Do I change things too much, too often?

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

When  it comes to teaching, I can’t seem to stop tinkering.(1)

I’ve written about this before and usually I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’m always making changes to what I teach. Dare I say I’ve even bragged about it a little here and there. I never want to become one of those professors who teaches the exact same thing the exact same way for years on end. My thinking about information literacy is always evolving and I want my teaching to evolve with it. I think that’s a good thing.

But I never seem to be able to settle on a particular way of doing things. This might not be a problem if the changes I was making were just small tweaks here and there but in the last year or so I’ve found myself completely overhauling my course between every semester and as I race to finish creating the new content for this coming fall, I can’t help but wonder why I’m doing this to myself and whether it might be time to pull back, especially now that I have a lot of added responsibilities that should be taking priority as the new head of my department.

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What I’m reading: July 2022

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: This post contains potentially spoiler-y information for the Who? Weekly podcast and the Normal Gossip podcast, and major spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder, Obi-Wan Kenobi (TV series), and The Summer I Turned Pretty (TV series).

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Recent interview with ALA

I’m still catching up after some recent out of office time, so instead of a new post, I thought I’d share this interview I recently did with the American Library Association about my new book. In it, I talk about some of the challenges (and surprising opportunities) related to writing a book during a global pandemic and share some of my thoughts on teaching students about the “trustworthiness” of sources.

Here’s the interview. 

Call for participation: Creative writers who do research

Are you a creative writer (published or unpublished) who writes about the role of research in your creative work? If so, I’d be interested in linking to anything you might have written on this topic or even featuring a guest post by you about it.

If you think you might be interested or have something you’d like to share, use the contact form to reach out at any time. I’d love to hear from you and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Gone fishing: Summer 2022 edition

I’m on vacation this week so I won’t be posting any new content, but below is a list of some favorite posts from this year so far in case you’d like to check out any you might have missed. Enjoy and see you in a few weeks!

What I learned writing my first book

Research is a lifetime activity

My approach to creative research for fiction writing

Isn’t all research creative? 

Concept mapping and why I don’t like to teach it

Guitar playing as creative research

Researching difficult topics for creative purposes

Why I write this blog

Employee morale and student retention

My favorite books about writing

Advice from writing books that’s getting a little old

Sometimes I call myself a professor, sometimes I call myself a librarian

What I’m reading: June 2022

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: The following post contains spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West (Playstation game), Heartstopper (Netflix series), Love, Victor (sort of), Shoresy (Hulu series), Letterkenny Live, and The Heart Guy (Australian TV series).

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Sometimes I call myself a professor, sometimes I call myself a librarian

Lately, I’ve noticed in myself a strange habit: more and more, I’ve started referring to myself as a professor or scholar rather than a librarian.

Here are some contexts where I’ve noticed myself doing this:

  • To writers who attend the online writing group I host every Thursday morning, with whom I sometimes talk about my scholarly work
  • To the authors I approach as possible interview subjects for my research on the role of research in creative writing
  • To my friends in the online MCU Rewatch group I host every other week on Meetup
  • To non-library faculty when I’m talking about my teaching and research (rather than, say, the time I spend on the reference desk

Weird, right?

Thinking about it now, it’s clear to me that there are two reasons I do this.

The more benign reason is that it’s convenient shorthand. It’s like if someone tells you “I’m in finance” or “I’m in IT.” Probably their job title is a lot more specific and the work they do a lot more complicated than these generalities, but by using them, they’re conveying what they do without having to get into the types of details that a non-expert wouldn’t understand anyway. Calling myself a professor is just easier than trying to explain that, as an academic librarian, I’m a faculty member at a university who does many of the same things as a professor (plus reference hours and other responsibilities) but who just happens to do them in the library.

No harm there, as far as I’m concerned.

Other times, it’s obviously a status thing.

