Chronicle article on classes in the library

I really want to respond to this Chronicle article on scheduling class meetings in the library classrooms to be led by research librarians. Specifically, the author, Todd Gilman, expresses concern that professors are "rebuffing" librarians' offers to lead classes in library research skills. He gives the following five reasons:

I sense that one or more of the following factors might be at work, depending on the faculty member. First, some college instructors have only a vague idea of academic librarians' expertise -- despite the fact that many of us hold two master's degrees or a Ph.D. or both -- and an even vaguer idea of how librarians might help them help their students. In essence, such instructors do not respect librarians as colleagues.

Second, some professors may be less than enthusiastic about sharing control. They don't want librarians in their classrooms -- physically or virtually -- because it means they themselves are no longer the sole authorities present.

Third, as I began to suggest above, other professors -- particularly at elite institutions -- may be unaware of, or unwilling to face, the full extent of their students' ignorance (and -- gasp -- their own) about negotiating the library's research tools.

Fourth, some professors may feel unfairly burdened by the thought of having to devote class time to a primer on how to use a research library. They may feel that way even when the librarian would cheerfully schedule the session in a state-of-the-art electronic classroom at the library, do most of the talking, and answer any follow-up questions throughout the semester. Their thought process goes something like this: "Why didn't someone else cover that so that I don't have to use up my precious class time on it? Isn't it bad enough my students can't write -- forcing me to provide high-school-level instruction in English -- without throwing the complexities of college-level research into the mix? Besides, research education is only tangential to my course content."

Finally, some professors may object to the call for "information literacy" -- a phrase that has become the mantra of some academic librarians in their efforts to teach research skills. And the term can rankle. It risks sounding elementary, or condescending, or alarmist, or perhaps seems like an affectation by which librarians seek to mystify and aggrandize what they do via jargon.

I respectfully disagree with some of these based on my experience. It has never been my impression that professors look down upon librarians or perceive any lack of expertise there. If any professors do hold that opinion, I'd be utterly disgusted. Librarians cannot be extolled enough. As for the second reason, that professors don't want to share authority in the class, that may be the case with some people (but again, no one I've ever met), but such egomaniacs shouldn't be taken seriously. I can understand how it would be annoying, though.

I disagree with the third reason as well. Teachers, especially writing teachers, are painfully aware of students' library skills, or lack thereof. I agree, however, with the last two reasons. Library skills could be an entire semester-long course, and I'd love to see it required, at least for some majors. And I know people personally who find the term "information literacy" tiresome (I myself do not), so I can't argue with that one. But I can tell you the two reasons I don't do more in the library. They have almost nothing to do with the librarians themselves.

First, all of the library classrooms I've encountered at universities where I've taught have looked like this:

and not like this:

If I don't schedule a class in that room, it's primarily because I don't want that day to be a wash: 50 minutes spent by the students mostly on Facebook, shopping, emailing, etc. The configuration of those classrooms pretty much torpedoes any hope of actual engagement with library research.

Second, there are times that I think librarians try to pack too much into one or two class periods, and students get overwhelmed. A full class period could be spent on nothing else but learning the differences between a popular magazine and a scholarly journal.

I agree wholeheartedly with Gilman's conclusions -- that faculty and librarians need to collaborate more on lesson plans and come up with graded ways to assess learning:

Better yet, why not work with that librarian to develop one or more assignments for a grade that will enable your students to apply what they have learned while the library is still fresh in their minds? That way they are sure to take the library seriously, reap the maximum benefit from their interaction with the librarian, and get practice using the library for something more than study space.

Agreed. I'm interested in hearing more of what librarians have to say about this article.

Oh, and watch this video (via).


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About that article...

Well, as a phd candidate in comp-rhet who has a mls and has worked in these info lit sessions, I can attest to the claims the author makes.

First of all, I think you would be shocked at the way some professors treat librarians. If you look back to the online discussion about whether or not librarians should receive tenure (I forget the actual date) on the chronicle web site, you can see some of these attitudes. Sadly, many faculty members see librarians as merely curators of books. I've even heard writing teachers refer to them in this way, and indicate that they think they would do a better job of teaching library research skills to their students.

Secondly, I see it as a control issue too. Having been on the other end, I've heard more than a few professors not even want to give the librarians one class period. Some just want a 10-15 minute please-come-to-the-library-type talk, and don't even want to take their students to the actual library.

And yes, those sessions are often packed with information, the reason being that most instructors won't/don't allow for more than one class meeting for library instruction. Here at UW-Madison, to avoid some of this overload, students are required to first complete an hour long online learning module, but the 'library day' is still overloaded.

As a writing teacher, I construct a number of writing assignments and short homework-type essays around the integration of research skills and writing. Specifically, I treat both as rhetorical processes of inquiry. I allow plenty of time for exploration of topics, so that students aren't rushing to find "x" number of sources for their papers. I've created semester-long writing courses based on inquiry and different ways of writing from research. Above all else, though, I try to show students how we perform research in our everyday lives.

I could go on about this forever - it is one of my areas of specialization. However, I will leave you with this fun little bit of information: While I was working in the library world, I discovered that it wasn't uncommon for some of the more library-friendly faculty to ask librarians about the assignments they've created. Interesting that they don't consult writing specialists, isn't it.

Those assignments sound great

k8s, if you wouldn't mind sharing those assignments with me, I'd be very interested in looking at them.

It sucks that librarians aren't treated well by some faculty. I guess I didn't want to believe that some professors don't respect librarians; my favorite professors throughout my education have always demonstrated a lot of respect for librarians.

Every time I've brought my

Every time I've brought my students to a library classroom session, I've learned something myself. And, I'm indebted to every librarian who has helped students to understand the differences between scholarly vs. popular journals, as Clancy mentions! It's too bad that these perceptions seem to vary from campus to campus, but, like Clancy said, at least at my department, I don't know of anyone who'd be hesitant to share the classroom environment with their university librarians.

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