Educators Together


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Presented for the Iowa Library Association / ACRL Conference, 10 May 2013.

Published in: Education, Technology

Educators Together

  1. 1. Educators Together Dorothea Salo ILA / ACRL 7 MaY 2013 Hi, good to see everybody. What I want to do in these fifteen or twenty minutes I have is to suggest that even though I’ve gone over to the enemy and become a library-school instructor (boo! hiss!), we have more in common than we think we do. We’re all -- library schools AND librarians -- living with some fears about our place in the world and even whether we still have one. And we don’t always respond to those fears, individually or collectively, in the sanest or most productive ways. I certainly don’t! And that leads to some super- extra-common cultural malfunctions and unhelpful mindsets in our library organizations AND our library schools that keep us, collectively, from responding to current challenges as well as we can and should. Finally, we’re all racing to keep up with change. But change doesn’t have to be scary or unfathomable or stonewalled. I’m going to close my remarks in a bit with two ideas from startup culture that I hope will flavor all our discussions today, and one more phenomenon that all of us are having to think about, because we’re educators together.
  2. 2. With friends like these... Michael Kelley, Library Journal, Chealsye Bowley, So here’s the world I live in. Library-school students dissing the work I do, high-profile professional publications asking whether it’s even necessary. And these two pieces turned up in the last two weeks! It just doesn’t end. If we’re to consider Chealsye Bowley and Michael Kelly friends of library education, who needs enemies? And, you know, I won’t call for a show of hands, but if I asked how many of you out there agreed with these assessments, the only thing restraining a lot of you would be politeness. I know what the lay of the land is.
  3. 3. Libraries, too. Jenica Rogers, “Keynote from NLS6: Moving Beyond Book Museums” Thing is, it’s not just me in that boat; it’s libraries and librarians, too. Here’s a title slide from Jenica Rogers, “Moving Beyond Book Museums,” which just begs a lot of questions.
  4. 4. Libraries, too. Mita Williams, “The future of libraries is...” the-future-of-libraries-is.html Jenica Rogers, “Keynote from NLS6: Moving Beyond Book Museums” Mita Williams, who says, “Let’s get the bad news over with. It looks like we’ve passed the point of Peak Librarianship.”
  5. 5. Libraries, too. Photo: Julian Burgess, “INTERNET,”, CC-BY Mita Williams, “The future of libraries is...” the-future-of-libraries-is.html Jenica Rogers, “Keynote from NLS6: Moving Beyond Book Museums” Here’s Hugh Rundle, “dematerialising” libraries, which sounds like something out of a science-fiction film.
  6. 6. Libraries, too. Photo: Julian Burgess, “INTERNET,”, CC-BY Mita Williams, “The future of libraries is...” the-future-of-libraries-is.html Metropolis Magazine, “Still Here,” Jenica Rogers, “Keynote from NLS6: Moving Beyond Book Museums” And when the best thing Metropolis Magazine can find to say about libraries is that they’re “Still Here,” well, um. Yeah. Not even sure where to go with that.
  7. 7. A natural response Photo: Maria Morri, “otk dream 2,” CC-BY And the very natural response to all this challenge and negativity -- and, frankly, insult; I feel insulted by Ms. Bowley and Mr. Kelley, and I don’t see why I should hide that -- the very natural response is knee-jerk. I see a lot of knee-jerk responses in librarianship, and I’ve been guilty of quite a few myself as I try to defend the work I do. Appeals to tradition: “it’s been this way a long time, so why would it stop now?” Appeals to time poverty, knowledge poverty, all the reasons we can come up with not to acknowledge the challenge, much less meet it.
  8. 8. A natural response Photo: Brad.K, “Ostrich Butt and American Flag,” CC-BY And here’s another natural response: if we just ignore it, it’ll go away, right? Well, look, I can tell you that discontent about library school ain’t going NOWHERE. I believe the same is true about higher education, and by extension, academic libraries.
  9. 9. The best responses? Photo: Maria Morri, “otk dream 2,” CC-BY Is jerking our knees really the best response we can muster?
  10. 10. The best responses? Photo: Maria Morri, “otk dream 2,” CC-BY Is plunging our heads in the sand really the best we can do? We smart, experienced, educated, capable people?
