Time to Stop at the Inn

February 22nd, 2021
There are many in my RSS reader who never stopped blogging and have kept writing all these years, but there is something about breaking a silence that can cajole me out of my own blog silence just a bit. I most certainly have a bit of fearfulness in putting my writing out there. This space has mostly been reserved for more personal writing so I’ve worried about the violation of a random person (or even someone I know) eviscerating my writing in the form of a comment. I don’t desire to “build an audience” or be well known outside of my little quadrant of life. I count myself lucky to have never had a reason to turn off comments, but I understand why people have had to turn them off once they started gaining a larger readership. People on the internet can be less than nice at times. So why even write in a public way? Why not keep it all in a journal? I suppose there is something about seeing other people around me write and share their insights, experience, and themselves that makes me think I should give back a little too. When one is in community with people there is a desire to have some give and take, a bit of “I see you. Do you see me?”. Even at a time when the power of the individual creator on the web seems so large it also feels like the vast majority of technology is designed to drive consumptive and addictive behaviors. I still see this medium as a refuge from the compulsive refreshing and stream of thoughts. I’ve been trying to find more ways to build in reflection time in my life. I’m fairly decent at making space in my life and not filling it was busyness, but there is still something missing for me in the equation and I am fairly certain a regular writing habit is it. I’m a classic infrequent pen and paper journal writer (although I managed to keep a pretty decent gratitude journal last year). The unwinding of thoughts and connections made when putting pen on paper or letters on screen still feels like a kind of magic. I want to spend more times doing things that make happier long-term, even when they are hard. I don’t run because I love running. I run because I love “having run” and the rewards that come from persevering. In much the same way writing can be a struggle, but it generally ends up be a satisfying way to have spent time. And like running I find I do best when I have accountability and a community of people writing is one of the best. So, thanks to you all who keep that going and keep me going as well.

The Internet Community that Formed Me

January 24th, 2020

In October of last year I started a new job as the Associate Director of the Digital Knowledge Center at UMW. Lots of crazy things had to happen for this to become my reality, but I’ve been beyond grateful for the opportunity to take on a new challenge and I have loved my new job so far.

It is funny to find myself back in the unit that brought me in to the conversation in the first place. As I’ve been reflecting back on the journey I’ve been thinking about that early twitter/blogging community that hooked me in to the world of technology and education as a young undergrad student working for the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT).

It meant a lot to me as a student to get to know people who worked outside my University. That community was due in large part to the staff members at DTLT cultivating those relationships and inviting me in to those conversations. Going through my earliest Twitter followers I find people like Brian Lamb, D’Arcy Norman, Scott Leslie, Tom Woodward, Gardner Campbell, Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, Alan Levine, Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, Matt Gold, Chris Lott, Barbara Sawhill, Leslie Madsen, and Mike Caulfield.

Is that not a ridiculously awesome list of people to know as an undergrad student??

These voices, along with the staff and faculty at my University, helped shape my thinking around what it means to be engaged in the world. Over the years I’ve gathered more and more voices and have been pushed to think in new ways (forgive me for not having the room to list them all). Yet, I still think about 19 year old me, and how incredibly lucky I was to have access to that conversation at all. That is why it pleases me to see many people blogging again (and why I’ve felt called to dust off this blog) because seeing the work people are doing is incredibly important. Of course some people never fell off the blogging wagon and if there is a Web 2.0 heaven, there is a special place for you there.

So, thanks for the conversation and the continued conversations. I’m glad there are so many people for me to continue to learn from out there.

There, I think I managed to blog about not blogging without really calling attention to it…oh wait.

Grabbing the Moments

March 14th, 2019

I worry I don’t do a good job of talking with my tutors about the “why” of the ThinkLab. I seldom have explicit conversations about my philosophy around teaching and making. I still haven’t figured out a way to have those conversations that don’t come across as “let me randomly start talking about philosophy and possibly lecture you about things”. Sometimes a moment happens organically and I try to grab them as they come up. This week held one of those moments.

