Category Archives: Library Instruction

Is the ‘Reference Desk’ Student-Centered? (Guest Post by Melissa Harden)

Over the last ten to twenty years, academic libraries have experimented with different reference services models (tiered service model, roving reference, etc.) and desk configurations (unified service point, separate desks, no desk at all). The goal has been to improve user experience while also using the librarian’s time more efficiently. But even when new ideas for services or physical spaces are implemented, some libraries still refer to these services and desks by an old name: “reference.”

We often talk about student-centered learning in our instruction, and we aim to design user-centered physical and virtual spaces. Which leads me to a key question: Is calling the reference service point a “reference desk” taking a user-centered approach? We have long been reminded that we should avoid using jargon when communicating with patrons, including on signage. I would argue that the term “reference” slips into jargon territory.

But what other word or phrase best communicates what we offer? Reference work has changed over the years, and we’re now spending very little time on basic questions and more time on helping users grapple with big ideas and concepts related to finding, using, and creating information. However, some users may not know that we can help them navigate the more complex stuff. The term “reference” doesn’t seem to communicate it very well, either.

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Filed under Education, Guest Posts, Library Instruction, The Library Game

The Language of Learning

A few weeks ago, I had coffee with my talented colleague Robin Katz, and we talked about teaching things, just like you might expect. I was struck then, and in a later co-consult with a faculty member, how Robin talked about “learning goals” for library sessions, and how that language choice really seemed to open the door to seeing librarians and course instructors in collaboration about the library session.

Now, of course, for those precisionists among us (I see you), there is a difference between “learning goals” and “learning outcomes,” and what we usually actually mean when we talk about the library session is outcomes, BUT:

  • I learned long ago (and probably many of you did too) that people get a bit less excited to talk to you when you start talking in the language of assessment, so I usually ask questions like, “What do you hope your students will be able to do after the library session?” instead of using the word “outcome.”
  • There’s just something about the word “goal” that really resonates: It’s aspirational, and encourages us to try new things. It gives us something collaborative to work toward, together.

And in a conversation with an instructor, it seems to me that the precise definition of terms doesn’t matter–it’s the outcome of the conversation that is valuable (see what I did there?).

Since that coffee, I’ve started incorporating the language of “learning goals” into my discussions with course instructors, and I think it’s making a difference. When I go back to plan my class, I do return to thinking about “outcomes,” but that’s for my own personal use.

All of this is just to say that I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the language that we use to describe what we do, and how we do it. Have you had any experiences like this, where a language change seems to have made a difference? I’d love to hear about it!

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher

“Learner-Centered Pedagogy”Book Now Available for Pre-order!

Dani and I have been relatively quiet about this, but we have a book coming out from ALA Editions, and it’s now available for pre-order.

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Here is a short synopsis of the book’s first chapter from the introduction, which gives a sense of the core thesis of the book in broad outline:

The overall thesis of this book is that learner-centered pedagogy involves taking seriously the idea that who we are as people matters in the context of learning. We’ve organized the book into six main chapters; each chapter builds on this core idea. In the first chapter, we introduce a working definition of learner-centered pedagogy drawn from the education literature, counseling psychology, and previous work on learner- centered teaching. We follow the pioneering “person-centered” vision of humanistic psychologist and educator Carl Rogers in placing empathy as central to humanistic education and therapies, by placing the concept of empathy at the heart of learner-centered librarianship. We therefore pose, “What is it like to be a person learning something?” as the central question of the book, which we partially answer in each of the following chapters. Finally, we reframe information literacy to be an explicitly learner-centered concept that involves learners using information to think well about what matters to them. This definition of information literacy will inform the practical strategies suggested in the rest of the book.

So there it is: essentially we aim for a “person-centered” approach to teaching research grounded in empathy, by which we mean that the central question for learner centered librarians to consider is, “What is it like to be a person learning something?” For example, the first chapter considers the educational and psychological research on “What is it like to be a person learning something from a motivational perspective?” It turns out that there’s a ton of empirical evidence on questions like this. So we consider:  What does the empirical research say about what makes people want to learn something, and, given this research, what concrete strategies can we use as information literacy educators to tailor our instruction to learners’ motivational needs?

Thus, our goal is to help librarians help learners use information to think well about what matters to them by providing theoretical and practical tools librarians can use to facilitate learning that places the learner’s own experience at the center of our teaching. Subsequent chapters consider different elements of what it’s like to be a learner, e.g., from a cognitive standpoint. As we fill out our picture, we’ve tried to present an entire learner centered approach to teaching info lit that’s not only based in the empirical evidence about learning, but also fundamentally grounded in the nature of what it means to be a human being.

I’m extremely pleased with the book, and look forward to it being available.

Let us know if you have any questions; we’re happy to answer them.

The book is available for pre-order via ALA’s website and you can also pre-order the book from Amazon. It looks like it should be out by June 22nd.

 

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

Librarian in a Strange Land

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I’m teaching an introductory STEM class using a lesson plan that I’ve used approximately one billion times before, asking students to located a scientific study based on reporting in the popular media (shoutout to my awesome colleague Cynthia Cohen for first introducing me to this idea). Each quarter, I switch up the article so that it’s current; this time, I choose one about how consuming chili peppers can potentially help you live longer. In this class, we looked at two reported pieces: one from The New York Times that was a bit light on details, and one from The Olive Oil Times that included a surprising amount of evidence from the study. I’m hoping to complicate the idea that source type is a foolproof heuristic for quality, expecting that the students will claim that the NYT is a better source because…it’s the freaking New York Times.

We begin our discussion by looking at the NYT piece. “What do we know about this publication?” I ask.

