academic libraries

Serendipitous Syllabus Overload, and Having Students Help Build a Course

Teacher-Librarians

In practice here at CSUCI Broome Library, we are all teaching librarians. when I schedule information literacy sessions, all librarians are up for grabs for me–my Head of Public Services and Outreach, Head of Unique Collections and Scholarly Communication, my Collections & Technical Services Coordinator, my Electronic Resources Librarian, my Original Cataloging Librarian, even my dean/AVP. Everybody’s on deck when there’s an instruction need, and with over 120 information literacy sessions scheduled this fall alone, everybody bats, and everybody bats big. In addition to the many information literacy sessions we teach, many of us also teach semester-long classes.

Before I talk about teaching my credit course this semester, some important background. Here at CSUCI, the librarians (who have tenure-track faculty status) regularly teach and co-teach credit courses in disciplines where we’re qualified, in addition to classes actually certified under the LIB (Library as home department) heading. We’re teaching (or co-teaching in some cases) both lower- and upper-division courses in English, University Studies, Political Science, History, Communication, and Freedom & Justice Studies, among others. It’s pretty difficult not to trip over us anywhere in the curriculum. In theory (and sometimes practice), the home departments get us on buyout either through their budget or through a grant, so that the library dean can hire part-time lecturers to fill behind us for things like reference desk time and other duties that are more easily transferred to another person. (Whether librarians are tenure-track, whether they teach, and how that is decided and practiced varies widely, even in my own experience across a handful of state universities.)

Here at Broome Library, we are encouraged to teach within home departments and effectively become embedded information literacy ninjas, integrating information literacy concepts and work into the regular work of the curriculum, especially since information literacy is specifically written into our general education requirements. I’m still new to the politics of the place, but our teaching seems to go over well with all involved. The struggle becomes when the buyout doesn’t quite happen, and resources get strained. We can easily backfill reference desk hours, but other duties are not so easily re-assigned. General wisdom is that teaching one class per semester is do-able, and most librarians teach one class every or every-other semester. Occasionally opportunities related to grants and new initiatives come up and someone teaches two classes, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a grueling pace to have to keep. Just the one class has kept me pretty well on my toes this semester.

Sooprize Collaboration: Including Students in Syllabus-Building

This semester I’ve been teaching FJS 340: Exploring Freedom and Justice, a first-time course for me. It’s been going very well — my initial syllabus scared the students a bit: because we have a 2 hour 50 minute block for class once a week, I treated each block as two classes, and took seriously the idea that for a 3-credit class, at least 9 hours of work was going into it per week. Add to that what *I* figure I can read and digest across 9 hours, and cue panicked undergrads in a gen-ed course faced with what was essentially a graduate-level workload. My initial misstep actually led to a great activity, though, in which I gave my students the opportunity to choose which readings they would focus on each week. From the initial syllabus, we went week by week, and I indicated which two readings were foundational and would be required. After that, I described each of the remaining readings *and why I chose to include them on the syllabus*, and the students, in collaboration with each other, chose two to three more readings from the remaining four to seven that were listed for the week.

It was an eye-opening experience–I approached building my syllabus as seriously and carefully as any architect, building a list of readings from a broad bibliography painstakingly developed, paring it down to what I thought was essential and including some items I hoped students would find uncomfortable, intriguing, or controversial. Since the course is multidisciplinary in nature, I talked with colleagues both in and out of the library for ideas and readings, but I hadn’t considered consulting students in the building of my syllabus. It turns out that students really engaged in the exercise, and because they are the ones who have effectively chosen the readings for each week, they’ve taken real ownership of the material (to the point of calling folks out for being the deciding vote for choosing a particular article, and then being caught out in discussion as the one not reading it).

We also went through the list of assignments and pared those down, though that was mostly removing one large project, rearranging some due dates, and redistributing point values. I discovered that what some may find tedious in terms of syllabus revision, the students found fascinating–the nuts and bolts behind the decision-making of course creation, how point values were determined, why assignments were included and what they were designed to do in terms of asking students to demonstrate mastery. Course-creation became a real conversation and a bit more of a collaboration with students than I’ve experienced in the past.

