Trading Spaces / We Overhauled Print Reference

Sometimes, I love watching home improvement shows on TLC and HGTV. I like thinking about how to make spaces more useful, more beautiful. I think functional spaces inform and inspire good work. My office at Hampshire has been an evolving project towards functionality and beauty, or as much beauty as concrete and Styrofoam walls can offer. And those home shows inspire me to think about low-cost solutions to dysfunctional spaces. Discussions about space informed much of my thinking about my work and teaching during the past year. From decisions about teaching with my iPad rather than my laptop, to visiting our new classrooms in Emily Dickinson Hall, to the ISIS session we recently hosted about classrooms, space remains at the forefront of my thoughts about the library.

At Hampshire, we don’t have a lot of money to make major changes. However, that’s not to say we couldn’t make any changes, something I realized after the ISIS session where Nick Baker from Mount Holyoke College talked about the pop-up media lab he created in the art building. That space was built on the idea of flexible, transient spaces that meet immediate needs as opposed to long term and possibly unknowable needs. With all of this percolating in my mind, a couple of things transpired simultaneously at Hampshire:

  1. It was time to weed print reference. It was clear from the amount of dust on the books in our reference collection that it was time to do some weeding. And those texts took up valuable real estate on the first floor; space that can eventfully be used for student study space.
  2. Our outer office was a mess. Over the course of my first year at Hampshire, I sometimes wondered if the dysfunctional outer office made students less likely to come into our space to ask questions. In addition, the space was dysfunctional for the librarians. We didn’t have a place where the team to could sit together and meet. We didn’t have a functional space to sit with students if they needed advice from more than 1 librarian at a time. And it was sad. We needed to do something with that space.

At some point during the summer – probably while putting books on trucks and coughing up dust – we decided that the core reference books that will help us help more students should live near our offices. When that decision was made, we put in work orders for shelving (wouldn’t you know we had extra ones in the storage closet in the basement?) and to paint the walls. Our director ordered some Eames chairs over the summer to replace old carrel chairs, and we threw in some spare chairs and a table we commandeered from other parts of the library. The Facilities staff removed the door to our suite. Voila! Instant interdisciplinary consultation space! You can check out other images from the transformation here:

Before and After

iPad as Tech Trojan Horse

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, many people bemoaned it as just a consumption toy aimed at dilettantes who were interested in gaming and viewing cat videos. No one would use the iPad for any meaningful creation, tweeted angry internet users. The hype built; zealous Apple fans slept outside stores to buy the first generation iPad. Personally, I wasn’t ready to spend the money or brave the crowds to purchase the device, but I was also unwilling to write it off. I read reviews and critiques, marveled at the iPads I encountered in the wilds of Yale’s libraries. The introduction of the iPad came at a point in my career when my technology confidence was at a low; I was trying to figure out what I needed to learn, where I needed to go to advance my young career. I knew something needed to change, I just did not know what quite yet.

I soon found my answer in that September when I broke down and bought an iPad. It was love at first swipe.

At first, I primarily used iPad as a reading device; I replaced paperbacks at home with ebooks and furtive reading breaks at work with saved articles in Instapaper to read at night. I wrote email and tweeted at conferences. It became my constant companion at work and on the couch. However, my first generation iPad wasn’t a device I used to do any meaningful writing beyond emails and social media updates. Was I a dilettante? However, I began experimenting with the iPad in classrooms and random office hacks where few other people in my places of employ necessarily were. I gained confidence and when I started my new job at Hampshire, I ran with mobile devices and pedagogy at warp speed.

Last year, I purchased a third generation iPad. The purchase coincided with me traveling and blogging frequently. My adventures in technology let me to work with Markdown and PlainText. Digital Humanities became a core part of my job. Writing took on renewed importance in my life. During the fall semester, I began writing exclusively in PlainText and publishing my blog in Markdown using the nifty iOS app, Poster. I began writing in the app Drafts. Slowly but surely, I found that I began using my iPad more frequently than my laptop and that I was using my iPad to write more than to read. I suppose the consumption palace was giving way to creation after all.

I became a more thoughtful creator with the iPad as I gained more confidence with technology, which might seem counterintutiive. Apps like Poster and Drafts helped me wade into Plaintext and Markdown. As I gained confidence and learned more, I became a more educated technologist. My writing benefited too; I love being able to follow up on fragments of ideas, or on a photograph. Writing in Drafts made that possible. I always hated writing in long-hand, my handwriting too awful to bear going back to, I loathe writing in Word with all of its buttons and foibles. I love the distraction free interface of writing in Plaintext. I love how flexible it is, moving from Drafts to my Plaintext editor on my Mac and then then into iOS apps like Poster to publish these missives on WordPress in Markdown.

