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..

Copyright videos

Today, I had a tip about a useful page on (UK) Copyright, CopyrightUser.org. Well, it is UK Copyright and I cannot therefore guarantee that everything on that page is valid in Norway (probably not), but still – it is interesting to see how Copyright issues are raised in other countries, too.

CopyrightUser.org has developed a support site for teachers and school-aged children, called The game is on. It`s a series of videos based on Sherlock Holmes, and with support sites for teachers when they discuss copyright issues. The videos are entertaining (even for adults og those of us who pretend to be adults) and are well worth a glance. Maybe there are some ideas there, even for college students and their teachers?

 

Reading tip: “Writing essays by pictures”/ Gröppel-Wegener

picture from an illustration from the book

One of the illustrations from the book, describing different levels of texts and what you can expect to find.

I came across a review of this book earlier this fall, and I asked the acquisitions librarian if she could buy us a copy. It arrived last week, and I just read through it. It was such a fun read! It is a workbook with ideas on how to write essays. It covers the whole process, from harnessing an idea, finding evidence, reading, organising, referencing and structuring your essay. Everything is illustrated and with short tips and snippets of text to help you understand the process. I got some great tips on how to present students with this information, and there were some very nice ideas there on note taking and how to understand and work with the texts. A quick read, but very informative and fun. Two thumbs up!

Reference:

Gröppel-Wegener, A. (2016). Writing essays by pictures : a workbook. Huddersfield: Innovative Libraries.

Why don`t students ask librarians for help?

Illustration of a man with question marks over his headI am currently reading up on some things connected to a project that I just started. I have had a book called “College libraries and student culture: what we now know” on my reading list for months, and so far it has been very interesting.

I remember reading in Head and Eisenberg (2010)`s study that students Google, ask their professors and peers, friends – and even family members before asking librarians for help with their studies. Just now I came across the same thing in Miller and Murillo (2012)`s chapter in the book I mentioned.

Miller and Murillo (2012) suggest some reasons why this happens. Possible reasons for students not seeking help from librarians include:

  • They don`t know what we do, and therefore do not think that they can ask questions regarding academic writing. If they ask librarians about anything, it is usually about the whereabouts of a physical book. (Depressing stuff..)
  • Some have had bad experiences with librarians, and they are saying that librarians appear little approachable and helpful.
  • Librarians use words that patrons do not understand, like “circulation desk” and “reference desk”.
  • Students suffer from “library anxiety”, a feeling of nervousness or of being “lost” in the library.
  • Students and staff feel that librarians often give a lot more information than they needed, and that they feel overwhelmed by it.

I find this very useful. How should we work to reduce “library anxiety” for our patrons? What could I do to make the experience easier to the students? What can I do to be more approachable? How can make the students more aware of what we can do for them?

I do not have the answer to all of these problems, but I think maybe we should rethink our desks (they are too big, and we are harder to approach behind them), our web presence needs to be even more thought-through and we need to be more “plain-spoken”. I personally need to stop giving the students “all the options” when all they asked for was a solution to a simple problem, and maybe we could all do a better job at marketing what it is that librarians really do. We have some work to do here..

 

Literature:

Duke, L. M. and A. D. Asher (eds.)(2012) College libraries and student culture: what we now know. Chicago: American Library Association

Head, A. J. og M. B. Eisenberg (2010) Truth be told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age. Washington: The Information School, University of Washington.

Miller, S. og N. Murillo (2012) Why don`t students ask librarians for  help?: Undergraduate help-seeking behavior in three academic libraries. In: Duke, L. M. og A. D. Asher (eds.),  College libraries and student culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association, p. 49-70.

Engaging students in large auditoriums

student teacher network imageIt`s been a busy autumn, but these last couple of days I have finally been able to have a look at some of the items in my “to read” pile on my desk. I have just read the book “Hvordan engasjere studentene?” (“How to engage the students?”). It was worth the effort.

The authors are working at BI (business school in Oslo) and they have experimented with different ideas and techniques to engage students in large settings, like auditoriums with up to 600 students. Not many students are comfortable raising their hand and speaking before such a large crowd, and the authors have described different methods and ideology to engage the students in active learning. The authors believe in “blended learning”, which means that they are using different approaches to learning activities, such as traditional lecture, group assignments, group discussions, one-minute papers, polls, tests and competitions (and many more) to increase motivation and engagements. They have briefly addressed how to cater to the different students` needs, too. They have used Blooms taxonomy to plan learning activities for the whole semester and they used Biggs` well-known students archetypes: “academic Susan”, “non-academic Robert” and “strategic Peter”. The authors have then used these archetypes to describe some of the issues on how to engage the Roberts without losing the Susans and vice-versa.

