MOOC-ing About

By Morag Gray, presented at LIANZA Otago-Southland Weekend School, 15-17 November 2013.

Professional Development
While there are many opportunities for professional development provided by LIANZA, Invercargill (where I live) and Southland District (where I work) are a long way from anywhere much.  The closest courses offered are usually in Dunedin, which is a 2 and a half hour drive each way. There are no trains or planes, and buses are slower than cars! To attend a two-hour session in Dunedin takes the whole day.

Budget – our Council is very good about providing for professional development, but, there is a limit to funds, and the funds have to be distributed fairly.

This particular MOOC is not constrained by location, and because it is being offered free, there is no impact on the library budget. My Presbyterian and Yorkshire ancestors would applaud.

Participants in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC come from everywhere! Each pin on the map represents a student.

…Open Online Course
The course is one paper of the MLIS offered by San Jose State University.  As an experiment, it was offered, free, to 400 librarians around the world.  I found out about it via the 23 Mobile Things, which I signed up for and haven’t completed.  The MOOC seemed like a good idea at the time, so I registered and promptly forgot about it.

In late August I received an email inviting me to visit the Hyperlinked Library site and register.

MOOC is in the air
So I set up my profile. The avatar they pulled from elsewhere – WordPress, I think. I used it there once. I could have earned a badge by changing it, but I rather like her. One day Daisy Meadows will write a book about her: “Lila the Library Fairy.”

Addicted to MOOC
Badges. You earn these for fulfilling certain requirements. Some people are more motivated by these than others.  So far I’ve earned 19. I don’t think I’ll be earning the Master Badges for assignments or for blogging!

A big hunk o’ MOOC
Badges and fairies aside, there is a fair commitment of time in this course.

  • It is twelve weeks long.
  • A new module is released each week.
  • Each module is estimated to take 8-10 hours per week.
  • A module comprises one or more lectures. Some of them are quite short, and some weeks there are two or three. Those weeks there are guest lecturers well as our usual course directors, Michael Stephens and Kyle Jones.
  • Each week there are several readings, mainly of journal articles, and extra material of interest, which may include videos and more articles.
  • All students are required to keep a blog, for reflective writing and also as a means to submit assignments.
  • There are seven assignments; students need to submit five in order to complete a certificate of participation.

Why do fools fall in MOOC?
So why did I sign up for this? There are a few reasons, including:

  • I like to know things, and I enjoy studying.
  • If I’m studying I have a good excuse not to go to parties and other things that some people think of as fun
  • It is actually an excellent way to make contacts with other librarians, from all around the world.  Part of the course is its emphasis on community, and we are encouraged to make friends and join tribes, where people with similar interests meet. The most active one I belong to is knitting librarians. You can be very involved if you like, or you can just lurk. Like most communities, you get back what you put in.
  • If I’m serious about my job I need to keep abreast of developments both here and around the world. Because of its international spread and academic focus, this particular MOOC is helping in that process, as well as giving me some tools to continue once the course has finished.
  • And then there is the registration journal. I am hoping the course content will enable me to fill in several of the requirements.

Moving beyond “Brand Books”
Ok, we’ve looked at the structure. What is the course actually about? Chiefly it is about a new model of libraries and librarianship, based on what the community wants from its libraries.

It is about the meeting challenges facing libraries today, where what libraries (and librarians) do and what people think they do, are not at all the same thing

In reality, libraries are (still) in the business of linking people with information. It’s just that now the information is less likely to be housed in a library stack and bound in boards. Librarians nowadays keep up with social media, they tweet, have facebook pages, use instagram and vine, post videos, both instructional and entertaining, on youtube…

Books are still part of the mix, but it is more important for librarians to be able to connect people with a wider range of what they need or want.

Transparency is about being open about what we do, about avoiding jargon and language that alienates people who are not in the in-group.  It is about having easy-to-read documents. How ironic, then, that the module after Transparency was on UX, which I automatically pronounced ucks. Turns out it meant “user experience.” It is now trendy to have UX librarians. I see there is soon to be a journal for it – Weave. Details are at

Kindness Audit
One of the things that Michael Stephens is very keen on is the idea of heart. He thinks libraries should strive to project a warm, human, friendly image, something we do not always do very well. He suggests that as an exercise we should do a kindness audit of our library, and in particular take note of the image our (often homemade) signage projects. At best they are amateurish and cheap-looking. At their worst they are downright aggressive.

Maker Spaces
Maker spaces are a buzz word, where people can come and make things.  Libraries are removing books and installing 3D printers and maker spaces, so members of the public can come into the library and print a new whoosit for the washing machine or design their own robot for an RPG.

