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William Denton: Org clocktables I: The daily structure

planet code4lib - Tue, 2017-11-07 01:42

Recently I started tracking my time at work using Org’s clocking feature, and it’s working out very well. The actual act of tracking my time makes me much more focused, and I’m wasting less time and working more on important, planned, relevant things. It’s also helping me understand how much time I spend on each of the three main pillars of my work (librarianship + research and professional development + service). In order to understand all this well I wrote some code to turn the Org’s clocktable into something more usable. This is the first of two or three posts showing what I have.

Three pillars

In York University Libraries, where I work, librarians and archivists have academic status. We are not faculty (that’s the professors), but we’re very similar. We’re in the same union. We have academic freedom (important). We get “continuing appointment,” not tenure, but the process is much the same.

University professors have three pillars to their work: teaching, research and service. Service is basically work that contributes to the running of the university: serving on committees (universities have lots of committees, and they do important work, like vetting new courses and programs, allocating research funds, or deciding who gets tenure), being on academic governance bodies such as faculty councils and Senate, having a position in the union, etc. Usually there’s a 40/40/20 ratio on these three areas: people spend about 40% of their time on teaching, 40% on research and 20% on service. This fluctuates term to term and year to year—and person to person—but that’s the general rule in most North American universities, as I understand it.

Waiting for Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic to enter Roy Thomson Hall, last November.

For librarians and archivists the situation can be different. Instead of teaching, let’s say we do “librarianship” as a catch-all term. (Or “archivy,” which the archivists assure me is a real word, but I still think it looks funny.) Then we also do professional development/research and service. In some places, like Laurentian, librarians have full parity with professors, and they have the 40/40/20 ratio. That is ideal. A regrettable example is Western, where librarians and archivists have to spend 75% of their time on professional work. That severely limits the contributions they can make both to the university and to librarianship and scholarship in general.

At York there is no defined ratio. For professors it’s understood to be the 40/40/20, but for librarians and archivists I think it’s understood that is not our ratio, but nothing is set out instead. (This, and that profs have a 2.5 annual course teaching load but we do not have an equivalent “librarianship load,” leads to problems.)

I have an idea of what the ratio should be, but I’m not going to say it here because this may become a bargaining issue. I didn’t know if my work matched that ratio because I don’t have exact details about how I spend my time. I’ve been doing a lot of service, but how much? How much of my time is spent on research?

This question didn’t come to me on my own. A colleague started tracking her time a couple of months ago, jotting things down each day. She said she hadn’t realized just how much damned time it takes to schedule things. I was inspired by her to start clocking my own time.

This is where I got to apply an aspect of Org I’d read about but never used. Org is amazing!

Work diary

I keep a file,, where I put notes on everything I do. I changed how I use subheadings and now I give every day this structure:

* 2017-12 December ** [2017-12-01 Fri] *** PPK *** PCS *** Service

“PPK” is “professional performance and knowledge,” which is our official term for “librarianship” or “archivy.” “PCS” is “professional contribution and standing,” which is the umbrella term for research and more for faculty. Right now for us that pillar is called “professional development,” but that’s forty-year-old terminology we’re trying to change, so I use the term faculty use. (Check the T&P criteria for a full explanation.)

On my screen, because of my Emacs configuration, that looks like this:

Initial structure. Clocking in

First thing in the morning, I create that structure, then under the date heading I run C-u C-u C-c C-x C-i (where C-c means Ctrl-c). Now, I realize that’s a completely ridiculous key combination to exist, but when you start using Emacs heavily, you get used to such incantations and they become second nature. C-c C-x C-i is the command org-clock-in. As the docs say, “With two C-u C-u prefixes, clock into the task at point and mark it as the default task; the default task will then always be available with letter d when selecting a clocking task.” That will make more sense in a minute.

When I run that command, Org adds a little block under the heading:

** [2017-12-01 Fri] :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:30] :END: *** PPK *** PCS *** Service

The clock is running, and a little timer shows up in my mode line that tells me how long I’ve been working on the current thing.

I’ll spend a while deleting email and checking some web sites, then let’s say I decide to respond to an email about reference desk statistics, because I can get it done before I have to head over to a 10:30 meeting. I make a new subheading under PPK, because this is librarianship work, and clock into it with C-c C-x C-i. The currently open task gets closed, the duration is noted, and a new clock starts.

** [2017-12-01 Fri] :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:30]--[2017-12-01 Fri 09:50] => 0:20 :END: *** PPK **** Libstats stuff :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:50] :END: Pull numbers on weekend desk activity for A. *** PCS *** Service

(Remember this doesn’t look ugly the way I see it in Emacs. There’s another screenshot below.)

I work on that until 10:15, then I make a new task (under Service) and check into it (again with C-c C-x C-i). I’m going to a monthly meeting of the union’s stewards’ council, and walking to the meeting and back counts as part of the time spent. (York’s campus is pretty big.)

* [2017-12-01 Fri] :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:30]--[2017-12-01 Fri 09:50] => 0:20 :END: *** PPK **** Libstats stuff :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:50]--[2017-12-01 Fri 10:15] => 0;25 :END: Pull numbers on weekend desk activity for A. *** PCS *** Service **** Stewards' Council meeting :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 10:15] :END:

The meeting ends at 1, and I head back to my office. Lunch was provided during the meeting (probably pizza or extremely bready sandwiches, but always union-made), so I don’t take a break for that. In my office I’m not ready to immediately settle into a task, so I hit C-u C-c C-x C-i (just the one prefix), which lets me “select the task from a list of recently clocked tasks.” This is where the d mentioned above comes in: a little list of recent tasks pops up, and I can just hit d to clock into the [2017-12-01 Fri] task.

** [2017-12-01 Fri] :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:30]--[2017-12-01 Fri 09:50] => 0:20 CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 13:15] :END: *** PPK **** Libstats stuff :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:50]--[2017-12-01 Fri 10:15] => 0:25 :END: Pull numbers on weekend desk activity for A. *** PCS *** Service **** Stewards' Council meeting :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 10:15]--[2017-12-01 Fri 13:15] => 3:00 :END: Copious meeting notes here.

Now I might get a cup of tea if I didn’t pick one up on the way, or check email or chat with someone about something. My time for the day is accruing, but not against any specific task. Then, let’s say it’s a focused day, and I settle in and work until 4:30 on a project about ebook usage. I clock in to that, then when I’m ready to leave I clock out of it with C-c C-x C-o.

** [2017-12-01 Fri] :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:30]--[2017-12-01 Fri 09:50] => 0:20 CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 13:15]--[2017-12-01 Fri 13:40] => 0:25 :END: *** PPK **** Libstats stuff :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 09:50]--[2017-12-01 Fri 10:15] => 0:25 :END: Pull numbers on weekend desk activity for A. **** Ebook usage :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 13:40]--[2017-12-01 Fri 16:30] => 2:50 :END: Wrote code to grok EZProxy logs and look up ISBNs of Scholars Portal ebooks. *** PCS *** Service **** Stewards' Council meeting :LOGBOOK: CLOCK: [2017-12-01 Fri 10:15]--[2017-12-01 Fri 13:15] => 3:00 :END: Copious meeting notes here.

