All posts tagged “library instruction

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For Those Who Enjoy Talking About IL Instruction

I’m co-chairing the ACRL Instruction Section’s Discussion Group Steering Committee this year and our big project for the moment is planning for the in-person Discussion Forum at the 2014 ALA Annual Conference. We’re soliciting proposals from potential discussion conveners right now, so…

If you are an instruction librarian who likes to talk about library and information literacy instruction, consider submitting a proposal.

It’s a fun, low-key way to share what you know about a particular instruction-related topic or issue and learn from your colleagues all at the same time. The submission form is short and available online. If you’re interested in the topics of previous discussions, you can browse past topics and digests online. Our group has also compiled a list of just some of the different discussion options that are available to discussion conveners.

We’re interested in anything library instruction related, including:

  • teaching methods
  • instruction and information technology
  • assessment
  • management of instruction programs
  • outreach and collaboration
  • research in academic information literacy
  • other topics relevant to library and information literacy instruction

Conveners present for about 15 minutes, then lead a discussion for the next 45. Fun and easy, right?

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Push Back: Creating a Teachable Moment

Pushing car

Photo by Craig Sunter on Flickr

I finally got around to reading an article that has been in my reading queue since the spring:

Meulemans, Yvonne Nalani, and Allison Carr. 2013. “Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty-librarian Partnerships.” Reference Services Review 41 (1) (February 15): 80–90. doi:10.1108/00907321311300893.

It’s an interesting write-up of a series of workshops CSU-San Marcos librarians hosted for new faculty at their institution. In these sessions, librarians focused on common misconceptions held by faculty about students’ ability to do research, the kinds of instruction librarians can offer, and the types of assignments that give students the opportunity to learn valuable research skills in a meaningful way. The impetus for the workshops were situations that instruction librarians face on a daily basis: Vague (sometimes bordering on insulting) requests from professors to visit a class to “talk about the library” or “do a library thing while I’m away at a conference” or “show my students the journals.” The approach taken by the CSU-San Marcos librarians to remedy this situation was one I think we can all replicate:

“If you do not like what is being said, change the conversation” (Meulemans and Carr 84).

That’s been my mantra for the fall semester, and I’ve tried to implement it as much as possible when I’ve responded to research instruction requests by departmental faculty. Often librarians are afraid to push back at faculty who make vague instructional requests. We’re afraid we’ll miss an opportunity to reach students or we just want to get our foot in the door with a particular department, so we agree to the “teach them about the library” session, likely to mediocre results. We’ve convinced ourselves that somehow we’re a part of this all-or-nothing game where we have to take what departmental faculty will offer us or else suffer by not getting the opportunity to teach students. This is, of course, problematic. When we acquiesce to these kinds of requests we’re not building collaborative partnerships and we’re missing an opportunity to educate our colleagues that 1) we are indeed colleagues and 2) there is a wealth of research-related knowledge we have the ability to share with students. As Meulemans and Carr note in their article, “When a problematic request is fulfilled, it only ensures that librarians will receive more requests like it” (83). We’re setting ourselves up for more generic library tours and song-and-dance sessions every time we say yes to one.

Pushing Back

In the spring I received an instruction request from a colleague who is a fantastic teacher and scholar. It was a very standard come talk to my class kind of request. My reply was a yes, but it was highly qualified yes. Instead of just accepting the request as issue, I specifically asked my colleague if she would like me to cover particular topics. I offered up a menu of sorts. The students were working on a literature review so I offered to talk about any one of the following topics:

  • how to develop a good research question
  • how to turn a research question into search terms and develop a good search strategy
  • what a literature review is (and is not)
  • how to evaluate different sources
  • how to search for books and articles using the library’s resources.

In the end, the professor was most concerned with teaching her students how to evaluate different sources, how to use non-scholarly sources without necessarily citing them in their lit review, and how do determine which sources were the best ones to use in a lit review. It was a fun class, and I got some great feedback from the professor. Months later this faculty member mentioned expressed appreciation for the instructions topics I offered to cover in the class. Without them, this faculty member believed the class would have been very generic and not as helpful to the students as the class I ultimately taught. This professor now wants to encourage colleagues in that department to take advantage of me as an instructor because of this new awareness of the research-related topics I can cover.

Will This Always Work?

I realize that the example I offer is just that: one example. In my defense I will say that I’ve been following this tactic throughout all of my fall instruction planning and it seems to be going well. It’s a nice approach to altering the approach we have to research/information literacy instruction. Rather than departmental faculty making a request and us either approving or denying it, we can turn the interaction into a meaningful conversation where we in part educate our colleagues about the type of instruction we can offer. In the end it will make for a much better session for the students and ourselves.