Recently we’ve been working with a class that does a 3D printing assignment. I’ve struggled to make this assignment a meaningful exercise (at least meaningful in my mind). After a tutor had started another print he said something along the lines of, “I don’t really care for assignments where people come in and 3D print one-off things and we never see them again. I like to see people work through a project.” Yes, this was a moment! Another tutor also hopped in to the conversation and we began discussing the purpose of this space, the value of making things, and where a makerspace fits in at a small public liberal arts university. They could articulate ideas, even in their first semester working in the ThinkLab, that told me they already understood so much about this space. I know I should have not been surprised since they are both the kinds of students who valued the ThinkLab as a creative space before I even hired them. I spent the rest of the afternoon beaming. This is why I do this work.

Now, how do I create more moments and opportunities like this?

Tell About It

February 22nd, 2019

I received a birthday card in the mail today.

Hand written card. Text of card:
As Mary Oliver wrote
Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention
Be astonished
Tell about it.
An unexpected card. A moment of pause.

I try to pay attention and find joy in stumbling upon a penny. Talking about it all, especially in written form, seems to elude me though.

Last year I attended the Digital Pedagogy Lab and had the opportunity to spend a week writing. It was the most I had written in years. I wrote for me and I wrote without fear. Time passes though and I fell out of the practice of writing and inevitably over the course of months fear has crept back in again. Today though, after receiving the unexpected card in the mail, I felt convicted again. I’ve come back to the paragraph from Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence in to Language an Action” that gave me the courage to write last summer.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid?

Most of my writing spaces are silent. I have been afraid of the permanency of ink on a page or words on a blog and for me that is a poor reason to be silent. I need to write because I have stories I need to share and my voice matters too. I want to have a say in the narrative and that means speaking up, even when I am afraid.

A Makerspace of Need

May 3rd, 2018

I’ve been struggling to write out a clear and concise vision of the ThinkLab. Every attempt has been thwarted by my attempt to explain all the details that have led me to the conclusions that I have come to. As you can imagine this does not make for clear and concise writing. So, instead of writing one blog post that works through everything that I’ve been thinking about over the past year I’m writing a series of posts that will help clarify my thinking around different areas. I hope bounding my posts to particular aspects will help me hit that publish button and get me to a point where I can say “This is what I want to come out of this space”.

Blinking LED photo gif taken by Shannon Hauser

When it comes to the most recent explosion of interest in making and DIY  (what has been called the “maker movement’) there have been certain kinds of making that have been more heavily focused on. Activities such as 3D printing, robotics, microcontrollers, drones, etc are the types of making that have been prominently featured as representative of the maker movement. Libraries and schools everywhere started buying 3D printers and little programmable boards. There were clearly defined consumable products that were considered important to have in a makerspace. Currently the makerspace I manage has many of these things (3D printers, 3D scanners, arduinos, robotics kits), but we also have sewing machines, e-textiles, and crafting materials.

3D printed articulating fish photo taken by Shannon Hauser

It isn’t hard to see what happens once you start to privilege certain things as “making” inside a movement. A quick google search will easily turn up criticism that details the problematic nature of this privileging in major publications like Make or at Maker Faires. To be fair Make magazine has done a bit better over the last couple years of being more inclusive of what counts as making. Yet, there is a persistent idea that a particular kind of making happens in makerspaces.

A while back I read this excellent post by  Kim Jaxon titled “Connecting Making, Designing and Composing” that really helped me connect the pieces on things I felt were problematic about teaching making. In the piece she notes that the recent trend in teaching people “design thinking” or the skill of “making” has the same pitfalls as assuming that the freshman comp class teaches students how to be writers. As if the skill of writing, once learned, was something that you had and can be used in any situation. Anyone who is trained in a discipline will have developed a certain way of writing that is appropriate for their field. What works for a creative fiction piece is not the same thing that works for a research biology paper, or, “writing is not writing is not writing”. A quote:

…my concern is that we are about to follow the same path with design and making as we have with the teaching of writing: we talk about introducing “design thinking” and “making” to students in general, instead of asking what it means to design like an engineer or use design like a graphic designer or ask what design problems look like to a physicist, all of whom talk about design, and the role of design in meaning making, differently in their respective fields.