Of course, as in most books of this character, there is a seemingly unavoidable amount of “chatter”, and some of the technologies and methods are already well-known by teachers. Still, I would find it well worthy of a place in teacher`s training courses. The authors have managed to show their enthusiasm for the field, and it was easy to fall into their line of thinking. Even though many of ideas discussed in the book are made for teachers who teach entire courses, and not particularly for libraians who may have just a couple of sessions (if she is lucky!) during a course, I found some ideas very useful.

I think that I`ll have a furher look at these things in particular: one-minute paper, polls in the learning management system before lectures, group discussions and digital storytelling.

Reference:
Ronæs, N. H., T. Haugnes og A. B. Swanberg (2012) Hvordan engasjere studentene?: BI LearningLab: en idébok med eksempler. Oslo: Alpha forl.

Projects this autumn

Autumn leaves

Image: colourbox.com

It`s October already! Boy, time travels fast sometimes.. I have had a number of projects both at home and at work this autumn, and I have neglected my blog. Too bad, because I really feel that writing about my experiences enhances my learning.

I am currently reviewing a journal article that I am writing for an international journal. It`s about faculty-library collaboration and our pedagogical approaches. I hope that I can make all the necessary changes in time for the deadline so that it`ll get published this year. More about that to come..

These last few weeks I have been very, very busy with a master`s course in scientific methodology here at GUC. The last few years I have been invited to give a lecture on academic honesty for our international students. Usually, I have been given two hours to talk about this issue as a way of trying to inform them better on proper academic writing styles and to avoid cheating and plagiarism; something that a lot of students do, but in our experience the international students are over-represented on all plagiarism statistics. This year, however, I was asked to play a bigger part in this training. I have been saying for a few years that I don`t really believe that me giving these students a double lecture on academic honesty will help them understand these issues, and this year I was asked if I could, in addition to the double lecture, could give the students an assignment. I agreed to do this, and I asked them to write a two-page paper (plus bibliography) on academic honesty, choosing one of three possible subtopics (“Open Access: challenges and possibilities”, “The five pillars of ethical research” or “Plagiarism and cheating: two rotten eggs in the research egg basket”). I will not write a full review of what happened in this course, but if we got one thing proved it was that a lecture without a practical assignment attached, has very little effect. Writing well, with proper use of citations, is not a gift that  we are born with. It takes a lot of practice, and I don`t know if you are ever fully trained in this (something that my many revisions of my own article should prove:) Anyway, working with these students have been incredibly fun – and I`ll admit quite challenging, mostly because of time and resource issues.

Other projects this autumn has been working to finalise the GUC library pedagogical platform. My boss and I have been working on this document on and off for a year. We took our time, to make sure that we had thought things through and that we had made the right priorities. The document is now on circulation among the deans and other administrators here, and I hope that they will respond to our questions and statements in a positive manner.

So – lots of things going on! Loving it..

Expectations: the freshman perspective on entering college

This morning I read an interesting blog post about the freshman experience concerning the amount of information they have to handle. Most of us who have been studying for a while and perhaps even worked in a university/college have experienced what the information flow can be like, and most of us have adopted some sort of coping mechanism. This is not so for the freshmen. Most of them are overwhelmed by the information suddenly available to them, particularly for students coming straight from high school.

I have never liked the term “digital natives”. There are several reasons: 1. there is no such thing as a homogenous generation. In my generation there are computer geniuses and computer illiterates. I suspect that it is the same with every generation since the mid 1960s at least. 2. the fact that most young people can type faster than they can write by hand doesn`t mean that they can handle information in a critical and ethical way. 3. the fact that we have named a generation (or two) “digital natives” makes the teachers (most of whom would not fall in to this category) believe that students have information skills they do not possess. They do not teach the students how to deal with searching in databases, evaluating sources and using software like Word, EndNote (and similar) – because they expect them to know it before they enter college. And while some students may know how to use styles etc. in Word – most don`t! That is my experience anyway. This fall, I spent the better part of two weeks formatting Word-documents for students in a particular course.

My point is that these students are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because we expect them to know more than they do, and when they get here there is nobody to teach them how to do it. It can be as easy as showing them how to use Word a little (just a little) smarter, how to search two databases of real importance, talking about how the research system works. But making this happen we need first to acknowledge that it is a problem, then finding out what the students need, then deciding who will fix it. For some groups of students, a quick video will do. Others may need tutor sessions, lectures, assignments, support and comforting to strengthen their “computer self-esteem”.

I know that I keep hacking away on this subject, but just as learning to read is the basis of almost everything else one is to learn in school, I think that learning how to handle information is the basis for mastering college/university.

