if i don’t write this now, it may never happen.

Just into April and I’ve attended three 2015 conferences in very short order: Designing for Digital in Austin, ACRL in Portland, and just last week, OCULA Spring Conference in Jordan. I really enjoy going away and filling my brain with IDEAS. But then I come home to catch up with email and make sure I’m getting the basics of my regular job done and well, this all means that I haven’t prioritized sharing all the cool stuff from these conferences.

So, I’m going to work backwards & ‘strike while the iron is hot’.

Lots of Lightning

The #OCULA2015 schedule included two rounds of lightning talks. This is sort of unique, in my experience. Usually lightning talks are like the ‘appetizers’ of the conference world, and longer presentations are the ‘entree’. But I think this was an excellent choice. As I mentioned on Twitter, it was like a ‘show and tell’ for  Ontario academic libraries. We got an opportunity to see the highlights of what people are up to, and the discussion was diverse and far-reaching.

My favourites:

  • Jennifer Peters’ & Ewan Gibson’s fascinating work with Seneca’s digital media lab, the Sandbox. They’ve been enormously successful at developing modules on topics (like digital storytelling, ‘present awesomely’, and creating an e-pitch) and then being embedded into courses. So impressed by this stuff.
  • Jennifer Thomas is on exchange from Australia, currently working at Ryerson library. I just love how she took the initiative herself to make this exchange happen & the interesting similarities and differences between her home and temporary places of work. Hilariously, both libraries were using the same stock image of a student.
  • I got to hear Mindy Thuna & Joanna Szurmak talk about their interest in teaching with narrative again! I attended their 2013 OLA presentation & was inspired to try and use more narrative in my work. Just great to see how their research interest is evolving over time.

The only awkward bit with rounds of lightning talks is the Q&A (and this is not specific to #OCULA2015, elsewhere too). I think it’s difficult to ‘save the questions’ to the end of seven presentations. Which means that lively discussion and feedback are missing. I wonder if there’s a way to build in a few minutes of questions after each presentation, or whether that would completely kill the quick rhythm of this medium. I was also sorry that there wasn’t time for Q&A after the keynote speaker.

Colleen MacKinnon and I gave a lightning talk on the new UX team at Brock, using our ‘Get It!’ button story as a case study. It was a good (though tough!) exercise to force what you want to say into seven minutes. I hope we inspired others to ditch the ‘Get It!’ button too, if they haven’t already. It seems to be a hangover of when OCUL first pulled SFX in as a consortial arrangement, but it’s no longer necessary or in line with user expectations.

 What do to with our ‘wicked problems’?

The keynote speaker, Karen Louise Smith , gave one of those talks that was so perfectly timed for where I’m at with all sorts of questions right now. Her title was ‘Design Thinking in Academic Libraries and Communities‘ and I wouldn’t be able to sum it up, but I’ll share a few of my favourite tidbits:

  • Karen works with Mozilla on the Webmaker project and Hive Toronto. Both projects are deeply invested in digital media literacy & supporting people/ youth to become creators, not just consumers, of the web. I love this stuff — it’s right in line with my interests in getting more people understanding and editing Wikipedia.
  • Facilitation is critical in empowering users, not just hardware. Our staff are key. For example, if you are introducing a 3D printer, we (library staff/ librarians) need to offer support that integrates critical thinking skills and information literacies.
  • I’ve got to look up the UN’s ‘Design Thinking for Public Service Excellence‘ that she pointed to. Also that darn IDEO Design Thinking for Libraries that I’ve had on my ‘to read’ list for far too long.
  • How you *frame* a design problem is critical. She encouraged us to be very conscious as to how we define a problem we are facing, before diving into generating solutions. “Every frame will result in a different solution/ websites/ app/ policy.”
  • Karen pointed to a number of different models of Design Thinking, and made a connection to the iterative nature of action research (think, reflect, act).

The day ended with ‘Birds of a Feather’ & I joined the group considering how we can make connections with our local town or city. I thought I’d just be listening in, but it was a very engaging discussion and this felt like a really important topic the deeper we delved. One person mentioned how deep the ‘town & gown’ divide was in her city. We ended up focusing on building relationships with the local public library.

We talked about wanting to sit down together (univ./ college library + public library ), determine what the most pressing local needs are, and find out where the two institutions might already be overlapping. Someone came up with the excellent idea of developing a shared ’3D printing certificate’ that both institutions could recognize — why duplicate the training!? Our keynote speaker was at our table, and she said that, in the non-profit sector, there is a real need for support in accessing and making sense of census data and maps. What if the Data/ GIS librarian gave a presentation at the public library about accessing publicly available census data?

I also planted the germ of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in order to engage local hobbyists or interest groups, and support the process with tech know-how (how to edit) and old fashioned librarian know-how (search for credible sources & cite ‘em). I had to leave early, but it appears the idea took hold & the group made a poster about it!


The OCULA spring conference has really found a groove with the lovely setting and small-scale in little Jordan. Never mind that the lunch by the Inn on the Twenty is beyond. Kudos to the organizers: my old pal Denise Smith, new colleague Mark Weiler, and Peter Duerr for an excellent day.

train the trainer

I think about scalability quite a bit these days. And the liaison model. Here at Brock, we are running the traditional liaison model, with some functional specialties sprinkled in there, locally known as a ‘/’ or  ‘slash’. As in, “I am the eLearning SLASH liaison librarian”. And as liaisons, most of us have a pretty significant load of assigned departments. Personally, I’m covering the Fine and Performing Arts, which is 4 departments. My colleague Elizabeth Yates is responsible for the entire Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (5 departments!).

