invisible beasts

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 8.12.08 PMInvisible Beasts by Sharona Muir (Bellevue Literary Press, 2014)

This is a collection of short stories centered on Sophie, an amateur naturalist who sees invisible creatures. These aren’t creatures of her imagination, but rather a secondary kingdom of animals that wander among us (including the human-like Keen-Ears).

Though the stories are imaginative, it’s hard to call them fictional. Muir’s tales are full of philosophy, morality, and environmental activism. Some of the essays are much stronger than others; many have been published before and perhaps it’s growth in Muir’s storytelling that makes some stories more interesting than others. The best ones are those that actively involve Sophie as she moves between the seen and unseen, rather than her merely describing the creatures as if writing laboratory notes.

This is the second book by Bellevue Literary Press I’ve reviewed. I reviewed The Odditorium in 2012. When Bellevue sent me my LibraryThing copy of Invisible Beasts, they also sent Widow by Michelle Latiolais. I’m reading Widow now and will have another good review coming soon!

Bellevue publishes “books at the intersection of the arts and sciences.” More from their mission:

“We believe that science and the humanities are natural companions for understanding the human experience. With each book we publish, our goal is to foster a rich, interdisciplinary dialogue that will forge new tools for thinking and engaging with the world.”

I’m really happy a publisher like Bellevue exists. They are producing great work and promoting cross-disciplinary conversation. Librarians, if your collections support literary fiction, please support Bellevue authors!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

alao instruction interest group workshop, part 2

Michelle Millet’s presentation was our morning exercise. In the afternoon we had presentations on one-shot instruction and I’ll highlight two.

Vera Lux presented on multiple literacies in library instruction. She mentioned visual, digital, media, data, and meta literacies and mentioned that they began with a need to address subject-specific (discipline) literacies. All of these literacies, including the new standards from ACRL, include elements about finding, interpreting, evaluating, using, and creating.

Vera then detailed two instruction activities. In one, she gives students popular articles of studies on science research. The students use the popular article to find the original study discussed in the popular article. They then do a visual analysis of both articles – just on visual facts, get the gist of the article (popular versus original scholarly). Students also find what the popular article is saying about the science research and then find the discussion component of the scholarly article to compare the two articles Did the popular article do justice to the original study? I think this could work well for the CRAP test (currency, reliability, authority, and purpose) and teaches them to maximize their research time.

In her second example of multiple literacy instruction, Vera tells students “You used this photograph of a track & field athlete crossing the finish line in a web project. You just learned that it would be unethical and likely even illegal to use the image without permission if it is copyrighted. You don’t remember how you found the image and the project is due tomorrow.”

Students then find the image (need to determine keywords from image) and trace it back to original source to see if they can use it. If it’s copyrighted, they need to find a suitable replacement that is ok to use (i.e.: athletes crossing finish line – winning, victory, successful – find one with similar idea but no sports). This makes students think about ethics and copyright as well as use images meaningfully.

Melissa Bauer talked about using problem-based learning (PBL) in the one shot session. Problem-based learning is a constructivist approach. This means that knowledge isn’t something that can be given. Rather, students need to actively discover knowledge and reflect on it, constructing knowledge from one’s own experiences. It is student centered and inquiry based; the problem drives the learning/solution.

Melissa sets up a problem based on student learning outcomes for the class, either from real world current events or course content. This way it is relevant to the student. In developing the problem, Melissa must make it authentic, collaborative (comprehensive – takes time to answer; controversial problem makes them choose sides), and reflective (resources support solution).

She has students work in small groups with a limited amount of time to accomplish solution. She breaks up the typical one-shot 50 minutes:

5 minutes – review and analyze

10 minutes – librarian instruction

25 minutes – find & evaluate

10 minutes – class debriefing

The librarian’s role in problem-based learning is as facilitator, guiding students through the learning process, asking probing questions, limiting direct instruction, and coaching students.

PBL makes the connection between search terms, resources, and quality of information because students are finding and applying information in a short amount of time.

alao instruction interest group workshop, part 1

I attend ALAO’s Instruction Interest Group‘s annual workshop the other week. I attended last year and this year was also fantastic. The keynote speak was Michelle Millet, the Immersion Faculty & Director at John Carroll University Library. Michelle mentioned she is on the committee for the ACRL information literacy standards updates. She talked about her experience in Backwards Design for instruction.

