Category Archives: Library Instruction
Is a question we’ve been thinking about over here at Rule Number One for a real long time now, so we’re pleased that the press release for the UK edition of our book Learner-Centered Pedagogy touches on these issues. An excerpt:
More than ever, librarians are required to possess pedagogical expertise and are being called upon to design, implement, and assess robust evidence-based reference and instructional practices that contribute to student success. In order to achieve this, librarians must know how to teach information literacy skills that go far beyond one particular library context to facilitate lifelong learning. In addition to the traditional information expertise of the library professional, today’s librarian must also master evidence-based pedagogical practices that can help make learning stick.
Learner-centred Pedagogy offers librarians concrete strategies to connect with learners at all levels. The book covers cognitive principles for organizing information literacy instruction, how to establish rapport and build learners’ motivation, questions to keep in mind for inspiring autonomous learning, the science behind information overload, and a balanced framework for evaluating specific educational technology tools.
Klipfel and Cook said, “Our goal in this book is to introduce readers to a practical, evidence-based vision of learner-centred pedagogy that helps learners develop the skills required to use information to think well about what matters to them. We hope that librarians, after reading Learner-centred Pedagogy, will feel more prepared for the changing job market’s increased focus on evidence-based instruction, have more confidence in adapting their skills to the robust teaching and learning environments of today’s libraries, and be well-prepared to facilitate learning environments that result in lifelong learning.”
We don’t have any autographed copies, but if you want to send me yours, we’re happy to personalize it for you, as I’m sure my cat would love to chew on the corner of your copy like he already did on mine.
Great Articles in Library Science: “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers”
Our friend Alex Carroll recently published an article with his North Carolina State University colleagues Bertha Chang and Honora Eskridge that I think is really great and wanted to draw our readers’ attention to. The paper, “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers,” outlines a novel way that their team of STEM librarians has been able to embed themselves in live, authentic research situations at engineering students’ moment of information need. Rather than waiting for the engineering students at NC State to come to them, these librarians engaged in a learner-centered outreach project where they actually joined the research work groups of engineering faculty and students, thereby allowing them to assist with research questions students had in real time. I highly encourage you to read the entire paper, as I think it’s inspiring for how subject liaisons can work with their stakeholders in dynamic, learner-centered ways.
Though there are many things I think we can learn from this article, there’s two points that happen to strike my own fancy; both transfer to lots of contexts aside from those specifically discussed in the article. One of the things I think is most interesting about the article is how clearly it demonstrates the openness and willingness of faculty members to collaborate with librarians on novel approaches to connecting with students for the purpose of facilitating successful research experiences. Over the years I’ve had many experiences, either hearing things anecdotally or having other librarians say to me directly, something to the effect that their experience with faculty is that they aren’t interested in substantial pedagogical support from librarians aside from the usual one-shot on pointing and clicking. For example, early on in my career I had several colleagues tell me that all this pedagogy stuff I was talking about was well and good – it’s interesting and all that – but faculty won’t want to hear it. This was, quite literally, the exact opposite of my experience to that point and it usually only took expressing a basic interest in pedagogy, collaboration, and evidence-based approaches to research instruction in order to initiate pretty robust campus collaborations.
So I really was interested in the authors’ statement that initiating this quite substantive collaboration was much less complicated than one might think:
Getting into research groups was surprisingly easy – in each case it simply involved asking the principal investigator, explaining why we wanted to do it, and what we were hoping to learn.
This resonates directly with my own experience. I’ve typically found that if you approach a faculty member about a teaching strategy, approach, or intervention that you think can help support and improve their students’ research – especially when you can articulate pedagogical reasons drawn from previous literature, research data, or data you’re hoping to collect that seem to indicate that this will be so- it’s exceedingly rare that they aren’t interested in collaborating with you in a meaningful way. As the authors of this paper point out, literally all you have to do is ask.
A second point I really appreciated and wanted to draw attention to is the authors’ response to a question that people are often wont to ask whenever someone presents them with a new teaching idea: “But how does it scale?”
I know this question is supposed to, like, sound smart and all, but it’s never particularly seemed that way to me, and I think the authors get at the underlying reasons for this nicely in the following passage:
One question that many will ask is, does a program like this scale? The answer is that it doesn’t, because it isn’t meant to. We do not see this program as a service — library services (instruction, access services) attempt to scale to the whole campus population. Embedding in research groups is more akin to statistical sampling or user research methods, a means of getting some data on what users are doing that can help inform decisions and policy on library collections and services. Viewing this initiative as a needs assessment, rather than a service, informed our decision to use ethnography for capturing our impact. While our ethnographic methodology does not provide empirical measurements of whether we are altering our researchers’ information seeking behavior, it captures how services can be offer through this model of engagement, while also providing us with authentic needs assessments of our communities without subjecting our users to time-consuming forms or surveys.
In any case, the primary goal of this effort has always been community building, which involves developing relationships one-by-one. To put it more plainly, relationships don’t scale [KMK emphasis].
