Reflection on the Librarian Thread

Wait... You are reflecting in a retrograde fashion!
I chose to create these reflections after I read the entire Atlas. I realize that the intent was for us to reflect as we navigated the threads, contributing our insights to a broader Lankesian conversation with our classmates’ insights. But after reading The Atlas in its entirety and contemplating my response, I discovered that my reflections about the book occurred in retrograde: from concrete to abstract. While I initially balked at providing a heterodox response, I realized that there is an autobiographical quality to reflecting in this manner.

I was initially hired to work at the Help Desk but became an Instructional Technologist and seek to explore librarianship because of my encounters with librarians. These started as service-level encounters, i.e. referrals, project collaborations, and meetings. I became interested in exploring these collaborations more deeply (as you will see in my “About Me” post) and delved into pedagogical techniques, principles of librarianship, iteratively exploring praxis and theory in the community as an Instructional Technologist collaborating with librarians, codified my knowledge, formally explored theory, and began thinking abstractly about the nature of our collaborations with librarians and faculty.

Also, I was hired just before the Library/Information Technology Services collaboration launched a yet-to-be-concluded comprehensive strategic review of our joint operations. Though I was a neophyte and did not feel I had much to contribute to the conversation, I began connecting deeply with librarians and exploring the potential of joint operations with a unified mission in support of knowledge creation. I also distinctly remember comparing card catalogs to databases as The Atlas does while chatting with a reference librarian on the first day of this retreat--and on my fifth day of employment--and claiming they are analogous entities. (Lankes, 2011, p. 167) This strategic review, my theoretical exploration of library/IT/faculty collaborations, and the practical work I have been so fortunate to do for the past three years provide the scaffold for my reflections on the Atlas.

Strategic Planning
The purpose of our IT/Library strategic review--a process twelve years in the making--was to discuss how our organizations could more effectively collaborate. Fortunately, it occurred in concert with a college-wide five-year strategic plan that we constantly deferred to; it helped us discuss our quotidian work in context with the larger mission of the college and it provided a set of values to refer to if conflicts arose. It therefore heartened me to see such emphasis placed in The Atlas on the value of structuring all operations of the college on “a set of ‘grand challenges’” (Lankes, 2011, p. 180). We saw this college-wide strategic plan as the grand challenges our group should rise to meet. It was helpful, too, to have extrinsic forces driving our collaboration: Our groups believed (incorrectly) that we had conflicting mandates from our superiors--we thought we were being ordered to merge--and it was when we questioned that mandate in the context of the larger mission of the college that we realized our superiors actually wanted our collaboration to evolve in the way we saw fit--a profoundly empowering directive. This allowed us to dissolve preconceived notions about the services we provide to the community and build a new model from the ground up.

IT/Library/Faculty collaborations
One must not underestimate the value of being a neophyte. Conversations with my colleagues immediately after I became employed and my multidisciplinary education at a Liberal Arts college made me acutely aware that librarians and IT personnel have much in common. We are information mongers: our basic directive is to educate the community on various literacies and facilitate the process of knowledge creation. This was obvious to me from the start because my views were not prejudiced by organizational history. With this worldview, I quickly became convinced that Instructional Technologists and Librarians will work ever more closely in the future. For example, the CMS-like implementation for electronic reserves discussed in this chapter could certainly be developed in conjunction with Instructional Technologists and members of the faculty. Also, IT could certainly help with any of the skills listed on page 170 of The Atlas, coordinate deployment of network infrastructure, develop augmented reality interfaces, and much more. My fellow Instructional Technologists are also more and more frequently seeking assistance from librarians in digital collection building, information organization, archival techniques, facilitating research, and empowering members. It also helps that Librarians and Instructional Technologists at Hamilton (and other liberal arts colleges) frequently teach and are steeped in pedagogical theory. Whether it is literacies in workshops, presentations in classes, or co-taught classes with faculty, pedagogy and support for knowledge creation is at the heart of what we do. So I read this quote in dismay: “Librarians are educators in that they are in the learning business. They are not, however, teachers.” (Lankes, 2011, p. 176) I actually foresee closer pedagogy-centric collaborations and even librarian/IT-led experimentation with pedagogy in our future. I hope to continue developing this idea up through the Mission thread to demonstrate that our groups have coincident missions so closely related that we make natural partners in almost every aspect of our work, especially that which is in support of knowledge creation at Hamilton. I hope to suggest a direction for library/IT collaborations that complements the bold new mission proposed in The Atlas of New Librarianship.

Lankes, R.D. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.