Since my employment at Muhlenberg College, I’ve been introduced to many wonderful people and academic endeavors.  One of them is Domains of One’s Own, which Muhlenberg joined to allow students to develop their own websites.  The college hosts each website with no charge to the student, even following graduation.  I love their support of individual’s ability to design their own online identity.  A lot of great Muhlenberg classwork has moved to an open, online environment, which allows students to share their work with parents and friends.

I have since made two sites (yes, it’s only been two months, but it’s fun!): one for the LVAIC Information Literacy Learning Community and one for myself.  I’ll be writing there from now on, so if you’d like to continue follow along please subscribe at the new address.

Valuing Scholarship, Methodology, and Leaders in Changing Scholarly Landscapes

A discussion about how to place value on scholarship is also a conversation about the value of scholarship and how to produce good scholarship.  The best scholarship is that which communicates to educators, researchers, and students information that makes a contribution to the field.  This requires language that has meaning, and often language that is more effectual because it is established by the community.  This also requires peer review that questions methodology and is established in an extensive understanding of the subject matter, in order to evaluate quality of literature review.  It also requires researchers to completing their research in a way that allows for replicability.  All of this is independent of the funding model of the journal – though who has the knowledge requirements I mentioned above and also wants to dedicate time and energy to this work if peer review and journal editing are not part of tenure considerations?

I think an interesting element to this conversation is that academics might be padding their resumes by publication in predatory journals, as Ben mentions.  Academics are so invested in publication, in part because of tenure requirements, that they are making various research sacrifices in order to have an interesting article that is able to be published.  In 2012, confronted with a crisis in research replicability, psychologists suggested the following to increase the reliability of their research:

…using undergraduate projects as a route for replicating existing studies; encouraging adversarial collaborations where sceptics replicate studies alongside original investigators; providing accessible outlets for publishing replications; opening up data, methods and workflow; and pre-registering studies including all the intended methods and analyses. (Owens, 2012)

Note these suggestions do not include strengthening the peer review process to keep out shoddy articles or ruining the reputation of the journals that published these articles.  Instead, opening data and methodologies is suggested as a way to increase quality scholarship.

In May 2017 I heard a panel discussion on BBC’s Newshour Extra titled, “What’s Wrong with Science?” that included academics and journal editors calling for a change in the way that researchers submit to academic journals.  Instead of submitting their article after the research is complete, this panel suggested that methodology be submitted for acceptance before the research is done.  The research would be accepted based on its methodological merit, not on the results.

Karen notes that open access journals provide an opportunity to publish failed research.  In a way, the fact that for-profit journals are not publishing this kind of information is evidence of a flawed system; one that researchers are already invested in participation.  Reforming the real-world scientific process through Team Science, as discussed by Patrick, is a great idea.  Academics, or administrators in higher education, are setting the standards for what we value from each other and, also, how we value it.  It’s a cycle that could use some reformation, which is an interesting to think about on this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  While we remember Luther (in all of his mythical splendor), we might also remember Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan – leaders in the open scholarship movement.

This post was written for a faculty learning community on open scholarship.  It was originally posted on 10/31/17 on the #openberg website.

October 12 – Reflections on Teaching

Two days ago I saw a student taking notes at the end of class and my heart soared when I noticed that she gave the lesson a perfect score.  I laughed when I realized that she had just dated her notes.

I think this moment reveals how eager I am to perform well.  I’m interested in recognition from professors, students, and my colleagues that I have succeeded in communicating the lesson and have been engaging, created safe space, developed relationships.  It’s a lot to expect from an hour and fifteen minutes and, yet, I do continually.

I write learning outcomes before every class.  They never include the following, the implicit outcomes I hope for my students:

Students will be feel safe talking to the librarian.

Students will feel safe asking questions.

Students will be able to articulate their experience in the class.

Students will consider the library a place to experiment, think critically and creatively, and grow.

