Happy New Year!

Illustrasjon: colourbox.dk

It’s January, and I’ll be honest.. it is not my favorite time of year. I adore Christmas and all the preparations, the music, the movies, the “hygge” (as it is now ok to say, even in a post written in English), and the general slowness that sets in when all the bustle is over. Well, I love all of that. When January arrives the days slowly increase in length, and some days of glorious January sunshine feel good and fresh, but most of the time it is cold, dark and dreary. That is why I always try to start the year with a little reflection on the year that has passed and some hope for the new – just to start the year off on a bit of positivity.

Reflections on 2021

I posted only nine blog posts here last year, and of them, four were summaries of days at the digital LOEX conference. It is not ideal to follow a digital conference with a seven or eight hour time difference, even a wonderful conference like LOEX, and in addition to that, the conference partly overlapped with a public holiday here in Norway. Still, the lectures that I heard were excellent and they gave me some new energy and some much needed inspiration, too. Of the five other posts last year, one was about using polls (and therefore directly on the main theme of this blog) and four were more about administrative and work life issues, such as reorganization and exhaustion, power issues and disconnectedness. I think that sums up 2021 pretty well for me. It was, in many ways, a hard year. The reorganization that is underway has taken a lot of energy for me, even though I have not been directly involved. This, in addition to the “efficiency reform” (hah!) that the previous government landed on us means that we have to cut millions from our budgets, meaning that some staff members will not be replaced, we have to cut on resources while all the time being expected to run faster and do more without impaired quality, has made a huge impact.

After 1,5 years of working from home, I returned to campus in August 2021. It was a shock to get back to campus. My first workday on campus was the day of the matriculation. Oh boy! New students flooded into campus, and I, who had been at home for 18 months, was floored by the noise, the bustle and the general state of chaos. Before 2020, I wouldn’t even have noticed. It took me a good two or three weeks to really get into the flow on campus again. Weird.

Once I got back into the habit, working on campus was good. I got more energy back, it was easier to ask some questions, it was easier to get new ideas and while my wonderful colleagues and I had kept in touch on a daily basis while I was home (and therefore probably got through some of the troubles in 2021 better than in many other libraries), it was good to see them in person. I felt like we all got a little more of our groove back. On the other hand, when the society opened back up completely in the end of September, I got more isolated than ever. Suddenly, everyone was desperate to have physical meetings, and as I have to live more protected than others (immunosuppressed), I couldn’t go. As “everyone else” was going, there was no interest in setting up a digital link either.

After the omikron variant of the corona virus made its way to our shores, it was back to the home office for me, and I don’t know for how long. There are upsides to working from home, just as there are upsides to working from campus. I am grateful to have options, seeing as so many have jobs that require a physical presence.

The things I am most pleased about getting done in 2021 were getting a book chapter published and finishing an online course in library pedagogy. The chapter was called “The teaching tube: reflections on a journey” and was published in the book “Library pedagogies: Personal reflections from library practitioners” by Andrew Walsh and Sam Aston. Writing the chapter was an opportunity to look back on my journey as a teaching librarian and where I want to go next. The online course in library pedagogy was a project that I was asked to lead in 2020, and I had the good fortune to work with great teaching librarians from all over the country. These are people that I admire and respect, and I had a lot of fun (even though it was a lot (!) of work) making the course. It was published in the early autumn of 2021.

So – what about this year? What is on the horizon?

There are plenty of things to do this year. I am in the programme committee for two conferences this year; the EAHIL 2022 to be held in Rotterdam (hybrid) and the VIRAK conference to be held in Trondheim in June (seeing as it is a mostly national conference, it is probable that it will remain a physical conference, but of course the state of the pandemic later in the spring will have to be taken into account). I am also involved in a pretty large project on updating our website for academic writing.

There has been a constantly increasing interest in systematic reviews, and even though I have been teaching this for years, there are always new things to learn. Therefore, I might take a few more courses online to update my own knowledge and to see how others teach these things. I am involved in a couple of projects that might lead to publishing this year, too, and I can’t wait to get this done.

I think it will be a busy year. I know I am often frustrated by the power imbalance, the lack of proper involvement in decision-making and “big picture thinking” in libraries, but I love teaching – I really do. I love spending time with students and my lovely, talented colleagues. I do hope, therefore, that despite the continuing pandemic, general insecurity about the future and other resource- and energy-depleting activities that it will be a year of learning and connection, laughter and productive meetings, strong coffee and meaningful conversations. Happy new year!

Using polls in seminars and lectures

Illustration: colourbox.dk

Earlier this week, I attended a seminar online (c’mon people, let us ditch “webinar” from our vocabulary), and both main speakers used realtime polling (Mentimeter and some other, similar tool that I cannot remember the name of). The first speaker used it to ask questions like “how often do you use [database]” etc. to figure out how familiar the participants were with the resource he was talking about. However, even when it turned out that something like 70 percent said that they used the database very often, he continued with his presentation as he had planned, seemingly unmoved by the data he just had received. The second speaker used it differently. In his presentation, he startet to show a slide with the talking points he had prepared, but underlined that it was not an agenda. He then asked the participants to go to the polling and range the talking points by what we were most interested in. Based on that information he arranged the taking points in order by interest and started with what most people were most interested in – just to be sure that if he got short on time, at least he had talked about the most important thing. To me, this was very interesting.

Polling is seen as a way to engage the participants, or students as they most commonly are when I am teaching, as well as a way to break up the lecture and to gain some understanding of what the students are thinking and feeling about something. Polling, when used well, can also help with communication and to a small extent level out the power imbalance between the lecturer and the students. In the example I started with, I felt more engaged and empowered with the polling for the second speaker. Even though the subject that I was most interested in was not the one that most participants chose on top, it was among the ones that he managed to get through in the first 30 minutes.

