Monday, July 25, 2005

Too small for a BI session, just right for a research consultation

I just finished two small BI sessions today. I taught for two classes on writing, one on environmental writing and the other on writing for the media. The professor made the classes film based, which means that they are looking at how film may handle a particular issue. In the first class then, they look at how film depicts environmental issues and those reporting on the issues. The second class looks at films depicting reporters and other members of the media. The groups were small. I had seven in one class and three in the other. In such situations, I usually turn the BI session into an extended research consultation. The students came in with their topics, or I should say their topic ideas. One of my tasks then is to show them how to narrow the topic so that they can find a good thesis to develop. This is a combination of your knowledge as a librarian and your skill at thinking on your feet. I had some of the topics ahead of time, so I did some planning, but once I get to the classroom, I go with what the students give me. So, we take the time to talk about the topic, ask for ideas from the classmates and the professor, I provide my own suggestions. It all comes down to giving a student something to work from.

I usually recommend one or two of the general databases depending on what topics they may be working on. However, I also point out to them that we have some databases that are more specialized, and that they may be interested in trying one of those as well. When doing searches, I often have some searches pre-made, but those are mostly for stand-by. Once a session like this starts, I just ask the first student I make eye contact with what topic they are interested in. As I type, I am talking it out, telling them why it is better to break a phrase into basic concepts. For instance, instead of "women in journalism," we would try "women and journalism." Since that topic would give a huge number of results, we would then ask what about women and journalism interests the student. She may want to know about women anchors or women in sports broadcasting. It becomes a pleasant back and forth until we get a narrow list of results. If the student has no idea what to focus on, having some suggestions at hand always helps. This is one of the places where all that reading librarians do (or should be doing) pays off.

To those in library school or starting out as librarians in instruction, or maybe just reference librarians asked to teach an occasional class, this is not rocket science. It does take some level of preparation, but it also takes some enthusiasm and more importantly, some interest for the students you may be working with. In my case, I have a teaching degree, so what I learned from there helps a lot. But even if you lack such experience, keep in mind you already have a lot of knowledge, and you have a strong sense of serving your patrons. Those are two strengths you bring to any teaching session. So, rely on those to help you through if you are a bit nervous or uncertain. Practice makes perfect, the more you present and teach, the easier it becomes. For me, I could spend the day in a classroom and then in the reference area to apply the classroom lessons. And you can't be afraid to make mistakes. Now and then you may run a search and get no results. This is a teachable moment. Ask why the search did not work. Let them offer suggestions as well. Anyways, just a few thoughts at the end of two small sessions during the summer term. I know, maybe someday I will put some of this in a more coherent form, add some more ideas, write a book. That will be the day, not because I think it impossible, but because right now, I would rather be doing it than talking about it. It was a good day, a bit tiring, since I am the type of guy who flourishes in teaching and being with a group, but then I have to recharge the battery. Actually, writing in here is one way for me to reload the energy. Those of us who teach and enjoy it know that it can be a great feeling when it all comes together, and today, it came together quite nicely. Maybe down the road we'll write that book. Today, I am just having a little fun.

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