Some Thoughts On Course Evaluations

30/11/2011 § 6 Comments

Photo by Todd Binger

It’s nearing the end of the term—and that means course evaluations are looming. To be honest, I start thinking about course evaluations on the first day of class. I like to keep mental notes on my classes throughout the semester so that I have coherent comments to offer up at the end of each term. I’ve been mentally grading my teachers and classes since junior high. Lately, I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking on the evaluations themselves to try to understand their purpose and what I can do to make the most of them.

What do professors want?
In thinking about this post, my biggest question was—what do professors want from our evaluations? I reached out to a few professors that I know (across many different fields) and posted this question to them. The breakout theme? Specific comments. Professors want specific feedback on the negative AND positive elements of their class. If you didn’t like the syllabus—tell them exactly why. If a paper led to an epiphany about your career goals—say so. In many cases, the comments section of an evaluation form is preceded by a tedious list of ranking and fill in the blank questions. Don’t fizzle out and turn in the evaluation until you write something personal and specific to the professor. « Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership in the Library Industry

17/10/2011 § 6 Comments

View of the British Library Reading Room. Photographed by Hugh Chevallier. Posted here under a Creative Commons License.

I love theory. The ideas that disciplines and professions are based off of. The bedrock of our world views. The base of our ideologies.

Some of my favorite courses in library school were the foundation courses. At the time they were frustrating, because I wanted to be working in a library. But now that I am working in the field, I appreciate those theory courses the most.

I find LIS theory to be a fascinating creature. We have our own theorists (like Ranganathan, Dervin and Kuhlthau) but we are also a discipline of adoptive theory. Communication, education, business and management, sociology, gender studies, even engineering theories (HCI and UX principles are starting to take over the profession) are all relevant to LIS.

One of the last required foundation classes I took was Management and Leadership in the Library Industry. While most of the class discussions were focused on Taylorism and Scientific Management versus more current humanist approaches to management, our instructor provided a very interesting recommended reading list. On it were authors whose books are typically found on the shelves of business sections: Stephen R. Covey, John P. Kotter, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel H. Pink and Peter F. Drucker. I’ll admit: at first I scoffed at these books. Having a background in sociology, I want my theorist to be a bit grittier (and a bit more European): Foucault, Durkheim, Marx, Marcuse and Weber. So I pretty much stuck to the required reading and was none the wiser…

…until recently. I had a good friend (and non-librarian) recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. This was a title that was on that recommended reading list, and one that I normally pass over. But the friend who recommended it was not someone I would think of as reading it: she spent a number of years selling fair-trade organic coffee, has spent a fair amount of time traveling in Africa and Latin America (including Chiapas, land of the Zapatista) and only recently started working for a corporation (Whole Foods) because of the horrible economy. Not exactly your rank-and-file corporate worker. So I had to check this book out.

Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying it, and finding much of Collins’ ideas surrounding leadership 100% applicable to libraries.

The most relevant lesson taken away so far is what Collins calls “the window and the mirror” theory:

“[Top-tier] leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well….At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly. The comparison leaders did just the opposite. They’d look out the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit themselves when things went well. (Collins, Good to Great, p. 35)”

Collins uses steel producing companies to exemplify this idea. CEOs of mediocre companies would look out the window and see internationally produced cheap steel as the reason why their companies were not reaching their potential. While the CEOs of top steel companies saw the internationally produced cheap steel as an opportunity. The competing companies would have to ship the steel to the US at exorbitant prices, giving the American companies a distinct advantage. Likewise, these top companies look at their own operations for ways to improve their business, rather than blame outside factors for their failures.

I think the window/mirror theory is an excellent mindset not just for individual leaders, but for the library industry as a whole. We could look at declining circulation counts or reference questions as a factor out of our control that is pushing our services to the periphery. Or, we can look at the changing information searching behaviors of our patrons as an opportunity to offer innovative services and resources that exceeds our users expectations.

For example: In 2009, Project Information Literacy released a progress report, with findings that describes course readings, Google and instructors as the first resources students turn to when researching topics for their school work, and librarians as an overlooked resource. Looking for external factors to blame for lack of library use, this study could be a shining example. Instead, we should look at the fact that students are rarely seeking out librarians as an opportunity to create new services (such as embedded librarianship or collaborating with instructors and faculty) to better assist students. And we should be looking at our current services for potential areas of improvement.

It is widely know that we live in a time of change. Libraries of all types are facing major budget cuts, and we are fighting tooth and nail for what resources we do receive. Rather than being Chicken Littles about it, looking out the window to avoid falling pieces of the sky, we should be looking at the changes we face as the new reality and continue to offer excellent services and exceed our users expectations. Now is the time to ensure our place as leaders in the fight for a citizenry who is not just information literate, but information fluent.

I know that this book has been out for over a decade, and some of the companies that Collins have listed as “great” companies have been the most affected by our current recession (such as the now defunct Circuit City), but Good to Great is still an excellent read. It’s worth checking out. But, as my hero Levar Burton often said: “You don’t have to take my word for it…”

Google University

07/07/2011 § 11 Comments

I had actually planned on writing a post about informal networking this week.  But then I was distracted.  That distraction came in the form of an invite to Google’s new, Google+ platform.  A great deal has already been written about the platform so I won’t get into the details of the actual program.  What I want to discuss is down a different path.

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Hack Your Program: Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management

31/05/2011 § 20 Comments

Disclaimer: This is a post of my individual perspective on my MLIS program and not representative of  the student body or faculty of ESU. I started the program in the fall of 2009 and will finish in December of 2011.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details of my experience with Emporia State University’s  School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) Portland Cohort, I would like to share a little of my journey into the program.

Keep Portland Weird

While I have always wanted to go into library school, I really didn’t think I would find myself enrolled in an online-program. I moved to Portland, Oregon from the east coast, with the intention of  hanging out for six months to a year before returning home to start a MLIS program. Fast forward two and a half years, I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with this town and realize I’m going to be here for a while. I was working at a corporate bookstore, and two of my coworkers had just started library school with Emporia’s distance learning program. Based in Kansas, ESU’s SLIM offers cohort programs in Salt Lake City, Denver and here in Portland. Since SLIM was the only MLIS program in Oregon, SLIM was the one for me.

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Non-Traditional Roles in LIS

11/04/2011 § 24 Comments

Research Analyst.  Yup, no “librarian” in that title.  Yet, it’s my current job title.  And it is the job title of my 6 other colleagues.  They all of have MLIS degrees (and very soon so will I!)  Now I’ve discussed my role in a previous post on special libraries.  So I won’t go into that again.  But what I did want to talk about is this whole idea of using the skills taught in the MLIS degree and how you can apply them to positions outside the “typical” library setting.

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