Michelle mention an experiment where Teaching Assistants in History (or English, I don’t recall the subject) taught half the instruction sessions for the discipline while librarians taught the other half. At the end of the semester, assessment found that retention of the skills taught in the library sessions was better with the TAs than the librarians.

This was a reminder that information literacy is not a library issue and doesn’t always need to be taught by librarians.

Michelle said “embracing student learning means letting go of some of your teaching.” She talked about how we need to stop teaching one shots. She pointed out that there is no other learning happening on your campus that only happens once!

It’s a good point; agreeing to teach information literacy as “one and done” subtly suggests that we don’t value what we do. Of course, many of us feel we are left with no other option. There was a lot of conversation about negotiating with faculty and trying to get buy-in from library administrators.

We need to learn to say no to one-shots (especially first week of the semester and those babysitting jobs) and provide other ways of learning. How can you get faculty to something other than a one shot? Some ideas were holding shorter classes more often or giving homework assignments that you grade with feedback.

Backwards Design is meant for K-12 and is explained in Understanding By Design by Wiggins and McTighe. I first heard about this book at ALA in 2013 from Megan Oakleaf (mentioned by Michelle).

In Backwards Design, you start by asking “What do you want the student to be able to do? What is the understanding?” This is not “how” or “what tools” but simply “what.” What do students need from you, the librarian, versus what they need from the faculty member?

Of course, our “what” list will be longer than the time you have (since really, one-shots aren’t on the way out any time soon). So, you need to decide:

What is “worth being familiar with?” Those things, LET THEM GO.

What is “important to know and do?” Sure, cover in class, IF YOU HAVE TIME.

What will lead to “enduring understanding?” This is WHAT MUST THEY LEARN FROM YOU as opposed to the faculty member, on their own, etc. And honestly, this list is probably a lot smaller than you think it is.

Michelle also talked about assessment. If the student can do Skill A, what will you see? How will you know? You need to look for evidence in activity-based learning. Sometimes, the faculty member might see the evidence, after class. So think, how will you get that evidence from the faculty member? Again, negotiation is key.

Now that you’ve answered those questions, you can start designing your instruction (yup, we haven’t even started that yet):

What will you need to teach them in order to see what you just identified as the evidence?

1. Identify desired results.

~ established goals and big ideas that you want students to understand

~ essential questions that will stimulate inquiry

~ knowledge and skills that need to be acquired given the understanding and related content standards

2. Determine acceptable evidence.

~ keeping the goals in mind, what performance tasks should anchor and focus the unit

~ criteria that will be used to assess the work; will the assessment reveal and distinguish those who really understand versus those who only seem to understand?

3. Plan learning experience and instruction

Michelle refers to this as an AUTHENTIC assessment cycle . You plan, implement, assess, and then report and revise.

student art in the library

This spring, studio art professor Ron Abram (Tyler School of Art alumn and all-round cool dude) taught a course on portraits. For one project, he brought the class into the library to view the president’s portraits. Our President’s Room (which houses the scores), has a formal painting of each president. Ron asked students to choose a Denison president, research the person and the school during his/her term, and create a new portrait.

Students were able to view the president’s papers in our archives, which often included handwritten documents and photographs. Many students returned to the archives after the initial visit to spend more time examining the papers. As usual, when students get into an archive or special collection, they don’t want to leave!

Unfortunately, I was attending ARLIS/NA when this exhibit was installed and missed the reception. Luckily, the artwork will be staying in the President’s Room throughout the summer. I’m sure it will be a big attraction during Alumni Weekend in June!

Here are some of the works (some weird angles to account for horrible overhead lighting with the works under glass):

John Pratt

John Pratt (1831 – 1837) by Jason Gonzalez

Pratt was Denison’s first president. Jason writes that Pratt was a hard worker, helping his family on the farm at a very early age. But, because he loved to learn, Pratt stayed up late teaching himself math. In 1814 he was baptized and became very religious. At Denison he taught Greek and Latin as well as preached.