What if the iPad is a trojan horse of sorts; a machine so simple and intuitive that it makes people comfortable enough to push themselves to use technology in different ways? To experiment with new ways of working, writing, thinking, and connecting? In classrooms across higher education, tablets are  en vogue. At ISIS, we often talk about the next big thing in educational technology or how we are using existing tools in resources in new ways. What if tablets are the conduit to more successful adventures in technology that can push our students (and us!) into new directions?

Teaching with technology has made me consider how to introduce students to new situations, how to learn about technology, how to use different tools. Borrowing from my own experience, it helps to start small, with discrete tasks and tools as opposed to unattainable goals like ‘build a photography repository.’ I find that working with iPads in my own technology practice gave me manageable goals and tasks to gain new competencies, but it also gave me the confidence to take new risks.
I think part of that stems from the fact that there were expectations already built into the laptop about how I could or couldn’t use it, assumptions that drive many women away from technology. I think students might have similar feelings regardless of gender. They think they know what to expect of themselves with their laptops, what if tablets are a clean start for them, too?

Another Response to the Ithaka Report on Historians

I – and what felt like everyone and their mother – have read the Ithaka S & R Report about historians. After reading it, I had some back and forth with librarians and archivists on Twitter as well as a few face to face conversations. The findings were not controversial or surprising to me; I think Sharon Leon put it best when she wrote on her blog that “The report characterizes history as a discipline in transition, and it is-both in human and institutional senses. Historians, graduate students, archivists, and librarians are each in their own way coping with the “problem of abundance” created by the digital turn.” I think that is fair for all parties. Historians are trying to make sense  of how to best utilize a wealth of new digital materials,  and librarians and archivists are trying to make sense of how to make those assets more accessible and what they need to do to provide effective outreach and research support. I am no longer a practicing historian, so I won’t comment on that aspect of the report, but as a librarian who supports historians and as a trained archivist, there are some things I want to say.

  1. Librarians and archivists need to better articulate what types of services they offer. Librarians and archivists have tremendous value far beyond ‘I have access to this cool stuff, come find me.’ Last week, I went to a NISO webinar on Libraries and Start-Up culture. The biggest takeaway for me is that libraries and librarians need to stop thinking about themselves as content collectors, but as agents of content creation and publication. This report is a call to arms to librarians and archivists to move from the model of ‘we have those documents and these books’ to ‘I want to partner with you to publish this open access article’ or ‘Let me circle the wagons so we can create this digital project’ or ‘yeah, I can help you work up a data management plan.’ We understand the research process and we can be really helpful sherpas to our faculty as well as our students. In order to do that, we must shift how we conduct outreach and position ourselves as collaborators as opposed to just support people. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s possible. I live that reality.
  2. Scholarly Communication is changing. This report reinforced to me that librarians are poised to help faculty get from monograph publishing to a new place where digital projects and new types of output reign. Of course, this is easier said than done since the tenure and promotion process is not to the point where DH and alternative forms of publishing reap the same rewards as traditional monograph publication. But as research sherpas, we can help guide the process; librarians can create a new publishing environment, for instance by using collection development money to support open access publishing or creating collaborative creation/hacker/maker spaces in our libraries can push the issue forward.
  3. If we [librarians, archivists] can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be! Cathy Davidson’s blog post frames much of how I think about my work these days. If the work I do can be replaced by a computer, then it should be. It can free me up to do other, new things in my practice to the benefit of my students, colleagues, and faculty. It’s creative destruction, but in 2013, our year of community engagement in libraries, we need to be mindful about how we allocate our valuable human capital in libraries. If we can automate aspects of our work that is better left to computers, then we should. For me, automation frees me up to teach more classes, develop meaningful content for our research education program, provide better service to my school, do technology, and have the headspace to think about what is on the horizon in libraries, archives, and higher education. Not only will this help ensure the survival of academic libraries and librarians, but it also makes us more accountable to our students who pay increasingly steep tuition and fees to attend college in the United States. By leading with the idea that we are going to do more, make decisions to meet our users’ needs then we can be more sure of our success.

Naysayers might suggest that I want to kill off some of the artisanal aspects of librarianship, that my goal is to rise in the ranks to shut the lights off in my colleagues’ offices and usher them out the door. That is not the case. If higher education is going to continue to be meaningful, if we want to see a profession of smart, dedicated librarians in the future, we have to make sure that the work we are doing resonates with the academic curriculums we support. We want to prepare today’s students to earn living wages and hopefully to foster their lifelong learning. My call to my fellow librarians and archivists is not to take everything the Ithaka report suggests and implement it to the letter, but to think of it as a call to action. Let’s make ourselves relevant by working with faculty and researchers to become valuable collaborators in the research process and guides them through a rapidly changing technology environment. Let’s work towards educating our users about data management, open access, and copyright so they can create new types work, as the report advises us to do. Let’s use this opportunity forge a new path for libraries and archives for the twenty-first century. While many people would point to the contrary, I believe our future is bright, if we are courageous enough to carve a new path to get us there.