“It’s not reliable,” one student says. “You have to be careful because it can be biased.”

This catches me by surprise. I ask the rest of the class, “Do you think the New York Times is a reliable source?” The majority shake their heads. I’m taken by surprise (not only because we’re specifically talking about peppers here): In every instruction session that I’ve ever led, sources like the New York Times are held up as gold-standard sources, basically the next-best thing you could get to a peer-reviewed scientific study. And, today, suddenly, it’s not.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, with “fake news” becoming an everyday part of our cultural lexicon, Danah Boyd publishes a piece called “Did Media Literacy Backfire?“, where she posits that, as a culture, we have done too good a job of encouraging people to question information, especially information that does not jive with their personal experiences and networks. Boyd writes, “Media literacy asks people to raise questions and be wary of information that they’re receiving. People are. Unfortunately, that’s exactly why we’re talking past one another.”

I read this piece, and it feels right: My social networks are echo chambers, and when I see postings from the other end of the political spectrum, I doubt them more and more quickly than those that implicitly align with my worldview, ultimately true or not. I hear and participate in conversations about how social media is so distressing these days, and my corner of the Internet gets more and more homogeneous as those people who don’t agree either fall silent or unfriend. The echoes amplify, but I barely notice, and I have trouble imagining that there could be an inverse version of my world, but of course there is.

I appreciate the irony that I am validating the conclusions of this post on my own experiences.

One way to understand information (and media) literacy’s goal is to create wary consumers of information. In some ways, this project seems to have been a resounding success; in others, not, as this skepticism tends to come out more in certain contexts, and not at all in others. The project of information literacy feels like success in small ways (e.g., “My students can find peer-reviewed articles!”), but feels like failure once writ large. What happened?

My hypothesis is that we all took the concept of “evidence” (and, consequently, “good” information being rooted in evidence) for granted. And now, thanks to world events, we discover that a concept that we implicitly thought everyone understood the same way… well, we didn’t. And now we have to face that.

So what do we do now? In an analogy that seems more and more apt by the day, librarians and educators must be Vergils, leading learners through an informational hellscape. And to do that, we can’t rely on our old tricks, like CRAAP, because they presume an agreement about meanings of terms like “reliability.” We’ll have to break down these concepts, and build them up together toward a shared meaning. This is going to require empathy, and collaboration with our educator colleagues because this can’t be done in a 50-minute one-shot–it’ll have to happen over years, with consistent reinforcement, and librarians can’t own it alone. It’s going to need us to advocate for spending our efforts on more challenging material, like why someone might want to find a peer-reviewed study in the first place. If we live in a world where people question everything (or everything that doesn’t align with their worldview),then let’s help them think about the questions they’ll need to ask to interpret those sources.

Every morning, I wake up and am not sure how I will find the world. I question things I thought I knew (Sure, CNN is sensationalist, but is it really “fake news”?). I wonder if the work I’m doing will have any impact. I don’t presume to know how learners will respond to questions now. This new world requires humility.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher

Libraries and Critical Thinking: No Better Time Than Now

It is a depressing time to be both an American and a person who thinks that facts matter. We have a President who denies the reality of climate change; claims that performing a study into whether voter fraud occurred is in and of itself grounds for concluding that voter fraud occurred; and, of course, prefers “alternative facts” [sic] when the way the world actually is turns out not to be in his liking. Donald Trump’s world is a zero sum game where if you’re not a winner you’re a loser, and there’s no grey area between terrific and disaster. And this is, like, the first week.

But though Trump is as pernicious an enemy to critical thinking as we’ve seen in quite some time, this current state of affairs provides librarians with an opportunity to (re)establish ourselves as educators whose primary business is helping learners distinguish fact from fiction. Carl Rogers once said that when doing research “the facts are friendly.” I can think of no better credo for the information literacy enterprise, and no better message that we could hope to deliver to our students.

Librarians, I’ve always believed, are in the very business of evidence: we teach learners how to use reliable information so they can construct their beliefs based on the best evidence available to them. Whether helping a student find an article in a database; learn how to cite something in MLA; or write an annotated bibliography, all our efforts boil down to helping learners base their beliefs on the evidence.

The present situation affords us a unique opportunity to use our creative powers to make this expertise explicit, and help both students and other campus faculty see our value in the realm of critical thinking. There are any number of ways to do this that fall squarely within the realm of librarianship. And the best ways, in my opinion, will be lessons that maintain our neutrality in the face of politics and and our allegiance to the facts, whatever they may happen to be. Facts are not political, no matter what this, or any other government administration may prefer you to believe.

 

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Uncategorized

LC vs. Dewey?

Question for academic librarians: As a reference and instruction librarian, do you prefer the LC or Dewey classification systems? I mean this specifically from the student perspective: do you find that one or the other is easier for students to understand?

For most of my time working in libraries, I worked in libraries that used LC, but I’m now working for the first time in an academic library that uses Dewey. And my entirely unscientific, anecdotal sense is that students find Dewey easier to understand. It just seems to me to make more sense to them (I wonder if the explanation for this is that the fact that most letters don’t correspond to the actual letters of the subjects in LC (e.g., P isn’t Philosophy is kind of weird to students and Dewey doesn’t have to overcome that).

Thoughts based on your experience?

 

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Filed under Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

Congrats to Alex Carroll!

Huge congratulations to my friend and fellow UNC SILS library school alum Alex Carroll for   his award from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the MLA

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for Professional Excellence by a New Health Sciences Librarian. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving librarian or a better dude. Next Pappy on me when I see you brother.

Students of the game, we passed the classes. Nobody could read you dudes like we do.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes, The Library Game