Sitting in the back, reflecting on the physicality of teaching

I am currently working with an individual who is in the process of completing his MLIS and receiving internship credits to observe, co-teach, and then provide instruction.  It has been a very rewarding experience for me – thinking about what I value in my instruction (active learning, reflection, formative assessment, critical pedagogy) and helping him explore these areas – while giving him the freedom to explore and develop into his own kind of teacher.  In these final stages I am observing instruction and there are some things that have stood out to me just from the experience of sitting in the back of the room:

  1.  It’s hard to read the board/screen – lighting and size really changes the experience.  I would recommend zooming in on searches in databases and lists of retrieved results.  I shudder to think how many times I was referring to things on a search screen that were only visible to me, an experienced searcher who already knows where to look and who was standing at the front of the room directly by the screen.
  2.   Students need to be explicitly asked to follow along if you want them to do searches with you.  In the past I’ve demonstrated searches and then provided time for students to try searches with their own topic.  I now realize that the demonstration time associated with this activity is more lecture oriented, unless I explicitly state that students should follow along.  Mimicking my search can be a learning opportunity – even experiencing what happens with a typo is a learning event.

These things may have never occurred to me if I wasn’t observing someone else teach.  This experience has definitely helped illuminate my privileges as an instructor, setting the speed for the class and being able to see what is available is a huge benefit of being “in charge” and is something I will be interrogating in the future in the hopes of creating an equitable classroom community.


The Books I Read in 2019



As you can see, I read a lot for pleasure this year.  Reading has always been a great source of pleasure for me – a bit of escapism, a love of silence and comfortable corners, and a good story can get me into a happier brain space.  I think that Sally Rooney’s novels were my favorite of the year, but I clearly also got into Liane Moriarty and Armistead Maupin.

My professional life was guided by the wisdom in Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks.  I also have a copy of The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander and Mary Oliver’s Devotions on my desk… I return to these frequently while I’m working, though I haven’t read them in full.

One of my best friends was married this year and another had a baby – and I drove to each of these life celebrations to the tracks of audiobooks.  In fact, I rarely get in my car these days without jumping into another novel.

I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris while traveling in Spain.  I was struck by the number of relevant themes, both to my travels and to the current global political phenomenon of refugees.  The refugee crisis that the United States government currently perpetuates is the embodiment of the same fear and close-mindedness that Harris describes in the reactions to Vianne Rocher and Anouk.

I spent seven months of this year pregnant and, if you ask any person who has been pregnant they will tell you, it isn’t the easiest experience. Books have been crucial in the passing of time when I’ve been tired, sick, or uncomfortable.  But, as I reflect on all the occurrences of the past year, I feel that, in the end, it has been one that has passed in joy, comfort, and hope for the future.






Narrative Inquiry, Autoethnography, and Reflective Assessment

I continue to think about qualitative assessment methods that may prove useful in my librarianship practice.  My research has led me to

Graf, A. J., & Harris, B. R. (2016). Reflective assessment: Opportunities and challenges. Reference Services Review, 44 (1), 38–47.


Behar, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer:  Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart.  Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Both of these texts have been useful in thinking about ways that I can write myself into my own story, recognize the meaning in what I do, and create narratives/artifacts that may be valued by a greater collective.  Ruth Behar writes, “Vulnerability doesn’t mean that anything personal goes.  The exposure of the self who is also a spectator has to take us somewhere we couldn’t otherwise get to.  It has to be essential to the argument, not a decorative flourish, not exposure for its own sake.”  These words deliver a personal challenge to me – I am determined to be vulnerable and to make that vulnerability count.  My internal monologue returns to the fact that every research and writing practice is one saturated by choices and personal values.  I believe that transparency related to my role in research and assessment reveals the values embodied in a final product. However, I also feel that Behar is warning of ulterior motives to incorporating oneself into a text – the allure of the ego, perhaps.

Anne Jumonville Graf and Benjamin R. Harris encourage assessment through community reflection and describe case studies in which librarians consider the unintended outcomes of their class instruction and, in another experiment, risk (in the tradition of bell hooks (Teaching to Transgress, 1994) – “…empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks” (p. 9)):

  1.  What risks did you encourage students to take in today’s instruction session?
  2. What risks did you embrace, yourself, in today’s instruction session?
  3. If you were asked to ‘take a risk” when teaching this class again, what might you do?
  4. Having considered these questions, do you have anything you’d like to add? (p. 15)

I find these forms of reflective assessment to be in line with my values (vulnerability, risk taking, teacher as learner) and am inspired to try them as a method of assessment in an upcoming internship experience I am providing to a Master’s student.

