Monday, August 31, 2009

PHR or Something Like It

When I started library school at Drexel University in 2003, it rapidly became clear how well suited I could be to being a librarian.

This statement is a setup to what makes me who I am as an academic librarian, so it requires me to step back a bit and recount my background. (Incidentally, I hinted about planning to write this post back several months ago near the inception of this blog. Now is definitely the time to do it. Bear with me.)

Educational and Professional Background
When I was a student at the University of Chicago, my first campus job was in the catalog digitization unit of Regenstein Library. Throughout my 4 years at UC, I worked across the library system. I briefly considered getting a library degree, but really had my heart set on medical sculpting. I wanted to use my hands to make medical models. I attended graduate school at University of Illinois at Chicago which had a program called Biomedical Visualization (medical illustration). The mind I developed for imagining the physical, relationships, and ideas, I continue to use. I received a Master of Associated Medical Science degree and came to the Philadelphia area to pursue a profession in applied materials science developing molding and casting processes for contract research. Yeah, there's more to that, but that's enough for now.

After 10 years of contract research, I got downsized and decided to change tacks. I went into non-profit administration and learned a great deal about customer service. Four years into that line of work, I decided to reconsider my whole professional game plan. Reevaluating my science background, my customer service experience, and my past jobs in the academic library, I concluded that academic librarianship would be an ideal new course of study.

Faith Background
There is also an ecclesial component in all this. A believing Christian from childhood, I became heavily involved in the leadership of Chinese Christian Church and Center, a Chinese church in Philadelphia's Chinatown. In fact, several of my years in the non-profit sector I spent at this church working as the office administrator. As administrator, I refined my organizational, communication, and public relations skills. As a lay leader, I developed new settings for applying all those skills.

In library school at Drexel University, these disparate pieces began coming together. I began to realize that I like seeing the big picture behind anything I undertake. I began to observe connections that drew together my fantastic liberal arts education at University of Chicago, my medical sculpting training, my research work, my administrative work, my lay leadership work, and now my information science training. And I happily took all that into my first and current library job at Arcadia University.

End tangent. (Don't forget this background information, though; I will undoubtedly refer to it again and again.)

Patient Health Record
For many months my pastor has been discussing the idea of how to develop church members and regular attenders. I called him to toss around his ideas and began shaping the idea myself of how to evaluate members and attenders. I understood what he said about church leaders needing to assess people as soon as they showed some signs of commitment to the church. I thought that any kind of assessment would have to get logged on a standard form of some sort that the evaluating leader would be able to share with any other leader. My library school medical informatics class abruptly came to mind and I realized that I was describing a patient health record.

When patients first visit their primary care providers, their family physician must perform a medical evaluation to determine their present state of health and any medical needs they might have, known or unknown. When patients return, their physician must use their medical records to assess their continuing health and treat their developing conditions. They amend their records and add appropriate ongoing documentation. When physicians identify conditions that require the intervention of medical specialists, they obtain permission of their patients and forward the necessary documentation to the specialists.

Spiritual Health Record
In the faith setting, members and regular attenders become patient analogs. With their permission, pastors, lay leaders, fellowship leaders, and Sunday school teachers (all primary care providers in their own ways) must perform spiritual health evaluations. They must use standardized evaluation criteria and document their observations in conventional formats. With permission, they can share the information with other spiritual care providers. When members and regular attenders have needs that require the intervention of spiritual health specialists, e.g., marital counselors, those specialists can consult the spiritual health records generated from the PCPs.

In a variation that rather incongruously blends health records with medical training documentation, those same records can determine members' or regular attenders' fitness for special training so that they can themselves be equipped to become spiritual primary and specialty care providers.

Professional Health Record
This all has a connection to the professional world because of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law while on family vacation together. I was sharing with him the challenges of equipping my instructional technology lab student workers, i.e., the padawans, to function more professionally. I equated that to the challenge of myself developing and improving my professional managerial skills. And everything came together. Those patient records and spiritual health records became professional health records. Those patients and faith-community members became professional trainees. And it was good.

The challenge is how to craft a professional health record that standardizes professional health with the systemization of a patient health record. This will not happen overnight anymore than the development of the patient health record did. But once one does come into existence for my padawans or for me, whether because I find it or create it, I expect the merit to become as equally self-evident as for the now ubiquitous patient health record.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making Your Way, Successfully

When you initiate a task, what are the ways you guarantee success? Whose advice do you seek before you start? How do you handle obstacles? How do you decide when to give up on an unsuccessful strategy or when to keep on keeping on?

Those were some of the questions that went through my mind when I got lost on a WV mountaintop the last day of vacation.

We had taken the ski lift up the mountainside of Canaan Valley Resort Ski Lift. In company were wife Barbara, father-in-law, 2 brothers-in-law, a spouse, and 5 cousins. One way to handle failure is to point fingers. Yes, that's it. It was my father-in-law's fault because he mentioned that it was possible to hike back down again. So, I announced that I would be hiking back. Barbara immediately said no to the idea, but when I confirmed from the lift operator that it was possible to do and not very difficult or time-consuming, she lost the argument. The laconic operator confirmed that the time it would take was neither as short as 20 minutes nor as long as 2 hours, the extremes I posed. So I was off. It may be easy to point blame at others, but ultimately no one made me hike. I made the decision myself—for better or for worse. In this case it was for worse.

In exploring the mountaintop, we had crossed from the top of the ski lift run that we ascended clockwise 100 feet to the top of the next ski lift run. I started down that run thinking I would cross over to the original run a bit further down. I trotted down to what was ostensibly the first bend in that run and ducked into the woods.

When you begin an endeavor, how well do you think through your options? I should simply have walked back across the top of the runs to the one under the ski lift we came up on, but I liked the idea of disappearing down the wrong path and appearing again on the right one. It's awfully easy to make decisions that on first glance seem reasonable that instead after consultation with wise and trusted peers one would make differently.

I hiked into the woods expecting to see the clearing to the next run quickly. I chose to stay on approximately the same altitude lest I waste too much energy descending parallel to both runs in the ruggedness of the woods. The clearing didn't appear. I got a call from my wife after half an hour checking on my progress. I knew it wouldn't work to hide my situation, so I reported that I expected to be into the clearing in less than 15 minutes. Barbara felt—in her own words—put out and hung up saying she would return to our cabin 10 minutes away. I could call her when I reached the bottom. Fifteen minutes later she called again to tell me she sent everyone on and she alone was still waiting for me. I had made progress, but still could not see the clearing. I told her to go back to the cabins. I would call her with status reports every 15 minutes.

I lost the cellphone signal after my next call-in.

How do you handle doubt over a decision? I never entertained the thought of turning back because I was convinced that I was right and I would reach the clearing for the next ski lift run in moments. Perhaps this is part of makes men refuse to ask for directions. It's not pride but self-confidence.

Well, what happens when you actually make that bad decision? How do you minimize collateral damage? I was hiking through the woods navigating sizeable rocks and rotten tree debris on a weak ankle that I'd twisted at the beginning of the week (but was managing very well, thank you) in sandals. Say what you want about idiotic decisions, but my sense of adventure demanded a hike and no one else's sense of adventure was accommodating enough to join me. Beside that was my absolute confidence that this detour was foolproof. Of course, that just means I was somewhat south of being a fool. Still I did awfully well under the circumstances. I became more conscious about grabbing branches to balance myself noting what could break under my exertions. I couldn't avoid stepping on possibly slippery moss-covered rocks, but I quickly learned which rocks were level enough to keep me from taking a spill. I stepped carefully into depressions that could just be leaf debris covering deeper voids.