Life after Instagram: Photo App Reviews

I deleted my Instagram account this week. I was sad to go; Instagram was fun! It was social, I loved the rad photo filters and the ease of sharing my pics over various social networks without much fuss.

I went to San Diego this summer for a conference.

I went to San Diego this summer for a conference.

Over time, I also began to appreciate the integration with Foursquare and Facebook’s maps to document where I traveled to during the past year or so. I also happily set my photographs free with Creative Commons, allowing me to contribute to a rich, image sharing community. However, the changes Instagram proposed to their terms of service forced me to re-evaluated that relationship for the following reasons:

  1. Sharing is Caring. I use Creative Commons images a lot. The are the visual meat of my LibGuides and my teaching aids. I feel strongly that I should contribute to the corpora of open images myself. Instagram used to enable me to do so, but no longer.
  2. Teaching Moments. I taught a module on social media last semester in a course about theatre criticism. The experience made me think critically about how we talk about social media in higher education and what students need to know to be good stewards of their social media presences and how to effectively evaluate the information out there on the web. I thought this Instagram firestorm would be a good opportunity to see what else is out there and that my vision quest would be a good teaching moment.

Here’s what I found for iOS.

I read this post about Instagram alternatives as well as some other best of 2012 apps for the iPhone that included Camera applications. I downloaded them all onto my iPhone and began experimenting. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Anypic (free) This app has a cute interface and easy sharing options, but lacks the filters that made Instagram so fun to use. I appreciated that you can share previously photographed images into the app, but the dearth of traffic on the app coupled with the lack of hipster filters were deal breakers. Verdict: I deleted this app.
  2. Backspaces (free) This app is less of a photography app and more a visual storytelling app. You can’t take photos with Backspaces, but you can import photos from your Camera roll and create stories with photographs and textual annotations. Often when I travel, I take a fair share of photos with my iPhone. I’d take a lot of photos on Instagram that were all shared, sometimes out of context. Backspaces is a nice way to summarize a trip or an event without clogging your friends’ feeds or showing stuff out of context. I made a Backspaces story about my winter break and I enjoyed taking snapshots with various camera apps and then pulling it together to share on Twitter. Best of all, I was able to share the story with my parents via email. Verdict: This app stays on my iPhone’s home screen.

    We finished this rad puzzle over break.

    Used this image in my Backspaces story

  3. Camera + (.99) This app kept coming up in best of 2012 app lists for iOS. For under a buck, I thought I would give this app a shot. It has all the things I love: pretentious filters, easy sharing options, a slick interface, and some bonus features like a stabilizer and more user friendly zoom. You can take a nice snapshot, or put more work into staging something more complicated. It’s scalable. Verdict: This app won a place on my iPhone’s home screen.

    Lego Architecture at the Henry Ford Museum

    Lego Architecture at the Henry Ford Museum

  4. KitCam ($1.99) This app also came up several times of best of 2012 app lists I read over break. This app is a combination of Hipstamatic and Camera +. There’s a lot in this app for more sophisticated photographers, including film options and multi-exposure. There are nifty sharing options to various social media outlets and users can also decide to save images directly to Dropbox rather than saving to Camera Roll, which I like. However, the user interface is a little clunky; this is not an intuitive app. There is a definitely a learning curve, but if you are really into digital photography and want to do more than take quick snapshots with your iPhone, there is a lot this app can do. Verdict: This app is on home screen probation.
  5. OpenPhoto (free) OpenPhoto combines camera functionality with a sharing platform and web storage. It’s Hipstamatic meets Flickr. The OpenPhoto folks are interested in making a WordPress for photos with this service. You can take filtered photographs with the app’s camera AND you can sustain a gallery of photographs within the app as well as with photos taken from other camera apps on your phone. You can sync to Dropbox easily. It doesn’t duplicate images unless you prefer to duplicate an image. Open Photo users can control permissions of their images easily from their website. If you want to cross over from Flickr or Instagram or Facebook for your web collection, OpenPhoto offers a reasonably priced pro account, too. Verdict: This isn’t my go to photo taking app on the iPhone, but it does win a place on the home screen so I can easily access my images.
  6. Twitter (free) Around the time of the Instagram/Twitter dustup in late 2012, Twitter introduced hipster filters within its camera app. It’s a nice little feature that’s easy to use. I like the range of filters and the ability move and scale images. However, I tend to take photographs AND then decide to share them rather than tweet with images. If you’re workflow is the other way around, the Twitter photo set-up might work well for you. Verdict: Not my cup of tea, but I still love you, Twitter.

