Reflective Practice: To Feel, To Connect

I don’t talk very much, especially don’t like talking about myself. What I like, is to quietly observe other people and “read” them – read through their actions, expressions and conversations. I hope it doesn’t make me sound like a weirdo, but this is one of the things that makes me feel comfortable because when I talk less, I listen more and I feel more. I guess that’s a trait most introverts share, but what does it have to do with the Hyperlinked Library? And what does it have to do with the information profession?

Before taking this class, I assumed that the information profession was mainly about information, about how we interact with information and how we use tools to fulfill people’s information needs, but now I see it differently after the 15-week-long study. The word “hyperlinked” says a lot about this course, and to me, it means connection with people. Like I wrote in my virtual symposium, in today’s digital world, every person is a hyperlink in their own community life. If we want to have a fully-functioning community, we need to make sure that all members are connected and that each individual functions well. This is exactly how I feel in this course. By participating and interacting with each other, we are all connected to one another which helps build this supportive and dynamic community. However, from my own experience, I know not all virtual communities are as supportive and caring as the Hyperlinked Library community. Empathy and heartfelt support only come from a loving heart which knows how to feel and it must belong to someone who recognizes the power of listening and “reading” other people’s stories.

In her article, Livia Gershon argues that the future is emotional. She contends that emotional labor, although currently “undervalued and underpaid”, is invaluable and worth more attention from policy makers and the general public (2017). When information professionals are offering services to various communities, we are expected to be compassionate and understanding of people’s problems and frustrations. While we try to help other people and become so involved in their stories, we may be at the risk of suffering from compassion fatigue. I believe those who are always empathetic and caring may suffer more in this process. Therefore, I’d like to share a video with all of you. I hope it will be useful and helpful for every future information professional in this class and I truly hope compassion fatigue won’t stop us from loving and caring for others.



References

Gershon, L. (2017, June 22). The future is emotional. Aeon. https://aeon.co/essays/the-key-to-jobs-in-the-future-is-not-college-but-compassion
Mathieu, F. (2019). What is compassion fatigue? TEND. https://www.tendacademy.ca/what-is-compassion-fatigue/

Virtual Symposium – A Special Issue in the Hyperlinked Magazine

I had an interview with the Hyperlinked magazine a while ago, and I think they did a pretty good job summarizing my main takeaways from this course. Read their newly published issue and you will get a rough idea of my hyperlinked journey!

I hope the video on the last page plays. In case the embedded code does not work, here’s the link: Ye Zhai’s Virtual Symposium – A Special Issue in the Hyperlinked Magazine

P.S. In case anyone is wondering what magazine it is…well, I made it up haha! I interviewed myself for the symposium and decided to publish a magazine for myself! You gotta dream big sometimes! 😛

Director’s Brief – 3, 2, 1 Action! The Power of Digital Storytelling

This brief looks at how academic libraries can integrate digital storytelling in its practice of marketing, managing, outreaching, and providing opportunities of professional development for library staff. Academic libraries, in order to stay connected to their dynamic communities and adapt to the rapid changes in the digital world, need to be creative in their daily operations and practices. By combining storytelling, new media and trending technologies, digital storytelling will bring great value and serve that purpose effectively.

Director’s Brief – 3, 2, 1 Action! The Power of Digital Storytelling

Reflection on Infinite Learning: Professional Learning Experiences

I am focusing on Professional Learning Experiences for the Infinite Learning adventure because it speaks to my heart in so many ways. I’m a firm believer of lifelong learning because I think that’s the only way to stay connected in this ever changing world. I started this MLIS program because I care so much about professional development and it seems to be the most effective way to get me through a career plateau. However, I also went through a hard time figuring out if it’s worthwhile joining this self-funded program. Now I’d like to share the process of my transition from an “excluded cynic” to a “curious introvert” and then a “self-driven go-getter”.