About an hour after I lost my cellphone signal, I came across a vehicle path. I noticed right away that there were fresh tracks on it made by an ATV. Anything older than a day would have been washed away by recent rain, and none of the tracks had had time to begin drying out. I hiked down it still expecting at any time to see the ski lodge. Before long it crossed a gas pipeline right-of-way, one of those broad swaths of grass you occasionally see running up and down otherwise wooded mountainsides. In 40 minutes I got to a meadow at the base of the slope, crossed it, and waved down a passing car. In another 15 minutes, I got a cellphone signal, got a text message from my wife saying a park ranger was looking for me, left word about my status, and was back at the cabins. As thanks to my rescuing couple, we used the cabin welcome information to help them get to the tourist destination from which they had themselves gotten waylaid by a bad turn.

If you're fortunate, when you make bad decision, there are people around to cover your heinie. Even while I was traipsing around in the sylvanous, I thought the one big help to me would have been some guidance from someone who really knew the mountain. I had as back up the intervention of several such people. After an hour without contact from me, my wife drove back to the ski resort with my father-in-law. A lift operator offered to look for me. His ATV tracks preceded me on the trail by no more than 30 minutes. The facility staff had also notified the ranger staff of my plight. The ranger that arrived to get my report back at the cabins confirmed his hunch about where I would end up by my explanation of the path I took down the right-of-way. In the car with my rescuers, we had seen his vehicle pass as he sought to pick me up. He said he was never really worried about me because he had gotten the information from my wife that I was a healthy adult who was a former Eagle Scout. One wisecracking brother-in-law made it clear that he try to get that rank pulled from me for this escapade.

There were several ways I failed. That I embarked without water or proper shoes was relatively minor. I wasn't exposed enough to dehydrate and all I developed was a large blister on my foot. The big failing was in my determination of direction. When I looked at a satellite image of the mountaintop, one of a host in the Monongahela National Forest, I determined that what I thought was a slight clockwise turn from the ski lift run, turned out to be a 270-degree turn. Apparently being near the summit of the mountain exaggerated the extent of our wandering. When I thought I was turning counterclockwise toward the original ski lift run we ascended, I was actually exactly 180 degrees off. I learned later that no one could have corrected me because I began so abruptly in my haste to beat everyone down the mountain that nobody actually saw me take leave. Paradoxically, my haste also made me continue deep into the woods thinking the clearing was just ahead when sense should have told me the copse I thought I was traversing wasn’t more than 100 feet wide. With clearer thinking, I would have turned back promptly. It sickens me to realize how badly I had deviated from where I thought I was going, but Providence shown upon me because I could not have traveled more than a mile and a half without encountering either a different clearing or that right-of-way to lead me down the mountain.

The points as far as decision-making is concerned is the importance of proceeding with enough input from people you trust and of not acting hastily. I was closer to the long end of my estimated time of descent at 2 and a half hours, but aside from a late start on our return journey home and some angst on the part of my mother-in-law, I was little worse for wear and sated with a last morsel of food for thought.

The original ski lift run stretches from the parking lot to near the arrow. I started at that arrow and went directly down on the image to the right-of-way. The road where I flagged down a passing car is down just a bit further.

View Larger Map

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Get Back--Thoughts from Horseback Riding

As of this writing, I'm on vacation with my wife's family in Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, Canaan Valley, WV. I'm blessed to have 2 fantastic families: mine and my wife's. I expect and receive good things when I'm with Barbara's family. Expect some good reflections. Here are some i-ruminations that come from a horseback outing with Mountain Trail Rides.

I went horseback riding for the first time in 20 years. I'm sure I enjoyed the experience 20 years ago, but I treasured this experience. I was the sole adult at family reunion who was interested in accompanying the five nieces. We were one group among 15 people going on a ride in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. All fine, really. Despite the sound of it, the company was quite nice. What made it a real pleasure, though, was the thinking.

The trail guides first mounted the children. Then they began mounting each of the adults. And slowly I started becoming self-conscious. There I stood in front of all the adults as each of them got her/his own horse. Wife Barbara watched while taking pictures and commented about my conspicuous lack of a beast. I nervously laughed and insisted with melodramatic petulance: I always get picked last! I edged even further forward to no avail. I got my horse dead last despite now being virtually in the center of the yard. I cried for all the times my awkward little boy self got picked last for kickball, basketball, and dodge ball. Not. Even as it has a way of recalling youth, adulthood also has a way of forgetting it. Good thing, too, I say.

If being high off the ground as you are on the back of a horse is the first thing that comes to mind, feeling your foundation jitter about must be the second. It's not like being in an earthquake, but it is oddly disconcerting. For a few moments. It is after all a creature that you are sitting astride, not a vehicle that you have to shift into gear to mobilize. Chamois, a buff-colored mare, is not docile. She shifts her weight and shuffles about the yard as she gets used to feeling me. Niece Tabitha watches me pat Chamois' neck and advises me not to pat her there. She takes horseback-riding lessons bi-weekly near her house in southern Maryland. She tells me that her instructor calls a spot closer to the horse's shoulder the friend spot. I lean over and pat the massive, muscular sturdiness of my mount feeling an odd combination of machine and living thing. I sense the humidity of her body through her coat. I pat her several times throughout the 65 minute ride and feel a variety of moisture levels from this base level to something approximating that of a mild workout as she walks, occasionally trots, and once canters (according to another sage young rider who sports her own helmet and riding pants).

Let me offer some comparisons between mountain biking and horseback riding. Biking in a single file requires concentration. Riding permits you to enjoy the pastoral mountain scenery with just a rein held loosely in one hand. Biking leaves you anxious over your 2 wheels sliding into the muddy furrows of the trail. Riding gives the assurance of four-hoof drive. A bike requires effectively no maintenance on the rider's part. A horse snatches at birch leaves and thistles. A bike takes gullies in the trail with equanimity. A horse swallows them up with relish. A bike exerts itself modestly. A horse sweats. A bike is inanimate. A horse is Alive.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Makes a Good Supervisor?

When I started supervising the instructional technology lab a year ago, I was eager for a new kind of challenge. As a reference librarian, I'd been working professionally for 3 years. Experience in several different jobs told me that 3 years working is about when the learning curve starts to level off and the urge for new responsibilities starts. I'd been looking for a chance to develop some supervisory skills. At that same time, Arcadia University finished its newest academic building, Easton Hall, and the instructional technologist with whom the librarians had developed some overlapping skills moved over to that building. This left her office in the library next to the 8 computer lab vacant and the then sole student without supervision. Since she'd heard me express a desire to do some supervising, she endorsed me to the library director as her surrogate.

This was not my first time supervising, but the previous experience was 20 years ago when I was fresh out of college supervising 13 reserve desk students as a library technician at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Main Library. I was a lot greener in those days--i.e., inexperienced, instead of more environmentally conscious. I did okay, but one does think quite differently as a new college grad from the way one does as an adult professional.

That one work/study student is now 4 students. Once Fall starts and those students fall under federal work/study guidelines which limit them to about 7 hours/week, the number will likely increase to 10.

The one student I hired to supplement the efforts of that summer student is the only one that's ever left me. It wasn't my fault. She'd stepped on her glasses and ended up straining her eyes doing the computer work I had for her. The 5 or so students I've had since then seem to enjoy working in the lab.

What should a supervisor offer to attract subordinates to stay? I have some ideas.

(1) Open-mindedness: When I interview students, I ask questions that help me identify personal styles but don't accept disclosures as any more than facts to help me figure out the best way to use that person. I make it clear that I'm not trying to judge, just gather information. It does help that a request for students who know something about computer technology seems to draw candidates who fall on the compulsive side.

