And The Trends Played on…..

No Ithaka-caliber study has been conducted for my work environment.  We do have statistics we can marshall forth but, like other libraries, we don’t have good measures for the things that matter.  Stats or no, it is just a fact that we wrestle daily with the trends examined in this week’s readings!  I note especially the trends that indicate a distinction between library usage and library usefulness.

Library Usage?  No problem…..on a certain level!
Our library is not a mausoleum to soon-to-be-deceased library services.  It is not a hushed citadel of quiet study either!  It is a packed, unquiet, crazy… borderline rowdy….community space.  During the 3 free periods in our daily schedule, we are routinely home to 160 high school students, almost 1/3rd of our enrollment! They are draped, knotted and nestled all over the library…..studying, collaborating, playing chess or World of Warcraft, socializing or attending an event.  This is a lovely situation. It means we do not need to worry about promoting the library as the place to be.

Deeper Usefulness?  Our challenge and our opportunity.
The popularity of our physical library doesn’t mean that our library, and what we have to offer, is fully integrated into learning at our school.  This is our challenge lest we be reduced to supplying charging cables for phones and laptops, solving printer woes and recommending yet another Orson Scott Card book and AP Exam study guide.

Oops, I think that sounded snarky.  Let me redirect.

Even our more pedestrian services are indeed useful and meaningful but it is the stuff that we deliver directly to instruction and learning that has us closest to the beating heart of our mission.

As the readings this week point out repeatedly:  We need to be in the work flow of students and faculty.  That is the sweet spot for librarians.  And, just as the Project Information Literacy Reports and Lindstrom & Shonrock suggest, where there is collaboration there is more likely to be integration. Unfortunately, it has always felt a bit like we were swimming in molasses on this in our high school.  I have spent quite a bit of time over the past four years musing on this.  Where are the fault lines on the road to library integration in learning for us?   Let’s play the blame game to highlight a few.

Let’s blame the curriculum.
A curriculum composed predominately of assignments that can be met through a reliance on course content (lecture notes, course readings and instructor-curated content) or Google searching leaves little need for the services of the library and its librarians.  Inquiry-based or project-based learning, on the other hand, pushes students beyond course materials.  Assignments like these cry out for library services.  And, if the assignment requirements and rubrics explicitly include benchmarks and evidence that ensure, say, a variety of sources including book and database sources then all the better.  At our high school, shifts toward inquiry-based learning have been golden opportunities for us to start the collaboration/integration trend ticking upward.

Let’s blame faculty next!
Honestly, my head jerked up with recognition when Meredith highlighted the following Ithaka finding so plainly in this week’s lecture.

“Even in the humanities, only just over 50% think that librarians contribute significantly to student learning, and yet, less than 50% think that its their responsibility to develop student research skills.” [from lecture slide entitled Ithaka Study]

This is indeed a problem!  It is an unfortunate natural outcome of learning communities where instruction is compartmentalized within traditional disciplines and IL is seen as something someone else is delivering somewhere else!  When IL is not owned by faculty members — as both a personal quest and a responsibility to teach — then it is not a core mission in action.  It is a core mission on paper only.

Our best chances for sparking collaboration comes with faculty who want to:

  • Bust out of their discipline silo
  • Own their own IL quest as well as that of their students
  • Share content discovery with students rather than retain full control over the content that is delivered
  • Devote course time to a student ramble into an inquiry of the student’s choosing.
  • Refashion assignments to truly integrate facets of IL, even those that go beyond what they have thought of as their discipline’s domain.

Most importantly, let’s blame librarians!
We must!  We must because libraries certainly contribute to the lack of collaboration between faculty and libraries.  We must because an honest appraisal of what we do is a more proactive path toward righting dismal trends than any amount of blame tossing.  Two contributions to the problem that libraries, including mine, should own…..and actively work to redress are:

  • one-shot and one-size-fits-all instruction which pose a major disincentive to collaboration and meaningful integration.   When we offer basically one thing on the IL menu — long library instruction sessions, absorbing entire class periods or even many periods in succession – it is simply quite deadening for students and faculty alike.  We single-handedly drive a stake through the heart of our own IL mission!   We also construct our own silo and give the impression that IL is our domain alone and not a shared endeavor.
  • online services that stand alone and apart from the work flow of students and faculty.  As Bowles-Terry, Hensley and Hinchliffe point out, librarians devote so much earnest effort to library websites and tutorials that never see the light of day in faculty or student learning.