Today I read a librarian conversation on Twitter where librarians discuss the fact that we are rarely lauded for our teaching capabilities, and I wonder what exactly that means in the context of my classroom endeavors.  I am one of those who did not study instruction in school, but immediately sought out resources and advice upon receiving a job in higher education.  I haven’t been a librarian for long, but my teaching hasn’t stagnated once.  I am reading, processing, and changing my lessons to include activities, opportunities for guided exploration, and conversations.  These changes in the lessons require changes in myself and it is a struggle to remain confident in my instruction when my classroom persona is evolving.  Not that I perform a lot differently in class then I do during the day, but it is challenging to show my character in front of 22 individuals with whom I often don’t have any additional context.

I know from experience that teaching becomes easier with time as relationships are developed between professor and students.  In an attempt to establish relationships quickly I have begun personally introducing myself as students enter the classroom, shaking hands and asking names.  I’ve been able to start a few conversations this way and can occasionally use an individual’s name to call on them in class.  The primary form of library instruction, the one-shot, doesn’t allow time for relationships to be established and context to be created and so the content of instruction has a harder time being embedded in memory.  This is a great argument for why the one-shot should petrify and join the lecture in the cemetery of pedagogical practices behind the library under the tall oak trees.

I think that the theory of threshold concepts upon which the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education has been written increases the anxiety I feel for my instruction sessions.  Thresholds are barriers that, once crossed, are permanent.  Thus, every instruction session feels like an opportunity to lead students to the threshold and beckon them to cross.  I can’t help but feel a sort of desperation – these lessons are so valuable to life and are given a few short minutes for students to “get it.”  Do you get it?  Do you get it?

I suppose these reflections are leading up to my ultimate pondering – am I a bad teacher?  The kind that librarians are talking about when they discuss how I’ve managed to graduate without a course on instruction?  I don’t want to pursue that line of thought.  Instead, I just want to encourage assessment, peer review, and personal reflection among my peers.  What do you think makes a good teacher and how do you measure against your own unspoken learning outcomes?


Oh Zotero

Transitioning to a new job is fun and leads to a whole lot of reflection on the differences between institutions:  values, teaching practices, culture, etc.  One thing I’ve noticed about instruction at my new job is that I’m asked to teach students how to use Zotero with much more frequency (and I’ve only been here a few weeks!).

If you don’t know what Zotero is: STOP.  This tool will change your research life.  If you do know what Zotero is: skip the next paragraph.  (I used to love choose your own adventure books.)

Zotero is a free citation management tool that will help you collect, organize, and cite information resources and collaborate with other researchers.  The application can be downloaded on any device, but is a web-based platform and so you can continue your work independent of a particular device.  I can’t emphasize enough how much Zotero has helped sustain my professional growth and has led to a reduction of repeated labor.  I don’t lose information, I can return to resources and notes easily, I can collaborate with friends from afar.  I wish I used Zotero in school and most of the students I introduce it to wish they had known about it earlier in their academic careers.

In the past, I’ve created videos showing the citation magic that Zotero provides so that students have some incentive to go through the download process.  I share it here because I think it’s an alright example of a quick video that can be used for outreach or at the beginning of an instruction session.  It is far from perfect.

Downloading Zotero is a struggle.  I tell students to use the web browser that they use to search most frequently, but Zotero is easiest to download when using Google Chrome.  I send download instructions to the professor and students before class so that we can jump right into all of the cool features after (inevitably) troubleshooting issues.  An important step I’ll highlight here is syncing the standalone (device-specific) version with the browser-based version and changing the preferences to sync “as needed.”

Here are the features I always highlight:

  • Making individual folders, including subfolders. Sharing organizational strategies is fun!
  • Making group folders
  • Getting items into folders in Zotero, both automatically (clicking on the browser extension) and manually (populating the fields in a new record)
  • Using notes – asking students how they take notes. Close reading and strategic organization can help with recall and incorporating information into your work!
  • Using tags – I like tagging books as “done” that I’ve finished in my “Books to read” folder. I don’t take them out of the folder because I like seeing what books I’ve added over time via the timeline tool.screenshot
  • Saving searches. Creating folders that automatically populate based on rules that you set up is really fun.  I have a saved search right now that collects items that have the keyword “information literacy” and are published after 2010.  This was probably an example for class that I’ve kept and find interesting.
  • Using the timeline tool, which allows you to visualize entire folders by publication date or date added to the folder.
  • Getting citations into your paper and changing the citation styles. Again, one caveat is that this works best in Microsoft Word, there is not plugin for Google Docs or Pages.  However, the ability to put in parenthetical citations and click a button to have your entire list of used references automatically appear is really cool.  Students that don’t have Word can always drag and drop resources from Zotero to their reference page.

