Building the Librarian’s Curriculum. Issues and Possibilities

2013 №17

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Plamen Miltenoff

“Most librarians think only of their contributions to library instruction, such as guest lectures, online tutorials, and LibGuides. However, libraries contribute to faculty teaching in a variety of ways. They provide resources that are integrated into course materials on a massive scale (a value that is long overdue to be adequately captured and communicated). They collaborate with faculty on curriculum, assignment, and assessment design. (Value Report, p. 134)”

This article is a short review of the existing bibliography on curricula building for academic librarians. It is also a partial account of the efforts of a midsize mid-western academic library organization to build their own section of library and technology-oriented curricula. The focus of this article is aimed at library faculty’s determination to teach. This is also a review of the bibliography on academic librarians’ efforts to partake in the teaching process on campus.

About St. Cloud State University and Learning Resources and Services
St. Cloud State University (SCSU) is a mid-size Midwestern University (http://www.stcloudstate.edu/default.aspx). This four-year educational institution is located in Central Minnesota and it is part of a consortium, which consists of four-year and two-year institutions. “A four-year institution is a postsecondary institution that offers at least a bachelor’s degree upon successful completion of established graduation requirements.  Most commonly, four-year institutions in the United States are colleges and universities that offer undergraduate programs” (http://www.education.com/definition/fouryear-institution/).

At SCSU the library has been part of Learning Resources and Technology Services (LRTS) for more than two decades. Part of LRTS was also the Technology Services, usually known as Information Technologies (IT). As part of LRTS two additional units were included: the Center for Information Media (CIM), consisting of full-time teaching faculty and the InforMedia Services (MS), with faculty serving as instructional designers. In 2010, the University started a reorganization effort.

As a result of the reorganization, LRTS changed significantly. The IT department (http://huskynet.stcloudstate.edu/default.asp) became a separate entity. The full-time teaching faculty from the (CIM) unit was moved to the School of Education (http://www.stcloudstate.edu/soe). This left the library faculty and the IMS unit with faculty serving as instructional designers in an entity renamed the Learning Resources and Services or LRS (http://lrts.stcloudstate.edu/library/default.asp).

The librarians at SCSU have faculty status. During this reorganization, the librarians and technology instructors lost their opportunity to participate in the teaching process. This article reflects the quest and inquiry to form and deliver suitable course material to students, while complimenting the university strive to prepare students better for their life-long learning experience. Following the SCSU mission (http://bulletin.stcloudstate.edu/gb/generalinfo/mission.asp) and goals (http://www.stcloudstate.edu/president/workplan0203.asp), the LRS faculty members’ foremost goal when embarking on the road of creating their own section of curricula was to organize and deliver a welcoming environment for student success and diversity.

The majority of the library and IMS faculty members at LRS desire to teach. It is assumed by the faculty and administration at LRS that teaching is auxiliary to service. LRS differentiates from regular faculty in that regular faculty carry a full teaching load, whereas LRS faculty’s main responsibility is service. As Coker, van Duinkerken & Bales (2010) eloquently put it “tenure-track academic librarians appear to be a breed  apart from tenure-track faculty in other departments” (p. 415). Such distinction carries an important implication not only on the SCSU campus, but accompanies worldwide academic librarians with faculty status (Callison, 2005; Wilkinson, 2010).

The Outcasts of the Teaching Community
“Academic librarians are on the cutting edge of academia in the postindustrial world. They educate and practice both applied and original scholarship. They facilitate access to information and seek to better understand information in relation to its users. The postindustrial world, unfortunately, has as yet failed to provide academic librarians with the necessary status to realize their professional potential. Full citizenship within the academic community at large is necessary to accomplish this task” (Coker, van Duinkerken & Bales, 2010, p. 408). Further, the authors present a robust analysis why marginalizing academic librarians within the teaching community harms not only the librarians, but the entire academic community.