 

While there can be a lot of overlap in approaches between disciplines to design problems there is still the reality that these approaches are emergent from the discipline and aren’t some rules handed down from above. There is no, “Though shall empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.” written in stone to be obeyed by all (although it is a pretty good guideline for a lot of things). It seemed presumptuous to me that I could come in to a discipline’s space bearing arduinos, sewing machines, and 3D prints telling them how they would all become makers now. No, I was introducing them to a particular kind of making, which, could be useful to them, but was certainly a paradigm of making that comes with a set of underlying assumptions.

Soldering Away photo taken by Shannon Hauser

Obviously, at some point in forming a makerspace you have to define a scope of services because a space can’t be all things to all people, but in making these decisions about the space I have to acknowledge that there is a whole world of possibility and I am choosing particular kinds of making. I want to make sure that the choices I make are thoughtful and aren’t necessarily driven by what the maker movement thinks is the important tech to have. So, how is one to decide what kinds of making to support? And then how does one go about learning to be a maker in all these disciplines? Another quote from the piece:

Like many of you, I will continue to be a champion for doing, making, tinkering, and composing ideas and artifacts. At the end of the day, design and making could be exactly the trojan horse we need to infuse constructivist pedagogies in teaching and learning. An affordance of a maker space is also its potential for breaking down disciplinary silos: a maker space can bring together a variety of disciplines and make explicit the kinds of problems various disciplines can solve, and more importantly, highlight the interdisciplinary approaches to meaning making and problem solving. As we take this step toward design and making in schools, my hope is that we keep an eye on the messy, recursive, and disciplinary ways we make and design.

I’m firmly of the mind that making and makerspaces can be as wide ranging as one can imagine. Therefore a makerspace should work with people in the community they serve to figure out where there are unmet needs around making and consider whether it can help support those kinds of making. It can be an in depth as working with a faculty member to learn how to take arduinos to the next level and training up tutors to help students complete complex projects that require numerous sensors and lots of coding. Or it can be as simple as noticing that you have an activist student body that often goes out to protest so maybe it would be beneficial to them to keep a stash of poster board, stencils, and paints on hand so they can make their signs. Is that not making? And imagine the conversations that could happen in a space where students are creating protest sign. Being open to possibilities in the space can mean that different kinds of makers will cross paths and who knows what might come out of that kind of cross-disciplinary interaction? I’m still working out how one manages something that can be so wide open and how to prepare student tutors to help others in this kind of space, but I think it is possible. There will be times I have to say no to things, but I want to say no for the right reasons. It is my hope that I run a makerspace that will do it’s best to find ways to help people make things or if I can’t help them point them to the places that can.

Painting Blues photo taken by Shannon Hauser.

What To Support When You Are Making It Up As You Go Along?

January 11th, 2018

Cleaning up the 3D printer. CC-BY Shannon Hauser

One of the many questions I continue to struggle with when trying to figure out where to navigate the ThinkLab is what kinds of things should we support and at what level should we support those things? There are already some things that the ThinkLab is known for, 3D design and printing, that we’ll continue to do but many things are undecided at this point. In looking at other makerspaces I realized there is so much variety. Being housed in the library this thought keeps running through my head — we wouldn’t fill our stacks with the same books as Virginia Tech so why would our makerspace have the same tools and technology as theirs? How does a makerspace meet the curricular needs of a public liberal arts institution? How does a makerspace reach out to disciplines that don’t typically associate themselves with spaces that are like makerspaces? I find myself worrying about becoming pigeon-holed as a space. I worry that as the ThinkLab’s exposure increases we’ll fall in to a cycle of supporting a very narrow area to the expense of exploring possibilities. I don’t want to hear, “Only [fill in the blank] majors use the ThinkLab”. Much like our library supports a wide variety of disciplines I want the ThinkLab to support a varied student population. And just as the library makes strategic investments about what curricular needs it can support (no, we can’t buy that niche $1000 encyclopedia set, sorry) I want to make sure I don’t over commit to some disciplines. Sure we’ll show you some basic 3D modelling software, but you’ll have to figure out that advanced 3D modelling software for yourself. But am I placing limits in ways that are thoughtful of what is sustainable or am I placing limits because I fear what I do not know? (And I certainly don’t know a whole lot). I’m constantly thinking about what we currently have to offer and what I think we should offer and and the balance between what I know at the moment and what I think would be possible. I worry about offering to support something only to later realize that it is going to be beyond what we could sustainably support.