There’s a number of things I like about this passage, but let me start by saying that what I appreciate about this passage is the idea that lack of scalibility is not synomymous with lack of quality. In fact, I think that in many cases it may actually be the opposite. I think that most good reference or instruction with fundamentally be characterized by individual encounter: our ability to tailor our instruction to a unique individual or group’s needs. For example, it takes me way longer to read a particular syllabus, read that classes’ specific assignment, and design a tailored instruction session with a unique modeling scenario for each a particular class I teach, than it would to do a generic “demo” for the class. But the former is good pedagogy that gets me invited back, integrates me into students lives, and helps me build relationships with other faculty, whereas the latter almost always bores students and makes us seem much less relevant to faculty. In other words, the demo scales, but it’s not really the kind of things that’s worth scaling. In short, I’d much rather librarians spent a ton of time doing “non-scaling” things (whatever that means, exactly) that are quality, than doing generic demos and then spending the next ten hours making a lib guide.
A second thing I really like about this passage is the importance of relationships for information literacy instruction and curriculum building. In our new book Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Dani and I devote an entire chapter to the research on the importance of positive student-teacher/librarian relationships for effective learning.
The same is true for collaborating with faculty. Just like we want to be student-centered in our practices, we want to be faculty-centered in our collaboration. That is, we want to build relationships of mutual trust with faculty members, by giving them innovative methods for helping them do the thing they care about and enlisted us to do: help students improve their research. When we can demonstrate our effectiveness in achieving this goal, it’s been my experience that we can take projects to a large level of “scale.” And my opinion of that has always been the following: as a manager, info lit coordinator, or just a person trying to teach info lit, I’d always rather devote librarians time, resources, and creative energies toward personalized teaching that makes a real difference to students, than do things of “scale” that take very little librarian time and resources but that … don’t really work all that well. So though this point is not necessarily central to the outreach done in this particular article, I think their response to this possible objection makes a very important point that is worth paying attention to.
At any rate, these are just my takes on the article – I encourage you to take a look at it. I think there’s a lot to learn from it (and a lot that ties into Dani’s previous discussion of teaching librarians as well).
This summer, my department is in the midst of an organizational transition, as we move from a traditional, disciplinary-bound reference department to a “Teaching & Learning” team. I’m excited to undertake this work alongside some really amazing colleagues (and you can bet your buttons that we’ll be writing and presenting on this process in the future), but this context is (for now) only to set the stage for why I’m thinking about the question in the title of this post.
As I’ve been thinking about what a library department of teaching and learning looks like, I’ve been considering what makes someone a teaching librarian (as opposed to a librarian who happens to teach, or a teacher, or some other category of educator). What are the qualities that are unique to this group of professionals, that position us to engage in the work of information literacy instruction?
I started by looking at ACRL’s recently released Roles and Strength of Teaching Librarians, which is pretty useful for thinking about qualities that teaching librarians need to have in order to be successful in their work. There’s a nifty little graphic in the report that shows the various roles that a teaching librarian may need to embody:
Hats off to the committee who put together this report, as it’s helped me to think through goals for a teaching and learning department, and areas where we might need to grow. I certainly self-identify with most (if not all) of these roles, but it still didn’t really help me get at the librarian part of the teaching librarian equation. Basically, if my professional identity is about being a librarian (hint: it is), then how can I view my role and strengths as an educator more explicitly through that lens?
School librarians in K-12 institutions are often explicitly “teacher-librarian” positions, and the Australian School Library Association has a nice breakdown of how those different identities play together. Librarians in these roles (both in the U.S. and elsewhere) typically are required to have training in both education and librarianship–something that academic librarians generally do not, which explains the emphasis in the ACRL document on developing competencies related to teaching and instructional design.
After sitting with this for a few weeks, I’ve come up with a few thoughts on what the specific strengths of teaching librarians might be, and I’d love to hear your ideas too.
- We understand the organization of information and hierarchies of knowledge. Basically, this is the bread-and-potatoes of the library school curriculum, and I’d argue the most important part of having an MLS. All those cataloging and metadata classes? Those ideas are transferable across disciplines, which means that we can usually figure out how information is structured in any given database (with enough time) and help people find the stuff they need with a little librarian magic. Sometimes, even people immersed in a discipline don’t quite understand how or why information is organized in these repositories. Shedding a light on that is what we do.
- We understand the pedagogy of research. On a broad level, we understand what goes into the research process across a variety of disciplines. Librarians contributing to a reference service or leading library instruction have seen hundreds of research assignments–some excellent, some not-so-good. After a few years on the job, we can spot assignment pitfalls from a mile away, because we’ve seen how a large number of people approach this process. I’d argue that even if we don’t have formal pedagogical training, most librarians have some sense of what works and what doesn’t in student research assignments. The challenge is to tease out that knowledge and apply it to our work as educational partners.
- We’re really good at asking questions about things we know very little about. A.K.A. the reference interview. Most people don’t have this skill, because it’s uncomfortable to admit that you don’t know about something and ask a zillion questions to get to the precise knowledge you need to help someone find what they are looking for. But that’s what we are trained to do as reference librarians, and we can put that skill to work in thinking about consulting on research assignments, which could lead to interesting opportunities involving the collections, or a more scaffolded assignment structure, or something equally exciting. Bonus: This is also a student-centered approach, because students might be nervous or afraid to ask questions about something that’s unclear in a research assignment, but we can use our positionality to ask those “stupid questions.”