(2) Communicativeness: I tell students that there is a bilateral evaluation period then I make clear what they do well and what I wish for them to change. I don't hold secret my sense of what's working and not.

(3) Light-heartedness: I like to rib students once I get to know them a little. But I only do this with unambiguous affectation so they can't misunderstand efforts to be good-natured. I'm not afraid to tease myself and accept counter-ribbings equanimously. I call my students padawans which always makes new workers laugh knowingly. (See my previous post about how Star Wars has replaced Mother Goose in this generation's literacy.) I quote Princess Bride in Chinese.

(4) Empathy: Not all students are equal when it comes to technological aptitude, but I remember what it was like to feel insecure about myself. When students are happy, I celebrate their accomplishments. When they're frustrated, I feel with them then coax them forward.

(5) Flexibility: While I train students to be budding professionals, I remember that they are not professionals yet. Social plans take place. People oversleep. I'm not hard-nosed, but I let them know where they need to improve.

We have a lot of work to do to make the lab the technology tutoring space and project lab that it needs to be, but if I can succeed as a supervisor, the goal is an eventuality, not simply a possibility.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Good Read—And Ingredients for i-Rumination to Boot

Yes, I know, the common myth about librarians is that all they do all day is read books. In fact, there's very little I've read for pure pleasure in many years. And not even much for professional reasons. Much of substance in that world is in the form of articles and book chapters. I will exclude from my list all the children's and juvenile audience books I've read to or in parallel with my kids. Sure, some have been diverting, well-written, and thought-provoking, but they are in a different class. What I have read for an adult audience are by authors I can name on one hand—four fingers on one hand, no less. Accept this posting as a brief reader's advisory before I get to my main point. If you know me, it's what I do; fly off on tangents a bit before returning to the flight plan.

The first author is Jan Karon. I picked up a book a friend was reading more than a decade ago and started leafing through it on a whim. The narrative about a small-town, Episcopal rector in New England instantly caught my attention and the friend graciously let me borrow it. At Home in Mitford showed what a effective author could do with the idea of life and faith. A more recent volume from Karon, Light from Heaven which is based on the same characters, came across my desk within the few years which I absorbed with as much relish as for the first book.

The second author is Stephen Lawhead. Though one national bookstore classifies his book as young adult literature, Lawhead's Dragon King Trilogy was enticing enough for me to purchase the entire collection in one—the first fiction book I bought in decades. Passed on from a church friend as good reading about faith and chivalry from his younger days, I bought it to read to my kids and ended up finishing it myself staying up nights like I did in years long passed.

The next author, Alexander McCall Smith, came as a recommendation from Landman Library's circulation librarian when she heard me comment about enjoying Light from Heaven. She rightly believed I would enjoy the details of life in another place—in this case, Scotland. In my middle age, I guess my tastes have turned more toward traditional values, though, so I didn't enjoy Friends, Lovers, Chocolate as much as I might have without Isabel Dalhousie's ostensible preoccupation with non-marital amour.

I've just finished reading a second book from fourth author, Jason Fforde. The first of his books, The Fourth Bear, I read on a trip to China last year. It turns out that book was the second in the series. As I write in the middle of a camping vacation, I've just closed The Big Over Easy, the first book in the series. Okay, his characters are not without their own share of vices, but the creativity of his Nursery Crimes Division series more than compensated.

What I enjoyed about this series is Fforde's take on a fictitious Reading, England, world where nursery rhyme characters co-exist with a very modern and human world. Fforde does a delightful job of assimilating Mother Goose's characters with other mythical creatures—how about Prometheus—in two mystery books featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary. In The Big Over Easy, the reader learns that Jack is also (without his awareness, even) he of giant-killer fame. In actuality, three of the four were just unusually tall. He eats de-fatted bacon sandwiches and doesn't disclose to his second, human wife (his first died from eating no lean) that he himself is a nursery character until the second book, fearing her rejection of him. Fforde manages to recall the tauntings DS Mary received as a child for being contrary and successfully kills off Humpty Dumpty and Wee Willie Winkie naming adult OCD pig thief Tom Thomm and retired masher Giorgio Porgia among the suspects.

Riding on the bus, The Big Over Easy was the stimulus for a conversation about changing cultural interests. Seatmate Margaret was on her way to visit her son's family when she took interest in my reading. What she couldn't help observing is how unlikely it seemed that children of her grandchild's age would even knew anything about the nursery rhymes of old. I myself realized that I had little reason to refer to Little Jack Horner or the Four and Twenty Blackbirds in conversations with my 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. I and my wife are more likely to refer to the king and knights of the Dragon King series and anyone from the Star Wars universe than Mother Goose's alternate reality. The books we read to my kids were more contemporary classics by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Cynthia Rylant, and Donald Crews.

Perhaps to the credit of my wife and me, we try to elaborate with my kids about anything that comes up in the news or in conversations or in information we want to share from our reading. So we talked about franchising when Rita's Water Ice got bought out and about nuclear non-proliferation when we drove by a display rocket. What I mean to say is that we talk about everything including Mother Goose if it's relevant.

I observed to Margaret that college students that I've spoken to have a way of knowing about a lot that predates them, such as rock and movies of the 70s and 80s. Those bits of entertainment form the backdrop of their lives in part because of what their parents knew and because of what they can still readily hear and see themselves. In the days before parents could put their kids in front of Saturday morning cartoons or DVDs collections, they would be reading children's classics of their day such as Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm.

This made me think about my job as an academic librarian. In Arcadia's Education Department students can take courses in children's literature that could very well detail works in earlier collections by earlier authors. Though the Sciences Librarian, I can easily be taking library research questions that look at Mother Goose and the place of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The job of a librarian is to help bridge the gap between users' experiences and what they need to know. Will all young students learn about those characters and themes? No, but those that choose to learn, I'll be around to help.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Man of Ideas

I'm generally a sociable guy. But not always. Like many sociable people, I need my own quiet time even in public. Recently, though, I've begun to realize that the problem might not be so much my need for quiet that keeps me from conversing.

I've realized vaguely for several years and more consciously for many months that the most tedious meetings for me are news only meetings. This is true both in the university and in my church where I serve on the lay leadership. I'm most stimulated and engaged by meetings in which ideas start bouncing around.

A number of months ago, I was at a church gathering in which members from different social strata were supping together. The edict came down from the organizers for everyone to sit at a table where they didn't know at least 2 people. Obediently, I did so. I struck up a thoughtful conversation with 2 college students, one of whom I knew only a little from a membership class I taught. I started getting a bit creative about the idea of volunteer service and ended up enjoying myself immensely. Not that I wouldn't have been conversational anyway in such a setting, but what made this particularly enjoyable was that ideas were starting to bounce around. By my own definition, I was engaging in i-rumination, and I was loving it.

I've been to social gatherings in which I've met new people and talked superficially. In those circumstances, I've enjoyed myself nominally. I've been to other gatherings in which I've connected well with people and gotten into some rousingly thoughtful and enjoyable conversation.

The difference is the exchange of ideas.

I've started to realize just how important to me the ability is to i-ruminate, ruminate intellectually. I've been aware of the importance in meetings. I've been aware of the importance in social gatherings. Now I think I discovered the importance to me therapeutically.

I was supervising a padawan in the library's Faculty-Staff Technology Resource Lab today. While editing a video project procedure with her, I caught myself getting compulsive about the details. The question was how much information to include. More now was time-consuming, but less now could mean more work or confusion for someone else later. I settled for more information now, but the need to resolve the issue of when to invest more time or not bothered me.

