All posts filed under “Teaching

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What Do You Wish You’d Known About Teaching in Academic Libraries?

Next week I’m giving a short 10 minute talk to students in the University of Maryland’s iSchool, specifically those enrolled in a seminar on academic libraries. The topic for the week is reference and instruction, and I’ll be presenting alongside Zoe Fisher, in a class taught by Rachel Gammons and Benjamin Shaw (NO PRESSURE). Students are reading an essay I wrote last year about Assessment as Care, and Fisher’s 2018 Plenary Talk from CARL, Who Succeeds in Higher Education? I can talk about anything I want. I could talk about my article. I could repurpose an old talk. But like an instruction librarian I’m asking myself what would be most helpful for students in the time I get to spend with them. We’ll have time for Q&A and discussion, but what, in 10 minutes, can give them a sense of instruction in academic librarianship?

I know I’m overthinking it. Rachel and Ben are brilliant and kind and want to make this as low pressure for guest speakers as possible, but I can’t help but want to try to develop something that would have helped me get a sense of what exactly I was getting into when I took my first reference and instruction / subject librarian job. For the record, I had NO IDEA what I was walking into or what I was doing in my first year. It was all trial and error, asking questions, and trying to overcome embarrassment at making mistakes. I learned from amazing teaching librarians and I am forever grateful for their mentorship and guidance.

I gave this essay a “what I wish I would have known…” style title even though I hate hindsight speculation. I feel like it negates the importance of experience, the messiness of learning, the failures and fuck ups that need to happen so that you actually learn what you don’t know and how to do what you do better. I don’t want this talk to come across as “advice from a pro” because I’m not and is that advice ever really helpful? So where does that leave me?

I’ve been taking notes all week and brainstorming ideas and every idea feels huge:

  • Why do we teach in academic librarianship?
  • “What is valued is measured or becomes valued as it is measured” — a quote from Wall, Hursh, & Rodgers (2014)
  • Clarifying the idea of “care” in teaching
  • Being human in the classroom, aka don’t be a garbage person, aka you don’t have to be a doormat

Those aren’t 10 minute talks those are ESSAYS. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, whether or not it will be helpful to students, and what our conversation will be like, but I’m sure I’ll be revising up until the presentation, because it’s my way. In the mean time, I’d love to hear what would have been helpful to you then and what would be helpful to you now.

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What Do We Mean When We Say “Evaluate Sources?”

Like you, I am drowning in COVID-19 news and opinions. I get it from Twitter, Facebook, emails from my university and professional organizations, daily updates from newspapers and public media, conversations in the hallways at work, and signs up in bathrooms with detailed hand-washing instructions set to TLC’s No Scrubs (my fave of the hand-washing instructions, by the way).

It’s a lot. Too much really. And yet here we are. This is the world we live in.

It becomes this odd moment for libraries and librarians to once again hail the importance of information literacy and turning to “good” information and “evaluating sources.” I always cringe a little when libraries are placed into that odd position of “savior,” because libraries are institutions that are shaped by people and collections, and people and collections are flawed (myself included). We also don’t always know or agree on what we mean when we say we need to “evaluate sources,” and often struggle to teach this concept in classes. It’s a concept and practice I continue to learn about through trial and error, knowing that there isn’t just one way to evaluate an information source and therefore not just one way to teach it.

Here are a few of things I’m beginning to think we actually mean when we say “evaluate a source”:

  • Fact-Check a la Michael Caulfied’s 4 Moves, which is really about finding truthful information that you deem worthy of trust. This is where issues of bias and misinformation come into the discussion.
  • Relevance/Usefulness to a topic at hand. Is it about what you need it to be about? Is it useful to you as you seek to learn more about a topic? Does it contain the information you need to find?
  • Appropriateness to situational need. If authority is constructed and contextual, what information source is appropriate for your particular information context? Is it rhetorically appropriate?
  • Quality of the information source, which is really different than appropriateness even though they often end up conflated. You might need a scientific paper for your particular context but is it GOOD? This is where disciplinary knowledge, understanding data, and subject expertise come into play.
  • Privilege embodied within the information source by virtue of the author, topic, format, or access. When we view a source through a critical lens we also have to examine the negative space around it. What are we missing and why?

It is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the things I’ve been taking note of as I teach this year.

Then there are the things that circle around the whole concept of evaluating sources like life experiences, personal beliefs, biases, and views of the world, all of which have an impact on how people evaluate information. We’re sometimes encouraged (and encourage others) to set aside those personal beliefs and biases when encountering information, but why? Is it ever really possible? Can we instead, adopt a practice I learned about last week via the ARL LCDP program, which is to embrace paradox and be comfortable with discomfort, non-closure, and the fact that there is not always a consensus or solution.

This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is going to be a bigger research project into how we teach source evaluation, why we teach it the way we do, and whether or not it’s even possible in the kind of one-shot workshops we frequently teach. What do you focus on when you teach source evaluation? What am I missing?

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Blushing, Sweating, Stammering

I’ve been so tired lately. I’m tired of casual misogyny, tired of implicit bias that is never acknowledged, tired of intentional shit-stirring online, tired of social media threads and comments I can see coming a mile away. I find joy and energy in conversations with family and friends I love, scribbling and doodling in my notebook, breathing through a yoga pose, walking along the bayou, and remembering.

I want to start a new series that I’ll write whenever I start to feel too tired, bitter, resentful, burned out, or over it. I want to remember firsts in librarianship, in teaching and learning, in being me. I’ll start small:

Do you remember the first class you ever taught?

I do.

2007. University of Houston.
It was my first library job after working in public relations for Rice University for four years. I thought that if I could push past my introversion and general shyness (not the same thing) to lead student groups and tours, shake hands with international visitors, and chat with civic clubs then I could certainly center myself enough to teach my first class. I was a psychology and social work subject librarian and I’d spent the first few months on the job observing my amazingly skilled colleagues teach and learning from their experience and knowledge. I was all set to teach my first library class for a section of Psychology Research Methods (a course that still has a special place in my heart). My colleague Michelle was observing, and I was teaching in the same lecture hall where I gave my job talk during my interview. She’d helped my plan and listened to me practice. I’d practiced again at home, in my office, and in the classroom when no one was around. I was ready.

I was terrified.

I was a few years older that the students in the classroom (ah, to be young!). I was sweating. I know I was blushing. I took deep breaths and smiled. I introduced myself and our learning outcomes for the class. I encouraged participation. I started to do a sample search in our library catalog (because that’s how I did things then) using a volunteer topic from a student. It was a disaster. My keywords were bad. I didn’t get any results. I should have been using an article database. My brain froze and I couldn’t think of keyword alternatives, which is something we should be able to teach others, right? I can’t exactly remember how I eventually recovered. It was a long time ago and I’m pretty sure I just nervously asked for another topic and stumbled my way through that search. I doubt I inspired confidence.

After class I sat with Michelle to debrief. She was encouraging, pointing out room for improvement and growth, acknowledging my mistakes but assuring me they were no big deal. Things go wrong. Mistakes happen. It’s all about how we roll with them. Listening to feedback, letting it sit with you, and growing from it is hard, especially when you’re 26 and your self-esteem is that weird 20-something mix of external confidence and internal self-doubt.

I remember sitting in my office afterward, feeling embarrassed. But I didn’t die. I didn’t get hurt (although my ego was a bit bruised). I taught that class again, and again, and again. My approach to teaching changed, as did my style and comfort in the classroom. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to remember what it’s like to be brand new to librarianship and teaching, so hopefully this post will help me remember.