The experience from this week made me think about how I use polls. It is something that I often use, particularly with bachelor’s students for some reason, and I have used it for years, in physical as well as online sessions. In the beginning, I used it more as an ice-breaker than anything else. It was a way to get the students warmed up and to sort of “set the tone” for the class. I still use it as that, but the questions I am using are somewhat different. In the beginning, it was more like “Have you ever taken courses at college/ university level before” (for first-year students) or “Have you hear of EndNote before?”. Then I started using it more to gauge their emotional state or feelings around academic writing, like “Write down the first three words you think about when you hear “academic essay”?” (or similar) and then the words they entered formed a word cloud. I felt like this gave the students an opportunity to maybe “vent” some frustration or be honest about the process. Usually it became quite clear that, even though words like “exiting” or “interesting” came up, the majority of words were like “stressful”, “laborious”, “difficult” and “exhausted”. The most recent polls I have used went a little further, and I asked questions like “What do you think will be the easiest of this assignment”, and I gave them options like “selecting the theme”, “formulating the research question”, “searching the databases”, “choosing the articles I want to use” etc. These polls were usually given at the start of the lecture, and in the most recent examples, I used the results to decide on what to use more time on. I didn’t rearrange the talking points, like the second speaker at the seminar this week did, because there is a certain sequence to my talking points and it will not make much sense if I jumbled it all up. However, I did tell the students that I would only lightly touch upon the things that they had not marked as challenging or difficult. I also used this with the word cloud. When I came to the points that were emphasised by the students I used more time on those, and I encouraged them to ask more questions or to post them on a Q&A- slide in the poll for those who did not want to ask in class (physical) or in the chat box (online).

While I think polling, as any other technique or method, has its limitation as to learning outcomes etc., I do think that it can be a useful tool to get the students more engaged. The lecture as a format has its faults, this has been established pretty conclusively, but seeing as it is often the only (or at least one of few) pragmatic option(s) when you have the sole responsibility for 150-200 students, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to drop them. I am still testing different ways to use polling, and I keep trying to come up with the good questions that give me information I can use. The two speakers at this week’s seminar chose to use polling in very different ways, and I believe only one of them worked well. I’ll keep that in mind for my next session.

A random thing

Blogging has played an important part of reflective practice for me. Usually when I blog, it is about something that I have been thinking about that I need to write in order to understand. This is not one of those posts. This is just a random post about something that just dropped into my inbox.

Usually, e-mails from the big publishers, like Elsevier, SAGE og Ebsco, go straight to my spam folder. I really have no interest in hearing about shiny new products or subscriptions that a) I have no control over anyway seeing as I am not in acquisition b) we do not have funds to buy and c) that just lines the pockets of wealthy businessmen and women on the backs of the universities at their mercy. (Wow – that sounded a little harsher than I had intended, but I have decided not to practice self-censorship here and I’ll just let it go.)

Today, however, one of these e-mails (I will not name the publisher), made its way to my inbox. It had been forwarded, and it said “FW” in the title, so I figured I’d just browse through to see what it was. It was just a reminder to check out some new journal package, and just when I was about to delete it, I noticed the following sentence, put in right before the end greetings:

“We know libraries have faced unforeseen challenges this year, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.”

I don’t know why this suddenly caught my interest, but I just wanted to hold this publisher upside down and give it a good shake to see if any loose change came out of its pockets. First of all, “unforeseen challenges”?? Is that what we call it? Is that what we call a pandemic (not really unforseen at all, when we think about it) that has taken millions of lives? Is that what we call a constantly understaffed, under-financed and under-appreciated (is that a word?) library sector? Is that what we call it when librarians in many countries have been forced to go back to universities and colleges, in the middle of surges of covid, just to offer services that are not even considered life-saving? Secondly, “here to help you”.. Right. Because we all want to be saved by the publishers that bleed us dry every year? The publishers who demand 6 percent increase in price every year for more or less the same content, ultimately forcing us to cut down on staff etc. just because they have us in their sweaty grip? (wow.. again.. didn’t know I was this annoyed. Checking blood sugar.. nope, I’m fine there.) I don’t think so, and it is insulting to even suggest that they are here to “help us”.

Well – the e-mail is in the spam folder where it belongs. The backdrop, however, is very much still in my mental inbox. Open Access (OA) week starts soon, and while I still applaud this initiative, and I believe that OA and Open Science is more necessary and important than ever, it is hard to get really excited about it as long as we are still so bound by the publishers. We cannot mess with researchers’ autonomy, but how I wish they would just collectively say: screw this! Let’s figure out something better than just pouring money out of here to get access to the research that WE DID ourselves.

Apologies for this random rant on a Friday. I’ll work on my blood pressure this weekend.

Happy weekend!

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Stamina and resilience for teaching librarians

[Preface: I have been thinking about this subject for a while, and I really want to dive into it, but I am struggling to find the right angle. I decided to just note down some random thoughts here on my blog and see if that helps. Apologies therefore, if this seems a little unorganized at the moment. ]

I think it is safe to say that the pandemic has given much food for thought and a steep learning curve, both professionally and personally. I count my blessings every day, and I am more grateful than ever to have a lovely family, a roof over my head, a job I love (that can be done from home) and that I live in a country that, for the most part, has been relatively safe and prosperous. There have been hardships for most people the last year, including myself, but still.. I have had many privileges, and I really do acknowledge that.

I read a blog post a while back (but unfortunately, I am having trouble finding it again) about a professor at a high profile university that had flung himself off the roof after experiencing new demands and reprimands from his manager about not meeting the deadline of feedback to students. This was the second suicide due to workload at the same university. The post detailed the extreme workload they had, how many hours they worked and the totally unreasonable expectations they met from management. I have been thinking a lot about this after I read it.

While I do not think that librarians and faculty members in Norway face the amount of pressure that a lot of people in prestigious universities abroad suffer under, there is absolutely cause for concern here, too. We are seeing record high numbers of people applying for college and universities in Norway while at the same time the government are cutting budgets for the institutions. Less people to teach and support more students than ever. Of course corners will be cut. Of course we’ll see more burnout and dropouts. It is just a matter of how much and how many. Educating more people for less WILL lead to less overall satisfaction and quality, and many will be caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t like this path.