Luckily in the fall every single faculty member I worked with was willing to take risks with me to see what the limits of space may be and the semester went off fairly well. I am very lucky to have hired student aides that brought in their own background knowledge in areas that I don’t know a whole lot about who were able to pull off projects I wouldn’t have been able to do myself. There were times though that I asked my student aides to stretch in ways that may have been taking advantage of their general excitement to be working in the space. Over the course of the semester it became quite clear I needed to establish some solid structure about what we could definitely support and what would be experimental. I have spent a bit of the winter break working on actual tutorials that I can expect my student aides to take students through as well as rolling out an online scheduling tool. This has alleviated some of my worry about providing sustainable support, but I know there is more work to be done.

In writing this post I realize I don’t hate all these tensions, but they make  me uncomfortable (uncomfortable, but not paralyzed). There is no one right way to have a makerspace (despite the commodification of the maker movement). This is both liberating and terrifying. At times I wish I could stick my head in the sand and copy what so many other spaces do, but that wouldn’t make the space meaningful and useful to anyone in the long run. I want the ThinkLab to evolve with the needs of the school, but also be a source of inspiration that points in a direction. It is in this tension where people are working together and even disagreeing that some of the best stuff appears. I have a vision for the ThinkLab (maybe I should blog that one day?), but I know that some faculty member is going to show up one day and go, “I have an idea for a class” or a student is going to come in and say, “There is no place on campus that supports this, do you think the ThinkLab could?” and I’m going to be blown away and do everything I can to try and support that despite all my thinking about sustainable practices. I’ve already seen it start to happen.

How does one support wildly brilliant ideas?

 

 

I wonder if I could make it myself…

April 24th, 2017

I’ve been trying to find a way to begin to talk about my latest job change in the library. I have this ongoing problem of wanting to write all encompassing narratives (it all started when I was 5 and I fixed my mom’s stapler) that ultimately prove to be too overwhelming to finish writing.

So, in my attempt to keep it simple I want to tell you I recently finished making something for my cat.

More specifically I made a cat scratcher pad. One of those cardboard things you can buy at the pet store that encourages your cats to claw it rather than your lovely furniture. I’ve bought a couple in the past and it always seemed to me that it consisted of cardboard pieces glued together and wrapped in some paper. It didn’t seem too complicated and one day I thought, “I wonder if I could make it myself?”. I brought my cardboard to our makerspace, the ThinkLab, and utilized a box cutter, a hot glue gun and some duct tape and out came this:

The things I do for my cat...

It didn’t turn out as neat and even as one I’d buy at the store, but it seems fairly solid. I’ll be taking it home later today to see what the cat thinks of it. The cat scratcher pad isn’t anything that complicated or elaborate but in attempting to craft my own I had to think through the process of cutting and gluing it together and as I went along what might make it more structurally sound. I’m sure you are wondering why am I talking about this and what does it have to do with my new job?

Well, in the library we’ve had a makerspace since about 2012 and in that time it has fluctuated in its use and has been making its way along with support from outside faculty and staff as well as the head of the library and library staff. It has lacked a sense of continuity though, as any space would that was being supported by people who had other jobs they had to do, and in the past years has struggled to be a place we kept staffed on a regular basis. Earlier this semester several library staff came together for a meeting and out of that came the decision that I would spend a percentage of my time managing the ThinkLab. I’m grateful to colleagues in the library who have willingly taken on pieces of my old job so that I’d actually have the time to give the ThinkLab a shot.

Now that you have that background back to the cat scratcher pad. Why do I use this as an example of something I created in the ThinkLab? Well, besides being humorous it gets to the heart of what I see the ThinkLab being and it all starts with the simple idea, “I want to try and make that”. Your project doesn’t have to be complicated or even work in the end. The important thing is that you start taking the thoughts in your head and making them in to something real. What excites me most about the space is not the 3D printers, or the robotics kits, or the sewing machines (although all of that is great) it is the opportunity to make something and probably even more importantly break something (the head of the library, Rosemary, is fond of saying that our tagline should be “We’ll help you break things creatively!”). I’m lucky that I work at a university that places great value in our students being creators of all kinds and I’m looking forward to the ThinkLab contributing to the mission of our institution in creating students that think thoughtfully about the things they produce and about the importance of being actively engaged in the world. There is more I can unpack about the pedagogy of makerspaces and certainly I plan to write more about it as I work on programming for the space over the summer, but for now I have to head home and see what my cat thinks of my handy work.

