In late 2019, the Teaching SIG blog team collected responses from SIG members about information literacy instruction in graduate school. We were interested in finding out what kind of instruction, if any, most art information professionals had been offered in their MLIS programs, and where they saw opportunities for improvement. Our casual survey indicated that most current professionals either had not had an information literacy instruction class in their program, or had been unable to take their program’s only offering due to scheduling conflicts. We reached out to Amanda Jenkins, the author of “Becoming Educators: Investigating Where Academic Librarians Learn How to Teach,” for her take on the issue, and what could be done.
User Experience Librarian, Luther College
My fairly recent entrance into the field of librarianship has been grounded in an interest in instruction and working with students, and I quickly realized just how unprepared I felt for the career path I had chosen to embark upon. From my first foray into classroom instruction as a graduate student, I’ve tried to keep up with communities of librarians who think and write and talk about teaching. For my capstone research poster project in library school at the University of Iowa (2018), I took on the task of investigating the ways in which academic librarians do learn how to teach, and how we can better support each other in that endeavor.
I knew from conversations with professors, mentors, and supervisors–and from my own experiences–that librarians often had few options for gaining experience in planning and delivering instruction, particularly within LIS program coursework. Part of the impetus for this project grew from a desire to affirm that I was not alone in my frustrations on that front. I also wanted to know more about what resources librarians did use to learn about teaching, as well as what thoughts they had on how to more holistically support current and future colleagues in learning to teach. Finally, I was curious–if I had chosen another LIS program, would I have had more options for courses on instruction?
A survey went out through my limited student professional networks, and I received just over thirty responses. I conducted five follow-up interviews within that set of respondents, and also investigated curricula and course lists at twenty LIS programs mostly from the top half of US News and World Report’s Best Library and Information Studies Programs list.
My findings weren’t groundbreaking or unexpected. My respondents acquired teaching knowledge mostly on the job, through individual reading, and through past experiences. Over half of my respondents (56%) had not taken an instruction-related course in their LIS program, and many that did qualified their responses with comments such as “but it was horrible and didn’t really teach me anything about learning styles and teaching” or “but it only scratched the surface.” Across the board, their teaching preparation seemed haphazard and mostly self-driven.
Most of the programs I investigated offered at least one course focused solely on instruction, although some of those courses were specific to school libraries. I also investigated whether campuses offered external higher education teaching certificates, such as from the education department or through a campus center focused on pedagogy. This question arose from my own participation in a seminar on college teaching that served as a first course towards a college teaching certification–that I took in my last semester because I hadn’t known about it earlier in my degree. Clearly, the existence of these certifications is only part of the question. Are LIS students aware of those options? Are they enrolling in courses towards those certificates?
More (and even required) coursework and greater interaction with other parts of the university that are working to promote pedagogy are only two of the methods that my respondents suggested for supporting librarians as teachers. Other ideas included more options for practicums; more structured internal support networks such as reading groups, observation of and by colleagues, and mentorship within the workplace; more opportunities for professional development; and even a teaching orientation for new hires as part of a formal onboarding process. In my own experience, librarians are eager and willing to share their experiences with newcomers. Can we be more systematic about how we share our teaching knowledge with each other, and with our future colleagues?
A few major takeaways from this project have informed my own burgeoning professional practice and how I approach learning about teaching and advocating for myself as an educator. One of the first things I learned is that this conversation goes back a long way–LIS programs, like many academic departments, are slow to change. Therefore, librarians (and future librarians) who want to know more about teaching or to improve their skills are generally self-starters–and have to be. I’ve found that a first step is just embracing our identity as educators in the first place. Scott Walter has published on how librarians develop their identities as teachers and the consequences of that mental shift (2008), as has Amanda Nichols Hess (2019). Kevin Seeber wrote recently on the unique–and often uncomfortable–position library instruction holds on college campuses, and how that position affects our relationships with our colleagues. Maybe part of how we shift our position and get more out of our teaching collaborations has to do with more fully embracing education as an integral part of the mission of librarianship. Finally, librarians have good ideas about how to better support and focus on instruction. I hope we can find ways to dedicate time and energy to acting on these ideas, and I think that communities within professional organizations like this one are a great place to start.