Category Archives: The Library Game

On Where I’ve Been

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote on this blog, and rather than just come back and start posting without addressing that fact, I want to spend my first post back talking it.

Earlier this year, Maria Accardi launched a new blog called Librarian Burnout. The blog provides a space for librarians (beginning with academic librarians, but now encompassing more than that) to build a community and support around this shared experience, and to feel less alone in their individual institutional context. I recently encountered the Librarian Burnout blog, and it really got me thinking about this post, this blog, this job, this year–I’d highly recommend it to anyone who reads Rule Number One.

So, was burnout my problem? Yes and no, but it certainly gave me a framework to think within.

Let me start by saying that creating Rule Number One has been one of the things I’m proudest of so far in my librarianship career. Kevin and I set out to just make a space where we could talk about library instruction and being new librarians in an honest and personal way, and I think we’ve done that. We’ve been blown away by the response, and that feeling of community that’s grown up around Rule Number One–other librarians interested in talking about the same issues in a similarly open way–has been so rewarding to find. Even if it was totally by accident, this blog has opened some doors for the two of us, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything–there’s been so much good, but then there’s also been some less good.

Two things happened a little over a year ago: First, some librarians who I very much respect but hadn’t talked to in a while let me know that they didn’t think what Kevin and I were doing on this blog was a good idea–that it was unprofessional in some way and that we should be careful not to burn bridges (and implied that I had already done so). This scared the crap out of me, frankly, especially since I didn’t (and still don’t) understand how what I’ve written here could be construed in that way. And since I couldn’t figure it out, it made me nervous to write anything, because what if that next post is the career-ender, and I just couldn’t see it? So I would start writing, and then panic, and then nothing would happen. Other, equally respected colleagues and friends told me that it was nothing to worry about, but it was just so hard to believe them–why would someone give that kind of warning unless they knew something I didn’t? It took a long time, but I’ve made my peace with this, which is why I’m telling this story now: That comment may have come from a place of good intentions, but it scared me and it seemed like there was no way to fix whatever it was I’d done. I let that comment shut me up, and I’m sorry I did that–it was antithetical to what we had set out to do here, which was to be real about librarianship and share what we’d learned or are learning and hope maybe it resonated with someone, somewhere.

Here’s what I think now: As a community, I agree that we have a responsibility  to say something when we think someone is doing something damaging to themselves or the profession, but I think we have a further responsibility, especially to new practitioners, to tell them how they might change what they are doing and not resort to scare-inducing rhetoric like, “Librarianship is a small world.” I’ve found that librarianship both is and isn’t small, but if it is indeed that much of a village, then isn’t that a reason for us to help build each other up? We’re all we’ve got, and silencing doesn’t help us move forward. So I’m done with that.

Second, also about a year ago, my department got reorganized and I stepped into a position with more responsibility. I was (and am) super jazzed about this development: I have significant agency in helping to determine the direction of instruction in my library (and recently, research services as well), I’m able to work on a variety of cross-departmental teams with sharp co-workers, and my role has shifted to be more externally facing. I love the gig, but like many other librarians’ experience, these new duties are on top of things I was already doing. The learning curve has been steep, and figuring out how to negotiate how to get everything done (and done well) has been a challenge. I come home  tired every day and ready to think about anything BUT librarian-ing. A lot of good personal things happened in the past year, and I still did professional things I’m proud of with various colleagues (shout-outs to Char Booth, Natalie Tagge, Alex Chappell, Kate Crocker, and of course Kevin Michael Klipfel), but I do feel creatively drained. Blogging felt like the proverbial camel’s straw both in terms of brain power and some kind of disastrous professional consequence. But I’ve realized that this blog is important to me, because of that community I’ve found through it.

This past weekend, I went to Minnesota to attend my first LITA Forum. It’s a different crowd than I normally see, but I found so many commonalities in experience with the people I talked to. I must have talked to 9 metadata librarians: none of them do the same thing. Everybody feels overwhelmed in some way. Everybody hits that budgetary or bureaucratic wall. And that was a helpful reminder and perspective that, as librarians, there is a commonality of experience, and sharing that makes it a more welcoming profession for all. We’re spread out in libraries around the country and the world, and sometimes it feels like nobody else could possibly be going through the same things…but they are. So thank you, LITA Forum, for helping me to remember that, and to remind me that informal spaces like blogs (like Accardi’s), chats in the hallway at conferences, and Twitter are so critical for community building.

