Posted by: Emily | April 8, 2010

Semantic web what?

I spent my morning at a METRO-sponsored talk by NYU’s Corey Harper about the semantic web. I’m a smart cookie with strong reading comprehension skills, but there’s something about this semantic web thing that I just can’t understand. (I also can’t draw maps; I suspect the problem is a verbal-to-visual translation error in my brain.) I’m not a cataloger or a metadata specialist and probably never will be. But I am interested in the ways classification structures and controlled languages are productive and re-productive of dominant knowledge regimes. Usually I think and talk about LCSH in this regard, but if the semantic web is where we’ll all be looking for and finding things in the future, I wonder if I should shift my focus.

So, some provisional takeaways for me from this morning’s session, with all due disclaimers about how much I still have to learn: Read More…

Posted by: Emily | March 31, 2010

Home from Amsterdam

I’m just about a week into my return home from an all-around pleasure of a trip to Amsterdam for the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis’ Articulation(s) Workshop. Alana and I presented a paper we co-wrote entitled “Locating Wojnarowicz: Moving Through Library Systems, Structures, and Technologies.” We talked about research as a kind of translation work wherein researchers work with, against, across, etc. the classificatory systems librarians develop and deploy. We had some interesting engagement from the other folks on our panel, even earning a gasp from one person at a point in our paper where we state directly something those of us who do it know all too well: librarians control things. (I’m not sure who she thought put things on shelves in order.)

We were, aside from one performance artist,¬† very much the only practitioners in our group. Very different from a library conference, where the conversation is pretty much exclusively about ‘best’ and ‘most innovative’ practices. Our paper had its theoretical argument, for sure, but we were also deeply concerned with the ways actual researchers do actual work in actual libraries. We were grounded in behaviors, perhaps more than any other paper I heard at the conference. And yet, our paper is way way too theoretical for me to imagine a home for it at any of the big library conferences.

We talk about this theory/practice split a bit in the introduction to Critical Library Instruction, and I think it’s worth thinking and talking about as a field of professionals. We don’t do that very often. Me, I think ideas matter. I think our ideas guide our behavior in ways that aren’t always transparent to us, so we need to be sure we have a clear sense of what we think so we have a better idea of why we do what we do.

My portion of our paper built on a lot of the thinking and reading and writing I’ve done about the ways library space is classified, how our classification systems materialize in the organization of shelves, generating odd separations and interesting conjunctions that make some kinds of intellectual work literally harder than others (you have to go around the corner, upstairs, sometimes even across campus to research queer histories, whereas particle physics is not only easier to collate, but better funded and more respected in most universities). That thinking has changed my practice in concrete ways. I make sure I talk about the limits of collation when I teach students about LC, and I have a greater respect for the sometimes physical difficulty of conducting interdisciplinary research. I’m less nervous than I once was about the fact of works out-of-place, and I try to teach more about disjunctures than conjunctures. I talk less about what’s ‘right’ and more about what kinds of work are required.

Not to be too terribly librarianly about all of it, but I’d be interested in talking through other examples of the ways thinking has influenced practice, as well as the other way around.

Your thoughts?

Posted by: Emily | March 14, 2010

Critical Library Instruction: It’s here!

Maria, Alana, and I have been working hard for more than two years to pull together this behemoth of a book, Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods from Library Juice Press. We’re just thrilled that it’s finally making its way out of our heads and into (we hope) your hands. You can order it directly from LJP here. We can’t wait to hear what you think.

Posted by: Emily | March 12, 2010

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly

How in the world to explain the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly information? I tried something new in my class yesterday afternoon, asking a series of questions and then talking them out with the small group of ten or so students who showed up to the last class before spring break. Instead of locating the difference around which source is ‘better’ or ‘more accurate,’ I focused on the context of the information. With a little prompting, these students (in an Honors class, researching Irish literary figures) were quickly able to come to the distinctions on their own.