The accidental and conversational approach to a too-large syllabus worked so well that I’m actually going to build this in as part of the first day’s activities for the next time I teach the course, in Spring 2016. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to structure this in such a way that I might study it and report out, so any ideas welcome.

Engaged Journaling vs. Weekly Critical Reflection Assignments

This exercise, though accidental, synergized nicely with the way assignments were designed. In addition to a large research project scaffolded through the semester (more on that in a moment), in the past I’ve assigned students to complete a weekly critical reflection on the material they read for class. The intent of the assignment is not to get the students to summarize–I tell them I’ve already read the material, I assume they’re going to do the same–but to have the students think critically about where they see the principles for the week manifested in their own worlds, what that means, and how/whether the week’s material changed how they think about something. Inevitably, though, the weekly reflections become summaries. The students begin to detest writing them, I start to detest reading them. I attended a workshop on building community in the classroom with Dr. Jacob Jenkins (Dr. J) of our Communication faculty, and he generously shared with me his work on active/engaged journaling exercises.

Though I did ask students for critical reflections during a few weeks (particularly where I ask them to consider what information is valued in their field, and how it is valued), for most of the other weeks I asked them to engage the material in different ways. During the week where I ask them to consider readings on various “ways of knowing,” students were asked to write a poem or song lyric capturing a ‘way of knowing’ other than academic, with the option of performing their piece in class live or recording it to play to the class via YouTube. During a week where we considered information as a freedom and justice issue within the context of political science and international conflict, students were tasked with selecting an image that felt significant to them after considering that week’s readings, and speaking for 1-2 minutes on why they chose that image and how it resonated with their understanding of concepts within the readings.

So far, the assignments have been a success. The biggest success has been generating conversation between students regarding the choices they made, and what concepts are more difficult to grasp than others. The assignments are low stakes in terms of points, but really help to start off each class session with energy (not a small thing for a 12:00-2:50pm class), and the chance to work with concepts in a more personal, engaging way than just academic narrative appears to (1) inform how well students understand the concepts presented, and (2) make students much more open to discussing difficulties they encountered in the material, both in terms of comprehension and in terms of struggling with questions of social justice within particular contexts. This is no mean feat–before we explore information in different disciplines (such as economics and business, health, political science, and others), students have to master theories of freedom and justice. This means the first few weeks are heavy on political theory, which can be tough for students to get through. Low stakes assignments designed to elicit questions and identify challenges early mean that by the time we make it out into the disciplines we want to explore, students are comfortable with identifying the concepts of freedom and justice at work, as well as identifying those not actively considered by parties to various information conflicts.

The assignments also prime students for discussion–students have been eager to share their work and creativity, and the way I organize class is usually around a number of larger discussion questions instead of lecture. Because students have just engaged with sharing their assignment, moving into discussion about the readings (which were the foundation for their assignments) works well in terms of transition. We move from sharing the assignment, to covering concepts and lingering questions, and then into application across cultures and connection across disciplines.

It’s not all fun and games; my students are required to work on a research paper throughout the term–more on that in the next post. But so far, both the syllabus-decisions and the engaged journaling exercises (hat-tip to Dr. J!) have been huge successes for my course, and I’m looking forward to seeing how students respond to the next iteration when I intentionally include their feedback. I’m going to be doing a search for some literature on faculty who have involved students this way in syllabus-building, so if you know of any good reads on the subject, please share!

