Rick Stoddart is an associate professor and education librarian at the University of Idaho. Rick holds an MLIS and MA in Communication from the University of Alabama. He also has an Ed.D. from Boise State University where his dissertation reported on a research project leading a group of librarians through a critical reflection curriculum. He has co-edited a forthcoming book from ACRL Press on autoethnography, a critical reflective research methodology. Rick’s research interests include evidence-based librarianship, strategic thinking, and exploring the intersection of librarianship and learning. Rick strongly believes in the potential of writing as discovery, collaborative inquiry, creative thinking, school libraries, and empowering others. He is teaching a class for us next month for the first time (this interview was conducted in October 2017), titled Exploring Librarianship through Critical Reflection. He has agreed to do an interview here so that readers can learn more about him and get a sense of what will happen in his class.
Rick, thanks for agreeing to this interview.
I am happy to speak with you.
I’d like to start by asking you to say a bit about yourself and how you became interested in this topic.
My long and winding story with the topic of critical reflection goes back to graduate school. I was working as an academic librarian and taking graduate classes in the evening working toward my Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. In one of the courses, we were asked to do this intense and challenging reflective technique drawn from Curriculum Studies called currere. The professor wanted us to focus on education and teaching but I wanted to focus on librarianship and I did. I must say, initially I wasn’t a fan of reflection or currere. I thought the whole idea of self-examination was distracting from learning about all the other things I needed to know to be successfuly librarian. During the whole currere writing assignment I was frustrated and angry — and that emotion came across in my final reflection paper. However, when I got to the end of the reflection, I realized that something had changed. I acknowledged that my anger wasn’t at the reflective process that currere was asking me to do, but at myself — at my current role in librarianship. It was through this critical reflective process I was better able to connect to why I am a librarian. This initial critical reflection experience was very powerful and moving for me, so when it came time to undertake my dissertation, I decided it would be interesting to see if this process was meaningful for others. Spoiler alert — it was. That is also why I wanted to teach this Library Juice Academy class to see if sharing some of these critical reflection methodologies, experiences, and exercises might translate into an online course.
Can you describe the course some?
Sure. The course will include an exploration of a few critical reflection techniques such as autoethnography and currere. We will do some reading of various examples of reflection that are library-based and outside libraries. We will also do some writing. I think the best way to understand how reflection “works” is to do some reflective writing yourself. My intention is to give a basic survey of critical reflection but also to engage the students in the class with how critical reflection might inform their own practice of librarianship.
Could you explain what autoethnography and currere are?
Well, those are some reflection methodologies we are going to explore more deeply in the class. The short version of each goes something like this…
Autoethnography is a “self-ethnography” — just as an anthropologist might report on aspects of a culture or society through observation, note-taking, and evidence-gathering — so too you do so with autoethnography. Except with autoethnography the foci, or lens that you view society or culture from, is the self. Autoethnography incorporates various forms of evidence such as diaries, experiences, outside literature, etc. into a form of critical self reflection writing. Autoethnography moves beyond mere nostalgic writing into a more rigorous, structured, and evidence-based reflective stance by treating the whole reflective writing process as an research-based form of writing. Autoethnography offers an opportunity to explore social issues and identity. For example, I am at the very beginning stages of a collaborative autoethnography project with a colleague around our similarly shared experiences with the academic tenure process. In this project we are going to be exploring our identities as untenured associate professors.
Currere is another critical reflection methodology drawn from Curriculum Studies. This methodology takes a temporal approach and asked the participant to write four reflective pieces. One rooted in the past, one rooted in the future, and one rooted in the future. The final reflection is a synthesis of those three other reflections. This form of guided reflective writing shakes up the participant by making them adjust their points of view to different aspects of time. Additionally, I am a fan of this technique because it requires the writer to generate three types of evidence with their first three reflections that are then “cited” in the final synthesis. It is almost like an evidence-based form of critical reflection — though the context still remains the self.
Can you give some examples of how these kinds of self-reflective practices can help librarians?
Well at the highest level — the better we are able to understand ourselves and begin to create meaning from our experiences — the better we understand our motivations and values around being a librarian — this all informs our practice of librarianship and how we interact with patrons and what we desire libraries and librarianship to be. On another level, through my dissertation project and also various workshops I have done using the currere reflection method with different groups of librarians — I have seen critical reflection have a profound effect on how librarians approach their jobs. I witnessed reflection turn people from being negative about their work to being positive. I seen it help with librarian burnout. I have also seen it help librarians and library staff connect why they do what they do. For example, after a recent workshop, one library staff shared how she was now more aware that the simple act of checking out a book to someone can change that patron’s life — that is an amazing realization — libraries change lives. Now that person comes to work thinking I am in the business of changing lives not simply shelving/checking out books. How cool is that! I think making those connections are a potential huge benefit of reflection.
The recent autoethnography book that I co-edited with Anne-Marie Deitering and Robert Schroeder showcases how reflection can inform library practices from instruction, research, tenure, leadership development, gender/race issues, and fitting in at work among other areas. I believe reflection can offer a fuller picture of librarianship and as that picture becomes clearer the better librarians we can be in all aspects of our practice.
Well, I hope your class is a big success, and we can chat again about the experience of teaching it. To finish up, is there anything else you’d like to say to readers here?
I am very excited for this class. I feel like I am a student as much a guide for the class as I always learn something new as we explore critical reflection together as a group. I am often very deeply moved by some of the results that happen during and after the reflection process. There often are meaningful experiences that people uncover that help shape not only their own perceptions of librarianship but also inform my own library practice. I am very interested to see how all this will play out on the Library Juice Academy platform — that will definitely add a new wrinkle. This should be a very interesting and inspiring experience. Looking forward to it!
I’m looking forward to it as well! Thanks for the interview…