Teaching philosophy

As a librarian, my goal as a teacher is to prepare students to effectively and efficiently use the library’s resources. This translates into more than just being able to log on to the catalog and find a book. This means teaching information literacy, helping students open up a doorway to defining, finding, choosing, and using the information s/he needs. I am guided by the American Library Association’s Association of College and Research Libraries, primarily the Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction.

ACRL Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction

  1. The information literate student determines the extent of the information needed.
  2. The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  3. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  4. The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose. 
  5. The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally (Objectives, 2001.)

An academic librarian has the unique opportunity to teach in a classroom, one-on-one when doing reference interviews, and asynchronously through online tutorials. Each has their own flavor and challenges. In the classroom with a group of student, there is little chance for individual interaction, as there is at the reference desk. The challenge in the classroom is to engage your students from the start, and keep them focused on the material throughout. In a basic information literacy class for first year undergraduates, I would have an information sheet available with an overview of the class and relevant links to the library’s resources and additional information. From the start I would engage the students with questions to test understanding. In order to assess student learning, I would refer them to an online review which would test them along the way with short active learning opportunities, such as: open the catalog; using the advanced search, search for (topic); limit the results to return only items since 2000; what is the 5th result? This kind of activity allows the student to become familiar with the catalog without becoming overwhelmed with options because the tutorial guides the student step by step.

The reference interview allows the librarian to walk the student through the steps in person, cutting out many potential communication errors, or at least making it possible to immediately correct those misunderstandings.  Of course, when the desk is busy or interruptions distract the interview, there is the temptation to do instead of teach. I try to ground myself in the idea of “teaching a man to fish” so he can eat forever. When we are successful at imparting our knowledge, we teach that student how to define their need, where to search for information, how to use the resources available to them and formulate a search strategy, how to decide if the source they’ve found is appropriate for their need and if s/he needs to continue or reformulate the search, and how to ethically and legally use the information they’ve found.

For me, teaching information literacy really is like opening a doorway to knowledge. Librarians provide the tools, the skills, and hopefully the confidence to navigate the information jungle. And of course, the ability to know when to ask the librarian for help.

Objectives for information literacy instruction: A model statement for academic librarians. (2001, January). Retrieved December 8, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/objectivesinformation

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