Just do your thing


I’m now in my third year as a librarian, and I feel like I’m in a solid place with my teaching. I’m consistently expanding our reach into required and non-required classes. I’m designing classes that make sense in the curriculum and that scaffold the college’s expectations of information literacy from freshman through senior years. I’m also discovering that things I really thought worked well aren’t working for me any more. It’s not that I think they’re bad classes, they just aren’t jiving with my particular approach to teaching. And speaking of approach, I’ve discovered that I have one, and I believe strongly in it.

In many ways, the day-to-day of planning classes hasn’t changed for me since the beginning. I still use Evernote to plan classes. I still procrastinate a lot. I still spend too much time googling around for ideas before doing the thing my gut said I should do in the first place. The difference is, I now have some idea of what works, both for me and for the classes I’m teaching, and that’s why I’m so surprised at my currently instructional dilemma.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon this fall: A marked increase in the number of library instruction requests which amount to “oh, just do your library thing, and, no, I don’t care when you come it to do it.” This has been happening in both required and non-required library instructions. No amount of conversation between the professor and me illuminates the need for library instruction or when it could happen most effectively in the course schedule. My working theory goes like this. Everyone knows me now. My outreach efforts have been very successful, and they like me as a person. They know me to be intelligent and passionate and comfortable with public speaking. They feel they should have library instruction so they invite me to class, largely because they like me and not because they believe in the importance of library instruction.

What’s a librarian to do? I piloted one class this week that seemed to go well and could be adapted to different subjects. I had some idea of what the students were working on (a research paper and a debate) but no good idea about when these things were happening, so I divided the students into 6 groups and had them explore 6 different resources (a mix of databases, book catalog, and Google Scholar). I used a handout with specific questions to explore and asked them to evaluate the resources as it related to research on people, historic events, and current events. Each group gave a three minute presentation to summarize what they found and gave recommendations to their classmates for how the resource could best be used for class. It took about 30 minutes, and seemed to go over well. I was able to dispel some myths that came up in the presentations which probably wouldn’t have come up otherwise, such as “Google Scholar is the only place to get research when off campus” and “article databases contain books.”

I also love the idea from Iris Jastram of “subversive handouts” for situations like this. I rediscovered this idea serendipitiously the day after I might have used in the class, but I plan to use it the next time I get a request to “just do your library thing.”

I’m sure we all have our approaches to this kind of request. How do you handle it?

3 thoughts on “Just do your thing

  1. For the first time this semester, I had guest lectures in my MGMT 175. They were mostly local business people who I thought used information in cool ways and the students could benefit from hearing from them (the theme of one my sections was “informed leadership” how leaders use information to be better decisionmakers) and I was surprised how unhelpful I was to my one-shots. I also just wanted them to be them, just, in class. My point is that it’s hard to know how to ask someone to be “them”. You recognize their expertise, but it’s exhausting to try and imagine the best way they can improvise. Because really you aren’t like a syllabus all knowing goddess. You’re just a lady that likes to have different perspectives and expertise.

    I say this in defense of those “do your library thing” people. You bring other people into your classroom for authentic real life or real academic life experiences, which are often messy. You also want your speakers to come back to your class again, so there are reasons for you to be a people pleaser as well.

    • Meggan says:

      I definitely see your point. A little information goes a long way, though. I’m sure you told your guest speakers what the class was about and why you thought they would be a good fit. Without a little context, the guest speaker is wondering what it is about them that makes them useful.

      • That’s why whenever possible I like to attend the class before my class, or present at the end of the class period, so I can see the connections. Classroom culture is extremely varied and even when the instructor thinks they are doing isn’t always what they are actually doing. Like Friday I presented a project from my 175 class to a bunch of businessmen and asked them what skills the students were using to do this and they had completely different answers than what I considered them using. I saw them using deep information synthesizing, but they saw it more as teamwork, critical thinking, and a little bit of humility (I wish).

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