As I pursue this line of questioning, it occurs to me that narrative inquiry, autoethnography, or reflective assessment are all appropriate methods, but to use one may also require my being able to articulate the reasoning behind the choice of one tradition.

What is valued? What is meaningful?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, which isn’t to say that I haven’t been writing.  Over the summer I completed three article drafts, which are in various stages of the editorial process for future publication – a new milestone that I’ve been very proud to pursue.  Simultaneously, my colleagues and I have been thinking about the ways that we measure our success as librarians and are experiencing some frustration at the differences between librarian and faculty acknowledgement and promotion.  For example, faculty on our campus are promoted when they demonstrate dedication to service, scholarship, and teaching – librarians are not.  My own investment in these areas is not leading me to additional financial stability.  I am interested in participating, but should I be compensated for this work?  Is my interest in pursuing compensation or recognition a drive towards neoliberal values and the cult of productivity or am I advocating for change in an inequitable system?

My questions have led me to begin to think in earnest, again, about assessment.  How can I advocate to for the representation of the work my colleagues that increases visibility and demonstrates value?  How can I assess students and instruction in a way accounts for the value of diverse human experiences and ways of knowing and being?

This past year, I’ve been turning towards some methodologies that appear (to me) to be outside the standby methods of the social sciences, but have value in representing the complexities of what is occurring in life and education:  autoethnography and narrative inquiry.  I have a lot to learn, but I’m aiming to grow towards the regular creation of field texts and in greater understanding of the tensions in creating research texts from them.

My first reading about narrative inquiry was Clandinin’s (2006) “Narrative inquiry: A methodology for studying lived experience.”  Clandinin (2006) provides an easy-to-read, engaging overview that has me excited to read more.  Next I’m going to explore the dimensions of field texts that Cladinin and Connelly (2000) uses to situate a narrative (interaction, continuity, and place) and consider the differences in methodologies in order to determine what will suit our/my library needs (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2006).

Clindinin (2006) refers to Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri, who says, “We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness” (pg. 51).  I believe that there is meaning in the experiences that lead us to location of ourselves, our need to know, and our path to growth.  Here I am, once again, standing in a place where I do not know – declaring my current motivations, position, and inspiration and where I hope this drive leads me.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clandinin, D. J. (2006). Narrative inquiry: A method for studying lived experience.  Research Studies in Music Education, 27(1), 44-54. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X060270010301

Clandinin, D. J., & Rosiek, (2006). Mapping a landscape of narrative inquiry: Borderland spaces and tensions. In D. J. Clandinin (Ed.), Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology (pp. 35-75). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

The Books I Read in 2018

I was browsing through Instagram this week and saw a post by @samjstirling: “Adulthood is completely understanding why Britney Spears shaved her head.”  And so I concluded that 2018 is the year that I’ve become an adult.  No more judgement from me, Britney.

I want to be vulnerable and open about my professional struggles.  If you would have asked me last year what was on my mind I would have likely told you that I felt frustrated that I didn’t have a passion, a purpose, a specific project or interest that would make my work meaningful to me.  Then, in November of 2017 I saw Janaya Khan speak and decided that I wanted to be more politically active.  I began working out my frustrations through local organizing.  I also decided that 2018 was the year that I would radicalize myself – and so I began reading.

all about love; where we stand: class matters; the will to change; fates and furies; arcadia; the girl with the back tattoo; the nix; sula; beloved; pedagogy of the oppressed; giovanni's room; the book of joy; the last season; norse mythology; between breaths; don't call us dead; the divergent series; new and selected poems by mary oliver; just mercy.

As you can see, I wasn’t entirely focused in my radicalization efforts, but many of these books changed my life as my awareness of the white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy increased my drive for justice.

