Friday, December 20, 2013

Booknote: Fundamentals of Library Instruction

Monty L. McAdoo, Fundamentals of Library Instruction. Chicago; ALA, 2012. ISBN: 9780838911419.

Overall, I found this book to be a very basic overview and how-to for library instruction. If you are experienced in library instruction, much of what this book has will be material  you already know (or should know), and it will seem basic and simple. If on the other hand, you come to library instruction with no experience, as many academic librarians often do, this book will provide some help. I can certainly see this book being used in one of the few library instruction classes available in library schools. In a nutshell, it is a good book, but I did not think it was a great book. I am willing to admit that in my case I come to this topic as an experienced librarian, so much of the book was just going back to very basics for me. As I said, if you do not have that experience, this may be good place to start learning.

The book is organized into 11 chapters after the preface. Some of the topics featured are:
  • Historical overview of library instruction. 
  • How students learn.
  • What to teach. 
  • Characteristics of effective instructors.
  • Characteristics of effective instruction.

If you want to skip the rest of my notes below, and if you ask me, I would give this 3 out of 5 stars. I "liked it," but I did not "really like it." It is still a book I would keep on my professional shelf as it does have some nice reminders. I did order it for our library so my instruction team has access to it.

Some initial reading notes and comments:

"Simply  put, despite growing demands for instruction, library science programs with an instruction track are virtually non-existent. Worse, many programs do not have even a single course dealing with instruction in the library context. As a result, the only exposure and 'training' that many instruction librarians ever receive is on the job" (Preface, X).

Let's be honest. If you want to be an instruction librarian, or you are thrust into the position, your options are very limited. You either come to library school with a teaching degree, or once in librarianship, you apply and hope you get accepted into ACRL's Immersion Program (this option does have implications such as membership in ALA issues and other costs, but we won't go into those here. If you look into the blog's tag for "professional development," you can find my notes on my experience). At this point in my career, I have both: a teaching degree, and I am a two-time Immersion graduate (I have completed the teaching and program tracks; sucker that I am for pain, I would like to complete the assessment track or maybe their teaching with tech track. However, those fall under "would be nice to do" at this point. The two tracks I have done I feel have prepared me well). I do recognize that I am fortunate in that regard (to an extent. It was not just fortune. I had to work very hard to gain the experience and credentials I have. You do have to put work in to be a good instruction librarian). Otherwise, if you are coming into librarianship without teaching experience, you are in for a very steep learning curve. Teaching is a serious endeavor, and I have learned a thing or two along the way (even if I try not to brag much about it in public). I also know that I need to keep on learning and reflecting, tasks that I strive to do regularly. This blog is one of the small ways in which I do my reflections.

This book is designed to help out librarians with instruction responsibilities who may lack pedagogy and/or instructional design experience. It's intended as a book for librarians, and I think that is important to point out. Majority of books on teaching and/or instructional design are not made for us. We can get things out of them and learn from them, but at the end of the day, what happens in a K-12 classroom or a college professor's classroom is different than what we do (there are similarities as well, but again, another conversation for another time). This is a book for us. The author admits that it is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is more like a primer. I say that if you come to this line of work with no experience, this is a book to get.

"In an age when the relevance of libraries is often questioned, bringing effective meaningful instructional opportunities to library users is more critical than ever" (Preface X). 

As I've always said, as long as people need help learning resources, good research, and the skills of information literacy (even if they are not called that at times), I'll have a job. 

Reading along, in the second chapter, the author discusses who teaches and goes over the fact, which I have mentioned already, that very few librarians come to the profession with either a teaching degree or any teaching experience. According to the author, many librarians, most in fact, cobble their instruction experience by trial and error, a small workshop here, a conference there, so on. He points out it may be years, if ever, "before this rather piecemeal approach enables an individual to become effective at developing and administering instruction" (8). This is certainly nothing new; we teachers certainly know this. In fact, the literature in education mentions how time and experience do make a better teacher. Having studied pedagogy also helps. No, teaching is not just "those who can do, those who can't teach" pablum. Those can't teach who end up in our ranks are either lousy professionals (the ones that certain librarian bloggers love to decry), slackers, or worse (they manage to climb into management to make everyone else's lives a living hell).

