Project Planning: First Open Session Review

10 Oct

I can be honest about things and I know when I didn’t technically fail at something, but still kind-of did fail.  Case in point: the first open research lab session.

When we last left this project, I had been promoting, setting dates, getting excited and trying to avoid patting myself on the back for things that hadn’t happened.  The next thing I knew I was in bed for a week with the flu (or flu-like sickness).  It hit on a week when students were working on their first big assignments and when I had a few classes I had expected to meet with.  One class was specifically a research lab.

As I checked my email I was able to re-think how I promoted the planned open research lab.  One professor told her students to come to the open session if they wanted an extension on their assignment (8 of 20 showed) and graduate level students who needed appointments selected to meet at the open session rather than a later appointment.  In the end I had 10 people show up, which was a good number.

I know why they showed up though.  Had I not gotten the flu, I may have been alone that evening.  As much as I had promoted to specific classes, I need a way to remind people of the upcoming session.  Flyers around the library will work, but other libraries seem to find email to still be the best way to communicate with students.  I think this is the key to make sure this success isn’t a fluke.  If I can communicate better with the identified classes, then I can maintain a good turn out to sessions.

Want to read an a great article about this?  Here is one I found!

Torrence, M., Powers, A., & Owczarek, L. (2012). Research Rescue: The USF Tampa Library Enhances Library Instruction. Florida Libraries55(2), 31-37.

Project Planning Step 2: Just Do What You Want

26 Sep

There are many difficult steps in planning something including step 2: moving beyond setting goals.  It is easy to decide what we want to do and why we want to do it.  It is more difficult beginning to get it done.  This is even more true when academic librarians move from the quiet, project driven summer and move into the hectic, chaos driven fall.  I often have the best of intentions in the summer because I have no idea how things will play out in the fall.  I always feel that proper planning in the summer allows me to relax in the fall.  In the summer I have no real idea what will happen in the fall.  Every fall is different.  This is my 4th fall at this specific library.  This year I actually feel a little less chaotic about what is going on, which is weird and probably won’t last much longer.

I did a much better job of doing what I really should have been doing in step 2: promoting this and getting stakeholders.  I am just beginning to feel the panic that will result in just doing whatever I want.  My project, for those who just started, is running open sessions for the College of Health Science students.  Before I moved into actually talking to people, I had to decide who to speak to.  My stakeholders are:

  • College of Health Science faculty: these are the people who invite me into the classroom (when they can), encourage the students to work with me, and who want to collaborate with me.  These are the people who can’t always embed me in their classes in any way, but know how important research skills are for their students.  Focusing on this group brings me to the School of Nursing faculty who have been my biggest supporters over the past 3 and a half years.  I should include the Exercise Physiology and Community Health faculty who have recently discovered what I can do for them and want it all.
  • Undergraduate CHS students: these are typically the ones learning new skills when it comes to critical thinking and have to learn to navigate the library webpage and resources on top of that.  I rarely get to see these students as these students have so much content to learn, that time with me is almost impossible for the professor to give up.  The School of Nursing designed a freshman semester class where I see them 1 time.  The other two departments that utilize my services are still trying to find the right place for me in the program so I know I am missing many of their undergraduate students.  Few of these students are critical thinkers, but most understand the concept of research when you explain the aspects they need to keep in mind.
  • Graduate CHS students: these are my best customers, especially those in the School of Nursing graduate programs.  They usually just need help using the tools rather than understanding the big information literacy issues.  Most of these students have been working as professional nurses and don’t write the way we do in academia nor have they been doing research.  They are critical thinkers, but they need help with the rest of it.
  • Library & Campus Administration: my supervisors are stakeholders because we need to show our role in the modern university.  A successful program can be tweeked and used with other departments.  It can also be used in our annual report.  The College of Health Sciences can even use it to promote a unique aspect to their program.

I opted to focus on efforts on the CHS faculty and the School of Nursing graduate students as outreach efforts.   I identified the classes I wanted to promote to and got syllabi for them.  The goal was to select the date when students in these classes were working on assignments.  The selected classes would also see me early in the semester so I could promote this as follow up to sessions.  I openly acknowledge and don’t try to cram everything into my sessions. I can easily talk to them about these types of sessions and what we will accomplish in them.  I also decided to designate the third of the sessions (happening in early November) to RefWorks since so many of them have problems using RefWorks, but do universally use it on campus.

With the dates and classes selected, I have begun promoting the sessions.  Bless LibGuides and their calendar tool.  I just slap it on the LibGuides for each class and for the programs.  I even put it on guides for other classes.  Even though my plan includes three specific classes and dates were selected based on those classes, I want to see who else will come to the open labs.    The faculty’s immediate feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but nothing counts until the students actually come to the labs.  The faculty are stakeholders, but the students are the primary ones.  They need to show up for this project to be successful.

