Category Archives: Office Hours

UX Meets Office Hours 2: A Better Site Visit

Aaron Schmidt and I have combined our columns this month for a double length examination of the site visit assignment in LIS schools:

 The most responsive libraries would aim to make a change based on the suggestion of the student. The reports and other data would be shared with the staff and the recommendations for improvements evaluated and implemented. The findings might also be shared externally or with the library’s governing body to promote not only transparency but the positive aspects of the library partnering with a library school. These partnerships should be encouraged and leveraged as much as possible.

Adding this very real-world component to the assignment would benefit students, too. Requiring them to give an in-person report to the library they observe would likely bring an additional level of rigor to the assignment that goes way beyond passive one-hour observation of a reference librarian on the desk. Combining observation, critical thinking, and research-based evidence to create solutions would prepare these students to do real work after graduation. Likewise, such an assignment would give them practical experience with future colleagues as part of a library team. In the end, this assignment would not only sharpen their observational skills but also shape their communication skills. The resulting classroom discussion would be richer. Not only would the particulars of the observations be on the table but reactions to the debrief meetings would be as well.

 Read the whole piece here:

Also – here is last year’s combined column:

Office Hours: Our Common Purpose

My new column is available at LJ’s site:

“Get a blog, launch texting, create a Facebook page” has been the rallying cry—from me, too—for some time, but the reasons for doing these things should be clear. They’re an extension of what we have always done, the foundational purpose of libraries. Service. Access. Context.

Many LIS programs include “how-to” technology classes. These are useful for providing the skills new grads need to be marketable. Along with those skill-based courses, however, we must give students opportunities to learn how to engage actively with people, facilitate people’s interests and conversation, and promote the creation of community. These concepts should translate from the real world to online and back again.

Peter Block writes in Community: The Structure of Belonging, “Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness.” This echoes Wesch’s point—building a relationship between the educator and the learner or between the librarian and the user is a step toward establishing the bonds of community. That’s why we can’t just hide behind our reference desks or our virtual lecterns and hope that students or users listen but leave us alone. Active engagement begins here. If we can articulate our purpose well and use it as a basis for building community, we are on the right track.

Office Hours May 2012: Professionalism Matters

By Michael Stephens

As the school year wanes, I’ve spent the last few days grading electronic portfolios for a cadre of SLIS students. The portfolio is part of their culminating experience at San José and serves as a lexicon of learning, detailing experiences and evidence of their mastery of our competencies. It promotes a high degree of self-evaluation by articulating a statement of professional philosophy. Truth be told, both students and practitioners can benefit from careful consideration of what it means to be a professional in libraries in 2012.

A crowded field

In a market where one library job may have 200 applicants, how do you set yourself apart? Demonstrating skills is one way. A well-crafted cover letter outlining pertinent experience and pointers to an e-portfolio or online vita with links to social networking presence and other evidence is a good start. [For sample cover letters that work, see, the brainchild of LJ Mover & Shaker Stephen X. Flynn.--Ed.] Focusing on professionalism, foundational values, and service throughout all of these resources can set you apart. No library experience? Seek out an internship or volunteer opportunity to establish some evidence of your own contributions to the field.

Model online behavior

Professionalism matters online just as much as it matters in the physical library or information workplace. As a professor, I can model the characteristics of a professional to my students online via our interactions in class chat, my lectures, blogging, and Twitter. But my students are also learning from those they meet virtually. If you are a professional participating in online conversations, be aware that you are influencing the next wave of librarians even before they graduate.

Quality over quantity

A student recently asked if she should include the number of Twitter followers she has on her résumé as she applied for a technology position. I advised that a carefully worded statement about her experience participating, teaching, and sharing online might make for a better selling point than citing those figures. I reminded her of a blog post from Seth Godin that included this advice for up-and-comers: “There’s no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers, and friends you can acquire…. Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger” ( I urged her to provide substantive details of what she could bring to the job instead of an indication of her reach.

The online world so easily becomes a popularity contest. Folks fall over themselves to get retweeted, liked, linked, and noticed. Sometimes it feels like a weird, online version of high school. I’m more interested in those folks who are working hard, with little notice, day in and day out, to enact change within their communities. Teen librarian Justin Hoenke, a contributor to my blog, Tame the Web, shared a success story with me: one of his teens recently gained U.S. citizenship.