This means that, when we are invited to do instruction for a class, we really have to look at what we can accomplish with the resources at hand (ie. one human being).

I was asked to run a library/ research seminar for the first year Dramatic Arts course, in order to prepare them for their upcoming essay. This is a great opportunity, one we didn’t previously have in this course. It’s a large enrollment course (~160), so I was pleased to be invited into the seminars. I find that speaking in lecture to such a large group, even if you try to integrate activities and group work, doesn’t seem very effective. When given the chance to work with students in a smaller group, in a smaller room, with hands-on exercises, I find the questions and answers, and ‘teachable moments’ are aplenty.

But. The logistics of actually running those seminars are pretty daunting. I’ve done it in the past (say, 9 seminars for a Pop Culture class) and damn, by the end of things it is a well-oiled machine. The investment of time (and energy) is pretty enormous.

In this case, I couldn’t actually run all 8 of the seminars — many of them were scheduled at the same time (for example, 3 seminars in one time slot). And I couldn’t bring them into the library labs because that would be 60 students (over capacity for our 40-person room). And also, at 60 people I’ve lost the point of having a smaller-scale conversation.

So, I sent this predicament out to my wonderful colleagues at Brock. And Karen Bordonaro suggested the option of ‘teach the teacher’. In other words, prepare a lesson plan for the Teaching Assistants and they run the seminar. Aha! So, that’s what I did. Below, I’ll share what worked, what didn’t, and what I might do differently next time.

What Worked


The seminar rooms are not tech-equipped. But I really wanted the students to do some searching for this seminar. (I initially thought I could go completely concept-based & not even need tech, but… I got scared.) The instructors and TAs assured me that a good number of students brought laptops to class. I decided to have them work in pairs on the activity, so that just meant we’d need 50% “Bring Your Own Device” to make this work.

And it worked! In most seminars, pretty much every student had a device. In some cases, they had fewer but enough so that every group was able to get online and search. I also had my fingers crossed that the wifi was decent in these rooms, and it was just fine.

Lesson Plan

I worried about ‘asking too much’ of the TAs. As always, it’s hard to judge what level of comfort with research each of them are bringing to the table. I decided to use our existing ‘Advantage Plus’ program in order to deliver some of the basics — it is an online tutorial consisting of videos, activities, and a quiz covering stuff like ‘finding books’, ‘the peer review process’, etc. This way, a good chunk of the *content* was not a burden on the TAs.

I drafted a lesson plan with opener discussion questions to review the tutorial content, with pointers on how the TAs might help answer these questions. I laid out the activity with approximate timing, and provided a handout for students. I also listed troubleshooting tips for various elements in the activity. (The students were assigned a play & asked to find a book, journal article, and professional production. And cite it in MLA. Nothing groundbreaking there.)

Based on my observations, the lesson plan and handout worked just fine. Everyone seemed to understand the plan and it worked well within the time allotted. I saw students running searches, refining them, discerning if something was peer reviewed, and had the opportunity to provide support. It warms my librarian heart to see them get this instruction in first year — I think it will serve them well.

The TAs

They were great! We met a week in advance to review the lesson plan and tweak it if necessary. I had asked them to complete Advantage Plus in advance of our meeting to see if it raised any questions for them (and also as an attempt to start us all from the same place). Again, it was hard to gauge if there were gaps in their understanding, and no one really admitted to any unfamiliarity with the material. I recall my days as a grad student and the ever-present ‘impostor syndrome’. So, as a cautionary measure, I reviewed some searching basics and tips (“I’m sure you all know this already…”).

Since I didn’t want to completely leave them hanging, I decided to be a ‘floater’ during the seminars. I would slip in and out in order to answer questions (and introduce myself). It was definitely interesting to see how they each took a different approach with the material. They are, of course, confident and experienced with their students, and each with their own approach to teaching.  No matter the style, I think the TAs delivered the lesson competently and I would absolutely use the ‘teach the teacher’ approach again. Also, the TAs have an already set rapport with their students (and assign grades), so they do have that credibility that a librarian-as-guest often lacks.

A curious sidenote, almost every TA made a point of adding Boolean logic to the seminar (I did not suggest it). Yes, even using the words ‘Boolean logic.’ One had even shared this hilarious honey badger Boolean meme with her students in advance of the seminar. Especially excellent since the Brock mascot is a badger. Apparently, those TAs love them some Boolean.

What didn’t work

Flipped Classroom

I believe the instructors and/or TAs asked the students to do the online tutorial in advance of the seminar. But it was a bit confused because the actual deadline to receive the associated bonus marks was still a week away. So yeah, it was not a mandatory component.

Based on a show of hands in each seminar, it seems like around one-third to one-half of the students had completed the tutorial in advance of seminar. And a number of them had done the Advantage Plus program for another class last term, so even if they had done it, it was likely pretty fuzzy. So, that’s too bad. Although the students who had done the material did keep the class moving along and not leave too much of the burden on the TA to review the basics.

I expect this might be a common problem for librarians trying to flip the classroom. We don’t have that established credibility or relationship that supports the expectation of students doing work in advance of the class. Especially if the lesson plan completely relies on that material having already been addressed (which mine didn’t too too much). Tricky.

This could’ve worked better if the due date for the tutorial were aligned with the seminar date, or of course if the material were mandatory. Next time I could also ask if I could send the students a message over Sakai in order to communicate the flipped classroom approach.