  11. 11. Probably not. Photo: Maria Morri, “otk dream 2,” CC-BY I really don’t think so, no. I can do better. So, I think, can we all.
  12. 12. What’s going on? So I’m going to switch gears a bit and briefly mention a few things we’re seeing in the world that I think motivate some of the challenges to librarianship and library education that we’re seeing.
  13. 13. Photo: Julian Burgess, “INTERNET,”, CC-BY it’s all on the right? Here’s a thing we all know already: undergraduates, graduate students, even faculty who should really know better -- they think it’s all on the Internet, just sitting there waiting for them.
  14. 14. it’s all right? Photo: Alan O’Rourke, “FREE sign,”, CC-BY And that belief correlates with another, which is that all the information they can access is floating out there free for the taking, no costs at ALL associated with it.
  15. 15. it’s all right? Photo: Steven Damron, “open sign,”, CC-BY And we all know it’s not that simple, but them NOT knowing that has two bad knock-on effects for us: first, that it’s unbelievably hard to engage many students and faculty in discussions about open access and open data, even after last year’s Academic Spring; and second, we’re swiftly running out of options for the now-inevitable moment when we have to admit that the money we have doesn’t cover the materials they need. If there’s a question bigger than “we did the Big Deal; what now?” in academic libraries, I’m not sure I know what it is!
  16. 16. MOOCs The free-versus-open, who-pays arguments are migrating from serials to MOOCs. If you’ve been ostriching for a while, you might have spaced on the Massively Open Online Course thing, but I figure I’m not talking to too many ostriches, so. Lots of big questions in the air about what these startup initiatives mean for academia, library schools no exception, and of course that means big questions for academic libraries as well.
  17. 17. e-textbooks Inside Higher Ed, The Digital Reader, crashes-during-exam-week/ Library Journal, preventing-the-second-big-deal-peer-to-peer-review/ One of them is reinvolving ourselves in textbooks, which we’ve studiously avoided doing, but post-Wiley v. Kirtsaeng, we may have to rethink. I’m on record saying I think the rush to yet another Big Deal with big content companies for e-textbooks is a bad idea that will backfire, and we’ve seen purely immediate reasons to be cautious, like the CourseSmart exam-week crash -- but I also think there’s so much potential here for academic libraries to support open approaches that materially benefit BOTH students AND faculty authors!
  18. 18. rda and bibframe Eric Miller, “BIBFRAME Transition Update,” Technical-services folks, you’re not exempt; I don’t know that I need to say much more about RDA and BIBFRAME, except that I’m right there in the same boat with you, trying to figure out enough about linked data to teach it to people!
  19. 19. research, data, decisions Project Information Literacy, Instruction librarians, I’m guessing you know about Project Information Literacy already, but for the rest of us, it’s an ambitious research program into how college students and new graduates deal with information, as well as how the rest of the world WISHES they would. And it’s fabulous and you should check it out, not least because it points to another big question: how do we use data, use research, to guide our decisionmaking? We’re being expected not to fly by instinct any more, and that’s not at all a bad thing, but it takes some shifts in mindset. And of course I’m also nodding here to the new information-management challenge represented by research data in all its myriad forms and formats. Talk about your big questions! But it’s a question that’s not going away any time soon.
  20. 20. What can we learn from what’s going on? What can we apply from what’s going on? I can stuff my library-school students full of facts and tools and even techniques for using the tools all day, and sometimes I do, because I have to. You reference librarians and instruction librarians can do the same -- “here, desperate undergrad, have these twelve citations to peer-reviewed papers on your topic!” -- and sometimes you do, because you have to. But we both know that’s not ideal. We all need our students, and even our fellow faculty, to do some analysis and synthesis around their information problems. So we should expect the same of ourselves. It’s not enough to know what’s going on; we need to figure out what we can learn and apply from it.
  21. 21. Assessment Image: Sean MacEntee, “survey,” CC-BY And that brings me to the A-word. I get assessed a lot: my students get their innings at the end of every semester, once a year a colleague assesses my teaching, during my annual review I’m asked how I plan to improve my teaching and I’d better have a good answer, and so on. There’s Big Kahuna assessment for us, too; we’ve got an ALA accreditation cycle coming up. What I’ve found, and what I want to suggest to you, is that the A-word isn’t a function of a hype cycle, though it is high in hype just now. Assessment is a key part of how we compare what we’re doing to what the world is telling us we need to be doing.
