Devil’s advocates need not apply
As I was listening to the Library as a Classroom lecture this week, the devil’s advocate component reminded me of a phrase that is more productive. That phrase is “yes, and…” rather than “no, but…” or “let me play devil’s advocate”. In conjunction with this flip on devil’s advocate, asking people to bring solutions is an excellent tool and one I’ve been actively trying to train my staff on for a few years now. When someone comes to me with a complaint or is being a naysayer, I will frequently ask them to remember I am happy to hear their concerns around issues, but don’t bring me a problem without an idea for a solution. Partially this is because I cannot default to the manager who fixes everything for everyone or I will never get anything done, but this also provides people with the opportunity to think bigger picture and gain some skills in this area. An area that is key as libraries rapidly innovate and we need library staff to have the skills to be flexible, forward thinking, and innovative. Depending on the top to provide direction means we’re going to miss things that are really important to our patrons. Many that the “top” don’t have daily interaction with. I can’t support the library’s patrons and drive new services if I don’t have staff helping me create programs and services. Devil’s advocates need not apply as they are not leading the library forward, but instead holding us back.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
So now we’ve thrown out the devil’s advocates. What now? Libraries are really trying to think of new services and programs to provide for their patrons, but there are so many amazing examples out there already and it is perfectly okay to copy! I often feel that libraries are worried about staying relevant and in turn, don’t innovate out of fear that whatever they begin offering will not be relevant or will be replaced by a newer technology days after it’s introduction. As Greenwalt (2013) says in Embracing the Long Game “Will all of these new ideas succeed? Of course not. It wouldn’t be library science without a little experimentation, and some of those experiments are going to fail. But occasionally, an idea is going to succeed. And when it does, it creates an opportunity to reshape the notion of what our libraries can do.” And what libraries do well is meet our users where they need us. As our lecture this week discusses, not offering a new technology learning opportunity because we’re still teaching people how to use basic technology is not an excuse. We will always be teaching technology basics, and we should continue to do so right alongside newer technology skills. This is how we evolve in the rapid changing technological world.
Now I know I’m a minority in this course in working in an academic library and many of the readings are public library focused, but I do think there are ways both can use each other’s services and programs effectively to support their user’s unique needs. One of the 8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun caught my eye for my academic library. The Supper Club at Madison Public Library where parents are able to have dinner with a librarian and learn about kids apps and how to integrate them into learning and activities at home is completely transferable to my academic library (Lloyd Bookey, 2015). My university’s motto is Learn by Doing, so we’re big on getting our hands dirty, peer to peer learning, and exploring. The students I interact with are really engaged, they dive right in and provide their input, and in general are outgoing and personable. I could see my library hosting a supper club where students share with other students the different apps they use for academics, time management, personal finances, etc. Us librarians don’t necessarily need to be the teachers in this event, but organizing it is something we can definitely get behind. “[Users] want help doing things, rather than finding things” (Kenney, 2015, What Patrons Want section, para 1). Organizing and holding this type of peer to peer learning opportunity in the library makes complete sense, as we’re the gathering place for students for studying, relaxation, and socializing. All things really good apps can help improve your experience around!
Finding new methods
I want to turn now to the more traditional academic librarian focuses of pedagogy and curriculum support. While I appreciated Lippincott’s (2015) ideas around integrating librarians into the pedagogy and curriculum within universities, the challenge many university libraries face is around sufficient librarian staffing. My library in particular has a librarian to student ratio that so high that it is absolutely impossible for any one college librarian to reach even 1/4 of the students in their college, never mind work with more than a handful of faculty to develop the type of integration into assignments Lippincott (2015) is suggesting.
Yes, and (see what I did there, I bet you thought I was going to play devil’s advocate!) this means we cannot stick to the old model of one college librarian to all of one colleges students and faculty. Not in person. Similar to how Kenney (2015) suggests we must change the reference model to meet our users wants, we must change our instruction and curriculum integration models to meet our student and faculty wants. We must leverage and explore technology to spread ourselves wider across the curriculum without sacrificing our expertise and individual support.
What does this look like? I’m not sure. But you can be sure when someone proposes the idea to me, my response will be “yes, and…”
Cheryl May is the Director of Access, Operations, and Administrative Services at the Robert E. Kennedy Library at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a graduate student at San Jose State University in the School of Information, where she is currently blogging about the Hyperlinked Library. She lives in Baywood Park, CA with her husband, son, and numerous pets. In her free time she reads anything she can get her hands on, hikes around SLO County, and gets crafty. She is also passionate about health and wellness, and is a certified Les Mills BodyPump and BodyCombat group fitness instructor whom eats a plant-based diet.
Greenwalt, T. (2013, February 21). Embracing the long game. Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/02/embracing/
Kenney, B. (2015, September 11). Where reference fits in the modern library. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/68019-for-future-reference.html
Lloyd Bookeye, J. (2015, June 29). 8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun. Huffington Post [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-lloyd-bookey/8-awesome-ways-libraries-_b_7157462.html
Stephens, M. (2017). The Hyperlinked library: Library as a classroom. [Panopto lecture].