Friday, October 17, 2008

Article Note: On dealing with those not so well made library assignments

Citation for the article:

McHale, Nina, "Eradicating the Rogue Assignment: Intervention and Prevention." C&RL News 69.5 (May 2008): 254-257.

Read via WilsonWeb.

This little article may be useful for librarians in academia who have to deal with the occasional less than well made library assignment sent by some professor who, while well intentioned, likely did not do the assignment himself or check with the library prior to sending his horde of students to the library. Now, if some reader out there wants to call me on my less than charitable view of some professors, I will say that I was a teacher and an adjunct professor at one point. Also I took a lot of time to prep for my classes, and I always did check my assignments before handing them to students. Therefore, I have little sympathy for professors who display poor class preparation and planning with scavenger hunts that the students see as busywork. Now that we got that out of the way, I will say the article is a little bit too optimistic in assuming most professors will be responsive when a bad assignment is pointed out by the librarians. The reality is that often the professors are unresponsive. In fact, I can attest to that since this week we were bombarded with a science assignment from some adjunct who did not make his guidelines clear enough. The students were in a panic, and teacher was nowhere to be found. It took a phone call to his department head before we got some action. In that case, the tips offered in this article probably would not have gotten us very far. I would like to think that situations like that one are rare, but I have been in education long enough to know better. Again, having said that too, I think the article is still worth looking over. Better yet, this is one article that students in library school planning to go into academic librarianship need to read.

As I often do, here are some brief notes from the article:

  • McHale defines these not so good assignment as "rogue assignments." We all know what they are, and you don't have to be an academic librarian. Odds are good public librarians see some of these from public school teachers too. Anyhow, here is the actual definition:
“A rogue library assignment is a faculty-created, library-related assignment that, having been developed with the best possible intentions, is in some ways out of sync with a library’s resources or does not provide students with a thorough introduction to them. Rogue assignments can be recycled from a different time and place, referencing research tools that were discontinued years ago, or worse, were never in the library to begin with" (254).

  • Now I am not as charitable as Hale when it comes to teachers who make poor assignments. Maybe it is because I am a trained teacher, and one of the things they drilled into me was preparation and having a good lesson plan. Also, as a veteran of National Writing Project, it was also drilled into me not to give an assignment that I could not do myself. Therefore, I have a low tolerance for professors who do not take the time to check with the library to see if we have the resources for their assignment. All it takes is a phone call or a short visit. I am all for customer service, but I am not for shoddy teaching.
  • McHale advocates for us librarians to be proactive in dealing with the rogue assignments. That is something I certainly agree with, and it something I have done in terms of calling up professors or meeting with them. You do this after you help the student. At the end, it is the student who is right there in front of you who should take priority. McHale gives three basic steps to being proactive:
"To take a proactive approach to a rogue assignment, first and foremost, help the student. Second, report the assignment to other library staff that will be affected by it, and third, contact the instructor to correct the problem" (254).

  • Those are steps I am sure most librarians in academic settings already do (or I would like to think they do). Helping the student first is just common sense and part of my philosophy of being an academic librarian. It's advice like that which prompts me to say this is a good article for library school students.
  • And here is the remark from the article that caused me to say that this article is a bit too optimistic:
"Faculty will almost always be delighted that library staff are willing to take on teaching a session of their class" (255).
  • Nope, that is not happening. I would give 50-50 odds on that, and that would be generous. Faculty are notorious for being very territorial. And the library literature is full of instruction librarians who write about how much they have to fight to gain inroads when it comes to promoting information literacy and integrating it into the curriculum due to faculty resistance. So I am a bit skeptic in that regard.
There are two pieces of advice which I think are important and should be kept in mind:
  1. "Market librarians as assignment consultants and co-teachers, identify 'offending' groups of instructors, and provide sample assignments for instructors to use" (256). Librarians are an integral part of the educational mission of a university or college. We are trained masters of information science, and we are experts in research and finding resources. Very often, we are also trained educators. I don't think we tell this story enough, and we need to do so. Also creating sample assignments can serve to build goodwill as well as promote the services we can provide.
  2. "Reach out to adjuncts: What orientation activities are offered to them each semester? When and where do they meet? How do they communicate? Make yourself or a member of your teaching staff a permanent part of these activities" (256). This is something I can confirm. In my previous job, a lot of my work involved working with adjunct faculty. I took the time to get to know those adjuncts, and eventually worked my way up the chain so I could be involved in part of their orientation when new semesters started. I think adjuncts are often an overlooked segment when it comes to library services, and yet, they do so much on a campus. What I have learned is they can be good advocates for the library once you become friends, and they do network with each other, which means, if you provide good service, they will tell the others. So, do strive to create services for adjuncts as well as for the tenure line faculty.
Overall, the piece contains some good advice, but I think a lot of it are things that practicing librarians know already (or they learned the hard way in the field). However, for library school students, this would be a good piece for a class in academic librarianship. I am not sure doing everything the article presents will eradicate the rogue assignments, but it should help in lowering the number of rogues and do so with some tact and diplomacy.

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