In Emacs, this looks much more appealing.

Final structure at end of day.

That’s one day of time clocked. In my next post I’ll add another day and a clocktable, and then I’ll show the code I use to summarize it all into tidy data.


I’m doing all this for my own use, to help me be as effective and efficient and aware of my work habits as I can be. I want to spend as much of my time as I can working on the most important work. Sometimes that’s writing code, sometimes that’s doing union work, sometimes that’s chatting with a colleague about something that’s a minor thing to me but that takes an hour because it’s important to them, and sometimes that’s watching a student cry in my office and waiting for the moment when I can tell them that as stressful as things are right now it’s going to get better. (Women librarians get much, much more of this than men do, but I still get some. It’s a damned tough thing, doing a university degree.) I recommend my colleague Lisa Sloniowski’s award-winning article Affective Labor, Resistance, and the Academic Librarian (Library Trends Vol. 64, No. 4, 2016) for a serious look at all this.

Library Tech Talk (U of Michigan): Unifying the Library Discovery Experience

planet code4lib - Tue, 2017-11-07 00:00

How the University of Michigan Library is unifying the user experience of discovery across multiple kinds of information, from the catalog to licensed content, from subject expertise to library webpages and LibGuides.

Meredith Farkas: Saying goodbye to the Library Success Wiki

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 22:47

In July 2005, on the heels of the successful ALA Annual 2005 Wiki, I developed the Library Success Wiki. Here’s what I said about it then:

“I would like this wiki to be a one-stop-shop for inspiration. All over the country, librarians are developing successful programs and doing innovative things with technology that no one outside of their libraries knows about. There are lots of great blogs out there sharing information about the profession, but there is no one place where all of this information is collected and organized.

I originally got the idea for the wiki when I became frustrated by how large my Bloglines backlog had become as I’d bookmarked lots of posts with amazing ideas that I wanted to save for later (when they were more relevant to what I was working on). A blog is such an amazing medium for sharing information, but what do we do with the information once we’ve read it? Where do we collect it? In or Furl or whatever is the latest social bookmarking tool? In theory, people can find what other people bookmarked in, but in reality, with all the different tags we could use, it’s not quite so easy. And now there are so many social bookmarking tools that I find them more useful for bookmarking stuff for myself than in finding what other people bookmarked. I think a wiki is a fantastic place to collect all of these great ideas related to librarianship. All of those posts and websites you thought were brilliant. All of those successful initiatives you heard about. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find it all in one place? So when you decide you want to bug your colleagues about switching to IM reference, you can easily find lots of posts and stories about other people who did the same thing.

If you’ve done something at your library that you consider a success, please write about it in the wiki or provide a link to outside coverage. If you have materials that would be helpful to other librarians, add them to the wiki. And if you know of a librarian or a library that is doing something great, feel free to include information about it or links to it. Basically, if you know of anything positive that might be useful to other librarians (including useful websites), this is the place to put it. I hope this wiki will be a venue where people can share ideas with one another and where librarians can learn to replicate the successes of other libraries/librarians.”

Knowledge-sharing has always been a passion of mine and a wiki was a good tool (at the time) for collecting knowledge from a diverse array of librarians across the world. In 2005, Facebook didn’t exist (to the public at least). Twitter didn’t exist. Google Docs didn’t exist. Google Sites didn’t exist. A whole bunch of other collaboration and CMS-type tools didn’t exist. At the time, a wiki was one of the only free ways to collect knowledge from lots of different people, many of whom the person creating the wiki didn’t know. And it received contributions from thousands of librarians and certain pages were THE place to find information on that topic.

But now, other more stable tools exist for this. Mediawiki software is vulnerable to spam and is not the most stable thing out there. I (and my husband when it’s beyond my capabilities) have spent so much time over the past twelve years troubleshooting the software, reverting spam, and blocking spammers. And, all the while, usage of the wiki has declined and many pages have become painfully stale and dated.

With a heavy heart, I’m announcing that, unless someone else wants to run the Library Success Wiki on their own server, the wiki will be going dark on February 2, 2018. This should give people time to move information important to them to other collaboration tools and for a knight in shining armor who wants the hassle of managing the wiki themselves to emerge. It can be hard to let go of services that no longer have the ROI they used to, and I’ve wrestled with the idea of saying goodbye to the wiki for years. It’s time. It’s past time.

Image source

Islandora: Islandora Technical Advisory Group (TAG) First Meeting

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 20:51

Just wanted everyone to know that Islandora's Technical Advisory Group had it's first meeting to discuss PHP 5.3.3 given that we have had problems with Travis around it recently.  Fortunately, Travis has merged in changes to address the issue. Community member Jonathan Green deserves big thanks for filing it!

Just as a heads up, Travis has recently announced that it will no longer be servicing the Ubuntu distribution we use to run tests against PHP 5.3.  This doesn't mean it's no longer available, just that fixes to it are unlikely to be prioritized and there's really no guarantees. So we got lucky this time. In case we're not so lucky next time, there's ways to continue running tests against PHP 5.3.3, they just involved some work. Hopefully PHP 5.3.3 will remain a large enough need that those who use it will take on the work load to keep things going. However, in the event that there's no one willing or able to take on the work, the TAG has come up with a back up plan. In order to maintain limited support and guarantee nothing new will be introduced that breaks compatibility, the codebase's syntax will still be checked for PHP 5.3.3 even if the tests can't be run.

The full notes on the meeting are here. And for the record, all agendas and notes are publicly available at the Islandora Github wiki alongside the Coordinating Committee's. For future meetings, I'll be announcing the agendas a day or so before we meet. And if you have an issue you want tackled by the TAG, you can always bring it up at a Committer's call or just message me directly.

Archival Connections: Platform Monopolies and Archives

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 19:42
I am at the InterPARES Trust North American Team meeting in Vancouver, and the issue of platform monopolies has risen to the top of my mind. Here is a quick list of readings I’ve thrown together while listening to and engaging in the discussion: For now, I don’t have much to say, other than this: As a … Continue reading Platform Monopolies and Archives

LITA: Spotlight Series: Rebecca McGuire

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 15:02

Allow me to introduce Rebecca McGuire, Visiting Instructional Tech Specialist at Mortenson Center for International Library Programs.  A division of the University of Illinois Library, the Mortenson Center, provides leadership and technology guidance to libraries throughout the world.  Rebecca shares information about this unique role, her favorite tech blogs, and predictions about the future of libraries. A full transcript of the interview can be found here.

  1. What is your background?

“After getting a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Affairs, I spent a year teaching ESL students in a middle school. I loved teaching, but wanted to do it in a more informal environment, so I decided to get a Master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. I also decided to pursue a certificate in Community Informatics, which really opened my eyes to how important access, understanding, and application of technology is to both personal and community development.”

