Category Archives: TTW Contributor Dr. Troy Swanson

My Advice for New Instruction Librarians

In the last three months, I’ve been interviewed about information literacy by two students. One was working on her MLIS and taking her first instruction course. The other was working on a dissertation, and I was a participant in her study on information literacy programs. These interviews started me thinking about what I’d tell new librarians interested in information literacy instruction.

Here’s my advice for new instruction librarians entering the profession:

At least 50% of being a librarian is building connections with people.
Instruction librarians thrive by connecting with faculty members and recognizing how they can help faculty members reach their objectives. This often means informal office visits, commercials at departmental meetings, invitations to coffee, and noting when students show up at the reference desk with research assignments. If 50% of your job is connecting, the other 50% will be easier.

Quality matters.
We only get a few chances, so getting it right matters. When you have built a relationship and a faculty member has devoted class time for instruction, don’t screw it up. Do all of those things they teach you in library school (communicate objectives, chunk up class time, prepare exercises, and prepare assessments). Work hard to be good at your job.

Caring matters more than quality.
Faculty members can be very forgiving if they know you care. Be available for students. Follow up with faculty. Send faculty members articles and ideas. Care about the content you are teaching. Care about the success of students. This is the kind of thing that is tougher to teach in library school.

Easy is better than good.
(I am stealing this from the folks at the Bibliotech podcast.) As instruction librarians, our goal should be to make faculty members more effective. If our involvement means layers of hassle, piles of forms, and additional complications, then faculty members won’t mess with us. We may hold up idealized views of information literacy, but the reality is that we are one of many interests competing for faculty members’ time.

Write solid, useful rules and then break them often.
Managing (or being a part of) an information literacy program will require rules. These rules will define roles, outline content, and reserve time (and rooms). Rules are never written to drive innovation forward. Rules are written to prevent action. They are often great in the abstract, but require adaptation when applied to concrete reality. New librarians may need time to recognize which rules can be broken, but, to be successful, you will need to break them.

Be bold. (Do not believe the low expectations of others.)
Most people (especially in higher ed) love librarians, but they don’t expect much out of them. This is an advantage, because the value we add will surprise them. However, it is extremely important for new librarians to ignore the low expectations of others (within libraries or outside of libraries). Faculty, administrators, and students do not recognize the evolving nature of libraries, and they are often quick to throw up limitations around our work. Refuse to be held back.

swansonphotoNever give up.
New librarians have trouble recognizing that our work is a marathon and not a sprint. Progress can be slow, and after a while, you can feel beat up. Look for opportunities to refresh. Connect with people who have positive energy. Don’t forget that our work matters. Embrace the moments that remind you of this. Let go of the moments that drag you down.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Humans vs Zombies as an Active Learning Event by TTW contributor Troy Swanson

WWMscreen capture 2One of my projects for the fall semester my library will be organizing a special, active-learning opportunity for students, staff, and faculty that is part of our One Book, One College program on Max Brook’s World War Z.

The library with the support of Honors and Student Activities will be organizing a campus-wide game that we are calling, World War M: Humans vs Zombies,

Our game is loosely based on the Humans vs Zombies games played on campuses across the country. We have changed the rules a little bit and tried to give it a technological and academic twist.  The goal of the game is to model a virus outbreak across our campus where “infected” players report their infection on the game website. At the same time, we will be releasing clues to an antidote that will cure the disease. We will use the game’s website to track how the disease and the antidote spread. Faculty members in sociology, microbiology, literature, and mathematics have already expressed an interest in developing assignments around this game.

To play the game, students will receive free playing materials from the library. We will also provide faculty members with playing materials for their classes if they choose to use the game as part of a class project. To kick off this game, several faculty members from our math department and biology department will be hosting a panel discussion called “Zombie Math” where they will discuss mathematical models for how viruses spread and the ways that a “zombie” outbreak can be connected to the real world. We are working to create an engaging & innovative opportunity for students to connect ideas across disciplines.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.


Talking Social Media in Libraries on Bibliotech Podcast from TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Bibliotech Podcast. We talked about social media in libraries, library website design, libraries as loosely coupled systems and other topics.