Looking at Summer 2015

Things on my librarian brain:

  • Our library team is working on our MOU (Memo of Understanding) in response to the program review we recently had (where outside folks come in and evaluate us). [Side note: in my previous life as an Access Services manager, an MOU was the first step in the disciplinary process of an employee. Not so with this MOU, this is just a normal response with a 2 and 5 year plan to address each item where needs were noted.]
  • Sort of related to the above, the 2015 ACRL Immersion Program has begun! Though I won’t head to Seattle until the beginning of August, the Moodle course is up and running, our readings and pre-assignments have been posted. I’m hoping to leverage the Immersion program to inform how we want our information literacy program to evolve for a growing campus with semistatic resources.
  • A “freemium ” model of peer-review, where authors could pay for faster review of their articles, was pretty much unanimously shot down as privileging moneyed scholars over non-moneyed. It was a trial by Nature Publishing Group to outsource peer-review for authors who could pay the price and were interested in being published faster. What if research funded by private interests is able to pay Gold OA fees and expedited review fees, whereas researchers dependent on academic institutions cannot? Does it matter if research funded by private interests, or more well-to-do universities, can be published faster? There’s still a shred of equality left in peer-reviewed journal article publishing (note I said a thread; I know this area is also fraught with politics and foibles). Is this something librarians are keeping an eye on, and/or talking about?
  • I’ll be working on my Freedom & Justice Studies class in this summer’s GE (General Education) Design & Assessment Institute in early June on campus. Among other things in the day-and-a-half learning opportunity, I hope to better match my assignments to student learning outcomes (I find I can always learn more in this area!) and turn my major class assignment into one of the campus Signature Assignments. The program is limited to 12 slots, so I’m very excited for the opportunity.
  • Submitted a journal article to the Journal of Practical Academic Librarianship, but in re-reviewing it, I think I may have benefited from a more thorough literature review. I’m expecting that one to bounce back, but we’ll see.
  • Completed the preparation work for a new research project with a colleague in the Communication department, and will be bringing the IRB paperwork to my chair so she can sign off on it before it heads to the IRB committee.  We’ll be looking at whether supplemental information literacy material (in the forms of point-of-need tutorials and a discussion board with a librarian) have any impact at all on student research products.

Spring 2015 Faculty Accomplishments Celebration

Each spring semester, the CSUCI Broome Library throws the gala of the year, the Faculty Accomplishments Celebration.

The Library hosts the faculty accomplishments database, where you can go ogle our faculty and their work. The celebration is a chance for faculty to get together and see what each other are working on, and discuss interests over delicious foodstuffs. Not only does the library host the shindig, but the planning happens months in advance. This was my first chance to attend, as a newbie, and what a wonderful time it was! The library hands out awards, celebrity-roast-style, such as the Golden Bookend, the Golden Clicker, and the Golden Key to the Library, with concomitant descriptions for why each faculty member won. There was much laughter, and it was just the point in the semester where I think we all needed that to lift our spirits. We played Cards against Faculty (a slightly more PC-version of Cards Against Humanity) as well as mad libs where nouns and verbs were removed from faculty publication titles. A local Mexican food truck catered, and everything smelled heavenly. A nerdy good time!

Each faculty member’s accomplishments are included in a printed booklet, not only provided to attendees, but sent with a personal note from our President to each Board member to alert them to our faculty’s work. The Library also makes a lovely printed-and boarded poster for each faculty member with an accomplishment with the person’s name, title, and the title and abstract of their work. (I’m tickled that I’ll be getting one this year.)

In our recent external program review, it was mentioned that faculty members claimed to use the celebration as a goal, because they always wanted to have had something published or presented by the deadline to make it into the awards book and get a poster. When I was interviewing here in October of 2013, as soon as people realized I was interviewing for the Library position, each person regaled me with tales of the annual party, informing me that the librarians took their jobs seriously when it came to making sure faculty had fun. They would peer at me closely, and say, “Our librarians are party people. Are you a party people?” (I am pretty sure this was at least as important as my actual qualifications in terms of fit.)

My colleagues did a huge, wonderful job of planning and hosting the annual shindig, and I’m already looking forward to helping out with next year’s.

I don’t know that you can overestimate the value of the goodwill outreach can create for your library on campus. Here, our faculty really appreciate the fact that they are, well, appreciated. And that we show them a good time!