Lecture of Infinite Learning: Professional Learning Experiences, 00:19:38

In his book Wholehearted Librarianship (2019), Michael Stephens puts forward the Formula for Success:

Essential Skills + Mindset² × Support = Success

There’s no doubt that success can be defined in many ways, but this formula really brings out some very interesting points which resonate with my own professional learning experience. Having been a service staffer for more than five years at an academic library, I see myself grow tremendously when it comes to essential skills that are needed to do my job well. But the problem is, when I reached a certain period in my career, instead of feeling content and comfortable, I started to feel unsettled and anxious because I realized that there was nothing more I could learn from my work. I understood that not all organizations could afford expensive learning programs or conferences for frontline staffers, but still, the “excluded cynic” persona started to shape in me. I secretly complained about the lack of learning opportunities and let those negative emotions get the better of me. As described by Michael Stephens, my mindset during that time was “just give me the paycheck” (2019) but did not take any actions. Clearly, I was wasting my own time and it blocked me from so many possibilities that could have happened for me if I were more rational and proactive. Luckily, I picked myself up from there and started to find learning opportunities on my own. I observed how other people work and learned from our collaborative projects; I reached out to my manager and asked for feedback and suggestions; I was curious about areas that were out of my own expertise and let that curiosity guide me to explore the things I didn’t know… I had become a “curious introvert” by that time and that was also when I felt the power of a positive mindset.

Thanks to my manager and colleague’s support, I was then introduced to online MLIS programs like this one. They helped me compare different programs and offered constructive advice when it came to work-study-life balance. After more than one year’s consideration, I finally applied to SJSU and got accepted. Learning new things and connecting with new people in the information profession has inspired me so much and it also helps me build confidence at work. I learn from this program, share the things I learn with my colleagues, and I even come up with new ideas and create learning opportunities for other team members. There’s still a long way to go for me to reach the “success” I expected, but I have surely become a “self-driven go-getter” by now.

Professional learning can happen in many different forms. The transition of my own learning persona has taught me that no matter how the outside world looks like, we must find the ultimate driving force in ourselves and treat it as a lifelong process.


References

Stephens, M. (2020). Infinite learning: Professional learning experiences . INFO 287 – The Hyperlinked Library. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=6aee1751-fe1a-4d46-bff9-aaef0136212c

Stephens, M. (2019). Wholehearted librarianship: Finding hope, inspiration, and balance. ALA Editions.

Reflection on The Power of Stories

I am a big fan of stories. My huge interest in movies and fictions stems from the curiosity I have for people’s lives and their fascinating stories. The power of stories, as Michael Stephens puts it, lies in the fact that they “…[break] through prejudices and preconceptions” and that they “remind us of our humanity and our better natures”. Readings from Module 10 and the Director’s Brief Assignment really resonated with me and they also remind me of my own experiences at work.

As the supervisor of a team of 14 student employees, I’ve always been trying to find the best way to “manage” them. Quotation marks are used here because the word “manage” does not reflect my way of thinking in the process of working with these students. For me, to manage is also to balance my role as a supervisor and as a team player. A manager may assign tasks, give orders and set boundaries for employees, but a team player needs to understand what others think and learn from them in every possible way. Stephens in his article commends that narrative inquiry (NI) is “one of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge of … the specific stories of our community” (2020). Although I came across this article only very recently, it was proved true in one of the encounters I had with a student worker.

At our library, we don’t include student workers in our library group email because we want to make sure that library users always get the most accurate answers from fulltime library staff who are well-trained in what we do and are also more experienced in communicating with users professionally. We don’t explicitly discourage students from doing that because it has never been an issue in the past. Plus, they are not able to do it in the first place (or, as we assumed). However, there was one time when we discovered that a student emailed a user from our group email address, which was both surprising and concerning. It was surprising because the student solved the user’s problem in a very professional manner and even received a thank you letter (which was also how we discovered this case); it was concerning because nobody knew how the student managed to send the email from the group email address and we even thought the student had hacked into our email account on purpose.

Before taking any further actions, I decided to interview the student and hear her side of the story. It turned out that the student had conveyed a misleading message while she received the user at the circulation desk. By the time she finally found out the accurate information, the user had already left. In order to find the user and get in contact with them, the student made use of our circulation system and located this user’s information from the circulation history which was recorded with a timestamp. Then the student sent an email to the user from within the circulation system because the email icon was right there on the interface! While we were all wondering how the student “broke” into our group email account, none of us was aware of this function in our circulation system, although we’ve all been working with this system for so long!

Instead of blaming the student, we decided to send her a gift just to thank her for her “new” discovery. As quoted in Eberhart’s article, “Storytelling is an important tool for libraries to engage their communities” (2018). We also believe in the power of stories and now we keep sharing this story with our colleagues and new student workers just to nurture their curiosity and goodwill. The lesson I learned from this experience is that we should never prejudge anyone if we have not listened to their stories. Because who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised!

