Library Instruction in my non-LIS Classes

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.

-Greyson

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4 Comments

Filed under academic libraries, The Profession

4 responses to “Library Instruction in my non-LIS Classes

  1. Katie

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve been mulling over some of the same questions as I start teaching classes with research components. It’s nice to hear that while your experience may not have seemed positive in the moment, students found it helpful. It will be good to remember this when I put my own critical-hat on too tightly…. – KS

  2. willimen

    I am guessing that there is a bit of a disconnect here? You received feedback, but did the instructor who presented the session to the class ask for feedback from the students? If not, how is he/she evaluation what they are doing?

    I am guessing that at a minimum, student based feedback would reflect a need to be a little more energized and thoughtful of the delivery…

    Devon, critical eyes of peers should be viewed as being supportive of peers. Only through critical evaluation can changes be made..

  3. greyson

    Katie & Ken, you represent my 2 mindsets about this so well!

    On the Katie hand, my critical hat can get jammed pretty tightly down over my ears. It was really valuable for me to hear that this fairly rote-seeming (to me) workshop was worth my students’ time.

    On the Ken side, no, the instructor didn’t even collect feedback from the students (one of my private criticisms – I collect feedback at least 2x/semester from my students so I can closely calibrate my teaching to the specific group needs!). That said, I don’t know if students expect library instruction sessions to be interesting, so they might fill out eval forms indicating satisfaction with “boring” but useful classes. And I’m conflicted as to how much of a problem this really is.

    I also agree that critical eyes *should* be perceived as supportive of peers. Yet I’m a bit concerned over being seen as the one who airs our professional dirty laundry in the blogosphere. Sometimes I’m not sure how to offer valuable critique without people feeling like I’m shaming them individually.

  4. willimen

    Hi Greystone.. about your question “I also agree that critical eyes *should* be perceived as supportive of peers. Yet I’m a bit concerned over being seen as the one who airs our professional dirty laundry in the blogosphere. Sometimes I’m not sure how to offer valuable critique without people feeling like I’m shaming them individually.”

    I received very helpful advice about 6 months into blogging. Provide people with a vision. It is easy to point out the problems and issues which arise from the way in which people approach their work or the community. However, those same people may begin to question their approaches – not if someone points out the issues to them – but if you provide them with a vision on where to go, and how to do their work differently. It has really shifted my approach to delivering the same message – without turning myself into the Librarian Grim Reaper.

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