Library Advocacy Unshushed MOOC wrap up

I recently completed another MOOC (massive, open online course) entitled ‘Library Advocacy: Unshushed’. It was run by the University of Toronto Faculty of Information on the EdX platform. While targeted at information professionals it really addressed basic principles of successful advocacy that would be applicable in other sectors. The quality of the material was good and was supported by research. Numerous experts from library world and beyond also had slots where they weighed in and gave practical advice.

The course ran over five weeks but I think it took me about twice as long to complete all the material. Content covered included defining advocacy, perceptions and reality of libraries today, and planning and implementing an advocacy plan.

Here are some of the main points I’ve taken away from the Mooc and that I actually remembered several weeks after finishing without looking at my notes.

  • Tell stories – people resonate with and remember stories much more than data and statistics. Libraries have so many great stories to tell so we need to share them in our advocacy and use stats to support when needed.
  • Craft your message – what are you trying to get across to decision makers? It needs to be concise, memorable and relevant to your audience. Think elevator speech.
  • Link your advocacy to wider institutional goals – The course repeatedly underlined the fact that your message and advocacy goals need to be explicitly linked to your wider institution’s goals, objectives and/or strategy. This makes sense because why would leaders pay attention or allocate funds if what you want to do doesn’t align with their goals? This approach also gets away from simplistic “save the library” type appeals which, let’s face it, probably translate to “save our jobs”.
  • Plan who to target with your advocacy – the course distinguished between decision makers (those who actually make the decisions), influencers (people who have influence with the decision makers) and stakeholders (people who have an interest in the outcome but not necessarily a decision maker). Successful advocates need to build relationships of trust and credibility with all three.
  • Advocacy is a responsibility for everyone, not just the chief librarian or head of department.

Some other points taken from my notes:

  • Defining advocacy – it is rooted in relationships of credibility, understanding and trust. It’s a long term commitment and requires communication, passion and courage.
  • Avoid jargon in your message, speak in terms your audience will be familiar with, and link back to wider institutional goals.
  • Essential concepts to tell decision makers in your communications- 1) What libraries and librarians do that’s valuable, 2) Why it matters in terms of their values and priorities, 3) Why it’s urgent.
  • Position your library as a ‘value add’ by thinking about how you can solve the problems of your community/institution.

For more information on this Mooc, here’s a link to the EdX page.

The Twitter hashtag for the ‘live’ portion of the course was #la101x

Google Power Searching

I’m starting Google’s Power Searcher MOOC. I believe I heard about this originally on the Yahoo School Library network and it sounded interesting and professionally relevant. The website blurb states that the MOOC is taught by Google Search experts and “will help you search smarter so you can find the information you need – even in the most challenging situations”. Sounds like this will tie in nicely with the information literacy material I’m developing at school, especially because Google is the tool of choice amongst students (and probably staff too). Though I’m not sure what “challenging situations” I will find myself in!? Thanks for reading, I will blog my experience as I go along.



New Librarianship MOOC Week 4 wrap up

Well I’ve finished up the coursework for New Librarianship Masterclass. Interestingly (and rather bravely I think) in the final module Lankes gives links to criticisms and reviews of New Librarianship and the Atlas by various authors and bloggers. I found this reading and the module discussion boards highly thought-provoking stuff. As I reflect on the the course as a whole and what I’ve learned, some aspects of the MOOC stand out.

I approached the masterclass in a practical fashion. As a newbie in the field I am, pardon the expression, a bit of a ‘blank slate’ since I have yet to complete any formal librarianship training and had only my own learning as a starting point. The philosophical discussion at the beginning of the masterclass on worldview, Conversation Theory and constructivism was important. I agree that a solid worldview and values, whether stated or unstated, underpin our thinking and the way we approach the world and librarianship. However the constructivist idea that knowledge and truth are created and agreed on by individuals and the community is one I’m not entirely comfortable with. Lane Wilkinson discusses this much more intelligently in his blog.

Philosophical nitpicking aside, I found the course very eye-opening, interesting and sensible, and again with many practical take aways for my professional practice. For example the focus on the community and a participatory framework. Librarians regard themselves as serving the community. Therefore it makes total sense that you would need to have conversations with that community to figure out what their needs, dreams and aspirations are. Lankes is right to point out in the Deficit Model module, though, that viewing a member/community as a set of problems that need solving is unhelpful. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ everything from the outside, librarians should get into the community and figure out together what their aspirations are, using those as a starting point for community action rather than constantly reminding people of their failings. Lankes illustrates with an example of low literacy or poor performance in schools; rather than looking at reading as a problem that needs solving through something like tutoring services, Lankes says look at reading as a means of exploration, a questioning of authority and writing as a way to express our ideas. Taking this positive approach opens the door to more innovative, radical marketing and event planning (e.g. banned book weeks). What I take away is that by keeping the community and knowledge creation at the heart of new librarianship, we are focusing not on our services but on what the community needs and aspires to and shaping our services around them.