Consequently, I organized programs:

  • The Power of Partnerships: Building institutional and community alliances to transform research and learning, Delaware Valley Chapter of ACRL – April 20
  • Development in Allentown: Are you being left behind?, Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity – April 29
  • Structures of Power in Information, LVAIC Information Literacy Learning Community – May 23
  • People Matter: The changing faces of Allentown, Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity – October 13
  • Librarians as Advocates: Leading activism on your campus and beyond, Delaware Valley Chapter of ACRL – October 26
  • Party for the People: A night of art, community, and social justice, Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity – December 13

I taught classes and focused on critical information literacy praxis.  I began to develop a game to help students critically evaluate the Library of Congress classification system.  I helped a class in which half the students were incarcerated.

I began research on dialogue and news evaluation, information literacy and metacognition, and Allentown community dreams.

I canvassed for a candidate during the primaries and advocated for my communities needs at city council.

And in spite of all of this, I have had many mental health challenges.  Awareness of the horrors of our hate-ridden society has produced a lot of internal anxiety and an unprecedented amount of frustration about things I previously loved in my life.  This is the year that I’ve practiced meditation, abstained from drinking, and started cognitive behavioral therapy.  I’ve had to work hard to be happy in spite of the intersections of my privileged identities, love from friends and family, and a happy place to work.

I share this in the spirit of renewal and practice.  This year wasn’t just one of radicalization, but one of increased awareness, empathy, and compassion.  I’m thankful for my new direction in life and will continue to make small changes until I find more balance.  May the new year bring peace and connection and freedom from fear for you and yours.



Identity expression, safe spaces, and advocacy

I recently admitted to a colleague that I had hoped to write in this blog monthly and that my public reflections have become much further apart as my job responsibilities, relationships on campus, and teaching load expands.  I am not able to jump online and immediately share my experiences and reflections, but there is one moment from last month that remains in my mind, and so I’m sharing, and processing some more, now.

As the semester started, I was reminded by April Hathcock of the importance of creating welcoming spaces on campus and of the value in providing microaffirmations to show individuals that they belong.   Since most of my initial interactions with students are in library instruction sessions, I do my best to be approachable and to affirm to students that they belong in the library, that it is my responsibility to help them find and use information resources, and that I am someone that they can rely on and relate to.  In an effort to meet students, I introduce myself by name and pronouns, and ask them to do the same.  Most of the time, this is a non-issue in classes.  Occasionally, students ask what it means to identify their pronouns.  This semester, I had a student refuse, saying he doesn’t believe in “that modern mumbo-jumbo.”  This individual was a white adult male and I was frustrated and baffled about how to deal with the situation.  I blundered my way through a brief conversation with him, while his white male professor stood behind him wide-eyed and silent.  There were a lot of power dynamics at play here and, while I understand that many other things could have happened, I left the class determined that I would handle it better if a similar situation ever happens again.

I later read Veronica Arellano Douglas’ entry about allowing students to create systems of learning that encourage them to “set their own limits and share what they feel comfortable sharing.”  She emphasized that if we require students to share, “it can’t be on the dominant group’s terms.”

So this is where I have landed, though I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  When I introduce myself I say, “I would appreciate if you share your pronouns with me, as it helps me perform my job with excellence and not make gender-normative assumptions.”  Should a student say rude things in response, I will tell them that it is out of respect for the diversity of human experience and maintain that they don’t need to participate, but they do need to be respectful.

I realize that this scenario is one in which an individual with privileged identities was communicating that he was uncomfortable, but I think it remains true that we cannot force students to share their pronouns, potentially making a space unsafe.  I do think, however, that it is important for me to make a request students share their pronouns with me, so that I’m not assuming the dominant group’s terms.  This is an example of a situation where I am able to leverage my own privilege in order to ally myself with individuals on the margins.  This is what it is like to be an advocate, it is difficult work that doesn’t always go perfectly the first time.  But through reflection and persistence I hope it goes better the next.

An Update from President Jess Denke

Happy Fall 2018 everyone!

I’m excited to say hello as I begin my year as DVC President.   Change provides opportunity for reflection, and so my thoughts go towards all the accomplishments of the past year.  In the 2017-2018 year, we held two successful programs on news literacy and library partnerships, we awarded $3,000 in scholarships to members to support their professional development, and we provided mentorship opportunities for students and librarians.  In effect, we continued to build community for you – our esteemed network of library workers in the Delaware Valley.

I’m thankful for all of the people I have met this past year and the new relationships that I’ve formed.  Each interaction reminds me of the value of the work of a local chapter of our professional organization.   Through our community we provide professional development, support one another during challenges and change, and build our ability to consider different perspectives and challenge our own lens.

