Class Week 9: One-shot Workshops

This week we met in the same groups as our book clubs and conducted our one-shot workshops in pairs. While there weren’t any snacks this time around, we did have very thoughtful and engaging conversations where everyone had something to say–a benefit of a small group of around ten people. My partner and I went first. Our topic was an idea from Kristin’s lecture one day: whether to note “bad” books in catalog records, and on the ALA’s stance on labeling and rating books. An example of a “bad” book would be Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, which was outed as fraudulent research after having won several awards. Should librarians note that in the book’s catalog record, or should they let users figure that out on their own? (“Bad” could also mean other things to other people, too, like often-challenged books or books of an adult nature.)

I had a slightly harder time wrapping my head around this than the book clubs. Strangely, I was less familiar with book clubs than workshops because I’ve never participated in a book club before; I’ve been a participant in workshops many times as both a student and as a professional, and I’ve also taught a one-shot workshop (it was two hours as opposed to twenty minutes, though). We planned our workshop thoroughly–the analysis and outline part of the ADDIE document really helped–and used the “jigsaw” method, where we split the group in half and gave each group a different article to read and discuss about the topic. Then half of each group switched and told the other participants about what they read. Perhaps it was the twenty-minute time limit, but it was hard to interrupt people and tell them it was time to switch while they were having really lively conversations–which was our goal! We even got some constructive feedback on this, that the participants wished they could have talked more with less guidance from us.

Maybe the reason I was having some trouble conceptualizing the idea of these particular workshops was that they felt a lot like the book club, except this time we chose ethics-themed articles to read and discuss, and we had a much more structured outline of events. Upon reflection my confusion seems like a good thing. I used to think of workshops as places to learn a new skill, like TEI encoding or learning how to use databases to find scholarships. This week showed me that workshops can also be a chance to have a structured discussion with established learning objectives, and that discussing and working through a topic can be a skill, too.

The other workshops all went well. It was fun to participate, and to appreciate the hard work my peers did–everyone was obviously well-prepared. I did notice that the more structured workshops, with clear methods (pair up and read this article, or half read this article and half another, or list the pros and cons of 3D printing) produced more lively discussion.

Class Week 8: Ethics and Workshop Prep

One of the parts of 643 I’ve been enjoying most is the “meta” nature of class–Kristin often teaches us by example, like using a Socratic seminar-style discussion to teach us how to do a Socratic seminar or book club. And the actual content of those discussions are still very relevant to class and are intriguing, complex examples. This week we began class by going over the one-shot workshop and trying to glean what makes a workshop bad or good. It was easier to pick out the bad traits than it was the good. I tried to think about what made the good workshops I’ve attended so good, and all I could come up with was that the instructors were confident, entertaining, and conveyed knowledge and passion for the material. They were also all relaxed and made me feel comfortable and OK with not knowing the answer to everything.

After that we discussed the ALA Code of Ethics, and whether we would change anything. Once again, as with other texts in this class, I got a little shot of motivation from reading the document; it gave me a feeling of affirmation to read about and feel more a part of my future profession and the way it functions. My small group really couldn’t find anything we wanted to change about the code of ethics. There were parts we felt were a bit… wishy washy, like the statement about being balanced between intellectual property rights holders and users. While I wish the ALA had taken a stronger stance on that, I also understand why it was worded that way. Perhaps in the next 10-15 years that part of the document will change. We moved on to discuss some ethical issues that have come up in the news recently. The Toronto Public Library was thinking about implementing two new features to deal with impending budget cuts from the city: one, selling advertisements and printing them on the back of date due receipts, and two, putting “buy this” links for books in their catalog (which would take them to a third-party vendor website). Both made me feel queasy. It was like a Would You Rather…? game, where neither option was appealing. Like I said in class, I feel that public libraries are a sort of haven, and shouldn’t be tainted by commercialism; perhaps the receipt ads would be better because they could feature local businesses, where the “buy this” link would be sending business outside of the community.

As I see several other bloggers in my cohort have already commented upon, I was also a bit disappointed that we didn’t discuss the Lenker reading that had the case studies on ethics and “dangerous questions”. I wanted to hear what others had to think about his use of case studies, his approach using the value ethics model, and his rather abrupt way of ending the article–that Lenker would be happy if all it could do was elicit “sophisticated confusion” for LIS student readers. Both the content and the context of the article were worth unpacking. On the other hand, I like that it brought us together in even deeper discussion in our mini blogosphere!