Other notes:

  • On instruction and nontraditional venues. In my time, I have learned and come to appreciate that to be a good instruction librarian you need to be involved with those who use your library and your services. For me, being involved with students as much as possible is a core function of what I do. It helps create rapport and makes me more approachable. For some, this may sound like outreach. I have learned that at times outreach and instruction get put together. I have held positions where I was primarily an instruction librarian and was given outreach duties, and I have been in positions with the actual title of outreach librarian. This could make a topic for a blog post down the road. My point for now is that as an instruction librarian you need to be involved with the people you work with. Some ways to get involved listed in the book include (see page 49): 
    • speaking at nonlibrary departmental meetings on behalf of the library.
    • making in-service presentations to instructors (you often have skills. Offer to share them with others). 
    • serving as advisor to a student group (this is one I have done. Often, it is not as difficult as it may seem on the surface). 
    • attending school-sponsored activities (e.g., sporting events) where students and instructors are likely to be present (for me, this is part of being out there and being the face of the library. But it is also a good thing. I will grant that I am not a big sports fan, so I rarely make sports events. But everything else-- talks, lectures, concerts, convocations, plays, etc., I try to make as much as possible. Besides, very often this is good cultural entertainment for free, and it builds some goodwill). 
    • having an active presence at events like orientation, alumni weekend, homecoming, and parents' weekend. 
    • communicating through library publications-- printed and electronic. 
  • Follow up to the above: "participating in these sorts of activities does not mean teaching. Just being a positive, personable advocate for the library is often sufficient" (49). Yes, advocacy skill does help in this line of work. So does being positive and enthusiastic as well as truly caring for your students. Now, if anyone asks, what about faculty? a small maxim helps me out: I am there to provide good service; I am not their servant. 
  • Some traits of effective instructors: 
    • "Genuine desire to teach. Everyone has off days. But if you do not care about what you are teaching, how can you expect students to care?" (70). I will be blunt here: if you do not want to teach as a librarian, find yourself a niche or area of librarianship that requires minimal to no teaching. Go into cataloging (not to pick on catalogers, but I assuming you get a job in a big cataloging cube farm like the one in the library school I went to where all you do is pretty much process records all day in a terminal) or other area that allows less public interaction. Being a lousy teacher because you do not care for it is a disservice to the students. Better yet, don't become a librarian. Nowadays, odds are good you will do some level of teaching be it training a colleague, reference work, or full library instruction.
    • "Knowledge of effective teaching and pedagogy" (70). Whether you get this by reading books, going to workshops, a class, so on, get some solid pedagogy training. In order to teach, you have to know how to teach and how students learn.
    • "Rapport with students and colleagues. Establishing rapport helps keep students engaged, facilitates learning, and generates positive feelings for students and instructors alike" (70). To me, this one is crucial. Again, if you lack things like empathy, caring and respect for your students and faculty, and you feel icky about being honest with them, find another line of work. Personally, being able to build good rapport is a major part of my philosophy as an instruction librarian. Besides, this helps to get students to come back and see you when they actually need help. They may not remember everything from a BI session, but if they remember you, and remember that you can help them, so they come see you, that is a victory.
    • "High expectations of their students. Students typically do more and do better if they are expected to so from the beginning. It is difficult to raise the bad midstream. . . " (71). This is a basic rule any good teacher knows. It is one of the first lessons I learned when I was learning to be a school teacher. It was lesson I was learning back when I took TESA training as a school teacher.  Some lessons just have staying power. 
    • "Openness to criticism. Instructors need to be open to critiques of their work and of their instruction" (71).
    •  "Patience.... Instructors need to be patient and work with students at their own pace and level" (71). I think this is self-explanatory.
    • "Sense of humor. Telling jokes or trying to be funny should not be confused with having a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor means being positive and optimistic, remaining upbeat, and not taking things personally" (72).
    • "Value as positive role model. Be a good example and live what you teach" (72). Again, self-explanatory I think, and it is also a huge part of my philosophy as an educator and as an instruction librarian.
  • Do you worry about dealing with absent instructors or disruptive behavior? There are some good tips in the book on chapter nine. If you have an absent instructor, do carry out your class session. You are already prepared for one. Two, way I see, canceling penalizes the students who need the information. I like the idea of, after teaching the class, contacting the instructor. To make it constructive, you can share questions the students may have had that you could not answer (questions the instructor can and should answer, for instance) and any student reactions to the instructor's absence. 

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