Our upcoming fall program supports each of these endeavors.  Librarians as Advocates: Leading Activism on Your Campus and Beyond will be a day devoted to identifying our work as librarians as that which resists systems of oppression and supports those marginalized in our society. Library work has at its core the values inherent in access of information to all – equity, diversity, inclusion, and freedom.  However, sometimes these values are lost in the day-to-day business of running a library.  Join us on October 26th to be reinvigorated in the action of library work towards a better future for all.  We are currently accepting submissions for lightning round proposals, we are in the process of assembling an amazing panel of librarian activists and community organizers, and we are planning an afternoon of roundtable dialogue.  Stay tuned for registration information, which will be shared in the near future!

Libraries and librarians are well-positioned to make a difference in the lives of those who need us most.    Together we are stronger and can achieve more.  Please join me in building professional relationships; your participation will make us a more prepared, effective community of action.


This post was original published on 9/10/2018 on the ACRL DVC blog.

Process as Practice

I have a partner who is extremely prolific in his creative endeavors.  Just this morning he told me he was setting one project aside in favor of continuing on with another.  This is an extremely routine experience for him – he is always in the process of creating and we spend a lot of time brainstorming, dreaming, and problem-solving for each endeavor.  I have a harder time with process.  My doubts interfere with the work; my motivation waivers; I get distracted with television and books.  However, sometimes I seem to just stumble into a creative process that I find enjoyable and most of the time I give myself the leeway to indulge in these experiences.

Visual design has been a source of inspiration and fun for me for most of my life.  However, my goals and tools have changed since the days when Microsoft Paint on my dad’s Macintosh II afforded me the ability to spray paint rainbows.  I began learning Adobe Illustrator at my first academic library position and have since been learning about and utilizing the Adobe suite for my design work.

Learning a new software package can be a challenge and sometimes the stress of creating flyers, banners, or logos at work can hinder my ability to learn new tools and experiment.  Lucky for me, my summer schedule gives me the time and space to slow down and seek joy in the process. This past spring I have been most inspired by modifying and transforming artifacts in the public domain.  I have found that the process of snipping images, altering color levels, and overlapping sprites has been really fun.  By appreciating the process of creating, I’ve put less pressure on myself to create a product, and have thought of the work as practice for those projects that are more oriented towards library goals.  Through practice, I’ve learned some new tools and skills and am able to respond to my coworkers requests more quickly.

All that to say, take time to enjoy the process of learning and creating.  Though your products might vary in success, the process is a practice and your skills are likely transferable.  Also, it’s alright to set a project aside, your interest and joy will likely return.  And, since you made it this far, I won’t leave you without sharing the product of my Adobe design practice:  my first zine.  Flip through below to see a short, silly, slightly crass collaboration with my very-creative partner (he wrote some of the copy).

Diversity, voice, and community engagement: We are stronger together

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done any serious reflection on my work and consequent writing.  Spring semester ended in a rush of activity and my writing practice went down the drain.  Generally, I’ve been reserving Friday afternoons for an hour or two of writing, which I’ve published here (for the most part).  So, in keeping with that tradition, today I will be reflecting on my Spring semester accomplishments.

I’ve been involved in three planning committees that held programs this spring:  the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED, a committee of POWER), the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and the Information Literacy Learning Community of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC).  Planning these programs took months of committee work.  When these kinds of programs come to a close I feel such a sense of relief and accomplishment.  There are reports, schedules, and resources from each of the programs on their respective websites and I would encourage any curious readers to check them out.   The ACED panel allowed Allentown community members to discuss real estate development and consequent community action with local community leaders, the ACRL DelVal program was about library partnerships, and the theme of the LVAIC information literacy symposium was Structures of Power in Information.  In my mind, these three programs have a lot in common, but this lesson stands out:

Communities are better when everyone’s interests are represented. 

We are stronger together.

Though the marginalized members of communities may be easy to ignore, when they are included their voices bring strength and power.  In my work with ACED, we determined from the beginning that, though we represent the community, we don’t represent all of the community and needed to be able to engage the people of Allentown immediately to determine what their needs and desires were for our home.  This panel was an effort to engage by providing an opportunity for education and communication.  It was followed by round tables where community members could express their ideas and continue conversations with one another.