1. Who wrote it?

2. Who will read it? Who did they write it for?

3. How is the content distributed?

4. Where would I go to access that distribution channel?

Scholarly articles are written by professors and researchers and (yes!) students in an Honors class about Irish literary figures. They’re read by students (in the context of this university course), researchers, and professors. (In other words, the scholarly discourse community.) The content is distributed by university presses or scholarly organizations in books and journal articles. (I know there’s some online publishing, but not enough in the humanities for this to be a distinction I discussed with this class. I’d be interested in ways you might draw those lines.) You’d start at the library or, yes, Google Scholar, to access those distribution networks. At the same time, we talked through a non-scholarly example, and students were quick to point out the differences.

It was funny–I heard a lot, and hear a lot, of this ‘it’s published by somebody like me on the internet and therefore is bad information’ line. I don’t know exactly where in the educational process this becomes the semi-official way to talk about information production, but I wish we’d stop. Telling students that their voices and communities of discourse are ‘bad’ seems like a sure-fire way to make them resent us when we try to introduce them to discourses that aren’t ‘good,’ but simply different. And as long as power is attached to those differences–you catch more social power with scholarly language than you do with¬† LOLcat-ese–we need to make sure we don’t belittle our students before they even begin to join the conversation.

Posted by: Emily | February 15, 2010

How do I make my library like an ice rink?

So I went ice skating today in Prospect Park. It was fun. Of course, it was also an exercise in the particular ways NYC can buzzkill fun things–time between getting in line and getting on the ice was approximately an hour, and then there were just too many of us out there (love particular children, children in general not so much). A sign on the wall said the facility could hold 1600 people. Only in New York kids, only in New York.

That said, something about the ice rink worked really well. While most of us couldn’t skate at all, there was a small clutch of really exceptional skaters who were trying out tricks, skating really fast, impressing and gaming each other. Most of the rink was ceded to those of us on the slow clockwise circle, but the curve out to the left belonged to the guys born with skates on their feet. There wasn’t any signage, nobody told me about that before I went out, but the way the space was being used told me immediately what it was for. I didn’t belong in that corner, so I just skated around it. We all did. It was practically automatic.

This made me think of our library spaces, some of which we try to maintain as quiet study, others for research work, still others for group work. We put up signs telling people what to do in each, and then we go around shushing and policing compliance with our signage. It would be great to design a library with spaces that read this easily. Or maybe it works the other way around–see how people use our space and then delineate the spaces accordingly? How do we make the library function as a multi-use space that supports a range of user needs without relying on table tents and me telling you what to do?

Posted by: Emily | February 3, 2010

Making people talk in class

So I just can’t drone on and on without other people talking. I won’t do it. This stuff is really boring, I know, and I don’t want to stand up there listening to my voice for an hour. The class this morning was not interested in speaking at all. When I asked a easy-answer yes or no question, Do you guys have library barcodes? I was met with blank, open-mouthed stares. They wouldn’t even raise their hands.

Now, so much of how students interact with me depends on how they interact with each other in the disciplinary classroom. They’re going to chill with me for 75 out-of-context minutes; I can’t do much to affect the dynamics they’ve already established. Shrug. But here’s how I got them to talk: I made them write something down. The second slide on my powerpoint was just the sentence, Why are you here today? I took out my watch and said, You have one minute to write down an answer to that question. And then I asked for volunteers, and managed to cajole five of them into reading out loud.

I can’t say they were ever truly engaged, but at least I heard a little something. And since I said no repeats, I ended up with five articulated learning goals from a class that worked really hard to be totally silent. Not bad.

Posted by: Emily | January 28, 2010

LACUNY event, May 8

If you’re in NYC, come join me and a bunch of other great people at this day-long workshop about critical pedagogy and library instruction. Thanks, Alycia, for pulling this together and inviting me along!

