reflective journaling: my latest dabbling in instruction assessment

Since becoming an instruction librarian, I’ve always battled with assessment. I have been at institutions that used a mini quiz and student feedback form. I usually knew what the answers to the questions on these forms would be, and they usually showed signs of regurgitation and didn’t provide me with data to help improve my instruction.

The past few years I tried minute papers. Students were given a half-sheet of paper with two questions. Only one was mandatory. I asked students to reflect on what they learned and what still confused them – an open-ended, one or two sentence response or bullet points. I also asked if they had any specific questions they would like answered. This allowed the quieter students to get an email from me rather than raising their hand in class.

However, like the mini quiz, I knew the answers I’d get based on student responses during class, working individually with students, tuning in to the classroom environment, and reflecting with the faculty member afterwards. I still really wasn’t gathering data to help me improve my instruction. I knew what worked and what didn’t before reading the minute papers.

In a moment of insanity (or procrastination) I analyzed all my minute papers. Not surprisingly, information management was the most useful practice learned during a class. For most of my classes, this means Zotero. In some ways, students are getting better at finding sources (we’ll leave evaluation out of this for the moment) because there are so many ways to, well, find sources. They can blindly swing a bat a hit something. But, simultaneously, they are finding more sources and need to both evaluate and organize. Students immediately see how an information management tool like Zotero can improve their research process in every class. “I wish I knew about this earlier” is a common comment left on minute papers as well as the simpler “amazing” or “wow.”

Learning about specific resources was the second most-listed practice. This makes sense in a liberal arts setting. Many of the students in my classes are non-majors and don’t know about subject-specific databases or tools. Learning about databases like ArtStor (art) or RILM (music) was much appreciated.

A close third was search strategy and topic development. Research exercises learned here include concept mapping or other brainstorming activities, visual analysis, Boolean logic, and advanced search options in databases.

After these top three, practices learned by students move in many directions. One that is greatly appreciated but often goes undiscussed is finding books in the library. Students responses included simply “I didn’t know where the books actually were” to “I love walking around and finding books together. Could have done this for hours!” When I walk with students into the stacks, either to browse or find books they first located in the library catalog, I often hear about how many times they’ve gotten lost in the stacks or how they asked for help and someone “pointed at a door and said go up on floor” (she left the library sans book). I’ve heard enough sad stories of students not finding books that I almost always leave time in my sessions for searching the stacks. Students tend to be a lot more chatty outside the classroom, too, so I can find out a bit more about their needs and any research anxiety. I now get quite a few emails from students that begin “you once helped me find a book in the library  – thanks. Now I need…”

But, as I stated,I knew what worked and what didn’t before reading the minute papers. Because the goal of my assessment methods is to improve my instruction, I’ve ditched the minute papers. As if knowing I was struggling with instruction assessment, someone on Twitter posted a link to a 2009 article from College & Undergraduate Libraries, “A Reflective Teaching Journal: An Instructional Improvement Tool for Academic Librarians” by Elizabeth K. Tompkins. She provides a literature review on the subject and discusses her own practice of keeping a reflective journal to improve her instruction. 

This semester, when I’m contacted for an instruction session, I begin a Google document. I record the details of the class (when, where, how many students) and any email exchange or notes from a meeting with faculty. Then I plan the session, usually pulling from exercises and notes from previous instruction sessions. I wrap up planning by reflecting on the ACRL Framework. This helps me evaluate my lesson plans and consider language or targeted questions I might use in class.

After the session, I record details of the class. I include how much time was spent on a given activity and questions asked. Then I reflect on the class. Were students engaged? How did I know? Were questions asked on task or indicated students were falling behind? What response did I get from the faculty member – was he/she even engaged (or even present) and how can I follow up with them for any possible evaluation of long-term learning?

So far, I’ve found this activity very rewarding. Reflective journaling requires me to pause after a session and document both my actions and my thoughts. It isn’t very time consuming and in the future I should be able to text-mine the documents to look at my teaching practice holistically. When I return to a class in the spring (or next fall), I will not only have a planning document drafted, but a full reflection on how the class went and therefore how, in this next class, I might improve.

alao’s collection management workshop

This month I attend the Academic Library Association of Ohio Collection Management Interest Group’s day-long workshop in Columbus. I was impressed with the variety of presentations; all were useful and engaging.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.10.13 PMI was introduced to Weeding Helper, created by reference librarian Ken Irwin at Wittenberg University. This is a web-based tool that can help with collection management including weeding and assessment. You create an item list and upload this to Weeding Helper. The program creates an editable spreadsheet which includes the usual suspects like title, subject heading, and call number, but it also includes the number of copies in OhioLink (most helpful for us Ohio librarians!) and fields like “best book” (a don’t-discard-regardless-of-circ) and condition. The final column is the “fate” of the item – keep or no. Weeding Helper also analyzes your collection. It can show you the age of a collection, usage by title, and recency of circulation.

Kristin Cole at Muskingum University has been using Weeding Helper for many years. Tasked with reducing their overall collection by tens of thousands of items, she found the program to help her make quick decisions and share collections with faculty for input on an item’s “fate.” She is now using it to help her assess a large donation so she can determine which items to accept.

