>Rehashing #unpackLIS

>Friday was “Unpacking the ‘Library’: Exploring Works in Progress Across the Field of LIS.” This conference was significant for me not only because I had a blast as an audience member, but because it was the first conference I have helped to plan and run. Our goal with the conference was to use it as an extension of B Sides Journal‘s dual mission of professional development and education, and it was a resounding success! I’m planning on writing another post on the process of planning a student-run conference, but for this one I wanted to focus on sharing some of the takeaways from all of the awesome presentations!

The day began with some technical difficulties, which moved Angela Murillo and Rachel Smalter Hall‘s keynote from being a presentation to a more informal conversation with the audience.When Angela and Rachel were thinking about what to talk about, they were brought back to thinking of B Sides as an innovative publication, and decided to focus on a talk about innovation throughout the history of LIS, particularly as it related to access. Dee Crowner, from North Liberty Public Library, told the speakers about her library’s transition to a Dewey-less library, saying that access and innovation are vital, or else your library just becomes a warehouse. Some of the points I found most compelling from this talk:
-The importance of ownership–we must own our ideas to be leaders and innovators.
-Technology gives us tools to build and drive the field in new ways, and we should use available tools to embrace our goals (they cited the example of finding a space for B Sides: had the IR not been there they could have used WordPress or another digital publishing platform.) The important thing to remember here is that technology is not the innovator, we are!
B Sides was created as a place to share ideas and get feedback to develop them further. The goal was not to create just another journal, but to create a space where a wide range of topics and formats were welcomed. This allows us to share not only the articles we write, but also classwork or work we produce out in the field.
-Towards the end, one audience member asked about our readership. The journal is in catalogs of digital resources in academic libraries around the world, and we get an international readership. The question was then raised about how we have a conversation with our global audience. Right now, we don’t really have an answer, but it’s something to think about as the journal continues to expand and adapt!

The next panel was Technology in LIS, which started with Courtney Walters‘ discussion of using social media as a new professional who’s working on the fringes of the field, which has made her feel more informed and connected and exposed her to new ideas. One of the most important points she made was that social media can be a way to increase access to networking and current events. Conferences, professional memberships, etc. can be cost-prohibitive for unemployed/underemployed graduates, so using social media is a way to maintain professional involvement.
Ian Mason talked about a faculty survey he did at the Center for Teaching and Learning to assess technology use and satisfaction with CTL. Some of the most interesting things I found about his talk were some of the answers he got from participants: for example, the majority of faculty members answered ‘I have no idea’ in response to a question about how proficient they were with different technologies. Although some faculty members were using these technologies, it raised questions for me about how we measure our own proficiency and how we work with faculty to make them feel more comfortable and proficient. He also mentioned the possibility of showcasing faculty work to the whole school so that faculty members could see what was being done with technology in other departments.
Leila Rod-Welch spoke for a bit about her research on the use of social networking tools by ACRL member institutions. She studied over 300 institutions (Leila, by the way, is a really motivated researcher–she never ceases to amaze me!) after her own experience with reference led her to realize students’ heavy reliance on web-based communication. Many institutions had some such offering in place, but she found that the most effective method was to make the library’s social networking presence known on the home page so users could find it easily.

The next panel was on information literacy, and was set up as more of a discussion with q&a throughout than as a panel of three talks. Rachel was also on this panel and brought up the excellent point that rather than focusing on teaching people to use a technology ‘correctly,’ our focus should be on helping people understand what they want from it and then teach the skills needed to reach those goals. She does this when teaching computing classes at Lawrence Public Library: she goes around the room and asks everyone why they want to use a computer, and then can tailor the class to meet those needs. She has found this student-centered approach to be much more effective than forcing a structure on the class, and inspires me to look at this method in my future teaching.
Katie DeVries Hassman was also on the panel, and talked about her experiences teaching undergraduates. Part of her approach that I love is that she tries to help her students understand authors as people with certain viewpoints and backgrounds, rather than these invisible creators. I like that because it fosters a critical mindset as a part of information literacy, a point Rachel also made early on.
Megan Conley works with undergraduates in the sciences, and mentioned that one of her biggest challenges was how to reach student at their point of need when you are only visiting classes once a semester. Her desire to reach students has led her to believe that more informal instruction through reference is vital.
A big take-away from all of these talks was that information literacy is something we don’t often learn much about in LIS programs, but it’s a part of an increasing number of job descriptions. Even when it’s not, you can expect to find instruction in multiple literacies pop up in a lot of settings. All of them also stressed the role of reference: even those most basic IT or reference question can be conceptualized as related to information literacy because you can help patrons become more literate. Most importantly, it’s vital to respect basic technology and reference questions because it builds trust and rapport with patrons, making them feel more comfortable about asking more complex questions later on.
The panel sparked some really exciting questions and comments from the audience that I think are relevant both to myself as someone in academia and to people who are out in the field. Andre Brock talked about his approach to teaching social media in his (awesome) class, Social Informatics, where students participate in a class blog on WordPress. His approach is to make clear that the assignment of social media has a purpose in the class and is relevant to learning, and this lowers student resistance to blogging. Patricia Katopol asked how we should alter the curriculum in SLIS to incorporate instruction. The answers centered around both the responsibility of the department to offer programming, but also the responsibility of the student to seek out opportunities. For example, SLIS could offer more TAships, but students interested in instruction should also be seeking out mentorship or volunteer opportunities to incorporate that into their experience.
Another great question that was asked: what qualifies you to be a good teacher? There wasn’t really one answer to this, although ‘someone who’s always learning’ was tossed around, and it could probably be expanded upon (if you have ideas, I’d love to hear them!) Dee Crowner mentioned that those seeking instruction experience should look for opportunities at smaller libraries (LIS students, take note!) Students could come in and teach staff (or maybe patrons?) about a particular technology, which is especially helpful for small institutions where staff don’t have the time/resources to learn new technologies on their own.

