Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Blog: "Two-Year Talk"

Hey, guess what? Remember that wish I had in my (now penultimate) final post about how I'd like "to work with other community college librarians on a writing project"? Stemming from a listserv discussion, a group of community college librarians has formed a blogging group, and we're now up and running with regular posts! I plan to post monthly, and I haven't contributed an entry yet, but I'm the editor on Wednesdays. Here's the site:


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Final Post Here

I was a new librarian when I started this blog. I may still be relatively young, but I don't feel so green anymore, and lately I find I have less to say. I'm hoping this is a sign of maturity and not complacency.

Looking back, I wonder if some of my attempts to be honest rather served to put my ignorance on public display -- some of my early posts make me cringe. I used this space to mull over ideas and problems, and this was messier and ultimately perhaps less useful than if I had presented successes and accomplishments.

Having said that, it seems like a good idea to leave this up for a year or so even though I will no longer be posting. Maybe it will assist other librarians who are entering the profession; maybe it will be a useful example of the form. For now it will also stay on my resumé, which reflects the idea that having a blog is an asset rather than a liability.

For the duration of the time I that I posted here, I was a community college librarian. Was I unique in regularly and publicly narrating the community college librarian experience? At the current time, I'm aware of only one other community college librarian writing in a similar way. I wish there were more! I was initially attracted to working in community colleges due to the combination of academia and social activism, and subsequently I have found many additional things to admire, but the inherent provincialism is worth occasionally leaving behind.

What's next? I do naturally enjoy writing, and I have a couple of projects in mind. Related to the previous paragraph, I would like to work with other community college librarians on a writing project. And if I can find a way, I'd like to contribute to meaningful scholarship

Friday, December 21, 2012

Library Friends

The idea of establishing a Friends of the Library group for the college has been tossed around several times lately. At first I was wary, suspicious that it could be used to cut the library's budget, but now I'm beginning to see a place for it. Previously I associated Friends groups with public rather than academic libraries, but nearby Rowan University has apparently had one since 1996. And at other academic institutions it is common for alumni to establish book funds, which are essentially the same thing by a different name. In the past our own efforts have resulted in a Dedicate-a-Book program, but it is not actively promoted right now. 

I think a Friends group, or something similar to it, could be worth trying for a number of reasons:

(1) Despite the everyday frustrations common to working in a bureaucracy, many people are very engaged in the college community, and they genuinely want to see it do good things and do them well. I'd rather not approach people and try to persuade them to care about the library if they do not, but when they come to the library of their own accord it would be nice to have an established avenue for how they could help us.

(2) Fiscally, times are tight, and much of our budget goes to electronic materials. I think our patrons (a group which includes scholars, instructors, students, and the general public) still like to see printed books. They like the idea of books, and they like to think that libraries have books. They like books even if in practice they use electronic resources more often. So while our library devotes a lot of time and resources to electronic access, as long as the printed book represents academia, the library has an obligation to support a physical collection. Maybe the primary purpose of a Friends group could be to support that physical collection.

(3) When people want to give things to the library, they rarely think of electronic materials. Accurate or no, electronic materials are still considered ephemeral, while the library as a place is not. Heck, even I find the idea of donating electronic materials unappealing, and I'm firmly convinced of how important they are.

I think the next steps toward making this happen involve working with departments outside of the library, and this is where the real work begins. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Culture of Higher Ed

It is representative of higher education in general that the college where I work was originally a seminary. (The seminary was built on farm land, and prior to that it was forest.) I think about this a lot, not only because a few of the academic buildings show vestiges of their original purpose, but because some traditions of the church appear in academic life. Many perceive, half-seriously, that a vow of poverty is taken when selecting work in higher education instead of business. Academic culture is much more community-minded than other occupations. It also promises to elevate its disciples if they are willing.

I do not question whether institutions of higher education are, overall, a good thing for society, but there is something blindly aristocratic in an insistence that a culture should continue even when income does not meet expenditures -- a situation I fear many institutions currently face. This makes the existence of academic libraries, with printed materials now a luxury, more impressive than ever. Libraries, which were able to form as an unplanned side effect of a free publishing market, now contain larger assemblages of physical books than many of our students have ever seen before and might ever see again.

I mention all of this partly because of recent news stories about how higher education is in flux. Free courses are available online; plenty of entrepreneurs publicly call a traditional college degree unnecessary; the ever-rising cost of college, and the resulting debt-load for many students, is either out of reach or seriously criticized by many middle-class citizens. Not to be fatalistic, but in this climate it is not unreasonable to suggest that the college where I now work might go the way of the seminary before it, and that the campus will be converted to something else in the coming decades. Who knows what -- a medical village? Testing and certification grounds? -- but presumably there would be a corresponding shift in the culture.