Many instructors at Muhlenberg seem to ask for Zotero instruction for their seniors, prior to a major capstone project.  At DeSales, a few English composition instructors thought Zotero was exciting and would ask for it to be introduced during their students’ first or second semester of school.  It seems to me that seniors are more interested in the tool because they have experienced that organization and citation problems that frequently occur during large research endeavors.  However, I have never refused a Zotero session – I think its value is immense and relevant to everyone.

Zotero brings power to the researcher.  Corporations know that collecting data on what users do is useful over time.  Take that idea and flip it– collect data on your own scholarly endeavors over time.  Organize your work and keep it.  Return to it.  Analyze yourself and identify connections between articles in the variety of disciplines you’ve collected over time.  You’ll likely find new ideas and might even learn about yourself.

I would love to hear about your experiences with Zotero.  Is there interest on your campus?  Is there a particular time or class that requires Zotero instruction?  Do you use it personally?  Do you have any creative methods of teaching Zotero?

If you’re diving into the world of Zotero now you know who you can ask questions!

You can be what you want to be…

One of my favorite activities to do with students is a source card activity shared at the 2015 LOEX Conference by Meagan Christensen, Todd Burks, and Meredith Wolnick of the University of Virginia.  This activity begins by the librarian explaining to students that a citation provides readers with key information about an information resource (namely author, date of publication, title, resource) and that through this information we can deduce what we are looking at and begin to evaluate the resource’s value for our intended goals.  The students are then given a card that contains a citation and a screenshot of a resource.  They meet in groups, try to determine if their resource would be valuable to the task at hand, and then return to the larger group to share their findings.  I always enjoy the conversation that follows:  students wonder aloud if their source is too old, what the difference is between a book and an article, and why one website seems so much better than the next.

Next week I’ll be visiting one professor’s Exploratory Studies classes (the DeSales mash-up of First Year Experience and “Undecided”) to work on source evaluation with a homemade source deck built around the question “Can you be whatever you want?”  In putting together this source deck I found a whole bunch of resources that can be used to argue ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  The resources fit into seven categories and I find them incredibly interesting:

  • Do you have the right character traits?
  • Do you have the right skills?
  • Are you following your passion?
  • How will your education level and marketplace demands impact your options?
  • What if you face discrimination?
  • How strong is your network of support?
  • Is luck is on your side?

Basically, you can be whatever you want to be if you have the right character, skills, passion, education level, skin color (and weight, level of attractiveness, abilities, etc.), support network, and a bit o’ luck!  Isn’t that encouraging?!

Preparing this activity has me reflecting on my own professional journey.  I became a librarian, in part, because my dad told me I had “soft skills,” that my character made me suitable for serving others. My skills resulted in a quick and painless college experience and I found that I’m passionate about encouraging people to consider others’ perspectives, read to learn, and use technology.  The marketplace hasn’t been great – I graduated high school in 2008 (read: recession) and college in 2012 (read: another recession) and had a bit of trouble finding work.  But the job I did find after graduate school, though  not a perfect fit, led to some great friendships and a lot of self reflection.  I’ve faced minor discrimination and though it was frustrating it lead to compassion for others who encounter injustice more regularly.  I’ve been supported by friends, family, and coworkers and luck seems to be on my side!

If “Life is luck” (Thompson, 2014) I’ve managed to hit the jackpot.  Kim, Rhee, Ha, Yang, and Lee (2016) note that being tolerant of uncertainty links an individuals’ circumstances, career decision self-efficacy, and career satisfaction.  My tolerance of uncertainty is high but not 100%.  My experience interviewing of a new job exemplifies my tolerance level and is always the same.  After an interview I feel confident for 48 hours and then I start shrinking in the face of uncertainty – perhaps my answers could have been misconstrued, of course not everyone understands my brand of self-deprecation…

I relived the interview uncertainty recently because I applied for another job!  I’m happy to announce that I’ll be transitioning to the Muhlenberg College Trexler Library where I will continue my practice as their Assessment and Outreach librarian.  If you remember my first post to this blog you understand how this job seems uniquely fit for my passions, skills, and experience.   I’m lucky that my colleagues at DeSales support my move and recognize this as a growing opportunity.  To me this seems like luck, but I guess that’s all of life!


