Category Archives: Office Hours

Office Hours Extra: A Reimagined Core by SJSU SLIS’s Robert Boyd


I wrote about working on re-evaluating our core classes at “Office Hours” last month. Robert Boyd, one of our faculty, continues the discussion at our CIRI Blog:

I am also using some new-found time between semesters to read and reflect on two noted thinkers/practitioners, one old and one new.   The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman was originally published in 1852 where Newman proposed the theoretical underpinnings of what would become University College, Dublin.  At core, Newman argued  “the general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  The interaction with faculty, practitioners in the field and with fellow classmates animate and deepen our own learning and can, and should, be introduced and fostered through a re-considered core.

Published a few months ago, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reconsidered written by the founder of the Khan Academy directs our gaze forward.   In describing what higher education could be like, Salman Khan imagines an education “rather than taking note in lecture halls, (where) students will be actively learning through real-world intellectual projects”.   Key elements in the content, delivery and assessment of the curriculum must be further explored, but the innovation actively promoted at SLIS makes the discussions, questions and possibilities for the foundation of our curriculum full of promise, rigor and creativity for faculty and students, alike.


Office Hours: The Evolving LIS Core

My new column is up at LJ:

User studies—research concerning patterns of information use in our everyday lives, in times of crisis, and as members of certain populations (students, the aging, etc.)—define the first part of this core. Appreciating the diversity of cultures in relation to library service should come early, as our grads will be citizens of the world.

Second, the core would include an emphasis on the ever-changing technological landscape. This might include coding, hardware, and all those things once deemed the realm of the IT department but would also include understanding the architecture of participation and the fostering of usable environments for information access and creation.

Communication technology has advanced in ways I never imagined as a library student or public librarian. The world is changing faster than ever, and the ease and depth of information flow is part of that change. When hundreds of thousands of tweets can be gathered and archived for study at the click of a button, Twitter simply cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the way people access, create, and use information, especially when it is one of the eight most visited sites ­worldwide.

Office Hours: Did You Miss the R-Squared Conference? It Was a Barn Burner

My new column is up online at LJ for this month – I wanted double word count so we went with the virtual for this one. The column is all about my experiences at R-Squared:

Over two days we explored creativity and curiosity, heard from keynoters such as Josh Linkner, author of Disciplined Dreaming, and each of us chose and completed our own immersive group experience. I chose Customer Curiosity, though other options included Creative Spaces, Culture, and Abundant Community. With John Bellina and Tasso Stathopulos from the Denver marketing firm Ricochet Ideas. Ricochet is the design group that helped create Anythink and transformed services such as the Anythink summer reading program through disruptive innovation—our group worked at turning the conventions and assumptions about Banned Books Week on its ear. Ideas in the form of action briefs flowed (an action brief is a framing statement used in planning that includes who we want to convince about a service or product, how we will do it and what the service will be that makes the change). Bellina challenged us with: “If we are not offering people something new, are we really doing our jobs?”

This was unlike any library conference I have ever been to, a sentiment echoed by other participants, across Twitter, Facebook, and in the hallways of the conference center. What made the difference? I believe that active engagement promotes learning and transformation more than sitting in the room and watching PowerPoint or Keynote slides go by. We were up, we were talking, we were writing and sharing. We were walking around the room answering questions.

The conference also offered an opportunity to spend time with Jenny Levine, my friend and co-presenter for the Social Technologies Roadshow back in the day. What fun it was to spend time!

Photo by Patricia Martin

My Flickr photo set is here:

Office Hours: Little Free Libraries

My new column is up:

Scanning the recent news articles about the LFL movement reveals something else, too. More often than not, those interviewed acknowledge the sense of community and collegiality that grow up around the little libraries. From a Los Angeles Times piece on a local LFL: “It has turned strangers into friends and a sometimes impersonal neighborhood into a community. It has become a mini–town square….” This gets to the heart of what many of us in libraries know: knowledge shared within a framework of caring and familiarity can strengthen communities.

Evidence of caring is present in the knowledge that few LFLs have been vandalized. Part of the packet a steward receives when registering an LFL includes a document outlining how to prevent vandalism. One hint: “Get as many people as possible to know they are a part of the success of the Little Free Library. It is a gift to all; not a private possession.” So simple, so true.

You can visit our LFL at

Jill Hurst Wahl from Syracuse University adds more to the LFL & LIS story in a comment at LJ

Thanks for this article about the little free libraries.  In Syracuse (NY), we embarked on our own Little Free Libraries project in August 2011, which started with a tweet. Quickly we gathered a team of students and faculty from the LIS program at Syracuse University, students and faculty from the Visual and Performing Arts program at Syracuse University, staff from the Near Westside Initiative, and community members from the Near Westside where we planned on installing little free libraries.  

In October, this large group met on a Saturday to workshop everything about the LFLs.  After that, the design students worked on the design and the LIS students worked on defining the collection.  (BTW I should note that we have had a number of community organizations participate including the Onondaga County Library System and ProLiteracy.)  Our first LFL was launched with on Feb. 3 on Gifford St.  We hosted a party a few doors down, where we received more donations, talked to the media, and engaged in conversations about what the LFLs can be.  Before the evening was over, we had to refill the LFL twice!

Our first LFL went through over 150 books in the first month.  Since then, we have installed two more on the Near Westside.  We have also hosted a book drive for the LFLs and received more than 2000 books from the wider Syracuse community, including donations from children at a local elementary school.  Our LIS students helped with that effort.  

This summer, an LIS student did her internship with the LFL project.  Her task was to create documentation for the project that others could use, including a collection development policy.  Because many people will be involved in the collection, including each LFLs caretaker, we wanted to create documentation that would be helpful to everyone.  

We know from the caretakers and others who interact with the LFLs that they have been well received.  Books do get borrowed quickly and we have learned that truly every book has its reader, no matter the book.  People in the community truly see these as an asset.  (Yes, some books are returned and community members are contributing their own books directly into the LFLs.)

Will we install more? Not immediately. We want to get these firmly rooted in the community and then discuss other locations, different designs, etc.  We are definitely, though, going to do another book drive next spring (2013).  And I should mention that this fall, we will purchase books for the LFLs from cash donations we’ve received from across the country for the project.

For more on our Library Free Libraries project, please go to  Perhaps others can learn from what we have done – and from what others have done – and create their own!

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.