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NITLE Summit 2010

The National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education’s Summit was held in New Orleans this year. It drew a variety of people including professors, instructional technologists, CIOs, IT professionals, and librarians. It was nice to have an opportunity to meet so many other people who share my interests in thoughtfully using technology to advance learning and improve curriculums in higher education.

I first had to pick up an award won by my good friend and colleague Gary Scudder for the work he is doing on the Global Modules Program. Following this, I presented a poster entitled Technology Leaders on Campus. I really enjoy poster sessions because they allow you to meet quite a few people and hear what they’re working on as well. You can tailor what you’re talking about to their needs and interests.

The plenary speaker was the very engaging Bryan Alexander, a fellow Vermont resident who discussed two emerging technologies in higher education: mobile computing (an awesome Prezi) and gaming. Bryan made me see some of these technologies with fresh eyes.

The following morning (and later that afternoon) I attended sessions on envisioning the future and the new fundamentals of academic support. The presenters made it clear that education is changing rapidly. This was an interesting session because they tried to envision the future in small chunks and then expand it from there. They asked a couple of questions that really got me thinking: “what assignment replaces the traditional research paper in ten years,” and “what does a tenure dossier look like in ten years?” There were a number of creative answers (I’m not gonna give any away though. What do you think?)

In the late morning I attended a session about the ERIAL project which was a massive ethnographic study of the research processes and library usage of undergraduates from five universities in Illinois. They used things like mapping journals, photo journals, and interviews in their methods. The project isn’t completely published yet, but they’re expecting more results and information sometime this summer. Using even some of these methods to better understand your students could be very interesting. A few notable conclusions they reached were that:

  • Students worry about being judged for asking “stupid” questions
  • Students are confused about what librarians do and it hinders them getting the help they need
  • Professors often play a key role in brokering relationships between students and librarians

The conference as a whole was a great experience. I met a number of bright, fascinating people, learned some things and have come up with new thoughts and questions. I’ll leave you with two:

First, education is going to continue to change rapidly, and we have to adjust with these changes. People working in academic support, especially librarians are going to have to be on the forefront of moving education into the 21st century and beyond. We need to lower the barriers to technology for professors. We have to demonstrate the benefits of such technologies, promote them and make them seem commonplace.

Second, there are lots of silos in higher education. Professors often have very specialized knowledge. People like librarians, IT staff, and instructional technologists on the other hand  have much broader knowledge.  This knowledge and their relationships across different departments can be a bridge connecting these silos together.

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An Elevator Pitch for Your Library

You have to risk making a fool of yourself

At Champlain College there is an annual elevator pitch competition. Students compete against their classmates for cash, honing their networking and rhetoric skills. They get ninety seconds to make their case in three categories: job seeking, business idea, or non-profit. I think this is such a cool idea and a useful skill to have.

Librarians could definitely benefit from practicing their own elevator pitch. Who knows the next time you might find yourself in a golf foursome with the president of the college, seated next to the mayor at a restaurant, or simply trying to convince a student about why they should use the library.

In the competition, an elevator pitch consists of four parts: an introduction, talking points, an “ask,” and a follow up.

For the introduction keeping it simple is fine. This part is about establishing who you are and developing a connection with the person your pitching.

For talking points, come up with a good list of things and then tailor them to whoever you’re talking to. Why should you use the library? Well…

  • Librarians will save you time in your research
  • It’s a good place to meet either socially or for group projects
  • We have resources tailored to your needs

You can elaborate on your talking points a bit to make a convincing case, but try to keep it to two or three points It’s important to keep your concept focused, or people won’t remember it.

Finally, you need to have an “ask” in mind. This is what you want from this person. Sometimes it could be something major, like additional funding.  But it could also just be simple like “stop by the library next week for our event,” or “here’s my card, contact me for help on your paper.” It’s also important to have a specific follow up action that you will take. “I’ll call you next week to set up a meeting.”

If this networking and pressing the flesh shtick seems a bit salesperson-ey, that’s because it is. We can’t be content to simply sit behind a desk and do our jobs. We have to sell ourselves and be ambassadors of the library. We’re in competition with a lot of competing interests so we need to build relationships, network and make people take notice of us. An elevator pitch is a good weapon to have in your arsenal.