Social Media in Libraries
(here’s a link to the show notes: Bibliotech 26 show notes)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

#TTW10 The Central Question of My Career post by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

tamerWhen I left the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University and entered the profession, the faculty members did not leave me with answers. They left me with a question, which has driven my career. That question was simply, will libraries exist in the future? At the time, the web was fairly new, and many people argued that libraries had been displaced by this technology. As I entered the profession, this question pushed me forward. Based on the needs of my library, I have followed two paths to answer the question.

First, when I started teaching information literacy sessions for many writing classes, I was surprised at the information choices that students made. This sparked my interest in understanding credibility and authority. The searcher’s sophistication in understanding the processes behind and the purposes for creating information directly impact which search tool to select, how search results are interpreted, and ultimately how sources are used. I have written about this on this blog (see Lost Faith: College Students’ Photoshopification and Information Literacy). As I followed this path, I have written on information literacy in the light of critical pedigogy (see A Radical Step: Implementing A Critical Information Literacy Model, 2004) and in the light of personal epistemology from the social psychology literature (see Information Literacy, Personal Epistemology, and Knowledge Construction: Potential and Possibilities from 2006). To me, the future of libraries is clearly tied to a degree of information literacy skills (or a desire for these skills) in the communities we serve. The library as “knowledge center” for the community is tied in a large part (although maybe not entirely) to the credibility of the resources we provide. In so many words, credibility is part of our competitive advantage.

My second answer to the question driving my career has revolved around the effectiveness of the online library. Our physical spaces remain important, but our virtual spaces bring a potential for delivering services that libraries could never have envisioned two decades ago. One of my first jobs as a librarian was redesigning our library’s website. Around 2004 after our first redesign and around the time we were working on a usability study which would eventually take us to our second redesign, I heard about blogs from Jenny Levine (the Shifted Librarian) at a conference. It was not long after this when I met Michael Stephens at Internet Librarian. Jenny and Michael (and Tame the Web) were instrumental in starting my work with social media and libraries. My interest in how we incorporate social media into our organizations and inspiration from Michael took me to my dissertation topic and an eventual book. As a contributor to TTW, I am always honored to be part of Michael’s work. Of course, it is not a stretch to say that Michael and Tame the Web have been an important part of my work!.

swansonphotoI have always been grateful that my library school faculty left me with a question as opposed to giving me their answers. So, will libraries exist in the future? I have to say that this question still drives me today. Over the last decade and a half,, our profession has evolved and demonstrated that we are more than just storehouses for books. We have provided a multitude of answers to this important question, and if we are to remain vital to the people we serve, we must provide a multitude more.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.


Circulating Ideas Podcast by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson


I was honored to be a guest on Steve Thomas’ Circulating Ideas podcast. Steve and I discussed social media and innovation in libraries.

Circulating Ideas: The Librarian Interview Podcast, Episode Twenty-Three: Troy Swanson.

As I mention at the beginning of the podcast, I owe much to Michael Stephens and the Tame the Web community. I am very appreciative!




Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Call for Chapters: Teaching Students How to Think About Information by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Call for Chapters: Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information


  • Heather Jagman, Coordinator of Library Instruction, DePaul University, [email protected]
  • Troy Swanson, Department Chair of Library Services, Moraine Valley Community College, [email protected]

Publisher: Association of College and Research Libraries

The editors are seeking chapters written by librarians or faculty members focusing on theoretical approaches, projects, assessments, instructional sessions, or curricula that teach students how to think about information. This book will focus on pedagogies that challenge students to dive deeper into authority, connect to prior knowledge, and construct knowledge in a world of information abundance. This book will also include chapters that bridge the gap between the epistemological stances and threshold concepts held by librarians and that of students.

How do librarians and faculty members move college students beyond the simple mechanics of online catalogs, search engines, and subscription databases? How do we encourage students to recognize the difference in information sources themselves? How do we motivate students to explore their own beliefs and work with sources that conflict with their beliefs?