All of which is to say, that I’m ready to write on this blog again–to finish some of those neglected, half-started posts and to engage in a dialogue with other librarians who do similar work or think about similar things and to be supportive of one another. So you keep doing you, and I’ll keep doing me. Hopefully we’ll find something to talk about, here on Rule Number One.

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Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

Professional Vulnerability and The Process of Growth (Guest Post by Alex Carroll)

Brene Brown

Earlier this fall in Sports Illustrated, L. Jon Wertheim penned a brief profile on Serena Williams, who while in the midst of pursuing a Grand Slam still found time to consort with favorite son of this blog, Drake . Serena provides some unvarnished honesty in the profile. When asked if she feels indestructible when taking the court, Serena replied:

No, I don’t. You would be surprised by how I feel. I feel vulnerable every time I step out there. Every single time. It’s just a matter of overcoming those feelings and being the best I can be on that day.

This, to say the least, surprised me. In the ruthlessly competitive ecosystem of athletics, vulnerability isn’t a common thing to acknowledge or self-disclose. Typically, professional athletes are portrayed as reaching the zenith of their fields through unfailing confidence in their abilities. Michael Jordan didn’t win an NCAA championship at UNC or six NBA titles with the Bulls because he thought he might miss the game winning jumper, but rather because he knew he wouldn’t. But perhaps Serena has learned something during her staggeringly long run as a dominant player: in a sport as solitary as tennis, the only way to overcome insecurities is to face and embrace them. So in that vein, here’s an admission: while I like nothing more than helping students learn how to find, evaluate, and use evidence to support their personal and professional pursuits, teaching this process in a student-centered manner scares me.

There’s nothing scary to me about demonstrating how a piece of technology works, or lecturing on why peer-reviewed articles are what students should read and cite. In that style of teaching, my authority and control over the classroom remains more or less total, and throughout the process I get to present myself to my students as the “super confident, competent database searcher.” But, at my core, I’m an evidence-based practitioner, and the evidence suggested that student-centered teaching leads to improved student learning. Being an authoritarian lecturer at the front of the room may help with classroom management, but it doesn’t help students actually learn.

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“How Do Our Students Learn?: An Outline of a Cognitive Psychological Model for Information Literacy Instruction” – Out Now from Reference & User Services Quartely

An article Dani and I wrote – “How Do Our Students Learn?: An Outline of a Cognitive Psychological Model for Information Literacy Instruction” – was recently published by Reference & User Services Quarterly.

Here’s the abstract of the piece:

Effective pedagogy requires understanding how students learn and tailoring our instruction accordingly. One key element of student-centered pedagogy involves understanding the cognitive psychological processes according to which students learn, and to structure our teaching with these processes in mind. This paper fills in a gap in the current literature, by applying empirically grounded lessons drawn from the cognitive science of learning, and discussing specific applications of these lessons for information literacy instruction. The paper outlines a framework for information literacy instruction, grounded in the educational and cognitive psychology literature, for facilitating student retention and transfer of information literacy skills, two classic measures of student learning. Five specific principles and several strategies for promoting retention and transfer within information literacy instruction are outlined.

We are quite interested in how students learn, especially from the standpoint of adopting a learner/student-centered perspective. In order to be learner-centered, we must be empathic toward our students. Part of this involves understanding how students’ brains work when it comes to learning, what strategies help them remember and think critically about information, so we can tailor our teaching to where our students are at. Thus, although we offer a “scientific” model here, we believe these strategies are deeply empathic and humanistic: they take who our students are as human beings as central to our teaching, allowing us to meet our students where they’re at.

We think this approach can have a really positive impact on our students and our own teaching practices as librarians. As we say at the close of the piece:

Findings from the science of learning can refocus our instruction on student learning outcomes and enrich pedagogical practices. This cognitive model of instruction is intended to serve as a guide and inspiration for instruction librarians who want to engage in evidence based practice and leverage the findings of cognitive science to improve student learning outcomes. These five principles are broad enough that they can be applied to every type of information literacy session, including those done in online environments. The model is not meant to be prescriptive nor are the examples the sole way to apply these principles; indeed, one value of the framework as presented here is that it allows for infinite creativity in its applications. With this understanding in place, librarians are in the position to think of any number of innovative ways to develop specific learning exercises and lesson plans that will help students think about the deep structure of information within the context of research. This article should be the starting point for reflecting on how we teach and how we might support student learning more effectively.

