Readings Week Six: Book Clubs!

I was happy to see Nancy Pearl quoted in the Beth Dempsey Library Journal article. Nancy Pearl is one of my heroes and was a big influence in my decision to go to library school. I feel very strongly about reading and the power and magic of stories and storytelling. Plus, she’s a Detroit native and an UMSI graduate (back when it was the School of Library Science)!

Reading about the success of the Not Your Ordinary Book Club at a public library in Maine gave me warm fuzzies, especially this: “Older members have taken classes to learn how to blog, because they wanted to be included…. It has been wonderful!” (from this article). The librarian used a hybrid form, where the club met monthly in the physical library, but also had an online blog component where members could interact online. She had nothing but positive reviews of the set-up, discussing the way it allowed both the traditional in-person book clubbers and new patrons who wanted to participate anonymously online to join the same group. This article went on to describe other new models of book clubs and book groups, ranging from taking the meetings outside of the library and after hours to accommodate young professionals to book groups in prisons. Everything Dempsey described sounded great to me. Book clubs are a fantastic way for users to experience and discover new material in the library; they are at the very least a fun experience, and at best a life-enriching and community-building one.

Other libraries are shaking up the old book club model by switching out a single book for a theme, meaning that participants can choose from a variety of books and discuss them in a single meeting. Another Library Journal article detailed this, and other new changes and trends in library book clubs. One issue that they just barely touched on was the gender divide: most book club participants are women. The author mentioned the fact that some library book clubs are trying to cast off the image of a book club only reading Oprah’s picks, and instead choosing some non-fiction titles to read–however, non-fiction is apparently a hard sell. I’m curious to see what, if anything, librarians are doing to create more gender diversity in book clubs.

This article also mentioned the growing number of teens who are participating in online book clubs via a blog or something similar. Again–I think that’s so great. While some may lament that the newer generations are hiding behind the computer screen and becoming less social, creating the opportunity for an online book club will still 1) accomplish the goal of fostering a sense of community (no matter that it’s from a keyboard), and 2) perhaps spark someone’s curiosity about an author or genre and entice them to read even more.

A social discussion forum similar to book clubs is the Socratic seminar. The premise is that the class/group forms an inner and outer circle; the inner circle discusses the text while the outer observes and then gives feedback. Then the two groups switch. Before this class, I was unfamiliar with this concept–but it seems to be a great tool for teaching reading comprehensions, as well as scholarly discussion. I enjoyed reading Margaret Metzger’s account of her high school freshman class and their experience with the Socratic seminar. She emphasized the increase not only in her students’ enthusiasm for discussion, but also an increase in their reading comprehension skills. The Tredway article took a slightly different tact and stressed what I liked most about this format: as a result, the school prepares thoughtful citizens capable of intelligent discussion, and are able to participate in a democratic society (Tredway). Socratic seminars are an intriguing concept and seem, anecdotally, to be highly effective with K-12 students. Because of the skills the seminars teach, they are a perfect tool for middle and high-school students to prepare for college. Perhaps they would transition well into discussion groups for teens, but as of right now I feel wary of them in an academic library setting. Don’t students “get enough” of that in class? How would academic librarians use a Socratic seminar effectively?

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Class Week Five: Gamification and Transfer

This week in class, we talked some more about Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on gaming, gamers and their potential to change/save the world. I think we were all happy for the chance to discuss the substance of her talk after listening to it the week before. There was certainly some skepticism about whether gamers would be able to transfer their productivity, urgent optimism, and work ethic to a different kind of game–an educational game, essentially. I appreciated that, as a class, we approached the topic conservatively, using Henry Jenkins’ framework of a “spinach sundae”; that educational games don’t taste very good and aren’t very good for you either, that “most of the ‘edutainment’ games on the market have all the entertainment value of a bad game and all the educational value of a bad lecture.” There seems to be a fine line between those two elements, entertainment and education; most kids would be able to see right through the “sundae” portion of a mediocre game. What makes some, like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail, more engaging (and legendary) than Math Blasters?