Faculty Accomplishments 2015

Faculty Accomplishments Booklet

2015 Faculty Accomplishments Booklet (There I am!)

There I am!

Barreling Toward the End of My First CSUCI Spring Semester

In order of importance, the things going on as the semester careens to a close:

On the library front:

  • Finals are coming, finals are coming! Students are feeling the pressure, which means we at the library do, too. ALL OF THE PRINTING.  On an admittedly less-than-superior printing setup. And the last papers of the semester, so we’re seeing some hail-Marys at the reference desk;
  • This will be my first finals where I take lead on the end of semester feedback. We set up “graffiti” boards with giant post-it’s on whiteboards asking what we’re doing right, and what we can improve, and collect all that information. We also have a student survey, and a faculty survey. My colleagues all tabulate and organize the data, and we’ll see what we can do to improve for next finals season;
  • The 24-hour library. The week before and the week of finals, we stretch the library and its staff to 24 hours for our students. Thank goodness for the folks who work the overnight! I’m picking up some 6am shifts, but those are easier for me than the late evening or midnight shifts, now that I’ve apparently become an elder;
  • The Party of the Year is later this month: The Faculty Accomplishments Party. Cited by faculty as THE party of the year, and something that spurs them to get some research published or presented by the deadline, this bash is where the library celebrates our faculty here at Channel Islands. There are awards, faculty who have published or presented something in the past year get a spiffy poster of their work, and there is general merriment. And wine and beer. And laughter. This will be my first, and I’m excited, since when I was here for the interview, nearly everyone cited it as The Most Important Thing to Know About Being A Faculty Member Here.

On the personal/life front:

  • Lots of doctor appointments, since I’ve been feeling crappy. Turns out I’m gluten intolerant, and nightshade intolerant, and all-sorts-of-foodstuff-intolerant, so I’m going on the autoimmune protocol diet. A royal PITA in terms of food lists and preparation, but apparently it’s what I need, so. Hrmp. Think super-restricted Paleo-style. No grains/gluten (but corn! But rice!), legumes, dairy, eggs. nuts, seeds, sweeteners, nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.), modern vegetable oils, refined sugars,  and processed food chemicals. Since part of my reaction is histamine-related (a bad reaction and all of my tattoos actually raise up on my skin!), that also means no lemon, lime, kiwi, mango, processed meat (ONOES BACON), bananas, and strawberries, among other things. SAD. PANDA;
  • Fabulous Husband and I have gotten into the habit of walking the dogs to the dog park. There’s nothing quite so silly as a duo of basset hounds running a few laps, and then collapsing for the rest of the hour. Except maybe the sight of Fabulous Husband and I running, trying to encourage them to get up and chase us;
  • Fabulous Husband and I are signed up to do a 5k at the end of the month, right before our 2-ear wedding anniversary. Which I have not at all begun training for (the 5k, not the anniversary), and is the result of a New Year’s Resolution when I was feeling feisty. Oh, New Year Colleen. You were so optimistic. *pats self on head*

On the research front:

  • The magical and hard-working copy-editors at The Journal of Academic Librarianship have done their work, fixed my gaffes, and that article should be coming online shortly;
  • Today was the deadline for book chapter proposals from library directors discussion leadership skill lessons learned. 36 excellent proposals received (woohoo!), and now (well, likely next weekend) I have to go through them and do some selecting, and respond to the authors by May 1;
  • I’m finishing up editing the chapters for another book on contemporary women poets and mythology. These authors have been extremely patient with me as timelines were extended due to my health, the move, the new job, my health, etc. I’m looking forward to having these out of my hands, and this project out into the world;
  • I have a few articles in the works. One more coming out of the dissertation on leadership development at different levels of the organization (probably to submit to College & Research Libraries), one on using ritual theory to explore chronic illness (proposal accepted by New Directions in the Humanities), and one on intersections of myth, technology, and information literacy;
  • I’ll be presenting in mid-June at CaVraCon (California Visual Resources Association conference) on using digital images in information literacy instruction;
  • I’m waiting to hear back about my proposals to present at the internet Librarian conference in October. I think those announcements usually go out in late June or early July;
  • I have a full-length poetry manuscript out and under review at a few different small presses;
  • I have 3 manuscripts in-progress and one data-collection project that I won’t fool with until summer;
  • Oh, yeah, still working on that Ph.D. in Mythological Studies. Which reminds me to pack my reading for the first spring session.