It’s our hope that by filling in a gap in the current library literature – which is often based, in my view, on really outdated empirical views on learning, or infected by post-modern, abstract philosophizing with no real empirical support – that these concrete strategies driven by the current science of learning can point us toward a direction where we’re as serious as teacher-librarians about scientifically & psychologically sound, effective pedagogy, as we are about resources.

Here’s a link to the article: if it doesn’t work for you for whatever reason (the link is kinda weird; or you’re not an ALA member; or your institution doesn’t subscribe to the journal; or whatever), drop me a line and I’ll e-mail you a copy, at least until RUSA sends me a cease and desist order.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

The “Disapproval Matrix”

My wife recently showed me this little “Disapproval Matrix” (source) (update: this matrix originally comes from Ann Friedman) because she thought I might like it for the blog.

Disapproval Matrix

Dani and I talk a lot on the blog about what opinions are worth paying attention to, and which ones aren’t, and I thought that this was very interesting along those lines, as a visual way to conceptualize who we wanna listen to.

Of course, once you start interacting with lots of people in a profession, you learn that many scholars and critics and practitioners are far less rational than one might have hoped.  They tend to “critique” certain ideas or scholarship  or practices because it conflicts with their own cherished views of the world and what they deem to be correct; or the have personal slash professional ego investments in certain ideas which blinds them to the evidence contrary to their ideas; and because of this, they’re prone to avoid following the evidence where it leads, which tends to put them more in the irrational camp. These folks are difficult precisely because they present themselves as rational critics. So with that caveat I think this is a really great chart.

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Proactivity and Grit

It’s hard to hire the right people. One of the mistakes many leaders make is to hire on job titles. It’s easy to look at a résumé and see great titles and great company names and think, “Oh, this is the person for me. This one will be great!” But if you’re not looking at that résumé for signs of proactive behaviors, chances are good you will get an employee who has few skills in that area.

So, how do you find signs of proactive behavior on a résumé? I like to look at a résumé from the bottom—starting with the very first job. What did this person do to get started? Is it a “dirty” job? One that required hard work and perseverance? It’s one thing to start out your career as an intern in an investment bank. It’s another to mow golf course lawns. Or start your own in-home ironing service. Or work on commission for a telemarketer. Look for evidence on the résumé that this individual knows how to knuckle down and make a tough situation profitable.

Another place to look for proactive behavior is in the references. Don’t treat reference checks as an afterthought. And don’t assume you won’t get the “straight story” from a reference. If you ask the right questions, you learn what you need. One of my favorite questions to ask is this: “When a great person leaves a company, it leaves a hole to fill. What hole will this person leave in your company?” A bland or hesitant answer may indicate to you that this individual is not dynamic and is not making an impact now. That’s an indication the individual lacks experience being proactive.

from Jennifer Prosek, “Creating the Owner’s Mindset

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The Importance of Librarians and Reading for Student Learning (According to Cognitive Psychology)

A  key insight from the cognitive science of learning, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham puts it, is that “comprehension depends on background knowledge.” Elsewhere Willingham states that “[c]ritical thinking processes are tied to background knowledge.” Why?

The idea is that our working memory – what we’re currently thinking about right now – has a limited capacity. I can only think about so many things at one time. So, if we have to remember a bunch of background facts, it’s hard to process and think critically about something new; our cognitive processes are all tied up trying to remember various facts, so we don’t learn nearly as much as we could. This is, btw, a great argument for any parents out there struggling to respond to their child’s claims that they don’t have to memorize facts, because they can just go look them up online. By doing so, your kids, in fact, are making learning new things seriously more difficult for themselves, and will end up behind other people who bothered to memorize stuff and don’t now have their working memory complicated by trying to remember their multiplication tables and solve a new algebraic equation, too. Simply put, the more we already know about something, the easier it is to learn more. This is why our students’ background knowledge has an enormous impact on their future learning: they not only avoid a messy kind of cognitive overload by having to look up facts all the time, but they can learn new things quicker because they’re connecting it to background knowledge they already have (and why, say, some students coming into college aren’t “smarter” than others, but some may have more background knowledge, which makes it easier for them to pick up new information).