One instance of gamification that I’ve personally seen be successful is the AADL’s Summer Game. The first summer I felt a bit sheepish playing along, since I assumed it was meant for kids and teens. But some of the prizes are unmistakably aimed at adults (I played chiefly to win the excellent RoosRoast coffee beans and AADL mug set this year, for example). Everyone benefits: you earn points for checking out books and movies, points based on how many pages or minutes the item has, as well as points for reviewing, rating, and tagging items in the catalog. There are also many different badges to earn by tracking down information on the library’s web site and in their online collections. You can then use these points for some very cool prizes. The game greatly increases circulation, increases knowledge among patrons, and engages users with their library. The AADL gets more people in the door and has their catalog greatly enhanced. While this type of game doesn’t quite fit with McGonigal’s view, as the AADL’s game isn’t completely online nor is it as immersive, the AADL is still taking advantage of gamers’ competitiveness (the Summer Game has a leaderboard) and intense work ethic to achieve something good for users and the library.

Talking about gaming and the traits of gamers fed nicely into our discussion about transfer and working with prior knowledge. I don’t know if I’m an overly cynical person when it comes to school, but I was feeling some cynicism when we looked at the example of comparing the French Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution; if I imagined myself as a teenager in the class, I might feel as though I could see through the exercise and through the teacher’s intentions and be a bit skeptical of investing time in the exercise. But as I reflect on my reaction, I’m not feeling the cynicism anymore. I know the use of “hook” questions, like the example of a teacher saying, “You’re a grad student whose parents offer to buy a car. How do you decide on one with the best gas mileage, cheapest insurance, etc.?” would automatically make my want to flex my problem-solving skills, versus hearing “Today we’re going to look at Consumer Reports Online.”

Library Bloggers and Key Blogger Issues

Recently, I began following four new bloggers in “Library Land.” I’ll summarize them and their interests, views, and passions here, and also talk a bit about some trends I noticed they all have in common–or points where their views diverge.

As I’m interested in academic librarianship, the first two bloggers are also academic librarians:

K.G. Schneider of Free Range Librarian

  • Karen G. Schneider is the University Librarian at Holy Names University. She is also a writer who has published over 100 articles and two books, on topics ranging from travel to history to technology. Perhaps because she holds an MFA in addition to an MLIS, her blog is eloquent, well-written, and fun to read.  
  • Many of her posts deal with management, which is something she does in her position as University Librarian: hiring, budgets, library finances, etc.
  • In the early days of the Internet, Schneider wrote about librarians and how they could use the Internet to benefit users; she also ran an Internet training business in the early 90s.
  • She also writes a lot about physical aspects of libraries. Her facility was less-than-stellar when she first began working there, but she implemented a few immediate changes to make it a better and more inviting place.
  • As an ALA Councilor, Schneider writes a lot about attending conferences and the benefits of getting out of the library and talking to others in the field–but also, conversely, on the importance of “being there” in your library.

Meredith Farkas of Information Wants to Be Free

  • Farkas is the Head of Instructional Services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon and an adjunct faculty member at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science.
  • As someone in charge of library instruction, she’s obviously passionate about instruction, information literacy, and exploring ways to help students become more information literate. One way she’s doing this, as described in a recent blog post, is starting faculty workshops on designing research assignments in order to inject “information literacy into courses at a molecular level so that we can help students become not only information literate, but confident in their own research skills.”
  • As could be surmised by the title of her blog, Meredith is concerned with access to knowledge and information. such as in this post. Thus she’s also passionate about the relationship between publishers and libraries, access to scholarly content, relationships with faculty, etc.

From outside my specialization:

Jessamyn West of librarian.net

  • West is a self-described library technologist from Vermont; she also describes herself as a community technology librarian who is user-oriented. 
  • She is one of the most well-known librarian bloggers, cited by many as a prominent voice in the profession.
  • Cited as one of the first librarian blogs, West describes the blog as (and is herself passionate about) anti-censorship and pro-freedom of speech. She’s also passionate about community: like above where she describes herself as a community technology librarian, she has been a teacher of basic technology classes for many years.
  • As a technologist, West is passionate about closing the digital divide and increasing Internet use and literacy among those who might not have the same access to it. As a librarian of sorts, she is interested in how libraries can help close the gap: hosting classes, being an advocate for users against bills like SOPA, etc.

Andy Woodworth of Agnostic, Maybe

  •  Woodworth is an adult services librarian in New Jersey.
  • His writing is humorous and he often posts on current events and reports in the library world, such as the Pew report and news on ebook pricing
  • He also blogs about other bits of popular (but no less important) news like the report that being a librarian is allegedly one of the least stressful jobs.
  • A topic that Woodworth has written about frequently is banned and challenged books. He’s passionate about reporting these challenges so that ALA can collect data and identify patterns, collect information on the underlying rationale, and use this information for Banned Book Week.
  • And naturally he is also interested in censorship.

