicked LIS problems! 🙂 I can also come up with ways to encourage faculty and students to consider taking relatively “wicked” approaches to assignments. Lean toward the complex, the real, the meaningful, and the messy.

What I’m working on right now, though, is how to incorporate wicked problems into information literacy instruction. I can come up with some on the small scale. For example, I can ask my music business students to explore public reactions to an artist across all kinds of media, and through all kinds of voices–social media, sales stats, and yes, scholarly venues. That’s wicked, and we can sample it during a 75-minute session. What else can we do? What options do we as librarians have for introducing wicked problems and wicked approaches to research & information literacy during the types of interactions we have with students every day?

Let’s talk! I’d like to hear your ideas & start bouncing options off each other.


Why Have Tenure for Librarians?

Hi, everyone–

Thank you to all of you who attended the ACRL webinar “Tenure-Track Positions: Could I Survive? Could I Thrive?” along with Gene Springs, Barbara Moran, our moderator Laura Gariepy, and me this afternoon. We were thrilled that the webinar drew (and kept) a sizable and [very] engaged audience. I’ll post a link to the webinar as soon as ACRL makes it available.

I’m sitting here in the post-presentation glow 🙂 thinking about…tenure-track positions. Thinking about tenure, and about how other tenured librarians and I have gotten here. Certainly it wasn’t easy; even the four and a half years since I received my tenure letter from the Provost haven’t dulled memories of the path.

What is it that I love about tenure-track positions, though? Why do I believe that, for some positions and for some librarians, tenure-track positions are a great match? Here are some thoughts.

  1. Tenure-track positions support high-quality research among academic librarians. The support pairs a requirement (and a scrutiny) of rigor with pragmatic support for the librarian-researcher. It requires AND supports librarians’ efforts to build a stream of high-quality research. It also rewards devotion to that work.
  2. High-quality research coming out of academic librarians benefits higher education as a whole, not just librarians. Academic librarians get to see students learning from a vantage point that’s longitudinal, that’s candid, and that has an interesting duality of insider/outsider perspective.
  3. Tenured faculty often have the opportunity/responsibility to participate in higher levels of university committee work and related functions. This brings academic librarians’ insights to higher levels of administration.
  4. Tenure-track and tenured librarians often naturally network with other research-oriented faculty and units at their institutions. This creates opportunities for collaborations, support, and truly research-centered perceptions of academic libraries.
  5. Different librarians bring different strengths to academic libraries. Some excel at administration; some at teaching; some at technical skills; some at outreach; some at research. Of course it’s a great big Venn diagram–many librarians bring numerous strengths. For those who excel at research, this is a powerful way to channel that strength, to use it to benefit their library, their institution, and their profession.
  6. And finally, I have a deep-seated belief that individuals who gravitate toward tenure-track library positions, where they know that they’ll be taking on research on top of their primary job, tend to be dedicated hard workers.

Is the tenure track the only way to go? No! Is it the only place for dedicated workers and deep thinkers in academic libraries? Of course not! However, the tenure track is an established system that typically helps librarians connect with their college or university’s community of thinkers and researchers, as well as with its resources.

What do you think? Let’s discuss!

Why do students make the [academic] choices they do?: Actor-oriented transfer

Why do college students make the choices they do? We’re not talking about following/bypassing fashion trends, or about a certain incident I saw outside the library this morning involving a student feeding a squirrel by hand (bad choice). We’re talking about how students choose to apply academic skills that they develop in one assignment/course/situation in another assignment/course/situation. We’re most interested in why the students make the nuanced choices they do when choosing how to approach a complex situation.

This set of questions is what I wanted to approach as I began planning my doctoral research in the field of education. I decided to explore intersections of education and library science (the divisions between the two fields become less important the more I learn) to answer one of my “holy grail” questions. That question is: What motivates students to continue to use–or discontinue using–information literacy skills throughout the course of their undergraduate years. All of us who work in academic library public services positions see that, after learning basic information literacy skills during an undergraduate degree, some students continue to apply, develop, and tailor these skill sets. Others do not.

As I searched for strategies that I could use to investigate these questions, I came across the actor-oriented transfer perspective (“AOT”). Dr. Joanne Lobato, an expert in STEM education at San Diego State University, developed AOT. AOT gives us strategies and framework for investigating situations in which students have learned one or more methods for problem-solving in a particular field.