We are seeking chapters that may include:

Part 1 Bridging the Gap Between Librarians, Students and Faculty: Conceptualizing Information

  • 1.1 Librarian Epistemologies and Beliefs: How do librarians think about information and the nature of knowledge? How does this approach to knowledge impact how librarians approach the classroom and learning?
  • 1.2 Student Epistemologies and Beliefs: What assumptions do students bring to the classroom about how information and knowledge are constructed? How do these assumptions impact information literacy and their interactions with libraries and librarians?
  • 1.3 Faculty Epistemologies and Beliefs: How do faculty assumptions about knowledge impact their interactions with librarians and students? How do discipline-specific epistemologies shape faculty approaches to learning, students, and information literacy?

Part 2 Making it Work: Teaching Students About Information

  • 2.1 The Nature of Expertise, Authority and Credibility: How do we teach students to understand and value authority and expertise? What assumptions and power structures are hidden in this understanding? In what ways do we teach students to utilize authority and build their own authority as scholars?
  • 2.2 Point of View and Source Bias: In what ways do we teach students to deal with explicit and hidden biases in sources? How do we encourage students to deal with and recognize their own biases?
  • 2.3 Cognitive Biases and Belief: How do we work with students to address confirmation bias, selection bias, and hindsight bias? How do we connect information literacy to personal belief?
  • 2.4 Data, Measurement and Interpreting the world: How do we teach students to deal with data, facts and measurements? How do we teach students to interpret empirical research? How do we encourage students to compare their beliefs about how the world works with actual measurements?
  • 2.5 Journalism & Witnessing the World: How do we teach students about the role of journalism? How do encourage students to interpret and value the journalistic enterprise?

Original research that directly reports student views and/or results from studies with students will be given preference.

Proposal Details:

  • Draft Title
  • Author Info
  • 300-500 Word Abstract and Brief Outline
  • Please also include a writing sample of some form

Please submit chapter proposals and writing samples to both Editors at [email protected]
[email protected] by June 15, 2013.

Making Service-Learning Happen: ActOut Now! by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Actoutnow Higher education has been abuzz about the potential behind service-learning opportunities for many years. The logistics behind service-learning can often be a significant obstacle. Connecting volunteer and social justice efforts to the classroom and also accommodating students’ busy lives can difficult to say the least.

Our library has supported a significant service learning project on our campus, ActOut Now!: Education Through Action. This is a project organized by one of our writing faculty and his students. Our library offers the space for them to hold a volunteer fair where local nonprofit groups, students, and activists come together to discuss issues and build connections. To me, this project is a manageable way to connect service-learning to the curriculum. It is a project that may also be replicated outside of higher education. Our library is not the driving force behind the project, but we offer space and promotional support through social media to help advance the project’s goals.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.


Library Usability Studies By TTW Contributor Dr. Troy Swanson

If you are involved with managing a library website or social media, usability studies should be vitally important to you. My library has conducted several usability tests over the past decade, which provided input for major website redesigns. I thought it might be useful for those new to usability testing to post my library’s documentation for our most recent usability study, MVCC Library Usability Study Documents. If you follow this link, you will find a PDF that includes:

  • Study Goals
  • Procedure Outline
  • Calendar
  • Testing the Test
  • Test Materials
  • Web sites Reviewed
  • Participant Forms
  • Moderator Script
  • Study Questions


I always approach usability testing as an idea-generating mechanism. It follows a qualitative approach that (hopefully) provides insight into how visitors interpret a website. I have written about this in several places including chapter 6 of my recent book and on this blog back in May of 2011, Seduced by Google – A TTW Guest Post by Dr. Troy Swanson.

For additional information about usabilty studies take a look at this post from Stephen Abram, Stephen’s Lighthouse: “18 Usability Resources for Librarians”.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Your Library Does not Need a Social Media Plan By TTW Contributor Dr. Troy Swanson

Last month, someone contacted me about creating social media plans in libraries. From our email exchange, I think she was a bit surprised when I said that I think social media plans often get in the way and are a waste of resources. I told her that I could not send her a sample social media plan or a list of best practices for writing a social media plan. I told her that my suggested best practice was to not write a plan at all.

When I think about a “plan”, I mean a systematized set of steps that guide an organization through a process in order to achieve a goal. Plans are coordination tools. They layout steps, and they help people understand how they will work together. They are really useful in guaranteeing a course of action and preventing the group from deviating from that course. Plans work best when actions and goals are fairly well understood. Moving a library collection from an old facility to a new facility is a problem where a plan is absolutely vital. Having a technology plan for server upgrades or computer cascades is often important.