 Jury is still out

Librarian Presence

Was it necessary or helpful for me to be there? I feel like the answer is a bit of a mixed bag. During the hands-on bit, I think it was useful for me to be there in order to help troubleshoot. In some instances, when we discussed  concepts like peer review, I was able to help with more challenging questions like ‘Are academic books peer-reviewed?’ But there were a few situations where I think my presence made a TA uncomfortable, as though I were monitoring them. My intent was really to be there as a support for the TAs (while also observing whether this lesson plan was working).

There were indeed a few bits of misinformation from the TAs during this seminar. It meant for a delicate situation where I either had to find a diplomatic way of correcting them in front of their students, or leave it uncorrected. I think I will be better prepared for that next time.

The Verdict

But was this any more scalable? I was still attending the seminars 7-10pm on a Tuesday night and 9-11am on a Friday morning. And perhaps my time wasn’t terribly well used since I was just there in case there were questions. Perhaps I could’ve just allotted a shorter amount of time to attend the seminar, rather than ‘float’ for the whole hour.  I did adjust halfway through after observing this: I waited until the seminar was ~15 minutes along before showing up.

Would they have been just fine without me? Probably. I sent a message to the TAs asking whether they think my presence was useful or unnecessary. We’ll see what they say! I think that in several cases, my presence allowed me to expand on or clarify certain points, and also make the students aware that there is a friendly liaison librarian for their subject area. And what if I go ahead and propose that the session run without my presence next time: Will I have lost my connection to the course? Will the lesson plan be adopted and used without involving the librarian in future instances? It certainly is a risk. Bottom line: Are the students any better or worse off if a librarian is present…?

So, this was mostly a reflection for me on how this (new to me) approach panned out, shared in case it is of use to anyone else. Of course, if you have tips for me, please share below!

*Update* Feb4

I received feedback from all 4 TAs and they all said that it was useful to have me in the classroom to help answer student questions. One did remark that it was distracting to have me coming and going. I can see that. All four said they felt appropriately prepared, which is great. An excerpt (shared with permission):

It was awesome to have you circulating. The students in my group held some of their questions for when you came back, and I don’t think I would have been able to answer them as accurately as you. Thank you for being there! I also think it’s important to put a face to a name – the students knew that there was a departmental specific librarian, but I doubt that many (or any) had ever thought to go talk to you personally. Your presence in the seminars reinforced that there is another resource available to them beyond their teaching team.

They also had a number of great ideas for improving the seminar, such as different strategies for organizing the group work and the idea of a list of tips for students at the end of the session (delivered via email or orally). They also suggested I add in the Boolean bit. I will definitely incorporate their ideas, should I have the opportunity to do this again.

Conclusion = ‘teach the teacher’ FTW.

elearning in libraries symposium


Geese at Point Reyes by fksr, via flickr

It was perfect timing.

Last week’s eLearning in Libraries Symposium came at the end of a week spent discussing the future of our homegrown research skills tutorial Advantage Plus, AND semi-frantically preparing for Brock’s submissions to the Ontario Online Initiative (OOI).

(If OOI doesn’t ring any bells for you, unfortunately I can’t point you to a source that clearly explains it. It’s a project funded by MTCU with the goal of developing a whole bunch of high quality online courses & a web portal for interested students. For some context, read Brock’s press release from last time around.)

Anyway. Between A+ and OOI, I’ve got online learning on the brain right now. And last Friday, around 45 librarians keen on eLearning huddled together at Ryerson U to share notes.

The Meta

(If you’re not interested in how and why this specific group got together, just skip to the next section. I won’t take it personally.)

The idea for this symposium grew out of a conversation with Jennifer Peters of Seneca. We wondered: Who else is working on eLearning in libraries? What are they doing? I wondered: What could I be doing better?

Jennifer set up a listserv and we started to pull people in. We became a ‘collective’. And we decided to put together a symposium: free (thanks to generous donors UTL, RULA, and Seneca Libraries!), cross-sector (not just academic libraries), and not linked to any particular association. And it happened! Ok, I’ll stop with the history. It’s just exciting when an idea evolves into a real and living thing.

Sparks by Christian Lang, via flickr

Sparks by Christian Lang, via flickr

All Pistons Firing

Pardon the excessive enthusiasm: I got a lot out of this day. And please forgive the rough ‘point form’. It would take me far too long to shepherd these ideas into a coherent narrative. Follow the links to the symposium website: there’s much more there, including presentation slides.

The day opened with an Instructional Design Primer, which was a thrill for me.  I’m pretty lacking in the theory arena, so I welcome any opportunity to deepen my understanding. We were so fortunate to have Anita Brooks-Kirkland a consultant with impressive experience in the K-12 sector (Oh, she’s also the OLA pres & an instructor at OISE). She presented, together with Jenn Peters, Diane Michaud of Laurentian, and Angela Henshilwood of U of T.

Integrating Tech & Multimodal

SAMR model: thinking about the spectrum of integrating tech in learning, from enhancement to transformation. For example, are you just using Google Docs to substitute for a Word doc, or are you using the collaborative features to augment or modify the task.

Multimodal: why is most eLearning stuff still so text-heavy? A reminder of the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines : emphasis on multiple media and choice/ autonomy for the learner. Dealing with an especially challenging topics, “they just don’t seem to get it!” — try approaching using a different medium.

