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A Critlib Conversation with Faculty

In August I was asked to uphold my end of a St. Mary’s Teaching & Learning Grant bargain. The money I received helped me attend the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium in February 2016, and in return I would be expected to lead a Teaching & Learning Lunch about critical information literacy for faculty. The lunch took place in early November, but as I’ve mentioned, last fall–particularly late fall–was a mess of tenure & promotion angst. So I’m just getting around to posting now.

I’m doing so because I think discussions like these are worth having. They show our non-librarian colleagues that we think about and teach more than just how to use interlibrary loan and find articles. They encourage faculty to think more deeply about the ways in which critical information literacy has a place in their courses. They have the potential to help instructors shape lessons, assignments, and classes that encourage students to explore the socioeconomic, political, and cultural context of information creation, dissemination, and consumption. This teaching and learning lunch was, in my opinion, a successful one. It got my colleagues outside of the library thinking and talking about information literacy as more than just “information access.” It demonstrated that we–the librarian “we”–are thinking deeply about education and our curriculum, and it reiterated the place that critical information literacy has in a liberal arts college.

I may be repeating a version of this workshop/discussion for a larger faculty audience this spring, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share my outline and handouts. Note: I didn’t get to everything in the outline, but I am leaving it as is in case you have more time. If you adapt or use this outline and handouts in anyway, please let me know! I’d love to hear about the critical information literacy discussions you’re having with faculty at your institutions.

Teaching & Learning Lunch Documents:

I also shared the following examples of critical information literacy assignments and activities:

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Emerging From Deep Introspection

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Photo by Matthew Henry via Unsplash

Much of November and December was spent working on one thing: my portfolio for tenure & promotion to associate librarian. I knew it was going to be time-consuming, often tedious work, but what I didn’t anticipate was the emotional toll it would take on me. Colleagues and friends all talked about the stress relief they felt upon submitting their portfolio–It’s out of my hands, now!–but few shared much beyond that. I assumed my path would be similar to theirs:

  1. Procrastinate
  2. Stress
  3. REALLY stresssssssss
  4. Scream about formatting issues
  5. Submit
  6. Have a beer (or three)

Instead, my process was more like this:

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There were a lot of tears. I felt resentful. I felt proud. I felt like a huge phony. I wanted to scream. I wanted to burn it all. I wanted everyone to see my work. I felt important and insignificant in the span of the same day.

I know it seems ludicrous to be so worked up over something that in the long run doesn’t make a huge difference to anyone other than me and the family that depends on my gainful employment. This should be on par with a yearly performance review, but somehow it feels like so much more than that. A group of senior librarians, senior faculty, and administrators are going to look at a portfolio that is meant to distill the last 6 years of my life into a series of professional accomplishments. Yes, there is context thanks to the personal statement included, but I sometimes want to scream: There is more to me and my life than what is in this portfolio! During these six years I’ve grieved, been a new mother, gone through surgery, worked with my partner through his numerous health challenges, been a friend, a wife, a daughter, and a parent. I’ve been a person, not just a librarian, but there’s no room for that in the tenure portfolio. Maybe that’s why so much of the emotion makes its way into the process; there is no room for it in the final product.

I’m writing this post in part to make sense of my intense emotions over the past few months, but also to let you know that if you’re riding the tenure portfolio prep emotional rollercoaster, you are not alone. I think any activity that demands that you share a significant part of yourself–mind you, out of context from the rest of your life–to be judged by others is a recipe for tears, laughter, pride, and anger (among other emotions). It’s an act of emotional labor that separates the you of your work from the whole you, and it is hard. So I guess my only words of advice would be a rip off of Dan Savage‘s good sense advice: If you’re working on your tenure file, go ahead and feel your feelings. Feel the f*ck out of your feelings, and then just do it. I’m proud of you.