After a panel on job seeking (I was running around during this, but I’ll get some notes and post them!), the focus shifted to the history of libraries and librarianship. Kalmia Strong gave a talk on the history of radical librarianship in the US, which had originally been a paper for her Cultural Foundations course. She talked about radical librarians in the 1930s who dealt with issues surrounding peace, segregation, and unions. In the ’60s and 70s, a rich discourse about radical librarianship began and included a variety of publications. This tradition continues today, which Kalmia argued is important because it allows us to become aware of others’ ideas and actions whether or not we agree. One of the overarching themes of her paper was the argument by radical librarians that our profession is innately radical, and that part of our work is to engage critically with the existing system. Another interesting point she made was that it can be hard to find a radical librarian in a radical workplace, because libraries (like most workplaces) do not always facilitate the overtly political or radical within the confines of the workday. Radical librarians see librarianship as a calling, not a job, and so take their ideals outside of the workplace to engage with their communities and work for social justice.
It was a really fun talk, and I liked that she was able to show parallels between radical librarianship in practice and its role in academia and the construction of theory. Some of my favorite researchers were mentioned, such as Wayne Wiegand, who cites the importance of engaging with critical theory. My favorite quote was from Christine Pawley: “When we no longer think there is a problem, the hegemonic ‘invisible’ or premise control is complete.” The biggest take-away here: that librarians who want to embody the profession’s ideals can be ‘radical’ no matter what their political leanings.
Katherine Wilson spoke about the library in the Vilna ghetto during World Wat II. She not only discussed the history of the library (which is fascinating and is part of a larger project studying a handful of libraries) but also cited the creation of the library as an act of resistance against forces in power because it provided a way to maintain Jewish heritage and a way to strengthen the ghetto community. Some of the most interesting things she learned had to do with what people read and how much they read. The circulation rates for this library were incredibly high, and the texts most often read were light fiction, mysteries, and romances. The librarian, Herman Kruk, speculated that these books provided an escape during a time when more and more community members were being killed and when everyone was living with the fear of deportation.

The last panel of the conference dealt with collection development. Brittney Thomas talked about mashups (i.e. Pride, Prejudice and Zombies) as a way to encourage reluctant readers, particularly boys. By bringing in and encouraging the reading of mashups, she says we are providing a way to abolish the banking method (when we view learning as the instructor depositing knowledge into the heads of quiet, willing learners) and move towards a place where kids are interested in and excited about reading and where everyone can be a teacher and a learner. Why? because we have stopped looking at the goal (which might be to get kids to a certain reading level) and started looking at the process (what’s getting them to read.) The question then becomes, are they reading? If the answer is yes, then the collection is working.
Christine Mastalio spoke about developing multilingual children’s collections. What I loved about her talk was that she stressed the importance of these collections for all libraries, not just those in big cities. Citing immigration statistics and the fact that the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Project tries to move people to mid-size cities or towns, she made it clear that most libraries are going to have some multilingual/immigrant users who could benefit from such collections. One of the most important points she made was to be conscious of how the collection is presented to patrons: if the foreign language materials are shoved in a corner in the back and rarely added to or acknowledged, it implies that these are considered secondary. For immigrants who may already feel uncomfortable using the library because of language barriers, lack of familiarity with such institutions, or lack of familiarity with the community in general, having a less welcoming collection can make them feel even more hesitant about visiting. This potential discomfort was something that Christine addressed when talking about community demographics (and I think this can go beyond immigrants to a number of groups): if someone doesn’t feel comfortable using the library, they won’t, but that doesn’t mean you should assume they don’t want to or that they aren’t a part of the community you serve.
Megan Conley spoke again about doing collection development without having learned much about it while in school. One of her goals with the collection is to make it friendly and more searchable, and to be attuned to the needs of patrons (i.e. providing more digital materials.) She made a few points that really stuck out for me: first, that small schools like hers depend upon interlibrary loan to address requests in the long tail (i.e. those outside of a core popular group of texts), but with libraries having to make cuts those larger institutions may not be able to provide all of what she needs. She also discovered that many of the core texts used in the classes and the field were not available electronically, which made it hard for her to meet patron demands for digital copies. One of her last points was one that really stuck with me, and I think should inform us both as LIS educators and students: in LIS programs, we tend to focus a lot on early adopters and on new technologies, which makes it easy to overestimate the abilities of our patrons. By doing outreach and listening to patron needs, we’re better able to meet them at where they are instead of where we think they should be.

The conference was wonderful beyond my wildest dreams thanks to our presenters and attendees. We had all the talks in the same room, which meant everyone saw the same sessions. This was nice not only because people got to gain exposure to a variety of topics, but also because the speakers would draw on what was said in previous sessions, which meant that a number of themes emerged that tied the day’s events together. Collaboration and innovation were the big two,
I was also excited to see how engaged the audience was–every q&a was filled with thought-provoking questions and breaks between sessions were marked by discussion about the field of LIS. The conference also drew a diverse audience–we had SLIS students and faculty, which I’d anticipated, but also a large number of librarians, information professionals, and others from around the state. If you attended I’d love to hear what stuck out for you!


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