Friday, October 03, 2008

Article Note: On BI in a small campus

Citation for the article:

Brothers, Mark and Dianne Richardson, "Bibliographic Instruction: A Cooperative Approach." The Southeastern Librarian 54.1 (Spring 2006): 12-19.

Read via WilsonWeb.

This is probably the best LIS article I have read in terms of a practical article for instruction librarians as well as simply librarians who have instruction duties in a small campus. As someone who taught for a while in a small campus, though not as small as University of West Alabama (the authors' place of work), I certainly found a lot of validation for some of the techniques I tried during my time back then. And I will admit that I do miss those days for a number of reasons, some which are described in the article. But the best thing this article does is provide reassurance to other librarians in small campuses that they are not alone and that they too can make the best of their conditions in order to serve their students first. If you work in a small campus, and you have an active teaching role, then you should be reading this article. As the authors point out, and I can certainly attest to it given the many articles I read, a lot of the literature concentrates on the big campuses. We need more articles like this.

So, some notes from the piece I found interesting or useful:

  • Regarding the authors' campus: "The traditional strength of the university lies in teaching, and the motto 'the student comes first" captures the spirit of the school" (12). From my experience, small campuses usually have a teaching mission, and the good ones take pride in that fact and thrive based on that. It's when they start having delusions of grandeur that they will somehow become research centers when troubles start. If teaching is your strength, embrace it.
  • The authors were fortunate indeed in that their library constructed a nice instructional lab for them. Not many small places can make the same claim. And yet having a facility for on-hands library instruction is such an important element of providing training in research skills and information literacy. That in some cases administrators are too short sighted to see this basic fact and neglect their libraries is simply sad.
  • "However, based upon evaluations conducted with the faculty and students, human-powered library instruction when carried out according to sound principles of teaching appeared to be the most appropriate to the goals of a small, student-centered college like UWA" (13). This makes sense. It probably would make sense here as well, but I am facing (or my instruction librarian is) a major push for online tutorials which are seen as desirable and chic. While tutorials can have a place in a solid instructional program, they cannot take the place of the human element.
  • "When asked, 'What aspect of our library instruction did you find most beneficial?' most people responded that having a knowledgeable librarian with good communication skills who cares about students and walks them through searches was most beneficial" (13). I think this statement speaks volumes. That was certainly my role at my previous job, and one of the great rewards of that work was precisely working with students closely. It took time to build that reputation and get students to see that there was a librarian or two that cared about the students and would be happy to work with them anytime, anywhere, on almost anything. Again, this is validation for the need to nurture the human element, and it definitely fits with my own philosophy of librarianship.
The authors provide suggestions for other librarians in similar settings. The list of ideas is very good, and it should be considered by other librarians in similar settings. They also advocate for collaborating with faculty, especially in education, as needed. That the librarian author had teaching experience clearly helped, and I find myself relating to that since I came to librarianship with teaching experience as well. Also important is to take time to know people on campus in other units. One statement from the suggestions stuck with me, maybe because it is something I do not have any more due to my change in duties:
  • "Many students like a traditional classroom setting as opposed to the anonymity of a web tutorial or a workbook. They appreciate the opportunity to meet a friendly librarian and feel comfortable asking for further help. The chance to build rapport with a librarian proved to be the greatest benefit of UWA's library instruction program. You will want to get to know students so they will feel more comfortable approaching you later!" (14).
It is very rewarding when you get to that point. And the students will thank you for it, but more importantly, they will come to see you as their librarian, as a resource and part of the elements that will make their educational experience a success. Herein lies the strength of a good small campus library: in the personal experience combined with knowledge and caring.

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