I have been working on an online course in pedagogy for librarians this past year, and I have an amazing team of contributors with me, but it has been hard to schedule meetings and to push everyone to deliver by deadline because I know how much they have to deal with. Some of the contributors had to take over duties from one or two other staff members at their libraries while these were on sick leave or in quarantine, others have had to deal with extreme workloads and huge portfolios while developing new lesson plans, delivering lectures online and dealing with children who had to stay at home due to a runny nose etc etc. How could I “pester” these contributors to deliver content on time – when I knew the situation? The long and short of it is – I couldn’t. The course was therefore delayed 6 months (but I am working on the finishing touches these days!).

I think I may have cited this essay by Julia Glassman before, but it is truly excellent. Glassman says that the Slow Movement (Slow food, Slow Education, Slow Reading.. ) has been on the rise, and that the overall goal has been to emphasise reflection, quality and sustainability. It could easily be “translated” to a library setting.

As a teaching librarian, I have seen a lot of students over the years. They are, of course, individuals with individual needs and as diverse as the rest of the population. Catering to their needs and supporting their efforts is hard at the best of times, and during a pandemic it is close to impossible.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines stamina as “the physical and/or mental strength to do something that might be difficult and will take a long time” and resilience as “the ability to be happy, successful etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. I think that a lot of teaching librarians around the world has shown good stamina this past year and a willingness to make the best of things. I am, however, concerned about the long term resilience. I fear that, not just due to the pandemic, but the years of underfunding libraries and the ever increasing size of portfolios and number of students, we will not be able to just bounce back this time. I fear that, as we approach a more “normal” situation, and more students and librarians are returning to campus, we’ll simply snap under the pressure, and not be able to get back on our feet. Or will we be able, yet again, to pull ourselves back up again? I wonder..

LOEX 2021: day 4

This will be the last LOEX post until I have watched the videos they will publish. As I have said before, I often prefer to have everything from one day in the same post, even though the blog posts get loooong that way. I just think it is easier to see connections etc. this way. I don’t know whether I’ll just add on the original posts when I have seen the recordings or if I’ll write them up separately, but .. we’ll see. Anyway, I managed to catch two sessions on Friday night. The first one was the best.

Strengthening your teaching philosophy through reflection on your beliefs about teaching and learning

Ashlynn Kogut from Texas A&M University said that though it is not strictly necessary to write your own teaching philosophy, it is highly recommended. A teaching philosophy is about expressing how you think about student learning, what kind of teaching role you want to have etc.

Schönwetter, Sokal, Friesen & Taylor's quote on what a teaching philosophy is and nine components of a teaching philosophy
[Screen dump from presentation]

The first two rows of the model above are probably the ones that are the most tangible and easiest to incorporate in a teaching philosophy, while the last row, i.e. Assessment and evaluation, outcomes and professional development, is harder to explain in a teaching philosophy.

Kogut’s own teaching philosophy is about student-centered teaching, active learning, developing the students’ confidence, the need for reflection and a connection to the curriculum/assignments. Librarians often have a clear strategy and plan for teaching, but Kogut said that most probably don’t think a lot about why we do what we do or have a clear philosphy in mind.

Kogut is working on her thesis, and she did a literature review on on the job instruction training and the roles librarians embrace and emphasise. Wheeler & McKinney (2015) wrote a good article about this, Kogut said. Do we think of ourselves as teachers? Are we valued as such? The outer factors influence how we feel about ourselves.

Kogut found that there is not always a connection between the literature (+ expectations) and the reality when it comes to the teacher role. The ACRL expects us to consider ourselves as pedagogues, but many librarians in real life have too little training, and may even have some reservations to the teacher role or even resisting it.

screen dump on teaching beliefs and learning beliefs.
[screen dump from presentation]

Kogut has done interviews with librarians in connection with her thesis. She found that librarians are generally interested in finding out what the students’ needs are. They want to understand the students’ needs, and what level they are at, and do not want to force them to be where the librarians are at [starting point/level/understanding]. (Clumsily written, I know.. My notes were a little sketchy here.) The librarians also wanted to understand the students’ affective and emotional needs, and put emphasis on being compassionate and understanding. The librarians wanted to respect the previous knowledge and experiences of students (hello, critical pedagogy – there you were!:) and to acknowledge that they might have knowledge unknown to us.

Most people agree that there are multiple ways to teach and learn, and that our preferences might not be the same as the students’ preferences. The process of learning often include interaction with others, learning by doing and reflection. Students don’t often learn something by just hearing a lecture or watching a video. Most need to be activated a little, and they need time to think.

The next thing struck a chord with me, as it is something I have tried to talk about so many times. Students need to understand WHY they should write about something or solve a problem. Teachers don’t always take the time to talk about this, and Kogut found that many librarians are trying to take on the role of putting things into context. How can the students use this in their profession, their internships or in other papers? Librarians often talk about this. Most also agree that students need to have their emotional needs fulfilled before they are ready to learn. They need to be emotionally ready, to feel empowered and to be connected and active in the learning process.

So what happens to us when there are conflicts between your beliefs (teaching philosophy) and the reality of teaching? The lecture is often the standard mode of teaching, even though we know that it has great limitations when it comes to learning. Maybe the reason why so many prefer the lecture is that it feels safe, easy and controllable? (I have written about this, too. I really think this is the reason. It’s not just the time issues.) It suits the library culture. We have to find a way to align ourselves to our beliefs, Kogut said.

Truly excellent session, this. As a part of my course in pedagogy for higher education, my first assignment was to write my pedagogical credo. It wasn’t really until years later that I got why that was a great assignment. I really hope that we’ll be focussing a little on teaching philosophy in the near future. It is a great way of knowing who you are and what you believe in.

