New Theme, a bit broken

I found I new theme which I really like and added some fun plugins. Alas, my page tabs are now broken. I am trying to locate the problem.

The latstest WP 2.7.1 is very slick and easy to use. In comparing the .org with the .com versions, I am pleased that the .com version offers many of the customizations that used to make the .org version better. I use .com for the Rochester family blog and have never lamented not going with a more robust .org WP with a separate domain.  I think that WP has made a wise choice in keeping their open source and hosted version very similar and both free. Their developer community seems much more active than the communities that surround other similar platforms. *cough* Movable Type *cough*

–Jane, will tinker again tomorrow

Thoughts on Academic Librarianship, part one

I have decided to write this post in two parts because it may end up being a wee bit long for one gigantic post. I wanted to write about the positives of working in an academic library first because starting out on a positive note is nice. This post could be subtitled: Why academic libraries are good places to work.

I became an academic librarian for two reasons: 1) I love academia and thus wanted to stay in higher education without staying in graduate school and 2) it was the first job offer I received, I desperately needed a job, and I was bound geographically to Houston. Technically, that is at least four reasons, but go with me here. The job was an answer to many prayers, hopes, and dreams. In many ways, it lived up to my expectations and in some ways it did not.

I have condensed the good into five themes.

There was always money in the bank. In many places, library budgets, including academic library budgets, have been slashed to ribbons. However, the larger universities in Texas have not had this problem. We still compete heavily with other departments on campus for money, but I have a dean who has excelled in getting money for the library and our budget goes up every year. As a result, I have always been able to buy almost anything in print I wanted. I was able to get some very nice electronic resources for my subject areas, the ethnic studies areas, even though they are small and interdisciplinary. We also had money for new computers, renovations to our building, and many other things.

As a result of having money, collection development has never been a headache. I do think, with the way approval plans work these days, librarians should be spending a lot less time doing collection development. I have actually said in a meeting, “Any monkey can buy books.” It won me some raised eyebrows, but I was being honest. When you have the money you need, choosing books is not hard. That is a discussion for another post. In general, academic libraries are well funded and that is definitely a good thing.

Faculty are fun and challenging. Working with faculty was one of my favorite things because they were almost universally thankful for the help. In addition, the research they were doing was always interesting, thought provoking, and challenging. Their questions were the kinds of things I envisioned answering when I was sitting in my “how to do reference” class in graduate school. I have been lucky to work with some wonderful faculty and I will miss hearing stories about their research, their classes, and their families. My faculty were delightful people, who treated me like a colleague, and I will be sad to leave them, even in good hands.

This is not to suggest that all faculty interactions are easy. Sometimes they are frustrating, especially when you are trying to convince a faulty member that the assignment they gave their classes can not be completed because research has not been conducted that way for at least 15 years. Semester after semester of dealing with the same stubborn faculty member, giving the same assignment that does nothing but set students up to fail and be frustrated by research can be deflating. These interactions only count for a small portion of what you encounter, hopefully, and all the good interactions more than make up for that one curmudgeon.

Even if you have pseudo-faculty status, you have a great amount of flexibility with your time. I call this status Pretend Tenure. At MPOW, we are not faculty, we are not staff, we are somewhere in between with our own tenure process (much less rigorous than what faculty go through) and governance documents. With faculty or pretend faculty status, you have more flexible hours than librarians who are simply staff at their institutions. We were eligible for time off to write or sabbaticals to do research. This status also means that there was no clock punching. If you needed to come in late one day, you did or if you needed to stay late, you did that too. This flexibility is nice when family obligations suddenly spring up, you need a mental day at home, or you just need to stay at home to get work done. (by work here, I mean work related to your job) I am twice as productive at home then I am in the office. It is one of the reasons I am such an advocate of virtual or blended teams (teams with both virtual and f2f components) in the workplace. I think it is the combination of home comforts and the flexibility that I like when I am at home on my laptop.

In addition to having flexibility with your time, pretend faculty status usually means a requirement for participation in professional organizations. MPOW pays about 45-48% for us to go to 3 conferences a year. While we always groused about wanting more money, that is far and above what most librarians receive to travel every year. This money has allowed me to attend many conferences and meet fabulous people, both for which I am very grateful. This is also a by product of having money in the budget.