The gift we sent to the student: a notebook.
Translation of the Chinese text: Thank you for your discovery 🙂

References

Eberhart. G. M. (2018, February 10). Sharing people’s stories: StoryCorps partners with public libraries. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/sharing-peoples-stories/

Stephens, M. (n.d.). https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/course-modules/the-power-of-stories/

Stephens, M. (2020). Office hours: narrative inquiry. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2020/04/09/office-hours-narrative-inquiry/

Participatory Service Planning: No More “Drifters”

 “A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on, you are enriched threefold.”

– Henry Miller, The Books in My Life (1969)

Introduction

If you enter the NYU Shanghai Library these days, chances are you will see a fully occupied academic commons. Students are busy with their midterms and the library is always the place to go if anyone is interested in finding a good spot for study. Beside the fierce competition for space, another surge we see is the checkout rate for course reserve items – mostly textbooks. This may not be the case for other academic libraries, but as a transnational university in China, NYU Shanghai is faced with a bigger challenge in getting physical textbooks for students from abroad. In the US, students can easily buy textbooks from bookstores; while at NYU Shanghai, it’s always a much more complex process to get hold of a physical textbook as a large portion of our textbooks need to be purchased and shipped from the US, which is costly, time-consuming and also full of uncertainties. To make it easier for students and faculty, e-books have always been the first option for textbooks. However, it seems that many students still prefer a physical book when studying for exams. Students do purchase physical copies if needed, but for those who don’t, the library copy of these textbooks naturally becomes a precious shared asset. For some popular titles, they even need to be waitlisted until they can check them out for 4 hours. According to Ran, Yang and Jin, the acquisition and distribution of imported English language textbooks is a common issue for the several Chinese transnational universities now (2020).

As NYU Shanghai has 49% of international students, most of them won’t consider taking the physical textbooks with them when going back to their own countries, so they will need to find a new owner for these books. This is not always easy when you don’t have a system or platform to help facilitate that process. Therefore, students can only place their books in the common study areas (including the library), hoping these books will be “adopted” by someone in need. All too often, these books become “drifters” on campus as no one knows who they belong to and students are very reluctant to take them away, assuming they are someone else’ property. On the one hand, physical textbooks are so difficult to obtain and students are in great need of them; on the other hand, they are longing for a platform which can help facilitate the reuse and exchange of those copies when semester ends.

Unattended Books in the NYU Shanghai Library Academic Commons

The existing challenges have all come across as opportunities for improvement after I studied the Participatory Service module. In his book The Heart of Librarianship, Michael Stephens states that “the era of participatory culture demands that cultural and information professionals play an active, visible role in our communities” (2016), which really motivated me when I start thinking about making library services more visible and accessible to the NYU Shanghai community by coming up with more user-oriented initiatives. As Michael Casey puts it, “the participatory library engages and queries its entire community and seeks to integrate them into the structure of change” (2011). My plan of No More “Drifters” is one that needs participation and input from all students, whether they are donating books or offering suggestions to tackle the problem. If the plan can be implemented for the entire NYU Shanghai community, I hope it will serve as a way to encourage sharing, exchanging, and reusing personal books among community members and make the best use of resources readily available.

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service

  • Facilitate the exchange or re-distribution of personal physical textbooks among the NYU Shanghai student body;
  • Encourage the exchange and reuse of personal books that are no longer needed and provide a platform for the entire community to donate or swap books to those in need;
  • Address the problem of unattended books – the “drifters” – on campus and make the best use of resources that are readily available;
  • Encourage reading activities at a lower cost both financially and environmentally in the NYU Shanghai community;
  • Involve users in shaping library services and make library services more visible and accessible to the community.

Description of Community you wish to engage

At the first stage of this plan, I’m looking to engage the NYU Shanghai students only as they will be the main user group who need this service. For the second stage, we will expand it to the entire NYU Shanghai community, including students, faculty and staff, to facilitate personal book donation or exchange. The NYU Shanghai Library will be responsible for implementing this plan and organizing related events. 

Action Brief Statement

For Library Users

Convince library users that by donating dispensable personal books to the library they will be helping to build a platform which will reduce the cost of reading activities both financially and environmentally because it will facilitate the process of book exchange and enable the reuse of resources readily available to the NYU Shanghai community. 

For Library Staff

Convince library staff that by implementing this service they will be able to involve users in shaping library services which will help improve user experience and make library services more visible and accessible to the NYU Shanghai community because it is user-oriented and can create more opportunities for outreach.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service

Articles

Bikos, G., & Papadimitriou, P. (2015). Book swapping and book exchange libraries: aspects of the phenomenon and the case of Greece. AIP Conference Proceedings, 1644(1), 295-302.  https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4907850

Chavan, H. (2019, May 3). Re-inventing book exchange to create new social network for readers – why Readsnet happened. Medium. https://medium.com/@harshalachavan7/re-inventing-book-exchange-to-create-new-social-network-for-readers-why-readsnet-happened-f5969c4245a4

Diaz, C. (2017). Affordable course materials: Electronic textbooks and open educational resources. American Library Association.

Lapointe, M. (2019, September 19). Book exchange and literacy. Princh. https://princh.com/book-exchanges-and-literacy/#.X5kQ_dAzZPY

Sarkisian, H. (2017). GSU library student textbook exchange. Governor State University Library. https://opus.govst.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=library_411

Examples

Sarkisian, H. (2017). GSU library student textbook exchange. Governor State University Library. https://opus.govst.edu/library_411/46

Maxfield Public Library. (2019, Feb 9). http://maxfieldlibrary.com/print_entry.asp?counter=137

Streets of Woodfield Community Book Swap. (2019, Aug 10). https://www.scarce.org/event/streets-of-woodfield-community-book-swap/

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service

As described in the NYU Shanghai Library Mission Statement, the library “seek[s] and provide[s] intellectual resources and foster[s] platforms for scholarly exchanges” (n.d.). To build this platform and facilitate book exchange, NYU Shanghai Library, mainly the Library Director and the Access Services team will be responsible for setting policies about donation, exchange and other participation issues. As students will be our main user group, we will also involve student representatives in policy-making. We will use the current library donation policy as a starting point and then study similar events for reference. As we may be utilizing unattended books in public spaces on campus, we will also consult with Student Life, Public Safety and Asset Management for advice and permissions. What’s more, given the current circumstances, we will also have to follow the University’s policy on COVID-19 management.

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service

No additional funding is needed for books as they will be donated by community members or collected from public spaces where unattended books are usually placed at. However, the library will need to invest in purchasing gifts for those who actively participate in this event. We will also need a budget for preparing promotional materials and instructional signs for the event.

Action Steps & Timeline

For the first stage of this plan, actions and timeline will largely depend on the availability of dispensable textbooks. For the second phase, however, as we will be accepting book donations of all sorts from the entire community, it won’t be as time-sensitive as the first stage.

Phase I

Target Books: Physical Textbooks

Target Users: NYU Shanghai Students

  1. Library start promoting the No More “Drifters” project;
    • As Spring semesters usually ends in late May, so promotion starts at the beginning of May; Fall semesters ends in late December, so promotion starts at the beginning of December.
  2. Library start accepting donations of physical textbooks after the promotion kicks off;
    • Library staff will be trained beforehand to evaluate donated textbooks (conditions, personal information, etc.), inform users of our policies and accept the ones that are qualified to enter this service.
  3. Library stop accepting donations at the end of summer/winter holidays;
    • Most students move out at the end of each semester, but there will be a few who stay for summer/winter term. Therefore, it’s important to take those students into consideration.
  4. Library screen the donated books, categorize them and make signs/labels for the event before new semester begins; 
    • A storage space must be dedicated to these books and kept secure.
  5. Library start promoting the event at the beginning of the new semester and encourage students to join this event if they are in need of a physical textbook; 
  6. Library staff will pick two sessions (two hours each) during the first two weeks for book distribution and exchange;
    • The first two weeks of the semester is the add-and-drop period for students to decide what classes to take, so it may be the time they need a free textbook the most.
    • If students decide to drop a certain class and don’t need the textbook anymore, they should feel free to give it back to the library, if the book is still in good shape.
  7. After the add-and-drop period, library will hold an additional session during the third week in case there are students who still need to check out the remaining textbooks;
    • Only student workers will be assisting in the organizing and facilitating of this session.
  8. For the remaining books after the aforementioned three sessions, NYU Shanghai Library reserves the right to determine their use or disposition.
    • Remaining books will be evaluated again, and library staff will decide if we will discard them or keep them for future exchange.

Phase II

Target Books: All sorts of books that meet the requirements of library’s donation policy

Target users: All NYU Shanghai members

Phase II will start if Phase I passes evaluation and receives positive feedback from students. The timeline will be the same as the first Phase I, except that the library will be accepting donations during the whole semester from community members. Besides, the marketing strategy and timeline will be updated accordingly.

  1. Library start promoting the No More “Drifters” project to the entire community after Phase I ends;
  2. Library start accepting donations of books after the promotion kicks off;
  3. Library screen the donated books, categorize them and make signs/labels for the event before new semester begins; 
  4. Library start promoting the event at the beginning of the new semester and encourage all members join this event if they are interested in exchanging books or just getting a new reading from the event; 
  5. Library staff will pick two sessions (two hours each) during the first two weeks for book distribution and exchange;
    • Books donated during these two weeks will enter events for the next semester.
  6. After the add-and-drop period, library will hold an additional session during the third week in case there are students who still need to check out the remaining textbooks;
    • This session is for textbooks only.
  7. For the remaining books after the aforementioned three sessions, NYU Shanghai Library reserves the right to determine their use or disposition.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service

ALthough this is a new service to offer and it will require each team to devote a certain amount of time to prepare for the events, this project won’t require additional hours from library staff. Firstly, the taskforce for this project will work in collaboration with other departments on getting permissions and university level guidelines, and then we will work with the library director on policy-making. Secondly, the library marketing team will help with designing and creating promotional materials and purchasing gifts. Thirdly, the taskforce will be responsible for training other support staff and student workers on the policies and workflow of the project. This is especially important for Access Services staff because they will be accepting donations and conducting the first round of evaluations. During the three event sessions, only two to three staff members are needed and we will assign student workers to staff and coordinate the event most of the time. Lastly, the whole library team and other stakeholders will help evaluate the project and provide feedback. 

Training for this Technology or Service

The Library Access Services team members and student workers will complete training before the promotion of the project. Training will be designed by the project taskforce and will cover areas including donation policy, evaluating for qualified books, project action steps and timelines, workflow for each event session, receiving feedback from users, etc. Trainers will also create a manual for distribution. 

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service

To market for this project, both traditional and new marketing channels will be utilized. To prepare for the promotion, the library marketing team will create posters and distribute them around campus. If time permits, we will also consider making a promotional video and broadcast it on social media and library digital screens. Based on our past experiences, sending emails to target users is the most efficient way to get the word out although it seems old-fashioned. Instead of using Facebook or Instagram, which are not as popular as they are abroad, we will create WeChat posts and share with the community on the NYU Shanghai Library official account. The Access Services team will also promote our events at the circulation desk in our daily interactions with users. Additionally, library staff will make use of our individual networks and reach out to colleagues from other departments and invite them to participate. We will also ask our student workers to help spread the word among their fellow students.

Evaluation

Donations

  • How many books are received from users?
  • How many of the received books meet the requirements?

Match Rate

  • How many of the accepted books find their new owners?
  • How many books are left unpicked after the events?

Users

  • How many people donate books to the library?
  • How many people participate in the events?
  • How many people find the book(s) they need from the events?
  • How many users come to the library to ask about this service after the events end?

Other

  • Are people still leaving their dispensable books unattended in public spaces after the events?
  • Is it natural for people to associate book reuse and book exchange to library service?

As the metrics for evaluation should consider qualitative and quantitative factors, it is best to keep statistics and record during the whole process. A short survey can be distributed to participants during or after the event to solicit feedback. The task force of this project should organize a meeting among library staff to gather feedback and firsthand experience for the improvement of future events. The ultimate goal is to facilitate book reuse and exchange, make library service a participatory experience for users, and to make library services more visible and accessible for the NYU Shanghai community.


References

Casey, M. (2011, October 21). Revisiting participatory service in trying times – a TTW guest post by Michael Casey. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Miller, H. (1969). The books in my life. New Directions.

NYU Shanghai Library. (n.d.). About the library. https://shanghai.nyu.edu/academics/library/about

Ran, C., Yang, L., & Jin, Q. (2020). The challenges of textbook access at Chinese transnational universities. Libraries and the Academy, 20(4), 585-596. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/766322/pdf

Stephens, M. (2012). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. American Library Association.

Reflection on Hyperlinked Environments – Academic Libraries

Thinking it would be more relevant and rewarding to delve deeper into academic libraries as I am currently working in one of them, it was not a hard choice for me when I looked at the provided list of hyperlinked environments. It was a pleasant surprise to see that my own working place, NYU Shanghai, was addressed in one of the readings. It definitely helped me make the decision to share my own perspective when it comes to librarianship in global universities as so much of the content resonates with me.

As a joint venture of New York University and East China Normal University, NYU Shanghai is unique in its identity. On the one hand, it adopts the education system from NYU and offers almost the same services and resources to provide seamless experience for faculty and students in their teaching and learning activities. On the other hand, it distinguishes itself from other American universities by its Chinese characters – the campus is based in Shanghai and has to be localized to meet different needs of its diverse community.

One of the things that caught my attention in Kenny and Li’s article is “engaging international students directly” (2016). At NYU Shanghai, 49% percent of the student body are international students. They come from different countries with different cultural backgrounds, but when they start the four-year journey in China, one thing they all need to learn is Chinese. At our library, it is not uncommon to see an international student approach the circulation desk with their Chinese textbook/workbook and ask a staff member to check their assignment or teach them pronunciation. Sometimes, students will reach us, handing out their cell phone, and ask us to talk to the person on the phone (usually a delivery guy or a taxi driver) and help address some common communication issues. Very often, to make things easier, we also teach students to use WeChat or Alipay to pay for their library fines, as both mobile payment methods are now the most widely accepted way of paying for basically anything in China. As the student worker supervisor in the Access Services team, I am also aware of the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive working environment for students, so we always offer job opportunities to students with various backgrounds, which also helps our library team to learn more about the community and improve our services with new perspectives.

Here’s one of the students sharing his experience at the 2018 commencement, and the speech vividly depicts the daily lives of international students at NYU Shanghai.

Christian Lauersen said “when the conditions for academia changes it should lead to action” (2016). This is especially true for a transnational university like NYU Shanghai in the face of a global pandemic. The NYU Libraries, including NYU Shanghai Library, have been collaborating and cooperating in so many ways since February when COVID-19 had its first outbreak in China. Faced with unprecedented circumstances, the Research and Instructional Technology team at NYU Shanghai Library was the first in the NYU Global Network to develop toolkits for distance learning, which was later utilized by other campuses. Library teams also worked together in areas like resource sharing, reopening guidelines, copyright, e-reserves, etc. From a personal perspective, the most important lesson I’ve learned from these past eight months is that empathy, support and collective efforts will always get us through the unimaginable difficulties. Librarianship in global universities should also encourage such collaboration and connection in their many branches and locations.


References

Kenney, A. R., & Li, X. (2016). Rethinking research libraries in the era of global universities. ITHAKA S+R. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.283378

Lauersen, C. (2016, March 8). Towards Rubicon: the academic library and the importance of making a choice. The Library Lab. https://christianlauersen.net/2016/03/08/towards-rubicon/?utm_content=buffer42d5d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

NYU Shanghai. (n.d.). https://shanghai.nyu.edu/

Linked by What? – Reflection on Participatory Service and Hyperlinked Communities

The existence of libraries is often questioned by some when it comes to information seeking. In this digital age, it’s normal practice for people to go to search engines like Google when they need to find information about anything they are concerned with. Well, if Google can provide all the information we need, then why do we still need libraries? Before we proceed any further, we may want to ask ourselves two questions: Can Google really provide all the information we need? And do we really know what we need?

When I took INFO 202 Information Retrieval System this summer, I came across an inspiring talk called “Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression” by Safiya Noble.

I appreciate how Dr. Noble conceptualized the different mechanisms behind search engines and libraries. She stated that “search engines are not information retrieval algorithms” and that “they’re not concerned with information retrieval in the way that information professionals like librarians… are concerned with”. Search engines, as she put it, deal with” advertising algorithms” which link people to “things that are commercially viable and profitable” (Noble, 2016, 6:19).

