Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Information Literacy Wrestling Spectacular


If you've been doing information literacy instruction for any length of time, you've had to deal with the faculty member who wants a laundry list of skills and websites shown to their students. If you're especially lucky, you've also gotten "teach them everything they'll ever need to know ever about the databases" with a heaping side dish of "oh, and can you do it the first week because I'm sure they'll need it." Of course, there are variations on this theme, like faculty who see you as a substitute teacher who want you to come when they're at a conference or others who wait until you're in the information literacy session to ask for yet another thing... It's enough to make you sigh dramatically just thinking about it, right? The thing is, librarians know the laundry list isn't going to work. By the time students need the skills we've taught them, sometimes years later, they will have forgotten everything including the librarian's name.

It's all very frustrating. Feels like a wrestling match at times, and if you're at an institution that considers librarians staff instead of faculty, it can feel like a very mismatched sumo match.

The truth is, though, that it's been years since I've had to consciously think about this kind of issue. I have my arguments and responses so firmly in place that it's become second nature to me. But then I saw a string of tweets from Carolyn Ciesla, and I started to think about it again. I realized it would be a good thing to share on my blog, so here is how I approach the situation, including some of the phrases I use over and over again:
  • Start early. I email all the first year seminar faculty, and anyone else who incorporates librarian led info lit, way ahead of time so I can be the one to start the conversation. This way I am more likely to be the one steering it to make sure my outcomes are in the mix. I use phrases like "we want to partner with you" to bring that thought home.
  • Make sure there's an assignment involved. This helps with faculty who want their students to see all the things now because I can tailor my suggestions to what the students will actually need. When there isn't an existing assignment, I offer to help them design one. "It will help cement the lessons, if your students have to use the skills right away."
  • Establish a pedagogically sound timeline. Make sure your instruction happens between the students getting the assignment and when it's due. I admit I stole this line, but I tell faculty "it's better that the instruction be just in time instead of just in case."
  • Have a pre-established information literacy curriculum. This can be hard to establish, but nothing has helped me push back against the laundry list approach more than this answer. "With first year seminars, we teach X, Y, and Z, and since your class is on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, there isn't a lot of time left over." Also, "Since this is a senior seminar, most if not all of them will have already seen X, Y, and Z, but to be safe how about I breeze through that before moving onto A, B, and C." (How to establish a curriculum for your information literacy program is a whole other kettle of fish.)
  • Be willing to say, "no." This is the most difficult thing, and you might want to check in with your boss before you do it, but it is possible to decline and come out alive. "We want to establish the basics for the students before we go onto something as advanced as that." This can be harder when faculty plop a request into your lap in the middle of the session, but it's still possible to tell them no, but kindly, at that point. "Your students will be able to find everything they need using the database I'm showing them now, but if we have time at the end I'll try to fit that in" is especially apt.
  • Know when to give in. I once worked with a faculty member who wanted to teach databases and web analysis on their own, and they wanted me to show their first year students how to use our citation management software. I still think citation management software is a bad idea for first years. Using that kind of software for a paper that will have five citations is overkill and useless since first students won't use it again for months or even years. When this particular faculty member came to me (at a previous job), I complained to my director. "Do I really have to do this? Can I tell them no?" He told me it was my choice, but then wisely pointed out that I could embed my own agenda in the larger lesson and show them how to assess websites in the midst of teaching them how to use the software to create a citation. Smart man, and his idea worked perfectly.

I hope this post helps. I know I said, "yes! sure!" to everything early in my career, and don't beat up on yourself too much if you aren't comfortable turning down faculty requests and demands. As for the more experienced info lit instructors reading this, chime in with ideas that have worked for you in the past.

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