Category Archives: The Library Game

Farewell to Rule Number One

Dear Readers,

We’re writing with some bittersweet news: as of April 17, 2018,  we’re going to be closing up shop here at Rule Number One. Though we plan to keep the blog up as a record of … well, the blog … we aren’t planning any new posts here.

When we started the blog – about five years ago, when we we both just out of library school – our main purpose was just to create a reason to stay in touch and work on a project together. Neither of us had any pretensions that we were doing anything but shouting out into the silences of the internet, but just in case anyone was listening, we were excited to put our perspective out there.  Never in a million years could we have anticipated what this little project turned into: articles, presentations, and the book that we recently published with the American Library Association, Learner-Centered Pedagogy.  We’ve been truly grateful (and surprised!) by the reception to our work here.

So why end Rule Number One?

We just have a sense that it’s to time to end this particular collaboration. One of our main goals for starting the blog was to get our perspective (a learner-centered approach driven by the cognitive science of learning and humanistic psychology) out there in libraries. And now we feel that we’ve done that, both here and in our book. This is not to say that we think it’s perfect, or great, or done, or that everyone has now adopted its methods and ideas and we can retire into library instruction infamy. We’re probably not even totally done with these ideas, but now we’d like to explore both these ideas and other things in new ways. We’re so psyched we got to do this together for as long as we did and we hope we’ll collaborate in different ways in the future, but this chapter feels like it’s closing.

Honestly, we’re different people at very different places in life than we were five years ago, just out of library school. There’s new jobs, spouses, kids, moves across the country… It’s been a challenge to keep up with the blog, and we feel like we’re not doing it justice anymore, with rare posts and limited engagement. We don’t want to leave it hanging, so it seems better to wrap it up.

It’s been hard to make this decision, which is why there’s been silence for so long. We feel sad, but also sort of liberated. We’re glad we’ve been able to do this thing, together, and that you’ve been kind enough to join us for the journey.

If you want to find us, you can always send us an e-mail or find us on Twitter (@danibcook and @k_m_klipfel),  and we would love it if you say hi if you ever run into us at a conference.

…And with that, we bid you a fond and grateful farewell, at least on this particular WordPress site.

We’ll see you when we see you,

Kevin and Dani

Rule # 1: A Library Blog Co-Bloggers

2012-2018

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Teaching in Libraries: A Recommended Reading List

Last week, a colleague asked me for a few reading recommendations about library instruction. It was so fun putting together this list of things that I’ve enjoyed and that have influenced me, and a couple other folks have asked to see it, so I thought I’d share it here, lightly edited. Hope you might find it useful, and I’d love to hear about your favorite reads as well!

Library Instruction Literature

I recently read Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information, edited by Troy A Swanson and Heather Jagman, and found it really useful for contextualizing the bigger picture of library instruction. I especially liked every single essay in the first part, so think it’s worth your time to read through them all!

Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning blew my mind in library school as the first evidence-based library instruction book I encountered, and it’s an A+ introduction to instructional design for librarians.

I was really inspired by Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel’s “Sparking Curiosity: Librarians’ Role in Encouraging Exploration” piece in In the Library with the Lead Pipe recently. Their coordinated approach to thinking about research as an exploration made me excited about instruction all over again.

I love everything Veronica Arellano Douglas writes about instruction, and if you aren’t already reading her blog, please do: https://veronicaarellanodouglas.com/

Pretty sure that we’ve recommended Sara Fine’s “Librarians and the Art of Helping” here before, but I’m going to recommend it again. It’s about the reference desk, but reference and instruction are really on a continuum, and there’s lots of important ideas here about question-asking and how we talk to our learners.

Barbara Fister on everything is so great: https://barbarafister.net/

I’m not the hugest fan of tooting my own horn (though I’m trying to be better about it, thanks to the encouragement of some fabulous colleagues), but I actually think you could do worse than this article that Kevin and I wrote about some concrete strategies from the cognitive science literature for library instruction.

General Teaching Literature

While this book by educational psychologist Daniel T. Willingham is meant for K-12 teachers, it’s a great and accessible intro to the science of how people learn. I own two copies, and they are both loaned out at the moment to librarian colleagues: Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What It Means for Your Classroom.

bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress is a classic for a reason. I’m the director of a “new” Teaching & Learning Department, and I’ve come back to this several times recently in thinking about what our community of teaching practice can and should look like (see Chapter 3: Embracing Change and Chapter 10: Building a Teaching Community).

Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education” is a fun and eye-opening read. We read it as a department this quarter and it led to some really fruitful and interesting discussions about challenging our assumptions about learners.