On Learning In and Out of College

October 2nd, 2015

This post is for the younger version of myself who struggled to care about schooling and to the the current students who feel the same way. It is no solution, but perhaps some consolation.

One of my biggest struggles as a student was sustaining the energy to learn something through an entire semester. I would start out most semesters with great gusto, but a few weeks in to the semester my enthusiasm for the topic  would wane and I’d inevitably fall in to the disillusioned questioning of, “Why am I learning this? Why does it matter? What is the point of learning this stuff?”. I distinctly remember during my sophomore year reading Yeats under a tree outside my dorm instead of doing work for a class. If my memory is correct  my attempt to decipher “Among School Children” was inspired in some way by Gardner. It may seem overwrought to say, but in that moment reading Yeats was the most important thing I could be doing because I had a sense that it would mean more to my life here on earth than working on the school assignment.

A Serene Scene

For a long time I’ve felt guilty over how poorly I performed at times during my academic career. There are times when I still feel that way, but I know that I can’t live with that regret forever.  I wasn’t very good at achieving decent grades in college, but it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. The structure that schools use to set up a curriculum, dividing things up in to disciplines and semesters,  is one approach for making sure that society as a whole has a similar baseline of knowledge. It isn’t the end all be all of educating. I’ve known this all for a long time, but it wasn’t until fairly recently I felt it to be true.

I’ve been out of college for almost 5 years now and I’ve continued to grow and learn new things since then. I recently read some older entries in a journal I sporadically keep and it was rewarding to see that many of the things I wanted to accomplish and learn about I’ve managed to do in two years since the date of the entry. The enthusiasm I have for learning is still there and I can come at topics with great fervor and deeply involve myself in an idea. The upside is that when my momentum begins to fade there is usually no major consequence to laying that topic to rest for awhile. I can pick up the idea a day, a week, or many months later. Nothing prevents me from going back to that topic when I’m ready to dive in again. Iteration. The time scale at which I learn things in is much longer than the semester. In fact it seems that there is no discrete unit of time to learn things. How freeing!

I will admit there is value in sustaining focus on a topic even after the initial enthusiasm begins to fade. There is something about pushing past “getting stuck” (or is that “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed”?) that is really good for the brain. I’m definitely not advocating for avoiding the hard things, but  in college many classes and many semesters felt like pushing past a wall of boredom not because a class was hard but because my brain was just done thinking about the topic. I found it incredibly frustrating to not have control over my head space at times. During my post college life I’ve discovered that there are times when I need to push past the “stuck” when I don’t have the energy, but for the most part I’ve found that I have the time and space to allow an idea to breathe. Sometimes all I need is a week off from thinking about something. A week is something not afforded to most college students. If you get a week behind in college it tends to snowball out of control until you limp across the semester finish line hoping the avalanche doesn’t outpace you.

20150715_111135

Now that I’ve had time outside of college to learn and grow I’ve noticed that besides some content sticking with me a lot of what has stuck with me are the soft skills that are so hard to quantify: critical thinking, how to break down difficult ideas, write about ideas, talk about ideas, be curious about the world, and so much more. I know how to learn and teach myself things and I’m always learning how to get better at that too. I’ve found so much joy in learning post college and I’m learning all the time. I’m lucky to have a job that gives me the freedom to challenge myself to learn new things and try out new ideas.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me (besides the terrible feeling that I’ll be going back to school sometime in the future), but I have confidence in my ability to learn and grow. Heck, who knows, maybe by the time I need that masters I might find I enjoy being in school again…or maybe not ????

 

 

Thanks, For Everything

September 18th, 2015

I’ve been struggling to write this post over the last five weeks. It was originally going to be part history and part “thank you”, but I had trouble writing a post about Andy and Jim that didn’t also include talking about Jerry and Martha. These four people (and the families they represent) go far beyond being DTLT to me. So, I dropped the history part (that was taking way too long) and made it strictly a thank you post to Andy, Jim, Jerry, and Martha.So really, this post isn’t for anyone but me and the four of them.