What we can learn from Mayer and Moreno’s Seven Principles of Animation , research on multimedia learning tells us what we’ve learned from stumbling through: A more effective video used animation and narration, informal voice, & avoid extraneous sound/ text/ music.  (the article behind a paywall,  or a YouTube video summarizing the basic principles )

Great examples of multimodal learning: video (in person), animation, visuals/ infographics, but what about games or scenarios?? I’d been hearing people talk about playing with Twine, but had not explored it myself or thought of a great application.

Melanie Parlette-Stewart from U of Guelph piped up to say that they have created a Twine to help users choose a citation management tool with RefWorks being discontinued. Genius!

Design & Planning

Understanding by design book (Wiggins & McTighe) : insisting on the need for a 180 degree flip in how we plan a lesson. Typically, we start with the content (“there’s so much to cover!”), create an activity to cover the information, and assess learning with recall activities.

Instead, start by identifying the desired results, then determine acceptable evidence (aim to assess deeper and transferable learning) and finally plan the learning experiences and instruction. This is not the first time I’ve heard this, but it resonated in a big way. Also, it links up so nicely with my ‘user experience’ bent these days: start your planning with the user/ organization’s needs & don’t lose that focus!

Review of the ADDIE model, which had me thinking especially about that first stage, Analysis. I’ve never been involved in a larger-scale needs assessment (beyond a simple ‘pre test’ to students before a session). What would this look like?

Birds of a Feather

We did digital take-aways, shared for all to see. I was facilitating, but also joined the ‘generic v. customized’ discussion. Great big picture commiserating, but also some simple ideas about taking advantage of YouTube’s CC licensing to ‘re-mix’ library videos by trimming out items that don’t fit in your institutional setting (without re-making the wheel). Or even, taking generic content in a video and adding little openers or closers to make the content more customized. Simple! Smart!

Rapid Show & Tell

This segment was an opportunity to learn what others are up to. They are all captured on video on this Sessions page. Things that stuck for me:

Fascinating to see how some are using eLearning for staff training, especially those staff who are hard to reach — ie/ working evenings and weekends. Agnieszka Gorgon of Markham Public Library & Erika Pavkovic of Hamilton Public Library both used Articulate Storyline, with approaches including scenario assessment. There’s been some interest at MPOW for eLearning modules for staff as well. Hmmm…

Also from the public library world, we heard from Emily Burns about a staff development program at Oakville Public Library. Called sixthingstech and inspired by 23mobilethings.

Jennifer & Adele from Seneca talked about how they use Blackboard cartridges to import a content + quiz package into course sites. I’d heard about this before, but still… I’m jealous. Sakai doesn’t have a similar feature.

Kelly Dermody from Ryerson showed a whole bunch of things that Ryerson is up to, and man, they are up to a lot. I knew about a few already (like the nifty BookFinder), but I wasn’t aware that Ryerson had adapted York’s SPARK program : RUsearch. Kelly talked about how valuable a graphic designer was on their team. A couple of teasers about ‘flipped classroom’, and customizing their laptops? She emphasized that she works closely with a strong web development team.

Software Demos

Finally, we have some software demos & workshops. Denise Smith and I talked about SoftChalk and how we’re using it at Brock. And I attended Angela Henshilwood’s Articulate Storyline demo. Very useful to see ‘behind the curtain’ as she walked us through creating a snippet, especially since we’ve been curious about whether this software would work for us. I can see how it requires a real shift from developing a typical video tutorial. And we discussed the need for storyboarding, since it allows for branching and conditional stuff (if user clicks on x, take them down y path, etc.).

So yes, this day was very full of OMG WOW for me. It’s rare to attend something that speaks so directly to what you do. I’m so grateful to be involved with this collective & look forward to working together again & learning more from each other over the listserv.

Librarians’ Research Institute: Report

art at carleton library

Public Art in the Carleton Library

Last month, I participated in the Librarians’ Research Institute, sponsored by CARL and hosted by Carleton University in lovely Ottawa. The LRI is a 3 1/2 day workshop developed by librarians, for librarians to “provide practicing academic librarians in Canada an opportunity to immerse themselves in sustained conversations and activities related to scholarly research, inquiry, and publishing.” This was the 3rd iteration.

What was it like?

The Institute brought together 30+ librarians from across Canada including, for the first time, colleagues from non-CARL and Quebec institutions. It was a diverse and engaged group, with a wide variety of research experience. I am firmly at the novice end of the spectrum, but never felt as though that meant I had less to contribute. I was impressed by the level of focus — no one was multitasking (unheard of!). I am fortunate to have made connections with such an ambitious and inquisitive bunch.

The entire thing was run by 5 ‘Peer Mentors’  – practicing librarians who are accomplished researchers. Our Peer Mentors were: Selinda Berg (Windsor, also the LRI Co-Chair),  Cara Bradley (U Regina), Marwin Britto (U Saskatchewan), Pascal Lupien ( U Guelph), and Tony Horava (U Ottawa). They represented different career paths, research interests, and methodological leanings. The Institute was very thoughtfully planned, including a variety of formats, and it is clear that a whole lot of heart went into this.

no walkens poster

On a door in the Discovery Centre, Carleton Library


Given the  differing levels of experience and reasons for attending, I expect that the ‘take aways’ were highly personal. These are mine:

Know Yourself

Take into consideration your temperament and strengths when designing a research project. It’s okay and, in fact, wise to play to those strengths. For example, if you are introverted, you may not want to be cold-calling dozens of interview subjects. Some librarians might work best in collaboration, some might not. We don’t have a strict model, since we operate across the disciplines.