Contributions matter

Lasting contributions can be made online. It does not matter where you write, but you must write professionally and with an eye toward the future.
I still return to seminal blog posts such as Karen Schneider’s “The User Is Not Broken” (, as well as other blog posts, LJ articles, and studies that have inspired me. Professional writing, no matter whether it’s on a blog, in a professional journal, or an academic paper, should always be of the highest caliber.

The nature of professional contributions, however, is broader than just mass appeal on blogs or Twitter.

Framing the future

Defining one’s approach to professional contributions should begin in library school. One section of our e-portfolio asks students to summarize how they will contribute to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of their communities. The act of writing this frames students’ future work around the people they will serve.

I recall a writing exercise as part of a staff development day right after I finished my MLS. Looking back, I realize now I was being asked to craft my own professional philosophy. Later, when I moved to LIS education, I was asked to articulate my philosophy of teaching. If you haven’t done an exercise like this, give it a try.

What is your current professional philosophy? Include a focus on who you serve (the public or internal staff), how you will contribute to the purpose of your specific workplace or environment, and how you will continue to learn. Find your professional focus and stick to it, developing it as you go.

Let your actions speak louder than your words, however; professionalism matters, popularity is illusory, fleeting, and short-lived. Your contributions to the field, enhancing service, creating new models to replace outdated practice, quietly working to improve communities, matter most.

2012 May Library Journal

Office Hours: Learning Everywhere

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

The trend, “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” also describes the move from place-based learning and information access. These ideas for change are synthesized in what Henry Jenkins calls “connected learning.” Jenkins, professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, offers principles of connected learning that illustrate how far we’ve come and where we might be going: a shared purpose between learners and peers, a production-centered focus on creation and curation of things, and an openly networked atmosphere in which to work and learn.

Office Hours: Embracing Chaos

My new column is up at Library Journal:

Part of me is tempted to argue that this is not a debate between those who want control and those who want chaos. The forward-thinking librarian understands that Shirky’s “everybody’s coming” is the future. We are now living in the chaotic world, and we do not have a choice regarding where we can position ourselves. Our choice lies in how we respond. If we continue to respond to chaos using tools from the old world of control, then we will always fail. LIS students need to understand that the world is chaos, and it is our job to build our organizations in ways that can thrive within this chaos.

Office Hours: The Age of Participation

My February column is up at Library Journal:

IT’S THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR’S conundrum. She has six brief seconds to grab the visitor’s attention as they walk past each exhibit. Once they pass the exhibit, they’re gone for good. That thought went through my mind as I stood talking with a museum administrator at a stammtisch [“regular get-­together”] in Berlin in March 2010. Could this brief window of opportunity be maximized by adding a social, participatory component to museum ­exhibitions?

I couldn’t help but think that this is the same problem facing libraries. How can we grab the public’s interest despite the one-click availability of information? How can we compete with the seductive voice of Siri?

I revisited these questions and more at the Salzburg Global Seminar program “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” (, held October 19–23, 2011, and cosponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Representatives from over 20 countries gathered for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyperconnected social ­participation.

Building collections and seeking ways to engage the public and promote curiosity challenge us all. The seminar gave me a newfound appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The era of participatory culture demands that cultural and information professionals play an active, visible role in our communities. My takeaways were many….

Office Hours Extra: The Salzburg Curriculum

The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations

that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action

Lifelong learning in & out of formal educational settings
These topics are equally applicable to librarians and museum professionals
These topics must be contextualized

The following values permeate these topics:

  • Openness & transparency
  • Self reflection
  • Collaboration
  • Service
  • Empathy & Respect
  • Continuous Learning/Striving for Excellence (which requires lifelong learning)
  • Creativity and imagination

The Salzburg Global Seminar convenes numerous meetings throughout the year focused on creating solutions  for issues on an international level. In October, I was honored to participate in the session co-sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.” Representatives from libraries and museums from over 20 countries came together for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyper-connected social participation. Working groups formed to provide solutions to the many challenges discussed. As part of my role, I was asked to participate, present about emerging technologies and blog the sessions.

