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What is your professional background? I have always worked in an information-driven context. After college, I was employed in the Wall Street financial district, during a time when new technologies were changing how we work. There were many opportunities to learn new tools and skills. It was also my responsibility to train others. After a few years, I took some time off to travel and work on my music. One of my employers suggested I visited the Rutgers University MLIS program to explore opportunities. I was immediately drawn to the areas of technology and searching. I completed my degree in a few semesters and moved on to working as an information specialist/manager in a think tank environment and then I was offered an opportunity within a management consulting firm to build an information center. I later returned to Rutgers and defended my dissertation in 2003. My research focused on how values impact design of information retrieval systems. At the time, the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers was looking for non-tenure track faculty to teach and help design courses for their online program. I knew instantly this job was for me and was thrilled when they hired me. I’ve never looked back as this is the most rewarding, exciting, “never a dull moment” kind of job I’ve ever had.
How do you engage students in your courses, in classrooms and in an online environment?
1) Good, fresh material for a class is a must, as is a compelling reason for students to understand why the subject matter is important with respect to their learning.
2) I always respect my students and no matter how big the class. I make it a point to get to know everyone. Their opinions and ideas add tremendous value to the class and I want them to share in the construction of the learning experience. This is accomplished through trust and mutual respect, both foundational for engagement.
3) I try to figure out a way to teach so that they’re not just memorizing the material. I want them to internalize it and make sense of it in their terms, in relation to their goals, growth, and understanding of the world. Most importantly I want to hear them say “I never thought about this before” because this is a small, yet very significant, metric of change through learning.
4) Once students realize they have freedom to express ideas/questions and that others actually listen, learning emerges out of this dialog. This strategy never fails for me.
What are some ways that teachers can energize their classroom? Volumes can be (and have been) written on this. My take is pretty simple: energize yourself first. Energy is contagious. If you’re excited about what you’re doing your students will see that and become excited too. And, of course, know your “stuff!”
What do you find most exciting about the future of library and information work? The same thing that has been exciting in the past: change. Though the basic foundations and values of information provision remain constant, the nature of the work continues to be transformed through current and emerging technologies. The bottom line is that the “job” is never boring.
Yet as exciting as all this change is, the goal is really to ensure that people (our user populations) are not disenfranchised from the information they need. The information professional is the guide who helps people navigate this sometimes difficult terrain of constant information flow. In the world of information overloading it is important for information professionals to remember that the mission is to connect people with relevant information so that they can use it for whatever purpose they have.
Though change is always in our future, the mission to help others will continue to be the anchor that defines and distinguishes information professionals.
Where do you see as the main issues facing librarians, library staff and teachers today? Given today’s economic climate, I’m certain that budget and accountability are located somewhere at the top of the issue list. One of the things I try to instill in my students is the notion that nothing in life is free and they can’t run away from budgets, numbers and decision making within really difficult. It is important for all information professionals to understand, articulate and prove, with evidence, their value as well as the value they add to their respective communities and institutions.
The shifting job market is another area that especially concerns future LIS professionals. This doesn’t mean that library or information work is going away, as much as it might be labeled as something else. The tasks of information collection, organization, dissemination and classification have changed and it’s likely that information professionals will have to learn new skills in response to these shifts. I try to view such issues as opportunities.
With respect to teaching, the challenge is to help students understand that things change and that, over time, they will need to change too. This means cultivating life-long learners who realize that education and learning don’t end when they graduate.