Librarians at the University of Toledo shared an incredible rubric they developed for assessing electronic resources. By using a rubric “qualitative assessments become quantitative scores” and evaluation is less subjective. Electronic resources are scored 1-3 on relevance, authority, uniqueness, user experience, usage, and value. For example, for authority a low score includes “publisher has poor reputation” and “few or no cited references” while a high score includes “publisher is a leader in the field” and “appears on core disciplinary lists.” Scores are assigned based on the extend to which it matches characteristics of a score, not that it matches all characteristics. This rubric not only helps them make decisions about keeping a resource or negotiating its price, but also helps in talking with faculty about why a resource may not be purchased or renewed.

Finally, Hannah Levy from Case Western Reserve University and Jessica Hagman from Ohio University shared ideas for promoting library resources and services. One great idea is an end-of-semester survival guide for students. This can be an online resource that’s promoted through email and flyers. The guide has information like exam hours, quiet spaces in the library for studying, and any events sponsored by the library. Another idea is an e-newsletter, one for students and one for faculty, on “5 Things You Should Know.” This is something that can easily be updated each semester or year. Hannah shared Case Western’s annual report, which is incredible (she’s also their Marketing and Communications Officer with a background in design, so that helps). Jessica has students help her maintain active Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It was a day well-spent with old friends and new. I came away with a lot of great ideas.

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.

emerging roles for academic librarians

I finally had a moment to listen to the archive of ACRL Art’s Virtual Midwinter Meeting. I was particularly interested in Joe Clark’s presentation about the Emerging Roles for Academic Librarians. He mentioned that we are moving away from collection-center service to an engagement-centered one. As this happens, the role of subject specialists and reference librarians is changing. This correlates with the recent publication from ARL New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries.

One of the virtual places he pointed us toward is the University of Illinois’ Subject Specialist Task Force Report. At first glance, these tasks seem obvious for a subject liaison. However, there are responsibilities creeping in to the role: such as creating exhibitions, “serve as a resource for scholarly communications, copyright, open access, and the institutional repository” (that’s a hefty load), involvement in fundraising, and outreach to the local community. There is also a whole section just on digital initiatives.

These roles are similar to the ones in the works at Kent State. Joe focused on four:

Programming & Event Planning

Kent State’s libraries host events – over 20 in a year. At the Performing Arts Library, Joe has many recurring events. Open Mic Lunch happens once a month; students and community members can perform. The Director Speaks series usually happens twice a semester. Performing arts directors talk about their approach to their work, usually the week before the theatre production opens. The Colloquium Series covers all of the performing arts and allows faculty, students, and others to present their research or ideas.

Outreach, Engagement, & Promotion

Programming ties in well to outreach and promotion. An event can bring new users to the library. The Performing Arts Library has an annual open house with live performances. There is a Welcome Week that attracts students who haven’t yet discovered the Performing Arts Library space. Student Appreciation Day is simply hot drinks and cookies. We all know cookies will bring a crowd!

Joe reminds us to be patient – attendance may not be large the first few times and some events may be complete duds, never to be tried again. Events take time and energy but the rewards are well worth it!


This isn’t about going out and getting donations. But we can help to identify donors and encourage development officers to bring donors to library events. So programming leads to outreach which leads to fundraising.

User Assessment

Assess user needs through surveys, focus groups, or even informal means. By continually assessing we can continually improve our services and spaces.


ala 2013 notes from one-shot instruction sessions

Lessons for the Librarian: 10 Tips for Teaching the One-Shot Instruction Session was held on Sunday, June 30th. There were eight speakers: Beth Woodard, Staff Development and Training Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Debra Gilchrist, Vice President for Learning and Student Success, Pierce College; Jennifer Corbin, Head, Center for Library User Education, Tulane University; Megan Oakleaf, Associate Professor, Syracuse University; Michelle Millet, Library Director, John Carroll University; Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries, University of Nevada – Las Vegas; Randy Hensley, Head of Information Services, Baruch College – CUNY; and Steven Hoover, Senior Assistant Librarian, Syracuse University.

You can view the slides from the presentation and read the article from which the presentation was based. Here are some key tips and references:

~ Some must reads: Understanding By Design by Wiggins and McTighe (2005, 2nd edition) and “Writing Information Literacy Assessment Plans” by Megan Oakleaf in Communications in Information Literacy (2009)

~ You can cover about three concepts well in a one shot. Remember, some students learn like you but most don’t – the Kolb Learning Cycle helps explain this.

~ Consider what activities will help the students learn and, at the same time, give you some assessment data. Assessment happens during teaching, not after! Go with evidence, not your gut: by assessing prior knowledge you demonstrate respect for students and their previous experience.

~ Some ideas to try: the one minute paper (have the students write what they want to learn in class today); “think, pair, share;” brainstorm session (will mean wait time); worksheets; teach using case studies.

~ “Enthusiasm is contagious. Not having enthusiasm is also contagious.” But, be authentic about it. It can be quiet enthusiasm.