Reaching higher with scaffolded learning

Christina Hillman and Mia Breitkopf from St. John Fisher College talked about the transition from one-shots to an integrated four-year developmental program. Hillman and Breitkopf talked about how the college has made some big changes in how the students move through their programs. Until fairly recently they have had a few obligatory courses, and they have been able to pick the rest in a free fashion (as long as some requirements have been met) whereas now they are following or keeping more to a laid path. The librarians felt like this transition has given them more liberty, as it is less focus on forming personal relationships with faculty and negotiations to gain access to students. There will also be less need and requests for the one-shot seeing as the courses are pre-determined.

Hillman and Breitkopf talked about a scaffold they have used to be able to say no to one-shots:

[Screen dump from presentation]

They explained that now, when teachers ask for one-shots, they are able to say what the students have already had when it comes to lessons and content because they follow a certain path. They are able to give the teachers the previous learning outcomes and lesson plans.

Hillman and Breitkopf also talked about how they have described learning outcomes for the entire information literacy (almost like the National Qualifications Framework, I thought, by the description), and it looks very comprehensive, but the librarians emphasised that they do not do all the teaching themselves. The learning outcomes have been developed in collaboration with faculty and they plan on using the outcomes together.

Hillman and Breitkopf explained that they are using HEDS, and if I understand correctly, this is a standardised research practices survey. The librarians are doing a lot of assessment, and have started to use a posttest system to evaluate the learning outcome. They are currently designing and planning a new course for juniors where they, among other things, will be focussing on citation tracking, as they believe that this will improve the students’ knowledge about citation types.

Disclaimer: I was really starting to feel that it had been a very long week at this point in the session, and it was Friday night here. I cannot guarantee, therefore, that I have understood everything here. I think I should point that out before I present my thoughts here.

My thoughts on this session:

I have been teaching for almost 16 years. At my university, most of the courses taught at my campus have been designed to be taken in a certain order. We are therefore used to the students following designed paths through their years with us. Maybe it will be different for St. John Fisher College library, but I have to say – I am always negotiating with teachers for access, there is no less need for good integration and personal relationships, and there is no less requests for one-shots. Still, I feel like I have always had the right to turn down requests if I have felt like the one-shot was out of context or it was not connected to an assignment.

Another thing that struck me was that it seemed like Hillman and Breitkopf have fallen into the “trap” that they think that what is taught is learned. To me, showing a teacher that I have already given a lecture on something and telling the teacher about the learning outcomes I used for the students two years ago, would be a useless exercise, and it does no good. How well do you remember something said to you out of context two years ago in a lecture? I mean.. that is just not how I see this thing working. If you want to say no to a one-shot because you can see that it would be to no avail or just not have the effect that you are after (perhaps because the timing is wrong, or you know that you are being called in as a substitute teacher without context) – well then, suggest an alternative, by all means, or say no. I just don’t think that saying no because you can say that you have said the same thing before is a good idea.

I just felt like there was a lot of behaviourism in the philosophy here. Testing for learning outcome, assessment all the time etc. I don’t know that I felt very connected to the ideas here. The citation idea for juniors can be a good idea.

I am highly in favour of developing more embedded programs and a closer collaboration (a real collaboration) with faculty where we are seen as valuable partners that can be involved in planning, teaching/ co-teaching and assessment, and I am often highly sceptical of the one-shot standard and the skewed power relations between the librarians and the faculty, but still.. I don’t know if this is the way forward. I don’t think that a standardised program, one-size fits all, embedded program will work better than an authentic, contextualised collaboration, even with some one-shots here and there. But again.. it might have been the time difference and the Friday night thing that made me misunderstand this whole session.

LOEX 2021: day 3

Well – this will be a shorter blog post than the previous one. Due to a holiday here in Norway (Ascension Day – kind of weird that we have a day off here on Ascension Day, seeing as Norway is one of the most secular countries in the world, but anyway..) I couldn’t spend all evening at a conference. I did manage to go to one (and a half) session, and I’ll be writing about it here.

Activating the ACRL Framework: Active learning design for library instruction

I have been very interested in the ACRL Framework from the start. We don’t use a framework here in Norway, but I have been writing and talking about this framework as a possible model for a national framework here.

Meghan Kowalski and Catherine Meals from University of the District of Colombia and Faith Rusk from San Fransisco State University talked about how the framework is theoretical and how they wanted to build something more practical from it. The librarians wanted to try something new, even though most of their teaching efforts are performed as one-shots. They decided on building some modules that could be reused and work in a variety of settings. The librarians collaborated in two-hour meetings during six summer weeks when there was less activity in the library, and they had discussions, brain dumps and they made an activity bank for class activity.

The ACRL framework is built around six different frames, and it is conceptual in form. The frames reflect different aspects of information literacy. Some of them are easier to use directly in class than others. The librarians in this session found that students had a very binary outlook on source evaluation; a source is either good or bad in their eyes. The librarians tried to used active learning principles and the Research as Inquiry frame, and by tossing a beach ball between students in the class room they managed to get students to talk about sources. They used the Scholarship as conversation frame to prompt a class discussion on an everyday topic. This discussion was meant to show the students that the academic discourse has many similarities with the everyday discussions in our lives.

The librarians talked about some challenges in this approach, too. It is not always easy to get the faculty onboard, they said. Faculty has limited time with students and they are often only interested in giving a little time to librarians to cover the most basic things, like teaching students to use one particular database etc. Librarians often want to go deeper, to teach more theory, more genre etc. while faculty only want them to give the students a particular piece of information. Another challenge is the constraints of the one-shot. There is no possibility of follow-ups or reflection or process approach to give the students a chance to advance through the levels. The framework is based on threshold concepts and the advancement from novice to expert. How do you do this during a one-shot?

Screen dump from presentation talking about the mismatch on what we want and can do vs what the faculty want, one-shot problems and challenges with level.
[Screen dump from presentation]

The librarians have published an article on their experiences with this project so far.

At San Fransisco State University, they have worked on a toolkit for teaching, the SFSU Toolkit. They hope to be able to measure or see the effect of better training as an argument to better embedded in the institution.

The librarians started a padlet for all of us who participated where we could suggest ideas for teaching activities according to the frames. There were several good ideas there, and I intend to look for more that I can use when I teach (even though we don’t use the framework).

