Monday, April 16, 2018

UC California Naturalist Certification Week 3

Water is life: a now familiar phrase and declaration of an inalienable right. Survival of life depends on the water cycle which ebbs and flows from ocean to sky, sky to land, land to ocean. There is no beginning, no end. The water cycle cannot be escaped but the intensity can change and by extension life will change. Catalina Island and many other regions in California are experiencing a drought which causes stress for plants, animals, and people. How do we adapt? what lessons can we learn? how do we take responsibility?

I pondered these questions and our course reading material while climbing a trail above the Nature Center at Avalon in search of a coastal prickly pear specimen (Opuntia littoralis). We had been assigned to choose a plant for field observation and I decided on this abundant, even weedy, cactus shrub. I would not settle on just any specimen though. I wanted one with a view. I found my plant only a few yards off-trail on a south-facing, rocky slope in bloom after the recent rains, surrounded by white sage (Salvia apiana), toyon (Heteromelas arbutifolia), and a sprinkling of what I learned later from a fellow classmate is silver clover (Acmispon argophyllus var. argenteus). I opened my field notebook and began to follow the method of recording my observations as outlined by our instructor and the textbook. A gentle fog moving over the distant hilltops reminded me of the orographic effect I had read about on the ferry earlier. Water on the island is valuable in any amount, even if only by way of a modest coastal marine layer.

One reason I chose the coastal prickly pear is it seemed fun to draw. Oblong and oviate, this edible, fruiting cactus has beautiful yellow flowers with dull red bruises. My notes for the day mention three pre-bloom, one full-bloom, and three post-bloom flowers. The full-bloom and a pre-bloom flower adjacent to one another captivated me and I chose to focus on them for my first drawing in my field notebook. In my naivete I struggled to name the parts of the plant. Branches? stems? pads? thorns? buds? I wrote "anatomy?" as a reminder to answer these questions. Later, back on the mainland, I encountered the plant's Wikipedia page and noticed it was in need of a citation for an entry about the dull, red hue found in the flower petals. I sought to provide a good source, as I had observed that very coloration. Digging online, I discovered the UC Berkeley Jepson Herbarium website, which confirms the flower coloration, plant anatomy, and a whole lot more. I updated the Wikipedia entry using the Jepson website information and the citation flag disappeared.

(click to enlarge photos)

How does Opuntia litoralis survive a drought? We might say it is obviously adapted to dry weather, storing water in its fleshy branches and protecting itself with spines. We learned from our text and lectures about transpiration -- the process by which plants "breathe out" water vapor as part of photosynthesis. It turns out transpiration in Opuntia only occurs at night when they "breathe in" carbon dioxide, reducing the release of water vapor due to cooler temperatures and thereby retaining some water which might otherwise be lost during hot days. It reminds me of when people walk in a desert at night to avoid perspiration. I respect this unique adaptation of cacti and succulents as a kind of wisdom.
My notes from Steve Dickey's lecture

Hydrology consultant Steve Dickey was the guest lecturer for our third week's class meeting. No stranger to the island, he discussed the unique characteristics of water on Catalina. We learned that rainstorms on the ocean are the primary source of water for the island, the orographic effect negligible, and snow extremely rare. Alluviums do not provide much water as the soil is thin and most rainfall quickly drains to the sea. As an alternative to seawater desalination and reservoirs, Dickey posited bedrock wells. He explained that even very dense rocks like granite hold extricable groundwater (which may still may need treatment). A fellow student asked if such a thing is truly possible on Catalina, to which Dickey responded yes, if properly managed. People have their ways of adapting to water scarcity too, exploring solutions we hope are filled with wisdom. 

tickled island peaks
below marine layer fog
Opuntia bloom!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

UC California Naturalist Certification Week 2

Nature centers have always filled me with fascination and wonder. Libraries have always done the same. Why do these spaces evoke such feelings? At their best, nature centers and libraries fuse knowledge, relationships, and discovery. Combined there is potential for curiosity, connection, and meaning. This is what I felt when our instructor Hillary Holt invited me into the Nature Center at Avalon's resource center library. I would have spent all day exploring its shelves had exploring the island not been on the syllabus -- something I anticipated would offer me lessons in ways no book can.