Julien & Pecoskie (2009) clearly outline the peril of low self-esteem among librarian faculty: if teaching librarians are not “fully engaged in their teaching roles,” conveying the very specific subject matter such as information literacy is at risk (p. 149). Faculty imposing segregation to fellow faculty librarians can lead to low respect, which is easily transferred to students. A number of studies refer to the finding that student perceptions considered the educational role of the library to be “minimal or non-existent” (Hernon & Pastine, 1977; Fagan, 2003; Polger & Okamoto, 2010). Disrespect of faculty librarians as teachers by students is easily transferable to other faculty and to the entire educational institution itself (Julien & Pecoskie, 2009).

Low self-esteem among librarian faculty is in conjunction with their teaching anxiety. 78% of 382 responses by librarians on the Information Literacy Instruction Listserv, “agreed or somewhat agreed that faculty do not understand the librarian’s teaching role” (Schulte, 2009, p. 76). In a similar survey, 24% of the respondents believed that teaching was the most challenging part of their work (Herron & Haglund, 2007). With an increasing teaching load among librarians, it is important to revisit and establish a firmer understanding of the relationship between the responsibility to teach and the requirement to provide service.

The issue of teaching librarians is further complicated by the evolving role of librarianship. The traditional role of the librarian behind a desk yields to a new, more dynamic model, such as the “embedded librarian” (Eldredge, 2004; Searing and Greenlee, 2011). Parallel to these changes in the library world, the proliferation of hybrid and online education changes the traditional role of the instructor from a lecturer to a facilitator. In that sense, the new type of librarian and new type of instructor have increasing commonalities; librarians traditionally have been in a position of facilitators of the knowledge quest for students in the library.

The ambiguity and flexibility in the ways library instruction is taught adds to the complexity of the teaching role for librarians. A great number of academic librarians in the United States are teaching non-credit material (Davidson, 2001). Workload assessment is further complicated by benchmarks, which consider full-time, credit-teaching faculty (Sewell, 1983; McGuinness, 2006; Weaver-Meyers, 2002; Parker, 2011a; Parker, 2011b).

Another complication in determining and assessing the teaching role of librarians results from the idea of academic librarians partnering with the faculty members, or the collaboration between “teaching” faculty and “library” faculty. While widely recognized as a beneficial model, such approach has its fallacies, whereas the most immediate one is the creation of an unspoken divide between “teaching” faculty and “library” faculty. This dichotomy becomes part of a larger issue regarding the role and position of the academic librarian in the academe (Farkas, 2005). As mentioned above, such divide can easily snowball and harm the institution.

Holley (2009) brings forward other issues, which further complicate the relationship between “teaching” and “library” faculty and their roles on campus. The digitization of readings and the advent of the Internet, changed the landscape and academic librarianship must adapt accordingly by redefining their relationship to faculty. Godwin (2006) analyzes the same issue but from students’ perspective. The notion of the Millennials being technology-savvy does not automatically classify them as information-savvy. In this age of fast-paced change and random information, the teaching role of the librarians helping both students and faculty to connects the existing and learn the missing parts in the puzzle of the digital and information literacy becomes crucial. The deceptive perception of having most of the puzzle parts and not being in the need of the rest, is openly and clearly admitted as an obstacle toward faster and complete integration of technology on campuses.

Moreover, Burhanna, Seeholzer & Salem (2009) bring up additional issues, such as U.S. students’ clear distinction between educational and social spaces on the Web. Their research adds to a consensus of opinions that teaching and library faculty must carefully approach social media tools for the purpose of education. In addition, it must be noted that such constructs are culturally-bound. E.g., the distinction of U.S. students between educational and private online spaces is perceived very differently in other countries/cultures (Miltenoff, Hoover, Tzokov & Schnellert, in print). Similarly, cultural differences and other issues such as gender, age (traditional versus returning students), race etc., must be taken into consideration (Hargittai & Hsieh, 2010).

Academic librarians can educate students in a way other programs lack the ability and focus to do. Proving this idea can be difficult in times when the role of librarians per se is doubted from both sides. On one side teaching faculty and administrators question the usefulness of librarians. On the other side, blinded by the mass media, students are convinced in their in their technological skills just because they are “digitally native” as well in their research skills, just because of the Google’s existence.