Teaching students. Students, like faculty, have their *headdesk* moments, but teaching students is incredible. I have been lucky and have been able to teach classes in many subjects and on many different levels. It has been fun and challenging to keep the students engaged, active, and learning the things that will help them complete the research before them. I loved their questions, especially when they asked me to demonstrate something I had not planned on showing that day. This most frequently occurred in drop in workshops and only occasionally in course related classes. I had no formal teaching experience before I started this job and yet teaching has become one of my favorite things about my job. In fact, there were days and weeks, that it was the only thing I liked about my job. I love to teach and this job, crediting mostly talented colleagues and an amazing former boss, taught me how to be a great instructor. I owe them so much.

Being on a campus can be invigorating. I loved college and not just because the beer was cheap and we drank it often. I love the atmosphere of higher learning. Sometimes the intellectual conversations I overhear at MPOW make me long for the classes and professors I adored. There is plenty of inanity, but you can almost hear people learning and pondering Big Thoughts. It makes my geeky heart swell.

These are the things I will miss the most about being an academic librarian. I think I have learned a lot of positive things from my time in this aspect of librarianship. I am curious to see how these lessons will play out in other library related endeavors. I have my whole life ahead of me to find out.

–Jane, packs up her knowledge learned to use later

Saratoga, CA

I am traveling this week in California, teaching two more classes for Infopeople. For the first time, in a long time, I am traveling sans camera, so I will rely on my pregnancy swiss cheese memory to relate my travels to you. Tuesday, I was in Saratoga, a quaint, little place nestled in the trees and hills with friendly people and great food.

My class was at the Saratoga Public Library, a building renovated in the last 4 years to meet the growing needs of the community. It is bright and welcoming. While I was there, the parking lot was always full and there were many people coming through the doors. The librarians and staff were lovely and made me feel right at home. Joan, Head of Adult Services, even looked up the local Trader Joe’s for me (I had never been to one of these stores and decided, why not?) and printed me out a map. I am sure she had more important reference questions to answer, but I appreciated her help immensely.

I had a small, but very talkative group Tuesday. For the first time, it was also a very homogeneous group: all public librarians from the area. It was a fun group with many good ideas. I love teaching enthusiastic librarians.

This morning, the misty clouds were hanging over the hills, urging me to sit and sip coffee with a book on a warm porch. Alas, Baby Rochester demands no caffeine and I had to pack and depart, leaving no time for reading.

I am in San Jose Airport, typing this, waiting for my flight to LA where I repeat my song and dance on Thursday. I have never been to L.A., so my goal is to find some good, cheap Mexican food and try to spot someone famous.

I am in my hotel in L.A. and I have accomplished one goal for my trip. Cuba Gooding Jr. was standing next to me getting his bags at the airport. If it was not the man himself, it was someone who looks, sounds, and laughs just like him. I smiled at him and he smiled back. He had happy eyes. Hee, Hee! Now, off to the Farmer’s Market to browse the shops.

–Jane, wishes it were sunny in L.A.

How Has Jane Been Occupying Herself?

A mundane update about me, because really, it is all about me, you know.

I had a fun weekend filled with tree trimming and house light hanging. Mr. Rochester could really care less about either, but I adore them so that he perches on the ladder while I hand him gutter clips and the next string of lights. He even helped with the tree this year. Lovely. In other Rochester news, we are having a healthy baby boy. Mr. R is glad to have escaped a house of giggling and princesses this round and I am glad to have escaped the threat of having my daughter want to be a cheerleader.

Now, if you were unfortunate enough to have spent your formative years cheerleading, please do not be offended, but what would two nerdy geeks do with a cheerleader? Just consider that and move on without getting all huffy. I was a band nerd for the love of Friday.

I then packed off to Sacramento, CA to teach the first of many workshops for InfoPeople. The workshop is on using Web 2.0 tools and ideas for staff training. It went off well with a very participatory group with a myriad of good ideas of their own. I am going to make some tweaks for next time. If you live in California, I will be back every week in January teaching the same class.

If you have received your copy of American Libraries for December, my little face appears twice! I wrote the “On My Mind” column this month on freedom and literacy in libraries. There is also a picture of me a few pages later, p. 48, at the Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium from this summer. In that picture, you can see me laughing as I lose horribly at Mario Kart. It was fun, even though I failed to be victorious, twice.

