ACRL 2021

Hey everyone—this is just a quick note to let you know that my presentation for the virtual ACRL Conference is now available on-demand on the conference website. The presentation is on “The Annotated Bibliography as Artifact” and touches on a lot of the same themes I often talk about here on the blog. If you’re registered for the conference, the presentation will be available on-demand for the next 30 days.

If you’re presenting at the conference live or on demand, let me know! I’d love to check out your presentation.


What I’m reading: March 2021

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, or 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 The Neverending Story (both the book and the movies), the podcast Who the Hell is Hamish?, The 100 (TV series), WandaVision, and The Bridge (the HBO Max reality series).

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My online teaching persona is a major introvert

Even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t anticipate having to do much work to reimagine or restructure my credit-bearing information literacy course this spring. That’s because I’ve been teaching that course in a fully online, asynchronous environment for probably about five years. It seemed like there was nothing to adjust. If anything, I almost looked forward to the fact that students would be more used to taking online courses now,(1) which meant less of a learning curve by the time they got to me.

But then I started seeing conversations about how other instructors were incorporating Zoom and other tools into their online teaching, mostly to facilitate the delivery of lectures or other “live” learning activities. Again, I didn’t see the relevance to my own teaching right away because my course is entirely asynchronous. But by the time I started reviewing the materials in anticipation of the start of my own course, I began to think about how many of these instructors had used Zoom and other tools not only as a way to deliver course content but also to foster a sense of community in class. To make students feel like even though necessity has kept us largely separate during the last year or so, interacting through our screens rather than in person, there are still people here and those people can be more than words on a screen.

My class, I noticed, had no such opportunity for students to feel a sense of community. My lectures are all written. The activities are all writing-based. Though I try to interact directly with students as much as possible by responding to their discussion posts and giving them feedback on their assignments, it is entirely possible to go through my course without interacting with a single other human being.

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Reflecting on “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

As I’m working on some new and exciting research projects, I’ve found myself going back to a few of my earlier works and reflecting on how my thinking has changed in the time since I wrote them. I thought I would share some of this here partly because I still get asked about some of these articles from time to time and partly because I think it’s valuable to show how things can change as you grow as a scholar.

So today I’m taking a look at “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study,” which was published in College & Research Libraries in 2019.

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Reflecting on being a (former) first generation student

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Recently, there’s been a conversation going on at my university about first generation students. Much of this conversation reflects what I’ve seen in articles on sites like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed in the sense that it tends to frame first generation students in a particular way. According to this conversation, first generation have overcome a great deal of adversity, economic and otherwise, to get to where they are but that they are academically less prepared than their non-first gen peers and because of that they need some extra help. So efforts are being put into place to support these students, mostly focused on assisting them academically.

Now, I trust that the people who write about this population are basing their assumptions on research and statistics. And I fully endorse any effort to support students who have struggled or who are struggling, first generation or otherwise.

Yet there’s something about all of this that bothers me.

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Time is weird

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

For Christmas 2019, a family member gave me one of those page-a-day calendars as a gift. This one featured a fun piece of new movie trivia every day. As someone who basically lives on IMDB’s trivia pages, this was like a perfect gift for me. I brought it to work in January and started each work day with a new piece of trivia to enjoy.

That calendar is still in my office. It’s permanently stuck on March 16, 2020, the last day I was at work before everything shut down due to the pandemic. In the scramble to get what I needed to work from home before the library was closed, I didn’t think to take the calendar with me. The one time I’ve visited my office since then, I decided to leave it. By then, it was August anyway.

I wasn’t expecting to be gone so long. I remember seeing news reports even at the time that said this was a crisis that was going to last at least a year, maybe two, possibly more depending on how things went. But my mind couldn’t fathom such a long period spent in crisis mode. So at first I took it two weeks at a time, since that was the period covered by each stay-at-home order by our governor. Then I told myself 100 days was all I needed to get through. At the end of 100 days, things would either be better or I would be used to this new reality.

In a way, both ended up being true. Positivity rates started going down in the summer and things started opening up again, even though they probably shouldn’t have. And I felt a little more confident about my ability to navigate this new world we were living in, including wearing masks everywhere and washing my hands more thoroughly and more often than I had before. The new reality wasn’t comfortable, exactly, but it felt like something I could exist in, for a while at least.