Transforming the Research Paper and My Perspective on Participation

In May (insert normal panic about time with some existential questions about purpose), I presented at the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent College’s (LVAIC) Adult Learners Conference with my colleague Eric Hagan, the Director of Distance Education and Instructional Technology and an MBA instructor.  Our presentation, titled Transforming the research paper one step at a time: Scaffolding learning outcomes and assessment, drew a few individuals to the conference and inspired great conversation.

This presentation was inspired by an assignment Eric assigned to his MBA students in his Organizational Management class.  Eric had been assigning a research paper since his first course, and wasn’t getting the results he wanted.  His students did not seem to understand the true nature of the research paper assignment, and were failing at creating an arguable thesis and selecting valuable sources.  This was not the students’ fault.  There were many opportunities for additional instruction to help them successfully complete the requirements of the project.  Eric and I identified these opportunities and took advantage of increased librarian and instructor intervention to communicate information literacy principles based on the Framework.  We even included learning outcomes and assessment measures at each step.

You can check out the slides below.

The content is not revolutionary, but participation in this event confirmed my practice and made me feel like a valued part of the community.   Audience members were excited that our presentation helped them determine if their instruction was on the right track.  And, some participants mentioned that they hadn’t realized that their university librarian might be a partner in teaching the information literacy lessons that are important to conceptualizing and completing a research paper.  This feedback really changed my perspective on sharing my work and leading the conversations in larger scholarly environments.  Initially, I wasn’t very excited about participating in a conference that focused more on marketing and advising adult students than instructing adult students.  But because there was a small audience who did appreciate our participation, I may be overcoming my own impostor syndrome and finding that I can contribute to my scholarly community!

Our Work to Form a Lehigh Valley Learning Community Around Information Literacy

This year I joined an amazing team that is working to form a learning community around information literacy (IL) in the Lehigh Valley.  We are grant-funded through the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC), which includes six institutions of higher education.  Participation in this team has been a highlight of my year.  I love working with these individuals and we have made significant progress in creating an LVAIC IL learning community.

A learning community, or community of practice, is an opportunity for individuals (mostly faculty and librarians in this case) to come together and learn in a social context.  It is a constructivist endeavor, where people engage in a shared interest (Wenger & Snyder, 2000, p. 139).  Our team put together two events this year – a reading group for librarians and a symposium where individuals across each campus were invited to participate around the theme Inquiry in the Information Age:  Information Literacy as Critical Thinking.  Both of these events were engaging, fun, and informative.

The February 2017 reading group was focused on problem-based learning and application of this instructional theory to practice.  We had a difficult time finding a recent article on problem or inquiry-based learning that gives a clear definition of the theory and discusses implementation in a higher education environment during our literature review.  So, we gave participants a choice between two articles when preparing for the group:  Smith Macklin’s (2001) “Integrating information literacy using problem-based learning” or Golding’s (2013) “The teacher as guide: A conception of the inquiry teacher.”  These articles are very different.  Smith Macklin (2001) is to-the-point, but the text is old.  Golding’s article (2013) is theoretical and includes some hypothetical classroom dialogue, which is a bit strange.  However, together I believe that these articles complement each other very well.  The planning team prepared questions to direct participants in discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of problem-based learning and pedagogical actions that could be used to help students improve their inquiry.  My own participation resulted in new connections with colleagues and changes in my own practice based on techniques that were shared.

The Information Literacy Symposium in May was also a great success.  It is challenging to put together an event schedule and so I am sharing it here. schedule The goal after each panel presentation was to engage the audience with brainstorming questions and help them to identify related applications specific to their own practice.  Though time limited us and some of these plans did not play out, we still managed to create community. Participants were excited about the local efforts in IL across campuses that engage students in the critical thinking process and the student panelists blew us away with their articulate expression of ideas about the way they engage in the world of information and in their college experience.