Some of this is a little out there for places like Southland, where the do-it-yourself mentality has never gone away, and anyway if we wanted a 3D printer we would probably build our own.

On a more serious note, we do have services such as REAP that provide many of the services that Stephens and his colleagues promote as possible library services and I suspect it would not be beneficial to our small communities for the library to start duplicating their work.

There are things we can do to foster the maker concept however. In the last year we have had very successful knitting programmes at two of our branches, and a recent program for children on making books was well patronized.

Librarians as Teachers
Librarians as teachers is also heavily promoted as the way for the future.  There is quite an emphasis on learning theory, and how learners today are creating knowledge rather than passively receiving it as they did in the past. I have yet to be convinced of the validity of this theory.  Just because I am using technology, listening to a lecture over the internet and at home rather than in a classroom, or earning badges by completing a certain number of tasks it does not mean that I am creating anything.

In our libraries we are finding there is a need for librarians who are competent with technology – in particular e-readers and tablets, and who are patient and good at explaining their use. One-on-one seems to be the preferred option.

Our Winton branch has become a cool place to hang out place for teens, which has its own challenges, but  we have to be careful how we approach them. It is better to wait for them to ask us, rather than to push a lesson onto them that they don’t want. They get that all day at school.

Get to know your community
The most important lesson is that we need to get to know our communities.  The community at each of our branches in Southland District is different, and they are all different to those of Dunedin or Invercargill, or anywhere else for that matter. A case in point – this week we had a seminar at Winton to demonstrate Fundview and Breakout databases. I expected about two people to come. We got about twenty. Fundraising is a subject of greater importance than I realised in small communities.

We have to be adaptable. What we knew last year is not necessarily what people need to know today. As librarians we do have to be constantly learning, but not necessarily what is taught in library school.

We have to be able to change things to suit our communities and our situations. It is useless to impose  borrowed programmes onto our library without taking into account what our communities need or want.

Impeccable customer service
Good customer service cannot be overemphasized. People remember how they are treated, and they are more likely to come back if the service they receive is friendly, efficient and provides them with what they need.

Librarianship is no longer a refuge for the shy and socially inept, especially as technical service departments are being dismantled and their services outsourced.

We are doing better than we think
As we examine our services, though, we may find that we are doing better than we thought. Articles and videos seem to focus on the big, the loud and the expensive, but often what our communities want is quiet and unobtrusive. They want us to be there when we need them, and to link them to the things they want.

We are not experts on everything, but what we are good at is finding out. The key is to then connect what we have discovered with the person who wants to know it.

Course Format: Pros and Cons
Would I do a similar course again? Yes, I would.  The style of delivery makes it easy to fit the course into the week. Instead of a daunting quantity of reading and seemingly unlimited time which rapidly runs out, the course is broken up into manageable chunks.

However, a lot of the readings were by Michael Stephens, one of the lecturers on the course.  It felt to me, at times, as if he was using the course to push his own personal agenda – not necessarily a bad one, but personal nonetheless.

The time commitment is substantial, especially if you are doing all your study outside of work time. The social side of the MOOC format can be very time consuming.

However, where else do I get to study alongside and exchange ideas with librarians from all over the world ?

Bye bye MOOC
The Hyperlinked Library MOOC finishes this week. I think it was a worthwhile experience, although probably is not for everyone. I leave you with a challenge that Michael Stephens included in an article in last week’s module on writing your resume. How will we contribute to our workplaces? And how will we continue to learn?

Notes: A couple of explanations
Registration journal: in order to obtain and maintain professional registration in New Zealand, librarians are required to keep a professional development journal. In it they note and reflect upon professional development activities they have undertaken. They are required to complete a minimum of thirty activities over a three-year period.

REAP: An organisation that provides educational opportunities for adults in rural communities.


  1. Sally says:

    #Ahem. While I do share the sentiments in this post, I did not write it. Morag Gray from Southland Libraries has generously allowed me to posted her thoughts here to share with readers.

  2. Great article Morag, I too participated in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC and you’ve captured its essence well. Although I haven’t spent as much time as I would have liked, immersing myself in the content and discussions, it’s been an invaluable introduction to the world of possibilities and rich learning that MOOCs can encompass. I’m sure there will be ongoing conversations among participants.

  3. Julie Barkman says:

    Sally – I echo your sentiments – yes I would do it all over again, and yes it was an extraordinary experience linking with like minded professionals from all over the world. Fantastic!!!!

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