Readings Week 8: One-shot Workshops

I enjoyed the reading this week from the Journal of Information Ethics; I would like to read more from that journal. When I first began the article I couldn’t imagine how one would begin to decide on a plan of action to have in place for those reference situations–how would you balance the issues with censorship and freedom to read vs. preventing potential harm to patrons? Thus I found the conversation on theoretical ethics to be useful, if a bit convoluted. Lenker argues that virtue ethics is the best ethics theory to apply in the case of dangerous questions at the reference desk: if a patron asks about growing marijuana, or directions for making explosives, etc. Employing virtue ethics means thinking about what character traits are present in any given decision. If a librarian decides not to comply with a patron’s request, they might be judgmental, paternalistic, and/or oppressive. On the other hand, assisting readily with dangerous questions might display recklessness.

After Lenker’s discussion of ethics and the various case studies, I felt kind of overwhelmed and in the process of concluding that I would make “game-time” decisions in these types of situations and essentially go with my gut feelings. Then came his warning on reductivism! Lenker basically cautioned against this and urges librarians to recognize this types of questions as quite complicated, and not to disregard all other issues as less important in favor of the one “real” issue. This was probably the most valueable take-away for me. It also made me realize that I’m human, and am subject to biases and that my choices are limited by my perspectives and life experiences–my gut feeling might overlook some aspects of these future hypothetical situations.

While I’m not, at the moment, terribly concerned with these issues as I don’t work at a reference desk (it will be interesting to hear my peers’ stories in class tomorrow who I know work at our schools’ reference desk), I felt a bit frustrated with all the details Lenker gave, only to say that these are issues that should be brought up in library school and only as a means to make LIS students aware that “the librarian’s path must be traveled with care.” However, Lenker also noted that LIS students such as myself will come away from the discussion with “sophisticated confusion,” which is an apt description for my experience while reading.

It seems that there are too many ambiguous factors to be able to have much of a framework in place between the rules of your particular institution, your own personal values, and the ALA code of conduct. The latter even says “these statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.”

Class Week 7: How Our Book Clubs Went

I left class Monday evening feeling energized, happy, and proud of myself and my fellow classmates. The three hours (OK, a little under three) flew by as we took turns conducting our five book club sessions. Sarah and I went first. We were a little unsure of ourselves as no one had gone before us, so we didn’t have anything to go off of other than our discussions in class and from the readings. The latter prepared us for writing decent questions: we clustered them around each idea we had about the story, or a specific quote we wanted to talk about. We tried to stay away from jargon-y language, like asking about what “devices” the author used, etc. We also tried to avoid leading questions in favor of more open questions.

It was an interesting experience to have the list of questions in front of us when we began. I felt that just reading down the list wouldn’t be as fun for everyone, so I opened up the discussion by first asking what everyone thought of the story. The group was happy to dive in and begin conversing about it immediately, and covered some of the questions we wrote before we got to them. There were a few times where there was a lull in the conversation, and I wasn’t sure whether to leave the ten seconds for someone to pipe up, or whether to start scanning my list for a good follow-up question–this seems like a skill that comes from practice.

I struggled a bit with the role of a leader. I think I did a pretty OK job, but at times I felt a little strange nudging my peers to expand on their thoughts, as opposed to being more of an equal in the conversation. In fact, one piece of feedback we got was that one way to improve would be adding our own thoughts on the book club selection. If it were a casual book club, I could absolutely see the “leader” participating just as much as everyone else. However, I’m not sure how that would go if I were a librarian in an academic library with students or other university-affiliated individuals. It wouldn’t be exactly like the teachers in last week’s reading who were working with kids, but it also would be slightly more formal than a group of friends meeting at someone’s house.

I really enjoyed being a participant in others’ clubs. It was great fun to hear my classmate’s thoughts and talk with them on stories and non-fiction far outside the realms of normal classroom fare.

Readings Week Seven: Readings for our Book Clubs

The coming week’s class is devoted to our book club meetings. I’m looking forward to it! As we’ve been saying in class, I think many of us are happy to be doing some fiction and/or non-academic reading and to flex some different parts of our brains. I certainly enjoyed reading the selections chosen by my book club cohort:

“The Story of Atalanta” by James Baldwin

This story is a retelling of a Greek myth about Atalanta, who was abandoned by her parents, a king and queen, in the woods and left to die. A bear finds her and takes her in, and she learns how to hunt and grows up to be very beautiful. There is another story embedded within Atalanta’s, of another kingdom with many sons and daughters (as opposed to Atalanta’s family). Many things happen; the kingdom forgets to worship the goddess Diana and she sics a wild boar on them; Atalanta is recognized as a great hunter and as desirable when she helps to slay the boar; the queen of the kingdom ends up causing her son’s death and then takes her own life. The story then goes back to Atalanta and of how she allows a man to win her as his wife.