- We continually bring a beginner’s mind to our work. Again, because that’s the basis for reference. Librarians are trained not to make assumptions, and we can use that same mindset for approaching research assignments, thinking about what students might already know (and what might be confusing), etc.
Of course, we also have idiosyncratic expertise in research tools, disciplinary knowledge, etc. based on our individual unique experiences, and I want to acknowledge those as well.
The more I think about it, the more I think that reference experience (or perhaps a general ethos of reference?) is crucial for the role of teaching librarian. I don’t know that we have to “do” reference, but many of the ideas and approaches that we cultivate in that sphere seem entirely important for teaching work.
What do you think? Are there other things that you would add to this list?
Our book, Learner-Centered Pedagogy, which has been available for pre-order for a little while, is now going to be officially released by ALA and begin shipping on June 22. And if you’re going to be at ALA annual, the ALA store will have some copies for sale.
Both Dani and I now both have copies in our hands, and we must say that we’re extremely pleased with the book. ALA took really great care with the cover, layout, and presentation of the book. We’d like to thank everyone involved, and give special thanks to our acquisitions editor at ALA, Patrick Hogan, for supporting the project, and for the high and somewhat unusual degree of autonomy he gave us over the book.
The book is something we worked really hard on, writing it mostly at night and in our free time, and it’s crazy to see something of this scope go from its initial stages to come to fruition in an actual, published book. We both really put our selves into it, and feel proud to have written an evidence based book that puts students first in our instruction and practice of librarianship.
If you’re interested in ordering a copy, you can use the following code to get $5 off our purchase if you acquire the book directly from the ALA Store:
COUPON CODe: LCPP17
I’ve gone ahead and pasted the text of ALA’s Press Release for the book below ( and if you’re so inclined you can see the whole thing here).
Perhaps the most fundamental condition of creativity is that the source or locus of evaluative judgment is internal. The value of the product is, for the creative person, established not by the praise or criticism of others, but by himself. Have I created something satisfying to me? Does it express a part of me – my feeling or my thought, my pain or my ecstasy? These are the only questions which really matter to the creative person, or to any person who is being creative.
This does not mean that he is oblivious to, or unwilling to be aware of, the judgments of others. It is simply that the basis of evaluation lies within himself, in his own organismic reaction to and appraisal of his product. If to the person it has the “feel” of being “me in action,” of being an actualization of potentialities in himself which heretofore have not existed and are now emerging into existence, then it is satisfying and creative, and no outside evaluation can change that fundamental fact.
Carl Rogers, “Toward a Theory of Creativity,” in On Becoming a Person, p. 354.
If you are an LIS instructor teaching in a library school, we wanted to let you know that if you are considering adopting our forthcoming book Learner-Centered Pedagogy as a text in one of your Fall courses, you can request examination/desk copies from ALA using the following form. The book, which is currently available for pre-order, is on time for its scheduled June 22 publication date this summer.
One of our goals in writing the book is that it could serve as a useful, up-to-date, student-friendly text for LIS instructors to use in instruction or reference courses, and we would be happy to answer any questions you might have if you’d like to get in touch.
We posted recently about our fothcoming book Learner-Centered Pedagogy, which is being published by ALA Editions and should be released on June 22nd of this year.
The book will also be published in the UK and elsewhere by Facet Publishing, the publishing wing of CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
You can now check out the details and pre-order the book via the Facet Publishing website.
The version of the book will be mostly identical to the U.S. edition from ALA, though there’s a different cover, which you can see below.
I thought this might be of interest to some readers, since I know we have many people reading who are not from the States.
About one or twice a week a student I had in a for-credit information literacy class last semester will drop by the reference desk when I’m working it and she’s studying in the library to stop and chat with me. She’s an international student living in America (and Los Angeles (God help her)) for the first time, so often we’ll not only chat about her schoolwork, but whatever issues may come up for her as an ESL student.
The other day she came by and, as we were talking, mentioned that one of her instructors swears quite frequently and that she thinks it’s amusing. She asked me what I thought about that and I told her that I don’t swear in class or at work because it can be alienating to people (though in my personal life I can barely go a sentence without saying fuck (a fact that I didn’t mention for professional reasons)).
We kind of got talking about this, and language differences between her home country and L.A., and she asked me what the equivalent swear-word was in English for a particular phrase referring to saying something not especially nice about someone’s mother.
I jokingly said something along the lines of, “Well, there’s no way I’m going to tell you but it does present an interesting dilemma … How would you go about searching for a phrase like that when you don’t actually know the exact phrase?”
Her response: “Oh! You mean like keywords!!!!” after which she began typing quickly into her laptop.
After about thirty seconds she looked up at me.
“Professor Klipfel! I figured it out.”
“Cool,” I said.
“IT’S MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!” she said.
“Very good. But what did you type in.”
“I typed in “English” “Mother” and “Bad Word” into Google. I even used your keyword chart!”
Just another information literacy triumph.
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.