Category Archives: Office Hours

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

Office Hours: Learning to Learn

I totally forgot to link to my July column:

How might staff development days evolve? I was impressed with the activities at Highland Park Public Library, IL, when I spoke at the library’s staff day a couple of years ago. Staff participated in a live, hands-on “passport to technology” program. Stations around the building offered staff members the chance to try out new devices and new web services offered by the library. The Best Buy Geek Squad was in attendance as well, offering encounters with popular and best-selling consumer tech. At each station, employees received a stamp in a passport. Filling all the blanks entered each person into a number of drawing for ereaders. It was Learning 2.0 with a hands-on twist. (For more about “on your feet” learning, see my report from the illuminating R-Squared conference)

I’d argue for continuing staff development days, but I’d also urge administrators to promote a culture of learning all year long. At a workshop recently in Alberta, Canada, an administrator asked me how to incorporate all the new ideas and services we were talking about into practice. “How do we balance it all out?” she asked.

I suggested two strategies, one for management and one for staff. For administrators: mandate weekly time for each staff member to explore something new related to their jobs. It might be a social tool, a web service, or simply distraction-free time to read a few articles or a book. Reports on learning progress should figure into performance evaluations and monthly meetings.

Office Hours: Creating a Library/ LIS Feedback Loop | Office Hours & The User Experience

Honored to have written a third joint column with Aaron Schmidt!

Recent articles from voices in the field of library and information science (LIS) have questioned the value of the MLIS or pointed toward an uncertain and evolving future. Former LJ editor in chief Michael Kelley’s “Can We Talk About the MLS?” garnered much attention. Kelley argues that the profession should have a serious conversation about the values and merits of formalized, professional LIS education. Is the library degree, in his words, “an expensive and unnecessarily exclusionary credential”? Kelley’s call for discussion is a sound one and is echoed in Brian Kenney’s similarly themed piece in Publishers Weekly, “So You Think You Want To Be a Librarian?” Kenney’s frank approach looks beyond collections to interaction: “Librarianship today is about greeting each customer (in person or online) and making sure that his or her library visit is one of the best experiences of the day.”

These articles struck a nerve; the resulting links, comments, and discussion serve as evidence of librarians’ interest in the topic and, perhaps, their sensitivities to these issues. Why the consternation? Librarians want libraries to succeed, and they know that libraries must evolve in order to succeed. The future of libraries is closely linked to the skills of newly minted librarians.


Office Hours: Lackluster Online Programs?

My new “Office Hours” column is up at Library Journal:

It’s a response to this letter last month in LJ by Krystal Taylor, an LIS student at IUPUI Indianapolis:

Something quite disturbing is happening to my LIS program…. As of next semester, the program is going almost exclusively to online courses. Due to low enrollment of our courses on campus, the school has decided to move online in an attempt to keep the program alive. I understand this need, but at what cost will this be to the library and information science field?

From the column:

Taylor writes, “Having taken both types of courses, I am convinced that face-to-face [F2F] courses are the better option.” I might argue the tide is turning on that sentiment. In 2011, I wrote “Online LIS Education or Not”on the choices between F2F and online programs. In just a few short months we’ve seen the announcement of a new online library management degree at the University of Southern California and now the evolution of the IU program to mostly online classes. Frankly, a brick-and-mortar LIS school without a fully online option may become a quaint reminder of days gone by in the next decade. With this shift comes a few important considerations for the various stakeholders: students, faculty, hiring librarians, and accrediting bodies.


Office Hours: Lost Control? Not a Problem

My new column is up at the LJ site:

In a discussion after a recent presentation, an educator stood to make a counterpoint to my take on participatory teaching. “I’m paid to have control,” she said. More than one person in the room gasped.

I should have directed her to the new Horizon Report. Among the key trends identified as those impacting teaching and learning for 2013 is an emphasis on “open.” The report states, “Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access.”

Open teaching, open courses, open minds. It struck me that emphasizing control over what students read, how they respond to discussion questions, and how, essentially, they learn might not be the best path forward when technology and other trends are rapidly changing the learning landscape….


Office Hours: Essential Soft Skills

I for got to post last month’s LJ column here at TTW:

I would add other soft skills such as intuition, political awareness, and a willingness to make and learn from our mistakes. Transparency is evolving into an even more clearly defined “full frontal” strategy for some corporations—putting it all out there. We should follow suit. Library schools should teach case studies of failed library systems and initiatives. We must study our failures as much as we study our successes. There seems to be an ongoing unwillingness to do this. But in fact some libraries make bad decisions, and we have to admit that in order to learn those corrective lessons.

What soft skills would you add? What traits are needed for 21st-century information work? The crux of the matter is this: these skills should be taught throughout our programs, from the core to electives, practicums, and culminating experiences. Teachers should not only teach these skills, they should model them. It’s a tall order for our evolving curriculum, and assessing skills such as intuition and sensitivity is tough. The yield of such hard work, however, is an evolved institution that trains dynamic, responsive library professionals.

Don’t miss the excellent comments from readers on the LJ site!

Office Hours: What Scares YOU?

What keeps you up at night?

I ask this question at some of my library conference presentations as a way to break the ice and get people sharing. The answers are usually in a similar vein: budgets, ebooks, and losing relevance. We might even call those answers the unholy trinity of librarian insomnia.

Relevance seems to be the most troublesome for our profession as we find ourselves yet again doing all those things that begin with “re”: reimagining, reinvigorating, and renewing this, that, and the other. And just as librarians struggle with relevance, I sincerely hope those of us in LIS education are doing the same. That keeps me up at night, especially when I hear from colleagues who question why they should be hiring MLIS grads when other skills and other degrees seem much more useful to the mission of the library.

Read the rest at Library Journal

What scares you these days?