There were many questions for the Q&A, and I cannot remember half of them, but there was an interesting discussion on bias, and how we need to focus more on this issue. I felt that it was interesting seeing as I have spent more time on this in class, particularly with seniors, these last couple of years.

Writing and research are inseparable: helping instructors integrate research in writing instruction across the curriculum course planning

I only got to see half this session, so apologies if it makes less sense than the other session abstracts here. Two librarians and a writing instructor from UCLA talked about their efforts to make the Writing and research integration planner. The planner was made as a scaffold to develop writing and research throughout the curriculum, particularly in writing intensive courses. They shared the planner here. They have activity suggestions for writing, searching etc., and they used backwards planning to make it.

[Screen dump from presentation]

The presenters use the planner for writing courses, and they have made a video that is used as a flipped classroom activity to save time in the classroom.

An example of how they work in the writing course: the students are given a question for reflection that they think about. Then the students are given a prompt (below). The students get some information on what the goals of different writing activities are, what to do if they fail etc. They also discuss genre, like what the intention behind a case study is, what makes a good case etc. They train the students in making good problem statements, too. The librarians and faculty collaborate and co-teach, and the video and the planner is used to create structure and collaboration.

Here is an example of a prompt given:

The problematic essay prompt they give to students in class.
[Screen dump from presentation]

Well – that was all I got before I had to go.. I’ll watch the rest when the video is available.

LOEX 2021: day 2

As I stated in my previous post, I have been fortunate enough to gain a seat at LOEX 2021, and I am writing up my notes on my blog, as I almost always do during conferences. This year, the conference is virtual, of course, and the time difference as well as a holiday in the middle of the conference has made me a little less involved than I normally would be. I’ll either edit these posts when I get to see all the videos at a later stage or simply add on new posts.

Anyway.. I got some great input on day 2 of LOEX, and here are my notes and thoughts.

Accepting new realities and accepting changes: collaborative survival in a small community college library

Donovan Reinwald and Wei Cen from Middlesex community college talked about their experiences as a small community college library, and the challenges that face them regarding teaching and collaborations. Reinwald and Cen talked about the term “collaborative survival” to explain how they has sought new collaborations as a way of keeping up services and teaching, even with staff shortage. Small libraries can’t make it on their own, they said. They are now co-teaching and they have made more videos etc. to make content available for all students, not just the ones where their professors have active collaborations with the librarians. Cen showed us an example of a video, and they have a YouTube channel where they post the videos.

Screendump from YouTube channel showing a six videos on the channel.
[Screendump from YouTube]

The librarians have also made a research support site in Blackboard that links to class pages, and a regular newsletter (made with Smore) is sent to faculty where sites and resources are promoted. The librarians are collaborating with several campus partners, eg. the Academic Success Center Tutors, and the aim is to make a more seamless experience for students. ASC Tutors contact the library if they have a student with them that could benefit from a library tutor, and vice versa.

Reinwald and Cen suggested some tips for more and better collaborations:
1. Be proactive and brave (many are afraid to ask for help and collaborations because they don’t want to bother us)
2. Be appreciative and positive
3. We help, and we do not judge (many faculty members may not want us to see their lessons and lesson plans because they are afraid that we might judge)

Screen dump from lecture describing co-teaching information literacy classes, workshops and materials
[Screen dump from lecture.]

Go Go Gadget Google Suite: Using Google Suite Tools to enhance online learning

This session was great! Kristina Bush from UC Berkley, Patricia Hermandez and Emily Metcalf from Texam A&M-Corpus Christi held a smashing session on Google Suite. The three librarians showed examples of how they used Google Docs, Forms and Sites to enhance learning online. They warned us against confusing online pedagogy with the tools we use. [Quick note: I couldn’t afterwords remember who had talked about what, so I’ll be using “the librarians” or “they” for all of the sections. Sorry about that!]

In the example of Google Docs, they showed us how they start the session with students by a short information on traditional databases before they share the online document (open for all who have the link). The assignment the students are working on is a database comparison. The students receive their instructions and write in their joint document. They can comment on each others work, and the librarian can keep track of what is going on. (I’m thinking this is a lot better than using the white board in Zoom, where they cannot bring the white board with them back to the main session.) The students have responded that they sometimes go back to the document later when they need refreshing, too. There is a maximum of 100 users at the time, and it can get a little messy when a lot of people are writing at the same time. The librarians suggested this exercise in smaller classes, maybe up to 30 or 35 students.

[Screendump from presentation]

The librarians used Google forms for worksheets. (It’s not just for quizzes and feedback.) Forms let you separate the content into separate parts (very useful when you want the audience to go to a special page depending on their answer), and the librarians used the separate pages to present tools and worksheets to match. This also works in asynchronous sessions. The downside is that Forms is supposed to be handed in after finishing everything in one go, but the librarians explained a workaround here. They ask the students to send in the form when they need a break or the session is over, save the link to “edit response” and then go back and continue later.

The presenters told us about how they used Google Sites. This is, perhaps, a little less known for many. You use it to make websites (I used it years ago, but honestly I thought it no longer existed..). The librarians got into this because of a request from a teacher. The teacher had inherited a lesson plan from a predecessor, and part of the assignment for the students were to make a Google site. The new teacher had little or no experience with Google sites and asked the librarian to teach the class. The librarian was a little hesitant at first and asked herself if it was her job to step in to teach a tool like Sites, and if such a task was relevant to information literacy. It turned out that many of the previous students in this class had used copyrighted material without proper authorisation, the students barely cited quality sources etc. The librarian therefore said yes to the request and, although she has a part on the technical side to creating a site first, she used most of the class time for information literacy related topics.

Another example of using Sites was that the librarians are using it to build a virtual escape room. They are in the process of building one now, and it is about recognising different sorts of citations etc. We got a preview and a test here. This was really interesting. They hope to be able to use this as part of flipped classroom to save time in class with the students.