This leads me to Step 3: running the labs and measuring my success.

Fails of Our Field: Education

19 Sep

Before I start this, I want to thank the Tumblarians who responded to my request for feedback on my questions.  Not only did you spread the word, but you responded in amazing ways.  Thank you all so very much.

It has been a while since an entry.  Leslie has departed for the UK for a year at Oxford Brookes University to get a second masters degree in the History of Medicine.  I have jumped feet first into the fall semester trying to build upon what I have already done and improve the service I provide as a librarian.  More on that later.  A few weeks ago the Tumblarians passed around this image:

It's a meme!

It’s a meme!

It got me a bit fired up because it came a few weeks after a big Time article about the problem with the Millennial generation.  I feel terrible for new librarians and I get frustrated seeing more and more come to the field without any idea of what they are walking into.  Not only are they not seeing the problems with jobs in the field in general, but their education may not be preparing them properly.

This December will mark the 10 year anniversary of my graduation from my MLS program.  I have been a professional librarian in the field for 9 years and have been in the field for about 15 years with my student positions (some a various levels of professional status).   I had no idea what I was doing.  I was told I had to learn how to catalog even though I knew I was going to be a reference/instruction/out reach librarian.  I was told to take classes in the subject area of my preference so I would know what sources to direct people to.  I was told to take an instruction class to learn how to teach (even though I had spent years supporting countless librarians in the classroom and was teaching a few myself).  I was told to decide if I wanted to take a research class OR a management class.  I was told to take tech classes like learning how to code webpages and how to manipulate search engines.  So I did all of that and got into the field and had no real idea about what to do.  Not that my colleagues had any other idea.  They were still a bit stuck on the fact that this type of education was no longer useful for their own jobs.

I got very lucky with one thing though.  My management professor was an adjunct with a 9-5 job as a library director.  He was also a leader in the field when it came to management of academic libraries.  I took a class on academic libraries with him.  If it had not been for him, I would have been obsessed with the wrong things when I started my job.  I did walk away from my degree with the ability to develop a project plan, the ability to build support for my ideas, and a sense of what issues were facing academic libraries.  There were under-tones of his two classes: this degree will not prepare you for anything you deal with daily.  Part of me has hoped that education has improved, but most of the value of my degree has really been in connections and it being a golden ticket into professional jobs that I had actually been trained for in the field.  I get more value from professional development classes than I did from my MLS classes.

The problem, as I see it, is the divide between what they are teaching us as theory and what is happening practically.  They are two different things because the web is changing our field.  It’s no longer about the reference book that will help answer a question as much as how do we empower our users to find things.  A lot of classes focused on minutiae details about how to catalog, how to search dialog, which source will answer this type of question.  Many Tumblarians said their classes are focusing on really big picture issues like advocacy, censorship, and soft skills.  A lot said they lacked a good management course.  Another said a class about PR and outreach would have been great.

I agree!  What have I learned on the job that I wish I had learned in school: information literacy (not BI), setting outcomes and assessment, creative thinking, pretty much all of what I learned at the ACRL Immersion program, leadership skills as well as more management, PR and outreach, grant writing (over other types of writing), and more that I can’t think of anymore.   I wish my course work could have been better connected to the type of library I knew I wanted to work in.  So many issues I learned about were for public libraries that have little to nothing to do with my job.

Management should have been required instead of a full cataloging course.  Yes, I should have learned cataloging, but I only ever need the basics.  A light course would have been much better to teach me why it’s important and how I will use it instead of how to measure a book so I can put it in the correct field on a MARC record.  Research should have been required too since I was focusing on academic libraries.  I don’t think it would have been too hard to design courses of study for people who do identify a specific type of library and position they want to have.  Many have no idea, but most do know.

I will also put one other idea out there that many others have said to me (those who know our field, but aren’t part of it), yet no librarian has ever suggested it.  Most practical fields require frequent re-certification of skills.  I have teacher friends who spend their summers in continuing ed courses to keep their certification current.  We are teachers, we are in a rapidly changing field.  Why aren’t librarians expected to be certified and re-certified?  I am not sure it’s the answer to our educational issues, but it is something worth considering.

See my original call for help on Tumbler and the responses people are adding.  People are still adding comments and I am excited to see if anything changes.

Switching Things Around

13 Aug

I know we missed an entry last week.

I had one, but I dumped it after a re-read.  Why?  It was angry and negative.  That’s not what either Leslie and I want for this blog.  I go through phases of anger and frustration with librarianship, as a field.  I love what I do, but many of us know that being a modern librarian is not easy at the moment.  My entry was a good vent, but not appropriate to share with the public.