With a bit less work pressure during the summer than normal, I headed into the staff area vaguely desirous of a conversation with one of the other librarians. The boss JB was in a meeting with the collection development manager. The circulation manager was in late to cover evening hours. The serials librarian was away from his desk. Ambling into the break room, I found him starting a pot of coffee. He acknowledged he had some time and I sat down. I started tossing out the newest details of the video project (of which he already knew something being a media person in a former professional life himself).

He let me lay out the issues about this fairly trivial issue and let me connect it to the bigger issue of task management. With this project I was thinking to redesign some larger aspects of this annually recurring effort. Last year we were too hampered by the impending deadline to dare even tweak the procedure. This year we had started early enough to have the whole summer to breeze through. If we invested some time now, we could make life easier for someone else later and even have a better product. It didn't take long to recognize that the time we had available made it possible to do some experimentation with the procedure and still get the work done under the old procedure if a new one failed.

Good enough for me. I'd had the chance to process the issues by talking them out and reached a productive conclusion. And my mood had lifted considerably.

So, I've come to a greater understanding of how important it is for me to be able to talk ideas. It satisfies me professionally, socially, and now, at least I can speculate, emotionally.

If we ever meet, feel free to share with me something you've been thinking about lately. Share with me your own piece of intellectual candy. I'm sure to conclude the conversation happier and more thoughtful. And hopefully, I'll offer you a piece of i-candy in return.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking One on the Chin

I'd like to make it clear that I'm fortunate to have the boss I have. JB's a wise gal who knows how to use the strengths of us her subordinates. She began working for Library and Information Technology at Arcadia University in February 2008. I had high hopes for her from the start. She brought more than a few years of professional experience to the position. More importantly, she brought an amiable, warm personality that held high promise for bringing the reference librarians and instructional technologist into authentic synergism. Myself an aspiring manager (I also applied for the director's position she ultimately filled), I hoped to learn much by observing her.

I've paid attention to the suggestions JB's made for addressing various tasks and issues and I've valued each of her insights. A particularly thought-provoking lesson materialized today, though, and at my expense!

The library underwrote a number of information literacy grants that would pair teaching faculty members with faculty librarians to introduce IL to their individual courses. Three of us librarians paired up with faculty members for 7 courses. I had 2 courses, one in public health and one from among our first-year seminar courses.

My FYS professor is actually one I began work with this past fall. His grant would allow the course to incorporate IL even more fully. We met several times for the class last Fall. He already had numerous thoughts on how he could refine the course for next year.

The biggest hinderance to me and FYS prof working effectively together on this grant is that we're a bit too much birds of a feather. If I'm an idea person, he's an ideas person. We can come up with a lot by talking together, but I see him having difficulty nailing down all his ideas into a definitive few. And I was not the best partner to help him with the nailing.

With a major grant implementation deadline coming up at the end of June, JB told me she had spoken with him about his progress. She made an executive decision to switch collaborating librarians. I got benched for a nimble, more step-wise librarian.

Several factors came together to make this a good decision, though. My reliever is a hyperactive-type pseudo-ADHD librarian who has the best chance of fixing idea to paper by tirelessly interacting. For my part, I'm a pretty objective person who doesn't easily take things personally, so I was not offended by JB's decision. In fact, while she normally would go to great pains to make decisions like this with as much buy-in as time permits, she didn't even bother getting mine. She knew I wouldn't have a problem with it. And she was right.

Something I learned early about JB is that she values people's strengths and maximizes on them. Among the librarians, I'm probably the most willing and able to flex with the need of the moment. FYS prof needs a more step-wise collaborator? Give one to him. Even if it's not me.

For my part I did have a misgiving. I felt like I could have done a little better proceeding with my prof in a step-wise fashion. Here's what I learned from JB. When I shared this misgiving, she said, "Maybe you could have, but this is too small an issue to try to improve for. Let's save the effort for something more substantial."

I once heard a wise person say, "Pick your battles." This is what JB was saying to me: "Pick your battles against your own weaknesses. And I don't think this one is the one you should be picking."

Will I manage someone someday who also struggles with weaknesses? Sure. And I expect to draw upon this lesson when I do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Making Collection Development Friendlier: Wishful Thinking

Collection development has been an saga for me perhaps in part because I never took a collection development class. (Drexel University, where I got my Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science, doesn't require it.)

I was the first subject librarian hired at Arcadia University almost 4 years ago. I am subject liaison to the general and special science departments on campus and in that capacity conduct librarian research instruction sessions. I also provide collection development support to those departments.

Over the last 4 years, I've tackled CD on a task-specific basis. In Arcadia's Bette E. Landman Library, we've completed numerous projects that have helped me develop the way I think about our collection. We've evaluated our print serials collection. We've replaced missing books. We've weeded our collection. We're constantly recommending books to our departments to purchase. We process requests for new journals. And I'm still working on the way I see collection development.

Knowing myself, I'm not surprised at this learning curve. I've learned over the years of being a professional in several different fields that it usually takes about 3 years for me (for many people, in fact) to become comfortable with the responsibilities of a particular job. Since I don't do collection development as a primary function in my job--plus because there are so many facets of it--I'm still getting comfortable after 4 years.

With the end of the fiscal year approaching, June 30, our current effort is get departments to spend their department allocations. As a library, we have our budget divided among several line items. The book budget gets allocated among all the university's departments to ensure a well-balanced collection.

What I've discovered about our book collection because of the various projects we've done for it is that it seems to represent a kind of bell curve across time. (This is a guess, because I've never quantified it. This observation is also limited to our sciences--LCCO: Q.) Our oldest books seem to be 80-100 years old. The peak of the curve seems to be 1980-1990. Then the tail seems to drop off. Obviously we need to purchase more heavily to make our collection more current.

But if the collection should meet the needs of our users across the disciplines and the course subjects, the task of simply buying more books is complicated.

Here's what I need to help me purchase well for our collection. I need a holdings-based application that can analyze our collection.

1) First, I want to be able to see the course topics laid out across the LC call number range as our collection currently looks. Makes sense, right? Our collection should serve our curricular needs at some level. Perhaps even better, though much more challenging, is to map course topics across LC subject headings; challenging because books can only have one call number in a given collection, but they can have many subject headings. One book may serve multiple courses. But such a book doesn't contribution to a very specialized collection.

2) Since our collection peaks in numbers of books around the 70s and 80s, I want to see a representation of topics across time.

3) I also want to be able to superimpose the idea of priority. We may not want to develop historical topics in our collection, but we may want to purchase in newer or more specialized areas.

4) Let's make this application more robust. I need to see our collection weighted by the number of students registered in the courses served by a given topic (as identified either by call number range or subject heading). Courses with large enrollments using a large number of books should have the same relative number of books serving them as courses with small enrollments using a proportionally smaller number of books.

I need to see all these things in a way that I can manipulate and modify so that I can see where I need to be recommending purchases.

That's not asking too much is it?

OCLC actually has a collection analysis product that can do some of what I want. Because Landman Library is a member of OCLC, it can look at our holdings and compare it to the holdings of all its member libraries, including ones of comparable size. It can analyze by publication date. It costs $500 to set up the service. The annual fee is calculated separately. But OCLC does not have access to our enrollment information. I don't know what visualization capabilities it has. I just registered to demo it, so I can find out.

I'd love to see if I can find an information sciences student at Drexel University's iSchool who could analyze this problem and imagine a solution, if not even design one. Dr. Chaomei Chen has done considerable work on information visualization, although not quite in this area. While a student there just over 4 years ago, I went to a presentation of his, so I know of his work.

Again, am I asking too much?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Clogged Drain II

Here's where I can extol the benefits of both Twitter and blogging. I may not be writing a lot of blog posts at the moment, but I'm still tweeting regularly. On the other hand, it's possible to string together 3 tweets into one long thought, but blogging works so much better for that.