The planning team received continued support from LVAIC and will continue to work to increase interest and participation in an IL learning community in the Lehigh Valley area.  We want to have an online presence so that individuals can communicate and share materials without meeting in person.  We also are considering having a fall reading group and a spring reading group for librarians.  The symposium will be an annual event as well.  Do you have any experience developing a learning community?  What activities or events really brought people together?  Do you have any advice for the planning team?  I’m sure that each time I help to plan an event like this I will learn something else about scheduling, higher education, and teamwork.  It’s a formative and amazing experience!  I’m lucky to be involved in such a great group in an area that commits so much time, energy, and resources to IL.


Golding, C. (2013).  The teacher as guide: A conception of the inquiry teacher.  Educational Philosophy & Theory, 45(1), 91-110.

Smith Macklin, A. (2001).  Integrating information literacy using problem-based learning. Reference Services Review, 29(4), 306-314.

Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W.M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review78(1), 139-145.

Professor Denke? Who’s that?

This spring 2017 semester I computer labwas the instructor for my university’s Web Page Design course – a class of 14 upperclassman students.  This was my first time teaching a for-credit course and now, since the class just ended, I feel compelled to share my reflections.  I have learned a great deal, but was able to refine the craziness in my brain to five take-aways:

  1. Web Design offers a lot of opportunities to discuss Information Literacy – it is a natural partnership for the library that should be exposed everywhere!

Here are some information literacies I discussed with my class over the course of the semester:

  • We need to consider copyright when identifying media that can be included in our site.
  • Use Creative Commons when posting your own material online to encourage collaboration!
  • Fake or incorrect information can be published online without difficulty.  (I made my students create fake news on a page of their final project website.  Great fun! Hopefully they will think twice next time they browse the web.)
  • The Internet should be available to all, the digital divide is holding us back.
  • Linking data (or utilizing the structure of the web) can increase the value of our websites (search engine optimization) and searches.
  1. Designing a course from scratch requires a great deal of research.

I did not want my web design course to be basic, or boring, though it was introductory.  So I did a great deal of research in order to prepare for my class.  I updated my RSS feed reader to include web design and development blogs and trade news, I read scholarly journals, and poured over updates to web documentation.  As a librarian:  I do not have a lot of professors taking me up on the opportunity to help design or update their coursework, but this research process was time consuming and, for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.  I am interested to know if others routinely help instructors update their coursework and, if so, how this relationship came about.

  1. Students benefit when professors make their reading and research process transparent.

I made sure that my students knew how I identified their class readings and was staying well-informed on current trends in web design and development by revealing the process described above.  I wish I was able to dedicate more class time to this, but a brief discussion of RSS feeds and authority resulted in a basic understanding.  I think this is particularly important for classes in subject matter that is quickly changing and growing.  I believe all professors have the distinct opportunity to make their scholarship process transparent so that students can observe the process of scholarship (as a conversation, if you will) and participate!  My students also appreciated this transparency.

  1. Frequent assessment results in good conversations and better grades.

I used Remind to text my students questions about the week’s class content.  Remind allowed me to send group messages and respond to my students individually without having to request each of their phone numbers.  They just needed to subscribe to the chat.  These texts usually hinted at the content of their upcoming quizzes and resulted in students considering class content outside the class.  Retrieval practice suggests that students will be more adept at remembering information if they practicing remembering it frequently.  I found that they came into class wanting to know the answer to the question I had posed if they were not able to answer it with certainty.  And so, conversations about class topics were started by students and we were able to establish common understanding and move on to the next topic without leaving people behind.

  1.  The feels of a semester extend to professors.

Because my librarian responsibilities do not include teaching a for-credit class I have not experienced the intense emotional roller coaster of the semester brought on by the ebb and flow of work.  I have been doing my normal one-shot instruction, which includes a deluge of classes during the first few weeks of the semester and a continual trickle as the semester progresses.  Though one-shot instruction definitely has a cycle, it does not compare to the semester long grind an instructor experiences.  As an instructor, I can empathize with student stress because our experiences are directly related.  I experienced an intense feeling of relief after the midterm and have a fair amount of anxiety leading up to my students’ submission of their semester projects.  I will be excited and proud when my final grades are submitted and I can truly celebrate this accomplishment!