  1. What were some of your early library jobs and how did they prepare you for your current position?

 Rebecca was able to explore and become comfortable with hardware and software, while troubleshooting for the University of Illinois iSchool Tech Help Desk and teaching classes at the Instructional Technology Design Office at the iSchool. “I learned that you don’t necessarily need to be a technology genius or have a Computer Science degree to work with technology in a library setting; you just need to be able to solve problems, find answers, think critically, communicate clearly, and collaborate with people with varying levels of expertise. Also, patience is so important!”

  1. Tell me about your responsibilities as Visiting Instructional Technology Specialist at Mortenson Center for International Library Programs.

 “The Mortenson Center for International Library programs is a small unit within the University of Illinois Library. We’re involved in a variety of projects around the world, and we primarily work with international partners to provide capacity building, professional development programs, and training for librarians from outside of the United States.   My main responsibility is working on a grant-funded project developing an interactive and adaptable Library Leadership Training toolkit for librarians around the world [Strengthening Innovative Library Leaders or SILL]. This foundational 2-day training focuses on Leadership Styles, Communication, Innovation, and Planning. It’s meant to be delivered to public or community library workers at any level. The goal is that this training curriculum is easy to administer, translatable, adaptable to local contexts, and freely available online, even in places with low-bandwidth and limited technology access.”

Rebecca’s Equipment

  1. What does a typical day look like?

 “When I’m working abroad, my days usually consist of trainings, where I help to facilitate the program and also video record the training. When I’m in my office at the University of Illinois, I work on editing videos and photos, creating and editing training materials, building the training toolkit website, and collaborating with training partners. I also coordinate other educational programs and events for the Mortenson Center and design promotional materials.”

  1. Tell me about libraries 10 years from now- what do they look like and what services do they offer?

 “Libraries will always be places where the community can access and learn how to utilize free resources, including print and online materials, computers, and additional technology they need. Now, libraries are becoming places to not only access, but also create content with maker spaces, video and audio studios, new technology, and educational workshops. I also appreciate the trend of libraries serving as community and student collaborative spaces, where all community members are able to work together on projects that are important to them. I also think libraries will continue to leave their physical buildings and grow to meet their community, throughout city busses, parks, community centers, and beyond.”

  1. What was the best advice you received while in school or early in your career?

“Someone gave me the advice to check out current job postings that interested me, then tailor my classes and volunteer experiences to match with the required skills for the jobs I wanted. This really helped me to narrow my focus and ensure that I was learning everything I needed to for a library career that I wanted.”

  1. How do you stay current on new technology?

“I get to help out in the Media Commons of the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library every week, which includes a video studio, audio booth, and multimedia workstations. They always have new emerging technology in the office that they’re testing, so I get to try new technology that can be applied to library settings, like VR. I also love using if I want to explore a program that’s new to me more in depth. In addition, I try to stay current on instructional technology trends by reading blogs and websites such as:

  1. Share technology that you can’t live or couldn’t do your job without.

“WordPress (for our training toolkit website), my Lumix GH4 and Lumix LX100 cameras and various audio recorders to capture trainings, and to create polished promotional materials for the Mortenson Center. I also use the Adobe Creative Suite often, especially PremierePro, Lightroom and Illustrator. Also Facebook, because it’s a great way to communicate and stay in touch with librarians I’ve worked with around the world.”

 I’m excited to announce that the next interview will be with Ken Varnum, new editor of Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL). Ken will be a speaker at the 2017 LITA Forum in Denver, and has kindly agreed to meet with me to discuss his vision for the future of ITAL, his favorite library technologies, and his early career ambitions in U.S./Soviet relations.

Evergreen ILS: Hack-A-Way 2017 Is HERE!

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 14:59

As I type a small knot of Evergreeners have already congregated and begun hashing out topics far and wide at the Atlanta aIrport.  While this certainly isn’t the Hack-A-Way proper it’s appropriate that an informal event has an informal soft start.  This isn’t to say that the Hack-A-Way is completely free form.  Over the years the Hack-A-Way has become an increasingly important part of the community’s development cycle and that has been reflected by it’s attendance and the infrastructure necessary to support it.  While we still try to keep obstacles out of the way of development and discussion one thing we have added governance for is to recognize the need to affirm that the Hack-A-Way must be a welcoming space for attendees.

Towards this end the Evergreen community as a whole, including the Hack-A-Way, have adopted a formal code of conduct:

Evergreen Event Code of Conduct

Inevitably, we can’t think of every possible thing to include in a code so this is more representative than definitive.  Towards this end we ask attendees to abide by it’s spirit as well as letter and remind them to be aware of the diversity in our community and avoid being inflammatory whether it’s religion, politics or even sports if discussion touches on these areas.

Additionally, we will have a photography and video policy in effect that we ask everyone abide by:


Evergreen Event Photography/Audio/Video Policy


We have three emergency responders that will be available if any attendees have issues with other attendees and conduct:

Kathy Lussier of MassLNC

Galen Charlton of Equinox

Rogan Hamby of Equinox

Please don’t hesitate to contact any of us if you have an issue that you feel you need to report or even just need to talk to someone about something that made you uncomfortable but aren’t sure how you want to handle it.

#evgils #hackaway17

DuraSpace News: INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE: euroCRIS Survey on Research Information Management Practices,

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 00:00

euroCRIS, a Strategic Partner of DuraSpace, and OCLC Research, recently announced a jointly-developed

DuraSpace News: Hyku News

planet code4lib - Mon, 2017-11-06 00:00

“Hyku” is the result of a thirty-month project to develop a scalable, performant and multi-tenant digital content repository solution within the Samvera (previously known as Hydra) framework. This work was done by Stanford University, DuraSpace, and The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) through a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

LITA: Expose your data with and JSON-LD – a LITA webinar

planet code4lib - Fri, 2017-11-03 21:06

Sign up Now for

Introduction to and JSON-LD
Instructor: Jacob Shelby, Metadata Technologies Librarian, North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries
November 15, 2017, 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm Central time

Web search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo are integral to making information more discoverable on the open web. How can you expose data about your organization, its services, people, collections, and other information in a way that is meaningful to these search engines? This session will provide an introduction to both and the JSON-LD data format. You’ll learn how to leverage and semantic markup to achieve enhanced discovery of information on the open web.

Register here, courses are listed by date.

Topics include an in-depth look at the vocabulary, a brief overview of semantic markup with a focus on JSON-LD, and use-cases of these technologies. By the end of the session, you will have an opportunity to apply these technologies through a structured exercise. The session will conclude with resources and guidance for next steps.

View details and Register here.

Discover upcoming LITA webinars and web courses

Diversity and Inclusion in Library Makerspace
Offered: December 6, 2017

Digital Life Decoded: A user-centered approach to cyber-security and privacy
Offered: December 12, 2017

Questions or Comments?

For all other questions or comments related to the course, contact LITA at (312) 280-4268 or Mark Beatty,

Zotero: Zotero 5.0 and Firefox: Frequently Asked Questions

planet code4lib - Fri, 2017-11-03 18:53

In A Unified Zotero Experience, we explained the changes introduced in Zotero 5.0 that affect Zotero for Firefox users. See that post for a full explanation of the change, and read on for some additional answers.