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Advice from writing books that’s getting a little old

Last week, I wrote a post on the five(ish) writing books that have resonated with me most as a creative writer in the course of my investigation into creative research. As I said in that post, most writing books are basically the same in terms of the advice they have to give. The differences are more in the author’s style and their approach to sharing that advice.

If you’re someone who only picks up a book about writing now and then, this is good news because it means you can never really go wrong with your choice. But if you’re someone like me who’s going to read more than 50 of these things as part of your research study, reading the same thing over and over again gets a little old after a while.

Below are some of the pieces of advice I encountered over and over…and over and over again. These mostly pertain to fiction writing but there are a few that also came up in books on other genres as well.

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My favorite books about writing

In the course of my scholarly investigation into the role of research in creative writing, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books about writing. Like, a lot. About 30 such books made it into my final study, which will be published in portal later this year. I’ve since read 7 more to include in a follow-up that I’m hoping to publish somewhere in the writing studies field. And there are about 10 or so that I’ve read that weren’t included in either study because they didn’t meet the criteria. So, in all, I’ve read 45-50 books about writing. Most of them were specifically about fiction writing, but a few were more genre agnostic while some of the more recent ones are about poetry and nonfiction.

I’ve learned a lot about creative research from these books (at least, the ones that talk about it). But what I’ve really learned is that when it comes to books about writing, most of them are kind of basically the same. If you’re someone who’s going to read 50 of them like me, that’s bad news because you’re hearing a lot of the same advice over and over again. But if you’re only going to read one or two, that’s good news because it means you can’t really go wrong in your choices. The information you learn from one book will probably be basically the same as any other book, so it’s better to pick based on the author’s approach. For example, are you looking for a how-to or more of a literary analysis? Do you want a wide survey of all of the craft elements or a deep dive into one?

Below are the five writing books I read that happened to resonate the most with me as a creative writer. (In no particular order.)

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Employee morale and student retention

In the last few months, recruitment and retention have become a hot topic on my campus, as I imagine they have been elsewhere as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this. At my former institution, retention was a big enough deal that annual salary increases were tied to achieving certain numbers: if the university didn’t retain a certain percentage of students, no one got raises that year. If they did, we’d get raises but the retention goal would be higher and more difficult to reach the next year.(1)

At that institution, retention was equated with customer service. The better customer service we gave, the more likely students would be to stay, or so it was thought. We were required to read Be Our Guest and to take regular trainings on the topics covered in the book. The only thing I have personally retained from those trainings is that you’re not supposed to say “no problem” when a customer asks you to do something because it implies that what they’re asking you to do might be a perceived as a problem and if you need to point (for example when giving campus tours, which we were encouraged to do), you should always point with two fingers instead of one and never with your left hand.(2) I have no idea if any of this actually contributed to recruitment or retention but the university sure did spend a lot of money on make sure it was taught to us.

My current institution has not gone quite so far in this direction yet but the increased focus on retention is definitely giving me flashbacks and making me a bit apprehensive about the future. It seems to me that the more emphasis institutions place on recruitment and retention, the more it comes at the expense of employees’ well-being because these efforts are always all stick and no carrot. If you can’t show that you’re contributing to recruitment and retention in a way that the administration considers satisfactory, your job and your entire program will be threatened.

The weird thing is that in principle, I fully support finding ways to increase recruitment and retention on campus and not just because I understand that more recruitment/retention means more money. I want students to be successful. More than that, I was a student here myself once upon a time. I had a great experience—so great that I came back to build a career here. I want our current students to feel the pride that I have for being a graduate of this institution. I love my campus.

And I think the current focus on students’ well-being is a good thing. Certainly there is a customer service aspect to these efforts but I like that, at least so far, we’re focusing on supporting students through what has been a very tumultuous couple of years. This is much more meaningful than teaching people to point with two fingers instead of one on a campus tour. (Or making faculty do campus tours in the first place. I will admit to being slightly elitist about this.)

But it’s hard to support students in this way when I don’t feel supported myself.

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