The library as platform was another concept that stood out to me as sensible, exciting to be part  of and very apt for these times where we definitely need to be demonstrating our value. And, it has lots of practical applications. I love printed books, but the library can (should?) be much more than an artefact-centred collection. In the school I’m about to start work in, the library is already used as a platform for literacy and learning. I’m excited about how I can help and innovate in that, particularly in improving reading scores which are lower than desired at the moment. New Librarianship has given me lots of ideas to do this, which all make perfect sense when viewing the library as a platform.

Whilst the Atlas and New Librarianship might have some shortcomings, I’ve found it a great learning experience and would recommend the MOOC and the Atlas as a thought-provoking entrance into one view of a new librarianship.

Note: Quotes are taken from R. David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011) and his course material for Syracuse University iSchool’s MOOC New Librarianship Master Class hosted on <>.

New Librarianship MOOC Week 2 wrap up

A flurry of job applications and week away in August have set me slightly behind in the New Librarianship Masterclass MOOC. But I soldier on and am very grateful for the extension to complete it! This week’s material was great and narrowed down from the big picture ideas of Week 1.

The Communities Module

What Lankes calls ‘the pressure for participation’ is based in, to use marketing lingo, customer demand.  The Internet and social media have proven that users go to platforms where they can participate, have a voice and influence.  Librarians need to respond to this.

Lankes discusses various environments (public, academic, school libraries) but emphasises that their mission is the same whilst their communities can be radically different, with different conversations, and therefore library services will vary.  Still the facilitating model applies, that is, how the community can create knowledge (access, knowledge, environment and motivation). Lankes proposes a useful evaluation/assessment framework for determining the conversations happening in your community and how librarians can prioritise them.  I especially liked his notion of ’embedded librarians’.  Librarians who are out and about, learning about the conversations, about the community and, in the process, making themselves indispensable!

Improve Society Module

Some interesting conclusions from this module:

  • One of the values of new librarians is intellectual honesty, not being unbiased. Coming from academia this was a new but sensible point for me:  that I can never be totally unbiased but I do need to be honest about my conclusions and how I got to them.
  • You -yes you!- can be an innovator, leader and ‘radical change agent’! At least Lankes proposes that all librarians should be (and not just the young whippersnappers or those who present at conferences). This makes complete sense when you remember that librarians are out to improve society; that requires some leadership and innovative thinking.

Librarians Module

This module emphasised the skills and competencies of new librarians, where they are now, how they’re changing and how theory should be integrated with practice. It involved a large chunk of reading in the Atlas in which Lankes proposes -sometimes radically – transitions/changes/adaptations of current library practice and the training which librarians receive (both at library school and CPD throughout their careers).  A lot of the new approach is born of necessity as librarianship really is in a time of great transition (i.e. how do you train librarians to cope with the massive scale of information and data produced in the digital age?). Some ideas which were new to me:

  • The community as an integral part of your collection. The better we understand the community the better we can utilise resources like buildings, books and computers. This is again moving away from the artefact-centric approach of traditional librarianship.
  • Librarians need administration and management training. Again makes complete sense to have a grounding in these skills when you are running a library (no matter how small) or just part of it.
  • Circulating experts. Some libraries let you ‘check out’ an expert for an hour or so, say a businessman or lawyer or librarian. What a great idea!
  • Technological skills. This is a no-brainer nowadays, but Lankes says we keep up with IT to principally benefit the community, perhaps even learn it together…
  • Interestingly in his critique of the MLS (Master of Library Science) in the US, he proposes a new system whereby students would do a one-year Masters (as they do in the UK) but with a four-year Bachelors, after which you would be certified as a librarian. This sounds brilliant, but it’s not clear if your Bachelors is in librarianship or something completely unrelated…

The final module was on the Salzburg Curriculum, which basically summed up and reiterated a lot of New Librarianship in a concise, eloquent way. It is a high level curriculum that’s meant to apply to a librarian in any organisation (and also museum professionals). Check it out here.