I’m guessing that professors who teach more than one course have a compounded experience of this phenomena.  I will definitely be more considerate of each professor’s feelings when engaging them in conversations around how the library can support their work.

I’m proud of some of my work and have identified areas where I would change in the future.  Web design is a fairly structured study, but my favorite part was getting to know my students and engaging them in conversations about accessibility and the future of the web.  I know a lot of my students valued these conversations because it brought in a lot of conceptual material and changed the pace of the class.  If I teach the class in the future I will definitely make some changes to the course design.  I will likely frame the final project in a real-life development setting where I act as Project Manager and Quality Assurance (and so they will have more due dates and grades– procrastination is real).  I’ll also begin the class with more discussion of variables, values, and logic as some students didn’t have the computer science background to easily orient their thinking.  And finally, I think I would reevaluate the overall difficulty of the course.  There are no prerequisites for our web design course, but many computer science students seemed to think the material was too easy and so they didn’t participate in the process (aka read the book) until they were behind and had deadlines.  However, other students struggled the whole way through, so I need to consider the best way to do this.

Whew – is it summer yet?

PS – A lot of my knowledge of teaching comes from the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.  Bonnie Stachowiak and her guests provide some inspiring and practical ideas! I may or may not listen to it at the gym.

Diving into APA Style Citation with DNP Students

The Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program came to me with a request in Fall 2016:  would I work more closely with her DNP students as they complete their dissertations?  She was frantic (“They need help with APA!”) and requested immediate assistance.  When the cohort began in early January, at the beginning of the new year, I met the ten DNP students, who were anything but refreshed.  I dedicated five hour-long sessions from January through March to help these students write an APA-style research paper.

The sessions were as follows:

1. Paraphrasing v. Summarizing – A Review

The first of the five sessions was conducted in person, and the following four were in a synchronous online space.  Because of the constraints of online courses, I decided to tackle paraphrasing in Session 1, which I thought would benefit from in-class discussion.  I think that paraphrasing is one of the hardest parts of APA because interpretation is involved.

I introduced the students to paraphrasing via Purdue OWL and then gave them an assignment:  could they paraphrase four paragraphs from four separate research articles?  They were given time to work in small groups and then shared their attempts with the class for evaluation.  My hope was that students would be able to paraphrase and summarize successfully, remember to cite paraphrased or summarized content, and identify how a seemingly easy endeavor is, in fact, intricate.  This assignment certainly inspired a great deal of discussion!  Throughout all of their work I provided suggestions for more active reading and stronger articulation of meaning, but the amount of ambiguity of my own class participation resulted in many students expressing frustration.  If you have taught a similar class to this one, I certainly would love to hear about it!

2.  Citation of Resources A-Z

In order to cover the development of a reference page I recycled my content my previous APA Citation Workshop Series.  I added a bit of instruction on how to request use of figures from other’s publications and how to include copyright statements.

3.  Tables and Figures in APA Style

In the middle of a snow storm, I promised to teach the students about proper table formatting in APA style.  However, I was unable to get to work and, unbeknownst to me, we do not have Microsoft Office at my house!  So a video tutorial had to do.  Here it is, in under 10 minutes!

4. Grammar Rules

Many students write as they speak, and need to be reminded of the rules for scholarly (aka formal) writing. We discussed rules of hyphenation, active and passive voice, contractions, gender pronouns, abbreviation, punctuation, verb agreement, and capitalization. One surprising takeaway – did you know that data is plural?

5. Scholarship and Wrap-Up

I wanted these students to be prepared for publication in their new field so during this session I discussed Creative Commons, Open Access, and ORCID ids. I wanted the students to recognize the value of Open Access, I am a librarian after all! I hope that they recognize that they have choices when publishing and that there is value in allowing their research to be immediately and widely available. In the future I hope to include predatory journals in this discussion, but I’m not entirely knowledgeable in this area. I would love some reading recommendations!

