Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Being a Learning Organization, or, Learning to Tolerate a Little Chaos


The Bookcharmer is feeling concerned today.  I hope none of my patient readers will mind this serious aside--I promise I'll get back to book arts and subject headings soon.  But my campus is reeling and writhing through the growing pains of being a learning organization and I feel compelled to throw a little cold water, try to dissuade bystanders from fanning flamers, and just overall ask everybody to calm down.  If you think I'm referring to you, I probably am.

Learning is a challenge.  Problem solving is a challenge.  Responding to challenge with new ideas is what  learning is supposed to be able to do, right?

I am a tremendous fan of the marvelous Parker Palmer.  If you haven't read his monograph The Courage to Teach, please get it from the library or consider purchasing a copy of your own, because you aren't going to want to let go of it.  Among many things, Professor Palmer speaks of the need to create hospitable learning environments in order to generate a setting where students will engage.  We need to create hospitable environments for faculty and administrators to experiment.

I am also a tremendous fan of Carol Collier Kuhlthau, author of Seeking Meaning:  A Process Approach to Library and Information Services.  Kuhlthau  speaks about addressing the role of anxiety in the search process, how to address the searching environment so that the natural state of anxiety raised by the search process, finding too much or too little information, finding information that challenges your beliefs, can be managed and transformed into productivity.  (My apologies for oversimplifying that, Professor!)

Research and learning are inherently challenging.  Testing new ideas requires a willingness to venture into an unpredictable future.  So, for the love of heaven, can we please not dogpile on those who are willing to bust out of the old model and try something new?

Here's what two of my colleagues wrote for the local newspaper:


Here's a response from my University's administrators to all the media blasts:


Where does the Bookcharmer sit in all the midst of this?

I offer this reminder:  Learning is a challenge.  Risk taking is a challenge.  We discourage innovation and change when new projects are chewed apart.  As a faculty body, whether at my institution or yours, I ask that the tone of Academic Year 2013-2014 be one of value.  Value for your own work, the work of your colleagues, of, yes, our administration, and value for those willing to try something new.  Let us not allow the scarcity of resources force us into feasting on each other.

Doing what we have always done clearly is not working.  Learning to work collaboratively in a field where the achievement of the individual is promoted is difficult.  Many tenure and promotion documents seek to preserve the old order and the idea that the individual (think of Tigger) is what counts.

In the library, nothing happens without my colleagues.  From the people in Technical Services, Access, Acquistions, Interlibrary Services, Link+, Adminstration....what good am I at the Reference Desk if the catalog is down, databases are not  maintained, books aren't shelved, or the scanner software updated? Can we think about models of governance and collegial dialogue that reward collaboration and innovation?

Let's start here.  Let's look at the fact that the Udacity experiment provides a lot of student data that we did not have before.  Knowing how many students or potential students do or do not have reliable, convenient access to online services is extremely relevant to library decisions, as many of our collection development decisions are driven by the assumption that students not only prefer electronic access to resources, but also that they have robust, high speed access to electronic resources.  I myself can hardly bear the daily irony of being physically located in Silicon Valley while so many people in the Bay Area can't afford technology that would make their lives easier.

Like the student who wrote to me about getting access to a specific article available in JSTOR (see previous blog entry), it isn't just about having the broadband or the wireless connection and a computer capable of handling the bandwidth, it is also about dealing with the paywall.

We are in a precarious time of forging forward with our mission as an institution of public higher education.  Many students may be coming to us without having had a high school library, or a public library that was open seven days a week.  Disciplines are burgeoning with new information we somehow need to push into 120 credit hour programs, yet many students come to us with out a robust preparation.  Library expectations that online access to information would actually increase access to information are being slapped around by publishers who are making up kooky rules about the "cost" of "mutiple user access" vs. "single user access" subscriptions.

I like the idea of trying to find a way to grasp these two ends of the rope and bring them closer together. How can we bring together the demands of a major with students that need additional preparation? We've got to work together to make that happen and learn to tolerate the chaos that trying new things entails.

I'm willing to try.

The Bookcharmer

1 comment:

BuyTheBook said...

Well said, my friend. Well said.