The “Credits Hours” Burden
There is a prevalent opinion that academic librarians convey their knowledge and fulfill their teaching obligations through instruction sessions. Library sessions are mostly elected and applied in their classes voluntarily by teaching faculty. A study from University of Notre Dame points out that such approach results of less than 50% of faculty seeking library assistance in their courses (Smith, Doversberger, Ladwig, Parker, & Pietraszewski, 2012). Therefore, an increasing amount of voices are calling for integration of library instruction into the core undergraduate curriculum or as part of the university-wide curriculum structure (Salisbury & Sheridan, 2011; Stowe, 2011; Campbell & Wesley, 2006).

In the last decade, library instruction steadily became formalized under the umbrella of “information literacy” (Martin, Reaume, Reeves & Wright, 2012; (Smith, Doversberger, Ladwig, Parker, & Pietraszewski, 2012).; Ehrmann & Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2004); Campbell & Wesley, 2006). Information literacy is rather loose term, which houses traditional library instruction including research methods. It also can include computer literacy, visual literacy etc. usually dubbed as digital literacy. The proliferation and implications of social media and new collaborative and creative technological concepts expands significantly the realm of “information literacy.” A tipping point is reached, when the structure and content of information literacy sessions needs to be restructured. At the same time, the value of information literacy sessions must be reconsidered by turning informative session into credited class sessions.

It has been recognized that a credit-bearing class by academic librarians has utterly different impact on student learning then a library instruction session, which is not credited. In the same sense, students assign different value to knowledge gained in credit-bearing class versus non credited instruction. (Martin, Reaume, Reeves & Wright, 2012).  As a result, library instruction keeps evolving to “curriculum-integrated” library instruction (Stowe, 2011).

It is well -recognized that the profession of academic librarianship is undergoing changes. There is a prevalent opinion that the sustainability of a library course depends greatly on the ability to change and adapt. Moreover, some insist that the initial focus on the library core must be replaced with a broader approach and orientation to information studies (Hider, Kennan, Hay, McCausland & Qayyum, 2011; Campbell & Wesley, 2006).

Teaching Librarians are Part of the Library Reinvention
The underlying question is how can academic librarians reinvent themselves in their effort to promote their knowledge to students and faculty. Seeholzer (2011) describes outreach as one approach to this question. Social events, such as exhibits, poetry gatherings, etc. can be a fitting prelude to a more structured and academic approach of promoting the teaching contribution of librarians. Guest lectures and online tutorials are additional and different forms of teaching, as reflected in the Value Report (p. 134). Various types of collaboration with faculty, such as the “embedded librarian” opportunity are examples of the various ways the library profession can reinvent itself.  Lippincott (2005) and, Mi and Nesta (2006) draw attention to the necessity in the educational field to focus on the strong impact of social media and the “googleziation” of the Millennials. Mi and Nesta (2006) conclude that librarians must not simply compete with Google and pop ups in social networks to beg for the attention of the Millennials; but librarians must consider that “marketing is not simply promotion, it needs to reflect services improvement and it needs to add value” (Mi and Nesta, 2006, p. 419).

The changes described above prompt a new term , “participatory library,” which stems from the emphasis of the participatory role of end users in the Library 2.0 model (Nguyen, Partridge, & Edwards, 2012). Participation, according to Nguyen et al (2012) goes beyond googleziation of reference services and stretches now to cataloging, through folksonomy and other forms of metadata (Anfinnsen, Ghinea, & de Cesare, 2011). Texting, RSS and similar processes turns “user-centeredness” is a crucial feature of Library 2.0 (Nguyen, Partridge, & Edwards, 2012, p.338).

The SCSU approach
LRS faculty members at St. Cloud State (SCSU) are following the ideas and suggestions in the literature. Information and digital literacy can be taught different ways. Previously existing formats such as bibliographic Instructions (BI) are carefully considered. As discussed above, without the credit-bearing component it is difficult to have students commit to the learning process; the lack of credit-bearing classes lowers the students’ perception about the importance of this subject. One big achievement of the LRS faculty is the establishment of their own “LIB” section, similarly to, e.g. the section of the English Department, “ENGL,” the History Department, “HIST,” etc. The next step for the LRS faculty is to develop their own curricula, which addresses the interest and responds to the necessity of students and faculty across campus.

References:

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