Category Archives: Office Hours

Office Hours: Library As Classroom

My new May column is available at LJ:

I’d argue that our libraries of all kinds also serve as creative classrooms, supporting learners by employing the building blocks mentioned above. Just explore some of the notable examples of academic, public, and K-12 library spaces shared here in LJ over the past few months. You’ll find community learning spaces that help people achieve, game-focused initiatives that make the library a laboratory for exploration, creation zones with requisite digital and 3-D hardware for building things, and potentially endless opportunities to connect virtually with people worldwide.

#hyperlibMOOC in Office Hours – Offering MOOC again in Spring 2015

My new column is up at Library Journal, all about our research concerning The Hyperlinked Library MOOC. Also, I’m very happy to announce we’ll be teaching a revised and updated version of the #hyperlibMOOC in Spring 2015.


Kyle and I wrote a paper for the proceedings of the 16th Distance Library Services Conference this month in Denver based on this post-MOOC survey question: “Reflecting on your MOOC experience, what roles do you think librarians might play within MOOCs?” The identified roles include:

  • Guide Rarely in the library, working on the go, from home or third place, or amid the MOOC community served, the librarian gives learners what they want and need, with an arsenal of technological tools.
  • Access Provider Building, curating, and sharing resources to help learners wherever they may be, without the confines and barriers we’re accustomed to. This librarian works with authors, scholars, and other content providers to make resources available as openly as possible. Contracts may include “MOOC clauses” for open access.
  • Creator Librarians create large-scale, small-scale, or “just right” formalized courses for their constituents across a wide spectrum of topics and varying degrees of focus.
  • Instructor New platforms and methods of offering learning can extend how librarians instruct those they serve. These new environments will encourage librarians to capture and curate more knowledge and package it for anywhere, anytime learning.


As travel and conference budgets continue to shrink, I hope there will be more opportunities for open, sweeping, global learning such as ­#hyperlibMOOC. Going forward, an LIS professional might continue to use such platforms to keep current with emerging ideas and issues in librarianship as well as specific subjects of interest. The library advocacy MOOC taught by Wendy Newman at the faculty of information, University of Toronto, currently running, also focuses on a timely and important area of librarianship. I look forward to a rich set of communities offering lifelong learning for LIS professionals. As for #hyperlibMOOC, we’ll be updating and refining the model and offering it again in spring 2015. I hope you’ll join us.

Office Hours: A Genius Idea

shamingMy new column is up at Library Journal:

Let’s unpack this sweeping suggestion for improving libraries further. What of teaching ability? I advise my students to make sure they take courses in user instruction and technology, no matter where they want to work. Delivering instruction should be a part of every professional’s skill set: in a training room, across the desk, in the stacks, on the fly. Maybe it’s time to add creating a short training session or learning module to the interview process for all librarians, not just those in colleges or schools.

Borrowed from Apple, the Genius Bar concept applied to libraries is not new, but it’s a welcome addition to many library settings. David Weinberger, in “The Library as Platform” (­tBDAe), notes that the Genius Bar might be one of many channels for users to interact with librarians. Libraries such as DOK Delft and others have tried various permutations of walk-in tech ­assistance.

Don’t miss the comments, including this interesting  snippet from a reader named Dan:

“after reading the shaming post, i am conflicted which is more absurd: the original note or all the “followers” and their “likes.” technology has it’s place but you will have to pry the hard-copy, three-dimensional, fixed ink on paper, book from my cold dead, fingers.”

Insert witty reply here.


Also – a big shout out to Monica Harris and her creation culture course she’s teaching this semester at SJSU SLIS as I prep an introductory module on creation in libraries for our new core LIBR 200 course Information Communities.

“LIS curricula must keep up as well. At San José State University (SJSU), CA, School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), we’re offering a new class entitled “Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries,” taught by Monica Harris, deputy director, Schaumburg Township District Library, IL. Her syllabus, focused on participation and creativity, runs from digital creation spaces to the Maker movement to a module called the Importance of Informal Learning. Another unit highlights Robotics and Electronics: Arduino, Sensors, and LEGO.”

