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Thing 2: A blog post: Reflections on teaching and learning

I'm falling behind with this, so I'm going to cheat a little and use something I wrote elsewhere

Adventures in IT
Where I work, I am the systems librarian.  This means that I have a little more interactions with software than the rest of the staff.  This also means that when there's an IT issue at the desk, I sometimes have to come to the rescue.
A few years ago I saw this tweet.
I love this tweet; it encapsulates a lot, to me anyway,  of what librarianship is about: having a sense of curiosity (finding the answer) and helping other people (finding the answers to other people's [library] problems).
I mostly work behind the scenes, but I do spend a little time at the library desk.  Time at the desk is good for backroom staff as it's good to get a feel for the issues that affect students on a daily basis (where I work, it's mostly printer-related), and as IT is pretty pervasive through education these days, you do see a lot of IT queries.  Recently, I've had two students vexed by IT problems:
  • A student being denied access to the Zotero website because of an insecure connection on a Apple laptop
  • A student able to print one page of her 3 page Excel spreadsheet.
I like problem solving.  I also like our students not having problems.  I'm kept sufficiently busy in the library that I don't need to deal with student issues, thanks.  Nevertheless, if a students approaches you with a problem, you have to try and fix - why else are you there?  Students approach the desk staff because they think the desk staff can answer their queries; it's what we do.  Shrugging our shoulders and directing the student to the IT department should be the last resort.
With the insecure connection issue, I exhausted a few ideas quite rapidly.  So, following the ethos of the embedded tweet above, using a search engine, I quickly found that there is an issue with Firefox and some anti-virus software that uses "fake" certificates to filter web traffic.  Firefox unless configured correctly, will reject these certificates.  The student was indeed using anti-virus software that worked like this.  She disabled the software temporarily.  Problem solved.
The same happened with the Excel printing issue.  The Internet revealed to me that I had to clear the existing print area and then set a new print area that encompassed the whole of the document.  Problem solved.
The insecure connection issue had to be explained to the first student, but I could just have handed the second student her printout and walked away, instead we sat down, opened the spreadsheet and went through the steps necessary to prevent the issue from reoccurring.
Many our of students come to us with problems that if we can't fix, we can find the answer online.  I do confess that I'm a little bemused by our students who don't try find the answers themselves.  There seems to me to be a little cognitive dissonance involved.  People are fairly adapt at navigating social media and  skillfully use laptops and tablets and smartphones and what not, but it's little pixies that operate them and if something goes wrong, best not upset the pixies by trying to fix the issue   Obviously I'm talking about a minority: many many folk quietly get on with things: we only see at the desk the students who have problems they can't solve.  And that's fine.  When a student comes to the desk with a problem I can't answer, I look it up and now I have learned something new and can solve the problem next time it happens.  If it's something that's quite common, then I might consider putting the answer on our website - example: some students noticed that they could not open downloaded pdfs for our ebook platform.  We researched the issue and found that the problem only affected Apple users, whose default PDF reader was not Adobe Reader.  A blog post and a section on the library website resources page, in theory, widely disseminates the answer to the problem
Ignorance is a strong word, and not quite applicable, I'm not sure if helplessness is any better, so lets settle for some library users having a lack of curiosity when it comes to solving their IT (and other) problems.  This lack of curiosity then, drives a lot of my learning.  If our students had no IT issues, I wouldn't be driven to learn how to solve IT issues that arise with the students.  Kind of a catch 22, eh?
You could, I suppose, simply tell the student to look up the problem, but that's not really very helpful.  In their head, by coming to you, they are looking up the problem. What good would a search engine be, if in response to your queries, it gave a list of other search engines you could use?
Not just IT though, is it?
Librarianship is a very diverse profession.  There are lots of niche areas.  I like library systems; it suits my temperament and perhaps my aptitude.  I share an office with  our acquisitions/cataloguing librarian.  I've done acquisitions and cataloguing  in the past, but I didn't enjoy it.  Likewise, my colleague could do my role, but wouldn't enjoy it; she's happy in her niche and me in mine.   Another colleague is the library expert in the anti-plagiarism software that the college uses.  I don't have a clue one about that software. So there are aspects and areas of librarianship that I don't know very well.  Recently a student asked me how to cite a case study from a website.  I didn't know the answer straight away, so I ... yes, you guessed it, looked up the answer.   I'm not sure I'll remember it, but I know I can search for the answer, and the answers to similar questions.  Likewise if a student approaches me and says that they can't find any good articles on say "trout fishing in medieval Scandinavia".  I don't know the first thing about trout fishing in medieval Scandinavia, but I'm pretty confident in my abilities to find material on this subject online .Librarianship then, is a profession that lends itself well to a reflection on teaching and learning.  We are asked a lot of questions, some of which we don't know the answer to.  If that's the case, we go look up the answer so that we know for the next time.  We communicate and explain the answer so that we both learn from the question.  It's almost like we teach by learning

Where do you get your ideas?
I'm pleased to say that the library in which I work is well-regarded in the profession.  We do try to punch above our weight.  I'm lucky to work with a good bunch of colleagues and have an innovative and forward-thinking manager.
The big highlight of the library year for me attending the annual seminar of the Academic and Special Libraries sub-committee of the LAI.  One of the reasons I attend is for competitive intelligence.  All seminars I attend are partly for reasons of competitive intelligence.  I want to see what other libraries are doing and if they're doing something that we are not, then can we do it?  This is rather bumptious, but I think a lot of the time that we're ahead of the game.  Sometimes we do pick up ideas, sometimes I see other libraries doing really excellent things that we simply can't do (I'd kill for a colleague who could code for example), but a lot of the time, I get to reassure myself that we're either innovators or early adopters.
Competitive intelligence is one of the reasons why I use Netvibes and Twitter.  I love using other peoples ideas.  Right now, I'm looking at this, which I saw in my Twitter feed and wondering how I can adapt this for my library (I will of course provide proper attribution). Why bother reinventing the wheel,  or using rectangular wheels?  If somebody does something good, and you could use it to make your library better, DO IT!
We have an instant messenger widget embedded on website, which I saw on UCD's old library website.  Our new library website was built using LibGuides, which the librarian at NCI recommended to us.  The website header idea came from the LibGuides support forum, while the library opening hours widget was inspired by a similar widget from the Tulsa Community College website.
As with students' IT questions, you can find a lot of interesting ideas, if you decide to look stuff up.

What's the point of CPD?

To me, continuing professional development is only worthwhile if you actually apply what you learn.  If you accumulate lots of new knowledge, but do nothing with it, what's the point of acquiring it in the first place?  There's no difference between you and someone who's not learning.  Knowledge is not to be hoarded; it's to be shared.  And the point of being a librarian is to share knowledge.


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