The Pack Horse Librarian

Rolling up my sleeves, Jumping on the horse, Ready for the ride
Fall Reads


“Lorine the Librarian”

“Lorine the Librarian” — such was the title of one of the thousands of threads in the MODPO MOOC class I’m scrambling to keep up with. I had no idea Lorine Niedecker was a library assistant for a couple of years up in rural Wisconsin, right before the Depression hit and she was laid off. (photo above from:

Here’s one of the poems we read of hers:

   advised me:
      Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
      and condense

No layoffs
   from this

Enter the MOOC

Klari Reis’ Petri Dish Art ::

At Cal Poly, there is a huge lecture hall called the Business Rotunda. Everyone knows the Business Rotunda. Its distinctive spherical shape seats upwards of 300 or 400 students per class.  When I was a student, I avoided the Rotunda like the plague.  Large classes nannied by TAs meant less learning, I’d been told.  As it turns out, I ended up taking two classes in the Rotunda: political science and US history.  I later became a TA for the professor that taught the political science class, a job that I loved and that taught me a ton.  The history class is among the most memorable classes I’ve ever taken in my life. So much for loathing the large lecture hall.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I’m a student in a lecture hall that dwarfs the Rotunda by a long shot.  In the space of my Massive, Open, Online Course (MOOC -hard “c” – for short), there are some 30,000 students clambering/clamoring to learn. Today, the Modern Poetry class I’m enrolled in opened its doors. While the user interface is simple enough, things, are, well, a bit awkward and unwieldy, for me right now at least.  Case in point: I accidentally “subscribed” to the introductions feed and immediately had two hundred email updates that began “Dear Colette, So and So has posted in blah blah blah.” Oops. Forums and posts and strings and threads about the first poem we are to read — Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility” — are growing faster than cultures in a petri dish.  There’s no way I’ll be able to keep up with the massive explosion of text.

I’ll heed Ms. Dickinson’s advice here, though, and proceed, for we are dwelling in a space of  possibility, I’m sure.  From the introductions I did read, I learned that there are students from every walk and climb and age and corner of the earth. They’re excited and eager and now they have access to, and the attentive and encouraging ear of, U Penn scholar Al Filreis.  Like the experimenters and innovators that sought to stretch the stays of traditional, narrative-based poetry, MOOCs are about to challenge our restricted notion of what a classroom means. If my past experience tells me anything, I have every reason not to be scared.

Pathfinder: Sarah Cohen, Associate University Librarian, Cal Poly’s Robert E. Kennedy Library



I read a lot about librarians in my spare time. Two things that I have learned from this hobby? 1. librarians often have awesome, unorthodox career paths and 2. the diversity of different types of librarians and what they do is both astounding, and inspiring. When I read about different librarians, I remember that it’s quite alright to travel off the beaten path. Often, though, I forget what I’ve read, or what I’ve learned and return, all too quickly, to what I know. So, I’m going to use this blog to jog my memory from time to time. I think I’ll label these types of posts with the word “pathfinder.” Here’s one librarian whose “path” has me looking forward, and also to my past (Cal Poly is my Alma Mater): Go Sarah! 


I have to say that I’m just plain giddy about so many things this semester.  I’m starting my third term of library school, and ramping up my course load to two classes from here on out.  I’ve also enrolled in two MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) — modern poetry (through UPenn) and introduction to computer programming (through Carnegie Mellon).  I plan to write about my MOOCs in a subsequent post, but, quickly here: there’s something of the expedition-esque spirit in this new wave of open course offerings that tells me not to miss the boat at this particular point in time. Furthermore, if I am to form an opinion about this fad, trend, game changer, new landscape, or whatever it is, I feel obligated to experience it first hand.  Thirdly, I plan to help revive the digital humanities project — Beardstair — that I started working on last semester. Lots of great thinking and collaboration has happened around this project, and I know we’re ready for the next steps. Finally, I’ve been approved to spend three hours of my work week tutoring as a writing consultant at the learning and writing center on the campus where I work.  Integrating such work into my job as a library assistant (and hopefully a librarian one day) has been a long time goal of mine, and I am ecstatic to see it finally come to fruition.  I see this opportunity as my first tiny baby step into full-fledged embedded librarianship — a concept that makes me think of the mission and history of pack horse librarians — and I owe the writing center and my supervisor at the library a great deal of thanks for helping me to make this happen this semester.  It’s going to be a wild few months, but I’m ready.  See, here’s my game face (with a some crazy frames I tried on at this awesome frame store in the Mission that had hundreds and hundreds of frames to try on):



These boots were made for book-ing.