Note: Quotes are taken from R. David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011) and his course material for Syracuse University iSchool’s MOOC New Librarianship Master Class hosted on <>.

New Librarianship MOOC Week 1: wrap up

I continue with my MOOC on New Librarianship. I’m still behind and am just wrapping up the material from Week 1.  This post is a bit long- I guess I engaged a lot with the material!

  • Defining (Old and New) Librarianship

I found the function-based vs. knowledge/learning-based definition of librarianship very compelling. Lankes underscores that function-based definitions are doomed to fail. For example, the dialogue illustrates the problems with this view:

“I’m a Librarian, I help people get books.”

“I work for Amazon, that’s what we do too!”

“I’m a Librarian, I help people find the information they need.”

“I work at Google, we do that millions of times a day!”

Obviously we must change our definitions, hence Lankes’ emphasis on knowledge creation rather than artifacts/services/buildings in his mission statement, ‘The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities’.

  • Knowledge Creation

The major theme of the Knowledge Creation module was that knowledge is created through conversation. Lankes discusses the aspects involved in conversation: conversants, language, agreements and memory.  The main conclusions were that we need to reevaluate our systems and tools from the ground up to facilitate this conversation.

His application of L0 and L1 languages (a component of Conversation Theory) to library catalogues and the evolution of user systerms was brilliant.  L0 is basic, negotiating language, whereas L1 is a subject specific or specialist language.  Catalogues often have ‘user friendly’ L0 interfaces but with L1 processes/algorithms.  The result is that users often get poor results, whereas librarians (who are fluent in L1) get great results.

The notion of ‘recorded knowledge’ is debunked:  Knowledge is not held within the artifact itself, it re-creates and allows the transfer of knowledge from conversant to conversant (i.e. an author writes a book with his ideas, which I then read, thereby creating a conversation between me and the ideas as recorded in the book, or CD, etc.).

I find that Lankes’ arguments build on each other. So when ‘recorded knowledge’ is debunked we see that the focus moves away from building a collection to how can we increase knowledge. We can increase knowledge by rebuilding our finding systems so that they reflect the relationships which enhance the conversation (i.e. annotations and citations).  And so on…

A new system Lankes proposes is Scapes, a ‘conceptual digital reference system’. For want of a better word, I’d describe it as organic, where members and librarians create reference material to find information, highlight connections and link everything together (called ‘an entailment mesh’).  My concern was how easily mistakes could happen, and then be subsequently linked and tagged to other material, thereby perpetuating bad information.  The system would get librarian oversight, but only on demand, so I’m not sure how the credibility of all this could be overseen.  I’m reminded of the recent news story of the librarian who spotted a poem wrongly attributed to Blake…

  • Librarians as Facilitators of Conversation

The final module was about Facilitation. This is linked to the notion of librarianship being a service-based industry.  Lankes advocates an active role where libraries are platforms for innovation and learning rather than passive repositories where librarians stay behind a desk and disseminate information. His language reminds me of job descriptions of community workers who are out at grassroots levels seeing what’s going on and what the needs are; this is great but represents a big shift.  

The means of facilitation are: access (needs to be 2-way!), knowledge (empower people and widen our definition of ‘literacy’), environment (needs to be physically and intellectually safe, with a sensible approach to privacy issues) and motivation (both intrinsic and extrinsic, and librarian must make their services compelling).

His emphasis on physical AND digital/online meeting places as ways to facilitate conversation (and increase the value of librarians) in the community was excellent.  My university library’s group study area was very popular because it was a space (near all the books!) where you could turn up with your friends/module group to have conversations, and maybe study!

I was pleasantly surprised to read a comment about the gap (social illiteracy?) between qualified and un-qualified library staff (i.e. professional and paraprofessional).  Lankes advocates a meritocracy over the current, ingrained expectation of an MLS/Library Science degree (‘can’t there be a way to earn entrance into the club outside of a large student loan?’).  Whilst there are no doubt advantages to getting the library degree -a major one being it sets you apart from the million other applicants- I feel there is undue emphasis on getting this piece of paper, especially since I already have a Masters. However this is merely my humble two cents.  The Wikiman has written on this issue from the other side of the degree with some hindsight and experience.

  • New Librarians are Noble

Lankes’ big conclusion was that librarians are involved in a noble endeavour:  ‘in the hands of librarians, power is the ability to make our communities, and ultimately our society, a better place.’  And this is a notion I quite like the sound of…


Note: Quotes are taken from R. David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011) and his course material for Syracuse University iSchool’s MOOC New Librarianship Master Class hosted on <>.