And pick something that excites *you*. That will help to sustain you through what can be a long, hard slog.

Remember the Broad Spectrum of Methods

Somewhat related to the first idea, I was reminded of the wide variety of research methods available to us! We discussed the categories: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Critical/ Theoretical. It was suggested that LIS tends to value quantitative methods & we have lots of love for a good ol’ survey. But that doesn’t make the other methods less valid! Don’t feel locked in by the methods that have high occurrence in our field.

Heck, you can even invent your own damn method.

Do Your Homework

Also, there are plenty of strong reference books on research methods — whether in LIS or broader fields of study. Use them. They might just have smart things to tell you.

We were discussing a scenario & the notion of assessing student confidence came up. I suggested that this is really hard to do & someone pointed me to a major researcher on this topic. Ahh right. I had recently been involved in creating a survey to assess the effectiveness of a library tutorial & we stumbled through the design of measurements, completely in isolation. I bemoaned the fact that we didn’t think to do some RESEARCH on the topic. This is a case in which research should have informed my practice, but it did not. That said, I am resolved to try and think bigger picture next time around.

Carleton discovery centre

Carleton’s Discovery Centre & model by architecture students

Focus on the Positive

From the start, the peer mentors acknowledged that there are very real barriers for librarians doing research (lack of time, skills, support, etc.). But, throughout the institute, they effectively maintained a strengths focus: Yes, barriers exist — so, what are strategies to overcome them? I believe this will be a useful lens for re-starting these conversations back at my home institution.

For example, we talked about the importance of making our research work more visible. Whether that means blocking ‘research’ time in our shared calendars, or negotiating that you will temporarily withdraw from another task in order to focus on your project.

LRI Resources & Exercises

The workshop materials included a few gems that I will refer back to, including:  a list of peer-reviewed LIS journals, tools to help you articulate your research question, and a compendium of research methods complete with examples of each method in the LIS field. Unfortunately, the program materials cannot be shared publicly online. :(

Several of the exercises really stuck with me. For example, in groups of three, we worked to articulate our research themes. The feedback from group members was very insightful. In another exercise, we discussed whether practice informs our research, or vice versa. The group talked about setting goals: One peer mentor said that she had her research goals posted in her office (ex. Submit 2 articles to peer-reviewed journals in 2014).

 Where does that leave me?

Despite the personal nature of the experience, one thing I expect all attendees had in common: It was a rare privilege to focus on research for 3 1/2 days straight, with support from the these mentors and fellow participants.

I returned from the LRI to a mountain of Summer Projects, as we do. So, truthfully my energies are focused elsewhere right now.

But the LRI came at a good time for me: I am trying to build towards something. I’ve written a review essay which is currently in the editorial process. This past year, I’ve served as a peer reviewer for two LIS journals. This is all helping to build my confidence & understanding of the mechanics of publishing. And now, with this ‘research bootcamp’ under my belt, I feel better equipped to move forward.

‘e-magine the possibilities’

Last week, I attended WILU, hosted by Western University in London. It was a strong couple of days, with a sweet combination of high calibre presentations and impressive organization. Everything ran very smoothly & the smiling volunteers were ever-present. Oh, and they closed Weldon early to turn the circ desk into an open bar for the opening gala. C’mon. That’s some nice work, organizing committee!


A thread running through the conference conversations was the upcoming shift in our thinking around information literacy. We were fortunate to have the ACRL IL taskforce co-chairs Craig Gibson (Ohio State University) and Trudi Jacobson (University at Albany, SUNY) for the opening keynote. The new framework is moving away from the emphasis on skills, towards concepts and ‘knowledge practices/ abilities’. Discussing the threshold concepts is a bit of a mind-bender, but I am convinced that this is a good move for our profession. It is a more thoughtful and critical approach to our work. I have to say, it helped to have it explained in person (v. reading the updates online). There were several other common threads:

  • librarians applying for and receiving on-campus tech innovation grants
  • plenty of great examples of us experimenting, exploring, taking risks
  • implementing variety of modes of instruction: blended, flipped, in-person, online synchronous (like a webinar)
  • many of us trying to sort out what to do with general drop-in library instruction
  • we are all trying to get into the LMS:  there is a wide variety on levels of embeddedness (not a word, I know)
  • when f2f and online drop-in instruction is directly compared, we still see higher numbers for in-person (fascinating)

Related to that last point, several presenters also iterated the insight (realized at the end of pilot or research project) that there was a need to better understand the target user group, their goals & needs. It had be thinking about building this UX method into the early stages of info lit planning, especially larger-scale ones. I presented, together with my Brock colleagues Colleen MacKinnon and Denise Smith. We talked about the Advantage Plus program: the evolution of general (as in not subject-specific)  library instruction at Brock, our adventures with Soft Chalk, and what we’ve learned related to pedagogy and assessment. It was valuable reminder  for me that we are doing is not routine: developing an online general ‘research basics’ workshop that incorporates active learning & integrates in the LMS and can be counted for credit. We’re working without a template! This should remind me not to get so frustrated. Our slides are embedded below & also found in Western’s IR.


I found two presentations especially inspiring and thought-provoking. Karen Nicholson & Melanie Parlette-Stewart from Guelph talked to us about their participation in the ACRL ‘Assessment in Action’ program. I’d never heard of it. A little more info:

Librarians who participate in the AiA program, supported by a blended learning environment and a peer-to-peer network, will lead their campus teams in the development and implementation of an action learning project examining the impact of the library on student success and contributing to assessment activities on their campus.