Now, I am back in Houston, enjoying our “cold” weather (it is 50 today) and contemplating what to tackle on my to do list first.

–Jane, had some last minute emails from students who did not prepare well for their research papers

Learning to Evolve, Evolving to Learn

I have had a filtering post bubbling about for awhile. I think this may be a week for griping about idiotic technology choices. Filtering and firewalls will come later. Today, I present to you, ignoring half of the argument in favor of making yourself appear right. It’s called balance; let’s find some.

One of my students in the Library 2.0 Leadership Institute I am teaching sent me a New York Times article on technology in the classroom. I hope Samuel Freedman never has to teach a group of any humans, especially a group of engaged and wired people, age not withstanding.

Mr. Freedman’s opinion piece seems to center around the vilification of the use of technology in the classroom, not by the teacher, but by the students. He completely ignores all the good uses of tech in the classroom.

What about teaming up the students so that every team has an internet enabled phone and asking which team can find a factiod on the topic you are studying or see which team can find the most recent research article on the topic. You would have students who were engaged, using the devices Mr. Freedman thinks should be banned from the classroom, and there would be learning occurring. In the same room with cell phones! *gasp*

From someone who has been known to Twitter and surf during meetings, I have a newsflash to teachers who are dismayed by distracted students.

Some of your students will always be distracted, but banning all technology from your classes is not the answer. Doing that will accomplish nothing more than alienating your students farther. We should try to engage them more and integrate the items they are already using into the class structure. If your students were actively learning, they would not need to facebook through class.

Not all multi-tasking is good, but as educators, we need to stop blaming technology and step up to the plate. Be an educator. Reach your students in new ways. Stop being afraid of technology and make it make your class better. Learn and evolve. It is what you ask your students to do everyday.

–Jane, education and collaboration go with technology like spring and flowers

How are your students learning?

Today, I saw Dr. Wesch’s new offering about students in a couple different places. I have to say that the man is a genius. This should be required watching for anyone who teaches. It is funny because watching the video made me think of all the lecture halls I sat in while attending college. I can honestly say, I have retained little to nothing from those classes and college was not that long ago for me.

The ones I do remember were small and the teacher did know my name. We usually sat around a single table and conversed.

I am teaching an online course to a group of school librarians from New York. It has been an adventure so far, but one of the students posted another great video to her blog today. It is a little long, but reiterates some great points about using technology to teach.

–Jane, is wishing she could re-plan her class tomorrow

Reason #453 to Love Being a Librarian

Even though we are a University library, we have high school groups come in every once in awhile to do research. We usually give them a 50 minute introduction to our resources and then they have a few hours to do their research. I love working with these groups.

Last Monday, I had a group of 58 high school girls from a local private school. They were extremely well behaved and focused. Their topics were great too. A couple I remember are the cultural differences of slave men and women, the effects of Thoreau’s years at Yale on Walden, and Jefferson’s idea of utopia in conjunction with Monticello. It was fun and challenging, my favorite kind of class.

Today, I got a letter from their teacher, thanking me for my time and all of the girls signed the back of the letter with a little note. How awesome is that?! Thank you, St. Agnes Academy students. You guys are welcome here anytime.

–Jane, just happy to be doing good works

Things That Make Librarians Smile

Story published with permission.

Yesterday evening, two of my colleagues taught a class for some upper level students. It was Robin’s first time to teach and she was nervous, but she had an experienced teacher and librarian, Nancy, co-teaching with her. The class went very well, the students were engaged, and the professor was pleased with the content. They shared this over email this morning:

During the time the students had to work on their topics, a student raised his hand for some individual help searching the catalog:

Student: Can’t I search by ISBN anymore?
Me (incredulously, but politely): You search by ISBN?
Student: An ISBN is like a Social Security Number for a book!
Me (more incredulously, but politely): Most students haven’t heard of ISBN’s, How do you know about them?
Student: I LOVE libraries!
His friends sitting near him: Yeah, he LIVES in the Library!

And later, after I wrapped up the class and received some appreciative applause, I overheard the same student say emphatically to his friends, “And THAT’S why I like libraries!”

This made me laugh and reminded me that people do love libraries and that teaching is one of the most rewarding things I get to do at my job.

–Jane, and that’s why I love libraries