I really enjoy and value books aimed at K-12, because there’s a lot to draw on for our work with older learners too, and I recently found The Gift of Failure to be really helpful for thinking through a process-orientation to research, and how we might model that in the classroom and reference desk.

Kevin (of course) pointed me to “Engaging students in learning activities: It is not autonomy support or structure but autonomy support and structure” and I think about this literally every single time I plan a class now.

A few blogs that I follow pretty closely: Benjamin Doxtdator (http://www.longviewoneducation.org/), Hybrid Pedagogy (http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/), and Hack Education (http://hackeducation.com/).

…anyway, that’s my little idiosyncratic list. Let me know what you would add!

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

The Information Behavior of Librarians: A Super-Scientific Study

Based on about four years of periodically checking this blog’s traffic, here’s my super scientific impression of the percent of people who click on various kinds of links when I link to something on this blog.

Pictures of me or Dani: 99.9%

Any anecdotal thing I’ve said about threshold concepts that I thought about for less than three seconds: 92.4%

Ryan Gosling memes: 72.3%

Links to personal websites of guest bloggers: 68%

Links to persons, places, or things I just insulted: 49.6%

Papers we’ve authored: 19.1 %

Articles I think are extremely important for people in our profession to read: <1%

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Opposing Viewpoints

I don’t generally comment on what other people in the profession are writing or blogging about (ironically,  I suppose, I don’t read any library blogs), but on my esteemed co-blogger’s twitter I came across and enjoyed this post by Lane Wilkinson on “Dealing with Both Sides in Your Library.” I liked it not just because I tend to agree with its general sentiments :re folks with morally repugnant and intellectually indefensible positions, but also because I haven’t seen a ton of discussion (though I haven’t really looked) about how dumb it is to think that “pro” vs. “con” or “for” and “against” is at all an interesting or nuanced way to think about research, debate, or anything else that is not a sporting event.

This has come up in a variety of professional contexts for me (e.g., at one job I had I was against showing freshmen the “Opposing Viewpoints” database because, well, there’s just evidence for or against a particular claim, not “opposing viewpoints, which aversion was met by horror for some other librarians) and it’s nice to see someone explaining why it’s not all that great.

More controversially, perhaps: I really like the tone (at least in this post) Lane writes with, and am glad to have people who conduct themselves that way publicly in the profession.

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First Review of “Learner-Centered Pedagogy”!

Our publisher just sent over a link to the first review of Learner-Centered Pedagogy and it’s … a good one!

An excerpt:

Fusing theory with practice, this handbook is exceptionally organized and presented, making it a valuable and very highly recommended resource to help every practitioner connect with learners more effectively. Enhanced with the inclusion of a eight page bibliography (Directions for Further Reading) and an eleven page Index, “Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice” is an unreservedly recommended addition to college and university Library Science collections and community library staff in-service training supplemental studies reading lists.

Here’s where you can read the whole review in full, Mom.

(*Small correction to the review, if anyone cares: I’m not, as the review suggests, currently a lecturer in moral and existential philosophy at Virginia Tech – that was a past life. I’m the Instructional Design and Assessment Librarian at the University of Southern California Libraries).

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John Stuart Mill on Individuality and Conformity

In our times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual or the family do not ask themselves—what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?

-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter Three, “Of Individuality, as One of the Components of Well-Being,” 1859

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Vulnerability in the Classroom

It is an intriguing comment on our educational system that it is assumed that only under the most dire circumstances would a professor reveal himself in any personal way […]

I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others.

-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me,” in On Becoming a Person. (pp. 3 and 26, respectively).

This chapter is a great read – full PDF available free online.

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Congrats, Kevin!

Major congratulations are in order for my friend and co-blogger, Kevin Michael Klipfel, who is starting a new gig this week at USC as the Instructional Design and Assessment Librarian! A little over a year ago, Kevin and his wife moved to Los Angeles to live out their SoCal dreams, and now Kevin will be joining one of the great SoCal university libraries, and I couldn’t be more happy for him. Can’t wait to see what you do in this new position, K!

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The Professional Imperative for Learner-Centered Teaching

This piece is cross-posted on the Facet Publishing blog, our UK publisher for Learner-Centred Pedagogy: Principles and Practice. Many thanks to Sinead Murphy for asking us to write this piece and publish it on our blog as well.

