Gone fishing

I’m going on break for a bit but below are some of my favorite posts from the past year or so, in case you missed them or might enjoy them. 🙂 Thanks for reading and see you soon!

What I learned writing my first book

Research is a lifetime activity

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

Employee morale and student retention

My favorite books about writing

Advice from writing books that’s getting a little old

The expert researcher is a myth

Creative research and that show about Leonardo da Vinci

Teaching and quiet quitting

Determining a path forward in a time of change

On National Novel Writing Month

What I’m reading: November 2022 (…a little late)

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 Andor (Disney Plus series), Rogue One (Star Wars movie from like ten years ago), and Interview with the Vampire (mostly just the AMC version).

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On NaNoWriMo

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo is an affectionate nickname for National Novel Writing Month, a sort of annual creative writing event where participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript between the beginning and end of November. A lot of libraries will plan events around NaNoWriMo, like reserving space for anyone who wants to gather and work on their writing together. It’s fun and challenging and if you’re successful, you get a cute little downloadable certificate at the end.

I used to participate in NaNoWriMo every year. I don’t quite remember when or why I dropped off, but if memory serves, I probably did it somewhere between 5 and 7 times and even though some years it was definitely a big struggle, I managed to meet the set goal each time. I actually still have some of the certificates I got for “winning” hanging up in my office (if you ever talk to me on Zoom, you can see them in the background if you squint).

I thought about taking it up again this year but even though I always enjoyed it when I did in the past, I decided against it partly because of the way my relationship to writing and productivity has changed since my original run with it.

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Determining a path forward in a time of change

Image by Joe from Pixabay

I mentioned not too long ago that part of the reason I haven’t been publishing quite as much as I normally do in the past few months is because right now my institution generally and my library specifically are going through a time of change. It can be hard to know what to say about change while you’re still in the middle of it, especially when the exact plan for what change might look like keeps, well, changing.

One change that seems pretty certain at this point is a particularly tough one for me and the folks in my department. Basically, the credit-bearing information literacy courses that we teach are being discontinued. As of fall 2023, they will no longer be offered.(1)

Obviously, this is a huge bummer. Teaching those courses, which include a general information literacy course plus a few sections that are focused on specific subject areas, has been a significant part of our department’s identity within the library since long before I started working here as a grad student way back in 2009. For many of us in the department, the courses also represent an important part of our professional and scholarly activities. The prospect of losing them has left us all looking at each other, wondering what we do now.

As a first-time manager, dealing with this question on a department level has been the biggest challenge of my first six  or so months on the job and I’m sure it will continue to be so for a long time to come.  The good news is that though losing the courses has left a pretty big vacuum in our department’s work, we are still a department (at least so far) and it’s been left largely to us to decide our own path forward. To that end, we have a tentative plan in place but with so much constantly changing around us and (especially) above us, it’s hard to make progress. I feel a bit frozen to the spot.

So all of that is still a work in progress that I can’t necessarily speak to at the moment, at least not with any real confidence. But what I can speak to—or at least try—is my thoughts on what my own path forward might look like.

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What I’m reading: October 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 contains spoilers for Slenderman (book by Kathleen Hale), Bad Sisters (TV series on Apple TV+), Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (movie on Hulu), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (…if you can speak of spoiling that show), and Shipwreck Hunters Australia (TV series on Disney Plus)

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Teaching and quiet quitting

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

I’ve been reading a lot of headlines lately about “quiet quitting.” Most of those headlines are about how stupid/inaccurate/misleading “quiet quitting” is as a term, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. And yet I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it lately, especially with regard to my teaching.

Quiet quitting, if you’re not familiar, does not actually have anything to do with quitting, which is part of why it’s such a dumb term. But my understanding is that it’s basically doing the bare minimum you need to in order to still be considered doing your job and not taking on anything extra in order to avoid burnout or as a general “screw you” to the constant pressure to always be maximally productive. Most of the people who criticize the term (though not the idea) say that what this is actually called is “setting healthy boundaries between work and other parts of your life.”

Personally, I’ve never had much of a problem with setting boundaries between my work life and other parts of my life. Even during the part of the pandemic where those of us at my institution were mostly working at home, I had no problem with ending my work day at a given time. Did I still sometimes think about work even during my “personal time”? Sure, but who doesn’t? But I wasn’t actively checking work e-mail or actually doing anything work-related. Lucky for me, no one ever seemed to expect me to.

The reason I’m thinking about quiet quitting now is because I find myself doing what feels to me like the bare minimum in a specific area of my work: teaching. Specifically, the credit course that I teach every semester.