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Returning from the ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter Fall Forum

I was invited to speak at the ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter Fall Forum at beautiful Swarthmore College last Friday, November 11 (thank you, Sarah Elichko!). The days leading up to the event were, to say the least, emotional. On Tuesday, Nov. 8 my family and I stayed home from work and school to celebrate the birth, death, and brief, in-utero life of my son Connor. We planted tulip, daffodil, and crocus bulbs; made a chocolate pie; took a family trip to show that we were with Her; and generally just spent time together.

We also watched the election results.

I went to bed on the verge of tears, hating that what should have been a day of remembrance and celebration turned into an evening of fear, anxiety, and disgust. I woke up on Wednesday like so many others–angry, disbelieving, horrified. I exchanged hugs with students and colleagues on campus, and listened to people sharing their broken hearts. Then it was time to drive to Pennsylvania.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel speaking in front of and being around a crowd, but thankfully, I was among friends. The topic of the forum–Critlib: Theory and Action–should have been a signal that these were exactly the type of people I needed to be around at that moment. It was inspiring to hear from Jeremy McGinniss, Romel Espinel, and Adam Mizelle about the work they’re doing in their own libraries. Also, the closing activity led by DeVon Jackson at Villanova University just tied everything together beautiful. It was a day of sharing, but also a day of planning the resistance for the four years to come.

I thought I’d share my slides which include the text of the talk with you, in case you’re interested in reading it (you can open the speaker notes by clicking on the gear below, or just clicking on the linked text above). I think now more than ever we’re going to need critical voices in librarianship and in our country. I might still be sad, disheartened and angry, but I’m also ready for the fight ahead.

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A Brief Economics Lesson

50, 20, and 100 dollar bills

Money! by Tracy O on Flickr

Last week I had a breakthrough. It was during a class I’ve taught at least 2-3 times each semester for the past 5 years–Intro to Politics–and was such a welcome surprise. Faculty who teach this course typically ask students to write a short literature review on a topic of their choosing (related to politics, of course). I usually come in after the review has been assigned, armed with different information source types. I ask students to divide into small groups and determine which sources are “academic” and why, but then take it a step further and ask them to determine if (and how) a source is “helpful.” It’s a bit more nuanced and is my attempt at subverting the strong emphasis faculty place on “scholarly, academic sources” as the only sources worth using. We have a large class discussion about what makes an information source academic, but more importantly we discuss how different types of information sources can be beneficial to their research.

The class I taught last Tuesday followed this model, however the professor had students find their own information sources rather than having me provide them. The result was a much deeper discussion that hit on the economic underpinnings of information production. Students were quite savvy about advertisements in online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, but were completely unaware of the cost of academic information and barriers to accessing it. It ended up turning into a wonderful social justice discussion about academic publishing. Some myths I helped to dispel included:

  • Academic journal subscriptions cost $50-150 per year for libraries (I WISH).
  • Peer reviewers get paid to review article submissions (Ha!).
  • Open Access journals are poor quality scholarship (nope nope nope).
  • Academic sources are produced by non-commercial publishers (LOLOLOLOL).

That last comment was made by a wide-eyed student who stated that everything she thought about academic sources was wrong! It was such a fun, and powerful discussion, and it got me thinking: How can I purposefully integrate this serendipitous discussion (or ones like it) into my future classes?

I ended up partially revising a class I was teaching the next day: Research Methods and Writing in Psychology. I usually run this class as a workshop, introducing students to different databases and stressing the use of appropriate search language and following citation trails. I talk about the importance of keywords when searching databases, but I never talk about WHY we use them beyond the standard, it’s how databases work! After a call out to Twitter, and watching this supremely inspiring video by Maggie Murphy, I decided to really focus on the why of keyword searching. It was a great discussion to have with a group of juniors and sophomores, some of whom were die-hard Googlers and others who exclusively used database like PsycINFO. We talked about money and search algorithms, what database vendors spend their cash on, what Google is searching when you type in a phrase or whole question, and just what a keyword search does and why. I wanted students to understand the underlying structures of these information resources so that they could then explore them as more effective researchers. The students seemed to really internalize the difference in search approaches, and as I wandered around the classroom during their searching it was clear that they were using different approaches to databases than they were using to Google Scholar.

