Future Librarians and Immediate Challenges

I don’t feel ready, but I am going to try another blogpost-a-day on a theme, like I did in August, and hope I finish the month out this time. Why do I keep picking long months to do this? It is the timing of the need. A lot of the blogposts I write are in response to questions I am asked here or projects that are going on. Today, I attended the first part of a local initiative called FutureLibCon. The theme of the whole event is roughly what is the future role of academic librarians, what should we be doing. The topic today was on social media, and what role, if any, is appropriate for the librarian in supporting education. People talked about whether social media is appropriate to use in education, and whether librarians:

(a) should teach social media skills,
(b) should teach digital literacy skills as they apply to social media,
(c) should teach digital literacy skills more generally,
(d) should use social media to teach digital literacy,
(e) should use social media only as it comes up in order to support education in whatever form it takes,
(f) ….

You get the idea. The discussion was wide-ranging. I tried to mostly keep my mouth shut and listen, since this is a topic on which I have more practical experience than well-thought out opinions. I started teaching Delicious almost four years ago, I think. I started not just with how to, but also why, what it did for personal and professional productivity, and also touched on ideas for how you could use it educationally. Heck, I still think it would be interesting to have students select quality resources on a topic, tag then for the faculty to review, select appropriate description tags thinking of specific audiences (self, peers, general), and practice writing well-crafted brief annotations. That is a substantive assignment right there.

Anyway, I didn’t think so much about whether or not I should do it, I just did it. There was a tool I was using and finding useful, I could imagine many other ways it might be used, and wanted to share the tool and ideas with others. People liked it, and I was asked to teach the class several years running. That was the first social media tool I taught, but it sure wasn’t the last! My current position as the ETechLib derived directly from doing this type of work, from discovering the tools, and applying them, to sharing them via communication and education.

One of the questions that came up today in the small group discussion was what is the role of the librarian in this environment. I can understand why folks are asking, and it is a good question to think about more deeply, and someday I should do that. Today, I’m afraid my response (inside – I didn’t say it) was a bit on the glib side. We do the same thing librarians have always done!

MLGSCA09 Cerritos: What do libns do? (answers?)

I firmly believe that these roles (discover, select, collect, organize, husband, access, preserve, assist, share, teach, outreach, research, advocacy, create) persist in all information and education environments, irregardless of the technologies or tools. These are core values of the profession, not simply tasks. There is the potential for an almost infinite number of examples, but what I hope to do this month is perhaps build a new tech blog equivalent of the annotated bibliographies that librarians were making before I went to grad school, like the old Oryx Press series edited by David Tyckoson who I knew back in Iowa. David was great at this. You’d have a topic or question, review what’s available, select la crème de la crème, provide clear information on how to find it, and note clearly specific reasons why the item selected was valuable. In certain of these bibliographies, you’d also include information on other matters such as recommended audience, and possible uses.

In keeping with that general goal, the topic that is burning in the brains of most educators this fall is the flu, specifically H1N1, and how to keep things going if either the students or faculty take ill, or if it becomes bad enough that people are told not to congregate. I seem to hear something along these lines several times every day, from all different kinds of people. “Continuity of learning” seems to be a popular phrase.

ASCD. H1N1 and Continuity of Learning. Sept. 24, 2009.

ASCD. H1N1 and Continuity of Learning Webinar. September 30, 2009.

ED.gov. H1N1 Flu Information.

In higher education, there a some nice things being done in many places to try to help faculty be prepared to teach remotely if necessary. The concept I’m hearing here is referred to as “social distance-ready courses” or “social distancing teaching format.” For myself, I prefer the former, so that is what I will try to use. UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison have both provided some particularly good information, as has the University of Denver. Each of these is distinct and different, and if you keep looking you will find many other schools that have done likewise. All I’ve seen are good, I am just selecting these three as useful illustrations of different approaches.

University of Denver. H1N1 Continuity Plan Teaching Support Page.

UW-Madison. Instruction in Time of Pandemic.

UW-Milwaukee. Academic Continuity.

All organizations are recommending preparations that enable teachers to engage students who cannot come to class, teach when they cannot come to class, and have alternative assignments and lectures prepared in case they are themselves too ill to teach and need to call in a substitute. UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay has developed or mention a particularly nifty set of guidesheets to support what they are calling D2L conversionDesire2Learn. They are also providing a series of workshops (similar to our own Teaching and Technology Collaboration-TTC) focusing on various useful skills for engaging students remotely, creating online-only assignments / projects / collaborations, and adjusting existing courses to alternative formats. Here are some of the workshops they are offering to help their faculty increase their preparedness for teaching in health emergency situations. Here are some of the workshops they have selected as being particularly relevant to this situation.