Read the blogpost I mentioned, though. Well worth the time! (Oh, and have a look at Project Information Literacy (PIL) publications. Interesting stuff!)

Writing is thinking

jente skriverI came across two really great opinion pieces today, one in “Morgenbladet” (a weekly newspaper emphasising literature, art, culture and politics), the other in “Dagens næringsliv” (a business and management daily newspaper).

The first one, entitled “Dictation”, was written by Gudmund Hernes, former minister of education, now professor at the Norwegian school of business and management. Hernes writes about how students often think better than they write. Their inability to put their thoughts into a logical, well-structured and correctly spelled paper hampers their (in most cases) only chance of expressing their knowledge. Hernes argues that the students have been the victims of a particular pedagogical ideology, namely the one that claims that creativity and talent for style grows best when unchecked. In other words: the “let-them-play-and-originality-will-appear” ideology. Hernes thinks that this has been a failure, and that students are paying the price. All musicians know that they have to master the basics before they go on to master the more advanced pieces of music, he says. Musicians learn a language, a notation, a kind of “musical esperanto” that is used for all musicians in the world; they cannot just “sing with their own beak” and hope for the best.

Hernes explains that to be good at something, one has to start with the basics and the rules. Why not more emphasis on the old-fashioned “dictation” in the school system, he asks. Why should we not teach our students how to use their language? How else can we teach them to express a coherent thought? It was an interesting point, and I really do hope that something is done about this problem.

The other article was called “Å skrive er å tenke” (Writing is thinking) and was penned by Toril Moi, a professoor of literature at Duke University. She wrote: “To write is to think: it is when we express an insight on paper that we begin to understand what it means. To write is also to explore something: it is when we try to find words to describe what we have seen that we see what we have understood” [my translation]. I couldn`t agree more.

Moi argues that a good researcher will never wait to write till after she has “read up on the subject”; she will write a research diary where she will speculate and contemplate over what she has read. She will allow herself to write terrible drafts, just to see what she is thinking about the subjects. “PhD students must be braver”, Moi continued. “The fear of being judged, the fear of being seen as stupid, paralyzes many good students. A student cannot just write a diary. She must master the art of writing for others and to be able to take constructive criticism, to understand that revising drafts over and over again is a natural part of writing.” [my translation]

These two opinion papers, published only one day apart from each other, interested me greatly. Why don`t we spend more time teaching our students how to write? I teach academic writing, but most of the time in class I talk about how to find and use information, not much about the writing itself. I would love to do a little project on the writing processes itself, but I don`t have the same access to the students as teachers have. This is one of the things that I keep coming back to when I write about teaching; the lack of access. This fall, however, I will be more involved with a couple of classes at least. Maybe I can start something there?

I have heard teachers say: “We cannot spend so much time on academic writing this early on (first year college students). They have to learn something to write about first!”. I disagree. I think that form and content should go hand in hand. The one cannot exist without the other.

The opinion papers are worth reading (if you can read Norwegian, of course..). They certainly gave me some ideas.

Literature:
Hernes, G. (2013) Diktat. Morgenbladet, 9.-15. august 2013 [online], s. 44 URL: http://morgenbladet.no/baksiden/2013/diktat#.UgyNx2TfaaM (14.08.2013).

Moi, T. (2013). Å skrive er å tenke. Dagens næringsliv, 10. august 2013, s. 51-51.

PhD on track – part 2

In my first post from the conference “PhD on track”, I wrote about what the website phdontrack.net is and I wrote up my notes from the first speaker.

Curt Rice: Beyond Open Access

The second speaker of the day was Curt Rice, the vice president of research and development at the University of Tromsø. The title of his talk was “Beyond Open Access”. The libraries should be policy-makers, Rice said. To be able to do that, we need more, broader and better knowledge and use it to make changes. We have to be in the lead and see developments in the field, and then recommend neccesary changes (report to the leadership of the institution – our opinions should be heard). Expertise is crucial, and we need to use it to create changes, first on a local level and then on a national level. Administration of Open Access (OA) publishing funds is one example of how libraries can be important collaborators in the institution. Rice told the story of a researcher who had published a number of articles, but then decided to start blogging about them. She blogged about the results in her research, but also about the mistakes she had made, goofs in the labs etc. = the human interest story. Her blog became very popular, and then she also started tweeting. Her articles are now the most downloaded and cited articles of her department. The researchers had approx. 15 times more downloads on the articles she blogged about vs. the ones she didn`t blog about. Access matters, and awareness matters, Rice said. In “Forskningsmeldingen” (a parlimentary report on research) there is much emphasis on OA publishing, and researchers are generally interested in it, but not if it compromises their academic freedom. Some see it  as a problem, and although it may be a “philosophical” problem more than an actual problem, it should be discussed. Can we really ban certain journals because of their poor self-archiving or OA publishing systems? Researchers look for Impact Factor(IF).. There are  major problems with the IF system, e.g.: 1.) retraction rates are on the rise, 2.) publication bias (only studies that show positive results get published..) When librarians say to the PhD student: How can we help you?, we can often position ourselves between the student and his/her tutor, and that requires great diplomatic skills, Rice said. Librarians need to work with the tutors.