Our class was accompanied by guests who represent native peoples of Catalina, or Pimu as the island is named in the Tongva language. Craig Torres and Abe Sanchez are members of the Chia Cafe Collective and they helped us prepare for our trip into the island's interior by giving us the opportunity to refocus our cultural lenses. For example, we pondered the word "wilderness" in order to shed light on assumptions embedded in our language which, in turn, shape our reality. How might replacing the phrase "natural resources" with "natural relatives" challenge us to recognize fruit, wood, or tree shade as gifts instead of commodities? We considered the fact that many people have a fear of edible plants not found in grocery stores and were encouraged to have respect for plants we encounter: to seek understanding of their ecological benefits even if they are known to cause people harm. By taking responsibility for the interconnected, reciprocal relationships we have with nature we acknowledge we are not separate from nature. As Torres explained, in Tongva culture there is no equivalent word for "nature" given there was never meant to be a separation between the activities of people and the ever changing land upon which they lived (and continue to live).

(Cherish outside the Nature Center at Avalon)

(Click to enlarge photos)
A couple of years ago I discovered links to live cameras on Catalina. I would stream one overlooking Two Harbors and watch the morning light change while working in my windowless office. The bald eagle live cameras often provided my afternoon inspiration. This year, a pair of eagles has successfully laid an egg at Two Harbors. With any luck, visitors at the Nature Center at Avalon will be able to watch them serve rockfish to an awkward fledgling. An interpretive panel briefly explains the effort which helped reestablish and protect a population of bald eagles on Catalina after loosing all of them to the harm caused by the poisoning of surrounding ocean life they depended on for sustenance. It tells of the noble work done in collaboration by members of the Catalina Island Conservancy and Institute of Wildlife Studies to accomplish the recovery. Today, bald eagles nest every year in many places on the island and their health is regularly monitored.


In Tongva the word for eagle is 'ashaawt. For our first stop out in the island's interior, we visited the Eagle Sanctuary near Middle Ranch where Pimu resides in convalescence. She played an important role in the restoration program by serving as an ambassador bald eagle. According to Craig Torres, Tongva mythology tells of a bald eagle who attempted to break the eternal cycle of life and found it impossible because creation is an ongoing process, not a singular moment in the distant past that can be escaped. I pondered this insight as we observed Pimu in her aviary, grateful to be in the presence of a being who helps people acknowledge their power to continue to heal the island and by extension themselves and others.

In another location along the dirt road we emptied out of the van and were led to a large white sage (Salvia apiana). Here both Craig Torres and Abe Sanchez spoke of the many relationships found between people, the white sage, and other plants nearby such as California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and southern cattail (Typha domingensis). We were taught of the importance to ask permission when gathering plants for use and to make an offering in return. Sanchez then removed a thick stalk of the sage and peeled back the skin to expose a fleshy, inner stem. After extolling the antibacterial attributes of the plant he pinched the tip of the stem and ate it. The stalk was passed around for the class to enjoy and when it came to me I found it to be somewhat akin to celery yet more moist and flavorful. Later, before we walked back to the van, I plucked a strand of hair from my head and left it at the base of the sage in thanks.

(Shark Harbor in foreground and Little Harbor beyond the rock jutting out -- known as Whale's Tail)
During our outing we were also accompanied by Wendy Teeter and Karimah Kennedy-Richardson of the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Field School. From a vantage point overlooking Shark Harbor and Little Harbor they explained how we stood near the oldest native archaeological site known on the island. We learned how it is theorized to have been a very valuable location for many reasons including the ability to see migrating whales, San Nicholas Island, Santa Barbara Island, the shifting weather patterns, and to access the nearby isthmus (Two Harbors) providing quick access to the north side of the island. Craig Torres complimented this theory by noting the overlapping collaboration between land, ocean, and people in a singular place -- a non-competitive way of life in which the earth and sea are teachers, not conquerable entities.  

At the Little Harbor campground we all shared lunch around an abandoned fire pit. Abe Sanchez passed around pickleweed (Arthrocnemum subterminale) he had found growing nearby. We had the opportunity to converse freely and at one point I asked how one might view the relationship between people and plants that can be harmful, like poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). Craig Torres reminded me that some plants, while not useful to people directly, are still important to the web of life that supports everything. He also ventured to explain the sacredness of some plants like jimson weed (Datura wrightii) which are used for ceremonial purposes but are otherwise inedible. As I chewed the pickleweed its saltiness brought my attention to the sea in the distance behind Torres while he spoke -- water we cannot drink to survive and yet makes all life possible on Earth.