Posted by: Emily | January 25, 2010

Challenging classroom practice

One of the things I do in my off hours is work on a journal called Radical Teacher. Founded in 1975, RT is a journal of socialist, feminist, and anti-racist teaching. The magazine has just started a blog in the last couple of weeks, and my first contribution went up yesterday. I blogged about football, of course, this being playoff season, and how Wikipedia after a sports chokefest might prove to be a useful text for destabilizing ideas about authority and objectivity in the classroom.

One of the hallmarks of RT is its emphasis on classroom practice. It’s very, Okay, then, how are you gonna make that happen in an actual class? (Leonard Vogt has a recent post on teaching about the earthquake and Haiti that will show you what I mean.) This is a particularly vexed question for library instructors. I am rarely given free reign to teach whatever I want however I want, and our insistence on linking instruction to particular classroom assignments (a strategy I advocate for all the time) works against innovative, creative, and critical library instruction in one or two shot sessions. I usually teach what the teacher tells me to teach, and experience myself as most successful when I do.

So, what is to be done, beyond daydreaming about co-teaching a composition class and eventually leaving the library profession? Are there potential advantages to de-embedding our instruction? Has anyone tried this? How do we negotiate our essentially dependent positions in the hierarchy of the academy?*

*These are questions that will be explored in lots of depth in Critical Library Instruction, our book out in March from Library Juice Press. Heidi LM Jacobs has a wonderfully well-argued chapter about teaching Wikipedia as an information source, and Dolsy Smith and Cathy Eisenhower knock my socks clear off with an analysis of our structural position that made me rethink the basis of my claim to the classroom in the first place. I just can’t wait.

Posted by: Emily | January 20, 2010

Reading student work

And we’re on to the next one. Classes are now in session at my university, and library instruction sessions are not far behind. I’ll be working for a third semester with the same faculty member in the English department. (Can I get a shout-out for continuity!) As we continue to work on embedding the library component coherently into his first-year composition classes (hard flippin’ work!), he’s given me a stack of student research papers to read through–something I’ve always wanted to do, since I don’t see how I’m supposed to assess my courses without access to completed research projects. (I give out a little quiz, but that tells me less than I want it to; I’m more a qualitative-measurement kind of gal anyway.) Included are reflective meta-texts on the research process, a core requirement of our English 16 classes. This means I’m looking at self-assessments alongside completed papers. Reveletory!

The first thing I’m noticing is a distance between what people think happened with regard to the library sessions, and what shows up in their bibliographies. One student proclaims I personally found these sessions helpful because I learned how to find books I needed and use the library databases. Most of the sources I used I received from the school library. My ego is all fluffed up and enormous! And yet, when I look at the accompanying bibliography, the student has used one book from our collections and the rest of his sources are from the Internet. What does that mean? Does that matter? Are Internet sources good enough in a comp course that’s focused on integrating sources at a pretty mechanical level? How does this change the way I read answers to open-ended questions in my own assessment tools? Etc.

And that’s just the first paper I’ve read. I’m not sure what I’ll do with what I glean from these, but I’m looking forward to starting to build a rich archive, and hope what I find informs my teaching in a cascade of comp sections this Spring.

Does anyone out there have a process in place for looking at student work? Anything you notice time and time again? Has anyone changed their instruction based on a review of these texts? How?

Posted by: Emily | December 3, 2009

And then we came to an end

I taught my last session yesterday, and was flooded by giddy relief when I was finished. I like teaching, and I love libraries, but it’s tiring to get up there day after day, teaching the same material in contexts that I suspect usually don’t work, don’t make sense, and are extraordinarily limited in potential impact. I had a better fall than I did last fall. I can tell because I have seen many more students after these sessions than I did this time last year. Students coming to my office, coming up the desk, remembering my name, asking for citation help, asking for reminders about how to get started. But even though it’s an exponential increase, it’s still only about ten students out of the several hundred I stood in front of and yammered at.

Is library instruction in this 50-minute add-on session worth the labor? Is there any way to know whether we’re reaching anyone? Is this why I need a more comprehensive way to approach assessment? Is anybody else feeling a post-term letdown?

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