I am impressed with the framework Monica used to explore knowledge creation in libraries. The students in the course will have some invaluable experience for this new landscape.

#officehours: “Notes from a Small Island”


My new column is up at Library Journal and it’s all about the incredible community of LIS folks in new Zealand:

Something struck me about this conference, in addition to my interactions with the library folk I met as we traveled down the North Island, stopping in Wellington for a talk I gave at Victoria University and on to the South Island. At a combination #hyperlibMOOC and library folk tweet up held at Pomeroy’s Pub in Christchurch, I finally asked the assembled group, “Why does the LIS community here feel so cohesive and tight-knit? Is it the isolation?” Between the pub chat and the question I threw out to Kiwis in my Twitter network, the ideas flowed:

“Tight-knit for sure, but many local authorities in NZ are becoming smaller, and there are fewer employing authorities, so librarians are working in larger organizations and tend to meet one another more often,” said Brendon Moir, system analyst for the digital library web team at Christchurch City Libraries. “The local and national partnerships between libraries have become really important, and this will only increase.”

Here’s a shot of the epic conference dinner:


More photos here:

Office Hours: Mobile at the Library


Sharing images of library signs—especially those related to mobile devices and their use within library buildings—was part of my early focus on how libraries interact with their users via signage. Aaron Schmidt, writing LJ’s User Experience column, has also explored these ideas, most recently in “Signs of Good Design.” Language usually attached to an image of a mobile phone with the red circle and line through it was of this variety: “Violators will be asked to leave,” “Conversations not allowed,” and one signed ominously by “the Library Director.” Other ­signage you may have seen passed around Buzzfeed and LIS blogs warn that food or drink near library computers would bring “the wrath of the library director.” When did the position of director become so scary? When did we become so mean?

I poked a bit of fun at these signs at the expense of the library that posted them and was called out more than once. But for every bad sign that went up, I believe many more came down, as librarians took to making kindness audits of signage and spaces. “Quiet conversation, please” and “Don’t forget to set your phone to vibrate” are much more user-positive admonitions.

Office Hours: Infinite Learning


Public libraries are the best platforms for success with community-focused online learning of all sizes. It’s easy to create successful MOOCs in an academic environment. It’s something else to make them successful in a nonacademic environment. Jeff Jarvis, on This Week in Google (9/11/13), discussed the idea of unbundling education from universities, unbundling lessons from courses, and looking at new ways to view/score outcomes. Public libraries, with limited resources of staff and time, could still create unbundled MOOCs—smaller, shorter lessons that, when combined, total a full course. Busy patrons plus busy librarians still can equal quality learning opportunities.

The above may seem daunting to some or far from the library’s mission. Many of the folks in our MOOC have been confronting their own ideas of what it means to be a learner in a new and sometimes unsettling landscape. I’m here to learn, one participant told me, “and figure out how I might play a role in MOOCs on my campus.”

Office Hours: The LIS/Library Divide

My new “Office Hours” column is up:

Other professions (though not journalism) have strict continuing education (CE) requirements. CE, mostly carried out by consortia and state or national associations, is not as formalized for us. Consider this another call for professional development “with teeth.” Professional librarians should be expected to be always adding skills and knowledge as part of their duties. Formalizing a rigorous process says we mean business. Wafting through a few conference sessions, sitting with a group for a webinar over the lunch hour, or spending a desk shift doing “professional reading” should yield to more active and transparent forms of learning. Could massive open online courses (MOOCs) for CE be an avenue to explore? I’m hoping to know more about that after our Hyperlinked Library MOOC this fall.

Emily Weak commented:

I agree that the gap between LIS educators and practicing librarians needs to be addressed. I recently worked with Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School to put together a survey of employers, where they could talk about the ability of the MLIS to prepare librarians for employment, as well as their ideas of the skills and experiences that MLIS students should have.

