By Meredith Farkas | August 5, 2008
It’s amazing how I manage to delude myself year after year. Every spring I make a list of projects I want to get done in the summer when I “have more time.” And every year, I barely get through any of them. This year I was really optimistic about what I could accomplish and I’m very disappointed with my progress. I’m either overly optimistic or I really don’t learn anything from history.
I’ve been the Head of Instructional Initiatives for four months now and I’ve really been enjoying the new position. I’m also the liaison to the social sciences, which is the largest division at the University by far. It’s brought a bit more stress and a lot more work than I had before, but I’m loving the new challenges. I get bored pretty easily, and this is definitely a huge job with lots of different elements that will keep me on my toes for a long time.
Here’s what I was able to get done this summer:
- Evaluating 100+ year old books – this project has never been done before, so it involved going through all of the circulating books from the early 1800s to 1908 (yes, we had circulating books from the early 1800s) and determining whether to keep them in the circulating collection, deselect them, or send them to special collections. Not surprisingly, my liaison areas (criminal justice, history, psychology, political science and education) contained far more books than anyone else’s so it was a massive project for me. Fortunately, next year it’ll just be the 1909 books. What was really amazing about this project was how many of the 100+ year old history books I found in Google Books. It’s a real treasure-trove for people doing historical research, . Favorite book title found: Bibliomania or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance.
- Revamping the “Rook Tours” – when the new cadets (half of our student population is military) start their orientation a week before classes, they all get a tour of the library. For time immemorial, the tour has been pretty boring — we’d tell them a bunch of stuff about the library they didn’t care about and then dragged them around the library. When I became the Head of Instruction, I was really enthusiastic about changing this. My colleague Josh is making a brief movie intro to the library for the students to watch. They’ll then have a scavenger hunt to go on that requires them to find and do a lot of the basic things they’ll need to use during their first year — like finding a book on the shelf, finding the subject guides, finding the Learning Support Center, etc. I’ve spent a long time planning it and have no idea how it will go, but I’m glad to be trying something new that might provide more value to students.
- Integrating information literacy into the history curriculum – this one has been a lot of fun for me. I received an email in June from a History faculty member asking if she (and a few other faculty members I’ve worked with) could meet with me about integrating library instruction into 100 and 200-level courses. That’s the kind of email most instruction librarians dream of getting! We had a good talk about how to do this and what to teach at different points. I developed an assignment to support/assess student information literacy and am looking forward to teaching in a lot more history classes this year than last.
- Developing an instruction menu and learning activities for English 101 – I’ve worked this summer with our liaison to the Humanities to really integrate active learning more into our teaching of EN101 classes. I developed a worksheet that students will work on during the library session that will both assess their learning in the class and to give them a record of what they’ve tried so far in their research (thanks for the inspiration UT Austin!). I’ve shown it to a number of faculty members this summer, and they’ve all really liked the idea. I’m still not sure how we’ll use this as an assessment tool internally (if the faculty member collects it) and I need to figure that out ASAP. The other thing I’ve been working on is a menu of instruction to give to faculty. Often, we’ll have faculty ask us to teach the research process from soup to nuts in 50 minutes. And then we end up trying to pack far too much into a session and leave no time for students to practice what they’re learning. The menu shows faculty a large number of modules (such as developing a search strategy, determining whether something is peer-reviewed, etc.) with an amount of time attached to each. Faculty can then combine these modules into an instruction session (or more than one), keeping in mind how long the class is. Faculty have really liked the menu, because they didn’t know how long things took or what topics we could be covering. Some have even realized that we need more than a single session to cover what they want students to learn and have given us two class sessions! It’s definitely been a win-win.
- Orienting the new Distance Learning Librarian – I has me an employee! Her name is Toni and she is bright, energetic and has a ton of great new ideas. I was really looking for someone who wouldn’t just keep doing the same stuff I’ve done over the years. I’ll admit that it’s a bit hard to watch someone changing tutorials and other materials that always felt like “mine”, but I also can’t wait to see what new services and ideas she brings to the table. I really look forward to working with her to better promote information literacy instruction in the online graduate programs. It’s also great to have another tech-savvy librarian — we’re pretty close to having a critical mass now!
Here are a few of the things that… well… didn’t happen:
- Weeding storage – I get the sense that there were a whole lot of pack-rats working in this library back in the day, because our storage area is full of things that really should have been weeded straight away instead of thrown into a basement purgatory. For those of you who take an overly conservative approach to weeding, just remember that you may be dooming your successor to a Herculean weeding task.
- Weeding the 900s – we’re soon going to have a big influx of Chinese history books to support the increased number of courses in Chinese history, language, literature and culture. With the 900s packed to the rafters as it is, I was hoping to make some room for the new books. It’s something I probably won’t be able to ignore for much longer.
- Writing a report on Faculty Perceptions of Student Research Skills – towards the end of the Spring semester, my colleague and I administered a survey we’d developed to get an idea about what faculty think about their student research skills and their attitudes towards information literacy instruction. So far, I have gone through the data (which makes a strong case for library research instruction), but haven’t really had time to write anything up. And my report has to be good since it’s going to go to faculty and administrators and will likely be an important document for the University retention committee.
- Doing lots of research on instruction and assessment – while I’m so excited about this job, I do feel woefully out of my depth. I never had a course in grad school on library instruction and have never had any training since then. All of my knowledge comes from experience. I’ve read some literature, but not enough to feel like I’m not fumbling and stumbling. What I do have is a real passion for instruction and the will to do what it takes to improve our instruction program. I’d also rather have a job that forces me to learn new skills and stretch myself than one that I can do with one hand tied behind my back. How boring is that?!? I wish I’d had more time to read up on pedagogy and assessment, but it’s rare that I have time to read when there are so many more immediate needs at work. How do you make time for professional development reading at work? What are your favorite books or articles on library/information literacy instruction?
- Working on marketing – I’d wanted to create a marketing committee and really get a group together whose sole focus was how to market library resources and services to faculty and students. I think this is of critical importance, but no time or funding has been devoted to marketing the library. I figure we can’t really complain about how little faculty know about what we offer when we’re not doing a great job of telling them.
It’s hard to believe that the students will be back in a week and a half and the onslaught of instruction will begin soon after. I had wanted to be a lot more prepared for it, but there are only so many hours in the day, and the best laid plans often go awry thanks to hard drives failures, proxy server meltdowns, student access issues, Voyager upgrades, and really tough research questions. C’est la vie.