I don’t know if these are discussions I can incorporate into every class, but I am certainly going to try. Have you had an inspiring critlib teaching moment recently? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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Contemplating Sabbatical Leave

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel on Flickr, aka the cabin where I dream of reading, writing, and thinking for a year.

I’m submitting my file for tenure and promotion to associate librarian this January, so the level of stress, anxiety, and general ARGH is up to Code Red this semester. I’m trying to stay calm, prep for classes, and work on some writing and general library projects, but one task has all of my attention at the moment: My sabbatical proposal. Applications for sabbatical leave for the 2017-2018 academic year are due to department chairs on September 15, so I have approximately 9 more days to read-revise-reread-rerevise my proposal. I’ve been through a number of edits already, and think it might just be in the right condition to submit, but my nerves and fear are stopping me.

Despite the faculty status librarians at my college have enjoyed for the past decade, and our recent Board-of-Trustees-approved move to fold us into the review process by the College Evaluation Committee, this is the first time someone in my library has applied for sabbatical leave. It’s scary being the first to do something, particularly for someone like me who was always the cautious kid on the playground. Adding to the stress is the fact that my husband is also applying for year-long sabbatical leave (we’re at the same college), in hopes that we’ll be able to spend the time reading, writing, and researching in Texas.

Over the summer I received some wonderfully thoughtful advice about sabbatical proposals, leave, and projects from Maria Accardi; read Donna Witek’s amazing sabbatical proposal; and stared in awe at Barbara Fister’s sabbatical proposal and project. I’m a mess of jumbled feelings and thoughts right now:

  • I realize that the project I propose might not be the project I end up accomplishing at the end of this leave.
  • I fear not being granted this time to read, write, learn and hopefully offer my own thoughts and scholarly contribution.
  • I hope that the stress of spending a year away from home with my 5 year-old son in tow will be worth the time spent away from work.
  • I worry that a year of leave time will just make me resent my 12 month, 40 hour-a-week (on paper anyway) administrative-style faculty position, which leaves me with very little time to work on my own scholarship.
  • I’m excited for the possibility of a break from what has felt like a rocky and overwhelming two years of work.

I’ll end by doing something that scares me: Sharing my work-in-progress (but more or less complete) sabbatical proposal. It’s far from perfect and draws a lot on the work I’ll be doing this year, but writing it has me feeling hopeful for the possibility of a year of leave. I’m doing this in large part because it was extremely difficult to find existing examples of librarian sabbatical applications, and I’m hoping that I can encourage more people to share. As Tracy Clayton, one of my favorite podcasters says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I want more librarians to see other librarians apply for and be granted sabbatical leave.

I’ll write with an update in the spring about whether or not my sabbatical application was approved. You’ll either get a joyous announcement or a supremely disappointed post, but you’ll hear from me regardless.

 

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Information Inequality

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Photo from the World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr – The Jugaani, Georgia Village School computer lab

I just finished rereading David James Hudson’s recent article — On Dark Continents and Digital Divides — and I think I finally *get it* (insomuch as anyone can really *get* a text once it’s released into the academic wild). I do my best sense-making while writing, so consider this post my attempt at understanding what I think is a really important piece of critical discourse analysis in LIS. There’s so much to unpack, and I know I’ll miss something–or misinterpret something–so I just ask that anyone reading this call me out when I’m wrong (trust me, I need it).