Last Sunday night, I put my idea to the test about unclogging my master bathroom sink drain. The first thing I did was remove the pop-up drain plug. It's pretty simple to do because the nut holding the pop-up lever in place is nylon. I can undo it with finger pressure. Pull the lever out, remove the pop-up drain plug, then re-secure the lever (otherwise water would leak out from the open nut!). Removing the plug allows the plunger to move unimpeded. (I can't claim credit for knowing this. I read it when I was googling the topic of clogged drains before my last effort.)

With the drain out, I applied myself to plunging. Hold one hand over the overflow hole (don't want the valuable pressure to come out there) and shoofa, shoofa, shoofa. I tried a good 5 or 6 times with slight improvements in flow, but not enough.

When the drain is completely open, you should be able to open both faucet valves full blast and have all the water drain out without accumulation. In this case, the water kept filling the sink after each plunging effort.

The theory I had was that enough pressure moving back and forth across the septic accretion would eventually work it loose. The concern I had was that the clog was too far away from the drain opening for the pressure from a simple plunger to work it free. I already knew the clog was nowhere in the drain from the plug back into the wall where the drain flow dropped. This meant it had to been in the wall, a good 2 feet away from the drain opening where I was plunging.

It can't be a good practice, I know, equating septic accretions in drains to food particles in teeth, but I'm not Miss Manners. When you have a piece of food stuck in your teeth with nary a toothpick in sight, you can use your fingernail, but sometimes that doesn't work. So you can suck air through your teeth to try freeing up the renegade ort. This can go on for a while, but eventually you usually sense the particle freeing up. Keep sucking enough and that bit of roast beef will eventually succumb. Burp.

It's the movement of the particle back and forth that allows it slowly to work free from the dental crevasse detaining it. My logic was that enough plunging would accomplish the same thing with my clog.

After a couple more tries with the plunger, the drain abruptly cleared. My mental efforts were vindicated. My clog problem was over. And I never paid a plumber.

I concluded last blog asserting that a success could mean I have a piece of i-candy to share with you. I've changed my mind and decided that the term "i-candy" only works well when the product is intellectual in nature--an illustration or a concept. So, no i-candy for you in this effort. Similarly the mental effort I might apply when the outcome is not physical ought not be termed "i-rumination." So I'm working on the idea of applying the term "mental mechanics" to the thinking effort. I don't have a term for the product yet. I'll let you know when I conceive one.

Next post: A return to i-candy. I think.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Clogged Drain

A number of months ago, I turned my mind to a developing problem: A slow drain. Not just any slow drain, an incorrigibly slow drain.

The obvious solution was the usual. I released the pop-up drain plug and cleared out all the accumulated hair.

That worked a little, but it was still not the drain of old. I've gotten a lot more tolerant of problems as I've gotten older, so the next effort didn't come for another couple (or more) weeks.

The next solution was to drop the drain trap and give that a go. I cleared out a good bit of accretion, but found to my surprise that the drain was still slow.

As far as I'm concerned, the thoughts I'd devoted to this problem don't constitute i-candy. Half-baked ideas and theories are what I call i-ruminations. (Our instructional technologist called them once ruinations. There may be some truth to that.) These efforts only become i-candy when they've reached the level of revelation.

The question was where did the clog reside? It wasn't in the stopper or the trap. In fact, I removed the drain pipe to the wall and cleared that outflow pipe right to the down pipe. So that meant the blockage had to be in the wall. The next step would have to be a professional plumber with a snake. But I'm as cheap as the next homeowner and didn't want to go that route until I'd exhausted the next easiest options. Short of borrowing a snake from some as-yet-unknown friend, I didn't immediately know what that option was.

In this case, I let the problem persist for a few more weeks as I continued to ruminate. Every time I used the sink, though, I'd devote more mental capital to the problem.

Actually, I did have an idea of the next easiest solution, but had already implemented it without any success. I'd taken a plunger to the drain at least twice, each time with no significant improvement in drainage.

But why hadn't it worked? If the developing blockage was in the wall, perhaps it was farther down the drain. If it was far enough down, the plunger could have failed simply because any change in pressure from the plunging action would have been inadequate so far away from the source. After all, air is a highly compressible substance; gases are like that.

If you blow through a short length of tube, the air coming out the end is pretty close to the pressure of that coming out of your mouth. As the tube increases in length, the pressure drops simply because of the compressive nature of gases. You have to blow much harder for the output pressure to be equal to the output for a shorter tube. The pressure change from a plunger is going to be pretty constant, so the farther away from the plunger the constriction happened to be, the less impact there would be from the plunging.

When the drainage matches the flow from a faucet trickle, desperation sets in. Oddly, the solution still didn't come in the form of a call to the plumber. My willingness to spend money had not increased an iota. So out came the plunger again. I didn't give up so easily this time. I shoofa-shoofaed a score of repetitions.

To my surprise the drainage improved. The flow now matched the flow from a modest faucet stream. It was time to ruminate.

If the septic accretion was further into the wall, why had any more plunging made a difference? (My willingness to try again was a bit less baffling. The cost of plunging is infinitesimal. The cost of a plumber? Shudder.) Repetition can be remarkably effective. The voice of a child asking for a cookie once is irritating. The sound of a child asking for the 100th time is erosive. (We do all know what happens if you give a mouse a cookie don't we?) I think what happened with my drain was that repetition did what just a few plunges failed to do; it gave an opportunity for some of the accretion to become loosened and freed.

I have a theory that plunging the drain for a longer time could make the real difference. I'll probably have to wait for the constriction to increase in order to maximize the pressure and its effectiveness, but if I'm right, I should have a freer drain, my hard-earned cash still in my pocket, and a happier wife.

I'll let you know. There may be some i-candy in it for you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Twitter and Blogger

I knew a little about the benefit of tweeting from a New York Times article, but I've come to my own conclusions after 3 weeks of tweeting and blogging.

I came to Twitter via the one person that I'm currently following: Joyce Valenza. As an adjunct professor who teaches a course on technology for school library media centers at Arcadia University, I have 2 field trips I take my students on. One to a K-8 school library and one to a 9-12 school library. The latter is where Joyce comes in. She's the school librarian at Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, PA.

Last year I heard her mention Twitter for the first time. I recognized it for its instant messaging capability then because she tweeted about our imminent arrival and shared the greetings that subsequently arrived from across the Twitterverse.

This year she asked if I was on Twitter yet. (No.) What tipped the balance in the direction of joining is her comment that she herself does not follow just anyone. She follows people who have something to say. This was interesting. People on Twitter aren't just sharing about what cat food they bought today. Some are sharing about more substantive matters. (Not that tweets about cat food don't matter. Any tweet reveals something significant about the tweeter. I simply wasn't ready to join Twitter to read that type of tweet.)

'Well I have something substantive to say. I'm thinking all the time about a whole boatload of weighty matters.' So I joined Twitter and immediately started following Joyce. I also started a blog because I knew I wouldn't be able to convey everything I wanted to say about a particular piece of i-candy I was enjoying in less than 141 characters. Then I linked Twitter and blog together. And I tweet and blog about matters of substance--to me. I try not to go on about nothing. There is are so many ideas going on in my head about many things, I don't much have to.

So I like Twitter because it does force me to encapsulate a solid idea in a few words. I like Blogger because I can delve into one topic at length. It's 2 great tastes that go great together.

I have had trouble finding people to follow. I've searched academic librarians and instruction librarians, but have found that what they have to say doesn't grab me. (I'm cool. I'll find people eventually.)

