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.
I think the ideal library research instructor is someone with a deep knowledge of resources AND a commitment to teaching well. I feel like I see librarians defending their territory all the time by pointing out that it’s librarians who know what we have and how to access it. And god knows I’ve seen enough faculty googling whole citations in search of full text to know that librarians need to be in those library research sessions.
But we librarians also need to admit that most of us are not trained to be teachers, many of us didn’t want to be, almost none of us have backgrounds in pedagogical theory, and a good many of us probably embarrass ourselves in classes with teaching faculty with our rickety, dull lecture styles. (I’m including myself, at least some of the time, in that last one.) When I talk to faculty who don’t bring their classes to the library, it’s often because they had a terrible library instructor who failed to engage students or course material. If you’re not a good teacher and aren’t motivated either by your self or your institution to become a better one, does it matter how much you know about JSTOR’s bells and whistles?
Also–man, that is a cuuuute kid!
Emily, I completely agree. I really wish library schools would include more instruction in, well, instruction — pedagogical theory, instructional design, teaching techniques, etc. I certainly didn’t have an inkling how much a part of my work instruction would be given that there wasn’t even a class on it at FSU’s library school!
I, too, have had to convince faculty members to bring their students to the library again after someone taught a really boring session to their students several years ago (and that’s a whole other issue — how do we deal with instruction librarians we know just don’t have good teaching skills???). I feel like it will take much more than marketing to convince faculty that we should be teaching research skills to their students — we also have to be damn good at what we do. And many of us aren’t.
I’m not surprised that the your English faculty objected to the proposal. Teaching faculty, like students, think that their info lit skills are up to it. But librarians are the ones who have both the deep knowledge of information resources and are capable of teaching info lit skills. If we object to them teaching library research or information literacy in their classrooms, they seem surprised. But of course we wouldn’t dream of teaching English or History 101 ourselves (without appropriate degrees). I suspect that you are correct – a true collaboration or partnership between librarians and teaching faculty would work better.
However, the way that modern academia works neither encourages nor rewards collaboration or partnership among faculty. Accreditation agencies do not mandate it or have standards. Nor do accreditation agencies mandate information literacy or teaching thereof. There is no universal standard or definition of “information literacy” – not even ALA does it very well.
For the most part, if a student takes English 101 or 102, he/she will get approximately the same learning goals at any institution in the country. However, “information literacy skills” or “library research” or “instruction one-shots” or whatever are presented differently everywhere.
I don’t think there will be any movement toward clarity on this issue until the accreditation agencies do so. We all are at the mercy of SACS or NEASC for virtually all other areas of our educational life; plus with state education agency standards thrown in. None of them agree on “information literacy” yet. We will still be in this muddied area of instruction until some national standards begin to emerge, along with an expectation that they will be applied universally in the core curriculum.
I like your comments about frequency of blogging. My style has changed of late, and I am not totally sure why.
Related to that concept of apology, I read this twice. And while I do not work in a university setting, I am well aware of many of the factors. I don’t think that your post has taken a twisted path, I think it is a thoughtful consideration of some of the aspects of this many-sided issue.
I would say to make the allies you can, and keep trying to reach out to faculty. I know that in some institutions it can be done with a new faculty orientation/group, and that some powerful relationships can be built there.
This is a really thoughtful post because it touches on so many issues librarians run into in everyday instruction. It is frustrating to feel sometimes that librarians want to help anxiously but keep being rejected by those who don’t feel the need to be better informed and be more efficient in their research. One may argue that therefore librarians need to market their services more widely and attract users to a library.
However, if whether a librarian can persuade a faculty member to bring in their class or not decides whether studentss will have a chance to learn about information literacy, then that only seems to reinforce the belief that information literacy is not essential to college education. No matter how strongly librarians feel about the need for information literacy, as long as the need is approved and supported by the governing bodies of libraries, librarians’ and libraries’ efforts won’t be sufficiently effective. I wonder whether academic libraries should reach out to college/university administrators as much as they do to faculty members and students.
Are you familiar with the publication Library Issues (from Mountainside Press)? Back in the May 2005 issue Bill Miller and I co-authored an issue titled “A New Strategy for Enhancing Library Use: Faculty-Led Information Literacy Instruction”. It raises some of the same issues as your post – what do we gain/lose when we turn over library instruction to faculty. We proposed that since librarians could not reach all students it was best to involve the faculty – and our primary rationale was that students are much more likely to listen to and take seriously what their faculty have to say about building research skills and evaluating information. We identified ways that librarians, though removed from the classroom, could still be active in supporting faculty and students. For example, creating instructional products faculty could use in the course to assist them in teaching students how to build their research skills. I don’t think it got much attention at the time. If you are interested in reading it (not freely available on the web) get in touch and I could probably get a copy for you.
Bohyun, I know here my Director has reached out strongly to our VPAA and the President of the University, but it seems like academic freedom trumps any sort of initiatives towards requiring information literacy instruction. Even when NEASC now has the teaching of information literacy as part of the accreditation standards (both for librarians and for the faculty in separate standards), we still have to “fight the good fight” one faculty member at a time. I have moments where I feel like what we’re doing is futile — since faculty will either value research instruction or won’t and what we say probably won’t matter much — but every once in a while I have a victory with a program or a professor that makes me feel better about continuing to market our instructional services. It’s frustrating to have to always be taking baby steps, but at least I feel like we’re moving forward.