A trend I noticed across most or all four blogs is, unsurprisingly, a love for the profession. All four bloggers professed their love for learning, and information, and teaching, and their passion for the specialness of libraries and preserving that. I also noticed a strong passion for increasing information literacy skills for everyone, whether for students in academic libraries or adults taking basic technology classes in their public library. Perhaps predictably, another topic taken up by all bloggers is ebooks in the library (I liked what West said about it–that she is looking forward to when we can just call them “books,” for that’s what they are.) The bloggers who work in public libraries talked about issues with lending policies, while those in academic libraries wrote more about the way big publishers bundle and charge for subscription journal services.

I noticed that some bloggers seem to be slightly more traditional than others; or maybe slightly more conservative would be a better word. West, Farkas, and Woodworth seem to be more fired up about fighting the good fight with big publishers over issues of DRM and ebook lending policies. Not to say that Schneider isn’t also concerned about those issues of scholarly communication–perhaps the former are in more user-oriented roles?

There was something else I noticed that I’m interested in peripherally, and that was the occasional mention of the current image of the profession. Who are librarians today? Schneider made jokes on the subject, saying how “kids these days” aren’t required to learn cataloging in library school (a fact that my boss just lamented last week, in fact), that they’re “hipsters,” etc. West also wrote a really great post about the ways libraries tend to be talked about in the media (choice bits: “quit the wardrobe policing”, “we’re not all women”, and “libraries are full of joyful noise”).

Readings Week Five: Acquisition, Meaning, and especially Transfer

A central theme from the readings this week was on teaching for transfer over simple recall and acquisition; developing general skills and “mental muscle.” My partner is different from me in that he is in the sciences–engineering–rather than the humanities, which is my undergraduate background, and he is pursuing a PhD rather than a Master’s. However, he is more interested in teaching than I am; though we’re far from retirement, his dream to is be a high school math teacher when he’s done with research. Thus I talk to him quite a bit about this class and about the readings, especially. We had a conversation recently about the idea of learning for transfer and developing that “mental muscle.” While many would disagree, he argued that even a doctoral degree is more an exercise in learning for transfer than it is in doing meaningful research: oftentimes the research PhD students do while in pursuit of their degree ends up being less significant than the work they do later in their career, which wouldn’t be possible without the skills they acquired in grad school (apologies if that came out convoluted!).

The Wiggins and McTighe article, “Putting Understanding First” (2008), discussed reforming high school curricula to address the problem of acquisition of content for its own sake and neglecting meaning and transfer. They assert that, instead, “we must recognize that the purposeful and effective use of content is the ever-present goal, and we must design all instruction with that goal in mind” (Wiggins and McTighe). I appreciated their succinct distillation in the first half of that sentence. I don’t know very much about the public school system or state requirements for curriculum, despite being a product of that system, but it seems that to achieve the latter goal, instructors would have to massively overhaul the system and take away the emphasis on test results and required coverage of certain material.

Another concept discussed in the readings, in How People Learn, is metacognition. Before this class I would have had a murkier understanding of it; now, as I mentioned in my previous post, I see that we’re assessing ourselves as learners and and monitoring and regulating our own understanding. I can see the connection between formative assessment and metacognition, and the ways that both help the learner develop “general skill” and the “mental muscle” to apply knowledge in any environment.

I’m looking forward to connecting all of these interesting concepts to libraries in class tomorrow evening. We’ve talked from the beginning of the semester about the importance of transfer; an example was attempting to make connections in our screencasts for viewers to transfer the skill somewhere else. I will continue to contemplate the other areas where we should be thinking about transfer!

Class Week Four: Assessment

This week, we talked about assessment–assessing workshops, talks, classes, etc. At first I felt relieved that our discussion seemed to be on a more practical and less theoretical level than the readings; we talked about very useful summative assessment topics like the Likert scale (those radio buttons that ask how strongly you agree or disagree with a statement), short answer questions, how much space to devote to open-ended questions, etc. However, it soon became clear that these types of questions I’ve been answering (as a participant) for so long took some thought to put together on behalf of teachers, and that they have many implications. I found it interesting that we’ll need to be careful when wording questions, especially questions like “This workshop would have been better if it included ______.” We don’t want to introduce bias and send implicit messages that would influence the feedback.

