Friday, October 07, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part One

When I started this post, I did not intend it to be a series. However, it has gotten longer as I kept thinking about it, so here is Part One.

The Rambling Librarian has a little series going about what it is librarians do. He is writing to answer the question for some readers, and in the process he provides a service to other readers who may wonder as well. At a couple of points in my short career as a professional librarian (I can't believe I survived my first year. Time sure flies), I have thought about writing a post about what it is I do as an academic librarian. Usually when I was afflicted with this malady, I would simply brush it aside. I would say that I am not the typical academic librarian, whatever typical means. In my case, I often meant typical in the sense that I am not a subject bibliographer at a large and prestigious Research I campus (as classified by Carnegie). There is nothing wrong with that career path. Or I would worry that my director would read the post and have one of two reactions. One, she might think I am bragging or tooting my horn to justify my existence. Two, she might worry over all the stuff I actually do and think I am doing too much stuff. Yes, I know, most directors are not as nice, but I happen to work for people who do check on me if it looks like I am teaching too many sections in a day. Or I would worry that my experience was not as exciting and glamourous as other librarians. In essence, I used every excuse to avoid writing the post. However, after seeing the Rambling Librarian, and the letter from Meredith "to a not-so-young librarian wanna-be Librarian," I figured it was time I gave it a spin. Maybe someone will read this and find it helpful in deciding to become one of us. Maybe, on the other hand, they will run away as fast as they can to do something else. What I can say for sure is that I like what I do. So, what is it I do?

My official title is Reference/Instruction Librarian. It sounds basic and generic enough for an academic librarian, but in reality I do quite a few things. Some labels I could apply to myself are facilitator, coach, service worker (even if some librarians hate such a label), scholar, and coordinator. In seriousness, I better just go through some of my duties, and readers can then go from there.

One, I am the Instruction Librarian. In a large university, this would usually mean that I am part of a little cadre or army of librarians dedicated to teaching bibliographic instruction and other information literacy classes. Large institutions usually have four or five instruction librarians, usually led by an Instruction Coordinator (or a similar title). These are usually reference librarians that focus a bit more on teaching in addition to their reference duties. Some of the larger places may have instructional librarians just focused on undergraduate education, for instance. That would be the "luxurious" side of being an instruction librarian (I wonder how long before some large campus librarian writes to tell me his or her work is anything but a luxury). I mean it is luxurious in the sense they have a department or unit just dedicated to instruction.

Where I work at, I am pretty much the Instruction Unit. I am not saying that to brag. I coordinate the instructional program on my campus. I keep the schedule of classes, and I find librarians to teach the classes. For the most part, I do a lot of teaching. I may coordinate the operation, but I don't have the option to just watch while others teach. I actually teach a large number of the classes we schedule. Personally, I would not have it any other way. I enjoy the interactions with faculty and students, and teaching keeps me in touch with our patrons. When I say teach, I do more than just bibliographic instruction. I also do a fair share of consulting work with students. We are small enough that students can easily find me if they have questions about information needs. Heck, at times they have class questions I have to send them back to the teacher, but I also deal with things like narrowing a topic, coming up with a thesis statement or improving one for better results, coming up with ideas for an assignment, interpreting an assignment when they bring a copy, and so on. I will admit some of what I do borders on the thin line between what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed to send back to the professor. But I am not going to send a student away if I can help them for one. Additionally, I do have a second master's degree (English, with a minor in Spanish education), and I did my bachelor's in education. I think that qualifies me to go a bit beyond the mold. For classes in composition, it helps that I myself have taught composition. Of course, I can do these things because we are small and intimate here. I will add that our students are usually very grateful when they come for help and get it. They also remember you, which means if you see them one semester they may come back for a different class.

The role of Instruction Librarian also means I deal with curriculum work. I prepare classes, and I make available materials for various classes and topics. I make pathfinders and guides as needed on various topics. The other subject librarians make guides and pathfinders as well, but I very often make them in the context of need. I teach a class on a particular topic, and if there is a lot of demand, I make some aide for the students to use. To a very small extent, I do the occassional consultation with fellow librarians on lesson plans, how to cover certain topics, presentation tricks and techniques, so on. Now and then I also work with faculty to help with some lesson plans or provide supplementary materials for their classes related to research. This would be something I wish I could do more given the various "not-so-well-designed" library assignments I see from students who come to the Information Desk. When that happens, I usually have to end up doing a little extra interpreting. Some of the materials I have made have been placed on the library's website, but I think that is one area that needs work. So down the road this is something to work on. Another idea I have been spinning on my head the last few days was creating another blog, this one for library instruction purposes, hopefully for students and faculty. Now, some readers may ask why not do it on one of the blogs I already have? Well, this is my professional blog; it is more for me to explore various things about the profession and other selected topics (I think the focus here is more academic, but even that may be fluent), including things about instruction and information literacy, but it is meant as a tool for me to reflect. My other blog is my personal blog, a.ka. place to put what does not go here. What I envision for that other new blog is more a way to provide tools, handouts, materials, ideas for better searching, etc. In other words, more of a pedagogy and practical tool. Hmm, who knows. It might work better as a wiki. At this point, it is just a small idea, and I have more pressing things to do. I think some people would say that instructional librarians are a form of a trainer. Well, if you are just thinking trainer as a corporate trainer, that is not even close. I hope readers can see I do a bit more than "training."

Next, the "other stuff."


Mark said...

Nice post; looking forward to more.

I just wanted to let you know that since your Rita experiences all of your posts are showing up in my Bloglines account as 5 days older than when I get them. I'm not sure if it's Bloglines, although everyone else is coming in timely, or if your computer's date is off or what.

You've been writing some great stuff and I'd hate to see it not be picked for the Carnival because it's "old."

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I will have to see if I can check, but it could be Bloglines, which has been giving me a bit of grief in terms of showing old posts as well. Thanks for stopping by.