The terms “action research” and “action learning” are new ones for me. I’ve got some reading to do! But they sound like a meaningful and compelling way to link our practices with research. I much appreciated Karen and Melanie sharing their research design & what they would do differently next time. They wanted to learn about student research practices and the impact of f2f and online instruction. This team of librarians studied student assignments before and after the ‘one-shot’ intervention in order to understand the impact of their instruction. While their project encountered a number of hurdles, their conclusion in this case study was: No impact. There was no significant difference in student work pre- and post- intervention.  I tweeted about this insight with the hashtag #oneshotmustdie. I’d love to repeat their experiment here at Brock. The closing keynote was closely aligned with the Guelph presentation: We heard from the delightful Megan Oakleaf, professor at the Syracuse iSchool. She spoke to us about operationalizing the threshold concepts and considerations for how we will assess the implementation. How will we know if we achieved our outcomes? Skills are easier to measure: how will we determine if the student has learned that “authority is constructed and contextual“?? Megan introduced us (well, me at least!) to the method, “performance assessment.” She discussed studying the artifacts resulting from student research or instruction workshops, such as a reflective paper, annotated bibliography, one minute paper etc. You need a sound rubric & she mentioned rails — again something I hardly know anything about. She closed by encouraging us to experiment with performance assessment, especially given that in an elearning environment (particularly in the LMS), all sorts of data is captured and ripe for analysis. So, all in all, great stuff. I left thinking about hatching dangerous plans and with plenty of new ideas to learn more about. If you want to read them, here are my full notes.

wikipedia on the brain

I can’t stop thinking about Wikipedia lately. Again.

About two years ago, I got all fired up when I read about the gender gap among editors on Wikipedia (aka Wikipedians). I’m not sure what article it was specifically, but something like this piece in NYT ‘Define gender gap? Look up Wikipedia’s contributor list‘.

‘No way,’ I thought, ‘I am going to get out there and start contributing.’ So I created an account. And poked around a little at the back-end of things. This is where things stalled. Sure, I was comfortable enough with basic wiki mark-up, but there’s a whole lot of policy in place at our favourite ‘free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.’ But beyond that, a peek at the ‘talk page‘ behind any article reveals a whole universe of perplexing Wikipedian culture.

At least they have a behavioural guideline stating ‘Do not bite the newcomers‘?

I edited a little, but not much. Yet my interest in Wikipedia and desire to contribute remained.

Then I went off and had a baby, took another year’s mat leave, and returned to work at Brock last month.* And then happened upon this article by Adrianne Wadewitz, ‘Teaching with Wikipedia: The Why, What, and How.’ Yes!

So now, here I am — all fired up again. I read up on the Wikipedia Education Program — there’s a way for me get involved! I start doing some digging around Brock: is anyone already getting their students to work with Wikipedia? How might we work together? I’m still trying to find out (please contact me if you know of anyone…). With the traditional undergrad research paper going the way of the dodo, perhaps Wikipedia assignments are an option to explore?

And then the stars aligned & I caught wind of  ‘Wikipedia, Scholarship & Pedagogy‘  at University of Toronto Scarborough (More details here ).** With Dr. Wadewitz as keynote. It was an impressive event with a great talk (her slides are here) & active debate from faculty who had experience using Wikipedia in the classroom, and those interested in doing so. Attendees also included students who are involved in the Wikipedia Education Program as ‘campus ambassadors,’ supporting instructors with these assignments.

So, what are my next steps?
Step one: Edit (more).
Step two: Become a campus ambassador. I need to get more experience editing in order to be useful to faculty and students.
Step three: Have some conversations at Brock to find out who is already doing this, who is interested. Maybe host a similar event in the not-so-distant future?

That’s the plan.

* That’s my excuse for not having blogged in so long. And I just gave the blog a wee makeover & it’s still ‘under construction,’ so please pardon any mess  :)

** Thank you to the co-hosts Centre for Digital Scholarship & UTSC Library’s Digital Scholarship Unit, and organizer Leslie Chan for permitting me to attend.

conference report: Access Conference 2012

Sculpture on a McGill student that I snapped on Sherbrooke St. Details unknown, but welcome!

Sculpture of a McGill student that I snapped on Sherbrooke St. Details unknown, but welcome!

I attended my first Access conference last month. Access Conference 2012 , “Canada’s premier library technology conference”, took place in Montreal over October 19-21. Um, I was impressed.

I’ve shared my complete notes here, but I’ll also reflect on a few highlights and take-aways below.

A Different Kind of Conference

Attending this conference was a good reminder for me that I’ve really only been to a few different conferences in my career as a librarian thus far, and that I should continue to look beyond the ones-I-always-go-to and push myself to attend ones that look like they’ll be a bit of a stretch for me, content-wise. When considering attending Access, I reviewed the programme and worried that it would be too technical, or just beyond my realm. As it turns out, they had the full spectrum and the majority of the conference was entirely accessible (*wink wink*) for me.

I really appreciated the ‘human touch’ that the organizers brought to this event. They went above and beyond to make it a great few days in Montreal, whether that was in the form of a Sunday morning bagel run, an organized morning walk & run up Mont Royal, or the Google Map with recommendations for the best latte in between the conference location and hotel. Dude, I want one of those Google Maps for OLA & I lived in Toronto for several years — I just don’t know the Front St. area & always end up eating at the over-priced hotel or chain restaurants.