I joined the working group devoted to building the skills of librarians and museum professionals. Lead by Dr. David Lankes, Syracuse University, our group adopted this mission statement: “The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action.” We developed several curricular topics/skills to frame our work: Management for Participation, Asset Management, Cultural Skills, Knowledge/Learning/Innovation, Technology, and Transformative Social Engagement. The framing statements are reproduced above this post.


  • crowdsourcing / outreach
  • ability to engage and evolve with technology
  • ability to impart tech to community across generation
  • creating and maintaining on effective virtual presence

The technology focus I recently explored in SJSU SLIS’s Student Research Journal ( )includes the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence. These should already be part of an LIS student’s educational experience. Evolving as technology does afford information professionals the chance to continuously adapt services, access and collections to the information environments of our constituents. Online presence – what you do, what you say within the professional networks – can carry a lot of weight. See “The Role of Mentoring” for more.

Transformative Social Engagement

  • activism
  • social responsibility
  • critical social analysis
  • public programming – fitting to larger agenda
  • advocacy (organizing communities to action-political, policy)
  • sustainability of societal mission
  • conflict management
  • understanding community needs

Another interesting and dynamic section of the proposed curriculum – transformative social engagement – merits further exploration and discussion.  Under this banner, our group selected a series of thematic areas future LIS grads should experience as part of their preparation for future professional positions. The forthcoming report from the seminar and IMLS will include further details, and Lankes explores the curriculum as well in an video at his blog ( These ideas about transforming communities, however, have already illuminated my planning and content for courses and I wanted to share them.

Fluency in critical social analysis, “participating deeply within the community,” as our group defined it, transcends the more simple notions of community outreach and “going where the users are.” Consider the public librarian participating in community planning or development, or the academic librarian housed full time within their assigned liaison department. The potential for enhanced understanding of the needs of those particular communities is enticing. Stressing this need for participation, Lankes posited “Why showcase culture if we are not enabling conversations about that culture?” as part of his remarks during the seminar.

Related is understanding and participating in advocacy efforts. As part of my new faculty orientation at SJSU, I spent a day with other new professors touring various service agencies in the Bay Area. We were introduced to various initiatives, community service organizations and supporting entities. At a lunch and presentation at the Health Trust, a Silicon Valley organization promoting wellness, I had a realization – everywhere we visited could benefit from the skills, ethics and knowledge of an information professional as a means to extend, support and sustain the success of these organizations.

Both of these areas have something in common: the information professional with these skills may spend more time OUTSIDE library walls than within. This shifting paradigm is one that Lankes illustrates well with his emphasis on a positive future for librarians instead of libraries.

I took many good things away from my work at the Salzburg Global Seminar. I have a new appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The boundary between what we do in libraries and what they do in museums – especially in a technology-enhanced participatory age – has become less blurred. Imagine a mash up library/museum school of the future where transformative social engagement, cultural memory and knowledge creation/curation techniques are cultivated and taught.

There’s much more to the proposed curriculum.  My hope is this curriculum, began in Salzburg, will inform and guide the evolution of educational programs far and wide.

I am off to the ALISE meeting in Dallas today and thought it would be fitting to publish this post on the way.


Seminar Session:

Full text of the Curriculum:



Beyond the Walled Garden – An Essay in SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal

I have an invited contribution in the new issue of SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal:

I recently participated in a meeting convened at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria. For five days, over 50 librarians and museum professionals from all over the world gathered to critically examine the impact of participatory culture on library and museum work. The event was sponsored by both the seminar and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Participatory culture, defined by Henry Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (2006), “is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). When barriers fall away, participation is possible.

The seminar included presentations, working groups, and discussions centered around how library and museum service should adapt to an environment in which participation is not only possible, but encouraged. The working group I joined developed curricula for new professionals in both arenas. One aspect we highlighted was the importance of engaging with technology. Within that area were three skills our group strongly believed future professionals should possess: the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence.

Use the link to read the whole essay.

Citation: Stephens, Michael (2011) “Beyond the Walled Garden: LIS Students in an Era of Participatory Culture,” SLIS Student Research Journal: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article 2.
Available at: