Category: Reflection Blogging

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/

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/

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

“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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