The high calibre of presentations was impressive. I don’t know if this is as a result of their newly instituted peer review process, or just the Access tradition. The speakers were knowledgeable, prepared, and a strong presence at the front of a room of 200+ . In a single stream format, we moved smoothly from grand ideas to more modest pilot projects, valuing them both. If there was one drawback to the single-stream style, it would be that attendees tended to sit in the same spots & with the same people — you don’t get those smaller-scale conversations or mixed-up mingling from attending different sessions together.

Ok, but what did I learn?

Enough of the meta stuff, on to the content: I appreciated that this conference filled in some gaps for me. I mean sure I’d heard about “big data” and read about all sorts of digital humanities projects, but my understanding of these ideas was pretty abstracted. At Access, I was able to be immersed in them for ~45min and come out finally able to wrap my head around them.

Lisa Goddard’s Adventures in Linked Data presentation was a glimpse into the complexity of a semantic web project coming out of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory, complete with machine-readable definitions for the relationships between people and texts and places … I don’t think I can summarize it very well. But she made this type of work visual and meaningful for me.

I also appreciated Alistair Croll‘s discussion on Big Data, Answers, and Human Rights. Not only did he clearly explain Big Data, he also identified some significant ethical issues around how we use this data or the inferences we draw from it. Looking at big data’s potential through a human rights lens, Alistair highlighted the precarious relationships between prediction and prejudice, and personalization and prejudice.

Mike Kastellac pretty much blew my mind with a description of the new Hunt Library under construction at NCSU. They are really pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a library, and what sort of work, study, and play we support in our spaces. He suggested that the library’s traditional services focused on ‘supporting the consumption of documents,’ and while we still need to attend to this, we cannot ignore the growing needs of what he called ‘the technographic paradigm.’

In a similar vein, Marc Comeau, Riel Gallant and Michael Groenendyk of Dalhousie shared their early results aftera brief stint of offering 3D printing and scanning in the library … (wait for it) at the help desk. It sounds like they’ve already made some interesting connections with certain faculties and user groups, and they made a pretty convincing argument for the feasibility of this service in an academic library. Fascinating.

Finally, the conference wrapped up with a very thoughtful keynote presentation from Bess Sadler of Stanford ( an adapted version of her talk available on her blog). I won’t even attempt to summarize a talk with a title like Brain Injuries, Science Fiction, and Library Discovery, save to say that she drew some compelling connections between the impact of emotion on decision making, and how this could look in our online library interfaces.

As you can see, I struggle to extract a few pithy quotes from this conference experience. Truthfully, it was a real exercise in thinking deeply and pushing outside my comfort zone for 2 1/2 days & I’m grateful for it.

UX in Ontario Libraries Network: inaugural meeting

'We Are Not Our Patrons' pencil

'We Are Not Our Patrons' pencil, photo by Colleen MacKinnon

User Experience. It is without a doubt a buzzword in the library world these days.

Last Friday, a small group of interested librarians showed up for the inaugural meeting of the UX in Ontario Libraries Network (generously hosted by U of T’s iSchool). It was organized by Robin Bergart of University of Guelph Library, Shanna Pearson of Seneca College Libraries, and well, me. We drafted up a little mandate for our group:

  • To share experiences of UX at our home library (research methods, recruitment methods, results, etc.)
  • To develop our knowledge of UX design and research methods through invited speakers, book or article clubs, field trips, etc.
  • To form a network for continuous exchange of ideas, sharing knowledge, posing questions
  • To support libraries with no designated UX staff member in their efforts to learn about and implement UX activities

Of the three organizers, I am the newest to UX — I’ve been interested for a while, but really became a convert with my recent (and ongoing) involvement with the implementation of a web-scale discovery service (I blogged about it here). I found the UX design process an ideal way to focus our work on user needs, and the approach has carried over to how I look at my other projects these days. Speaking of discovery though, ‘SuperSearch’ is live and in beta!

The meeting on Friday was an opportunity to speak with other librarians bringing the UX approach to their work, whether it is in their job title (as it is for Robin and Shanna) or more of a personal interest. We had representation from the public, college, and university sectors which brought a great variety of perspectives to the conversation.

The day opened with with a framing of UX by Robin. She talked about how empathy is the cornerstone of this field, and that a sound understanding of our users is the basis for developing collections, library programs, instruction, facilities and so on.

Robin then split us up in groups & led us through an Empathy Map exercise, asking each group to select one specific user group and use our collective wisdom to develop a persona. For many of us, this was a valuable lesson in identifying what we in fact *didn’t* know about our users, whether they be incoming grad students, international students, or upper-middle-class moms.

Next, Shanna sent us out into the wild (ok, Robarts) with the goal of experiencing a key UX methodology: observation.  Armed with an observation checklist (adapted & abbreviated from the Customer Service Walkabout by Joan Frye Williams), we paired up and selected an area of Robarts library to sit and watch. This was a short exercise, just 15 minutes, but I can see how that’s all that is really needed to gain terrific insights that we otherwise miss when breezing by our various service points. The group re-convened to share our observations over lunch.

For me personally, I can see how I could use a little more practice in observation — perhaps trying it out in environments outside the library world a few times. I imagine the hardest part is to sit down and observe the goings-on in your institution with an open mind — without thinking “x user group just doesn’t want this service” or “I’ve been telling the y department about that problem for months.”

