Service Dogs, Library Farms, and Other Ways(TM) of Changing the World

Greetings from Syracuse! I survived my first day of IST 511! I am more thankful than ever that I chose to write these posts both after I read The Atlas and after I attended a presentation by Meg Backus, a PR Director and Adult Programming administrator at Northern Onondaga Public Library. Here in the concrete world were two examples of an ideal future for Librarians personified. Meg, an alumna of the MSLIS program, has developed and implemented incredibly innovative ideas in her library built on the framework created by Professor Lankes. Did you know it is possible to check out a service dog? A plot of land on the Onondaga Library Farm? Well, it is and it is changing lives. Besides making me want to be a Public Librarian (or at least respect the hell out of them,) Meg and Professor Lankes helped me explore the bridges between abstract and concrete implementations of the concepts in The Atlas and I am more convinced than ever that Librarians and Instructional Technologists can be radically more pervasive in the Hamilton Community. Apropos of farms, we have one at Hamilton that is run by a member of the faculty. We could easily co-teach classes about nutrition, cooking (perhaps even set up portable stoves and cook part of the harvest), and community building through food. Knowledge creation is at the very heart of what we do and we can do so much more than we currently are!

If you have read any of the posts in my blog, you will discover that I have been reflecting on my experience with The Atlas of New Librarianship through the lenses of pedagogy and collaboration. That is, I firmly believe that the already-strong Library/Instructional Technology collaboration could play a significant role in the creation of knowledge on campus--especially via teaching in the classroom and in leading and facilitating sessions on literacies with students without connection to discipline. As a collaboration, we already teach wildly-successful workshops on different literacies and oversee working sessions to create most any type of media. But I wasn’t quite sure how to bridge the gap between our present efforts and an ideal future wherein knowledge is shared and created much more freely by all members of the community than it currently is. After hearing Meg speak and some time considering a post by classmate Katrina Schell about the informal foisons of knowledge among her colleagues, I thought of a solution: Imagine a system in which individual competencies--either formally or informally developed--were formally recognized, evaluated, and advertised to other members of the community. There is a significant amount of expert and amateur knowledge on our campus on everything from presentations to media authoring to web development. It would be incredible if those with skills (e.g. oration, research, media authoring, entrepreneurial skills) could partner and learn from others on campus who possess them and that any member could find an appropriate expert and develop a competency with that skill that could be formally recognized. Librarians could be at the nexus of this type of program--divining the competency a member has, ascertaining their goals, and directing them to appropriate expert external or internal knowledge. It sounds remarkably like a reference interview, but with a bold new purpose that is focused on connecting people in addition to items in our collection. Food for thought.

I also want to touch on issues of environment and motivation at Hamilton. An all-inclusive environment of intellectual and cultural safety is perhaps the primary obstacle to full member participation in the pedagogy-centric, rich media knowledge creation environment that I believe Instructional Technologists and Librarians can create at Hamilton. And the only group of members who balk at participating in the projects we have developed to create that environment are our faculty. Students may not initially understand what is possible in the environment I envision (which has been realized in the past and ever more frequently in recent years!) but quickly appreciate the fruits of predecessors’ efforts and seek to participate as well. Faculty are more tricky. We do enjoy the support of a core group of faculty who are delighted to innovate with Librarians and Instructional Technologists. Others are obstinate Pedagofundamentalists who believe that tried-and-true techniques are equal to or superior to the multidisciplinary, transmedia approach our collaboration experiments with. Quantifiable progress is being made in this regard: other faculty--even tenured--see the results (that you now can see!) and new conversations with newly-motivated faculty members are occurring every day.

I believe we can catalyze that process with a renewed emphasis on contributing to pedagogy, especially with the Experimental Classroom project, and by targeting a specific group of faculty members: the Visiting Assistant Professors. VAPs are a dynamic bunch: they need not worry about tenure review six years hence; they tend to be more young and idealistic; they tend therefore to be open to new ideas; and especially to ideas that may help them get appointed to tenure-track positions. A Teaching and Learning Center (in which the Experimental Classroom exists) staffed with faculty, administrators, and all academic support units working in concert could give VAPs the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation necessary to develop their existing pedagogical theories, experiment with different approaches, be given actionable feedback, and serve as a gateway to further experimentation with transmedia and other knowledge creation processes available through our collaboration once confidence is built, especially if the end result is a portable ePortfolio that they can use when applying for positions elsewhere. It also seems that advocacy for our collaboration will be more effective on members of the faculty if it comes from a peer.