Is it fitting that the best thing I can think to do is continue to come to work each day?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Barriers to Student Success

It is near the end of the semester, and the obstacles facing students are suddenly more noticeable. As they sprint to the finish, students are rushing around and packing things in, with no time to waste. Anything that is not a requirement, it seems, can be dispensed with. They have to do what to get a library card, in order to access the library resources? You can't get this online because of copyright? How many clicks does it take to connect to the database? The assigned reading is how many pages, and it will take how many hours?

In our department, meanwhile, it seems we have repeated discussions about specialization and the amount of time needed to learn to do a task efficiently. Occasionally librarians are pulled into helping at the circulation desk, for instance, and those transactions then end up taking twice as long due to unfamiliarity with the system and procedures. Students figuring out the expectations of a college during their first years (or semester) in higher education are similar to librarians negotiating unfamiliar tasks, and these can be painfully inefficient and frustrating experiences until mastered.

Some of the barriers that students encounter are unavoidable; some are due to poor time management or organization; some are a result of indifference. But I keep returning to the thought that if there is something we can do at the library to remove a barrier, we should. This may sound simple and obvious, but it belies the amount of energy and willpower it can sometimes take. Here are a few that come to mind as examples: *Off-campus authentication: Currently this involves the integrated library system and the local public library consortium, and to improve it would involve the college's public safety department, some new code from IT, and a new process for library staff. *Cooperation among services that are located in the same building: The library as a space occupies an entire building, but as a department it only occupies the first floor. Students often approach library staff with problems we have little control over.

Librarians, along with others working in academia but particularly in community colleges, have an obligation to identify and remove barriers in order to foster student success.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Library Guides and Course Management Systems

During the past several years we have used Springshare's LibGuides extensively, to support instruction and to bring attention to various collections, services, and events at the library. (We do not currently have LibGuides CMS, formerly CampusGuides.) Recently we've begun to worry that the guides compete with the college's online course management system. The library has no wish to manage online courses, but we are starting to encounter faculty who understand LibGuides differently from librarians.

For librarians, LibGuides are a straightforward yet personalized way to highlight relevant parts of the library's collections and services. In my own experience, I have had the most success when I build a LibGuide for a particular assignment -- an assignment that has specific objectives but also some flexibility in terms of requiring students to perform some independent research. At other libraries, I notice that LibGuides are successfully used to replace paper pathfinders or hand-outs; the web-based LibGuides are far more malleable than either of those. There are usage statistics to see if anyone hits the content, and the guides support interactive features such as chat and forms.

Meanwhile, at least where I work, faculty who teach in person are looking for stable online space to easily organize their course materials and make them available to their classes. 'Course materials' can include hand-outs, syllabi, supplementary readings, and information about assignments. So while it's great when the library creates a LibGuide for a particular assignment, a LibGuide doesn't cover an entire semester, and even from my librarian perspective it seems weird that only a portion of a course would be supported this way. I mean, it makes the library look good, but it puts the rest of the college in a somewhat awkward position.

Then there are those faculty who teach online and/or have adopted the college's course management system to host their course content. From within the course management system, the LibGuides can get a little lost lost, as they just appear as a link.

The library has a functional relationship with those who administer distance education. As I write all of this down, it seems like the next logical step is a conversation with them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is This Also Called Burnout?

Lately I've been worrying that I'm becoming stupider.

When I assist students at the reference desk, I'm often familiar with the assignment they are working on, and so I forget to listen to them fully. I recognize this as a type of arrogance or lack of humility that can develop when desensitized to students who are at the very beginning of their academic work; I've also observed instances of it in interactions between faculty members and students.

Then there are the times I catch myself being curmudgeonly about technology -- even here, on a weblog. I complain about the experience of reading online while expecting someone to read my own online posts. I can appreciate the grand tradition of technology-based dystopias, but it seems foolish to imagine having any influence on the sea change in information consumption.

Projects that would have once seemed simple now seem dishearteningly difficult and complicated. I can't tell if I was naive in the past, or if I am too easily defeated now. Along similar lines, I find I have less to say; I am surprised and outraged by less. Was I over-reacting in the past, or have I become complacent? I am also becoming weary of fighting for libraries. To me, the benefit of libraries and librarians is maddeningly obvious, and so why am I constantly in the position of reminding even those people in my own institution?

Upon re-read, it sounds like I'm ready for a holiday! Happy Thanksgiving!