Hudson argues (convincingly, I think) that the narrative of “global information inequality,” otherwise known as the digital divide or information privilege/poverty dichotomy, “operates as racialized discourse in the field” and perpetuates colonial belief systems within LIS (p. 64). Essentially, when we talk about information inequality, we’re talking about race without the guilt? pressure? burden? of having to say the words. Despite our best intentions, we (the royal, librarian “we”) have adopted information inequality as our social cause without acknowledging the racist, colonialist historical and political context that set the stage for and continues to shape this disparity. There’s also an inherent privileging of Western ways of knowing and creating, accessing, and sharing information that needs a deeper critique.

So yeah, I’m a fan of this article.

I will admit to jumping on the end-the-digital-divide bandwagon without much critical thought early in my career, in large part because I am a librarian and this seemed to be an easy, non-controversial cause that librarians could easily get behind. Who doesn’t want people to do or be better? Why shouldn’t everyone have access to the current knowledge and technology economy? What Hudson really hammers home (to me) is this idea that the framing of information inequality (and its connection to poverty and “lack of progress”) places the deficiency squarely on the shoulders of individuals in the developing/majority world, rather than on developed/minority governments and cultures which are active participants in the shaping of economic and educational disparities. The current Western information-communication-technology model is presented as what all individuals and governments should aspire to attain, but we, as a profession and a discipline (LIS) do not take the time to really unpack and analyze why exactly this is “fact.” In doing so we “reproduce…racialized difference…implicitly” (pg. 74).

Earlier this week I led a small group discussion for a subset of our college’s orientation leaders on the novel Americanah. We quickly began talking about the American tendency to not want to talk about race, as though by not acknowledging a person’s racial identity, which doubtless has shaped every aspect of their interaction with the world, we are somehow rising above racism. Yet in doing so we just find other, coded ways of giving voice (and action) to our own biases. The racism isn’t eliminated, it’s just given a new suit. This narrative of information inequality that Hudson so compellingly dissects is steeped in racial politics and racist history we do not acknowledge. (I’d also venture to guess there’s some sexism / patriarchal bullshit in there too). It deserves critical attention from all of us and I so appreciate the space this article opens up for these conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer is Slipping Through My Desperate Grasp

I wrote an email to a friend/former colleague this morning, and along with the obligatory “I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond” statement, I included, what I thought at the time was a funny, albeit melodramatic line:

Summer is slipping through my desperate grasp!

After I wrote it I sat and stared at it for far too long. I realized it was not so much funny as just sort of true.

At the end of the spring semester my interim library director and I agreed that I would work from home on Fridays. It would be a chance for me to work on  writing projects, do some much needed reading and research, think about teaching and pedagogy in a deeper way, and begin work on my tenure file. It worked exceedingly well in June. Coffee in hand every day, I managed to submit a chapter proposal, write some blog posts, devour Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (which is amazing, btw), and finally take the time to actually read all the critlib writings I’ve been wanting to read.

Then July happened.

I took a vacation. I fell behind on my writing. New projects started to pile up, and suddenly the things I wanted to do–the things that helped me recharge–were no longer the most pressing. I started letting others add Friday meetings to my schedule. In short, I stopped protecting my time.

Now it’s August 2 and I am living in a mild state of paralyzing panic. I know what needs to get done and I know I will get it done, but I also know that what I love–the research, the writing, the reading and connecting with others–is taking a backseat at the moment.

How do I bring it to the forefront again? How do you do it?

My new library director is certainly an ally in my efforts to make time for meaningful work, but I struggle to find that time for myself. I know I will not wake up at 4am to exercise or write. I know I will not work on research or interesting library projects after I do dishes and put my son to sleep and take a shower in the evening. How then, can I find space for personally meaningful work in my existing day? How can I recharge and bring the same excitement I had at the beginning of the summer to the start of the fall semester?

Answers are welcome, as always!

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Joining ACRLog

I’m so excited to announce that I’ve joined the ACRLog blogging team! My first post was just published this morning, so please check it out and let me know what you think! I will absolutely continue to write here on my personal blog and already have a few new posts in the works. More to come…