There were many themes that struck me in this story, as often happens in myths. One of them is the importance of beauty in the story–Atalanta’s, her suitors, the three Fates who blessed/cursed Meleager as a baby (one of the three was not beautiful and was the impetus for his death).

A Tale of A Snake’s Tail” by Paul Flowers

This is a short story about a railroad telegraph operator who meets a There was a blurb at the beginning that noted the “delightful tongue-in-cheek” story was originally published at such-and-such a place. I may not have known immediately that this was mean to be a tongue-in-cheek story, although perhaps the line “…work for the road with which I am still employed, the Illinois Central, than which there is none finer” should have given it away. I’m not sure I entirely understand the sarcasm and the symbolism in the story. It seems that the narrator is not so fond of the station’s porter, since he names the snake after him, claiming it’s because they are both being long and svelte. This is a great choice for a book club pick–I have lots of questions about the story!

“This Was Our Pact” by Ryan Andrews

I really enjoyed this one. This was a comic, beautifully illustrated in black and white (and generously available for free!). It begins with a group of boys on bikes who set out to follow the village’s lanterns down the river, to see where they end up. The lanterns are dropped into the river to pay homage to an old local legend–which says the lanterns turn into fish who then jump into the sky and turn into stars. Another boy is following the group; they poke fun at him, yet he still follows on. The narrator doesn’t agree with what his friends say about the outcast, but he also doesn’t stick up for him. Eventually his friends break the pact they made–to keep going and not turn toward home–and it’s just him and the outcast. They experience some magical things and see the legend come to life. I’m looking forward to talking about a comic in the book club, and the way the illustrations and the panels without text influenced the narrative. I’m also wondering about the ending. The two boys kept going, kept the pact; they didn’t turn for home–what does that mean?

“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

This was a sad story about a washer woman in Florida who is abused by her husband, a really awful man who beats her, takes her money, and has affairs with other women. He knows that his wife hates snakes, and one day brings a rattlesnake home to the house to further intimidate her. Eventually the snake ends up attacking the husband, and while his wife pities him in his dying state, she leaves him to die. It will be interesting to talk about this story because of the tough subject matter: race, domestic violence, verbal abuse, poverty, even religious imagery.

Class Week Six: Book Clubs

This week we discussed different kinds of book clubs, new formats for book clubs in the 21st century, the way they might function in different libraries, and also Socratic seminars. I was glad that we did the Socratic seminar exercise in class. From the readings, I could see the value of the exercise for K-12 students, but couldn’t see how the seminars would play out in a university setting. However, I ended up actually enjoying the discussion a lot (part of that had to do with the subject matter of our seminar: the Prensky article on banning paper books from campuses. We were all very passionate on the subject!) First, it was entertaining to watch Kristin have to hold her tongue to keep her influence on the discussion to a minimum (I did like hearing her opinions when she broke the fourth wall, so to speak, since she has more knowledge of Prensky than we do). It was also a kind of meta demonstration of how to lead a thoughtful, intellectual discussion.

The discussion/seminar ended by Kristin prompting us to go around the room, one by one, and state what our biggest takeaway was in about one sentence. It was a simple exercise but very effective and a good tool to keep in mind for the future. First, it forced everyone to participate if they hadn’t already, but that shouldn’t have been too scary because we had already been talking about our takeaways from the article in detail. Second, each student had to distill a lot of big ideas into very few words, which is a beneficial exercise in itself. And third, it was nice to hear each class member’s opinions and thoughts–everyone thought of something that I hadn’t considered or had a different perspective on.

Going backwards in time: when we broke into small groups at the beginning of class to discuss the readings, I found an interesting disagreement on one point between several students and I–interesting because the class is generally of the same mind. One of the readings for the last class described new types of book clubs for the new century. I thought the idea of online book clubs was an awesome idea! There are intense communities on the Internet that grow out of similar interests, like a specific book genre. Harnessing that in the form of a local book club would encourage young adults, reticent adults, and those who can’t make the club meetings in person to participate. Some of my classmates were more skeptical of it than I, and it was good to talk about the differences in opinions.