Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about language. I’m heading into my second year as an academic librarian with instruction and liaison duties, and as the fall semester begins I’m finding that the way I present those responsibilities to faculty has definitely changed.
First, a little background: I work at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Our library has pretty productive information literacy initiative going on, which includes grants for faculty to revise courses and develop new courses that incorporate information literacy more explicitly. I’m also a 2010 graduate of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, which is where I met the amazing Outreach Librarian herself.
So as a new grad and someone actively involved in information literacy instruction, in my mind I make pedagogically-significant distinctions among the following: bibliographic instruction, library instruction, information literacy, course-related, course-integrated, library tours, library orientations, resource demonstrations, presentations—you get the idea. I see them as distinct activities with different purposes and outcomes. Here’s the rub, though: faculty (usually) don’t—they’ve got other linguistic battles to fight.
Now, for those of you who are less prone to slipping into a language-policing act, you can probably skip this whole post. But if you’ve ever found yourself getting worked up about being asked to give a tour of the library when what you think a class really needs is “a course-integrated information literacy component,” then stay with me here. Cut to last year during some of my first collaborations with faculty, as I doggedly attempt to elicit course learning outcomes with the subtlety of a pit-bull:
Me: “What is it exactly you want your students to be able to do at the end of this course?”
Professor (confused look): “Well, I just want you to teach them about the library. Show them the resources.”
Me: “Yes, but the students—what do you want them to be specifically able to actually do?”
Professor: “Last year [other liaison] showed them the library, how to use the databases, find books, cite sources—the usual overview.”
(And … repeat from the top)
That’s an exaggeration, but do you see the problem? Because I didn’t for a whole year. I was so fixated on getting the poor faculty member to “articulate their learning outcomes” in a particular way and at a particular time, that I missed the opportunity to just say, “Great! I’d love to show your students around the library. Can you send me the syllabus so I can make sure we address relevant resources?” From there, I still would have had time to work out more granular and big-picture issues.
In my second go-around this fall, I’m trying to be a little more flexible. It’s not that I’ve given up on the language of learning outcomes, or talking about information literacy instead of library tours. In fact, last semester when I helped co-lead a workshop on information literacy for faculty, we included a heady dose of information literacy theory and it was totally engaging. Why? Because it was the right information at the right time…and isn’t that what librarians try to provide, after all?
So the next time someone asks me if I’ll give their class a tour of the library, I’ll smile and say, “yes, let’s talk more about that!” I’ve finally realized that what’s often happening in that initial interaction is just a, “Hi, can you help me? Check yes or no” kind of interaction—not a high-stakes pedagogical dance. And I’m no outreach librarian, but I’ll bet that holds true for a lot of collaboration and outreach efforts—pretty much anything where you have to, you know, talk to other people, then do stuff with them.