 

A Look Down Campus Walk
Photo credit to shauser

It is hard to believe that 2006, the year I started at Mary Washington as a freshman, is nearly ten years ago now. I’m sure 18 year old me would be surprised to find out that ten years down the line she’d still be in the same town because she found family here.

If I were to write a book about my journey over the last ten years it would be impossible to not talk about a few members of DTLT and their families because they are so thoroughly intertwined in my life’s story. There are so many moments that I could talk about I don’t know how I could recount them all in a single post. And how can I ever express enough gratitude for helping me get to where I am today and for all the wonderful memories? This post won’t do it justice, but it as an attempt to say a few words of thanks. For your consideration, both serious and silly thank yous.

Magic Bottle
Photo credit to cogdog

First of all thank you for hiring me as a student aide all those years ago. I didn’t know what I was getting in to, but thanks for seeing something in the quiet and timid freshman student.

Thank you for bringing me in to the conversation. Sitting around the bullpen in DTLT allowed me to hear some of the smartest people I know talk about big ideas.

Thanks for being there for me through my darkest college days.

Thanks for the hundreds of meals you have fed me over the years. Whether it was taking me out to lunch or having me in your home for dinner. I owe more meals than I can ever repay. I plan on paying them forward.

Thank you all for letting me get to know your children. It has been an honor for me to watch them grow up. I know many of you think you aren’t perfect parents, and you’re not, but the secret is no one is, and as it turns out you are still great parents without being perfect.

Thanks for all the blog comments.

Thanks for inviting me to your kid’s shows, to outings near and far, to family gatherings, birthday parties, mother’s day and father’s day celebrations, and even family vacations. I always felt like I was part of the family when I came along.

Thanks for all the moments I laughed so hard I cried. There were many of them.

Thanks for letting me sit in DTLT at all hours of the day as a student aide. Being there often meant more to me than you knew. Although I think the times when I came in and promptly put my head on the desk was probably a sign.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. You all come from different places and hearing your stories about where life has taken you (both the good and the bad) taught me there are many paths to fulfillment and happiness.

Thank you for all the patience you’ve shown me over the years.

Thanks for all the drinks: beer, wine, but mostly the marthinis. Okay, this is really a thank you to Martha for educating me on the superiority of gin.

Thanks for all the times you pushed me to reach further than I thought I could.

Thank you for being a friend.

Thanks for helping me through my mistakes and failures. Especially when those failures felt like the end of the world. You all reminded me life goes on and the best thing to do is learn from my mistakes.

Thanks for helping me after I graduated. Whether it was helping me edit a resume, listening to my fears over what comes next, or even convincing your spouse to let me work at her clinic ????

Thanks for setting the bar so high.

Thanks for being the biggest influences on my young adult life. I am so incredibly blessed to have had so many amazing people in my life over the last ten years. I think I won the mentor lottery when I came to Mary Washington.

Thanks for probably be unsurprised that this blog post has taken so long to write. Hey, at least I finished it before Jim left!

Thank you. I love you all.

 

 

 

Mucking about in databases and giving it all over to google

May 12th, 2015

Shelves and Book Cart_9556678137_l

As mentioned in my previous post one of the projects I wanted to complete over last summer was digitizing as many of the paper processes that I could. One of the largest challenges was finding a way to digitize a major task my student supervisor performs. In the library the student supervisor takes time each week to spot check some of the shelving of the previous week. In order to do this the paper process was as follows:

  •  When a student assembled a “ready to be shelved” cart they filled out a slip of paper and wrote down 6 random call numbers that appear on the cart. This slip of paper went in to a bin near the computer workstation.
  • They would also write their name, date, time and cart number on another slip of paper. This slip stayed with the cart until the cart was completely shelved. Each student who worked on a cart would write down their name on the slip of paper. If one student shelved the entirety of the cart they only had to write their name at the bottom. If multiple people worked on a cart there was a field to indicate where they stopped on the cart.
  • Each time a student would head up to the Stacks to shelve they had to fill out their name, date, time and, cart number on a log also kept by the computer workstation.
  • The student supervisor would have to match up the the various pieces of paper to figure out who shelved what and then they’d take the slip of paper with the 6 call numbers and go do the spot check. During the spot check they’d write down anything that was out of order and if they did find an error they’d put the slip of paper in a binder that had the various student aides names so they could go back and correct their mistakes.