(As a note: while I have, on occasion, used this space to acknowledge the ways in which teaching can be a bummer, I don’t generally post negative things about teaching on this blog, mostly because I don’t ever want one of my students to Google me and come across something like that. So on the very slim chance that that ever happens and an actual or prospective student of mine finds this post: please know that this is not about you. Not really.)

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What I’m reading: September 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 Glow Up, 9-1-1, 9-1-1 Lone Star, The Bridge (reality series on HBO Max), and the golden age of pirates. 

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Creative research and that show about Leonardo da Vinci

So I haven’t been publishing quite as much lately because there’s currently a lot of change going on at my library, some of which is directly affecting my position and the work I do. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it can be difficult to know how to talk about change while you’re still in the middle of it. I’m sure I’ll have some useful reflections on all of this at some point, but for now it’s a little harder than usual to know what to say or how to say it.

But I didn’t want to leave this space blank in the meantime so I decided for this week at least I’m just going to do a fun post that’s tangentially related to some of what I usually talk about here on this blog, especially with regard to creative research.

I want to talk about the TV series Leonardo as both a portrayal of creative research and a product of creative research.

Note: The following post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Leonardo.

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Dear ACRL Framework: the expert researcher is a myth

Back when the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy was introduced, one of the key improvements between it and the Standards that had come before it (at least to my mind) was the way that it distinguished between the behaviors of novice researchers who are still developing their understanding of research practices and expert researchers. Rather than making it seem like there was some hard line between being information literate and not, the Framework shows that information literacy learning develops along a spectrum

I’ve never had a reason to question the Framework’s use of the word “expert” before. It never even occurred to me to do so. After all, if we’re talking about a spectrum of research experience, it makes sense that with “novice” at one end of that spectrum, “expert” would be at the other. But lately I’ve been doing some reading in the writing studies field that got me wondering a little bit.

First, I started to wonder how, exactly, we know how an expert researcher thinks about the research process or what their behaviors are. The Framework does not cite any sources that establish where these traits come from or what they’re based on. They seem to be things we as a profession just “know” about how experts do research.

So then I started wondering: is this really how experts do research? Personally, on the spectrum of “novice” to “expert,” I consider myself much closer to the “expert” end of things than the “novice” end, at least when it comes to the research contexts in which I work most often. I do find my own practices and ways of thinking reflected in some of the Framework’s descriptions. For example, from the Scholarship as Conversation frame: “Experts understand that, while some topics have established answers through this process, a query may not have a single uncontested answer. Experts are therefore inclined to seek out many perspectives, not merely the ones with which they are familiar.” I definitely recognize this from my own recent research projects, especially the one where I’m exploring why creative research often isn’t taught as formal part of creative writing programs in higher education. There’s no easy answer there and I’ve read some 70 sources to learn as much as I can about the different ways of thinking creative writing professors and other writing studies experts have about the role of pedagogy in their field. This isn’t something I would expect my undergraduate students, many of whom are closer to the “novice” end of the spectrum, to take the time to do, even if they had it.

Other “expert” practices the Framework describes are less applicable to my own work. For example, from the Searching as Strategic Exploration frame: “Experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the cognitive, affective, and social dimensions of the searcher. Novice learners may search a limited set of resources, while experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. Likewise, novice learners tend to use few search strategies, while experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.” As an expert researcher, I understand that there’s value in searching broadly and deeply and trying different search strategies. I believe I’m much more resilient in this respect than a novice researcher would be. But do I search broadly and deeply? Do I select from various strategies? Not really. As someone who’s been doing research in the same or similar areas for a long time, I know what works and I pretty much stick to that. This includes strategies students don’t always think to employ–like using the works cited list in a useful source to identify other possibly useful sources–but I don’t waste a lot of time selecting search strategies to get what I need. Mostly I feel like I don’t need to.

There are other behaviors and ways of thinking that we often teach students about that I frankly don’t do. For example, concept maps. Or coming up with elaborate search strategies. Or gathering all of your sources before you start writing. None of this is mentioned in the Framework but when we teach, we often present them as if doing research in this systematic and organized way is somehow the mark of an expert. Or at all realistic. (Which it isn’t.)

Now, obviously I’m basing all of this on my own experience and practices. But I’m willing to bet that there are many highly experienced researchers out there, especially ones outside the library field, who would look at the Framework’s description of an “expert researcher” and not recognize themselves in it.

This makes me want to know even more what the Framework is basing its ideas about an “expert researcher” on if it doesn’t come from any established model or, I suspect, real world behavior.

Personally, I think the expert researcher is a myth.

I think what the Framework describes isn’t so much an expert researcher as an ideal researcher.

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