What’s changing?

Zotero 5.0 is available only as a standalone program, and Zotero 4.0 for Firefox is being replaced by a Zotero Connector for Firefox that allows you to save to Zotero as you browse the web, similar to the Chrome and Safari extensions that have been available for years for use with Zotero Standalone.

Why is this happening?

Mozilla is discontinuing the powerful extension framework on which Zotero for Firefox is based in favor of a new, more limited extension framework, and it’s no longer technically possible to create a tool like Zotero for Firefox within the browser.

Will you change your minds?

See above.

Won’t this ruin everything that’s great about Zotero?

We don’t think so. Zotero has been available as standalone version since 2011, and many people have preferred it over the Firefox version — and we’re now able to focus on making it better for everyone, without making compromises to fit everything into a tiny pane or spending time keeping up with constant Firefox changes. The Zotero Connector still provides powerful browser integration and an unmatched ability to save as you browse the web.

In recent months, we’ve made numerous improvements to the Zotero Connector to bring it in line with Zotero for Firefox’s browsing-related features, and the Connector already offers some functionality that Zotero for Firefox never did, with more on the way. Since the Connector works in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, you can use Zotero with whichever browser you prefer, or even multiple browsers at the same time.

OK, if I’m running Zotero for Firefox, what do I have to do?

First, install the Zotero Connector for Firefox from the download page, which will replace Zotero 4.0 for Firefox. Next, from the same page, install Zotero 5.0 for Mac, Windows, or Linux.

You can also install the Zotero Connector in any other browsers that you use.

If I already have the Zotero Connector for Firefox, what do I have to do?

Make sure you’ve also installed Zotero 5.0 from the download page, and leave it open while you browse the web so you can save directly to it.

If I’m running Zotero Standalone 4.0, what do I have to do?

You can upgrade to Zotero 5.0 via Help -> Check for Updates from within Zotero, or you can reinstall Zotero from the download page.

If you’re also running Zotero 4.0 for Firefox, you should first install the Zotero Connector from the download page and restart Firefox.

If you’re using the Zotero Connector for Chrome, you don’t have to do anything else.

If you’re using the Zotero Connector for Safari, check for updates from the Extensions pane — you should have 5.0.23 or later. You can reinstall the Connector from the download page if you have an older version and an update isn’t showing up.

Will I lose my data?

No. Zotero 5.0 will automatically detect and upgrade your existing data. If your Zotero data directory is located within your Firefox or Zotero profile directory, it will be automatically moved to a “Zotero” directory in your home directory, where it won’t be affected by refreshing or uninstalling Firefox.

Where did the Z button in the Firefox toolbar go? How can I open Zotero without it?

Instead of clicking a Z button in the Firefox toolbar, you now switch to Zotero as you would any other program. (See Switching Between Programs for tips on doing this efficiently. Short version: Use the dock/taskbar/launcher or Cmd-Tab/Alt-Tab. Don’t waste time minimizing or moving windows to access what’s behind.)

You can also arrange your windows so that Zotero is visible while you’re browsing.

What about the “Save to Zotero” button?

The button still exists in the browser toolbar, and, as before, it will show you an icon representing the data Zotero detected on the page: webpage, journal article, newspaper article, etc.

If you don’t see the icon, check your browser’s extensions pane to make sure you have the Zotero Connector installed. In some cases, the button may appear in the overflow panel accessible from the right edge of the toolbar.

How can I choose what collection to save to?

Just as in Zotero for Firefox, select the desired target collection in Zotero before clicking the save button. See Switching Between Programs for tips on accessing Zotero quickly.

An upcoming Zotero Connector version will provide the ability to choose the target collection from within the browser itself.

Are there any features that are no longer available?

While we’ve worked to make all browsing-related functionality available via the Zotero Connector, a few features either haven’t yet been migrated over or aren’t possible in the new Firefox extension framework.

Planned, but not yet available:

  • “Attach Snapshot of Current Page” (snapshots are still available when saving new items)
  • “Create Zotero Item and Note from Selection”/“Add Selection to Zotero Note”
  • “Save Link As Zotero Item”

No longer possible:

  • “Save to Zotero” option in the Firefox open/save dialog — workarounds: find article page and use the “Save to Zotero” button to download the metadata and PDF automatically (recommended whenever possible); preview PDF in Firefox and click the “Save to Zotero” button; drag PDF link to Zotero; save PDF to disk and drag into Zotero; add Zotero as Firefox PDF handler and choose from open/save dialog (not currently possible, but planned)

What if I can’t install separate programs like Zotero at my institution?

Zotero can be installed without administrative privileges on most systems. You can also ask your IT department to install it for you.

It’s worth noting that the Firefox extension framework used by Zotero for Firefox for many years granted equivalent system access, so from a security standpoint there’s no difference between the previous Firefox extension and the standalone program. If anything, the standalone program is more secure, as the Zotero Connector code running within your browser is limited by Mozilla’s new WebExtension framework.

If you really can’t install separate programs, you can still use the Zotero Connector in your browser and save directly to your online library, but you’ll need to rely on the more limited web interface for managing your data. (Improvements to the web library are planned, but the desktop client will remain the recommended way of interacting with your Zotero data.)

What if I used multiple Firefox profiles to keep my Zotero data separate?

Zotero 5.0 supports the same profile system as Firefox. See Multiple Profiles for more info.

What if I’m using Zotero plugins that haven’t yet been updated for Zotero 5.0?

Most plugins have been updated, at least in beta form, so first check with the plugin author.

If a plugin you rely on hasn’t been updated, you can use the Zotero Connector for Firefox with Zotero Standalone 4.0, which is still available from the download page, for a while longer. Install the plugin from the Tools -> Add-ons -> Extensions pane in Zotero. Some Connector features may not work properly with Zotero 4.0, but you should still be able to save items to Zotero from the Connector.

How much longer can I use Zotero 4.0 for Firefox?

Zotero 4.0 for Firefox will cease to work in Firefox 57, which will be released on November 14, 2017, and existing Zotero for Firefox users will be upgraded to the Zotero Connector shortly before then. If you need to use Zotero 4.0 for Firefox for longer, you should switch to the Firefox 52 Extended Support Release, which will be supported by Mozilla until June 2018, and disable updates for the Zotero extension by clicking “More…” next to Zotero in the Firefox Add-ons pane. (Remember to re-enable updates if you later switch to the Zotero Connector.) If you’re already running the Zotero Connector, you can reinstall Zotero 4.0 for Firefox from the download page. Note that Zotero 4.0 syncing will cease to work in early 2018.

To benefit from the many improvements in Zotero 5.0, and to obtain support in the Zotero Forums, we recommend upgrading as soon as possible.

