Classroom Collaborations with Librarians

Part 1:

Talk to the Librarians

Today’s PALS post is the first in a series addressing how to maximize our collaborations with librarians in the classroom setting. Regardless of what you do in your classes, ranging from semester-long projects in a special topics course to short assignments in a survey class, collaboration with librarians can make the difference between a busted course or an individual assignment and a great experience for you, the students, and the library staff.

Today’s post has a single and simple message: Talk to the librarians. Or, in the parlance of our times: TL;DR: Talk to the librarians.

When it comes to our research and our projects outside of class, I think many of us would agree, librarians, and I include archivist here, too, are awesome. Book acknowledgment pages and social media are filled with tales of librarians and archivists tracking down useful and hard to find materials. The world abounds with tales of librarians entering beast mode and coming to our aid in a myriad of ways. Many of us benefit from these research and scholarly collaborations and are grateful for the positive and productive results.

Sadly, we often don’t use the same collaborative relationship with librarians in planning our syllabi, developing our assignments, or in the classroom, particularly on the day of classroom library instruction. For many of us, collaboration with librarians begins and ends at special collections, the reference desk, or at the interlibrary loan desk. And, no, sitting in the back of the classroom during the library presentation day and checking email while working on a paper proposal is not collaboration.

Chances are you’ve seen the recent report and accompanying graph going around that shows how many faculty think they need to talk to librarians versus the number of librarians that think that faculty need to talk to librarians more.

There is Something Very Wrong HereThe graph shows a disturbing disconnect. At the very least, in both classroom instruction and in our own research, we should collaborate with librarians for reasons of self-preservation. Librarians are the first line of defense when it comes to defending against budget cuts for the things we care about: books, resources, or databases. Talking with librarians can help prevent shelves of books that are important to your class from ending up in offsite storage. If we aren’t talking with librarians, then they cannot convey to higher-level administration the importance of their collaborations with faculty and the use of library resources. Collaboration with librarians and staff can help ensure resources remain healthy and robust by providing librarians and staff with concrete evidence of their collaborations with faculty that they can take to the administration.

If there is only one piece of advice that you take away from reading this post, then it is this: Talking to your librarians and the rest of the library staff is a matter of self-preservation in the face of increasingly dire economic pressures facing higher education, especially libraries. If you use library resources of any kind in your teaching and scholarship, then it is imperative to let the library staff know about it. If the library staff doesn’t know what people are using, then librarians cannot justify its continued funding when the administration comes looking to make budget cuts.

I attended my first THATCamp last fall in Philadelphia. After attending a few sessions, I realized that I was often attending the same sessions as many of the librarians. I left THATCamp Philly knowing that I needed to talk to librarians more about what I do in the classroom. Perhaps, more importantly, I left THATCamp having learned that librarians really want instructors and faculty to talk to them. Again, remember this chart?

There is Something Very Wrong HereWhat do we talk to librarians about and how do we go about doing that? The advice that you will read in the posts to come wasn’t compiled through trial and error in my own classroom work with librarians. What I am going to share in these posts did come from librarians and people that have worked in close collaboration with their college’s librarians. I am not an expert on making a classroom relationship with a librarian work, but merely fortunate.

Don’t jump to this conclusion, yet; I’m trying to make a point.

As instructors we are often left to figure out all aspects of the classroom on our own. Many of us never had someone sit us down and tell us to talk to the library staff. We were never told the questions to ask or given a model for collaboration. I am lucky to have attended an NEH Summer Institute this past July where I had the chance to hear a lot from librarians and archivists. The institute I attended focused on sharing with participants the tools for incorporating the archive in the classroom setting as an important and integrated part of the course. A significant part of the material covered at the institute wasn’t just a focus on classroom instruction and pedagogy, but on the logistics of making a course work, with the help of librarians. It is these tips, tools, and best practices that we will address in coming posts in an attempt to get the most out of our syllabi, assignments, and courses.

In the posts to come, we’ll be looking at a several things to help build a collaborative relationship with librarians. Future posts will address planning syllabi and assignments. We will also address getting the most out of the much maligned library visit day. While one might be tempted to pick and choose from the practices described in this post and future posts, many of the ideas that follow build off of each other and work best when planned with a librarian in advance and done in conjunction with each other.

Be sure to check out part 2 of this series here!


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