For a social media plan to be really useful, the planners would need to anticipate things they do not know as well as lessons they will learn along the way. They also need to anticipate new technologies that have not been invented. The plan will be in need of constant update.

We often overlook the fact that plans are not overly helpful when the goal is to learn, innovate, and adapt. As we know, social media are a set of technologies that are evolving constantly. They thrive in environments that are highly adaptive where organizational members can use technology to meet ever-changing needs. The decision about applying social media to needs should be located as closely to the ground as possible and not up at the top of the organizational chart.

This isn’t to say that effective use of social media relies on anarchy. Far from it. Organizations still need a structure around social media. Organizations can encourage social media by defining policies, workflows, guidelines, and best practices. These broad documents offer an outline where experimentation and play can exist around social media tool. The goal is to create a safe environment to play around with social media. Unfortunately, plans often fit our organizational DNA better than playfulness. Plans feel better than experiments, because plans require us to come up with outcomes in advance. Thus, we’ll spend six months developing a plan instead of spending that time developing an online services that advances our mission.

Many administrators like plans because they provide the illusion of making the unknown into something known. To me, this desire for a plan hearkens back to Michael Stephen’s warning from 2006, “Warning: failure to innovate while overthinking & underplanning library services may cause loss of library users & library staff.“. Social media plans too often fall into the category of failure to innovate due to “overthinking.”

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Lost Faith: College Students’ Photoshopification and Information Literacy

When I finished library school around the year 2000, the shift from print to online was well underway. OPACs were common place, CD towers had already migrated to online databases, and teaching search strategies to students was seen (by librarians and faculty member alike) as an essential piece to teaching the research paper. Yet, even as the changes were happening around us, the mental models used by our students were not moving as quickly. The essential
information literacy problem we faced was that students tended to believe almost anything they found on the web, especially if a website had a nice design. The default mental model was to trust things in print, and the web was viewed as a de facto substitute for print.

Over a decade later, the information landscape feels quite different. We live in a world where Stephen Colbert’s truthiness  dominates public discourse. The Onion, Pets or Food, and are well-known. State of the Union addresses are opportunities for “you lie” moments which are enhanced by Twitter battles waged between partisans. Today, our mental models have flipped.Students come into classrooms today and their default is different. They no longer trust sources. They suffer from “photoshopification” as described by Farhad Manjoo:

If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there’s been some digital foul play there and that it’s possibly not a truth.

Today’s students entering college take a defensive stance with information sources. They are skeptical by default. At the same time, most students that I see have a poorly developed process for sorting information and making decisions. The websites claiming that vaccines are harmful are equivalent to the sites with mounting evidence to the contrary. Research, opinion, journalism, and spin all combine into a cacophony where it is easier to believe no one than to make decisions.

The “photoshopification” of students runs counter to the traditional cognitive development outlined by William G. Perry in the late 1960s. Perry’s scheme has nine phases but generally moves students from an initial absolutism and faith in authority, to a relativistic stance that abandons right and wrong, and ends with a values-based approach to knowing [see Perry, W. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: a scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.]. Based on the assessment work I did a decade ago, I would say that Perry generally described the students I saw at that time. Students were often too trusting of sources, especially online sources. But, the problem that I encounter today feels markedly different. The problem today is that students are untethered to knowledge and the process of public debate. In the past, students may have taken an absolutist stance with an underlying faith in authority, but today they have lost their faith. The idea of “authority” has been diminished.

For instruction librarians and the faculty with whom they work, the answer to the problem of the past and the answer to today’s problem are related. We must teach students about credibility, authority, and source evaluation. But in 2000 we taught people credibility in order to teach them what not to believe. Today, we teach credibility with the hope that they believe something. In fact, I would say that we need to go further. We need to challenge students to examine their personal beliefs and consider how knowledge is created. The concepts of measurement and observation can form a mechanism for students to use to tether themselves back to knowledge. Librarians spend a great deal of time working with faculty members teaching students how to search various online tools, but I would say that it is just as important for us to be working with faculty members to teach students how to think about information.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.