We’ve received 291 responses so far, and are still collecting, even though we’ve started sharing results. It’s been an interesting conversation between students, instructors and employers. We’re posting not only statistics and analysis, but individual responses here:

Take a look at the link for more!

Office Hours: Listening to student voices

However engaging, thought-provoking, and even polarizing the speakers were at the Future of Academic Libraries Symposium presented by McMaster University and Library Journal, they couldn’t match what five McMaster University students had to say. “Hearing from Our Users: What Students Expect,” moderated by Mike Ridley, CIO and chief librarian at the University of Guelph, offered the most striking, honest, and emotionally charged views of the entire day. It gave symposium participants a glimpse at students’ perceptions and opinions.

Ridley urged the panel to “tell us what we need to hear,” and they did. While all five own a smartphone, not one said they had ever accessed library resources on their device, although all were involved in extracurricular activities, had part-time jobs, and volunteered their time.

Comments from the panel were telling, humorous (“the food at the library sucks”), and eye-opening (“we need more one-on-one interaction with the librarians”), offering much to ponder. Some of the takeaways that resonated for me should directly impact LIS curriculum.

What they said 

Our stuff is hard to use and not very simple to navigate for answers or resources. “Why do so many of you start with Google?” Ridley asked. One concise answer spoke volumes to the crowd: “Efficiency and accessibility – the simplicity. The library website is hard to use. You should not have to teach us how to use the [web]site – it should be obvious.”

student who is very fond of books always starts her research in the stacks. “It’s hard to figure out what database to use and that’s where the disconnect is,” she said.

What we should do 

Information architecture, usability, and emphasis on user experience and design should be included in every LIS student’s program. It’s hard to imagine a professional position that might not include creating content, designing web services for users, or performing some form of instruction related to the site. If a site is difficult to navigate, will students ever want to return to it when the simplicity and “just in time” allure of Google calls?

What they said 

One of the panelists reported he had been unaware of most library services until he took a course in library use. “We’re going to teach you to search…,” the librarian said in class, and he responded with a big “eye roll.” He soon realized how useful that knowledge could be.

Students don’t want noisy messages from the library; they’re a problem. Be in the social spaces, the panelists urged, but “don’t flood us with the same old stuff you always send….”

What we should do 

Marketing and creating a presence that reaches out to students is just as important as having usable sites. Many LIS students take a User Instruction course, but they need a broader view on how to interact with student users via various channels. Such instruction might provide more insight into student behavior as well as tactics for getting the message out about what’s available at the library.

The study explored in “Can We Handle the Truth?” (Office Hours, LJ 1/11) echoed these ideas: we need to move from source-focused to research process – based instruction. And we should find ways to do it at the point of need for students because many are not coming to ask the librarians waiting for them in the library.

What they said 

The age-old confusion about what a librarian does still exists. In fact, when Ridley asked the panel “What defines a professional librarian,” their comments weren’t surprising. One “had no idea” what a librarian was until it was explained to her in the car on the way to the symposium. Another stated what many students, and public library patrons, think as well: “it means everyone in the library to me….”

Ridley followed with, “Do you care if it’s a librarian, or not, helping you with your research?” The consensus was a simple, “No, we just want help,” and frankly librarians are mostly a “last resort.”

More difficult truths 

One panelist asked that librarians “focus on things we want to talk about,” not just on how to search. This goes beyond designing sites and services to something deeper – that human connection forged when we understand each other. How can we reach students, how can we have a tangible impact on their education and their lives, when the disconnect from these articulate, thoughtful young people is so pronounced?

One audience member questioned the group: Were they typical students or high achievers? The panelists agreed they were typical – but even if that’s not the case, it shouldn’t devalue their opinions or any of the opinions our constituents have. We need to hear, understand, and respond to all of these voices. We need a higher level of engagement and understanding of all our users – students, faculty, people.

This post was originally published as “Listening to student voices” in Library Journal. Stephens, M. (2011). Listening to student voices. Library Journal136(11), 44.