We may all have had amazing/unpleasant experience with Google’s autosuggesting. Thanks to “big data”, we are often astonished by how Google understands us so well that it knows exactly what we are looking for. However, it can also be misleading and even annoying when we are just looking for general knowledge about a certain country, a group of people or a phenomenon – because the top-ranked websites are not necessarily the most objective or informative ones. In the article “What World Are We Building?”, Danah Boyd raised the issue of statistical prejudice where she mentioned that machine can learn from “data entered as input” and “when the data you input s biased, what you get out is just as biased” (2016). I believe this echoes with Dr. Nobel’s idea that search engines are using algorithms that are not adopted by information retrieval systems in libraries. Therefore, the information they provide is very much shaped by their users and the user generated data which can be biased in many ways.

So, in the age of algorithms, should information seeking behaviors still involve humans? The answer is obvious. As Michael Bhaskar mentioned, the need for “informed and idiosyncratic selections” is increasing because curation “captures this irreplaceable human touch” (2016). Technology will only prosper when human beings can all benefit from it. Without the “human touch”, technology can only take us thus far.

“We want to be surprised. We want expertise, distinctive aesthetic judgments, clear expenditure of time and effort. We relish the messy reality of another’s taste and a trusted personal connection. We don’t just want correlations – we want a why, a narrative, which machines can’t provide.”

Michael Bhaskar, 2016

Now let’s go back to the question at the very beginning – why do we still need libraries? To make my point, I’d rather rephrase it to “why do we still need library services offered by humans?” As far as I see it, library service is more about human connections than about books. When we guide users to participate in reshaping library services, we are actually caring for their needs. By listening to our users, we empathize with them. Because of the human interactions, we are able to learn from their stories and “surprise” them by meeting their needs that they didn’t even know existed. A hyperlinked community is very indicative of the technological elements in the services we offer, but it also envisions a community where human connections are greatly valued and appreciated – and this, I believe, is what truly linked us.


References:

Bhaskar, M. (2016, Sep 30). In the age of the algorithm, the human gatekeeper is back. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/30/age-of-algorithm-human-gatekeeper

Boyd, D. (2016, Jan 25). What world are we building? Medium. https://points.datasociety.net/what-world-are-we-building-9978495dd9ad#.auzbwo27v

Noble, S. (2016). Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression [Video file]. https://youtu.be/iRVZozEEWlE

Marketing the Library with “STEPPS”

In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger introduces us to STEPPS – the six principles that make things go viral – namely social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. As I read it, I try to relate them to our practices in the academic library I’m working at and see how our marketing strategy can benefit from his principles. Among the six, I have found social currency, emotion and practical value most relatable to my own experience.

Social Currency

Berger contends that people “share things that make us look good” (2013, p. 207). Narcissistic as it may sound, we all know it reveals our inner world – at least partially – when we process information. One of the tips that resonates with me is to “make people feel like insiders” (Berger, 2013, p. 51). We’ve been interviewing candidates for our student worker position recently. During the interview, one thing caught our attention. Several candidates applied to this position because of a previous student we hired. It turned out that this student had shared his own working experience in the library and also disclosed some “inside stories” with his friends, which made them curious and interested in library work. We are all fascinated by the attention generated by a single student and now we are thinking of using that as an inspiration when marketing library services: let the message spread from insiders – our own student workers.

Emotion

“When we care, we share” (Berger, 2013, p. 207). As an academic library, our purpose is to provide resources and support to faculty and students in their teaching and learning activities. Therefore, our daily interactions with users are mostly result-oriented: they need something, we find it for them. So, what role does “emotion” play in promoting our services and making people care what we do? It hadn’t occurred to me how emotion can be involved in our marketing strategy until a student approached to us two years ago and said she wanted to work for us. It all started with her first major assignment in the freshman year. The professor had asked them to register on a website and use an online tool to complete their work. Due to some miscommunication, this student, along with some of her classmates, had all come to the library for help. Unfortunately, our service staff were not informed by anyone and didn’t know anything about the tool at the time. However, we knew better than to turn these freshmen down and let them leave in disappointment. We called our IT department, consulted with Academic Affairs, and even Emailed their professor to inquire about this tool on their behalf. Our efforts were not in vain. We finally found a technologist in the Research and Instructional Services Team who could address their concern. Two days later, that student came to submit her resume and said she was deeply touched by what we did for her that she wanted to join us and do the same for others.