John Miedema: Phaedrus the III is Live. A Chatbot that Learns New Words. Try It!

planet code4lib - Fri, 2017-11-03 18:22

Phaedrus is the chatbot for my website and Facebook page. I created it on a whim, first as a simple “Hello World” version. A second version was functional and prettier. This third and final (for now) version has actual language smarts. You have to play with it. Click on the icon on the lower right of my website, or click the button on my Facebook page, or use this link.

Many chatbots don’t know what to do with words they do not recognize. I kid you not, Phaedrus III identifies words it does not understand, and asks you to teach it the meaning. It asks you to use the word in a sentence. The next time it encounters the same word it gives it back to you in the sentence. See the figure below:

HAL 9000 it is not. I am still tweaking it and there will be errors but I am a little proud that Phaedrus can be taught new words on the fly. Enjoy.

District Dispatch: Open government data legislation advances in Congress

planet code4lib - Fri, 2017-11-03 14:28

In recent years, there has been a significant movement to improve public access to government data. Republicans and Democrats alike increasingly recognize that unlocking data can unleash innovation, with major economic and social benefits for businesses, researchers, and the general public. Legislation in support of those goals has been passed in the Senate and is now on a fast track for a floor vote in the House.

The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act has prospects for passage in this Congress.

The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act would make more government data freely available online, in machine-readable formats, and discoverable through a federal data catalog. The legislation would codify and build upon then-President Obama’s 2013 executive order. These changes would make it easier for libraries to collect, curate, preserve, and provide services utilizing these valuable data assets.

The legislation was first introduced in 2016 by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX). ALA supported that bill, which was passed in the Senate, but was not taken up in the House.

The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act was reintroduced this year as S. 760 and H.R. 1770, which ALA again supported. Since then, the bill has been attached to two high-profile pieces of legislation:

  • The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810). The Senate attached the OPEN Government Data Act to this annual bill authorizing defense activities, which it passed on September 18. However, the House did not include the OPEN Government Data Act in its version of the defense bill. Accordingly, the House and Senate need to reconcile this difference (and many others) before they can send the defense bill to the President. To resolve their different versions of the defense bill, the House and Senate convened a conference committee on Oct. 25, which is aiming to complete its work by Nov. 3 to set up floor votes before Thanksgiving.
  • The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (H.R. 4174 / S. 2046). Both the House and the Senate included the OPEN Government Data Act in this new bill, introduced Oct. 31 by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI); Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Kilmer (D-WA), and Farenthold (R-TX); and Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Schatz (D-HI). The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed OPEN as part of the Foundations bill on Nov. 2, clearing the way for it to be voted on by the full House. The Senate has not yet taken action on this bill.

It remains to be seen which of these pieces of legislation will move, when and with which provisions. But when the Senate has passed and the House Speaker has introduced the same legislation, it suggests widespread agreement and significant prospects for passage in one form or another. ALA hopes that Congress will soon send this important legislation to the President’s desk so that taxpayers can make better use of these important public assets.

The post Open government data legislation advances in Congress appeared first on District Dispatch.

District Dispatch: Tell ED to make libraries grant-eligible

planet code4lib - Thu, 2017-11-02 20:49

The U.S. Department of Education has asked for public comment on their recently released “Proposed Supplemental Priorities of Discretionary Grant Programs.” Each time the Department of Education (the ED) revisits its priorities is an opportunity for libraries to demonstrate the many ways we provide high-quality education for students of all ages, from early learners to lifelong learners. It is a chance for libraries to have a voice at the national level and influence public policy.

The ED is asking for public comment by Monday, November 13. By using our voices to help the ED set priorities, we can increase the chances libraries are eligible for federal funding that can provide more resources and opportunities to the patrons we serve. ALA will be filing comments and is encouraging librarians across the country to file as well.

The ED’s 11 proposed priorities are a menu of goals for the Department to use for individual discretionary grant competitions. Although the current notice by the ED contains few mentions of libraries, the priorities include several areas where libraries are already making a significant contribution, including:

  • Priority 6: Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education, With a Particular Focus on Computer Science;
  • Priority 7: Promoting Literacy; and
  • Priority 9: Promoting Economic Opportunity.

Does your library promote STEM and computer science education? In what ways does your library foster literacy? Does your library implement programs for career readiness? If you see how your library contributes to these or any of the ED’s 11 proposed priorities, submit a letter by the November 13 deadline. If you send a copy of your comments to us, we will add them to our collection of library stories to share with other advocates and congressional staff.

Encouraging the ED to include additional references to libraries sends a signal to ED agencies and grant-making entities that libraries are fully engaged in meeting the needs of all learners – and that our nation’s libraries have a voice at the highest levels of decision-making.

The post Tell ED to make libraries grant-eligible appeared first on District Dispatch.

LITA: Jobs in Information Technology: November 1, 2017

planet code4lib - Wed, 2017-11-01 18:59

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Boston University, University Librarian, Boston, MA

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, AVP, Academic Technology & Director of Libraries, Brooklyn, NY

New Haven Free Public Library, IT Senior Manager (Librarian IV), New Haven, CT

Jacksonville Public Library, Website Manager, Jacksonville, FL

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a job posting.

David Rosenthal: Randall Munroe Says It All

planet code4lib - Wed, 2017-11-01 15:00
The latest XKCD is a succinct summation of the situation, especially the mouse-over.

In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Socratic Questioning: A Teaching Philosophy for the Student Research Consultation

planet code4lib - Wed, 2017-11-01 13:00

In Brief

Socratic questioning, the act of asking questions in order to prompt critical thinking and reflection, expands the boundaries of librarianship by borrowing from the fields of philosophy, pedagogy, and psychology. When employed during the research consultation, Socratic questioning establishes a cooperative relationship between librarian and student that empowers the student to take agency over the interaction. Engaging learners not only academically but emotionally encourages them to become more deliberate and cognizant as they articulate their research need. This paper demonstrates how reference librarians can adjust interactions with students in order to encourage, empathize, and engage with these learners.

by Shannon Robinson


Socratic questioning is the process of asking questions to prompt critical thinking and reflection. The research consultation is an opportunity to integrate this practice into librarianship through learner-focused, engaged conversations with students. Employing this method, the librarian relinquishes the role of expert or gatekeeper and uses deliberate verbal and visual language to establish a cooperative relationship that empowers students to take agency over the interaction. This technique involves learners academically and emotionally, encouraging them to become more deliberate in their research process. Socratic questioning is especially helpful for students whose dominant learning styles include visual, kinesthetic, and interpersonal. These learners’ needs often go unmet in traditional reference encounters. This consultation model enables students to gain the confidence needed to independently formulate and navigate their research processes.

In this article, I examine the research consultation through the vantage point of a Socratic questioner. I provide an overview of how the method is used by clinical therapists and teachers and outline what this method looks like in the research consultation. With examples from my own practice as a liaison librarian, I offer concrete ideas for how reference librarians can adjust their interactions with students in order to encourage, empathize, and engage these learners.