Our final stop was at the Soapstone Quarry near the Airport in the Sky. Here we learned soapstone was used to make bowls just like in other places on the mainland. Yet Pimu soapstone was considered of extraordinary quality. It is not known why this is so. Like so much knowledge lost to colonization, we are left to accept only clues which point to the ways of people who recognized, respected, and took responsibility for the value of the land they lived upon. We might read a whole book about this but a day spent out in the field like our class did reveals there is more to the shared experience of an eagle, a stalk of sage, an ocean overlook, a meal around a fire pit, or an ancient soapstone quarry than any encyclopedia can ever contain.

Monday, March 19, 2018

UC California Naturalist Certification Week 1

It is by coincidence the road leading to the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon operated by the Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC) is also where one finds the Los Angeles County Library branch in the city of Avalon. After arriving early Friday morning on March 16th I thought it apropos to visit the branch. Having not been there before I did not know what to expect--how big is it? is there a local history collection? is there a full-time librarian? is it open?

(click to enlarge photos)
Much to my delight the branch was open--a single room no larger than a studio apartment, very tidily arranged to maximize its physical collection. Immediately drawn to the Catalina Island reference collection, I began to browse. Among a myriad of topics (including paranormal legends of the island, books by local authors, environmental reports, natural history, human history, etc.) I found a most peculiar title about a very brief service offered via courier pigeons in the last decade of the 19th century between Avalon and Los Angeles. As only one of three hundred copies, this author-signed copy is in immaculate shape--a beautifully bound and printed book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it cover to cover. I didn't have much time to speak to any staff as they temporarily shutter the doors for lunch; I departed for my campsite near the nature center to pitch my tent and have my own meal. 

The first class proved to be all I hoped for. The location, facility, instructor, and group of cohorts are all wonderful. I seem to be the only person not affiliated with the island in any direct way. All the other students live or work on the island. Marissa Rodriguez, guest regional coordinator for the program, introduced the concept of "communities of practice" via teleconference. Christen Howell,  director of education at the nature center, provided a short in-person introduction to the concept of interpreting, mentioning the National Association of Interpretation. I am very curious about this concept and continue to ponder its connection to information literacy. 

I am also pondering the connections between naturalists and librarians. Our textbook states, "Naturalists are generalists in the best sense--cross-disciplinary, with knowledge of the system as a whole, not just the pieces .. By becoming a naturalist, you are taking a place in an important tradition of knowledge keepers ... Naturalists make the world accessible to all and bring out our interest in and wonder at nature" (Edelman 13). I also recall the quote I used by Luther Standing Bear (Oglala Lakota) in my 2014 presentation at Library Instruction West: "The world was a library and its books were stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared alike with us, the storms and blessings of the Earth." It is my goal to explore this connection intimately during the course. 

The next morning on my walk to the dock I decided to visit the library again, feeling inspired by my need to choose a capstone project for the course. I introduced myself to Morgan Pershing, library manager. Coincidentally she had hoped to enroll in the CalNat program. Alas, her schedule would not allow it. We found commonality in thinking outside the walls of a library and how to engage patrons in nature. I was elated and we have tentative plans to work together: she mentioned a program called StoryWalk which engages readers while outdoors. I am already over the brim with ideas even if it is a ship that sails after the course is over.

On the ocean heading back to Long Beach I read in my textbook about a variation on the Grinnell method of field observations (Edelman 16). It has inspired me to consider how I might develop a variation which could be adapted to keeping a journal while doing research. I might call it an "information investigation" journal where information is objectively observed and considered in terms of the observer's experience encountering it. Perhaps this can lead to parallel concepts within interpretation.


Edelman, D. S., Merenlender, A., & De, N. G. (2013). The California Naturalist Handbook. University of California Press.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

LIW 2014: Presentation Reflection

The presentation I gave (using the slides below) at Library Instruction West (LIW) 2014, hosted by Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, felt like a success. The feedback I received was all very helpful and encouraging.  Several people mentioned they felt inspired to do something similar at their colleges and this, more than anything, is what made me feel like my work was worthwhile. The other panelists during the session had material I found interesting and adaptable as well. Margot Hanson and Michele Van Hoeck's work with comics in library instruction is something I find intriguing and useful. Also, there was much to be learned from  Ann Fulton and Mary Wegmann due to their impressive management of a 5 year sustaining grant to support library student workers as mentors of the Hispanic/Latino community at their university.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

LIW 2014: Open, Sustianable Instruction

As I prepare for the Library Instruction West 2014 (LIW14) conference in Portland, Oregon I am finding myself increasingly aware of a growing body of work. People all over the country are working to increase awareness of concepts regarding sustainability in the world of academic librarianship. It's very exciting to find like minded people in the field, and I am looking forward to attending the conference with much anticipation.