The conversation about the whys of assessment was informative as well, again, because it’s something I’ve taken for granted as a student/participant. Learning how to improve the workshop for the next time is obvious; the not so obvious were getting ideas for future workshops, determining the level of understanding of students and determining whether they got something out of and weren’t just listening politely, and giving the signal that their feedback is valued and important. I also really liked the idea that assessment is an opportunity for the learner to complete the learning cycle and reflect on their experience, even if they don’t realize they’re doing that. The further education I get, the more I realize how important reflection is (in fact, I’m doing it right now by reflecting on this week’s class! And I’m finding it helpful 🙂 )

I’m looking forward to implementing formative assessment practices the next time I teach. The one formal workshop I taught last year (on creating your own ebooks from public domain materials) could have greatly benefited from some formative assessment–the feedback I received after the workshop all said that while it was a good class, it would have been better if there had been a second person to help the people who were having a much harder time and thus slowing down the others. I was frazzled during the class because of several people who had trouble simply getting their browser to work, while others were patiently waiting for the class to move on. I liked the idea of using flags or red cups on the monitors, which would have helped me avoid the abrupt stops in the lecture to go over to those who needed help. Even better would have been an entrance survey so that I would have been able to tailor my material a bit more. Live and learn!

Readings Week Four: Assessment

I’d always heard “assessment” as a term at work, to assess how our online books and journals are performing and how they’re being used and received, by using Google Analytics and sales reports, if applicable (among other things). I haven’t encountered the concept in education before. The different methods of assessment were interesting, especially during the discussion of different communities idea about grades and competition in school (the Navajo not wanting to be singled out in class by having a “high achiever” bulletin board; the Inuit students being taught to learn not by talking in class, but by looking and listening).

I really liked the metaphor of the “rutted path” curriculum in this chapter of How People Learn: there are prescribed mile posts along the way from kindergarten to twelfth grade, to be mastered by time tested routine and not by reacting and observing the natural landscape that the concepts are found in. Alternatively, there is the “learning the landscape” view on curriculum. This requires recognizing where you are in the landscape, and learning your way around and finding resources in relation to where you are. The former sounds a lot more like my experience in K-12–the Chicago Math system, the obvious benchmarks required for each part of the semester, etc.

Both the readings this week talked about “formative assessment”, or the idea of giving feedback on works in progress to ensure that learners are understanding the material. I am always grateful for assignments that require turning in a rough draft, a proposal, an outline, bibliography etc. before the final product. It helps me make sure I’m on the right track and it also ensures that I won’t procrastinate until the  due date! In K-12 and throughout college, most of my teachers used peer evaluation as assessment. Reflecting on that, it didn’t seem very effective; comments would either be very short and unhelpful or only positive, with no constructive criticism.

Now I am left contemplating how to put this into work as a librarian. It brings me back to our discussion in the first class about connecting to prior knowledge; how to find this out of our users without making them feel overanalyzed or fearful of looking “bad” in front of an expert or authority-type figure like a librarian? How to put checks for understanding into our instructional design, as it was called in the ADDIE model?

Class Week 3: Emotion

I write this post after an evening of catching up with several friends, two of whom are TFAs in Detroit right now (Teach for America). They’re both teaching third grade. Their tales of teaching and of their students are a whole different story; however, it led to some reflection on my part of how I never wanted to be a teacher (expressed in other posts on this blog) and yet I am going to become one, in part. Another friend and I discussed how teaching always sounded un-enjoyable, but then we had experiences that changed that a bit: for me it was peer tutoring and teaching workshops in my role at work, and how helping people and imparting knowledge was very gratifying.

My casual cocktail conversation last night grew out of our class discussion about information literacy last week. It also was influenced by a librarian who I’ve been lucky enough to shadow at work–she talked about providing instruction as a department liaison and while she is doing far more teaching than she expected (as a subject specialist), she’s found it’s one of her favorite parts of the job. It’s a bit difficult to try to put what I’m feeling and thinking into words, but I’ll attempt it by using some examples from class: part of the gratification comes from helping users and students (and friends, coworkers, family…) feel better and happier about their work, and to both relieve their stress and anxiety and empower them to do better work. In class, we talked about the librarians who teach U-M’s UC 174 course built relationships with their students, and often those students stop by the ref desk and ask specifically for them.

Another example was our talk about Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process. It was a relief to know that I’m not the only one who experiences big swings in emotions while conducting research and writing papers! I love the idea of using emotions to identify the best step in the research process for librarians to intervene–not at the beginning, but at the time of need (panic!).