Samson Talbot (1863-1873) by Hollie Davis

Hollie says she chose “a president whose place in history perpetuated the disempowerment of people like me.” In her research, Hollie could not find evidence to place Talbot on one side or the other of the slavery issue. So, she portrays both free African Americans (on the left) and the colorless picking cotton with Talbot front and center.








Galusha Anderson (1887 – 1889) by Miaja St. Martin

Anderson served the shortest presidential term; he resigned after two years. Miaja says that “Anderson was against slavery and was passionate in his opinion that African Americans should be allowed an education in the north as free people.” According to Miaja, Denison University was a stop on the Underground Railroad and this is why she uses quilting in her portrait.


Emory Hunt (1901-1912) by Adam Rice

Adam notes that Hunt is credited with building Cleveland Hall, which is now Bryant Arts Center. He also “turned the school away from PhD programs towards the idea of an undergraduate liberal arts college.” Adam’s work notes the physical changes Hunt created on campus, but “the goal of the work is to drive curiosity” about the president.


Avery Shaw (1927-1940) by Kristie King

Henry Henson

Henry Henson

Isabelle Smock

Isabelle Smock

Kristie chose to research Shaw because he was president when her great-grandparents, Henry Henson (1929) and Isabelle Smock (1928) were students. Kristie actually found a photo of her great-grandfather in the archives! Kristie says the project allowed her to reflect on her personal legacy at Denison (she just graduated) and reconnect with her family’s history.


Good2Robert Good (1976-1983) by Janie Hall

During his term, Good was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He hid his illness until the cancer forced him to resign and he died soon after. Janie represents Good through white cloth that “encases the ragged, diseased plastic sewn underneath.” The whole piece (not seen here) is over six feet, the height of Good.


Michele Myers (1989-1998) by Melissa Weinsz

Myers has been Denison’s only female president and she is still highly admired on campus. Melissa says Myers had dual citizenship, the US and France, and was bilingual. Her presidency was about “the promotion of racial and ethnic diversity on campus.” There was some tension during her term, with students protesting both racial inequality on campus and questioning the tenure procedures. Myers focused on “cutting the discrimination and division” on campus and made greek life non-residential.


Dale Knobel (1998 – 2013) by Jasmine Hwang

Jasmine interviewed Knobel by phone. During the conversation, Knobel said he wanted the portrait to suggest “how he contributed to the diversity of the campus and the improvement of campus facilities.” In this sculpture, each piece has information about Knobel’s presidency. The pieces can be re-formed to create various architectural shapes.


Adam Weinberg (2013 – present) by Katie Smith

Because Weinberg is our current president, he doesn’t yet have a formal portrait in the President’s Room of the library. Katie spoke with Weinberg and he told her that “one of his most important goals for his presidency was to create a better sense of community and school spirit on Denison’s campus.” Because of this, Katie wanted his portrait to reflect the community. The mirrored part of the portrait is surrounded by chalk paint so viewers can add their own reflections to the work.

digital humanities as quilting

Last week, Dean Rehberger, Director of MATRIX at Michigan State University was on campus to talk about digital humanities. Though I’m a librarian interested in new technology, I hadn’t yet jumped on the digital humanities bandwagon.

This is mostly because there is a lack of definition for digital humanities (sometimes broadened to digital scholarship or digital pedagogy) or how it’s fundamentally different from humanities (is it new because now we have computers?).

As an artist, I didn’t see a place for me within the trend. I don’t relate to historians or religion scholars. I don’t get excited about text mining. But, in his lunchtime lecture, Rehberger provided an analogy that is making me think twice about digital humanities.