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My Ideal Library Classroom

Last week I was struggling with the consequences of saying yes to too many instruction requests. I should have been a bit more controlling and spaced them out a bit, but I ended up agreeing to each instructor’s preferred dates and scheduling them all in the same 5 day period. Although doing so didn’t leave me with much time to work on other projects, at the end of the week I was intimately acquainted with our library instruction classroom lab.

We’re one of the lucky ones. Although not a dedicated library instruction space, we do have a lab classroom we can use for instruction.  It looks like this:

Behind this picture is a projector screen and white board wall:

What I like about our classroom lab:

  • It’s wired! The instructor computer is hooked up to a projector so that we can share our screen while teaching, and each of the students have their own computers to follow along or work on independent activities and research.
  • We have rolling chairs. It may seem silly, but having comfortable chairs for students makes a huge difference.
  • We can schedule our sessions ahead of time using a nice online reservation system.
  • It’s small. It’s a nice intimate space.
  • We have a nice large whiteboard wall perfect for brainstorming and illustrating research concepts not related to the mechanics of resource searching.

What I don’t like about our classroom:

  • It’s not a dedicated library instruction space. This classroom can also be scheduled by Writing Center faculty, and when not in use for classroom instruction it is a 24 hour open computer lab for students. The result? Empty food and beverage containers abound, furniture in disarray, and a general dirty feeling to the room in the mornings. Giving yourself 5 minutes to tidy up before a class is a must.
  • It’s the only one of its kind. This room is used for a wide range of library instruction and books up quickly! Couple that with the fact that ALL of our first year seminar classes (the heaviest library instruction customers) take place at Noon and we end up not able to accommodate all classes in this room. We do have 3 other library instruction spaces on the 3rd floor of our building. Although they all have multimedia stations and projectors for instructors, they do not contain the student computers necessary for hands on research.
  • It’s small. For a small class, it’s a great fit, but trying to include a group larger than 15-20 students is difficult.
  • The giant table in the middle. It’s too big and bulky for the space.
  • The student computers face the walls. I can only imagine that when this was done it was to make sure that the instructor could see the students’ screens during class. Or perhaps it was just the best way to fit computers in the room. Either way, it’s ineffective. Students that are going to go off task during class are going to do it whether or their professor can see their screens or not. With this set up we may be able to see the students at all times, but the students have to stop what they’re doing to pay any attention to the projection screen or the instructor.
  • The projector screen completely covers the whiteboard (or white wall in this case). As I’m showing students a database, the catalog, or other online resource, I can’t use the whiteboard wall to illustrate a search strategy, brainstorm keywords or do any other kind of scribbling because the space is almost completely covered.

As I mentioned earlier, the fact that we have a classroom space at all is a huge benefit to our instruction program, but if someone asked my to plan my ideal library classroom it would look quite different. There’s a great discussion going on at the moment through the ILI Listserv about information literacy instruction spaces. I’ve been comparing some of what I’ve seen people write about with our current library classroom and the spaces I used to teach in at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library to come up with my ideal library instruction scenario. We’ve been given an unlimited amount of money and space has magically been carved out in our existing building without impacting anything else. The result?


  • There are more than one. We have at least two library instruction classrooms. One for smaller groups (16 or fewer) and one for larger classes (30+). The smaller class would be where we would bring our first year seminar classes and small upper level courses. The larger space would accommodate bigger classes, of course. If we had to have a third it would be a research consultation room for small groups of 2-5 students to meet with a librarian. I’m thinking we could use it for SMP/Senior thesis students who share the same advisor or students working on a group research assignment
  • The classroom space is a dedicated library instruction space. No sharing. Sorry, kids.
  • There are multiple whiteboards in the classroom. This is so necessary for teaching while explaining a point in an online resource and can also be used for simple active learning exercises.
  • Computers for all! There’s an instructor station with projector hook up and each of the students have their own up to date, working computer. Since this is my dream space, the computers are all laptops, students don’t have sticky fingers and these machines don’t disappear.
  • A working printer is in the room.
  • Collaborate work space. Instead of our oak monster, I really like the look of these learning pods at Baker College of Muskegon.
  • Multiple projector screens in the room. This way all students don’t have to be facing the same direction all the time. Also, these projector screens won’t cover the whiteboards.
  • A way for students to project their own work from their computer to a screen. At UH we had classroom management software that allowed us to see what students were looking at on their computers. We didn’t use it to police students. Instead we used it (when it worked) to share a students’ screen with the class to illustrate an effective search or an important question, or to troubleshoot an issue the student was having. It was a nice way to hand over portions of the class to the students.
  • The instructor station is small or moveable. I dislike feeling chained to a big bulky podium, but I do still need to show certain resources online. A smaller, less obtrusive instructor station would be a good compromise.

I’m sure there are other features to my dream space that I’ll think to add later in the semester, but this is a good start for now. What does your ideal library instruction space look like?