It was an emotional moment because nothing felt better than to be appreciated, valued and understood. We hired her in the end because we knew where she came from, and we were lucky to have the opportunity to nurture the tenderness and gratitude we both share in that encounter. It has encouraged us to truly care for our users by offering remarkable services through the unremarkable daily interactions.

Practical Value

As Berger mentions in the book, people are passionate about sharing things when they think the content is useful (2013). It’s without doubt that an academic library is of practical value to our faculty and students because that’s basically the reason why we exist. However, to distinguish our unique values from regular services, it’s imperative that we promote the things that are useful but usually unobvious to the users. To achieve this goal, we’ve adopted different approaches when marketing the library in our community. For example, we compiled a list of tips for our students regarding how to make the most use of library resources. We encourage students to borrow course reserve items before we close so that they can keep the books overnight; we promote our partnership with local public libraries so that students know they can utilize resources in those libraries as well; we also send series of posts on various topics of library services via social media platforms which introduce databases or tools targeting students of different majors. When students see the value in these tips and posts, they tend to tell their fellow students about them.

I believe the other three principles – triggers, public and stories – can also guide us in our future marketing strategy. How can we get our users to talk about the library by implementing “triggers” on campus? How do we make library services more visible to the community? How do we share our stories and even motivate users to share their library stories with the community? I’m looking forward to answering these questions as I delve deeper into this course.

References:

Berger, J. (2013). Contagious: Why things catch on. Simon & Schuster.

“Everything human is at least a little bit broken”

I planned to write about “change” when I was reading Library 2.0 because the concept of “Library 2.0”, as I understand it, is all about adapting to changes and involving users in those changes (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). Given the current circumstances, we must all have something to say about the changes we are experiencing in today’s world and in our own professions. However, as I proceeded with the readings in Module 3, I found myself emotionally triggered by David Weinberger’s idea when he stated that “Every business is dysfunctional because everything human is at least a little bit broken” (1999). Something hit me, strongly. As I finally started reading The Heart of Librarianship (Stephens, 2016), that “something” finally revealed itself to me – the “heart”.

Long before I joined this MLIS program, I had decided to learn more about new technologies and tools which I believe would serve me better in my future career. Things like database management, website designing, programing, video production, etc. have all struck me as mysterious and fascinating. The reason for me to feel that way is simply because I don’t know anything about them, and seeing other colleagues working with these “cool stuff” makes me feel that what I do as a service staff is not promising and contains little value. To me, a “tech-savvy” librarian sounds much more capable and smarter than a “warm-hearted and helpful” service staff. I know this doesn’t sound right and it may offend other service staff (I’m sorry!), but I want to be honest about my own feelings here.

Believe it or not, this is why the “heart” hits me so hard, because it feels like someone understands me. “Everything human is at least a little bit broken” (1999) – thank you for saying that Mr. Weinberger.

Emerging technologies, new trends, data, social media…these terms have been incepted into our head and pushed us forward into a dynamic information era. We are told to be adaptive, trained to be competitive, and also required to be productive at work. To build a successful organization, we must be professional and avoid mistakes in every possible way. We calculate numbers, communicate with charts and reports, analyze pros and cons, and then implement or cancel a service as our statistics have suggested. I understand how it works and why it works this way, but still, something is missing for me.

Coming into library work as a service staff, I mostly work at the front desk and interact with our users face to face. They come to me with questions about the location of a book, a dysfunctional printer, the time of an upcoming workshop, and a broken stapler…Simple questions like this can surely be solved by technology, but why do we still need service staff at the circulation desk? We are so used to approaching users with reasons, numbers and new technologies, to an extent that we forget about the essence of providing services – the heartfelt interaction between humans – no matter how “inefficient” or “unproductive” it is.

Technology isn’t going to solve every problem for an organization, but people can. Technology appears to be so cool and sometimes they make people like me feel so small, but people understand your feelings and empathize with you. No one wants to be perceived as stupid or less capable, so when users come to us with a seemingly “silly” question, they are also revealing an unconfident self to us. What they need is someone who is empathetic and understanding, someone who does not judge them by their “silly” questions, someone who recognizes the “broken” bit within a human being and protects it gently. In my humble opinion, that’s the bit technology can’t provide, and that’s the “heart” of librarianship.

Source: Pinterest

References:

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today.

Levine, R., Locke, C., Searls, D., & Weinberger, D. (1999). The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual. Basic Books.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.

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