Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of posts profiling the iSchool’s Library and Information Science faculty. Check out previous 7 Question posts with R. David Lankes, Renee F. Hill, Jill Hurst-Wahl, Jian Qin, Marilyn Arnone, and Barbara Stripling
Besides the School Media students, most iSchool students (not just LIS students!) encounter Dr. Ruth Small in her class on Motivation – IST 617: Motivational Aspects of Information Use. I’ve been vastly curious about their work with boredom or sensation seeking behavior. As information professionals, understanding the why and what of our users is incredibly valuable. To give you a taste of how good this class is, I’ll remind you that she was nominated for a WISE 2015 Instructor of the Year Award for it!
“Dr. Ruth,” as she is affectionately known to students, not only is the founding director of the Center for Digital Literacy, but she also has some incredible ongoing projects I think you should know about. Project ENABLE provides free training for librarians worldwide on delivering services to students with disabilities. Now she is working on a new IMLS funded study, with Professor of Practice Marilyn Arnone, into how to spark creative thinking for students in grades 4-8.
All this to say, take her class and enjoy the interview!
(Questions answered: What is your headline? What is your claim to fame, or in what area do you have bragging rights?)
KM: Which Social Media do you prefer (If no social media, why not?)
RS: I prefer Facebook. Through Facebook I have been able to reconnect with high school and college friends and especially with my former students and colleagues. I love hearing about all the great things they are doing in their libraries and universities.
KM: What is the one app you couldn’t live without?
RS: Well, I live in Arizona so, by far, Skype is my favorite app (Android / iPhone). Skype allows me to communicate “face-to-face” with not only my students and faculty colleagues at SU but colleagues from other institutions, grant partners from my different projects, and, best of all, my family, particularly my little granddaughter in New York who makes me laugh out loud every day.
KM: What is your favorite local hangout?
RS: When I’m in Syracuse, I always find at least one night to grab dinner with friends at Arad Evans Inn in Fayetteville. It has such a relaxing, elegant, and homey atmosphere and the food and service are always fabulous!
KM: What was your aha moment, when you knew you wanted to dedicate your professional life to the information field?
RS: I have had a couple of professional lives (and aha moments) in the information field. My first was when I was looking for a career path in education, after leaving my K-12 classroom teaching career to have my children. Once I was ready to re-enter the work world, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I went to a career counselor who gave me a series of tests and they all said I should be a LIBRARIAN! I had never thought of librarianship as a career but the minute I heard that, I immediately loved the idea and, literally within days, was enrolled in my first course in the MLS program.
My second aha moment was when I had completed my Ph.D. and was looking for a job in instructional design (ID). Out of the blue, a professor I knew from the iSchool called me and asked if I would like to apply for a faculty position there. At first, I said “no” because I had my mind set on an ID job but he convinced me to go for the interviews. Up until then I had every intention of going back to my search for an ID job, but when I met all of the great faculty at the iSchool, I left saying, “THAT is where I want to be!!” and the rest is history, as they say.
KM: What do you think makes the iSchool LIS program different from all the others?
RS: Besides the outstanding, collegial faculty, I would say the spirit of innovation that permeates our school. I have had ideas (e.g., the Summer Institute and the first distance program) that I have taken to various deans over the years and every one of those deans enthusiastically supported me in bringing my ideas to reality. The iSchool, itself, is a wonderfully innovative environment in which to work!
KM: What is the craziest (most positive) development you see actually happening in the LIS world?
RS: Of course, I’m loving the way school, public, and academic librarians are embracing the notion of innovation and entrepreneurship in their libraries. I’ve been working in this area for almost ten years; right now, funded by IMLS, we’re working with a group of 20 school librarians nationwide who are doing amazing things in their schools, converting their libraries into spaces where kids can act on their curiosity, experiment with ideas, work on bringing those ideas to life and discover new ideas. We are training these librarians to be innovation mentors to motivate, teach and support their students, particularly those who have no other adult mentors in their lives.
In my research on young innovators, I have found that a lot of young kids with fantastic ideas never get to act on them because there is no one to encourage and help them to express their ideas, be creative thinkers, take risks, solve problems, and see the positive side of failure. I believe librarians are exactly the right people to fulfill this role and it makes me so happy to work with many who are actually doing it in libraries across the country.
KM: What was your favorite part or moment of graduate school? (proudest, most fun, etc.)
RS: I loved every aspect of my Ph.D. program in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation and the faculty, administrators, and students I had the privilege of working with and learning from throughout those years. But the greatest experience I had during that time was as the two years I served as graduate assistant to Burton Blatt, the Dean of Education at Syracuse. Burt was a real hero in the field of special education; he was truly “larger than life.” Working alongside Burt, reading his papers before he published them, editing his 52-page resume (10 pt. font, single-spaced) and listening to his wonderful stories that always ended with an important life lesson, enriched my doctoral studies in ways that cannot be measured.
Burt was my inspiration for our Project ENABLE (Expanding Non-discriminatory Access By Librarians Everywhere), which has attracted more than a million visitors and trained thousands of librarians worldwide in providing effective library and information services and programs to people with disabilities.
KM: Bonus question: What gets your endorsement this week?
RS: Recently, I re-read a book I bought several months ago called “Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World” by Suzie Boss. I like it because it doesn’t propose that technology is the driving force behind innovation (e.g., build a makerspace and kids will innovate) Rather, the author contends among other things, innovation and design-based thinking are teachable skills that should be integrated with the general curriculum, that the process of innovation is as, if not more, important than the product, that innovation requires flexible time and space, and that technologies should be viewed as tools for facilitating the innovation process. Sounds to me like she’s describing librarians and libraries.