By Meredith Farkas | October 1, 2009
Don’t worry, Walt, I won’t apologize for being away and I won’t promise that I’m going to post more often (though I have a lot of ideas for posts, something has been preventing me from getting them out of my head and onto the screen).
Wayne Bivens-Tatum recently wrote a very interesting post questioning who should be teaching library instruction — librarians or faculty. This is an issue that I’ve been thinking about a great deal and while I don’t think an answer exists for every discipline or every school, I thought I’d share my own thinking on it.
We have been working on our report to our accrediting body, NEASC, since the Spring and one of the library goals that was originally written into it was for library instruction to be taught in every English 101 (AKA Freshman comp) class. Last Fall, we taught library instruction to 90% of the EN 101 classes as a result of aggressive marketing to instructors. We thought it a reasonable goal to say that we’d like library instruction to be in 100% of EN 101 courses so that the University would know that every Freshman has certain standard basic information literacy skills. It would create a baseline so that we wouldn’t have to teach the most basic aspects of library research in upper-level classes for the small number of students who didn’t have a library session in EN 101.
While this seemed innocuous enough to me and my colleagues, the English faculty asked us to strike it from the report. They objected 1) to the idea that we are the only ones who can teach information literacy and 2) to any mandate that faculty would have to have a library session as part of their class (which would interfere with academic freedom). We at the library certainly weren’t trying to say that we are the only unit teaching information literacy. Even when librarians do teach a one-shot (or even a few sessions), what students are learning in there is only a very small piece of the information literacy puzzle. The academic freedom issue is trickier and isn’t one that I have a difficult time speaking to. I assume that there must be certain standards, guidelines and requirements that instructors teaching 101 must adhere to already so that students can achieve a basic level of knowledge/skill. We always tailor our instruction sessions to what the instructor has assigned his or her students, so it’s not like anyone would be telling faculty what to teach. It’s the students who suffer because of this lack of standardization since it means that we either have to teach the same things again in upper-level classes or we skip teaching the basics in those classes and students who’d never had library instruction end up lost.
Wayne talks about a new model at Princeton in which the librarians are training the writing instructors to teach library research themselves. I can’t see that flying at many institutions where librarians are seen more as support staff than as fellow instructors with their own area of expertise. I can’t imagine most faculty here being willing to accept training from us on how to teach library resources to their students. But if they were, I certainly would be happy to let go of our instructional role in EN 101 if it meant that all students would get the same preparation.
I don’t think librarians should see the teaching of information literacy as our domain. Some faculty members are teaching information literacy and library research brilliantly in their discipline themselves and that doesn’t threaten me in the least. My Director wants us to be teaching at three levels in every discipline (for example, I teach at the 100, 300, and 400 level in the history program), but I don’t know if that is always necessary. For example, there is a criminal justice research methods class for majors. I do not teach in that class, but they still receive significant information literacy instruction from their professor. On the other hand, I have worked with a class of Junior psychology majors who had never used PSYCInfo or PSYCAbstracts. I think we (librarians AND faculty) need to worry less about what is our domain and more about ensuring that students have the skills they need to be successful in their major. It doesn’t matter who teaches it as long as it’s being taught.
But it needs to be taught well. There are some faculty members who are more knowledgeable about the library resources in their area of study than any librarian here. There are other faculty who have never used a database and still tell their students to use the New York Times in microfilm (we’ve had it online for years). The most unfortunate thing is that, in most cases, it’s the people who are very aware of our resources who request library instruction for their classes. Those who are not continue to assign their students to use only print journals and to find things we don’t even have anymore.
I struggle with how to reach those faculty members. When we get a “rogue assignment” we usually email the faculty member to either get clarification, describe the difficulty that their students are having with the assignment, or let them know that something they want their students to do is literally not possible. Sometimes that helps; sometimes we never hear back. I’ve been wanting to offer brown-bag lunch sessions on new resources in specific disciplines in an effort to get faculty up-to-speed with what we have available, but I suspect that the people I most want to reach will not be the ones who show up. I really want to provide outreach to these faculty — either to get them up-to-speed on our resources or to provide instruction in some of their classes — but I’m not sure how to reach them.
While I don’t really feel territorial about information literacy instruction, I do struggle with the knowledge that the library resources are our area of subject expertise. No matter how library-savvy the faculty member, we are always going to be more “up to date” on what we have. A history faculty member who uses our library all the time was surprised to learn in an instruction session the other day that you could create an account in JSTOR and save articles to your account. Faculty I work with frequently comment that they learned something new when I teach to their classes. I don’t know that all of us can teach it better (some of us are piss-poor instructors), but more often than not, we are going to be more knowledgeable about the library resources and their capabilities. This, of course, begs the question of whether deep knowledge of resources or teaching skills are more important, but that’s a question for another day.
Ideally, I’d like to see one of two things happen: 1) a faculty member who is very up-to-date on what is available through the library teaches his or her students about library research and information literacy or 2) a librarian teaches library research and information literacy in close partnership with the faculty member. Because what’s most important is that partnership. When a faculty member gives over sole responsibility for teaching research to the librarian, the students rarely see value in what is being taught. I’ve had faculty leave the room while I’m teaching and the students in those classes always become less engaged as soon as it happens. When the faculty member makes comments throughout the session and stays engaged in what I’m teaching, the students stay engaged, because the faculty member is indicating with his/her behavior that this is valuable and important. Ideally, I’d love to see classes team-taught, but just having the faculty member engaged in the class makes a huge difference for the students.
I must apologize for the twisted path this post has taken — it matches well my own muddled thoughts on the issue. I think so much of what the ideal is for library instruction depends on the university, the discipline, and the individual faculty members a librarian is dealing with. We can’t say “___ is the best way to do library instruction.” Even in the social sciences (my liaison area), I work very closely with one department and in another I’ve only taught one class session in two years. I don’t think there’s a perfect model that will work for every institution/department/class, but I do know that the more that we or academic faculty are territorial about our roles, the more likely it is that students will get very poor library instruction or none at all.
Like Wayne, I’m curious what your thoughts are on who should be teaching library instruction? Do you have similar power struggles at your institution? Do you have great partnerships with faculty in teaching library instruction? I’d love to hear about it. We all learn so much from hearing about the experiences of others.
And just to be totally gratuitous, here’s a picture of my biggest (and most wonderful) distraction from blogging.