If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.  – Seymour: An Introduction, J.D. Salinger

Four years ago last month, we walked across the stage in the Great Hall of the Carolina Union at UNC-Chapel HIll, freshly minted librarians, both about to move to California to start our first professional jobs, ready to lay some information literacy knowledge down on our future undergraduates. Those two years in library school were incredibly formative for us, as we tried to absorb everything we could about teaching, reference librarianship, and the profession as a whole. We became friends working together at UNC’s Undergraduate Library reference desk, chatting about how we could get students engaged in our instruction sessions and make sure they actually, like, you know, learned things.

The more we talked and read and taught, the more it felt like there was something missing from the information literacy literature we were reading: A focus on the individual learner, as a unique person with individual experiences, interests, and needs. While there are certainly exceptions to this statement, so much of what we read was about specific strategies for teaching specific content, while what we felt we needed was a step before that: What are the underlying principles that can make people invested in learning and able to learn, whether at the reference desk, in a one-on-one consultation, or an instruction classroom? Our experience as readers largely echoed that of librarian David Maxfield, who wrote in an article in College & Research Libraries in 1954 (!) that claimed that “conventional reference work does not always place so much emphasis upon the library patron as an individual person as it does upon library materials and bibliographic techniques.”

A year after graduation, we attended a LOEX conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Terry Doyle began his keynote presentation with the assertion that, as educators, it is our professional responsibility to understand how students learn and then apply this understanding to our work. This idea of focusing on the learner, and not the content, is known as “learner-centredness.” Doyle’s position that being learner-centred was not optional, but instead a kind of professional obligation, struck us as exactly right (see “Education Training for Librarians”). And we wanted to read something that was framed this way for librarians, focused on the individual learner, so badly that we…wrote a book like that.

Our central question in writing a book on learner-centred pedagogy for librarians was: How can we teach information literacy to real learners – embodied existential beings with passions, loves, hates, and sources of life meaning that extend beyond understanding Boolean operators – so that they are engaged with information literacy outcomes in an authentic way? How can we make information literacy really matter to learners?

We turned to literature in education, counseling, psychology, and (yes) library science where others grappled with similar questions, and ultimately concluded that the core aspect of learner-centredness is a practice of empathy: the question what is it like to be a person learning something? is central to our learner-centered approach. That also led us to redefine information literacy in a learner-centred way as involving learners using information to think well about questions that matter to them.

So, practically, how do we go about this? In our book, we point to five main aspects:

  • Engaging people’s curiosity, interests, and personal experiences in an autonomy supportive rather than controlling learning environment
  • Applying ideas about how people learn from evidence-based literature in learning science
  • Developing meaningful relationships with our users (even in the briefest of interactions!)
  • Providing learning experiences that help to develop a growth mindset about the research process
  • Using technology wisely as a potentially useful tool to help learners use information think well about things that matter to them

…with empathy as the overarching framework that connects them all. This central idea, that who we are as people matters as both learners and educators, is both based in the current scientific literature, but also has a timeless quality that we believe will make it relevant for library practitioners for years to come.

Indeed, we believe that this view of learner-centeredness is not a trend, but a way of approaching librarianship that can change over time, as our scientific and psychological understanding of what it means to be a person learning something evolves. While the specific answers to the central question of this book may not always be the same, as long as librarians continue to monitor and engage with the current literature on motivation and the science of learning and follow where the evidence takes us, the basic framework that we present here will continue to apply. As we strive toward a fully learner-centered practice of librarianship, we would consider a practical success to be expressing these interests and views to others, both within and without the library. Building community around this approach is a powerful way to transform our work and to practice an existential form of librarianship: we are learner-centered educators because we decide that is what we are. As you go forward and adapt these ideas for your own contexts, we hope that you will share your ideas and continue to enrich and expand the profession’s understanding that who we are as people matters for how we teach, how we learn, and how we engage with information and each other.

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Great Articles in Library Science: “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers”

Our friend Alex Carroll recently published an article with his North Carolina State University colleagues Bertha Chang and Honora Eskridge that I think is really great and wanted to draw our readers’ attention to. The paper, “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers,” outlines a novel way that their team of STEM librarians has been able to embed themselves in live, authentic research situations at engineering students’ moment of information need. Rather than waiting for the engineering students at NC State to come to them, these librarians engaged in a learner-centered outreach project where they actually joined the research work groups of engineering faculty and students, thereby allowing them to assist with research questions students had in real time. I highly encourage you to read the entire paper, as I think it’s inspiring for how subject liaisons can work with their stakeholders in dynamic, learner-centered ways.

