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Teaching Library Teachers

I have an interview coming up in a few days (hooray!) and as part of the process I’ve been asked to teach a sample class. It’s a great but nerve-wracking way to get a glimpse into a candidate’s teaching style, and surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve ever been asked to do something like this for an interview. Although I used to teach quite a bit as a social sciences librarian at the University of Houston, it’s been a while. So I’ve been spending my time preparing, using my husband, The Professor, as my fake student audience. He’s one of those naturally good teachers that makes anyone in education jealous. He loves his subject area of expertise, and he’s totally unselfconscious (or at least really really adept at letting go of insecurities). His feedback has been amazingly helpful and his encouragement reminds me that teaching is just sharing stuff you know and love with others.

All of this preparation is like one big flashback to when I started my first library job at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library. I was such a green librarian with absolutely no teaching experience. Luckily I had a team of amazing teaching librarians as colleagues. They essentially offered me a 6-week crash course in information literacy instruction, making sure that I felt comfortable in the classroom and helping me find my teacher-voice. Their guidance was invaluable, and their enthusiasm for teaching was contagious. I ended up trying to find every opportunity to improve my teaching, and even wrote about my teaching journey in an article for Info Career Trends.

Naturally I was really interested in an article on Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians that was printed in the November issue of College & Research Libraries. Although not new, it was definitely new to me and well worth the read. Theresa Westbrock and Sarah Fabian recreated the 1993 Shonrock & Mulder study that examined where instruction librarians were learning the Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians set forth by ACRL and how important these proficiencies were to actual teaching practice. Although the ACRL document was updated in 2007, Westbrock and Fabian’s study showed that instruction librarians were still learning almost all of these “proficiencies” on the job either from colleagues or through individual study of teaching methods. Most of the librarians they surveyed thought that library school should be the place where they learned this stuff, but that rarely happened.

I know this was certainly my own personal experience. There was an instruction class offered by the library school I attended, but it was geared towards students specializing in K-12 school librarianship. I now think it’s strange that there is this huge gap in library school education. We all have to teach, regardless of the type of library we end up in. Academic librarians in particular need to be prepared to hold their own in the classroom. I was lucky enough to have intelligent, motivated colleagues who were happy to share their expertise with a newbie, but not every librarian ends up in such an accommodating environment.

I don’t necessarily think that one class on teaching is going to be enough to really prepare library school students for the reality of teaching in a college library, but I think that it could at least provide a decent foundation on learning theory, outcome-based teaching, and assessment. An even better means of preparation would be to develop a student-teacher program (similar to what education schools and departments do) with academic or public libraries in need of extra assistance to cover growing instruction demands. Graduate students in all other disciplines get to practice their teaching skills with undergraduate courses. Shouldn’t librarians be able to do the same?

1 Comment so far

  1. Miranda

    Good thoughts, Veronica. I, too, am puzzled by the lack of good instruction classes in library school. The one I took had potential but ended up being mostly a public speaking course. I was lucky that Indiana has an excellent “student-teacher” program in its instructional assistant positions, which I hope other library schools are emulating.

    Hope the interview goes well! I’m sure you’ll do fine, and it’s great that you’ve used it as an opportunity to reflect on your teaching.

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