I love wearing these boots to the library that I work at in San Francisco, especially when they have a little mud on them from a weekend spent at my parent’s property in Petaluma. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about great librarians: They aren’t afraid to get their hands (or boots) dirty.

Back to Work, Back to School, Back to Groups: Personal Skills Assessment and Teamwork Post

According to the Library of Congress, "This poster was created by one of the thousands of artists who participated in the Federal Art Project (FAP) during the Great Depression."

The Online Readiness Assessment from San Diego Community College tells me that “You scored above 45! You are ready for online learning!” Ok, then!

More so than the SDCC ORA quiz, I really liked the “Is Online Right for You?” slide in this module. Whoever wrote the six bullet points on that slide could not have been more concise and clear. I’m confident about the last three bullet points on that list – I like working independently, I’m very comfortable with technology, and I like a challenge. The first three bullet points on the list are ones I know I’m going to have to work on, though. My organization skills are at times stellar, and at times, not so great. Likewise, I’m generally self-motivated and have strong time management skills, but those also tend to wax and wane. I’m not worried about keeping up with online discussions every day. In fact, I’m worried I’ll log on too many times for no good reason when I should be writing my final papers! I’m confident I’ll complete the readings, and finish smaller assignments, but I know from experience that the longer projects and papers will be challenging for me. If I am more systematic than I have been in the past about these things, hopefully I can create some habits that make things run more smoothly towards the middle and end of the semester when these larger projects tend to be due. In order to be more consistent, I plan to use some of the tips that this unit suggested. For example, I will set up a regular time every day to devote to reading and logging on. And I also like the idea of purchasing a large calendar to map out assignments so that they are very visible somewhere at home. I was somewhat surprised to read that online classes take more time than traditional classes. I see that now – constructing thoughtful posts and responses takes much more time than simply raising one’s hand in class!

Thinking about the way I work personally was a good activity to engage in before thinking about the way I work in groups and teams. By now, I’ve worked on many team projects, some small and some large, some academic and some professional. I’ve learned about teamwork “on the job” so-to-speak. Ken Haycock’s lecture named a lot of the experiences I’ve had. The “Forming (Orientation), Storming (Dissatisfaction), Norming (Resolution), and Performing (Production)” stages are certainly stages I recognize, but now I have names for these stages, and will remember, as Haycock suggests, to be more cognizant of these stages in new team projects. As Haycock states, “If you know these stages, it’s easier,” and I think those are great words of advice. Rather than skip stages or rush through them, I like the idea of acknowledging and working through them. I also like Haycock’s suggestion that “someone be responsible for helping the team move through these stages” – while teams I’ve been on always seem to choose a secretary or recorder, choosing a team leader isn’t something that most of the teams I’ve been have done. Or perhaps a team leader or project leader is designated, but doesn’t understand the stages or doesn’t want the job. Some other things I liked about Ken Haycock’s lecture: his encouragement to “put it on the table” and to have “courageous conversations.” In fact, I think he repeated the phrase “put it on the table” several times throughout the lecture. Haycock discouraged side-conversations and conflict avoidance, stating: “Bearing with the problem is the most destructive way of dealing with team dynamics.” In short, good teams communicate, communicate, communicate respectfully and earnestly until the job is done.

Speaking of great communication, Enid Irwin’s lecture was informative and fun! Now, while I know I’m not the “silent” type that Irwin discussed in her talk, I know that I have to resist being the “the control freak, the team hijacker, the person who has to do it all!” I’ve become a lot better about this in my old-ish age! I liked Irwin’s reminders about “attitude and planning,” and her suggestion that teamwork is always a learning opportunity and an opportunity to mentor someone else. I know that I have benefited from the mentoring I’ve received while working on teams.

In conclusion, the lectures in this module underscored that teamwork is challenging. As Haycock and Irwin stressed, however, with a positive attitude and some key skills, teamwork doesn’t have to be a bad experience. In fact, teamwork can be rewarding and get the job done!