I want to make sure you all know that things are about to change here on Librarian Fails.  First, the school year is about to start and that means it will all be crazy-go-nuts.  I know public librarians are wrapping up the insanity of summer.  Academics will spend from now until May in a similar state of constant panic.  That means this blog is going to do just one entry a week.

Also, only I- Sara- will be posting entries.  Why?  Leslie is off to the UK for a year!  The story is for Leslie to share, but the gist of it is that she is going to be focused on a different subject entirely.  Since Leslie is going to make herself super-smart, I will be burning the midnight oil to make sure you get a post a week.  I am open to ideas, guest posts, and more.  We are still accepting entries about how QR codes have failed.

So, this week I am getting organized with what I want to cover here.  Feel free to submit your fails or comment on what we have already posted here.  Also, leave Leslie a message about her year in the UK!

Project Planning Step 1: Set Goals

1 Aug

A find a lot of my failures happen because I fail to plan things properly.  I love a good project plan and I love making project plans.  Even with all my love, I often don’t think to make one.  I just go forward and do things.  Most librarians I know are great with envisioning their programs and projects.  I am one of those.  I can do the planning like a pro, but it all falls apart after that.  The key to it not falling apart is to make sure I plan properly.  The first thing I always do is set some goals and objectives for what I am doing.

Let’s take the project I mentioned in my last post: Open Research Labs for Health Students

What are my reasons for doing this?

  1. I know one one-shot session is not sufficient to creating information literate students.
  2. I know many professors can’t even give me that one-shot session.
  3. There is only one of me and many classes that I can’t go to for help.
  4. The one-shot sessions I run do not necessarily help students problem solve research problems.
  5. When students are actually researching and creating assignments, they need to be able to easily get help.

That’s my language, not goal language.  I need to translate these into goals.  Goals need to be realistic, action based and measurable.  The last one is really difficult because you have to know what success looks like.  You also have to be realistic.  My reasons break down into two things: I want reach more students and classes in order to support student’s research needs and I want to increase the information literacy skills of our health students in order to improve the quality of their research.  A small side of this is to maximize the use of time.

How can I change these into goals?  One way is easy: past statistics.  I know I do about 15 health related one-shot instruction sessions a semester.  I know I have actually turned away 1-2 classes every semester due to general timing issues.  I know about 5 classes have already indicated they don’t have time for me or think the students have had enough in-class instruction.  I know 2 departments in the College of Health Sciences would like to work with me more, but don’t want one-shot sessions.

Goal 1: Run 2 open research lab session in Fall 2013 focusing on research heavy classes from the Exercise Physiology  and Community Health departments in order to increase opportunities for students to get help with research assignments.

Goal 2: Work directly with 2 professors (one from each department) in order to select dates, times and promote sessions in order to ensure at least 5 students attend each session.

I like the phrase “in order to” and I learned that the year I attended ACRL’s Immersion program.  It forces me to explain what the outcome of my goal will be.  You can see that I am not going nuts for the first semester.  I just want to work with 2 professors and get 5 students to each open session.  Why so few?  Well, I don’t want to over reach and set myself up for failure.  I know open sessions rarely get high turnout.  I know, from a few past ones done, about 4-5 people show up.  I also want to consider this a trial run.  If this works, then I can adjust the goals.  I am only focused on 1 semester, 2 professors, 2 sessions and getting 5 students to come to each session.  Two professors does not mean 2 classes as I expect they will both have more than 1 classes to include.  In the end I have something measurable.

What do you think of the goals I have set?  What would your goals be for this project?

Next week: identifying stakeholders, collaborators and getting feedback.  Help me by giving me some feedback!

New Project That May Just End In A Fail

25 Jul

I have been away for a few weeks because of holidays and vacations.  Two and a half weeks away from everything was something I really needed and enjoyed to my fullest extent.  It gave me a chance to think about what I want to do at work moving forward.  I made a decision to try a project here that is very likely to end in a failure of normal proportions.  First a little background.

One facet of my current positon is to work with the College of Health Sciences.  At my university, the departments and schools here have a great relationship with the library thanks, in part, to my predecessor.  She really cultivated the relationship and I have used that to my advantage. They are open to new ideas and letting me experiment with programming and support for their students.  I believe they are very happy with the work I have done for them and I am happy with what they have let me do.  The thing is, I am not even reaching 1/4 of the classes and students.  I have focused on specific departments that have come to me.  It is time for me to find ways to support the rest of them.  I am much more like an embedded librarian to the departments than I am like a liaison.  