    Cinematic Filter on this Twitter Photo

    Cinematic Filter on this Twitter Photo

  7. Flickr (free) Lots of folks on my Twitter feed are going back to this oldie but goodie, which has recently come out with a very nice iOS app. Social and scalable, Flickr has long empowered users to control how their photos are used by others. It’s easy to set your images free with Creative Commons. Verdict: We are a proud Flickr Pro household, and I love that we can now access Flickr on computers and on mobile devices.

Summing up:I am still adjusting to a post-Instgram life. I am happy that when I take pics with Camera + or KitCam, it’s not a burden for my Twitter followers to see the image by clicking through links. I miss the Foursquare integration, but I am settling for the geographical approximation. However, I really excited about the OpenPhoto team’s vision for their service being an open platform for users to control their photographs and build other applications. I really enjoy being able to use KitCam and Camera + to take photographs, share those photographs and have a place to keep all of them and manage them accordingly.

Of course, in my role as an instructional librarian, I think this a great lesson in social media and data management about where your stuff lives and what control, if any, you have over it. As Ryan Block pointed out in his recent Bits post, not actively managing your social media presence can result in dead services selling your data long after you have abandoned them. As we instruct students about how to manage their social media presences and try to gain better control over what search results come up when they are Googled, the Instagram debate is an excellent object lesson to show students about how to make the best choices for them. Instagram isn’t going away; media outlets have been reporting that the service continues to grow in spite of the backlash from the terms of service change. I want my students to have all the information to make the best choices about where to live on the internet.

Who did we miss?

It was the end of the semester and the library was filled with sleepy students stumbling towards project and paper deadlines. For as many students as I’ve emailed and met with this year, I wondered about students who need my help, but who, for whatever reason, don’t know that I’m available to support their research. It made me wonder – who did I miss?

Earlier this winter, I had the opportunity to co-lead an ISIS seminar with my friend and collaborator Carla Martin. Together, we talked about how faculty, librarians, technologists, and administrators can effectively support first generation college students. Cultivating and sustaining diversity in higher education is a passion of mine. As librarians collaborate with various constituencies across campus to foster student success, I am very interested in looking to see how librarians and technologists can act in solidarity with all of our students, not just the ones who know we are there to help them.

The question of how librarians can best help first generation students began to percolate when I heard Susan Gibbons talk about her seminal work with the Rochester Study, her brilliant collaboration with anthropologist Nancy Foster Fried. In it, Gibbons and Fried studied library users at the University of Rochester and then made recommendations on how to improve services and spaces in libraries that better reflect the needs and behaviors of students. One of their findings was that when many students come to a roadblock with their academic work or research, they go to their parents for help. This development was not something librarians at Rochester expected, but was one that made sense given the rise of the ‘helicopter parent’ generation. Librarians at Rochester responded to this shift by holding library orientations at the beginning of the year for *parents* as opposed to orientations for entering students. Their message: “when you kid calls for help, refer him/her to a *librarian*.” For many students at Rochester, this message was effective. Students called parents, who sent them to librarians. Other institutions have followed suit, prioritizing orienting parents at the start of the year rather than entering students.

This strategy works with many students – here at Hampshire, we did a very successful parent orientation in the library this fall. However, it left me wondering about first generation students, many of whom do not go to their parents when they are in academic distress, many of whose parents might not have even attended orientation themselves. Who did we miss? Who do we continue to miss? 

During orientations, libraries can partner with student life programs aimed at underrepresented students who might already be on campus early for their own pre-orientations programs before the general ones for all entering students begins. Maybe that’s an opportunity to do some targeted programming?

I also think that there are ways that we can amend our practices to be more inclusive generally. During our ISIS session, Carla talked about creating inclusive guidelines for her courses that depended less on outside knowledge or cultural capital and primarily on knowledge acquired and gained in the class itself. As librarians, we should not make assumptions about what our students know or don’t know. When we teach research education sessions, we must teach to everyone. When we meet with students one on one, we should try to ask holistic questions that help students move beyond screen issues to get to the heart of their obstacles. It might not be about sources for a paper, but  about something else entirely. We must be able to refer them to support services across campus to address their concerns.

First generation students contribute mightily to their campuses. They bring a unique perspective; some are international students, others at many elite colleges might hail from underrepresented parts of the United States, others might be veterans who served their country prior to enrolling in college. Colleges and universities are rich, dynamic communities that can provide all students with unique learning communities in their dorms, in their classrooms, and over meals. But first generation students sit at many intersections and cross many demographics in colleges and universities. We know they’re there, but we don’t always know how best to reach them. That’s why sessions like the ISIS one Carla and I co-facilitated are important: better serving our first generation students should be a priority in all higher education libraries, at big public universities and small liberal arts colleges. How can we make inclusive policies and procedures that incorporate and include all the students we serve? How can we design programming to reach students who go to their parents – or don’t – or utilize other campus constituencies to help them along during their college years?