I have to say.. this session gave me a lot of new ideas, and so far.. it was the best session. 🙂

Genre pedagogy for the library classroom: Teaching sources rhetorically

Colleen Deel from Bemidji State University (Minnesota) talked about the importance about teaching students genre. (I couldn’t agree more, btw.) She said that students tend to ask questions that cannot easily be answered before one has given the background. The students are given assignments that they are not prepared to solve, and that is where we should start, Deel said. We have to start by giving them more genre information.

Screen dump from presentation about lack of awareness of academic genres and giving the students such awareness.
[Screen dump from presentation]

Deel mentioned John Swales’ “Discourse communities” (communities are clearly defined, that share a common goal, and has an exclusive language), and how this is also a kind of genre knowledge. Librarians can be considered a discourse community. When we teach, we teach according to an acknowledged genre, and the audience has genre expectations. We follow the genre, even though it might not lead to the best for of learning.

Some genres, particularly in academic writing, are well known and defined, e.g. essay, reflection paper, journal article etc., but library genres are not necessarily so well known and defined.

Deel cited Anderson (2009) and the two library genres as 1) The materials housed within information systems (e.g. ebooks, journal articles, newspaper articles etc.) and 2) The information systems themselves (e.g. discovery systems, databases, digital archives etc.)

Deel’s point was that we ask the students to use these genres, but we hardly ever talk about them as genres. We don’t spend enough time on this, and we tend to stop too “early” in the process; we talk about sources and teach students to find it, but we don’t talk about genres. This means that we also don’t talk about the complexity of information and we don’t talk about the information systems themselves. Deel highly praised Burkholder (2010) for addressing this issue.

There is a model for teaching genre, and Deel presented this:

A stair step model of teaching particular genres, teaching genre awareness and teaching genre critique.
[Screen dump from presentation]

The idea is to start with the simplest form, teaching a particular genre and then progressing to the next levels. Teaching a particular genre is usually quite easy, it doesn’t necessarily take long and it can be particularly useful for those who have little or no previous knowledge on the genre and for students with English as a second language. However, genre is contextual and can become meaningless if you teach out of context. Deel gave an example of teaching a genre, when used in a library setting:

[Screen dump from presentation]

When we move on to genre awareness, the idea is not that students should be able to reproduce a technique or a genre, but to make them aware of possibilities and limitations. This also applies within the library setting. Let’s say that the students need genre awareness to be able to decide whether to use the library catalogue or a database in a particular setting. The following example was used:

Screen dump from presentation describing a group activity on reviewing and discussing different search tools.
[Screen dump from presentation]

Deel also cited Amy Devitt (2014) several times. It is written for an academic writing class, but there is much there that can easily be applied to information literacy:

Screen dump on Devitt's critical meta-rhetorical questions to ask students.
[Screen dump from presentation]


Burkholder, J. M. (2010). Redefining sources as social acts: Genre theory in information literacy instruction. Library Philosophy and Practice, 2010(AUG), 1-11.

Devitt, A. (2014). Genre pedagogies. A guide to composition pedagogies, 146-162.


Apologies for the long blog post. But.. Wow, this was a busy day at the conference. I had, of course, had a full day at work before the conference day started (due to the time difference), and I was totally exhausted after these sessions. But oh.. there was so much good content that I felt elated and happy even though I was so tired. What a lovely, lovely conference LOEX is!

LOEX 2021: day 1

It’s LOEX time! 🙂 I am always on the lookout for input, but I don’t think I have ever been craving a conference more. I was fortunate enough to gain a seat at LOEX in 2019 in Minneapolis, and it was such a great experience. So many interesting breakout sessions, so little time.. This year, due to the pandemic, the whole conference is digital. In most ways, that’s perfect for me. No transatlantic flight and jetlag, and at 175 $ for four days of conference, it’s a steal. The only challenge is the time difference, of course.

As per usual, I’ll write up my notes from the conference here. The blog posts tend to be long as I prefer to sum up each day, rather than do one blog post per session. This time, I’ll probably have to write up more blog posts later, too, as I will not be able to watch everything in real time and due to the fact that one of the conference days falls on a holiday here. I’ll probably be watching most of the sessions on video later.

Yesterday (Norwegian time) was the first day of the conference this year, and I was looking forward to the plenary talk, but unfortunately for me, I had miscalculated the time difference, and I missed the whole thing. Silly mistake. I only managed to attend one breakout session, and I’ll be writing about it here.

Microlearning by Yvonne Mery from the University of Arizona

The session started by talking about what microlearning is, and the difference between macrolearning and microlearnning. Mery described how microlearning differs from macrolearning with the following examples:

Learning to order a meal in RussianLearning Russian
Learning to cook a dishLearning to cook Russian cuisine
Learning to play a songLearning the piano
Learning to use the PubMed clinical queries featureLearning to search for health information

The characteristics of microlearning are that it should be quick to learn, memorable, quick to apply, small chunks, narrow content and easy to access. Although there are variations on what people consider the maximum length of a lesson, most agree that is should be maximum 15 minutes long. Mery suggests 10 minutes max.

Microlearning is closer to the natural way to learn for students now. They are used to small chunks of information (f.ex. through social media, tiktok etc.), and they are busy. It is easier for them to engage with short tutorials. This also means that it is easier for us to make them, as short tutorials are much more manageable for us.

screendump from the session showing the entry page for the Getting started tutorial.
Screendump from the session.

Andragogy theory (adult learning, Malcom Knowles) gives us an idea on how adults prefer learning. Our learning materials should be self-directed, self-paced, always accessible and without fluff. In plain words: just give them what they want (something Thill (2012) called the concierge kind).

Mery noted that not all kinds of subjects are suited for microlearning. Particularly will it be difficult to teach highly complex subject matter in this way. Another issue with microlearning is that, due to the smallness of the chunks of information, it can seem very fragmented, and it can be hard to see the connections.

