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.”

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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.

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?

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”).