And in teaching:

  • My last information literacy sessions are next week, early Monday morning and late Tuesday evening;
  • Which means it’s time to look back at the stats and see how we’re doing, and who we’re touching;
  • And I’m in super informal discussions with the chair of the Freedom & Justice Studies minor about the possibility of my teaching FJS 340 in the Fall semester. Titled Explorations of Freedom and Justice, it’s an opportunity to pick a wicked problem and look at it across time, cultures, and disciplines. I’d like to look at information access as the wicked problem, and am having a grand old time culling building a bibliography, structuring a syllabus, and thinking about how I can develop engaging assignments.
Possible sources for FJS 340 readings

Possible sources for FJS 340 readings (minus the 50+ journal articles under consideration). Do you have recommendations?

What’s In A Name? Academia, Name Changes, and My Experience

Today I read a piece that hit close to home. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Andrea N. Geurin-Eagleman on dealing with academia, divorce, and name changes. The article does a good job of relating the concerns of many female academics I’ve talked to–namely, that changing your name may effectively erase all of the name recognition we’ve been building in our fields since we started out into the hallowed halls of higher ed.

Fabulous Husband and I are approaching our second wedding anniversary at the end of this month. Both before and after our actual wedding, we talked long and hard about what we wanted to do with our names. Our conversations covered a lot of territory, and these are some of the facets of the issue that came up:

  • I already had a significant number of publications under my maiden name, and was concerned about the academia/continuity-of-recognition factor;
  • We were both over 30 years old when we married, so each of us had significant years behind our birth names. To change them drastically felt jarring and awkward;
  • We also wanted to represent that we were both *adding* someting important to our lives, not erasing earlier portions of it;
  • I’m not particularly proud of my father’s side of my family, but I worked long and hard to make my birth name correspond to something good, and that was important to me;
  • I didn’t want Fabulous Husband to feel slighted by my struggle over this, and by my lack of assumption that I would automatically take his name (to his credit, he was incredibly understanding of my angst);
  • I didn’t want Fabulous Husband’s family to think I felt like I didn’t want their name;
  • I *did* want to take Fabulous Husband’s name;
  • We very much wanted to legally share the same last name;
  • I had poet-angst about the Naming of Things, and what it meant for identity and self and movement through the world to change one’s name.

After much long discussion, we decided to hyphenate and become the Harris-Keith family.

That’s right. My name is Dr. Colleen S. Harris-Keith, and I am a hyphenator.

We both legally changed our names, so Fabulous Husband had to go before a judge and swear he wasn’t changing his name to escape debt, avoid authorities, or avoid identifying himself as a sex offender. It was a lot of work on Jed’s part–not just the court paperwork and cost, but reassuring Worrywart Wife that he really wanted this and did not feel pressured, and dealing with his father’s side-eye. (To be fair, my mother gave me similar side-eye, and told me to just take Jed’s name and be done with the Harris part of things.)

Every couple has their own decision to make in this area. It’s an incredibly personal decision. I didn’t realize how much of my own personal identity I had attached to my birth name until I was asked if I wanted to change it, so I don’t throw shade on how anyone else decides to handle the issue. The naming of things is a powerful force–I believe this as a human and especially as a poet. The naming of ourselves is a significant power, and one many of us don’t really consider until we are faced with the option of changing it. (Librarian side note: this option always exists, and you can change your name in most places with just some court fees and paperwork–check with your county clerk office–but I know I didn’t truly think of it as an option until I got married.)