I know some things about the groups that have not come to me:

  1. Most of these classes are not research oriented classes, but practical knowledge classes.  This means they test knowledge rather than synthesize ideas in papers.
  2. There is a lot to cover in these classes and my taking 1 session for a demo/one-shot session is not going to happen.
  3. Many of these professors have never met me or do not even know they have a liaison in the library.  Those who do know believe I am just here for collection development.
  4. Most of these professors believe their students had enough instruction in previous classes despite the fact that they are still frustrated with their students research skills.
  5. A few did not have a good relationship with my predecessor.
  6. A few want to work with me, but can’t seem to make it happen due to timing or other issues.

Over the past year I have made great headway with a nursing research class that doesn’t have time for me to come in for a one-shot session.  The nursing program designed an undergraduate curriculum that is very rigid.  This is not uncommon for nursing programs in my experience.  This means I have 1 opportunity to see these students in a seminar they designed to deal with issues including research skills.  This one-shot session is not working the way they hoped and we all know it.  We are just not able to change it yet.  One solution has been to work with this research class to run open lab sessions outside of their class period.  The professors and I set a date and time for them to come and work in the lab on their research.  I am in the lab and I work with them.  Instead of me standing at the front of the room and running demos, I deal directly with their problems.  If I see something the entire group needs to see, I show them in a quick demo.   In the past year I have gotten at least 5 students in each of the 4 open lab session.  

Open sessions and academic libraries typically don’t work together.  Leslie and I tried open sessions with the faculty just last year and wrote about that fail here.  There isn’t much published about open sessions because they typically fail.  I have some theories as to why they fail.  They key idea is that I think they exist outside of academic reality.  I find students don’t do anything unless their professors tell them (even then they might not) or they really need it and know it will help.  I suspect we don’t connect open sessions to something useful and problem solving.  I suspect we select random dates and times hoping to be convenient.  I suspect we use them as opportunities to reenforce our self-image of sage-on-the-stage.  I have seen four libraries try open sessions while I worked there.  They always fail.  

I want to do open sessions, but I need to not repeat the same thing we have done in the past.  Here is how I am hoping to be different:

  1. I am calling them open research sessions and modeling after the class I described above.  I won’t be teaching them a database or tool.
  2. I am going to work with the faculty to target specific research classes to promote these to.  Dates will go on class LibGuides so they can see them.
  3. Dates will be selected based on when research assignments are due 

I am going to let this be a fail lab for this blog.  I am going to apply all the things I have learned about failure, planning and reflection to plan and execute this program.  We will all watch failure happen and have a chance to give me some feedback.  Actually, let’s start now!  I bet you have run or have seen others run open sessions.  What am I missing?  What have I failed to consider?  How big will this fail?  Might this actually succeed?  If this actually works I may actually hyperventilate because I really do expect this to fail.  Success is my secret fantasy, but failure is my reality.  

The Flip Side of Failure: Success

27 Jun

Leslie came to me the other day and told me she was running out of ideas for entries.  I thought about it for a few days and realized it may be time to talk about the flip side of failure: success.  Why?  Well, sometimes success is connected to failure.  First, success can come after many fails.  Second, you can succeed, but fail in understanding why.  Third, you can have a surprise success in, what would otherwise be considered, a failure.  I am sure there are other ways failure and success are connected.  Feel free to share in the comments.

Today I want to address the second I mentioned: failing to understand why you were successful.  I learned, maybe later in the game, that success and failure can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively.  The best review of a program or project is to look at both.  As I had mentioned in the past, at my previous position my job was to shift library instruction to an information literacy model.  One of the aspects of this, initially, was making the faculty more aware of information literacy and instruction.  I had to pull a freshmen writing program into a relationship with the library.  I went on an agressive publicity program.  I had correctly guessed that those classes that did come in did so because they always had done so or because the faculty had taken advantage of a similar service at another university.  My campaign worked and our numbers grew every year.  After just a few years I had doubled the number of sessions.  I was also talking about information literacy on campus and had a few colleagues doing the same.  I assumed, based on my numbers alone, that I was successful in getting the faculty to understand information literacy and buy into the program.

It was a casual conversation with one of my close faculty collaborators that made me realized I had it wrong.  We had just gotten LibGuides and I wanted to build one for her class to go along with the library session.  As I explained why I wanted this I saw something click for her and as we kept talking I realized I had just explained information literacy to her.  She confirmed she had not really understood it all before.  I realized that I may have misunderstood my success.  As I spoke to more faculty I realized I had only successfully promoted the instruction program, but I hadn’t successfully explained information literacy.  I was able to begin rethinking the message I was trying to share once I understood what had happened.

When trying to understand success, just like with failure, you have to do your best to get a full picture.  Had I not gotten the chance to hear from a faculty member I wouldn’t have changed anything and my success could have quickly turned into a failure.



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