He said the digital humanities is a lot like quilt making. The only art practice closer to my heart than quilt making is weaving, so he had my attention. Digital humanities and quilt making both:

~ require many hands (the quilting bee is similar to the MATRIX collaborative model)

~ foster making & building (small pieces joined together to create a whole)

~ are devalued (quilting is women’s work and still isn’t appreciated as art; technology in the humanities seems to confront traditional scholarship)

~ can be remixed (in quilting, recycling old clothing and linens is common; technology remixes history)

~ are both an art and a science (if my math skills were better, I’d be a better quilter; the humanities are an art, but the lens of technology to examine the humanities requires a scientific eye)

~ are public, transformative projects (if quilting wasn’t devalued, the social history would be well-known as transformative)

This was the first time digital humanities had been presented to me without talk of metadata or software or scanning archival papers. Comparing digital humanities to one of the fiber arts that grounded my art graduate practice was the exact entrance I needed into the DH scholarship. I may just find a second home there.

striving to be a better teacher, ending up a better person

One of my summer goals is to examine my information literacy instruction. In preparation, I’m starting some reading (what librarian wouldn’t?). While I feel comfortable with my current classroom techniques, I have never set aside time to reflect on my teaching. I’ve started reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators.

In her introduction, Booth outlines four elements of information literacy:

~ reflective practice: more than just assessment; revising your skill set as you teach and learn from that teaching

~ educational theory: learning theory, instructional theory, and curriculum theory

~ teaching technologies: getting comfortable teaching with technologies in the classroom, online, and blended

~ instructional design: integrating reflection, theory, and technology into teaching (xvii)

She also suggests the USER method to help prepare, instruct, and evaluate:

~ understand: identify problem, analyze scenario

~ structure: create targets, involve & extend

~ engage: develop materials, deliver instruction

~ reflect: assess impact, revise & reuse (xviii)

While I don’t feel knowledgable about educational theory, information literacy and the USER method seem very much like what I already do in the classroom.

So why do I feel like it isn’t enough?

A few pages later, in chapter 1, Booth lists some challenges to library instruction including “teaching librarians tend to have more limited interactions with learners, meaning that it can be difficult to see immediate or long-term evidence of our interventions” and “materials and lessons are often repeated, which can generate a sense of redundancy or malaise.” (5)

I can see these challenges keeping me from enthusiastically examining my instruction while simultaneously feel I need to improve my classroom skill set.

I also find a personal dilemma in one of the first exercises of the book. Booth asks the reader to list three strong instructors or presenters and identify three characteristics that made them personally effective.

I’ve been staring into the distance at a total loss. The teachers and presenters that immediately come to mind are very much unlike me personally – loud, animated, energetic. If I were to be even one of these three characteristics I’d frighten people who know me well. So how did my ideal teacher become someone who is not my ideal self?

Yet, when asked about the characteristics of my worst teachers, as Booth does, I’d list the same three. But there is a key difference between the two and that is where I need to focus: authenticity.

A common characteristic among successful teachers is authenticity. (9) Booth refers to authenticity through the image of the soapbox and “the infectious interest you can create by communicating with conviction.” (10)

I think students notice my “intensity of expression” when I’m working with them and become absorbed in the content. (10) But it isn’t central to my teaching and perhaps reworking this for full impact could improve my instruction. She says “half of your soapbox consists of sharing your expertise, but the other half consists of sharing your self.” (11) I have probably held back a little bit of both – expertise and self – in my teaching because I’ve strived to maintain authority without becoming authoritative.

Booth has elected to be more informal and more personal because it works for her and she acknowledges “sacrificing a modicum of my ‘authority’ in order to create a more accessible tone is a risk.” (11)

I’m willing to risk authority to be authentic. It will make me a better teacher, and a better person too.


Yesterday Denison University Libraries participated in the Books2Eat. Books2Eat is formally called the International Edible Books Festival with over 20 countries participating in a day of literally eating your words. According to the official website, the festival takes place every year to honor the birthday of French foodie Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (there’s a mouthful) and take advantage of April Foolery.

Here are a few of my favorites from this year. To see more, check out my Books2Eat post from 2013.

the sandworm from Dune by Frank Herbert

the sandworm from Dune by Frank Herbert

The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer (who is a professor here at Denison!)

The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer (who is a professor here at Denison!)

James and the Giant Peach by Ronald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Ronald Dahl

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (even the book cover was classy)

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (even the book cover was classy)

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (won for humor, I think)

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (won for humor, I think)

and Best in Show went to The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

and Best in Show went to The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien








the immediacy of emotional kerfuffles

available as Kindle on Amazon; can’t find it through WorldCat…

Greenberg, KJ Hannah. The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles. Bellmawr, New Jersey: Bards and Sages Publishing, 2013.