The Student Research Consultation

A consultation is defined as a meeting in which people discuss a problem or question (Merriam-Webster). A research consultation is pedagogically constructive because two experts cooperatively work to find solutions. The conversation is viewed as a dialogue “wherein the librarian assumes the more empowering role of partner as opposed to information guru” (Doherty 107). Dialogue differs from conversation in that it can unbalance one’s perceived understanding of a topic and drive one to further inquiry (Chesters 13). Dialogue during consultation inherently transforms the research process and thereby the outcome. Understanding that collaborative learning is essential to student engagement, hooks considers dialogue integral to engaged pedagogy (43). Students are able to actively monitor their learning process and recognize their ability to control that process (Eckel 17).

By framing the reference interaction as a consultation, academic librarians support students’ abilities to answer their own inquiries, rather than finding the answers for them (Elmborg 459). In this student-centered model, the librarian and student approach the interaction as a team (Tuai). Through dialogue they “construct together a clearer picture” of the research need, a picture that could not have been singly created (Nardi and O’Day, emphasis theirs, 87). This approach to reference services encourages librarians to employ a cooperative learning model, acknowledging that while the librarian is an expert in search strategies and resource evaluation, the student is the master of the research need (Mabry 43).

The in-person research consultation is recognized as an optimal mode of one-on-one instruction that complements classroom-based information literacy practices (Gale and Evans 90). The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) acknowledged the significance of face-to-face interactions by revising their Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers to articulate the differences between in-person and remote reference services (Weare et al.). RUSA’s decision to distinguish between face-to-face and remote interactions should not be taken lightly. While there are now many forms of virtual research assistance, there is a valuable role to an in-person consultation, particularly for students who learn best when directly engaging with others (Cardwell et al. 98). Students appreciate face-to-face interactions because they allow for collaboration through focused, expert-guided dialogue (Magi and Mardeusz 612). Merrill et al. call this “guided learning by doing,” an excellent description of student engagement encouraged through active learning (316).

Some students will independently request a research consultation while others are required by their faculty to meet with a librarian. Often, students ask for a consultation after their own attempt to find and evaluate sources yielded little. They may arrive for the meeting feeling frustrated and concerned that their research topic is invalid. Self-motivated students, when prompted, readily engage in dialogue while others, hoping for a quick resolution to their research problems, are caught off guard at the encouragement to actively participate. However, by engaging in dialogue throughout the reference encounter, all students learn that it is essential to the research process (Dewdney and Michell 62). The librarian encourages students to return to their point of initial inquiry that steered them to their topic. When students are driven by curiosity, learning will follow.

Socratic Questioning

It is implied through the philosopher Plato’s writing that Socrates would ask his pupils carefully crafted questions in an effort to get them closer to the truth through their own examination of a subject. In describing Socratic education, Woodruff affirms that “nothing is more important to this kind of education than the resources that learners bring to it” (14). A teacher asks questions with no clear implication of correct answers, encouraging students to process and critically think about the productive use of information and come to their own conclusions (Hunkins 4). Because the teacher’s questions prompt students’ observation of the complexity of knowledge, they recognize that the teacher is modeling good questioning techniques and that their responses to these questions help them articulate problems and consider different solutions. Students embrace these solutions because they feel that the ideas are theirs, from conception to conclusion (Woodruff 19). This metacognitive activity “enables students to be autonomous learners, empowering them to control their learning” (Hunkins 19).

Socratic questioning is also used in psychotherapy, however there does not appear to be a unified approach to employing the method (Carey and Mullan). In cognitive therapy, Socratic questions “are used to clarify meaning, elicit emotion and consequences, as well as to gradually create insight or explore alternative actions” (James et al. 85). Overholser states that the contemporary application of systematic questioning in psychotherapy is “a cooperative exploration” that encourages clients to reconsider a point of view or suggest new approaches to a problem (“Systematic Questioning” 67). He states that Socratic questioning is not only a method of gathering information, but encourages incorporation and analysis of many types of information (“Systematic Questioning” 69).

Socrates advocated for a one-to-one teaching encounter so that teachers engage students individually, making the research consultation an apt library service for employing this method (Woodruff 36). Additionally, because psychotherapy is often a one-on-one relationship, the use of Socratic questioning in this setting may be examined for possible application to the research consultation. In cognitive therapy, this process of collaborative exploration is articulated by Padesky as four stages of questioning: asking informational questions to which the person knows the answers; listening, particularly to hear emotions and unexpected answers; summarizing the dialogue and sharing knowledge as it is discovered; and synthesizing by applying the new information learned from questioning and listening (5-6).

The connection between the psychological and pedagogical applications of Socratic questioning is clearly demonstrated by comparing Padesky’s four stages to Graves’ six question types developed to assist students in their writing (107-117). While he does not refer to these questions as Socratic, they are expressly within this methodology. Graves recommends opening questions that are conversational and easily answered by the student (108). Following questions enable the instructor to learn more about the student and writing topic, listening carefully and reflecting on the student’s answers (108). Process questions and “questions that reveal development” are those that will help the instructor understand the student’s current progress and stumbling blocks (108-109). Basic structure questions focus on the topic and developing context for that topic (112-114). Lastly, for the student who is too confident in their research ability, the teacher can ask “questions that cause temporary loss of control” for the student (116).

Both Padesky’s and Graves’ series of questions fulfill McTighe and Wiggins’ definition of essential questions. That is, they are open, “intellectually engaging,” require reasoning, move toward “transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines,” provoke further questioning, require rationalized answers, and may be recurring (3). These questions also align with RUSA’s Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, especially listening, continued open inquiry, and asking follow-up questions (Weare et al). In particular, the use of open questioning is encouraged because it allows users some control of the conversation, “with the freedom to unfold their stories in a human way” (Dervin and Dewdney 509).

The Socratic philosophy of teaching is not without critics, but it is valuable as a tool to structure conversations between librarians and students. By using this method of questioning during consultations, students are encouraged to focus on how and why they are finding sources and then they begin to understand the research process, becoming more deliberate and cognizant in their search (Schiller 47). Socratic questioning requires students to challenge and disrupt preconceived notions, consider new information, and synthesize and analyze not only the information sources but their own information behaviors (Hunkins 149). Furthermore, it demonstrates the librarian’s role as non-expert, as facilitator and partner. The method exemplifies librarians’ desire to empower, encourage, empathize, and engage with students as novice researchers. It models a practice through which students confidently start independently planning, navigating, and managing their own research processes.


Socrates considered his students “partners in the search for knowledge,” not in an effort to belittle his own intellect, but to empower students to demonstrate and improve theirs (Overholser, “Disavowal” 289). This is addressed through an educational lens by Stover who recognizes that knowledge and expertise are connected to power and authority (277). Librarians collaborate with students to develop and execute information-seeking processes while also teaching them to independently discover and critically evaluate information sources. Yet, to the student, librarians are seen as authorities, gatekeepers who provide access to necessary information. We must recognize hierarchy “while at the same time showing that difference in status need not lead to domination or any abuse of our power” (hooks 114). Therefore, at the very beginning of the consultation, it is important to establish a cooperative agenda that recognizes librarian authority while empowering the student guide the interaction.