There are many levels of sustainability. According to the United Nations, sustainability is "meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (see source). This is a good starting point. When we extrapolate that meaning and apply it to libraries, what direction can it take us? Sustainable buildings (LEED), yes. Sustainable programs (recycling, less paper consumption), yes. When we step away from these common and important threads and apply sustainability to library information literacy instruction things get more experimental. I'm excited to attend the sessions at LIW14 in which the presenters are experimenting with ways to incorporate concepts of sustainability for their students and their curriculum. There are so many! I'm also happy to presenting (see my presentation slides).

See the full LIW14 schedule at:

Twitter hastag: #liwest14

Saturday, March 1, 2014

LIW 2014: Here I Come!

I'll be joining the fun at Portland State University. Library Instruction West (LIW) will be hosting a conference July 23 - 25 with the theme "Open, Sustainable Instruction."


I'll post my reflections here after it's over, but for now here is a blurb for my 15 minute presentation:

Incorporating a nature tour into a Library Research Strategies course at Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut, California), my class took a guided tour of local ecosystems at the campus Wildlife Sanctuary as part of a larger lesson plan. The lesson plan consisted of four main parts: 1) Students formed five groups based on the ecological zones represented in the Wildlife Sanctuary; 2) Each group conducted research on their ecological zone, utilizing a variety of print and electronic library resources; 3) Based on their research, each group crafted informational questions which they were instructed to ask the tour guide (the “expert”) during the tour; 4) Each student crafted an annotated citation (MLA) of the tour. The lesson “set two birds free with one key” by directly connecting information literacy college students to ecology research (and it was pretty fun too).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

SCIL Works 2013: Hack Your Library!

The California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL) chapter of Southern California Instructional Librarians (SCIL) held their 2013 Works program at CSU San Marcos' Kellogg Library.

Beyond the welcoming atmosphere, great food, and well organized program, the event was very helpful to me.  There was plenty of time to network with other librarians from libraries across Southern California (perhaps 40 in attendance), some whom I had not spoken with since the previous SCIL Works.  The two Research & Practice Sessions I attended (Library Instruction Style on a Budget & Instruction Roulette), in combination with the Lighting Rounds, gave me valuable insight and tools to implement and adapt to my own instruction.

I am very happy I went to SCIL Works this year and look forward to next year. Here are my reflections of 2013:

Research & Practice Sessions

Library Instruction Style on a Budget 
(Lucy Bellamy, FDIM-LA Library)

This session covered Lucy's instructional experience in which she and other librarians dealt with a less than adequate learning environment: a lab with only a projector from the lectern computer and desks for the students.  Without the opportunity for students to research on their own, Lucy adapted an exercise from The Library Instruction Cookbook titled "The Coffee Can Appetizer."  The gist is to put representations of information resources into coffee cans that represent what is available Google vs library databases to show the benefit of using databases.  Considering the demographic of students at FIDM, fabric boxes were a big hit.  The students were divided into groups and each given a box to open and explore (see a box in the picture below).  The library instructor would then take suggestion for resources given different types of prompts for research questions and then show on the screen the ropes of searching the database for those resources. Evaluations of this exercise by students and faculty led to better funding and eventually laptops in the lab which allowed for incorporation of hands-on student searching into the fabric-box exercise.  Overall, I was happy to have attended this session because it showed a creative solution to a common issue for libraries. Engaging students with tactile, group work that over comes the dominant paradigm of passive student listeners is a way of improving library instruction.

