By Meredith Farkas | April 15, 2010
Day 2 was just as full and wonderful as Day 1. I continued my mostly staying offline during the conference and I think it really helped me to keep focused on what was going on in front of me. While I do like Twitter in a lot of ways and think it’s great for conferences, I feel like I came to Computers in Libraries for face-to-face learning, networking and fun, so I’m happy to have found a good balance between focus and connectedness.
I try to never miss a talk that Rebecca Jones gives, and, as usual, I was not disappointed by the talk that she and Deb Wallace of Harvard Business School’s Baker Library gave on Critical Thinking: Getting to the Right Decision. Rebecca started with the seemingly obvious point that if you’re not willing or ready to change, don’t bother doing strategic planning. While I’d like to believe this is obvious, I know of libraries that have done strategic planning with no intention of changing in any meaningful way. Rebecca stated that critical thinking is not about being critical; it’s about decision-making. You have to challenge base assumptions. When people have to make decisions, they tend to do one of two things – they oversimplify the issue or they get overwhelmed by the decision and are like a deer in the headlights. To employ critical thinking, people must demonstrate clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, use sound evidence, have good reasons behind our decisions, be fair, and open-minded.
We need to be clear on the fact that when we are challenging assumptions we are challenging a situation, not people, but people may feel challenged by it. When making decisions, we need to look at our assumptions and how our views of things are colored by time/perspective/others. We need to look at statistics and trends with clarity and try to think about what they’re really telling us, rather than looking at them through the colored lens we usually employ to examine such things. I really like what Rebecca said about sunk costs and how people often stick with something that’s not working because they already invested so much in it. “When you find yourself in a hole, the worst thing you could do is keep digging.”
Deb works at the Baker Library of Harvard Business School, which is an iconic structure, but they’re trying hard not to be identified only as a building. They have an important role in educating leaders who make a difference in the world. Over the past few years, they have worked hard to connect all staff to the bigger picture of the library and how it can move forward, which was difficult with some staff who had rote tasks and were not really in the habit of thinking that way. They wanted people to look at the library with new eyes and ask themselves if they’re anchored in stuff that was done a specific way 35 years ago. When you erase the status quo, people actually have to exercise judgment, which can be scary for some.
Deb said a lot of profound things, but there was one thing that really stuck with me as the Head of Instruction. She talked about making clear the distinct capabilities we bring to the table that the faculty don’t have. The different roles should be clear to avoid butting heads when we collaborate. This has been a big issue at our library as we try to ensure that every freshman gets basic information literacy instruction. While we’d like to standardize this and do it through the library, some English faculty are really against this, arguing that it’s their role to teach information literacy (though some don’t do it or at least don’t do it well). So I’m really struggling to define what we offer that’s unique in this realm, when faculty can (and in some cases do) teach information literacy as well.
In the afternoon, I gave a talk with Joan Petit on Virtual Learning & Training: From Classrooms to Communities. I talked about how I use Drupal for my online class in SJSU’s SLIS program to make class more engaging, encourage reflective learning, and create a more constructivist learning environment. Joan talked about how she used blogs in a face-to-face information literacy class to extend learning and make the class more engaging. Joan was a last minute addition to the lineup as my original co-presenter realized on Friday that she couldn’t make it to the conference. In light of that, it was even more amazing what a great job she did. It was such an interesting session and we got a lot of good questions from the attendees. My slides are below and links to my classes also can be found on my presentation wiki.
I was so energized by the ladies from UNC Greensboro (Beth Filar Williams, Lynda Kellam, Amy Harris, Hannah Winkler) who presented on Instructional Technology: It’s a Team Thing (a much more detailed blog post on this session can be found on Heather Braum’s blog). Before the four women came together, instructional technologies at the library were not used systematically, and it was dependent on the individual instructor. One of them was tasked by her supervisor with trying to standardize the use of instructional tech to a greater extent. To that end, she asked interested members of the library staff to meet with her about instructional tech, and from that group, she assembled a team of four librarians to be the instructional technology team. They each have different skills/strengths and really complement each other. They brainstormed ideas for tech to implement, and broke them down into high impact/low effort, high effort/high impact, etc. to figure out what would net the most impact with the least effort. Those were the things they decided to try first. I was really impressed by how organized their meetings were, with very detailed agendas (with what/who, details, and time allotted for each topic). It’s something we really don’t do at my library and as a result, we often end up with overlong rambly meetings that veer off on various tangents. At the meetings I run, I think I’m going to start organizing meetings the way they do.
In April 2009, UNCG had a big budget freeze and had no money for anything, so they had to reprioritize what they wanted to do. They created tutorials, an assignment calculator, and several other things that they could do for free. Later on, when they had money, they could get things like clickers and a video camera and boom mic. These are all things I’d really like for my library too. The women also started a team blog to communicate amongst themselves and with the other staff members about what they’re working on.
In addition to their internal group, they also started an instructional technology group with librarians from other local academic institutions. This is something I’d really like to do in Vermont (or at least central VT). It’s so easy to develop tunnel vision or groupthink when you’re talking to the same people everyday. It’s really nice to get out of your little box and talk to other librarians on a semi-regular basis.
Stay tuned for Day 3!