At the University of Arizona, Mery and her colleagues wanted to look into microlearning, and they used the model of TED Ed to build tutorials. The idea is to give the students chunks of information starting with an overview and then going into more specifics. The students can self-enroll and they can take the tutorials in the order they prefer, but the tutorials go from “Think” to “Practice” to “Do” and “Lean more”, like TED Ed. The content has a CC licence and can therefore be adapted by anyone.

There are various tutorials, and they have even made microlearning videos to use for their Makerspace. The students need to be certified to use some of the equipment there, and they do the video tutorials to be certified. The librarians at University of Arizona have just started a new test of sending tutorials as text messages to the students. They have only just tested it, so no results as to success is ready yet, but the initial feedback from students are overwhelmingly positive. The tutorial goes on for six or seven days, and every day during that period, the students get a text from the library with some information and a task to be done. Very interesting! Mery said, however, that the service they had used for this (Arist) was very expensive and that they would probably have to find another vendor or service if they were to keep on sending texts.

Mery ended her talk by giving us some tips if we are interested in starting our own microlearning initiatives. She said that it is useful to use backward design when you plan. By starting at the end it is easier to plan the content because you know what you want the students to learn. Get rid of the fluff, Mery said. Focus on what the students HAVE to learn, not what could be useful. Make a whole tutorial, not just a single video. Keep it informal and friendly. Make sure to focus on usability and feedback – and don’t go at it alone. Even microlearning tutorials have to be maintained and updated, and it is easier to spot the weaknesses if you are a team.


It was a very interesting session. We have learned over the years that we have to keep videos short, not have too much text on websites etc. And yet, things are always shifting. A few years back, everyone wanted short video tutorials, but now they are saying (we just performed a survey for a project we are working on) that they prefer short texts rather than videos. I guess we just have to keep asking what they want and try to give them content in the format they want – but also keep in mind that no two students are alike and that we have to give our lessons and tutorials in various forms to suit various learners. Am I right?

The exhaustion of reorganisation

Illustration: colourbox.com

Some times I know I want to write about something important, but there are so many sides to the story I want to tell that I don’t know where to start and therefore I just leave it. I am still not ready to write a coherent, well-written post about this subject, but I figured I’d just have to dive into it anyway. Apologies therefore if this seems a little chaotic.

I have worked at my current library for almost 16 years now. It is a little unreal to think about it. I never thought I’d stay in any one library for that amount of time. There are days of frustration and irritation in any job, but most days I love it here. I love teaching, I love writing, I love doing research (even the days when I think “Why do I put myself through this? What’s wrong with me?!”), and I am very lucky to be working with incredible people who impress me with their skills, their knowledge and their work ethic every day. I can’t wait to hang out with them more on an everyday basis, not just seeing them on my screen for an hour a day.

The topic for this post is not about my nearest colleagues. It is about how we organise ourselves. The university library consist of 15 different campus libraries, and when the university merged with three university colleges (the one I belonged to was one of these three) five years ago, the leadership agreed that the university library would leave their reorganisation until a later stage. There were plenty of other issues to deal with first. Now that the faculties and departments have figured out most of their reorganisation issues, it is our turn apparently.

Before I move on I have to say that, this being my personal blog, of course all of these views are my own and it does in no way represent a wider view or express attitudes of any other member of the university library. There – that’s the disclaimer done..

There is plenty of literature available on reorganisation. I think almost everything I have read on the subject points to the downsides of these actions, such as employee involvement (or most commonly, lack thereof), communication mishaps, frustration, exhaustion and an ever deepening trust chasm between employees and leadership. The feeling of being completely run over or ignored is, I believe, the most common event in any reorganisation, and I would think that it is even harder to do this in an academic environment, where employees are usually highly autonomous and not as used to being ignored. No one can expect to have everything they want and to always have their opinions considered, and I do believe that the leadership is trying to do their best for the staff and organisation as a whole. It cannot be an easy job, and I appreciate the hard work they put in.

Reorganising a university library with 130 employees at 15 different libraries is no easy feat. There are different views on what the library’s role should be, what services we should offer, what kind of skillset and knowledge we should focus on, what role the library should have within the organisation (though everyone of course agrees that it should be a greater role than we currently have) or how we should spend our time. There have been two separate committees working on this before, and they have submitted their views on how the library should be organised. There have been consultative rounds and discussions for years. What I would find funny if it wasn’t so sad is that even though the committee reports have been moderate (I would even say low in some cases) in setting the bar for the future role of the library, one of the feedback on one consultative round was that the committee had over-reached in the role of the library, and being “too ambitious” [my translation]. When I read that I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Do we really want these people to decide our fate?

I have a lot of questions about this process: Who do we think we are? (in the real sense of the question, not the snide comment) What roles should the library have? What should we be focussing on? Do we want to remain in a “delivery on demand” kind of library or do we accept and embrace a role expansion? What can we say no to? How can we help the university deliver quality education and research? I just think that before we have answers to at least some of these questions, it is impossible to reorganise well. We have to know who we are and what we want before we can set an organisation that will also work to some extent in the nearest future. And yet, these discussions are not addressed in any joint sessions or seminars. There is talk now on what the role of the subject specialists should be, and how these roles relate to the library services. This is an important discussion, but how can we have that discussion while we have not talked about the big picture? What happens to the subject specialists and the librarians in the reorganisation? Shouldn’t we have that discussion on the roles before we reorganise?

I think my real problem is that I don’t know why the reorganisation has to happen. The number of staff in the library is reclining. The reforms by the current, neoliberalist government, have left us with less money to spend on resources, both people and access, and when librarians retire or leave for new jobs now, there is no longer a guarantee that they will be replaced. All of this is happening while more people than ever before has applied to higher education. During my soon to be 16 year at my library, the number of students have risen from 1600 to over 4000 at my campus. We have gotten one new position at the library during that time. We are six people, over 4000 students and 400 staff members, and we offer way more support and services now than we did when I started. The virtual library, courses every week, a lot more teaching and research support, library events and we are more involved in writing ourselves than we used to be. How long can we sustain this speed? How long before the chord snaps? How do we manage our physical and mental health at this pace? I fear that the reorganisation’s real purpose is to downsize library staff, and I am already exhausted just thinking about it. I love my job, I really do. I only hope that I’ll be able to keep doing it for a long time – in an environment that supports quality, knowledge, skill, empathy, competence and humanity, not just speed and efficiency.

