Opening education and ourselves

One of the things I’ve gotten very involved with in my time at a community college is helping to encourage and support the adoption, adaptation, or creation of open educational resources. I’ve written about this here at Nocturnal Librarian a couple of times, including sharing with readers what students say they would buy if they didn’t have to spend money on textbooks.

But I gained another valuable perspective at the recent OpenEd19 conference. Some of the best sessions I attended were by students, and at one of those I realized there is another benefit to OERs that I hadn’t fully understood until I heard students talk about it: if you can’t buy course materials, you feel like you are faking it in class. This is not just a problem of learning (because many persistent students get around not having a book in all sorts of creative ways, by sharing, taking photos of pages they need to read, or finding alternatives to the textbook), but of attainment — there have been many studies linking student success and a sense of belonging. You can’t feel like you belong in college if you are mired in imposter syndrome because you are just trying to get by without an expensive textbook you can’t afford.

At OpenEd I also heard some presentations on including students in solving the problem, either by including them in the co-creation of materials in the classes they’re enrolled in (known as open pedagogy) or hiring them to help faculty build OER courses. Both of these endeavors are additional ways to counter imposter syndrome with participation. If you feel like you don’t fit in the status quo, what’s more powerful than being part of changing it? Plus, students gain useful experience and a sense that they are capable autodidacts who can learn what they need when the work they do and the world around them changes and they need to adapt.

Because it changes, doesn’t it? Another powerful session I attended was presented by a panel of librarians talking about the need for community, because for many of us working on opening up our campuses to these practices, our job descriptions or responsibilities don’t actually include this work. The panel also noted that we librarians also sometimes face imposter syndrome when we’re at the table with faculty, instructional designers, and learning technology staff. I went into the session thinking I just wanted to hear about the need for community but I didn’t actually need that “other stuff” and came out realizing, yes, I do. So, I’m going to work on owning that “other stuff” and getting comfortable with the messiness of choosing to do something that I’ve mostly learned on my own and added to my role not only because it’s a priority on my campus, and a priority for making higher ed more accessible for students, but because I am perfectly capable of pursuing professional interests without having been granted expertise by anyone else.

Like our students, I can create my own agency and efficacy. And if I do that with them, all the better, because we’ll learn from each other as we go and strengthen each other’s sense of belonging. I hear a lot of people talk about how hard it is to actually have community at a community college because people (faculty as well as students) are not there very much — they come to class and then head off campus to other responsibilities at work and home. But open educational practices, it seems to me, can counter that by drawing people together around a shared purpose in a way that packaged curriculum can’t match. Opening education can and does change our work, our learning, and our world. And if that work doesn’t belong to all of us, what does?

**update — here’s what happens when a student feels people in higher ed (librarians in this case, I am happy to report) are actually listening: https://openstax.org/blog/true-champions-oer-movement

Back to the beginning

Today I went to my local public library. As a patron, not a staff member. It was, admittedly, a strange sensation, not least because I couldn’t find my hold, which turned out to have been cancelled (yikes! I’ll have to read those emails more closely) but one I will have to get used to. I’ve left the public library world to return to the place where Nocturnal Librarian began — a small private liberal arts university where I’ll be the assistant director of the library. It’s a good move for me, career wise, and I will enjoy serving the academic community again. But of course, I will remain a champion of public libraries, and I’ll be in good company.  I know of at least two colleagues at the university who serve as trustees at their own local libraries.

Educators are big library fans, and at my interview I actually got into a great discussion with some professors about the future of public libraries and their role in society. I love that kind of discourse, which is one reason I feel good about making this change. I also love helping people find the information they need, and am looking forward to those “ah ha” moments with students that I remember well from when I was a night reference librarian at this same college a few years ago. Universities are pretty much entirely staffed by members of the book tribe, which I love. So I’m pretty excited to start!

Stay tuned to hear about my adventures in academia. And see what I’ve been reading between jobs over at bookconscious.

 

 

 

What is a library? Mission, vision, and inner workings.

I’ve recently started a new position at my public library, managing adult services (reference and circulation). Along with my colleagues, I also select materials (fiction in my case), plan and market our services, and help patrons. Our director is retiring soon, and our city is considering whether to renovate or even build a new library. Since librarianship is already a giant clockworks with many moving parts requiring perfect timing and maintenance to run smoothly, anticipating change is a challenge.

What’s so complicated about a public library? To begin, scheduling over two dozen of us, most of whom work part time and have other jobs as well, over seven days a week at two branches and a combined 80 open hours a week. Then there’s selecting, ordering, receiving, processing, cataloging, shelving, and checking out books, magazines, CD’s, dvd’s and e-books, and managing the non-circulating items. Signing up new cardholders, maintaining databases of cardholders and holdings, tracking where things are, what’s overdue, what needs replacing or repairing, etc. Managing our technology resources — the website, social media, online catalog, and subscription databases, staff and public computers with internet access, printers, copier, scanner, microfilm readers, circulation and self-check stations, and even a typewriter. Plus planning, promoting, and running programs.

We do all that in addition to our everyday work with the public. Yes, answering questions, teaching people to find and use materials and technology, assisting with research or helping someone find a good book to read. But also, as you’ve read here and elsewhere, public libraries are a de facto social service as we deal every single day with homelessness and mental illness and try to make the library pleasant and safe, as well as useful, for every person who enters.

One thing I’ve learned is that if your name tag says “manager” people tell you their views.  Some are concerned about the library being a gathering place for the marginalized in our community, or are upset about unpredictable or unusual behavior, unpleasant smells, or sleeping (all of which we do our best to deal with). Others worry that some people only come to the library for free computer time. Or that we have too many movies and tv shows on our shelves. Or not enough. Or the wrong kind. Each person who offers his or her opinion is really trying to get to the bottom of what a library should be.

According to our mission statement, the library “connects individuals with resources in order to enhance lives and build community.” Our vision statement calls for our library to “be a dynamic place, promoting the love of knowledge and the joy of reading.”  Dynamic — change is part of what we do, at the heart of responding to the needs of our community. Knowledge, reading, resources — we provide these in many forms, connecting people with books and quiet study space, email access and tax forms, literature and pop culture, and each other. We enhance lives by serving everyone, no matter how difficult that sometimes is. We build community — some days just by smiling and making eye contact with people who aren’t often treated with respect.

So what’s a library? An energetic, ever-changing public space, open to everyone, devoted to knowledge, reading, services, and resources that enhance lives and build community. And that makes all the difference whether we are keeping the clockworks running or planning for how to make it bigger, better, stronger, or more intricate.