There is no principal difference between OA publishing and traditional publishing when it comes to peer-review, Rice said, but the peer-review system is not working in its current state. The “closed” system makes it possible for reviewers to deliver shoddy and “unfinished” reviews. Transparancy is an issue that cannot be overlooked any longer. In one biomed journal (Rice couldn`t remember the name) there is now an open review process where all reviews are published openly, and other researchers can add comments. This is an important process-oriented change in this rather old-fashioned system.

We (meaning librarians and others) have to teach the PhD students how to use social media in a professional manner so that they can enhance their research and get it out to the market faster. Traditional publication takes a long time, and this makes the use of social media even more important. Librarians need more competence and knowledge on these issues. Only that way we can make research better so that we can make society better.

I think Curt Rice gave a good and inspiring talk, and I think he had some very good points. I wouldn`t have minded even more practical approaches and more stories from “real life”, but still.. a good presentation (and kudos for not using a Powerpoint presentation, and instead just walking around with his tablet. Much easier to keep the attention to what he was saying. Note to self..)

The launch of the website:

“PhD on track” was a collaboration between the University of Oslo (NO), the University of Bergen (NO), Aalborg University (DK), the National Library (NO), Bergen University College (NO) and the Norwegian School of Economics (NO). Representatives from the project group talked about their methods in planning and executing the website. Goals for the projects included: acquiring new knowledge about PhD students` information needs and habits, making a website of freely available modules (in English) and creating an awareness on the libraries` role in PhD training. The report that forms the basis of the website can be found here: http://www.ub.uio.no/om/skrifter/hefte08.pdf (in English) and here: http://www.ub.uio.no/om/skrifter/hefte07.pdf (in Norwegian).

The website consists of three modules: “Review and discover”, “Share and publish” and “Evaluation and ranking”. The website underwent user testing, and the project group found that users rarely use page navigation (other than the one on top of the page), they would rather scroll. This meant that the website had to have clearly marked headlines. The project group also found that they had to think about their jargon and try not to use that kind of “academic tribal language” that they had gotten used to. They also had to limit the amount of text on front pages, have short and well-written introductions and more in-depth subject-specific information. The users that tested the website didn`t use the search option. Many of them had bad experiences from other websites, and they were often afraid of being taken out of the site by searching. User-testing is vital, the project group explained, as it uncovers problems and errors, confirmes what has been well done and they got inputs on design as well.

The last part of the day were parallell sessions, and I chose to go to “Literature searching for PhD students” where we had a look at the “Review and discover” at the new website. I have a few notes from the session, but it was really more of a discussion on how to present search examples etc. so I don`t think I`ll write about it here. A few questions that were addressed were: Do we offer PhD students a bachelor course (only a little more advanced) or do we keep it to a real PhD enhanced level? What competencies should a librarian possess? What problems are there when it comes to PhD students` varying levels (concerning their prior knowledge) and e.g. expectations from international students vs. Norwegian/Danish students?

Bente Andreassen closed the conference by saying that developing courses on each institution is meaningless. We should collaborate and learn from each other. …and on that note it was over:) I spent a very interesting day, and I hope to be able to test the website properly soon.

New information literacy survey from Credo

planet med informasjonskoderA small note in “Research Information” (Apr/May 2013) caught my attention. “Students lack basic information skills, says survey” was the heading. My first reaction to this was “Well – duh!” – nothing new here. I still found the original press release from Credo (the company that performed the survey) and I have signed up for a copy of the survey results (to be published in April).

Having taught information skills in this college for almost eight years I know I shouldn`t be surprised at anything here, but.. the survey found that 46 percent of the 1500+ respondents of the survey admitted looking for the Copyright symbol – as they used it for determining the accuracy of a source. Whaaaat?? (I am less surprised by the fact that over half of the respondents were unfamiliar with the purpose and basic characteristics of scholarly journals.)

Anyway – I look forward to read the rest of the results. Of course, Credo is a commercial company trying to sell solutions, so analysis and conclusions may be tainted by that, but still.. the data could be of interest.