The summary for this book states that Greenberg is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a National Endowment for the Humanities awardee. So yes, I fell for the “author with prizes” trick in picking up this collection of short stories.

The summation also suggested the stories would be “fiction sprinkled with friendly insanity” and, at times, “profound realism.”

I’ve read about four of the eighty stories and I just can’t continue.

I. Just. Can’t.

The writing reminds me of a college student’s first foray into creative writing, being weird for the sake of being weird to the point where it isn’t weird but incomprehensible. One sentence follows the next and they often don’t seem related. I think there is supposed to be humor, laughing at adversity (remember “profound realism”), but the reader has to spend so much time deciphering the language that everyone misses the joke.

I know this writer has her reader. Those already reading Fallopian Falafel Magazine and Winamop and AlienSkin Magazine (these are all real zines, I checked) will be delighted with Greenberg’s collection. Those of us looking for something different might find Greenberg has a bit too much “friendly insanity.”

The cover is cute, though.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

bedrock faith by eric charles may

May, Eric Charles. Bedrock Faith. New York: Akashic Books, 2014.

Parkland, a black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, is turned upside-down by the return of Gerald Reeves, aka Stew Pot. Stew Pot’s reign of terror ended when he was imprisoned. With his release and return home to his mother’s house, many of Parkland’s residents are terrified and want Stew Pot removed. Mrs. Motley, Stew Pot’s neighbor and ever the good Christian, is willing to wait and see.

And Stew Pot has changed since being in jail. He’s now full of religious fervor that borders on insanity. Parkland folk aren’t convinced of Stew Pot’s conversion, his childhood crimes and abuses still fresh in their memory, and his faith-based antics only further fuel Parkland’s fire for revenge.

Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is, yet Eric Charles May’s first novel is delightful to read. There are a host of characters, each given the opportunity to tell their story, and there is plenty of action. Readers are welcomed into Parkland from the first page. He tackles issues of racism, homophobia, religion, and violence with the language of storytellers like Flannie Flagg or Rebecca Wells.

Yet, as I read the final chapters, I felt disappointment at May’s ending. It didn’t seem fulfilling, though perhaps a bit expected. After I finished the book I realized the source of my dismay; it wasn’t that May had written a bad ending, it’s that I didn’t want it to end. May will have a huge following of readers expectantly awaiting his second novel about Parkland!

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

island of the dolls

When I read about The Island of the Dolls in a Mexico tour guidebook, I knew it was a must-see for me. I thought it would be cool and creepy. I was really wrong.

To get to the island, you take a boat through the canals of Xochimico (which is near Mexico City). The canals are strikingly beautiful; lush plants attract all sorts of birds and the water is completely silent. People live along the canals and though poverty is obvious, I was jealous of their lifestyle along the water. Eventually, the small shacks and sounds of radio fade away as the canals continue. Up ahead, one of the small islands seems strange.


Don Julian Santana was this island’s only resident. Sadly, over half a century ago he came across the body of young girl floating in the canal. Understandable traumatized, he hung from a tree a discard doll he found in the canals as a tribute to the little girl and in hopes of appeasing her spirit and protecting it from evil. Either because a single doll was not enough or Santana found comfort in the act, he continued to collect dolls, doll parts, and other toys he found throughout the canal’s waters. Apparently, as his obsession grew Santana began digging in the tow’s trash for toys and accepting dolls in exchange for his garden’s vegetables.



Santana died in 2001. Some say he drowned in the canal and others that he had a heart attack (maybe then fell in the canal?). The official website goes with drowning. His family maintains the island, his shrine to the little girl who haunted him.

Many people consider The Island of the Dolls undeniably creepy or terrifying. It isn’t (though I wouldn’t go after dark).

Instead I felt embarrassingly sad. Sad that a little girl lost her life so unexpectedly and sad that a quiet, lonely man had to discover her body. I was sad to witness Santana’s obsessive mourning. I was sad that all these toys once belonged to children, many of whom are as poor and lonely as Santana.

dolls4 dolls5














It was a silent boat ride back to Xochimico.