Teaching at the OWHL
The OWHL’s Instructional Services (IS) team is comprised of 7 professional librarians trained and dedicated to meeting the information needs of the entire PA community. From students who have never written research papers to seasoned instructors looking for new ways to achieve their learning goals, these needs are as varied as the community itself.
All IS team members possess at least a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, and some have other advanced degrees as well as teaching credentials. As professionals, we participate in local groups, such as the Cooperative Library Association; give presentations at local and national conferences, travel domestically and internationally to develop our teaching techniques, and serve as officers in professional organizations, such as the American Library Association’s New England Library Instruction Group.
Rather than emphasizing research tools, such as catalogs or databases, the focus of the OWHL IS team is teaching the lifelong research skill-set called collectively “information literacy.” There are two primary ways we teach these skills:
Individual Research Consultations (IRCs)
The OWHL instructional librarians are available at the Help Desk over 80 hours per week for one-on-one consultations. Depending on each patron and the exact nature of needed assistance, these interactions can last anywhere from 30 seconds to over an hour. Although some of this time is devoted to identifying and using specific resources or tools, the emphasis on the session remains the teaching of transferable skills so that community members can approach this and other information needs with confidence.
IS team members have mastered a variety of skills to make these transactions successful:
·l Responsive Listening: by interacting with people through listening and query, the librarians can ascertain the patron’s true needs. For example, a student may ask a librarian for “information on Africa,” but careful questioning and discussion may determine that what’s really required is “a scholarly article outlining the impact of Egypt’s educational system on its GDP” for an economics term paper.
· Understanding the research process: When patrons arrive at the desk, the librarian must determine where each person is in the research process. This recognition allows the librarian to steer patrons to the most appropriate resources, be they broad-topic reference material or precise scholarly articles.
· Knowing a wide variety of resources: successful IRCs depend on a librarian’s awareness of what is available in the library in both physical and electronic formats, as well as what might be available elsewhere. Librarians must also understand the types and limitations to information available on the free Web as this is often where patrons feel most comfortable when researching.
Formal Library Instruction Sessions
The OWHL IS team also offers formal library instruction sessions. Typically, these are held at the request of an instructor or department, and vary depending up class level, instructional goals and student research experience. In lower-level History classes, for example, book skills are emphasized, including using a table of contents and index and developing a search strategy for finding more information; upper-level classes may spend time exploring subject-specific resources identified as being crucial to a specific assignment.
The success of these sessions requires a variety of skills:
· Collaborating with faculty: classroom teachers are experts in their subjects and classroom management while librarians’ expertise is in the organization and finding of information. Working together, librarians can inform teachers as to whether an assignment is possible given the student skill-set and the available resources. Further, knowing the teacher’s learning objectives and assessment methods helps the librarian create relevant and effective information literacy activities.
· Understanding teaching techniques: the IS team has moved largely away from demonstrations of tools and instead uses a variety of active learning techniques to engage student interest and to foster learning across the spectrum of learning styles.
· Follow-up and ongoing support: For nearly every class taught, librarians create research guides to highlight resources and strategies used for student success to reinforce techniques covered in instruction sessions.
Instructional librarians of today do much more than stamp books, shush the rambunctious, or drive book carts. They are dedicated teachers. The world of information can appear easy and straightforward but incorporating it into the research process is not as easy as it might appear: it quickly becomes vast, confusing and intimidating. The IS team members teach our community (especially students) the skills to navigate the world of information in order to perform research, not just “search.”