The panel and round tables were  helpful in guiding the direction of our continued organization work.  This is the kind of democratic community building discussed in Sarah Stanlick’s “Rethinking the expert voice:  Knowledge-making in community engagement,” which was presented at the LVAIC symposium.  Democratic community engagement is important for all library partnerships; it’s important that our work is relational, reciprocal, and that we co-create our knowledge of and in our communities. In my mind, this relates to the way that librarian’s design assessment measures and determine what kind of assessment we value, how we develop research projects and what stakeholders we include in research, and our pedagogical practices within the classroom.

I’ve also been reflecting on voice in preparation for my own presentation at the LVAIC symposium with Kate Richmond titled “Engaging students in identifying voice in scholarship.”  When presenting academic research to students in the classroom, it is often beneficial to discuss the identities of authors and research participants as part of a discussion of authority as constructed and contextual.  Of course, students need to understand the process of information creation that gives academics increased trust in academic journal articles before we break it down.  However, it’s important to remember that many scholarly conversations are only occurring in communities of privilege.  For example, in reviews of peer-reviewed psychology research by Eagly & Riger (2014), the majority of senior authors were found to be are white, upper-class men who were senior professors at top research universities.  And participant populations fall into similar categories.  One of my favorite statistics is in Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan’s (2010) article “The weirdest people in the world?”:

“A randomly selected American undergraduate is more than 4,000 times
more likely to be a research participant [in the behavioral sciences] than is a randomly selected person from outside of the West” (p. 63).

Perhaps this doesn’t affect the way that you read articles, but what if it does?  Sharing this information with students helps them to develop a critical eye towards scholarly work and also allows for conversations about the development and value of different kinds of authority.  The authority of personal experience, or that developed by organic intellectuals (see Mentzell Ryder’s (2015) “Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai”), is valuable and can be valued in the classroom.  One way to do this is by allowing students to design the classroom environment or direct classroom discussion.  We can also increase student’s opportunities to share their own experience and value self-reflection that allows them to contextualize learning.

Co-creation of knowledge in and about libraries is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about cities is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about communities is best done through inclusion of all voices.

And, in closing, I just want to state that I value the public nature of this blog and the readers who occasionally give me feedback.  I value reading and hope to continue to share my own experiences through publication, but I know that I need to continue my writing practice if I’m ever going to become a valued author.  Today I determined that I needed to write something to exercise my writing muscles.  If you want to be good at a craft, remember that growth comes through practice and process.


Eagly, A. H., & Riger, S. (2014). Feminism and psychology: Critiques of methods and epistemology. American Psychologist, 69(7), 685–702.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83.

Ryder, P. M. (2015). Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(1), 175–187.

Tech tools: Course-specific help guides.

The Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education identifies an important knowledge practice for information literacy learners as matching information needs to appropriate tools.  As we all know, the tools of a university library are no longer solely contained in a physical building, but include numerous databases, digital repositories of information that vary in content and form.  Thus, one could argue that it has become harder to identify the correct tools.  Our library’s discovery service bundles many of these tools in one place in the hopes that students will locate a number of resources without further knowledge of the tools.  However, OCLC discovery is so large it is commonly unwieldy to searchers.  In information literacy instruction sessions, I often direct students to help guides – this way students are able to directly access the tools and resources that are best suited for their disciplinary research needs.

However, a study of library help guides by Roberts and Hunter published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning reports that students do not, in fact, connect to subject guides because they do not think of their studies as situation in a discipline. Students are much more likely to connect to guides that are specific to their course.  So, I create them regularly!  Course-specific guides are very important for interdisciplinary research, which is so prominent at Muhlenberg. These guides link to resources across disciplines that meet assignment-specific information needs.

Roberts and Hunter (2011) report that students spend a minute on discipline-specific guides and seven to eight minutes on course-specific guides.  Thus, through course-specific guides I can increase students persistence in research, demonstrate how tools can meet specific information needs, and provide access to resources strategically.  I shared this information with a few faculty today, hoping to encourage them to collaborate on guides with their liaison librarians.  Since I think it is a fairly convincing argument, I thought I would share it here too!


Roberts, S. & Hunter, D. (2011).  New library, new librarian, new student:  Using LibGuides to reach the virtual student.  Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 5(1-2), 67-75.