I did not, at the time, consider that the DMV, doctor offices, and various other necessaries in life work with software that is particularly unkind to those of us who hyphenate, but they figure it out eventually. I’m called Mrs. Keith, Ms. Harris, and any number of other permutations of the letters in our name, and take it with general good humor (while double-checking that the name on file is actually accurate).

Effectively, I feel like I got to have my cake and eat it too. (After all, what good is cake if you cannot eat the stuff?) In my case, it makes it relatively easy for my CV and other academic work. In my earlier career I appear as Colleen S. Harris, and now it’s Colleen S. Harris-Keith, so I feel like I am still recognizable. My husband and I share the same last name, which makes us happy. We’re both happy with the identity marker that includes our birth and married names, and it’s relatively easy to pronounce (though it makes us sound uber-British, which we’re not).

And when Fabulous Husband finishes *his* doctoral program, name-wise we will be The Doctors Harris-Keith, which, you have to admit, sounds pretty damn cool.

CFP: Chapters on Academic Library Directors and Leadership

A call for chapters! I’m turning my dissertation into the preface for a book intended to help our directors overcome what data indicate are severe shortfalls in leadership development prior to the directorship. I’m excited that ALA Editions has contracted for the work. See below, and contact me with questions or for more details!

Edited volume title (tentative): So You Want to be an Academic Library Director: Leadership Lessons and Critical Reflections

Publisher: ALA Editions

Editor: Colleen S. Harris-Keith

A number of studies have highlighted that we know what the leadership skills and qualities are that make a good library director. However, there’s not much research that says where academic librarians in particular develop those skills along their career paths, giving the impression that all paths are considered equal. Recently collected data from mid-sized college and university library directors (a much larger leadership pool than just ARLs) reveals disturbing information: not only are not all career paths equal in terms of preparation in particular skills, most academic library directors don’t get to exercise those skills until they become directors (Harris-Keith, 2015). This implies that while academic library directors should be developing campus relationships and informing scholarly communities about important information issues, they are often distracted by the overwhelming work required to get up-to-speed on those necessary leadership skills.

After a thorough introduction addressing the literature and data related to this issue, this volume collects lessons related to very specific leadership skills from the experience of practicing academic library directors.

Proposals are requested for critical, reflective essays addressing the development of one of the skills in relation to a specific project or challenge as academic library director:

Allocating Resources

Budget Management

Building Community Partnerships

Building Teamwork

Business Ethics

Community Relations

Communicating Expectations

Compliance Issues

Computer Technology

Conflict Resolution

Cultural Diversity

Decision-making

Enforcing Policies & Procedures

Faculty & Staff Development

Fundraising/Donor Relations

Legal Issues

Managing Change

Problem Solving

Program Evaluation

School Safety Issues

Strategic Planning

Student-Focused Learning

Vision Articulation

Submission information

Please send titles and abstracts for a concise 2,500-3,000 word essay on leadership lessons as well as a 75-90 word author bio in the body of an email to colleen.harris-keith [at] csuci.edu

Proposal deadline: April 17, 2015

Acceptance notifications: May 1, 2015

First drafts due: November 30, 2015

Final drafts due: March 31, 2016

No previously published or simultaneously submitted material, please.

Editor bio: Colleen S. Harris-Keith serves as Information Literacy Coordinator and Assistant Librarian at the Broome Library on the CSU Channel Islands faculty. Previously, she also served as Head of Access Services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and as Assistant Head of Access & Delivery Services at North Carolina State University. Colleen received her MLS from the University of Kentucky, an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and will graduate with her EdD in Learning & Leadership from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her work has appeared as book chapters in Library Management Tips that Work (ALA Editions, 2011), The Frugal Librarian (ALA Editions, 2011), Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (ALA Editions, 2010), and Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators (Neal-Schuman, 2009), and as articles in Library Review, Journal of Access Services, The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, and Library Journal.

[Cited study: Harris-Keith, C. S. (2015). An exploratory study of the relationship between academic library work experience and perceptions of leadership skill development relevant to the academic library directorship. (Dissertation), University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN.]