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Welcome Back? October 16, 2011

Posted by Christopher Lemery in Library Instruction, PaLA.

Hello again, everyone. You may have noticed that this blog went on a little six-month hiatus. It’s not the first time a blog has been “orphaned,” and it definitely won’t be the last. However, I will try and update the site more regularly from now on. I also hope to write about what’s been going on with me the past few months. For now however, I wanted to write about the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) Annual Conference which was held here in State College from October 2-5.

First off, let me say how great it is to have a conference in your own town. It’s great to be able to roll out of your own bed and drive right to the conference. This is particularly nice when you get a nasty cold the day before the conference! The downside is that it didn’t “feel” like a conference in the way the past two PaLA Annual conferences did because I didn’t have to travel.

I went to a lot of good sessions, but I’ll highlight only a few here. Many of the session presentations and handouts can be found here at the PaLA website.

The first session I went to was “Assessment as a Collaborative Activity: Evaluating Faculty/Librarian Partnerships in the Development of Assessment Tools” by Larissa Gordon from Arcadia University. Larissa’s main theme was that planning an information literacy assessment program is messy and is cyclical rather than a one-time thing. Larissa said that a good assessment program involves 4 groups:

  1. instruction librarians
  2. classroom faculty
  3. teaching & learning center
  4. program coordinators

The term “program coordinator” was new to me, but Larissa explained that it is a full-time faculty member who oversees a program in a department. They’re not the same thing as a department head. They may be called something different depending on the school. My main takeaway from the session was Larissa’s broader view of assessment. I always thought about assessment as primarily involving the instruction librarians and faculty, but I now see the benefit of conceptualizing it as a continuous dialogue between these 4 groups. Larissa also pointed out that a new assessment program can build on already-existing efforts in a given department or college. She also noted that faculty and program coordinators may feel that they’re being judged when assessment is done and may push back against it. However, it’s key to emphasize that the assessment is of the information literacy the librarian is doing, not of the class or the professor.

I next went to by Calvin Wang, who’s also from Arcadia. Called “An End-Run down the Rights,” he discussed good instruction sessions and one-on-one consultations. He noted the importance of “rights” in a good instruction session and critical thinking activity:

  • the right activity
  • for the right knowledge
  • to the right population
  • at the right time
  • under the right circumstances

After looking at the confluence of “rights” that have to be in place, it’s no wonder that instruction sessions don’t always succeed!

One session that really opened my eyes was entitled “Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries: Three Perspectives.” Melissa Gold of Millersville U. talked about curriculum mapping, which is a graphical representation of the cirriculum. Its most common form is a grid you fill in with goals and ratings. Creating a curriculum map is time-consuming and it’s usually best viewed as a continuous process of improvement, but it can help other academic departments and university administration easily see how the library is doing.

Scott Anderson, of Millersville U. , had a presentation (the PPT file can be found here) about WeaveOnline, which is a really powerful (and expensive!) software package that helps with reporting and tracking of planning and assessment activities across the university campus. Scott said that in filling in its part in the program, the library can essentially “push” its reports and results into university-wide reports so their work shows up without having someone ask for it. Scott said they’ve also linked with information literacy components of academic departments’ assessments, which helps market the Library’s accomplishments and demonstrate value. Dick Swain from West Chester University discussed TracDat and LibPAS, two other assessment programs.

My takeaway from this session was that demonstrating value is a lot more than saying “look, we have x number of students using our library!” It’s becoming increasingly complex and time-consuming as assessment becomes more important at many institutions. If used well, however, these programs can really help market the library and show areas where improvement is necessary.

The final presentation I want to highlight is “Rethinking Information Literacy: Classroom Evidence for Incorporating Students’ Social Media Practices Into our Professional Understanding” by Donna Mazziotti and Teresa Grettano of the University of Scranton. Their excellent presentation (which is available on the PaLA Conference page I linked to at the beginning) was the most interesting and thought-provoking one I attended. Mazziotti is a Librarian and Grettano is an English professor. They teamed up to teach a rhetoric and social media class that used Facebook and incorporated many information literacy components. They highlighted some of the things they learned from the class, including:

  • information is now social
    • Facebook users notice who shared a story and the sharer’s comments before the original source and content of the story
  • things that aren’t free are viewed more skeptically
    • makes justifying library resources in paid databases tougher
  • passion and expertise are now conflated

Their presentation showed that social media and the social way information is sought and discovered will have significant implications for information literacy standards and instruction methods going forward. I’ll be interested to see how the ACRL information literacy standards change in the future!



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