• D2L: Just the Basics!
• Using D2L discussion forums for effective teaching and learning
• Developing small group work in online and blended courses
• Grading your students: Assessment in online and blended courses
• Using Respondus to import quizzes and test banks into D2L
• Redesigning large enrollment courses for online and blended learning
• Using voice‐over PowerPoint presentations to deliver content online
• Digitizing video content for online and blended courses
• Facilitating real‐time interaction in online & blended courses
• Introduction to clickers
• Develop easy‐to‐use online activities and games for student engagement
• Second Life for teaching and learning
• Digital storytelling workshop

Around the University of Michigan area, I’m impressed with the guidelines from LS&A that were put in a wiki, making it easy to update and modify, as well as making it possible for multiple people to take on editing responsibility if the main person can’t do it for any reason. Excellent thinking! They have broken out a lot of the most likely uses, and selected just a few appropriate tools in each category. Really, this is a very nice starting point.

LSA Teaching Through The Flu: Just-in-Case Options for Handling Flu-based Absences:

You probably thought I was digressing from the topic, so let me circle back. In each of these collections of resources for preparing “social distance-ready courses” they quite rightly include just a few basic tools that their particular campus is recommending and prepared to support. There are a few ideas for how to adapt assignments and learning opportunities, but for the most part they expect the individual faculty member to come up with this on their own, as it is after all their own content! I’d like to see a little bit more in the way of creating an idea bank of non-standard distance-ready tools and innovative or creative ways these could be used in support of learning. Our Cool Toys Conversations group has been doing some of this each month, looking at unusual tools and brainstorming ways they can be used. What I hope to do this month, is each day highlight a tool or type of tool, and in the annotations give a few ideas of ways this could be used in distance learning. I hope that the readers of this blog will contribute additional ideas in the comments. This is a little ambitious, but I think it would be really useful, even if it fails. So, fingers crossed, here we go, and do please help with more ideas and comments!


4 responses to “Future Librarians and Immediate Challenges

  1. I picked our discussion group because Melissa was leading it and she’s my former office neighbor, to be honest. I was pretty pleased when I saw you were in it, I figured it would be like LeBron joining my pickup game on the playground.

    I hope I didn’t take the conversation too far off track when I spoke, but I think students need to learn about privacy and maybe some etiquette online. I don’t think we can rely on parents, at least not yet. Maybe next generation.

    I wouldn’t have enough control over the presentation of Facebook to feel comfortable using it in curriculum — my sidebar ads always seem to be for things like “FIRST R-RATED MOBSTER GAME!” Maybe it’s just the people I hang with on FB. If CTools felt as responsive as Facebook usually does, then I would probably like it better.

    On a related note, I’m sorry you had to go to an off-campus service to host your blog, but I really don’t blame you


    • Hey, Britain! I loved being in the same group with you. I wish they’d done more organizing before so that we didn’t end up with clusters of folk from the same unit, and I wish they’d had a debrief so we could hear ideas from the other small groups. That said, our group was good and I really enjoyed and appreciated the conversation.

      I agree there was too much focus on Facebook. I think almost anything can be turned into a teachable moment or learning opportunity, but some things lend themselves more easily to education applications. Facebook is not one of those. It can be done, but it takes a bit of extra effort. I also agree that CTools isn’t doing the job we need it to do in some areas. I wasn’t surprised to hear someone say for functions that aren’t well developed in CTools faculty are going to outside tools. Makes sense to me!

      RE the blog platform, I checked out several. Since I’m blogging for work, I don’t want to pay my own money. I didn’t totally love any of the free options, but WordPress did most of what I wanted. I could get the rest of what I want if I pay money.


  2. Great post! I agree that all these social networking tools are in the realm of knowledge that libraries should be involved with and librarians should be teaching. We are the original information professionals and now information is social. These are the facts and trying to ignore them or argue against them is futile.


    • Oh, I love your phrasing, Holly! Social media as the Borg – “resistance is futile.” LOL!

      Seriously, though, you are right that change ALWAYS is happening, and each profession adapts and engages or dies. That pattern has been true for thousands of years, and dramatically for the past couple hundred. If we don’t do it, someone else will, or there isn’t a need for it. If you believe there is a need, then do something about it! I still keep rereading Vannevar Bush’s famous article, ” As We May Think.” Yep, we’re trailblazers. So do it.


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