Wrap-up also included any lingering questions and a form for feedback. Overall, the students requested that I hold more sessions and that the topics be introduced earlier in their program. One student said that they hung my PowerPoints all over their office for reference, a scene that makes me chuckle. Another student suggested that the sessions allow students to practice while I am present. Perhaps in the future I will use the whiteboard function of Blackboard Collaborate and allow students to type up citations for review? If so, I will report back.

Teaching DNP students is a challenge. They are tired from a long day of work, overwhelmed at the amount of schoolwork expected of them, and respected in their field. I quickly learned to exhibit great compassion and humility while leading these sessions. The students responded well when I directed them to reference resources in my efforts to teach them and not just provide the answers. Though this was an intensive experience, I am happy that my own knowledge of APA has developed significantly and hope that I was able to support these students’ performance to their advantage.

The Dark Days of Information Retrieval

On November 20th, 2016 I revealed my professional purpose to my family in a way I had never done before. I posted the following on Facebook:

As a librarian, I am constantly asking students to read and ask questions about the purpose, point of view, and credibility of resources before they use them to inform their own opinions. This article helps to reveal the information structures that exist within social media. Algorithms already manipulate what news you see, whose posts you read, and who sees the things you post. Encouraging awareness of information structures and power dynamics is also part of my job.

When I first accepted my job as a Public Services Librarian I was repeatedly asked what my job responsibilities were – do you think I’ll continue receiving these questions? Before this post, I had never before formed such a statement of self-purpose. But, I’ve been told that I am increasingly relevant and that my friends and family take great pride in my job, and so I should feel confident to assert my professional endeavors everywhere, not just on campus.

The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education states that “Information creation is a process.” Generally, this frame is the foundation to discussions about peer-reviewed journals and social media posts, or, recently, fake news. However, as I hinted above, I’ve been thinking much more about the algorithms that alter the way we connect with information.

Algorithms are the method that any search engine, feed reader, or social media platform use to deliver content to you. Companies do not publicize the logic, or priorities, that structure the way content is delivered, though web developers and marketing professionals do work hard to manipulate the code so that their content is delivered first. In a world of increasing reliance upon digital delivery of information I think we should call for transparency in algorithm development!

For now, we are on defense – we learn how these algorithms affect our lives after the fact. For example, Dylann Roof’s radicalization story is closely tied to the algorithm that automatically completes Google search terms. An NPR article  reports on Roof’s information search:

[Roof] said that after hearing about [Trayvon] Martin’s death he had “decided to look his name up. Type him into Google, you know what I’m saying?” Roof told investigators that he had read the Wikipedia article for Martin, and then “for some reason after I read that, I,” he paused before continuing, “I typed in – for some reason it made me type in the words black on white crime.”

This same article reveals that by typing “black on” the autocomplete function suggests “black on white crime.” By typing “white on” the autocomplete function suggests “white on white crime.” We don’t know why, but the important thing to know is that these algorithms are written by people and so they can be changed (which Google has done with some inflammatory search terms) and can contain bias. The algorithm development is a process too!

The algorithm that Facebook uses to get posts to user’s feed has also been under scrutiny for creating filter bubbles, the name given to the echo chamber that is created by an algorithm that prioritizes showing users posts from their friends, people who agree with their ideological views. Filter bubbles help in the spread and acceptance of fake news, which was prolific on Facebook during the presidential campaign. Since then, Facebook has voiced a desire to decrease the spread of fake news in the future. How? By becoming a media company or, at least, starting a “journalism project.” According to another NPR report, Facebook will be hiring engineers to make Facebook a better platform for news distribution. One of the initiatives of the Facebook Journalism Project is to “invest(ing) in research and projects that promote ‘news literacy.’” How will the company increase its user’s critical evaluation of the news? A great place to start would be to reveal the structures that get the news to their feed. Will they do that? Probably not.

It’s hard to teach others about the bias, power dynamics, and social structures written into algorithms that fuel our information retrieval online when they are the property of corporations who gain from their private nature. However, the Framework outlines a good place to start: “accept[ing] the ambiguity surrounding the potential value of information creation expressed in emerging formats or modes.” We need to be vigilant about identifying the value, authority, and purpose of information that circulates in our social media and populates our search rankings. And let’s call for more information and transparency surrounding the structures that get information into our digital hands and reasoned minds today!