Rory has put the introduction to Critical Library Instruction up on the website. It’s a handy guide to the contents of the book, the impetus behind it, and what was on tap for lunch when we inked the deal. Enjoy!
I’ll be giving a brief presentation on a panel about pedagogies of class tomorrow afternoon at How Class Works 2010, a conference at Stony Brook sponsored by their Center for Working Class Studies. I don’t expect to see any other librarians there, but if by some odd chance I’m wrong, please do come say hello. My paper expands a bit on an short piece I wrote for Radical Teacher about using the classification structure to teach students about ideologies of class.
You can see, or at least I can see, that I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading Plato. I’m newly-enamored with the pedagogical potential of analogies. Plato uses them a lot, taking something concrete like medicine or cooking to explain something more abstract, like philosophy or rhetoric. A couple thousand years out, and I think he might be onto something. Library classification structures have the virtue of being material; how might we use them to help students see and articulate structures of economic class, often much harder to see?
So that’s the general gist of the presentation, which I’ll link to here if you’re interested in having a look.
It was hot and it was crowded, but it was worth it. Julia Weist and Andrew Beccone shared their projects with Radical Reference folks at the Brecht Forum last night, and I was really inspired. I always feel threatened and angry when people knock on weeding, an essential part of collection management. (Some books, in some contexts, are garbage, and that’s the truth. If we didn’t weed, you’d complain about dirty, out of date collections.) But both of these projects were interesting new ways of thinking about discards and how new contexts can bring old books back to life.
Julia’s work involved travelling all over the country exploring discards and booksales, repurposing them into a few different installation works. Andrew’s Reanimation Library collects discards with compelling images, making them available to artists and deploying the collection for site specific shows. I was struck by how much contexts matter. One of the things working in libraries has done for me is turn me into a staunch materialist when it comes to books. They’re no longer fetish objects or ideal forms to me. They matter only to the extent that some reader can engage with them, and the moment that becomes unimaginable with a text, I cease to care about it. Andrew’s work in particular inaugurates new engagements, making work possible that would not happen if those books were left in a general collection. Not much use for a 1989 psych textbook, unless you’re an artist, in which case the book is a revelation.
So we weed, and those weeded materials can take on new creative life. Any art in these dire times seems like a triumph, so that was politics enough out of the conversation for me.
If you’re in NYC and looking for things to do and think about now that Lost is over or your team is out of the playoffs or whathaveyou, come join Radical Reference at the Brecht Forum for Shelf Life: Deaccession, Reanimation, and the Social Justice Implications of Library Discards*. I’m moderating the post-presentation discussion, and would love to see some familiar faces in the audience. The folks who are presenting each do interesting things with discards, and I’ve been asked to “keep it political” in the discussion portion of the event. I expect a good conversation. Plus, we’ll be down by the water on the way way west side, no better place to watch the sun go down.
*I didn’t come up with the title of this event, but I want to kiss whoever did. Shelf Life. Ha!
Ira Shor started speaking without an introduction. The clock rolled to 1pm, and in deference to gathering crowds, scrambled trains, and usual protocol, the organizers were waiting a bit to get things going. But Shor, who said wasting time was one of the worst things you could do, just got going. This made me terrifically uncomfortable–he’s speaking without prior authorization! I can’t listen without a proper cue to begin!–which, in the end, is part of what’s required if we’re going to become critical teachers.
Alana and I will both be moderating round table breakout sessions at tomorrow’s Critical Pedagogy and Library Instruction event, hosted by Alycia and Jonathan, doing great work for LACUNY, at Brooklyn College. Thank you so much for inviting us! Ira Shor will be speaking in the early part of the afternoon, followed by some socializing time that will give you the chance to buy a copy of Critical Library Instruction (save on shipping fees!) and browse and buy issues of Radical Teacher. (Have you sent in a proposal for our upcoming issue on teaching with digital technologies? We’re looking specifically for librarian contributions!) Then we’ll be meeting in smaller groups to talk about issues that emerge from Ira’s talk.
Maria will be sorely missed–when will tech enable us to just wish folks places?–but we’re very much looking forward to meeting and talking with like-minded librarians in the area. I’ll be spending lots of time at the pitch table. Come say hi!
A recent blog post by Katherine Schulten (for the NY Times Learning Network) poses the question: “Is PowerPoint in the Classroom ‘Evil’?” If you’re Edward Tufte, the answer is yes. If you’re a critical pedagogue who resists the mass adoption of a single, proprietary presentation tool — by teachers and students — you’re also likely to be wary of PowerPoint. Critiques of the use of PowerPoint as a default presentation tool aren’t new. Many of its users understand (and perhaps feel enabled by the fact) that PowerPoint is a tool which encourages specific discursive protocols (e.g., the bullet-pointing of ideas) and the hierarchical or sequential organization of information. What I like about Schulten’s post is that she introduces us to Monica Poole, an Assistant Professor of History and Social Sciences and Learning Communities at Bunker Hill Community College, who reminds us that we can reframe the question of classroom presentation technologies in a more productive way. Instead of asking whether PowerPoint is good or evil, or whether classroom technologies are good or bad, we could ask instead: do I need technology to teach about this [thing, concept, source]? What does a presentation application (be it PowerPoint or something else) allow me to do? How can digital objects function as resources for schools without, for example, access to rich collections of primary sources or rare books in material (non-digital) form? Poole’s use(s) of classroom presentation tools suggests a commitment to identifying what she wants to achieve pedagogically, or even just what she wants to show (be it an object or a practice), and then figuring out what means will best suit this end. Sometimes it’s PowerPoint — but not by default.
I’m curious, are any of you using presentation tools in ways that extend beyond the basic — the projection of what’s going on on your computer screen during a library instruction session? Can we imagine ways we might work with some of the ideas Poole presents?
So, here there I was, sitting at the reference desk, googleychatting with Emily. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and things were kind of slow. But lo, a student approacheth! I quickly shut down the chat window and commenced reference-interviewing. I then found out that this student wanted to find scholarly articles about why it is a bad thing that homosexuality is portrayed positively in the media.
And…here is where I panic.
Maria, Alana, and I talk about Critical Library Instruction today over at the Library Juice blog. Take a look here.
We do hope you’ll all join us in critical conversation. One of the issues we talk about in that conversation and in the book is exactly what we mean when we say critical library instruction. What does that phrase mean to you? Is it a method, a theoretical approach, a political position? Please share with us in the comments section–we’d love to hear your thoughts.
I teach my last class of the academic year in a few hours, a group of students in a biology and gender class. I’ve taught the class before, really enjoy the content, the professor’s terrific, etc. It’s an ideal class for me.
And I don’t wanna. I can’t wait for it to be over, can’t wait for the semester and the year to be over, if I never see another smartboard or malformed database query again in my life it will be too soon.
Slight exaggeration, but also kind of true. I want to be a good, critical, reflective instructor. But I really struggle with burnout, too. There’s a great chapter in Critical Library Instruction by Troy Swanson that tackles the question How do we employ critical teaching methods when students would rather be banking? Banking education can be easy for students and teachers, especially for those of us who know how to do it and do it well. Reflective engagement, willingness to fail and learn from failure, critical attention to the praxis moment in the classroom, all these things sometimes feel pleasurable, but also feel exhausting, particularly at this point in the semester.
So, how do y’all stay inspired and engaged? How do we recharge and refresh? How do we keep instruction, especially in courses that we’ve taught again and again, from getting old and stale? Who has tricks?
(I teach in three hours, so anything you can suggest between now and then would be helpful!)