Office Hours: Goals of an LIS Educator

Presenting at the Educause Learning Initiatives (ELI) conference last January in Austin, TX, was a seminal moment for me. I found my tribe of like-minded educators and technologists examining what it means to be teaching and creating learning environments in the 21st century. What I didn’t find was too many librarians; roughly seven to eight percent of the 500-plus attendees were librarians. (Note to readers: put this dynamic conference on your radar. We should be there to represent and participate in the conversations.)

Beyond the benefits of finding like-minded thinkers, ELI forced me to articulate my personal goals as an LIS educator. On day one a tweet went up in the conference back channel: “Digital literacies discussion brings the same concept to the surface each year: Sure, you want to use tech but what’s your GOAL?”

That tweet sent me back to work on my upcoming presentation about the technologies I use in teaching at Dominican GSLIS. I spent the night updating my slides to frame what I was doing within a larger context. This exercise helped me clarify my philosophy of LIS education. Some of my goals include:

To prepare LIS students for a decidedly digital future in libraries. With titles like Digital Strategy Librarian, User Experience Librarian, or Strategy Guide, jobs being advertised speak to an evolving skill set that not only includes a solid understanding of the core values of LIS but a strong knowledge of information architecture, online user behavior, and the ability to build networked resources and services. We do our students (and programs) a disservice if they graduate with only a cursory understanding of library tech–emerging and otherwise.

To remember that 20th-century policies don’t always work in 21st-century learning/sharing spaces. I still post library signage on Tame the Web that shows how backward some library policy is. There’s just too much competition from other third places for us to greet our user communities with placards proclaiming No this and No that. Beyond signage, do our user policies extend the library to our constituents in ways that benefit them? Is the library usable? (See Aaron Schmidt’s LJ column, The User Experience, for more on this.)

To promote truth and open communication. For over two years, Michael Casey and I wrote The Transparent Library column in LJ. Transparency–open planning and open communication–should be key in managing our organizations in this post–Web 2.0 world. Institutions bound in secrecy and controlled information flow cannot thrive. New graduates with different mindsets can be change agents–hire them.

To give students environments for exploration and experience. With Dominican GSLIS grad Kyle Jones, I’ve built online communities for each of my classes. I want my students to experience writing on the open web and not behind the firewall of Blackboard. New grads will find few jobs where all of their time will be inside a firewall or hiding in the back of the library. As a service-oriented profession, many of our services have, or will have, an online component. Other jobs/services will take the librarian physically beyond library walls into academic departments or the community.

To immerse students in the spaces and communities where they may work upon graduation. What better place to explore these realms than throughout the curriculum. I applaud the classes I see running in Drupal on the open web or taught via Facebook and Twitter. The tools will change, but the ideas behind them will not. With this comes a chance to reflect on privacy, anonymity, and how best to represent oneself to the professional linked-in world.

To acquaint students with the human connections created by social media. Beyond shiny toys, the tools at our disposal can enhance and augment human relationships. When the technology falls away, we’re left with two or more people having a very human conversation. Anyone can write a blog post touting the library’s next event; it takes some talent to craft a post that prompts users to respond and share. The more we learn what works to engage and enlighten our communities–virtual and physical–the more we can tap into them.

To help students create their own personal learning network. This is key. Actively participating in various channels that create a learning network–like blogs, Twitter, Facebook group–sets them up to be more connected, to garner interviews and that first professional job. Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who understands the ins and outs of the dynamic community of practitioners available to us online–globally?

To learn by doing. The sage on the stage model of lecture no longer flies. Students should explore, play, experiment, and figure things out for themselves. As a teacher, I should serve as a trusty guide, giving them some resources and ideas to spur thinking and set them free. That’s the type of learner we want steering our libraries in the future.

That’s the goal toward which we should also be striving. To prepare all learners/patrons/users for a decidedly digital future.

This post was originally published as “Goals of an LIS Educator” in Library Journal.