I myself have 5 followers on Twitter. None of them Joyce. (Again, I'm cool. I'm just not tweeting her kind of stuff. I am after all an academic librarian.) I have 1 follower on my blog i-candy by wangc. I think she's family (library family, that is).

Perhaps my i-candy is for you. Then join the list. Either one of them.

Works Cited
"Twitter." New York Times. 21 April 2009 <>.

An Older, Less-used Hat

This morning I conducted an online orientation session to our library's resources for a group of 4 clinical instructors in our Physical Therapy department.

Background Info
Our physical therapy program results in a doctor of physical therapy degree. Students go through a hands-on training experience in offices where current professionals are actively seeing patients. This is called a clinical internship. Arcadia University has somewhere in the range of 500 clinical instructors in clinics all over the country. CIs who wish to have access to our library's resources online may request it. The session this morning was the first online orientation to help those CIs become familiar with what we have to offer.

I bring to this position an interest in the health sciences, but I'm a general reference librarian as well, and general reference is what I do for the most part.

Technology Issues
I was using Wimba to conduct the session, an application with which I've had a pinch of experience but not recently. Wimba allows participants to use either a computer headset or a telephone to participate in the session aurally and verbally. It took me 15 minutes of negotiating a computer headset, a telephone handset, and a wicked echo before realizing that all I needed was the telephone. Wimba connects the computer with the telephone through the phone handset. And this was happening AFTER the session started.

I also had 2 people of the 4 unable to follow my computer presentation because I failed to register them. (Fix that quickly.) A 3rd didn't know his password, but obtained a temporary one from the PT staff member helping me to organize the orientation. The first participant got on only because I noticed his voicemail message to me and was able to get him the conference call information before the other issues arose. All this juggling happened because I got into my office 5 minutes before the session was to start. Which itself required me getting the kids to a friend's house 45 minutes early so they could get to the bus stop.

Presentation Issues
Have you ever done a presentation without any visual or aural feedback from your audience? It must be what actors go through when they have to play to the camera. Wimba is like that because everyone is just listening to you. You have to maintain your train of thought, be animated, navigate the website, And sound capable with no audience feedback. Happily, that changed as I proceeded through the session and began inviting participation. I'm not afraid to call on people by name. And with a list of attendees in front of me in Wimba, no one is immune regardless of eye contact or lack.

Instructional Issues
I usually poll students to find out what they already know about using article databases. In the chaos of getting the session running, I never thought to do this with the participating clinical instructors. I learned further in that one of the participants Teaches students how to find clinical evidence. The rest had largely never used article databases.

Another of my practices during library research instruction is to make sure participants know how to limit searches to full-text because that's what so many university students want. If you're looking for one article on abortion, you don't have to be too picky. Limit the search to full-text, find an article, and force your paper to accommodate what the article says.

For anyone trying to do a comprehensive topic search, this isn't good enough because only a fraction of the total number of articles you retrieve in a search may have full-text. For students like these, I tell them not to worry initially how they will obtain the article. Find good information first, then use supplemental strategies to obtain the article.

With these CIs, I was in general searcher mode. I showed them how to limit their search results in PubMed. Them not being on campus to get any articles from journals we might have in print, I received a couple murmurs of approval. My experienced searcher interjected that she discourages her student interns from limiting to full-text because the articles might not be comprehensive enough to help make a clinical decision that will benefit patients.

I wholeheartedly concurred with her and offered mea culpa for presenting with the wrong hat on my head. Then I pointed to the supplemental strategies for obtaining articles.

The session ended up serving the purpose, both of educating the CIs about our resources and reminding me that I'm a little out of touch with the needs of health science researchers. No problem. I'm ready now for my next session Thursday night.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going to a Lot of Trouble to Knockoff

My parents, repatriated American citizens, came to visit from China bearing gifts.

I received a Burberry pullover shirt of which I was immediately suspicious. China is known for being a haven for knockoff products (LaFranier). A look at the quality of the stitching helped to confirm my suspicion, but the clincher was to come only after a look on the Internet and a comparison of the labels. I like how the B for Burberry ended up as an R (for ripoff?).


What was more interesting to me was how the tag was attached to the shirt. Connecting the tag to the label was a plastic ornament injection-molded to nylon cord loops coming out both ends. The ornament was 1 1/4" long and 3/8" wide. The tag was on one loop and the other loop went through the fold of the label.

I could see that the ornament was not simply clamshell-clipped onto the cord. There were no knots of any sort. So how did the garment worker secure the ornament to the label and tag?

A study of the end of the ornament revealed that only one end of the loop of cord was molded into it. The other end looked to be molded into a very small piece of plastic inserted into the larger ornament.

I guessed that miniature piece to be a clip of some sort. It initially seemed like a lot of trouble to secure tag to label; but
if it made the final product more convincing, so much the better. Anyway, the effort would have to be on the mold fabrication side. Once the ornament got molded, slipping the clip into the ornament would be a vast time savings over tying a knot.

I cracked the ornament open and found my suspicion confirmed about the nature of the ornament.

There were several elements I brought to this puzzle. One was curiosity. Another was intuition. And another was experience. (Perhaps you'll identify more.)

Wrapped in the curiosity was observation. I noticed something. I wondered about it.

The intuition about the ornament came partly from a former life as an applied materials research scientist.

The experience came from curiosity about other locking devices like nylon clips on backpacks.

Perhaps the real significance of this event is that those various elements make me a more involved academic librarian.

I wonder.

I intuit.

I draw on experience.

Works Cited
LaFranier, Sharon. "Facing Counterfeiting Crackdown, Beijing Vendors Fight Back." New York Times. 1 March 2009. 19 April 2009 <>.

haganah. "Burberry Prorsum." Weblog comment. 2 April 2009. StyleForum. 19 April 2009 <>.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Handling Bad Assignments from Professors

(Twitter is failing me because I get no input box in which to tweet.)

One of our librarians distributed a web article she came across recently about bad library assignments professors make their students do (Collier). The article is from a second-year librarian. She comments about the difficulty of imagining approaching a faculty member to discuss the assignment. "What moxie!" She says.

I'm now a fourth-year librarian and in many ways I've forgotten about the challenge of approaching faculty. I think this is mostly because (I believe) I've both cultivated a strong relationship with my faculty and learned how to be diplomatic with phrasing concerns. It helps that despite being a fourth-year librarian, I've been in the work world for 20 years and have an easily approachable personality (I've been told!).

Last year I noticed the pattern of students from the same course searching for specific articles on genetic modification every year. The big problem was that the obvious keywords of gene modification weren't yielding good results. Couple that with the problem of the article having to be less than 3 years old and no one being permitted to use an article that someone else found.

I nipped the problem in the bud by immediately getting on the phone and asking the instructor for an opportunity to do a 15-minute instruction. What worked is that I knew the instructor and knew I could approach the subject tactfully by offering to come into the class. But even if I hadn't known the instructor, I'd still have made the call. Just another opportunity to connect with someone!

As students we see professors as paragons of intellect and wisdom that we must uphold with high regard and can approach only with temerity and humility. They are people, too, with their own personalities, weaknesses, and insecurities! So much can be accomplished by approaching them with due respect, tact, and empathy, but with candor.

Not to say there aren't profs who are full of themselves. At least at Arcadia University, I don't see much of them. There will be situations in which problems are irresolvable. Nobody wins all the time.

Works Cited
Collier, Ellie. "Stepping on Toes: The Delicate Art of Talking to Faculty about Questionable Assignments." In the Library with the Lead Pipe. 18 March 2009. 17 April 2009 <>.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Troubleshooting technology

At Arcadia University, reference librarians work with instructional technologists in a unit within the Library Department called Instructional Technology and Library Research Services. The details of why this is and why it's a good idea are for another post. The significance is that besides being the Sciences Librarian, I'm also the student supervisor for instructional technology.