~ Don’t be afraid to team teach. Faculty do have good intentions. Ask the faculty about the personality of their classroom. Working with faculty means you should be an asset, be a colleague, and don’t judge. Make the instruction integrated into their course, not a separate “library session.”

~ Document your impact and value and own your role as an educator!

notes from arlis pasadena

The first full day of ARLIS/NA Pasadena was rather busy! I spent the morning attend Rebecca Feind’s (Librarian for Art and Design, San Jose State University) and Kathy Clarke’s (Librarian, James Madison University) workshop Crafting Assessment Questions: Creating the Tools to Assess Information Literacy Objectives for Art and Design. The session allowed us to try developing our own multiple choice questions for assessing competency. The most valuable lesson of the workshop: assessment takes time and practice. Writing effective test questions is rather hard! Fortunately, Rebecca and Kathy created a LibGuide, ArtScore: Creating Assessment Questions for Information Literacy Competencies for Art and Design.

In the afternoon I attended the ARLiSNAP section meeting for Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals. It’s a great group for meeting young art librarians and the blog has helped many folks find jobs and internships. I’m hoping to become more involved in ARLiSNAP in the coming year.

Much of the afternoon was spent in the session in which I was presenting, New Voices in the Profession. Yvonne B. Lee (Research Assistant, Placa Project) was a terrific speaker. She presented on the Placa Project which is archiving Los Angeles gang graffiti, making the project easily accessible to street artists. Marsha Taichman (Visual Resources and Public Services Librarian, Cornell University) discussed her involvement in developing Visual Resources Talks (brown bag lunches) at Cornell. Amanda Milbourn (Assistant Librarian, Disney Consumer Products) presented her MLIS project on embedding visual literacy instructors into undergraduate classes. She won the Gerd Muehsam Award for this as the best graduate student paper!

I presented my research on and interviews with young Egyptian contemporary artists. In July 2012, I interviewed eight Egyptians living in Cairo about their information needs. My paper provided an overview of the higher education system in Egypt and the contemporary art community in Cairo. Then I discussed some of my findings from the interviews. I received a lot of positive feedback and interest in the work! This summer, I hope to find an outlet to publish this research as an article.

graffiti, Cairo, Egypt
graffiti, Cairo, Egypt

library day in the life, #libday8

I’m participating in Library Day in the Life hosted by Bobbi Newman of Librarian by Day.

I slept in this morning because I just wasn’t ready to face Tuesday. The two dogs and my husband were sleeping soundly so why should I be crawling around at day break? It means I missed reading the paper, but it will be there when I get home.

I’m responsible for opening the library at 8 a.m. Purchase the newspapers, count the petty cash, and log in to the computers. Some mornings patrons barge in immediately; usually students who didn’t do their homework (that’s due at 8:30) or faculty with last minute needs for class. But today it’s quiet.

After checking my email, I type up my notes from my reading last night. I’m really interested in the art studio process as a research process. Since creativity is a must-have in this global economy, flux with unpredictable cultural shifts, I believe artists will be in demand as public intellectuals leading innovative projects, developing new products and services that can’t be computerized or manufactured overseas. Currently I’m reading Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson. Yesterday I finished A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. The brain is the key to creativity so I’m brushing up on the latest science.

There’s a cart of new books to be checked and ordered for shelving. I break from the computer to do this. Well, I break from my laptop to use the circulation computer to do this. Glowing screens permeate my day.

I keep my Google Reader open during the day and take short breaks to skim the latest. I follow a lot of blogs on librarianship, art, culture, and taxidermy (don’t ask). I also update LibraryThing since I finished reading a few books recently and discover that I just won The Odditorium by Melissa Pritchard through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer! It doesn’t get any better than free books. I love coming home to a new book to review from Library Journal or ARLIS/NA.

It’s 10:00 a.m. and still ridiculously quiet. I have three classes this afternoon so I shouldn’t complain, but I could use some human interaction. All I hear is the security gate’s piercing hum and students enjoying themselves half a floor above me at the mezzanine’s cafe. This doesn’t feel like an academic library and makes it hard to want to work on various web projects like subject guides and policy manuals…I buckle down to work on a subject guide about women and art.

I take an early lunch since I have classes starting at 1 p.m. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. I talk non-stop. It’s 3 50-mintue hour library overviews (mini-tour, review the catalog and databases). Somehow I maintain enthusiasm throughout the afternoon, but I find myself slipping by the end of the last class. Fortunately, I handed out brief evaluation forms and the results were very positive. The sophomores learned about Boolean logic, EBSCOhost now housing WilsonWeb materials, interlibrary loan, and much more.

I leave around 4:30 p.m. I walk home (60 degrees in January in the Northeast?!) and skip cleaning the house to do my mini-French lessons. I’m refreshing my French from high school and it’s been pretty easy so far. Hopefully I’ll be reading Le Petit Prince again soon.

The rest of the evening is dog walking and dinner. I’ll admit to watching Auction Hunters (I love Ton) and Ink Master (go Shane!) before settling in to read until I fall asleep.