(click for larger image)

Instruction Roulette
(Michelle Lustig, Springshare & Brena Smith, California Institute of the Arts)

This session really kept us on our toes!  We were divided into three groups to role play in 6 minute mock one-shot instructional classes.  One group member was elected the library instructor, making the rest students.  The one-shot class scenario was described to the group by Michelle and Brena and then the library instructor was given a minute or two to create a quick lesson plan.  The role-play began with the "library instructor" addressing the class and trying to explain the lesson plan to the "students."  The catch was that the session facilitators walked around the room and handed character cards to random students.  These character cards included the Sleepy Student, Cell Phone Student, Disruptive Student, and Model Student.  One of the character cards also transformed a student into the Helpful Course Instructor.  As a student in the first round (and my dean, Pearl Ly, as the library instructor),  I was given the character card of Sleepy Student.  At the point I started snoring loudly, Pearl had the class get up for a stretching session (a Kaplowitz favorite!)  In the second round I was chosen as the library instructor and  had a heck of time - not only was I handed a card that told me the imaginary class projector failed, Pearl was given the Cell Phone Student card and would not stop talking out loud in class over her phone!  I tried my best to get her to stop talking and put the phone away, but when she told me she was talking to her daughter, I suggested she take the conversation outside.  It seemed to solve the issue.  To conclude, Michelle and Brena had us recount what happened between the three groups and the strategies we tried to use for the various scenarios.  They made many suggestions of their own as well.   I recommend the collaborative notes page to see what the groups came up with.

Lightning Rounds

The Peer-Review Process as Performance Art
(Mary Ann Nuamann, Pepperdine University Libraries)

This was a most fascinating way of thinking outside the box.  Mary Ann engaged her students by having them read from scripts as characters who represent peer reviewers from open source, peer reviewed papers (like BioMed Central).  While the set up for this exercise could be a long undertaking, I think the results are invaluable.  For one, it illuminates the process of peer-reviewed papers and the complexity of authorship.  It also engages students in a way that will help them remember what a peer-reviewed process is trying to accomplish.  I would like to incorporate this into a my instruction. See Mary Ann's slideshow here:

Why Start from Scratch?
(Lindsey McLean, Loyola Marymount University Library)

Lindsey has created a goldmine of information literacy teaching tools on her LMU LibGuide.  I am going to be exploring it for my own courses and LibGuides, as Lindsey encouraged us all to do.  She mentioned the importance of be courageous enough to reach out to creators of content that require files for uploading or embedding - just email them! She has had 100% support in all her requests. What is great about the resources Lindsey has gathered (or rather, amalgamated) is that they follow ACRL Information Literacy Standards.  See Lindey's LibGuide at and her Slideshare at

Think Fast
(Chimene Tucker, University of Southern California)

Chimene introduced us to two awesome tools, Fuzebox and Twiddla.  Fuzzbox is a great way to demonstrate search strategies because it allows the library instructor to "push" their screen onto each students' lap computer (screenshare technology).  Unfortunately, this is a only available with a paid account, but could be worth it for one-shot orientations when a projector is not available or students are spending their time checking their Facebook instead of watching the "big screen."  Twiddla does not require a paid account (Chimene mentioned the educational account is best) and allows for collaborative document creation through a "Twiddla Session."  It is kind of like a Google Doc collaborative session (which was utilized for SCIL Works this year - see the web page) but allows drawing and other tools.  I hope to incorporate this tool into my library instruction.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A poem for the end of cataloging

245 12 $a A poem for the end of a cataloging course : $b for the students of Professor Richard Hasenyager and his illustrious teaching assistants / $c by Jared Burton.

Now I am shedding a tear
for cataloging that I hold so dear,
Our class is almost over
so I offer this poem as a closer

Cataloger's Desktop --
you are a tool to make our heads pop,
From rule to rule we had to hippity-hop
shouting out loud, "and ya don't stop!"

Anglo American Cataloging Rules --
printed out we must carry you on two mules,
But you gave us a good place to start
(even if your name is a little weak at heart)

Machine Readable Code --
to you we sing many odes,
For being the bridge between the modes
of card catalogs and OPAC nodes

Functional Rules for Bibliographic Records --
you challenge us with conceptual checkers,
Work, expression, manifestation, item
it's better to join 'em rather than fight 'em!

Library of Congress authorities --
from you it be subject headings we seize,
Library of Congress classification --
you are the key to co-location

Resource Description and Access --
teach us how to never ever transgress,
You've provided so many more alleviations
than nixing pesky abbreviations

And as we head off into the future
(those of us who finished this class),
we know that cataloging is the suture
(so let us be glad that it is passed!)