How do you even begin to digitize this process?

During my first year I had been introduced to Navicat which is piece of database management software (like Microsoft Access). My supervisor had shown me some queries she had built because the reporting tool that comes with our ILS (Integrated Library System) is not very robust. So, while I was thinking about ways to digitize the process it occurred to me I probably could put together a report of some sort. Every time a cart is assembled by a student the cart gets a second check-in. This ensures that all things have been checked-in and catches other statuses a book may be on that need to come off before they head back to the Stacks. Knowing that all these second check-ins were being recorded by the system I was able to build a query based on the items checked-in, the computer they were checked-in on and, a date range. Now, a lot more than just carts get checked in on the computer in the back so I needed a way for the student supervisor to sift through the items relatively easily. I created a google form for my students to fill out:

This form gives the student supervisor the barcode information they need to easily find the carts that have been made. In, addition I’ve made my students scan a barcode before and after they check-in a cart.  This helps speed up my student supervisor’s process even more by giving them an easily identifiable number to search for in the report that is generated. After the student finish shelving they also fill out an after-shelving form:

The input from these forms gets dumped in to google spreadsheets that both my student supervisor and I have access to. My student supervisor then has to match up the corresponding information.  They look at when carts were made and choose the date range for the query (which they are able to run themselves using some nice and free software that allows you to run basic queries) and then they run the report. They then take the database query output and import it in to our shared google drive folder where they can identify all the carts that are made based on the information in the “Assembled Carts” spreadsheet. After they have identified carts they pull up the “After Shelving” spreadsheet to see who shelved the cart and write their names down. For this last part I let my supervisor choose how they wanted to format things so that when they went spot check it made sense to them. My student supervisor this year color coded the spreadsheet and came up with a system of naming when identifying errors and that seemed to work for them. All that was left to do was grab a tablet (or their phone) and go upstairs and spot check. An, additional advantage to this system of spot checking was the student supervisor now has a complete list of everything on the cart. Rather than leave it up to person assembling the cart to pick 6 random call numbers the student supervisor can be more targeted in their checking. We know certain areas of the Stacks have more problems than others so it makes sense to check those places more often.

In order to get the information back to the student aides about what errors they need to correct  I gave them all individual pages on umwstacks.org (which are hidden behind a login) and on each page is an editable spreadsheet so that not only can my student supervisor record the errors, but my student aides could grab tablets and head up in to the Stacks to correct their errors and mark that they fixed them while they are up there. Many opt to write down call numbers still, but quite a few adopted picking up the tablet and heading upstairs to check. This is one part of the process I’m trying to figure out how to make more easily accessible so that more student feel inclined to pick up the device rather than write down a bunch of call numbers on a piece of paper.

We’ve done this new way of spot checking for one academic year and the experiment has been very successful and few fun side benefits have come out of digitizing this process. My student supervisor now spends half the time doing the spot checking that it used to take and now I have the opportunity to expand out that positions task to include more variety and higher-level activities. One of the more fun side benefits that I had not given much thought to is the massive data collection that is a by-product of this process. I now know on average how many carts each week get shelved, when are our busiest weeks, how many items have been shelved, who had the highest accuracy (did I mention my student supervisor was keeping an on-going spreadsheet of student aides accuracy rates?). It was very cool to tell my student during the last week of school that they had shelved over 12,000 items during the semester.

Now that I have all this data it has my brain going about a new approach to student supervisor spot checking and on an even larger scale it has me thinking about the best use of student aide time while they work. I’m going to spend the summer sifting through the data a bit and spend time thinking about better ways to record statistics, do proper analysis (finding rates of accuracy on uneven sample sizes? Got to figure that out) and figure out what data is meaningful to keep recording. I’m excited that the experiment went so well and hopefully with a few more tweaks the system will be even better for this upcoming academic year.