Partners in Information Literacy

TangognaT has a great post about information literacy and faculty collaboration.

She makes several excellent points about the collaborative process:

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.

In my experience, a faculty member creates the assignment or project, and then asks me to give a library instruction session to the students. I am generally asked to help the students learn about finding the necessary information to complete the project. Usually I have to teach about using appropriate databases, reference books, and some search skills. The problem with this approach is that it is very resource driven. Because what I teach is often just pertinent to that one project, the skills that students learn do not necessarily transfer to future assignments. It is often very tough to squeeze in concepts of information literacy during the typical 50 minute class session. Generally, I try to talk a little about evaluation and quality during the 50 minutes, and try to make the best out of the time that I am given.

Most of my instruction is very subject-specific, as I am the business subject specialist for our library. What I am finding is that a lot more of the learning occurs outside of the library classroom. A few days after I deliver an instructional session, the students start contacting me for additional help. This works great for the students and for me. They get the intimate attention that they need, and I get the opportunity to really dig into the resources with them, while also sneaking in some good ‘ole information literacy. I also get a chance to observe what problems they are having with the assignment, as well as see what resources they find the most useful (and the easiest to use). This interaction often keeps me quite busy, as I don’t require any office hours or appointments. Appointments are nice if it is going to be a really in-depth reference session, but generally students just come to the library and ask if I am available.

One thing that I have struggled with is the fact that while I get to help students with their learning, I never get a chance to see the finished product. The application, or how one uses information, is one of the key components of information literacy. By seeing the outcome of their work, one can see how students applied the information to the project. I told a faculty member about this last quarter, and he told me that he and his colleagues would try to do better to include me in the final presentations. I actually got invited to a few last quarter, but was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts. I hope to try to get my foot in the door again, as seeing the final project may help to understand how students are using (or misusing) the information.

The level of instructional collaboration can vary with each school, department, curriculum, or professor. Some departments and faculty members are not very open to collaboration in the classroom, while others are quite proactive in initiating library instruction opportunities. I think it is important to start with a small group of folks who are enthusiastic about library instruction and information literacy. Word of the success of these initial partnerships will spread to others, and library instruction business will increase. It’s important not to get frustrated, as these relationships often take quite a long time to develop. As a librarian, it is essential to try to understand the academic culture, not attempt to change it. With each small success and new relationship, you will have the more opportunities in establishing new (or improving) instructional opportunities for information literacy.