An easy step to modify our greeting to be considerate of the whole student is to ask “how are you today?” In an interview discussing her life after the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg commented on the unintended harshness of “how are you?” because this seemingly simple question can overlook and undervalue a person’s true feelings (Shontell). While Sandberg was speaking directly about people’s concern for her after the loss of her husband, for reference librarians adding “today” to our greeting “how are you?” indicates to our students that we recognize their whole being and their life outside of the classroom. It also signals to them to reflect on where they are and why, in the present, bringing their attention to the time set aside for research and consultation.

Another common introductory question a reference librarian asks a student is, “how can I help you?” The intention is to express that availability, service, and interest are focused on the student, yet the question feels invasive and self-centered as the focus is on me and what I can do. I struggled with this linguistic problem until reading @FeministaJones’ August 2015 Twitter thread regarding white “allies” reaching out to black activists of the Black Lives Matter movement. When offering help, she suggests we ask “what kind of help do you need?” rather than “how can I help you?” Outside the context of her Twitter thread, this was a moment in the development of my own use of language with students. Asking “what kind of help do you need?” places students in positions of power to determine how the research consultation will best support their needs. Rather than telling students what the problem is, the librarian encourages students to articulate and fully understand the issues that prompted the consultation (Leonard).

Since I began phrasing my opening questions as “how are you today?” and “what kind of help do you need?” I have found students are more reflective, pausing to consider why they requested the consultation and how an information specialist may be able to help. Often without further prompting (or, if necessary, I ask probing or elaborating questions), students will answer this question by telling me about the assignment and how they chose their research topic. In articulating what help they need, students begin describing their feelings about the research process and what made them decide to reach out.

The tone of the research dialogue is set by these initial, introductory questions. The Socratic method relies on the student’s current understanding as a point of departure for discovery of new ideas (Schiller 41). The librarian should begin the reference dialogue by asking the student to talk through what they already understand about their research topic and the research process. This builds the student’s confidence, allowing them to recognize the knowledge and authority they bring to the research consultation. Taylor states that these answers “form the context of readiness” of the student (“The Process of Asking Questions” 394). Though these answers tend to be lengthy and nonlinear, they provide the necessary information to devise a search strategy and approach to the remainder of the consultation.


Socrates never considered himself a teacher because this indicates great knowledge (George 385). The Socratic method in psychotherapy refers to this state of being as disavowal of knowledge and requires the therapist to disregard the role of expert (Overholser, “Disavowal” 284). That role falls to the client, who is experiencing the problem and therefore holds the necessary information to solve the problem. Disavowal of knowledge has three parts: “intellectual modesty, a genuine desire for knowledge, and collaborative empiricism” (Overholser, “Disavowal” 288). From a teaching perspective, hooks asks us to be open minded and “willing to acknowledge what we do not know” (10). According to Stover’s view of the non-expert, this is not denying our authority or knowledge; rather, as teachers, we seek to build relationships with students “based on mutual respect and a desire to learn through conversation” (277). In order to learn, one must first become aware of what one does not know and asking questions demonstrates awareness and initiative to learn (Hunkins 44).

How can an experienced reference librarian approach a consultation with intellectual modesty? While disavowal of knowledge can imply that teachers already know the answers to their questions, Padesky admits that in cognitive therapy sessions good questions lead to “a million different individual answers” (4). Working as a subject specialist, I hear the same research topic again and again. But the student is different so I may ask the same questions, but expect new answers. For librarians, Elmborg states that “perhaps the hardest part of learning to teach is learning to ask questions rather than supply answers” (459). Together, the librarian and the student begin to recognize that a simple question is not necessarily simple, nor does it have a singular answer (Hunkins 32).

To encourage a dialogue of questions and unexpected answers during the searching stage of the consultation, I describe what I am doing and why. In this way, I model a process of talking or wondering aloud, expressing areas of ignorance and intellectual curiosity. As an example, if I encounter unfamiliar disciplinary language during a search, I will admit to not knowing the terms and ask the student if they have encountered the terms in class. If they do not know terms, we look up definitions together. If they do, we move forward together with this new knowledge, using the terms as search keywords. Hunkins suggests that when students see a teacher use their ideas in practice, this fosters “a feeling of joint inquiry, of cooperative learning” (214).

Because I do not assume that a student will connect their initial research need with my search process, wondering aloud makes the process explicit for them (Beck and Turner 87). Even if I am well informed on a topic, I allow students to move through a phase of discovery, recognizing that not only will this help them learn but it impacts my own understanding by broadening my perspective to include novice scholars’ points of view. Narrating my search strategy encourages students to also wonder aloud and ask pointed questions so they better understand the complexities of the search process. When a possible source is found, we examine it together and I ask for their thoughts, guiding them through an evaluation of the source. Graves states that such conversation “provides the mirror” for the student who “needs to hear and see himself” in the research process (109). As I make my process known, step by step, I provide students with a concrete model that they may later independently employ.

Not unexpectedly, this process takes time. “For students to think, they need time to raise questions about what they encounter and then to query their questions so they recognize the question’s centrality to thinking, to make meaning” (Hunkins 15). Hunkins refers to Mary Budd Rowe’s notion of wait time; if students are provided ample time to answer, their responses often demonstrate critical and variant thinking (208). However, it is unlikely that students will come to the research consultation in a slow-thinking mindset. This is because, as Berg and Seeber describe in The Slow Professor, “the corporatization of universities…has led to standardized learning and a sense of urgency” (8). Coupled with feelings of anxiety and frustration from the research process, students welcome the opportunity to slow down, wonder aloud, and reflect on not only their research, but also on the classroom and other academic experiences. Allowing the time and encouragement for students to reflect on the reasons they are engaging with a librarian demonstrates empathy and holistic support for students.


In replying to questions about their research inquiry, students will include in their answer how they are feeling about the topic and the research process as well as concerns about time management, outcomes, and grades. Students not only consider their methods and progress but consider personal interests, values, and emotions (Hunkins 36). hooks reminds us that even if we choose to ignore students’ (and our own) emotions, “it does not change the reality that the presence of emotional energy over-determines the conditions where learning can occur” (160). Paying attention to emotions in this context is an example of “caring with” others, rather than “caring for” (Chesters, emphasis hers, 134). Caring with, Chesters states, “motivates participants in a dialogue. This aspect of care thinking [leads to] care for others, and care for the topics that students deem worthy” (135). Asking how a student is feeling about the research situation establishes motivation and temperament and provides the librarian with an answer to the “why” of the information need. Understanding the student as a person, rather than as a reference inquiry, shapes the search strategy.

In the past, during a reference dialogue I would ask “do you have any questions?” Recognizing that students may be unable to articulate their needs as questions, I then shifted my question to ask, “how are you doing?” However, both questions can be answered in one word, usually “no” or “fine.” My intention is to understand how this meeting is going, how our practice of questioning, searching, and wondering aloud is affecting the student. Now I ask what I actually want to know, “how are you feeling?” While this can be answered by a student with one word, it often is not. The student hears in this question an intention to know them fully, not just by their research topic. Two answers I have received when asking about feelings demonstrate the effectiveness of this question. In the first example, after demonstrating a keyword search in a discovery catalog and sorting through results, I asked the student how she was feeling. She enthusiastically stated that she felt great. She saw the thousands of results seemingly related to her topic. Then she noted that there are too many results and she was overwhelmed. The student wondered if she should entirely change her research topic.