After lunch, we were fortunate to have our guest speaker, Dr. Jenna Hartel, share her presentation ‘An Introduction to Ethnography and its Use in Libraries.’ Jenna helped to draw out the similarities and differences between the fields of ethnography and user-centred design. She clarified that user-centred design has a prototype at the centre (such as the library website, or help desk), whereas ethnography is more open-ended inquiry (something like ‘how do undergrads do research at Brock?’).

She also walked us through some major concepts in ethnography and encouraged us to ‘go get the seat of our pants dirty’ via research in situ, in the spirit of American sociologist Robert E. Park. She shared some key studies in libraries applying ethnographic methodology, especially the landmark work Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester led by Nancy Fried Foster. There was so much more, but I will do a disservice to Jenna by trying to sum it up in a few sentences. Lucky for us, she’ll be presenting at the 2013 OLA SuperConference!

An interesting topic that emerged from the day was situations in which UX research was conducted & lessons learned from the users, but the recommendations were not implemented by the department or institution. Tricky. This reminded me of a great piece by Aaron Schmidt, Is Your Library Ready for a UX Librarian? He makes some valuable points about fostering institution-wide buy-in for UX as a process.

Lots of food for thought coming out of this meeting & I’m looking forward to a future gathering. We’re still in the process of sorting out what this network should look like & how it might operate. Either way, it was a great opportunity to chat UX for a day.

big news in my corner of the universe

Two Cows

Two Cows by Martin Gommel, via flickr

Just a brief post to share two pieces of news that impact our work at the library at Brock.

Brock University signs Access Copyright license.

It was announced on July 5th that we have signed on to the Access Copyright model license. More details, including the email message from the Provost and fact sheets are available on the Copyright page :  http://brocku.ca/library/campus-copyright-information . This was disappointing news, especially following the letter that we librarians submitted urging the University not to sign:  http://bufa.ca/files/files/BUFALibrarianLetterforAUCC.pdf . Following the announcement, Sam Trosow tweeted:

Brock buckles on #ACDeal  … ignoring well documented call for rejection from librarians …

Well, that’s it on that front I suppose. It is interesting to follow Sam’s list of institutions opting-out of the deal.

SuperSearch beta launch: Web-Scale Discovery at Brock!

On a more positive note, I’m pretty excited that about this beta launch since much of my work these days has been focused on this web-scale discovery implementation project. It’s out there now & we are soliciting feedback from any and all users. You can read our  news brief, or try it out here (guest access enabled). There are known issues of course (we called it ‘beta’ for a reason) & we hope to have many of them sorted out in time for a splashier launch in September.

This is a big step forward for our team and man, has it been a lot of work to get to this point.

conference report: OLITA’s Digital Odyssey

Two weeks ago, I attended my first Digital Odyssey, an annual one-day conference organized by OLITA (check out the full program here). This year’s theme was Liberation Technology, and included various explorations of the relationship between information technology and the pursuit of social justice.

I was intrigued by the term “liberation technology” – I’d never heard it before. It’s a clear reference to liberation theology, a radical Christian movement originating in Latin America in the 50s and 60s (wikipedia page, decent summary from BBC). Many years back, I did a year-long internship with Franciscans International in Geneva and became more familiar with this history.

I googled a little to see who is using this term and how. Many write-ups point to a 2010 article by Larry Diamond for the origin of the term. And it looks like Stanford has a Program on Liberation Technology — they define the field like this:

Lying at the intersection of social science, computer science, and engineering, the Program on Liberation Technology seeks to understand how information technology can be used to defend human rights, improve governance, empower the poor, promote economic development, and pursue a variety of other social goods.

I also came across an interesting little blog post by Mary Joyce distinguishing between liberation technology and digital activism. This was useful in helping me reflect on the OLITA conference. So yes, let’s get back to the conference.

A highlight for me was Fiacre O’Duinn‘s presentation Inside the Black Box: Hacker culture, librarians and hardware. I’ve heard many people speak excitedly about hacker spaces, but this is the first time I’ve heard a thoughtful consideration of where there is ‘room for improvement.’ Fiacre discussed many issues including gender, the isolated and “uniquely invisible” location of hacker spaces, and the outsourcing of physical labour to places where human rights standards are poor. I took away a few key thoughts (forgive my poor paraphrasing, Fiacre was much more eloquent):

  • In libraries, we have the social capital to break laws. We need to do it early and set the precedent.
  • Making something open source does not make it hackable. People need to understand, then be supported and encouraged.

All four thunder talks were impressive. I found Rebecka Sheffield‘s discussion of ‘citizen archivists’ to be especially memorable. She filled us in on a National Archives (USA) project crowdsourcing the transcription of historical documents: http://transcribe.archives.gov/. In her brief talk, she raised issues of inclusion and exclusion, and how both are present in this project. It’s a pretty fascinating website & worth a look.

The conference closed with a very strong talk on digital copyright in Canada by Carys Craig, a law professor at Osgoode Hall. She argued quite compellingly that we need to resist the property metaphor and ownership narrative when discussing copyright. Instead, she insisted that authorship is an expressive act that is social in nature — therefore, copyright is actually about the regulation of speech, not property.  Moving from theory to legislation and licensing, she had two strong statements that had special resonance for me:

  • We should not herald the passing with C-11: It features the addition of piecemeal exceptions rather than what is needed: a broadening to allow for a more principled, common sense approach.
  • Resist the AUCC model license : there is no need for it. She called upon librarians to speak out, be involved, and be vocal.

I left this talk feeling pretty fired up, which was great!

All in all, a very strong day and a great opportunity to meet colleagues across sectors (sometimes I get a little too siloed in the academic library universe). My full notes are here.

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