Friday, November 22, 2013

On Failure: “Elizabethtown: Embedded Librarianship as Overreach.”

The following is a web-based version of a presentation given at the Fall Program of the Association of College and Research Libraries, Maryland Chapter, at The Johns Hopkins University on Friday, November 15th, "Library Secrets: Confessions of Falling Flat and How to Get Right Back Up."
"As somebody once said: There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the nonpresence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a feeassscoe, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." - Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown
As a library director, I fail a lot, so it was really just a matter of which failure to present. I chose this one in part because I consider it our, my, most epic spectacular failure.

Our fair campus. All photos, charts, gifs, graphs,... from the slides.
We wanted to drive traffic to the library website and to the library building.

Main Reading Room, State Library of NSW, Sydney (NSW)
In the second semester in which faculty were supposed to use a learning management system (LMS), we in the library asked to be "embedded" in a few select courses. We gave students, faculty, and staff a semester to become familiar with the LMS, but we were still very new to the platform, and that's true of not only the students and faculty, but also library staff.

Drie pantertjes geboren in Artis, Nationaal Archief
By embedding ourselves in the LMS, students and faculty would get increased access to librarians and one-click library assistance, in addition to content tailored to their needs via our LibGuides, which are not actual LibGuides, but built out of WordPress. In turn, library staff would get increased access to students and faculty, allowing us to expand our digital presence and footprint. We would also have a better handle on student assignments because syllabi were all in the LMS. It was win-win.

Speaking the language of assessment, we came up with student learning outcomes as well.
  • become better and more rigorous researchers   
  • be assisted in developing better critical thinking skills in organizing and executing their research assignments become better academic writers to include more knowledgeable use of citations, references, and bibliographies 
  • become greater consumers of library services
Profit!, icanhazcheezburger.com, Initial image via KSB Photos
However, moving from theory to practice, operationalizing, was tricky.

Theory v. Practice, Scott Brinker, chiefmartec.com
We started small on purpose, with a pilot program that was going to target three (3) courses. However, after an email was sent out to gauge faculty interest, the program expanded dramatically.... to sixty-three (63) courses.

Airplane! gif, From the film, thegameboycolor.tumblr.com via Giphy
Nonetheless, the eager library staff went into these courses, via the learning management system. We introduced ourselves, linked to relevant resources such as our research guides, and started discussion threads.

Spongebob, from the show, Reaction Gifs
Across sixty-three courses, guess how many interactions we had with students and faculty on these discussion boards.

Three! Three interactions!

McNulty, The Wire, Reaction Gifs
Again, three.

Three flamingos, Unknown 8-bit video game, pixelian.tumblr.com via Giphy
We, the library staff, didn't understand. What was wrong with us? Why didn't people like us? Why didn't they use this platform to ask us questions, to get help, to interact?

Overly Attached Couple,  Patrick Gill and Laina Morris, Know Your Meme
 As you can see from the image below, people were interacting and participating, just not with us, the library staff. The dismal data we collected went into a file I named "Elizabethtown."

Why Elizabethtown? Because it is a movie about a disaster that is itself a disaster. Meta! In the film, Orlando Bloom plays a disgraced sneaker designer whose latest product has flopped. He comes home for his father's funeral.
"As somebody once said: There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the nonpresence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a feeassscoe, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." - Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown
Elizabethtown poster, Paramount Pictures,
IMP Awards
The film is also notable because it gives us the "manic pixie dream girl" trope. In The Onion AV Club article that contains that term, the film is called a "Bataan death march of whimsy."

Based on that horrible data, library staff pivoted to the autopsy.

Captain America Prop Auction - Iron Man 2 armor, Flickr user Doug Kline
for PopCultureGeek.com
We learned that some faculty never turned on the learning management system or built out courses therein, some faculty had no idea what to do with the LMS, the roles library staff would play in the LMS were too undefined for both students and faculty, and we library staff had overreached and overshot. The LMS was still too new; to the extent that there was an organizational culture around the LMS it was nascent.

Facepalm from The Naked Gun, Paramount Pictures, Reaction Gifs
We were so busy wallowing that we overlooked the good.

Dr. Who in the Rain, from the television show, Reaction Gifs 
This widget we created and put on every in-course LMS page did give us some good news.


As it turned out, our LMS was responsible for a non-trivial amount of traffic to our website.



While we cannot control for time, and there are certainly other factors at play, traffic is clearly up in the second semester of LMS use. It could be the case that students were getting used to the LMS in the second semester, and that they were using the library more as a result of our one-shot library instruction sessions and information literacy efforts, for example. We chose to interpret this data as even though the discussion boards and embedding were a disaster, there was a silver lining here.



That second link from our MLS to the library website is actually from the gradebook section. That is, students check their grades, then directly head to the library website. Pretty impressive.


So at the least, this aspect of embedding made us happy.

Happy Dog from Analog, Japanese game show, Reaction Gifs
We chose to draw a few lessons from this failure, chief among them that our users have a comfort level that we library staff need to be aware of.

Cornell West on Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, Reaction Gifs
  • Library staff can’t be everywhere, all the time
  • There’s such a thing as being too “high-touch”
  • Trust your communities
Elsewhere on this site, explore the tag "failure."

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