Steven, yes, I am familiar with Library Issues (Rita Pellen had asked me to write for them when I was in the midst of working on my book), but we do not have a subscription here. I’d definitely be interested in reading it and seeing what you and Bill had to say on the subject.
I know very much who I think should teach library instruction and who should teach information literacy 🙂 but I wonder if part of the tension reflected in your examining this topic is created by conflating the two? To me they are absolutely not the same.
(Actually, I’m not sure whether I think it is useful to use the term “information literacy instruction” – I personally find it more useful to think of information literacy as a characteristic of a person or group and library instruction, writing instruction, psychology instruction, biology instruction, etc. as many of the methods that can contribute to people/groups attaining the characteristic – which I also think people can attain without any formal instruction at all.)
Reacting to some of the comments … I think the debate is not settled on “information literacy” – not because we can’t come up with a definition but because ultimately the battle is whether the term is normative/prescriptive or descriptive. Research methods investigating information literacy in the United Kingdom and Australia have tended much more to descriptive (and contextual and as-experienced) characterizations whereas in the United States we seem drawn to more normative and prescriptive conceptualizations.
I do agree though that, if we want to convince faculty that library instruction is worth class time (which is one of the most precious commodities I’ve ever managed!), we have to be good teachers. My sense is that as a profession we’re getting better but there is certainly a ways to go! ALISE/ACRL Instruction Section have a joint group related to pre-professional preparation: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/about/committees/roster.cfm?committee=acr-INSJWGC but it isn’t just about library school curricula – from the research I’ve seen it also is going to require that library administrators understand what it takes to be a good teacher (no, it doesn’t mean lecturing from a script so that there is no prep time!) and hire for it and reward it.
I’m of the camp that students should get assignment-specific library instruction on a regular basis. The “vaccination” approach to freshmen in the library is just not enough to get them to see that the library has a variety of resources… not all of which will be appropriate for every given assignment.
I think if there is a strong line of communication between faculty and librarians then the question of who should teach the course can become moot. But I have had K-12 teachers tell their students to go find ERIC and use it to research their middle school history papers (I’m assuming because it was the database they used in college, they thought it was the only one out there?) and I’ve thought that these sorts of situations could be allievated through more library exposure.
I’m still convinced that the most effective library instruction is fully integrated into discipline-specific assignments. Learning random resources and skills “just in case” seems to result in more confusion with students.
I think our expertise resides in understanding the importance of the process. My university just launched a new core curriculum and info lit, as well as 3 other sets of skills, are embedded in progressively higher degrees through four linked courses. I’ve taught in three different training ‘boot camps’ for faculty and some just do not see the point in evaluating anything but the finished product. How the students found their sources, why they chose those particular sources- some faculty (not all, by any means) are very vocal in their disagreement that these are important. They are only interested in the final paper.
We have 4 instruction librarians and nearly 10K students- there’s no way we can provide library instruction to all the classes that are conducting library research. LibGuides has been great for covering some of the gap, and I love collaborating with faculty on their assignments. But really, we HAVE to bring faculty into the loop- I don’t know any library with enough staff to do it all in-house. One avenue I’ve begun exploring is sharing IL rubrics with faculty members. Once again, they have to be willing to play in our sandbox, but so far it’s been interesting.
It is interesting to read your posts as I come from a K-12 setting as a school library media specialist turned technology teacher. In library school (MLS) we were trained to teach and we think of ourselves as teacher-librarians. Yet, the classroom teacher is not “taught” to collaborate with the school librarian. This results in a myriad of possibilities – with some teachers you work cooperatively, or in coordination, and with some fully collaboratively. However, this rarely translates into teaching a full grade of students collaboratively alongside the classroom teacher (the best way to infuse both technology and information literacy). I guess you could call the choice not to collaborate a sense of academic freedom – although to be honest “No Child Left Behind” has essentially erased many of those “freedoms” anyway.
In our realm, there is much discussion about how to divide up teaching technology skills to students along with information literacy and content. Some schools have technology teachers and in my mind library media specialists are well-equipped to teach technology skills in unison with information literacy skills. However, all are not able to do so. Some library media specialists do not choose to learn and allow others to take over this aspect of “information literacy”. For me, I choose to take a technology teacher position in my school. I knew that this postion would allow me full access to databases, programs, hardware and software necessary to teach information literacy well. While it is true that I am not in a library, I am still teaching library skills for electronic resources. As I read about your dilemma at the college level, I couldn’t help but see many correlations to the K-12 setting. I agree with the person that believes that we must work together to teach each student. We serve no one when we choose to only serve our own interests.
I’m a middle school English teacher, and I take my students to the library every Monday for lessons in library skills. Whenever I write a lesson plan, I always consult our librarian. I consider us co-teachers, and I never plan anything without involving her in the planning process.
Incidentally, we’re planning a New Moon Party for our local public library as well, and I’ve posted my New Moon party planner on my blog. Here’s the link: http://passinglovenotes.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/were-having-a-new-moon-party-how-should-we-celebrate-new-moons-arrival-in-theaters/
Librarians everywhere are welcome to steal our ideas. That’s exactly why I posted it.
[…] the Fall, I wrote a post about my own thoughts on who should teach information literacy in academic libraries. In theory, I don’t care who teaches information literacy as long as it’s taught by […]