Now it’s been 365 days and sometimes I feel like I’m struggling more now than I did at that 100 day mark. I said at the end of 2020 that one thing that the pandemic has given me is a better awareness of my privilege compared to others. The reason March 16, 2020 is frozen on my calendar is because I’ve had the opportunity to work from home this whole time while others haven’t, whether because they’re required to go in to work or because they don’t have jobs at all thanks to the pandemic. Because I’ve been employed, I’ve also had access to mental health care this whole time. So while I do struggle, I’ve been luckier than a lot of other people throughout this last year. I don’t want to pretend otherwise.

If I had to name another lesson the pandemic has taught me, though, I would probably say that it’s one that has to do with the need for connection. I’ve always been an introvert who greatly prefers time alone to time spent being social but I never realized what a privilege it can be to just, like, sit in a room with another person for a little while. Alone time is all well and good but it turns out full-on isolation basically sucks. Luckily, some part of me must have seen this coming because at the start of the pandemic, I started scheduling coffee and chat sessions on Zoom with former and current colleagues/friends as a way to stay in touch and check in on each other. I feel like doing this has strengthened my connection to these groups, an opportunity I never would have had (or would have taken even if I did have it) in more normal times. So I guess that’s something else to be grateful for.

Anyway. All of this to say: I can’t believe it’s been a year. Time is weird. I don’t know what will happen in the coming year or the next 100 days. Hopefully it will be good. Hopefully it will be better for all of us than it is now. I feel like there’s reason to think it will be but I’m sure even better things and a return to “normal” will bring challenges, both expected and not. But given what we’ve been through so far, there’s reason to believe we’ll get through those challenges, too.

Until then, stay safe and well.

Research in fiction writing: What problems is this investigation trying to solve (for writers)?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post trying to figure out exactly what problem my investigation into the role of research in fiction writing is trying to solve for librarians. I decided that even though librarian and information science scholarship tends to favor studies focused on practical application, that I didn’t want the point of my own work to be about “correcting” either the research behavior of creative populations or correcting library systems and services that may not match that behavior. Instead, I argued that in the LIS field we have a giant hole in our understanding of what research is because we tend to ignore any type of research that doesn’t involve the library. This hole has a negative effect on the value of what we do and call into question our ability to refer to ourselves as “research experts.” My study, then, was intended as a first step toward filling that hole and solving that problem.

But LIS audiences aren’t the only ones I’m hoping to reach with this research and so I’ve also had to think about what problem I’m trying to solve for writers and, to some extent, writing teachers by suggesting that we need to do more to understand and teach about research in creative writing contexts.

After spending an entire sabbatical reading about creative writing pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline, I think it’s pretty clear that writers don’t feel a huge need to understand what they do in any sort of systematic way. It seems like there are a few reasons for this. First, creative writers who also work in universities are not rewarded for this type of work. Second, creative writers seem to have a somewhat superstitious “Orpheus and Eurydice” attitude about what they do where they believe that to try to understand the creative process would be to lose it altogether. For creativity to work, it has to remain mysterious and magical (or so they believe).

So for many writers, there is no problem to solve here because there is no need to understand the creative process, assuming it even could be understood. Trying to study creativity is like using a ruler to measure the wind.

But even if you don’t want to understand creativity, you still have to figure out how to teach creative writing.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on popular writing books, Part 3

Now that I’ve read through a list of “academic” writing books, I’m working my way through a set of more popular writing books in search of information on the role of research in fiction writing. Rather than devote whole posts to each individual book, I’ll just be sharing some brief thoughts as I go along. Today, I’m taking a look at 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Writing Fiction by the Gotham Writers Workshop as well as revisiting Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

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Reference desk interactions: Helping “library users” versus helping “information creators”

Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay

I was writing a book chapter on the contextual implications of creating information the other day (shameless plug) when I briefly got stuck. As part of the chapter, I was trying to suggest some practical uses for the ideas that I was suggesting that could be applied not only to classroom teaching situations but also the type of teaching librarians often do through reference and other services as well. How can we teach students about their roles as information creators in the relatively brief interactions we have with them through reference?

I’m still kind of mulling this over but after some mental wandering, I did hit on an idea that I think is relevant, though not necessarily practical. It hit me that teaching students to think of themselves as information creators is less about what we say to them and more about how we approach our interactions with them.

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