Ask Tangognat: information literacy and faculty collaboration

Meredith Wrote:

I read your last post about all of the classes you taught last semester (zoinks!) which now has disappeared.

Yeah, I pulled that post because I was worried that it was a little whiny, and when I redid my stats this morning after a good night’s sleep I realized my numbers were off slightly. My course load wasn’t quite as dire as I originally thought even though it felt pretty bad at the time 😛

I wanted to ask about the type of classes you’re teaching. Are they mostly general library workshops (using databases, distinguishing quality sources, etc) or are they course-based, assignment-based, etc?

They sort of fall between the two. I teach a couple classes that are drop-in workshops, but the bulk of my classes are for first year students who are working on a research paper assignment. Some of the assignments are very general (write an argumentative paper about a current controversial issue) and some of the assignments are more subject specific (gender issues, examining popular culture, etc ). These library workshops are scheduled individually by instructors who choose to bring their classes into the library. The content of these courses is usually very basic, covering topics like using the library’s web site, basic boolean searching, how to find a journal article in the library, etc. Even though the library content is basic, it usually isn’t so basic for the students, many of whom haven’t really used an article database for research before.

I’ve read so many studies that say course-based or assignment-based info literacy instruction (preferably with the cooperation of the professor) is more effective, but I don’t really know how many schools are really doing that. I certainly never took a class that involved any library instruction in my life. How open are faculty to collaboration in info literacy instruction?

I guess it depends on what you mean by collaboration – if collaboration is bringing a class in for a library session when the students have a research assignment, I think faculty are open to that. I think that in general it might take something extra for someone to get to the stage where they think of sharing more information with the librarian as part of a discussion or consulting with the librarian about assignment design. I’ve been working on a cool tutorial project that involves a great deal of faculty collaboration, but we had some grant money to compensate everyone for the extra work involved and that really kick-started the process. I think that my work with faculty and instructors is a little atypical of most academic librarians because I mainly work with students in basic composition classes. So there isn’t as much of a specialized subject hook to what I do, and while there are some instructors that I see every year, there is also a rotating cast of phd students teaching these classes who I work with as well.

For my upcomming job interview, I’m doing a presentation on faculty-library collaboration for information literacy instruction and collection development, so I’d love to actually get some input from someone who does instruction. Thanks!

I think the best way to develop collaboration and a working relationship with faculty is to work with them on library collection issues and library instruction at the same time. If the librarian has specialized subject knowledge and might be consulted for issues involving faculty research and collection development, I think it might be easier to have a library instruction component that is integrated into a class. Some of my colleagues who have subject specialties do offer workshops that I think might be more closely integrated into a class than some of the things I do, but part of that is also due to the demands of upper level undergraduate research as opposed to the more basic stuff that I cover.

I think the biggest thing that I end up having to worry about when I prepare for my classes is how much the instructor has done to prepare their classes for library instruction. I always ask instructors that before the class comes to the library, students will know what their research paper assignment is and also have topic ideas because even if the topic idea is very broad, we can work on narrowing it down during class. In practice this ends up varying greatly, I have some instructors that e-mail me a list of detailed student thesis statements which I can use when preparing to teach. This is great because students are much more likely to pay attention and make connections about what is going on when I’m showing them how to research using their own topics. When I’m working with a class that doesn’t really understand their research paper assignment and they have no idea what they want to research I always end up feeling that the library visit wasn’t as effective as it could be. And then there are the classes that people schedule the week before spring break, when the students are mentally already in Mexico or whatever, and there isn’t much you can do to grab their attention…..