This post is, in part, a follow up to my Embarrassing confessional: I am the faculty we complain about post of about 18 months ago, in which I tried to analyze my professor-job from the perspective of my librarian-job. In that post I said,
“Maybe, just maybe, when I revise my Intro class in a year or so, I’ll get around to adding that library project.”
Having put that in print, when I had the opportunity to revise said intro class this past spring, I put my money where my mouth (keyboard) was and reached out to the library, requesting a library class session in the fall semester. The planning process was a bit bumpy around communications, and as a librarian myself I had to really rein in my “this is the way I would do this” and let my library do things their way – a way which was more one-size-fits-all than my (possibly overzealous) ideal. There was some tailoring to subjects in my course, but it was far from a unique, collaborative model of library-classroom instruction.
I sat in on my class’ library instruction session and found myself shockingly critical of it. First of all, it was in a classroom rather than a computer lab, which I know cuts down on distractions but also makes the lecture more abstract and less engaging. I didn’t find the presenting librarian very enthusiastic, and although he did come across as competent, he wasn’t able to answer a student question about Boolean defaults ( my language, not the student’s) in a particular search interface he was teaching.
After the lecture portion, the students were released into the library to complete their assignments, but the computer lab was too small and crowded, so they had to triple/quadruple/quintuple up on computers, effectively turning this into a group project. Some of my students, who presumably knew the routine from other classes, had brought their own laptops and completed the assignment during the lecture.
I left the lecture feeling kind of uninspired and less than thrilled. I figured that next time around I’d just create my own, more course-integrated, library assignment.
HOWEVER, the feedback from students has been much more positive than I anticipated. While one or two students complained over having done basically the same assignment in multiple other classes already, to some extent that’s okay (I mean, if a third-year student is taking a 100-level class, you have to assume there may be some repetition). However, the majority of students told me they found the session either helpful or very helpful in preparing for their research projects, and since I wasn’t the one teaching the session I don’t think there was too much disingenuousness in those responses. After my unsatisfying past attempt at presenting my own professor-facilitated library skills in-class lecture, I definitely see the value of having someone the students perceive as a Librarian-Expert present the library skills workshop, and just reinforcing it in class with my professor hat firmly on my head. I’ll reserve my judgment on effectiveness of this year’s library skills session until I see the final research papers, but unless I randomize a cohort of students and compare research results (hmm….that’s a thought!) it’s basically all anecdotal data.
This experience has caused me to sit back and reflect a bit. I’ve never worked full-time as an academic librarian in a University Library. I’m one of those fairly-newly-minted-MLIS upstart whippersnappers who pours energy into my endeavours and strives for creativity and engagement all the time. However, maybe that’s not always totally necessary. I mean, I need to do this to stay engaged in my work, but maybe it’s okay for some of my peers to present in ways that are not the freshest all the time, if the methods they’re using work pretty well and are sustainable over time.
As you can probably tell, I’m struggling with somewhat-conflicting instincts here: being constantly critical vs. bring unquestioningly supportive of peers; relying on the tried-and-true vs. constantly striving to be fresh and engaging. While I still want to try to work to further customize the library session for this class, both to more specifically address the issues I see students having (e.g. scholarly vs. popular sources!!!) and to be more different from the library skills sessions they may have attended in other classes, I’m a tentative convert, and plan to offer the library skills workshop, in the library, again next year.