I mention this because I just had to look something up in Willingham’s wonderful book Why Don’t Students Like School? to get some info for a grant I’m finishing up, and this passage caught my eye:

The effects of knowledge described in this chapter also highlight why reading is so important. Books expose children to a broader vocabulary than virtually any other activity, and persuasive data indicate that people who read for pleasure enjoy cognitive benefits throughout their lifetime …

The school librarian should be a tremendous resource and ally in helping children learn to love reading, and she is arguably the most important person in any school when it comes to reading.

I thought this would be of interest to librarians: given the basic 101 stuff about memory I outlined at the beginning of this post, librarians, especially school media specialists, can have a huge impact on students’ future learning and critical thinking, because the more one likes to read, the more background knowledge they’ll pick up. Reading good books not only has enormous emotional benefits, it has huge cognitive benefits, too.

Real interesting, I think, in explaining the crucial – and hugely substantive role –  librarians can play in education, and also another really interesting takeaway from the science of learning that librarians can apply, and use to advocate for, their work with students.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy, The Library Game

Things Truly Fulfilled People Understand (and Some Implications for Library Practice)

Something that interests me an enormous amount, professionally speaking, is applying insights from psychology – particularly, psychological findings relating to the meaning of life – to our library practice, both in terms of helping our students learn, and our own attempts as to make our work meaningful as library professionals. So, for example, much of my scholarly work has been devoted to applying research from existential psychology, and current empirical research in the psychology of motivation and learning, to helping our students learn information literacy skills. If authenticity, or being one’s true self in one’s daily life, is a central (or perhaps the central) thing that motivates us to want to do things – and we learn to the extent that we are motivated to learn – then it stands to reason (as many studies have shown) that we should try to increase our students’ ability to bring their true selves to their their schoolwork, because this will make their work more meaningful, which will in turn increase their learning.

I’ve also written on the blog about, for example, the major regrets of the dying and how reflecting on them in our practice might help us make our work as librarians more meaningful. In a similar spirit, I recently came across a short little article I really liked about “12 Things Truly Fulfilled People Understand” that I thought had some interesting implications for our work as librarians.

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“That’s Not the Way We Learn”: Obama on “The Coddling of the American Mind”

I posted recently about the unfortunate cultural and educational phenomenon of “vindictive protectiveness” – a kind of political correctness increasingly enforced by people too sensitive to hear ideas that they disagree with – and now the President himself has weighed in on the issue:

It’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.

“Because there was this space where you could interact with people who didn’t agree with you and had different backgrounds from you … I started testing my own assumptions, and sometimes I changed my mind,” he said. “Sometimes I realized, maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded; maybe I didn’t take this into account; maybe I should see this person’s perspective. That’s what college, in part, is all about.”

Interesting.

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Teaching and Expertise

Well, again to return to teaching: Experience is very important. It comes only with time. I have time behind me so I venture to teach and say to students, “I don’t really know a hell of a lot more than you do except I’ve been around longer and I do have experience and if I can articulate it some of it will rub off and do you some good.

-Walker Evans

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Crossing to the ~Dark Side~ or, Librarians Working for Vendors, and Why It’s Actually Pretty Awesome (Guest Post by Emily Gover)

Finishing library school in 15 months and transitioning into a professional job two years after the 2008 collapse wasn’t easy. It took me nine months from graduating library school to starting my first job as a web services librarian at a small college in the South. It took me five months from starting my first job in the South, to leaving it for a vendor in New York. I left my job for the same reasons many people leave their job: Being closer to my family, and higher pay. Yet, part of me felt guilty.

I mean, I’m a librarian. I’m supposed to be an honorable public servant, someone who cringes at the very thought of working for a profitable, capitalist entity, right? At least, that’s the vibe I picked up from mutterings of jaded colleagues. Librarians embody freedom of information, for all… how could I go and work for (and condone) The Man—and the greed for power and money that comes along with it?

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