Stephens, M. (2010). Goals of an LIS educator. Library Journal, 135(19), 32.

Office Hours: Heretical thoughts

By Michael Stephens

I recently had a phone chat with a valued colleague who runs a university library. He had been working hard to streamline staffing and budgets owing to a financial shortfall, while holding steady to a strategic plan anchored in creating useful information and collaboration spaces for the student body.

I asked the question I always ask when I’m talking to someone who hires new librarians: “What other skills and competencies should a new librarian have?”

His response? “I want risk-takers…innovators…creatives….I don’t want someone who’s afraid to make a move or make a decision without getting permission.”

We chatted longer about skills that are becoming more important, usurping some of our longstanding curricular mainstays.

Strategic thinking and planning

As budgets fall and library use rises. LIS students need a solid foundation in project management and planning. I honestly can’t recall too much devoted to strategic, technology, or long-range planning in my own graduate work. I do remember watching reference books being wheeled into the classroom and explained one by one. That class time would have been better spent developing a mock plan for phasing out part of our print reference and the ins and outs of acquiring, leasing, and paying for online resources.

Programs drawn from schools of business and public administration would be a good fit for the soon-to-be-librarian. Our students need grounding in concepts like decision-making, advocacy, human resources, administration, and management of nonprofits.

As staffing structures change, a newly hired librarian may be called upon to take over departments or projects. Here’s an intriguing assignment for students: give a group a plan halted in midstream, with directions to pick up the pieces and “make it work”–complete with roadblocks from administrators above and front-line staff below.

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In my classes the dreaded group project becomes a real-world example. How do we LIS educators–and others–create pragmatic projects to reinforce the importance of planning?

Creativity and innovation

Thinking and planning are important but so is innovation and creativity. I’ve used Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind in my Intro to LIS class to highlight the importance of right brain thinking. Pink argues that the logically focused left brain, though necessary in professional work, has given way to the more artistic and conceptual. Creative work is what remains after outsourcing and turning repetitive work over to computers.

Pink also stresses the importance of empathy and the power of story to transform products and services. Solutions to common problems can come when librarians tap into their creativity and inventiveness. For example, we could create and deliver library services built on human emotion that add to the ongoing story of a community, as they are doing at the DOK Library’s Agora in Delft, the Netherlands. [For more on DOK, see "What's Your Story?" LJ 9/1/10, p. 26-29.]

Not all students are ready to take this on. Some can only operate within the constraints of their own limited assumptions of what library work is. To conclude last semester, my LIS701 class walked a local labyrinth, as Pink describes, to engage the left brain and free the right to explore new ideas. “Think about your professional practice,” I said before the walk. “What can you do to encourage the heart of your library users?”

I caught up with one of the students from that class, Tara Wood, and asked her what she thought about it. “I think that it is just as easy for students to fall into a certain ‘comfort zone’ as it is for librarians. We get used to coming to class, listening to lectures, writing papers, etc., but these are not always the best methods for learning. At first, we all felt a little silly walking the labyrinth, but by the end we felt differently…. [I felt] a sense of clearing out the ‘junk’ in my mind and being able to focus.”

Focus on the heart

As a teacher, I practice radical trust. I will never look over shoulders and scold a student for peeking at email or the score of the big game, or practice scare tactics to make sure they do the assigned readings. They’re adults. In exploring the idea of fear as a mechanism for learning, Seth Godin writes in Linchpin that instead of “fear-based, test-based battlefields, [classrooms] could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need.”

What are your heretical thoughts about libraries and LIS education?
Personally, I never give exams and focus instead on writing and personal reflection about the practice of librarianship. The strongest student papers are usually those with a personal slant that tell a story as a means to show comprehension of course material.

I don’t want students to memorize facts. I want them to understand what it means to be in the ultimate service profession. Being a good, innovative, librarian means to take a humanistic stance toward policy, decision-making, and experimentation. It means a focus on the heart.

Originally published in Library Journal December 2010