Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Iris at Pegasus Librarian sees the light about library research instruction:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s been that I am not there to teach the students how to find, evaluate, and use information. I tried that with a couple of courses, and it failed. Miserably.

No, I’m there to do two things: to give the students a couple of skills they need right now, and to spark their imaginations about what could be possible if they decided to make a habit of this research stuff.

When I do presentations for students, I tell them that I will have succeeded if they remember two things. First, that tools exist to uncover the information they want and need. Second, that librarians want to help them learn how to use those tools. I give the example of students who come to see me a week or two later and say, "I know you showed us how to [library thing], but I don't remember how it works," and I tell them how happy I am with that response, and I mean it. And inevitably, during the walk-around-answer-questions-hands-on-student-research part of the presentation, someone will say, "I know you just showed us how to [library thing], but I can't get it to work." And I smile at them and show them how.

It is not only for our own sake that we librarians need to relax about presentations. Students are so ready to feel dumb or ashamed when they don't pick up something right away. Being open about the fact that these tools take practice is a good first step.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Libraries, the Universe, and Everything

Barbara Fister has a good response to "Truth be Told," the latest report from Project Information Literacy. She asks questions that preoccupy my professional mind quite frequently: "For instructors, this may mean thinking hard about what the purpose of a research assignment is...What, ultimately, will students know, be able to do, and value as a result of the experience?...For librarians...How do we guide them to the best sources when most of our efforts in developing collections has been to simply make them bigger?"

Partly these questions preoccupy me because I'm tasked with things like aligning collection development with learning outcomes in an assessment plan. Partly they preoccupy me because they are enjoyable, fiddly kinds of questions. Mostly they preoccupy me because I like to know what the heck it is that I'm doing. I am responsible for a small library with a small staff and a small space and a small budget. I can burn through the available time and money at an impressive rate. I don't recommend it, though, and even if resources were more abundant, I think I'm a person who is happiest when my work is some recognizable part of a purposeful whole. "I have fun and keep people reasonably pleased" isn't a bad vision for my work, but it is not that compelling, either.