Though there are many things I think we can learn from this article, there’s two points that happen to strike my own fancy;  both transfer to lots of contexts aside from those specifically discussed in the article. One of the things I think is most interesting about the article is how clearly it demonstrates the openness and willingness of faculty members to collaborate with librarians on novel approaches to connecting with students for the purpose of facilitating successful research experiences. Over the years I’ve had many experiences, either hearing things anecdotally or having other librarians say to me directly, something to the effect that their experience with faculty is that they aren’t interested in substantial pedagogical support from librarians aside from the usual one-shot on pointing and clicking.  For example, early on in my career I had several colleagues tell me that all this pedagogy stuff I was talking about was well and good – it’s interesting and all that –  but faculty won’t want to hear it. This was, quite literally, the exact opposite of my experience to that point and it usually only took expressing a basic interest in pedagogy, collaboration, and evidence-based approaches to research instruction in order to initiate pretty robust campus collaborations.

So I really was interested in the authors’ statement that initiating this quite substantive collaboration was much less complicated than one might think:

Getting into research groups was surprisingly easy – in each case it simply involved asking the principal investigator, explaining why we wanted to do it, and what we were hoping to learn.

This resonates directly with my own experience. I’ve typically found that if you approach a faculty member about a teaching strategy, approach, or intervention that you think can help support and improve their students’ research – especially when you can articulate pedagogical reasons drawn from previous literature, research data, or data you’re hoping to collect that seem to indicate that this will be so- it’s exceedingly rare that they aren’t interested in collaborating with you in a meaningful way. As the authors of this paper point out, literally all you have to do is ask.

A second point I really appreciated and wanted to draw attention to is the authors’ response to a question that people are often wont to ask whenever someone presents them with a new teaching idea: “But how does it scale?”

I know this question is supposed to, like, sound smart and all, but it’s never particularly seemed that way to me, and I think the authors get at the underlying reasons for this nicely in the following passage:

One question that many will ask is, does a program like this scale? The answer is that it doesn’t, because it isn’t meant to. We do not see this program as a service — library services (instruction, access services) attempt to scale to the whole campus population. Embedding in research groups is more akin to statistical sampling or user research methods, a means of getting some data on what users are doing that can help inform decisions and policy on library collections and services. Viewing this initiative as a needs assessment, rather than a service, informed our decision to use ethnography for capturing our impact. While our ethnographic methodology does not provide empirical measurements of whether we are altering our researchers’ information seeking behavior, it captures how services can be offer through this model of engagement, while also providing us with authentic needs assessments of our communities without subjecting our users to time-consuming forms or surveys.

In any case, the primary goal of this effort has always been community building, which involves developing relationships one-by-one. To put it more plainly, relationships don’t scale [KMK emphasis].

There’s a number of things I like about this passage, but let me start by saying that what I appreciate about this passage is the idea that lack of scalibility is not synomymous with lack of quality. In fact, I think that in many cases it may actually be the opposite. I think that most good reference or instruction with fundamentally be characterized by individual encounter: our ability to tailor our instruction to a unique individual or group’s needs. For example, it takes me way longer to read a particular syllabus, read that classes’ specific assignment, and design a tailored instruction session with a unique modeling scenario for each a particular class I teach, than it would to do a generic “demo” for the class.  But the former is good pedagogy that gets me invited back, integrates me into students lives, and helps me build relationships with other faculty, whereas the latter almost always bores students and makes us seem much less relevant to faculty. In other words, the demo scales, but it’s not really the kind of things that’s worth scaling. In short, I’d much rather librarians spent a ton of time doing “non-scaling” things (whatever that means, exactly) that are quality, than doing generic demos and then spending the next ten hours making a lib guide.

A second thing I really like about this passage is the importance of relationships for information literacy instruction and curriculum building. In our new book Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Dani and I devote an entire chapter to the research on the importance of positive student-teacher/librarian relationships for effective learning.

The same is true for collaborating with faculty. Just like we want to be student-centered in our practices, we want to be faculty-centered in our collaboration. That is, we want to build relationships of mutual trust with faculty members, by giving them innovative methods for helping them do the thing they care about and enlisted us to do: help students improve their research. When we can demonstrate our effectiveness in achieving this goal, it’s been my experience that we can take projects to a large level of “scale.” And my opinion of that has always been the following: as a manager, info lit coordinator, or just a person trying to teach info lit, I’d always rather devote librarians time, resources, and creative energies toward personalized teaching that makes a real difference to students, than do things of “scale” that take very little librarian time and resources but that … don’t really work all that well.  So though this point is not necessarily central to the outreach done in this particular article, I think their response to this possible objection makes a very important point that is worth paying attention to.

At any rate, these are just my takes on the article – I encourage you to take a look at it. I think there’s a lot to learn from it (and a lot that ties into Dani’s previous discussion of teaching librarians as well).

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