In AOT-based study, a researcher would provide students with one or more problems that they could solve using at least one of the methods that they have learned. The researcher asks each student to solve the problems and–crucially–narrate what he or she is doing. The researcher asks each student questions about his or her process, typically following a written protocol. Additionally, the researcher collects teaching materials (called “focusing phenomena”) that the students’ teacher(s) have used to guide learning. The researcher would perform quite a bit of coding to explore techniques that the students chose to follow and trends in decision-making processes. They would also examine the teaching materials to see what students had been taught to pay attention to when making decisions.

AOT helps researchers & the teachers (or librarians!) they partner with to develop a functional, holistic understanding of why students chose to approach problems in the way they did. Researchers and teachers can also choose to further investigate the choices of students who displayed a range of typical responses, or who displayed unusual responses–whatever interests them. Ultimately, they collect a great deal of information about the decision-making processes that students followed. They can connect this with how students were originally taught.

Wow, that’s a lot to take in. How does this work in practice? I should probably apply this in a library scenario — but you can read a library scenario in my article on AOT applied to information literacy instruction. 🙂 I’ve been using AOT to shape my assessment this semester & would love to tell you about what I’ve learned.

Instead, let’s apply AOT to students faced with a squirrel. Let’s say that I’m a researcher interested in how pre-veterinary students make decisions about feeding animals. Throughout several courses in their first year of a pre-veterinary program, students have learned a range of techniques for handling and feeding a variety of animals. Their professors have given several lectures and assignments that have provided guidelines for making decisions related to animal handling and feeding (which I collected and coded). They have also practiced some animal handling in their labs and, in some cases, through internships.

Now it’s down to the student, me, and a squirrel. I meet with students from the course one at a time. I provide appropriate squirrel food and a variety of tools that the student might use to safely, humanely handle the squirrel and encourage it to eat. Padded gloves, for sure. I would ask the student to take his or her time to feed the squirrel, using their best judgment and necessary tools. I would ask them to talk me through the process, including why they were making the choices they did. When the process was over, I would ask any necessary follow-up questions. Once I had conducted all of the interviews, I would code information and draw inferences about students’ decision-making processes.

No doubt, something would go wrong for one of the students. Despite our best judgment, someone might get nipped. A squirrel might refuse to eat. One of the strengths of AOT is that I would continue to learn from “failed” or incomplete instances, rather than discarding them. We as librarians who teach know how much we learn from seeing both excellent and less skillful student work.

That’s AOT. I’ve used it to gathered some powerful insights about students’ work in my classroom. I’d love to hear how you think you might apply it, as well as related techniques that you’ve used to investigate learning in your library classroom.

Learn more:

Lobato, J. (2006). Alternative perspectives on the transfer of learning: History, issues, and challenges for future research. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 431–449.

Sobel, K. (2018). The Actor-oriented Transfer Perspective in Information Literacy Instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(5), 627–632. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2018.07.008

Librarians, what can we learn from the field of education?

Hello, friends–

This is me, Karen, blogging for the first time (since graduate school) about something that’s been on my mind for some time now: bringing together the fields of library science and education.

I’m starting this blog with a couple of related purposes in mind. The premise is — I’d like to open up conversations about bringing practice, research, and theory (don’t be scared!) from the field of education into academic libraries. I’m planning to highlight some of the remarkable work that teachers in higher education, as well as P-12 settings, perform. I’ll open up and facilitate conversations about how we can use and modify this work in academic libraries.

Right now I’m “ABD” in the field of Education. (Knock on wood, I’ll my doctorate next year.) One thing that has stood out to me as I’ve read deeply, deeply, into education literature is how many conversations that I have with teachers & administrators, & how many papers I read, suggest potentially meaningful changes or experiments in the library instruction classroom. Yet we academic librarians, myself included, often discuss techniques or read pieces from that field & say something like, “Oh! I would try that if only…[I had a semester-long course…if only I had more than 75 minutes with the students….].” In this blog, let’s instead say, “What powerful work!” I think that I could modify that for academic libraries by….”

So let’s talk. Join the conversation. Explore the possibilities. Share inspiring examples that you haven’t quite perfected. As Nick Charles (William Powell) says in The Thin Man, “Got your skates on? Let’s get rolling.”


P.S. Do you have a good idea for a title for this blog? Snappy yet professional? One that you’d be willing to let me steal? If so, let’s talk! 😉