With final presentations fast arriving (it's Week 13 of 14), we're actively managing poster printing. These posters are the big ones you see at professional meetings that students have prepared based on their research.

The lab where the padawans work (read padawan as student apprentices--only the Sith have apprentices) is in the library physically. The large format printer is in Information Technology in a neighboring building. This makes life interesting because we have to monitor the progress of printing remotely. Although you can see from the printer window if a print job has failed, you don't necessarily know exactly why. So far the only causes I've known of are empty ink cartridges or a spent paper roll. I haven't known of more causes because this year is the first that I've done this supervision and, thus, been involved with the printing process.

One phenomenon that I did notice as we monitored printing remotely is that there are other users printing other projects that aren't posters. You can see them interspersed with the presentation poster print jobs we send.

Here's the lesson. It is important to get to know the relevant processes before giving full control to a padawan--or anyone else for that matter. After all, knowledge is power.

I'm sitting next to the printer now because there are no padawans on duty. Normally I'd be in the library but the printer report indicated that there was a failure. I could have called an IT student apprentice (they must be Sith over in IT) to check on the printer status, but I figured I'd just look myself.

What I found was a lab full of design students. My poster print job was failing because the design students were trading out paper rolls from poster paper to drawing vellum. I watched a student change the paper back but still had the poster print job I was handling fail twice more. I looked at the printer and noticed it querying for the user to load the paper even though she already had and had then left for the day. I removed the poster paper and reloaded it. Then I realized that she had never changed the printer's paper setting. She had changed the paper to poster paper, but the setting was still for vellum.

If I had been sitting in the library, I would never have realized that the other print jobs I was seeing in the queue could be contributing to failed print jobs. So now I know of 3 possible reasons why a print job can fail that I can notify the padawans to be aware of.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rubric, what rubric?

One of the challenges of the Tech for School Library Media Centers I teach has been determining what my rubric should be for grading assignments. Originally (last year, that is), it started as a simple 33%-33%-33%. 33% of the grade would be synopsis of the article selected for the assignment, 33% would be reflection on some aspect of the article, and 33% would be for describing application of some element of the technology featured in the article. That seemed pretty straightforward to me. I just needed to help the students understand what I meant by application: It was to be an explanation of how they would use what they had learned from the article. Since few of the students were practicing school librarians, I told them to imagine how they would apply the technology, recognizing that there was at least value in that exercise.

After the first paper last year, I realized that I wanted more in that rubric. I wanted to see something extra that they were doing to enhance the learning in the assignment. If the article was about a web technology, then that extra effort needed to be consultation of another article or perhaps of a website or even a person. Somehow that effort needed to distinguish the work from one fulfilling the basic requirements of the assignment. So the rubric was now 30/30/30/10 for synopsis, reflection, application, and effort. (Effort would eventually become Value Added to avoid the confusion that arose from people who thought they had put a lot of hard work into their assignments--not the same thing.)

This rubric seemed to serve the assignments well the first year. This year, though, I spent a lot of time getting the students to devote 1/3 of their writing efforts to each part. Students were tending to spend more time on synopsis and less on application. So I kept telling them that if approximately 1/3 of the grade was for each part, then they should be devoting 1/3 of the length of the paper to each of those parts.

As each assignment passed this year, I also began noticing other elements that were important that students needed guidance on. I started grading on the quality of the writing, the adherence to MLA's citation style, good grammar, and good punctuation.

Another element that became more prominent was the length of the papers. Although I had set page limits and font style and size, a fair number of students were ignoring those requirements. One kept generating papers 20% shorter than everyone else and a couple were writing ones up to 50% longer.

About halfway into the course one of my students complained about the rubric being too general. I couldn't understand what she meant
at the time, so I decided I wouldn't make any changes. I did start comparing notes with other professors.

What became increasingly clear was that quality writing was not as implicit as I thought--neither was following certain assignment requirements. Suddenly, the need for a more specific rubric became clear. I decided not to rewrite the rubric for this year since all the writing was now done. Any changes I could add to the syllabus for next year.

In my class today, however, a student asked for a detailed rubric for the final project. Not a written paper, but a library and technology website, I admitted I didn't have one. This time I was more ready to put something together. As each of 4 groups of students worked together during our class lab time, I collected notes on what I noticed I was liking and not liking. I immediately began making comments and suggestions. Based on my observations and those about the writing assignments, I began formulating hard numbers. I have yet to assign weights. I'll get the actual percentages in place this week and will have the rubric done in time for everyone to use. In this case, better late than never. And next year's class will be none the wiser.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What is I-candy?

Flashback: A few months ago, I was chatting with an education professor. Our conversation turned to the issue of how to evaluate the graduate students I teach in my Technology for School Library Media Centers class. I wanted to get the students to think more about ideas we discussed in class. Since she knew I required weekly journal postings of my students, she suggested I assign a topic for them to journal on rather than leave it open-ended. This idea was brilliance and after our conversation was done, I rushed up to share it with the director of the library, my boss. In the last year since she joined Arcadia University from Delaware County Community College, Jeanne had been (and continues to be) an enthusiastic ear to any thoughts I had to share. I perched myself in her office and said, "I have a piece of i-candy--intellectual candy--to share with you." This was the first time I uttered the word that had been bouncing around my head for a few weeks even before that. The day was Friday, 1/23/09.

Jeanne loved the term; so I started using it in other conversations I had with people about ideas I was ruminating on. And no one else has failed to appreciate the serendipity of double entendre and mental imagery.

Now: Here's what I mean when I use the term. I-candy is a choice combination of conceptual ingredients and cogitation that results in something worth sharing with someone else.

In the context of the university library and teaching library research instruction, i-candy usually has to do with some realization I've made about what we librarians teach, how we teach it, and how the students we teach receive it. In this case the i-candy comes under the librarians' topic of Information Literacy. But as you'll notice in my previous post on Circles of Knowledge, i-candy isn't limited to library research instruction. In the case of that model, it had to do with teaching in general. I plan to share my Model of Professional Interaction that is i-candy about constructive workplaces. And there'll be i-candy about thoughts that have nothing to do with libraries or teaching at all. Whatever I happen to be thinking about that I think you might be interested in reading is fair game.

To get a feel for what some of those topics could be, read my tweets at

Who are you, then? Well, I suspect most of you are librarians. (At the time of this writing, actually, there's only one of you actually following me. If it's who I think it is, she's our Circulation Librarian.) But eventually, I hope, my following will be an eclectic mish-mosh of people who are wondering what a particular academic librarian might be pondering.

Know this, though, I'll try never to get too trivial. There's already too much of that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Technologization of Life or Just Making of Unexpected Connections...or Both

Occasionally I find some unexpected connections between unrelated events. During Easter celebration this morning, the worship leader announced the name of the next song we would be singing. No problem. But it was the name of the song we had just finished singing. It startled me because I wasn't sure what had just happened. Yes; he said the name of that song a few minutes before. And, yes, he just said it again, didn't he? As the leader corrected himself, my father-in-law stated the obvious to my mother-in-law: "He just said the name of the same song." With a split-second to think, I turned around and said, "The CD player was set on track repeat."

Another moment later I had a chance to process what I just said. I hadn't simply described an event in technological terms. I had made an understandable connection between two unrelated events.

This event accentuated another event that I experienced at my brother-in-law's house yesterday. I was shooting some pool with my sister-in-law's husband when he made a dramatic, though unplanned, shot that I happened to catch only out of the corner of my eye. I said then, "I need to see that on instant replay."