There is no question in this student’s response, yet reference librarians are able to pinpoint questions related to information overload, filtering results or redefining keywords, and evaluating sources. Instead of asking the student to articulate questions about narrowing the scope of her research or determining the best sources for the topic, I asked her to describe her current emotive state and I used that descriptive answer to deduce the questions the student didn’t yet have the vocabulary to ask.

In a research consultation with another student, my question regarding feelings received an honest answer. The student said he was actually a bit distracted from the task at hand, finding resources for his thesis. He had a job interview the next morning and was really nervous. He had not been very focused on the thesis, even though the literature review bibliography was due later that week. Being a student is only one aspect of a very complicated person. In that moment, this student was trying to be present and engage with me but another part of his life took precedent. His answer was an opportunity for me to restructure our interaction to be more in line with his current situation. I empathized with him and said I would understand if, later in the week, he may not be able to recall information learned during our consultation. We wrapped up the consultation sooner than expected but having outlined next steps for when he was ready to revisit his thesis research. I provided means for getting in touch with me later in the week and encouraged him to contact me again. “By introducing the language of ‘feeling’ to the interaction, one can express both recognition and acceptance of the student’s feelings and the significant impact those feelings have” (Anderson 1).

Often students will apologize to me for “ranting” about their research experience or how life seems to impede their academic success at every turn. Many students will say “thank you for listening.” One of the reasons the face-to-face research consultation has not been fully replaced by virtual reference is the clear attention to and recognition of a student’s emotive behaviors. Magi and Mardeusz found numerous benefits cited in the literature of the in-person research consultation including the importance of visual cues and creating an environment for the librarian to express empathy and curiosity through collaborative dialogue (606). Their research supports these benefits as they note that students who had just finished a consultation felt restored confidence and inspiration (613). The conversation with the librarian “helped relieve their anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed” (614). Inquiry into the student’s feelings throughout the consultation indicates a desire to build rapport and shows an interest in the student as a whole person.

Librarians should also share feelings during a consultation, establishing “the groundwork for forming an alliance with the patron” (Quinn 189). Taylor notes that one reference librarian trait important for successful consultations is empathy (“Question-Negotiation” 183). George also encourages reference librarians to talk with their students about their feelings regarding their research topic and, in doing so, inform the user of our own knowledge gaps, which aligns with disavowal of knowledge (385). But what is even more important than asking about feelings is listening to the answers. Referring to Stover’s position of non-expert, librarians must be “intuitive and reflective practitioners” (285). This requires careful listening and interpretation of verbal and nonverbal cues. He concludes, “perhaps expertise in reference librarianship is related more to ‘emotional intelligence’ than to traditional notions of intelligence” (286).

Extended Engagement

Socratic questioning may leave a student with more questions and perspectives to consider, with many “inquiring journeys” ahead (Hunkins 151). It is not merely solving problems but teaching others methods for autonomously doing so (Padesky 4). As the reference consultation is coming to a close, the librarian must be confident that the student is capable of independently moving forward with the research process. It is likely that a student feels successful immediately after a research consultation, but how will they feel once they are on their own?

Ross and Dewdney suggest that every reference transaction end with a clear follow-up question that implies the patron may return for further assistance (161). “What will you do next?” or “how will you reach out if you need additional help?” are deliberate questions that ask the student to reflect on the entire research process, rather than this one step, the consultation. Graves considers these process questions; that is, they makes the student reflect on their research method and not just the outcome (109). Within these questions is the acknowledgment that the research conversation doesn’t have to end with the current encounter. Secondly, it recognizes that whatever hurdles the librarian and student jumped together, there will be more in the timeframe of this research project. Asking a student at the end of an encounter, “how will you reach out if you need help?” requires them to consider next steps.

In my subject specialty, art and design, I often take the next step with the student. Because print books are one of the best sources in these disciplines, we continue our conversation in the stacks, pulling books by call number and serendipitous discovery. Like thinking aloud during the search process, verbally articulating how I am finding and evaluating books provides an opportunity for modeling good research behavior (Beck and Turner 88). Context reinstatement psychology is also useful here, as the physical activity in the stacks will help students later in recalling processes and conversations (Moody and Carter 390). The time in the stacks not only provides an opportunity to demonstrate how to browse and evaluate print material, but also evidence of a successful reference encounter for assessment purposes.

As the research consultation comes to a close, student responses to my question “how will you reach out if you need help?” illustrate that they are reflecting on the process and provide me with verbal confirmation of what they learned. In one consultation, I sent an email to the student with links to the resources found together. When I asked about reaching out if she needed more assistance, the student said if she had any more questions she would reply to that email. Another student remarked that my contact information was on the subject guide and that he could also see when I was on reference chat. A third undergraduate felt certain she would not need more assistance with her research for a particular project, but said she would contact me again soon to discuss another assignment with which she was struggling. A graduate student remarked that she was meeting with her thesis advisor the following week; she had learned so much new information during our consultation that she predicted she would need further assistance after meeting with the advisor and would likely get back in touch with me then. While none of these students would likely need a full research consultation again, they left the consultation recognizing that their work was not done and that they were welcome to reach out again.


In clinical psychology, therapists using Socratic questioning are considered “more empathic, more warm and friendly, more honest and sincere, and more collaborative” (Overholser, “Self Improvement” 549). Research in the educational field shows that teachers’ questioning increases student learning and impacts thinking processes (Hunkins 18). In our discipline, Stover reports that user satisfaction with reference inquiries center on interpersonal skills rather than right answers. Factors including expressed interest, active listening, empathy, and collaboration are all reported by library users as signs of satisfactory service (Stover 289). In particular for students, “they are not simply completing their homework; rather, they are becoming better students” (Schiller 53). Hunkins echoes this notion, confirming that, through questioning, students see how the inquiry process they are practicing connects to their lives outside of the classroom (5).

Since employing the method, I have found that my research consultations are longer because students are engaged, curious, and responding willingly to me listening and reflecting with them on the research process. Socratic questioning encourages students to challenge their own thinking structures, to disrupt them, contemplate alternatives, and consider consequences to the alternatives. Questioning makes students judge the worth of their positions and assess the value of new positions (Hunkins 149). As a librarian, I am successful when students succeed; in the words of Socrates:

“Some things I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know; – that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power” (Plato).

The Socratic method stems from a passion for learning (Woodruff 27). This passion, when modeled by the guide, can shift students’ perceptions of their learning. Not only will they value the process, but delight in taking ownership of it.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Sara MacDonald and Stephanie Beene for early draft feedback. Many thanks for the insight and support from reviewers Eamon Tewell and Annie Pho, and publishing editor Sofia Leung.


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