Category Archives: TTW Contributor Dr. Troy 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.

The Coolest Thing I Did on the Job Last Week (by TTW contributor Troy Swanson)

Right now is our busiest time of the year. Last week was especially crazy. I hosted an author event featuring our One Book author Tony Horwitz (, I chaired a department meeting, co-chaired a cataloing meeting in prep for RDA, attended a House of Delegates meeting for our union, met with our director of assessment about our annual assessment plan, and taught a couple of classes. But, out of all of this, the coolest thing I did all week happened at the reference desk.

I was doing my normal reference shift, and a student came up to the desk. He was a traditional aged student (18-20 years old), and he had a look of panic in his eyes. He had a necktie in one hand, and he asked me if I could help him tie it. He sheepishly told me that he had an interview, but never learned how to tie a tie. It was clear that he was a bit embarrassed. Of course, I told him no problem, and I untied my own tie. I had to stand next to him so that we were facing the same direction. I took him through each step, one by one. We did it a couple of times so that he felt comfortable, and I felt that he would be able to do it again on his own.

The student was very appreciative. I could feel his sense of relief. The thing that was stressing him out the most over his upcoming interview was tying a necktie. I have to say that this was one of the more meaningful reference transactions that I have had recently. I could feel the student’s frustration and embarrassment to ask this question, and I could also feel his appreciation for the time I spent with him. Now, I am probably way down on the list of people from whom you’d want to take fashion advice. Most mornings, I am grateful that my wife helps me to match my own tie with my shirt. But, I think we all can relate to being a young-adult and feeling intimidated by entering the working world. This was one of those interactions that happens that they can’t teach you in library school. They can’t help you feel what it is like to really help someone in their moment of need and panic.

Yes, I know just helped a student with a tie, so I don’t want to blow this too far out of proportion, but I also know that these are the kind of interactions that happen at reference desks and in classrooms across the country. Patrons come to us because they may not have other places to go. We live in a time where being a public employee is not glamorized, and in some circles, is even demonized. But, those of us who are active in our communities also know the difference we make.

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

My Frustration with CCSSE, Student Engagement and Libraries (by TTW contributor Troy Swanson)

Today, my blood started to boil as I sat through a presentation on my campus. The speaker actually did a good job. He was detailing information about a nation-wide survey called CCSSE (the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, in which our campus has participated for many years.

Engagement is much more than a buzzword within community colleges. The higher education literature is very clear that the ways that students build personal and intellectual connections with a campus (the ways they engage) have a major impact on the success of that student. (See Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence by Kuh, et al, The Journal of Higher Education 79:5, 2008). My college has set out to make engagement our credo. It is the heart of our mission. The CCSSE survey is one of the central ways we measure how well we are doing with engaging our students.

Which brings me back to my boiling blood. I got all hot and bothered today, because I know that CCSSE does not include one single question on library usage. CCSSE is one of the largest national surveys given in US community colleges. It includes questions on writing papers, conducting research, and hours spent on coursework. It also includes questions on services such as advising, computers labs, and tutoring. But not even one question about library usage that we could correlate with other questions.

From 2006-2009, I was a member of a Community and Junior College Section task force (part of ACRL) which proposed and lobbied CCSSE to add several library-related questions. We outlined findings in the literature that demonstrated the types of engagement that libraries support. (You can find some of our work here: In the end, we had several conference calls with the organizers of CCSSE who are at the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. We proposed four questions, but, frankly, even one question would have made a difference. To date, not one question has been added to CCSSE, which is really a travesty when one considers the work that community college libraries do across the US each and every day.

I know that adding a couple questions to a survey is not the only or even most important avenue in assessing the ways that my library engages students on my campus. But, libraries (public and academic) are all about engagement. Nothing is more crystal clear to me. Libraries are places of learning where authentic learning, personal connections, and individual development happen. Libraries are community spaces. The research into student engagement provides a commentary across all libraries for the work that we do. It doesn’t seem like such a big step to talk about the ways that public libraries engage their users and the community building that results from this engagement. The bottom line is that engagement means connections and that, after all, is the underpinnings of community.

But the designers of the CCSSE survey refuse to measure what we do.

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