If I were assessing the quality of my life based on the ability to experience one-time events again, I suppose one would have to say that I'd become pathetic. Unrequited YouTuber. But I wasn't. I saw enough of the shot to appreciate it for what it was. I didn't really have to capture it. (Now, maybe if it had been a cooler shot...)

What was interesting was that two events exemplified how technological life had become. And not simply for me. Both of the comments I made over two different days made perfect sense to the people who heard it. We've all become more technological.

There is another part to this that isn't about technology. You'll find that I can make some unexpected connections in other ways. This is what makes me the person I am.

I was in London in the middle of March. Arcadia University is known for its study abroad opportunities. I was with 25 other faculty and staff members leading 300 students on an annual Spring Break chance for first-year students to decide if they might want to study abroad for an entire term. I was with some students tromping up the steps of St. Paul's cathedral. One particular gal was ready to bail out of the vertical trek to meet up with us again on the way down. I goaded, taunted, and cajoled her successfully. And as she continued the marathon with much whining and complaining, I motivated her with the words: "Come on. It's no worse than an eight-page paper."

I see myself as a big-picture thinker. Perhaps the endpoint of this post is not the technologization of life, but really the making of unexpected connections. Keep an eye out in subsequent posts and see if you agree.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Circles of Knowledge Model

This is the 2nd year I'm teaching my Technology for School Library Media Centers class at Arcadia University. The students this spring were noteworthy because so many had only rudimentary technology skills. The first day of class was a day full of apprehension for them about what would be coming throughout the term.

The first technology I showed them was blogging (Google to read some of their posts: ED566e I wanted them to journal what they were processing from each week. It was an obvious connection to merge that with journaling technology like blogging.

With each passing week, you could see their confidence level was increasing. So much of technology is being willing to try something new out. (Having a controlled environment and someone to walk through with you helps.)

Somewhere around the 4th week of class I was struck with the idea of a model about what I was seeing with regard to their increasing confidence. (Aside: I get these kinds of ideas; hence this blog. "I've got a piece of i-candy that I want to share with you.") The terms came a little later.

My students came in with a certain sense of what they knew about technology: Perceived Status. A small circle (very small for some) represents this status. There is another circle in which Perceived Status sits called Perceived Need.

(Incidentally, I'm working on a graphic for this that I'll share hopefully before too long, but understand that I diagram mentally first. This is both nature and nurture, which I'll share about in a later post about my background. Note also that I digress easily which makes for a lot of parenthetical writing.)

Perceived Need is a larger circle. For students that had some technology aptitude coming in, Perceived Status is larger than for those with nominal skills. For both sets of students, Perceived Need does not have to be terribly much larger for the student to be overwhelmed.

Some geometry here: The area of a circle is pi-r-squared. (You remember this don't your?) If a circle increases in radius by 2 times, it might seem to be 2x larger. Because of the square of the r in the area equation, however, the area increases by a square of the radius. So the radius may double, but the area increases by 2-squared, i.e., 4x. That may not seem like much, but if the circle increases in radius by 4x, the area increase is 16x. The area of the circle gets larger very quickly.

My point is that Perceived Status doesn't have to be much bigger than Perceived Need for the effect to become substantial. If students' perceived need is much larger than their perceived status then it isn't difficult to imagine how overwhelmed they must actually be.

Well the more students learn, the larger the circle of their perceived status becomes. These students only have to look at the syllabus to understand how big Perceived Need is relative to the class. It's finite. Doesn't change over the course of the class; but Perceived Status does. It actually gets closer and closer in size to Perceived Need as the class approaches its end. (April 30 is final presentations!)

(By the way, the idea of Perceived Need relative to the class being finite because the syllabus is fixed came to me as I drafted this posting. Before this moment, I had a sense of Perceived Need having only an undefined size.)

Well no wonder students become more confident; Perceived Status is slowly reaching Perceived Need in size. They are slowly grasping more and more of what they need to know so they are rapidly becoming less overwhelmed.

What they will need to realize is that Perceived Need is actually a smaller circle within yet a larger circle called Actual Need. I'm realizing (again as I write) that syllabuses are extremely important because they keep students' brains from exploding. Picture how small Perceived Status would be if they could picture it within the circle of Actual Need. After all, Actual Need can represent everything they need to learn as university students (yikes-squared) or everything they need to know as school library media specialists (rapid-expansion-of-volatile-gases-leading-to-catastrophic-redistribution-of-brain-matter: yucks-squared).

Circles of Knowledge Model will come back again in subsequent posts. It's an important model to me.

Last digression: You can read my tweet on Twitter about former Arcadia student Ben Scheinfeld's visit to me in which I shared about him expanding on the model. (Obviously the tweet is short; less than 141 characters long. It's just a red herring to get you to follow me on Twitter.) I shared it with him because he was dissatisfied with the current research he's doing on plants at Academy of Natural Sciences. He shooting for medical research at Jefferson University I told him that I wanted to talk to him again in a few years because I knew what he was learning would eventually enter the circle of actual need. He pictured several circles of perceived status from different areas slowly reaching out to each other as they grew in size and began to overlap within the circle of actual need.

As I tweeted earlier, people make life interesting!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What does the grade mean?

I teach a class for Education grad students in our School Library Certification program called Technology for School Library Media Centers (SLMC). You can read my tweets about grading final papers on Twitter.

Here are some i-ruminations.

I have 2 students who are particularly good writers. They are engaging. They're thoughtful. They know how to follow my rubric.

(Synopsis of an article, 30%; reflection on the article or its topic, 30%; application of a related idea to current or future practice as a School Library Media Specialist; value added, i.e., some identifiable extra bit of work that a peer might not be doing such as researching the topic online, 10%.)

Every year I can recommend students for Pennsylvania School Library Association's Outstanding Student Librarian Award. Here are the qualifications:

  • Maintains a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in their major.
  • Displays outstanding leadership qualities and has potential to be a future leader in PSLA.
  • Demonstrates an interest in professional action.
  • Dedication to the school library field as a profession.

In preparation for doing this next Spring, I've been paying close attention to all of my students and these 2 excellent have risen to the top.

I have several other students who are not such good writers. A couple I've even referred to our writing center for help with grammar, punctuation, idea development, etc. One student whom I referred did not impress me at all with her first paper
(of 4) . By the 2nd paper, it was clear that she needed a referral. She took my suggestion gamely and sought help for the last 2 papers. Last night I did a once-over of the final paper and I was thrilled. Something worked. Yet when I think about students whom I'd like to commend for this PSLA award, she doesn't come first to mind.

Why not? After talking to her about her earlier papers, I knew that writing was not something she considered herself to be good at. But she is a practicing school librarian who just needs a master's degree to her name. She claims she's a doer not a writer, so she taught herself how to use her new SMART Board. Well that's good, isn't it? Show's potential? Writing skills shouldn't limit her. Indeed, the fact that she took my suggestion to get tutoring help sets her even further apart as an achiever than natural writers.

What may be related (or not) is that she came into the class with few technology skills. Students like her tend to write about topics that, though fascinating, have gotten a lot of attention already and hence can become trite for a professor to read: blogs, wikis, social networking.

Naturally, I can't ethically and don't grade students based on what they bring into the class technologically. I grade them on the rubric which deals with the topics; both basic and advanced. But if more novice students with weaker writing skills write about subject matter that can seem trite to me, how will they stand out as potential award recipients? This student wrote her last paper on website evaluation. Those excellent writers wrote on open source applications and smartphones for accessing web content, respectively. The latter topics are atypical and they wrote insightfully. The former topic is more basic but her writing improved drastically. So who gets a commendation? Beats me.