Recently I posted a call for instructors to maximize our relationship with librarians. The TL;DR version of that first post was to talk to the librarians. Read the original post here.
When I say librarians, I don’t just mean the folks we associate with the term. Talk to folks at the reference desk, at the circulation desk, in the stacks, in special collections, in the university archives, in the special collections of the special library that your school might have at their disposal. If you are thinking about making community partnerships, then talk with the folks at your local archives and historical societies. It doesn’t matter the person, but it is having the conversation that matters. The people that work in these spaces have many things to offer our classes, our students, and us. The working population of a library can be diverse. It helps to get to know all of them. They want to help. Please see the chart below:
At this point, you might wonder the best time to speak with librarians. The best time is now. Talk earlier, if possible, but it is having the conversation that matters. Talking about our classes with the librarian can be hard, especially now. Many of us don’t know what we are teaching next semester. This is especially a problem when preparing classes for the spring semester. Start these conversations with librarians as soon as you can. It takes time to create and set up something like a Lib Guide. You want to give the librarians and the staff the time to help you. Remember, we often encourage students to go to the writing center or office hours at any point in the process of an assignment. We stress students can benefit from conversations at any point in the learning process, and the same holds here. Earlier is better especially since you are building a relationship and a long-term partnership. Everything you desire for a class might not come together for the spring or the summer, but starting and continuing the conversation can ensure that future partnerships are maximized.
When it comes to actually speaking to librarians there are two threads that we can focus on: the Pedagogical and the Practical. Librarians teach. Often they have a lot of classroom experience. Their experiences uniquely position them to deal with the complexities, benefits, and difficulties of making the library work in the classroom setting. Just as we keep current with the latest in pedagogy, by, for example, reading PALS, the librarians are doing the same. If you doubt this pedagogical aspect of librarians, then just take a look at what is happening on Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. Honestly, many of these librarians are serving up some radical pedagogy. Librarians have ideas on teaching and assignments that are not only sound pedagogy, but also are some of the best practices for getting the most out of the library. Why not draw on this? Draw on the pedagogical experiences of librarians. They have pedagogical ideas and they’ve also seen the best and the worst of assignments. These experiences can help in the development from the ground up of a pedagogically sound assignment.
Building on a relationship with a librarian can help address many practical concerns, many of which are logistical, especially when it comes to using library resources. Library resources aren’t limited to books and databases. Consulting with a librarian about your assignment can help you escape potential pitfalls and anticipate problems that might not have occurred to you. Librarians have the opportunity to see many different assignments throughout their time. It is jut a given. This is where the pedagogy dovetails with the practical. The librarians’ blend of experience and pedagogy can actually be a lifesaver to you when it comes to designing and implementing assignments that draw on the library. Librarians know the resources that are available and understand the ebb and flow of their use over the course of a semester. Understanding this can be really helpful, especially at smaller schools where library resources can be limited and can’t sustain and end of the semester crunch. Work with librarians to collaboratively develop assignments. Use their expertise and experience. Instead of coming in together and saying here is my assignment, work together in developing the idea. The students, the library, and you will benefit greatly from such an arrangement.
It is worth pausing to consider what the phrase library resources means. Yes, it means books, periodicals, and databases. When it comes to longer projects it also means a lot more. The resources of the library include the librarians and staff. It means the physical space: tables and the chairs, study rooms, quite rooms, the physical number of people that can get in any given space. Resources also include computers, printers, and special pieces of technology like a scanner or a microfiche machine. When creating assignments we often don’t think about the limitations of resources, especially when it comes to the time and effort of other people. These considerations are especially important in the context of the academic year, not just the end of the semester. As space once devoted to books becomes study areas, the physical space of the library resembles a common area with its own pulse of coming and going. Librarians can help you plan around the ebb and flow of the academic year.
Early in the semester resources can be plentiful and freely available, but at the end of the semester there could be competition for all of these resources. By talking with a librarian you’ll know if Professor X and Professor Y both have major projects scheduled at the end of the semester that draw on the same resources. It would be a good thing for you, the students, and the library staff, to move your assignment earlier. Consulting with the librarian on potential projects ensures we think of logistics that we wouldn’t usually think of as an instructor. It is also a kind and courteous thing to do and it considers the unique stresses experienced by library staff. Students will benefit too because they’ll have the resources available to do the work. It ensures students have people to help. Planning and accounting for logistics achieves the best results for all parties involved with a project.
In my first post in this series I observed that we should talk to librarians for very selfish reasons, if not for the practical purposes that I’ve outlined. Yes, collaboration makes our lives easier. However, collaborative work with librarians helps to ensure the availability of tangible #data and #metrics that library staff can take to the administration when it comes time to advocate for funding. Make the most of these partnerships, even if for selfish reasons of preserving your own access.
The last segment of this series will cover the much maligned library visit or workshop day. We’ll be sharing some tips and pointers. Not to reveal too much, but that also involves collaborating with the librarians.