My wish is that the library’s new organisation will be simpler than it is today. One director, the director’s staff, a coordinator for projects, and just sections based on geography. I want more autonomous groups and less bureaucracy, more grass root organisation in communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and authenticity in collaborations – even if that means that the central leadership has less overview of the whole library organisation.

I highly recommend reading something about this subject, and especially Julia Glassman (2017) and Karen Nicholson (2019).


Glassman, J. (2017) The innovation fetish and slow librarianship: What librarians can learn from the Juicero, the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Nicholson, K.P. (2019). “Being in Time”: New Public Management, Academic Librarians, and the Temporal Labor of Pink-Collar Public Service Work. Library Trends 68(2), 130-152. doi:10.1353/lib.2019.0034.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice : learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

All work and no play..??

This blog has been neglected. There is no other way to put it. I have published more on my Norwegian academic blog, and I have kept some other, more personal blogs, updated, but for some reason this blog has been pushed aside whenever I have had the need for some written reflections. Partly, I guess it is because it is easier to just write in Norwegian, and partly because I have blogged less overall these past few months. I usually blog more when I have read something interesting or found something new to test, and it is a sign of the times that more time has been spent on meetings and administrative tasks than before, and therefore leaving less time for professional development. The pandemic is partly to blame, as I now have daily meetings online with the rest of the staff at the library where I work as well as more meetings and e-mails and chat messages with other staff at the other libraries at my university. I have had just as many planned lectures etc. as before, but of course, the impromptu counselling that comes with being physically at campus are no more. Still – I get a lot of e-mails, and I have tried to take on some other responsibilities to help take a little pressure off some others, who have to staff the circulation desks etc. at the various campuses. When my closest colleagues and I were planning 2021, we realised that we were spending a lot more time in meetings and other administrative tasks than before. Some have more administrative work concerning inter-library loans etc. than before because our students and staff are working from home and need their documents sent to their home addresses (which in turn requires finding home addresses, packing everything manually etc). Some are staffing the virtual library desks, and that takes a lot of time and effort, and some have been involved in more collaborative groups (which usually is a good thing, but I mean.. I think we have to ask ourselves: What is the goal of this project? How can this benefit our patrons? What are we willing to give up in order to make it happen? How much time do we have to spend in meetings? etc. before we just jump into another project). To make matters worse, the University Library have to save money, as this conservative, current government has decided to cut budgets for higher education (yeah! THAT makes sense these days!) in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country. (As you can probably tell by this rant, I am not a fan of the conservative party, though I am not often as explicit on this blog.) This means that, even though nobody is being laid off, library staff that retire are not necessarily replaced. We were already understaffed, and while we are always looking for things to do more efficiently, we cannot innovate our way out of this. At my section, we are six librarians serving 4000 students and approx. 350 staff, and that is considered an indulgence?

My point of this rant is.. what happens when a library is understaffed and underfunded? We focus on day to day operations. Answering e-mails and phone calls, getting the inter-library loans sent and received, teaching the planned sessions, helping researchers getting their papers registered, taking the meetings you are required to be in.. these things have a way of forcing their way to the front of whatever other things you were hoping to do. I am worried about the long term effects of never having time to reading the new research in your field of interest, never developing a new idea (unless it is directly involving efficiency measures), never just sitting quietly to reflect and think about something. I am worried that we’ll become a University Library that not only never evolves, but simply forgets how to do it or that we at one time had ambitions beyond the day to day routines to just give the patrons what they want in the moment. We know that students are very happy with the library services, and that is nice, of course, but it doesn’t mean much. When you have no expectations, it is easy to be pleasantly surprised. We cannot expect the patrons to ask for services they have no idea that we can give them. It is our job to dream up the best library we can think of and then strive to fulfil that vision. If we are just running around in our carefully crafted hamster wheel – how can we expect that to happen?

I consider myself extremely lucky. I have close colleagues that I respect and admire. We are doing the best we can every day, and the fact that we each have a field of expertise has done wonders for us. I am just worried that if we have all work and no play, that even this will eventually fade.

As a local initiative to help us staying current and working with projects, my manager started having a project week once a semester. We are still just testing this idea, but I love it. For one week, we push meetings that can be pushed, we avoid booking teaching sessions as much as possible, we focus on just the bare necessities of day to day operations, and then we either decide on a joint project or set aside time for reading articles etc. Last week was such a week. The overall theme for the week was to get better acquainted with the APA 7th style. We have never supported APA at my library, because all students were required to use either the Harvard style or the Vancouver style. Now, two study programmes have transitioned to APA 7th. That means that we’ll get lots of questions this spring, and we needed to be prepared. We chose different approaches to this, but we all read the Norwegian APA manual, and I chose to read some research articles that I have had in my “To be read” pile for months, and then writing them up in an annoted bibliography. We also had a few other projects going in the physical library as well as reading some internal papers on a reorganising of the library services.

Having a “professional development week” or a project week, as we chose to call it, really makes some difference. To have some time to think and reflect on how we can do things differently, or to imagine another kind of library, to discuss something about the future or state of things with colleagues that are not just about the details.. that is such an important break from everyday operations. I think it did us all some good. I know that some have a hard time letting go of the day to day stuff, and it is not my notion that we should just ignore everything for a week, but I really think that we need to practice saying: “Hi – and thank you for your message/e-mail/phone call. We are working on new services and developing new ideas this week, but we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” I really do think that patrons would not have a big problem with that. I still believe that good librarians are crucial to the institutions we serve, but it is not like we are working in the ER. Sometimes, people can wait – and nobody will think less of us for trying to create something better long term.

graphic art of a tree cut like a human head, and leaves blowing away from it.
Illustration: colourbox.com