  22. 22. Strong opinions, weakly held hat tip Bob Sutton, my_weblog/2006/07/strong_opinions.html I also want to suggest a mantra for today’s discussions. It’s one I use myself, because I’m as tempted as anyone to fly off the handle -- perhaps more than most. “Strong opinions, weakly held.” To me, this means not fence-sitting, but really pursuing things I think deserve to be pursued -- but not ignoring what’s going on, either, and admitting that I’m not always right the first time. Or the second. Or, you know.
  23. 23. What should we change based on what’s going on? Right, so we’ve looked at what’s going on, and done some critical thinking about it. Now we have to switch from the brain to the hands. It’s not enough to think; it’s NEVER enough to think. We have to act based on what we’ve thought. In library school, we know that; it’s why we insist every student do a practicum, it’s why I assign lashings of hands-on projects and service learning. In libraries... well.
  24. 24. Startup culture? Photo: National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru, “Children & Young People's Committee / Y Pwyllgor Plant a Phobl Ifanc,” CC-BY Except for the gender ratio, this could be a lot of library meetings I’ve been in. Maybe you too. Two people arguing, ignoring everybody else in the room. One guy staring at papers, completely checked out; another staring into space. (These are the ones I personally identify with, by the way.) I don’t even know WHAT is going on with that blond dude. This isn’t a meeting that’s going to result in a whole lot of action.
  25. 25. Why not? Photo:, “It’s a No!” CC-BY Can’t speak for all of you, but when I’ve checked out of meetings, it’s usually been because I saw the writing on the wall, and the writing on the wall was a big giant NO. Didn’t matter what I said, didn’t matter what anybody said, because whether it’s two dudes arguing or just plain old inertia, the default was NO and I had zero chance to change the default.
  26. 26. Photo:, “It’s a No!” CC-BY Startup culture doesn’t do the big giant NO thing. This isn’t an unalloyed good; it can sometimes mean less direction than might be useful. But my sense is that libraries have gone way too far the other way. The writing on the wall cannot stay the big giant NO.
  27. 27. lazy consensus Photo: Erich Ferdinand, “No” CC-BY So here’s an idea to get us to yes, and I happily acknowledge that I stole it from Bethany Nowviskie at Virginia. It’s called “lazy consensus,” I use it a lot for collaborations I’m in charge of, and it’s as simple as “silence implies consent.” Somebody wants to do something? Great. They can unless somebody vocally objects. That flips the default stance to yes, and puts the burden of persuasion on the naysayers. Just this, I think gets us a lot closer to productive startup culture.
  28. 28. Fail fast Photo: Dagny Mol, “Fail Road” CC-BY And now the four-letter F-word. No, not that one. A worse one. Startups fail. It’s a fact of life! And it’s not fun, but people get through it, and here’s how.
  29. 29. Fail often Photo: Dagny Mol, “Fail Road” CC-BY
  30. 30. Fail small Photo: Dagny Mol, “Fail Road” CC-BY
  31. 31. reskill Library Journal, continuing-education-in-lis-how-should-we-train-reskillers-peer-to-peer-revieww/ Digital Humanities Questions & Answers, what-libraries-are-doing-a-librarian-re-skilling-program Because what happens with failure is that you LEARN from it, and learning is the last idea I want to leave you with, since we’re educators together. My MLS is eight years old. What’s happened in those eight years that my instructors couldn’t have told me about if they’d WANTED to, because it hadn’t happened yet? Well, practically everything I talked about in this talk, for starters! So post-MLS learning is an urgent need in this profession, and my sense (as you can see from what I’ve pinned here) is that libraries are just starting to rethink how it’s done, which means that library SCHOOLS need to sit up and take notice. I hope some of us get a chance to talk about that in a bit...
  32. 32. We’re in this together. Let’s get it right! because we’re educators together, we’re in this crazy shifting information landscape together, and it’s important that we get this right.
  33. 33. This presentation is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States license. Photo: Erich Ferdinand, “No” CC-BY Thank you.