Instead, as the redress, we need to offer a range of approaches for partnering with faculty and reaching students.  These approaches need to be

  • bite-sized
  • deftly customized to respond to particular course needs
  • enthusiastically marketed
  • well situated in the instruction/learning flow.

Embedded Librarians as Trend Menders!

The embedded librarian model suits this situation perfectly.  It is the cure.  It is a practice of examining what the user needs.   It is about fostering long-term, trend-altering partnerships with faculty that lead to long-term, trend altering IL aptitudes in everyone.  Embedded librarians continually ask: What do particular faculty members need for a particular projects or classes?  What do our students need to be successful?

The embedded library model offers differentiated service for differentiated teaching and learning.  It is a model with the best potential for a trend-busting, simultaneous increase in library usage and usefulness.


About tellthetruthruth

I'm a 12 Thinger.
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8 Responses to And The Trends Played on…..

  1. mgfarkas says:

    Fabulous post Ruth! I think there’s quite a lot of blame to go around as you point out. And you’re right that I don’t know of a study like Project Information Literacy for school libraries (I’ve seen stuff from NCES like, but it’s not about how students use them). However, you might be interested in their latest report, which looks at student research in the transition from high school to college I found it very validating in terms of my efforts to strengthen library presence in our Freshman Inquiry courses and also depressing when I see so many districts cutting school librarian positions since it’s clear that students need all the preparation they can get for college-level research.

    • embendered says:

      I am familiar with Project Information Literacy’s Freshman Study. In fact, we have been sharing it with our high school faculty. Although the study didn’t involve our kids, we are looking at it as if it did. The findings are basically describing our “end product” in a way and there is a lot of food for thought there about where we fail, where we should direct our attentions and what our students can expect in college. Good stuff!

  2. livingonbluespower says:

    What a cool picture you’ve painted of students hanging out and living their lives in the library space. You’re right describing how that is a different thing than also utilizing all the information opportunities to the fullest. I think there is an ongoing obligation on the part of librarians to meet the rest of the world halfway, as you pointed out. I suppose librarians know how important their mission is and duties are, so they cannot sit on that knowledge and let it remain passed over. There was something visceral about the way you described the ruckus of an average library day that took my imagination there and also made me feel like if it could be a great gathering place, then that is step one in the process!

    • embendered says:

      You said: “the ruckus of an average library day.” I like that. Your words capture our library. One of these weeks, I will write about how our new, more embedded practices contribute to the “ruckus” of the library….and not necessarily in a good way! They certainly impact our ability to police the library in ways that keeps our “ruckus” to the lively, inviting sort rather than the brash, chaotic sort. The difference between good ruckus and bad is a fine, fine line!

  3. joannerumig says:

    Your blog was very interesting this week and really opened up the real issues in libraries. I think all parties are to blame so to speak with the issues we are now facing in libraries. I also think that staff in libraries, in my own experience, are so afraid of trying something new and putting new ideas into action that very few initiatives are piloted to obtain some real feedback. Often committees are formed with faculty, librarians and managers, discussion follows, plans are made and then there is a delay of some sort. I agree that we need to be in the workflow with faculty and embed ourselves into the courses and learning management systems. I think in order for librarians to be successful in establishing relationships we have to start somewhere, no matter how small, be passionate in our mission and to realize that this is a long term investment for our libraries and our communities.

    • embendered says:

      Joanne, I so agree that we need to be proud of small triumphs and cheerfully, rather than stridently, passionate about what the library can do for our faculty and students. Dogged determination mixed with patience, a sturdy ego and a really really buoyant sense of humor. That’s all we need. Oh, and maybe a month’s vacation at a restorative spa each year!

  4. georgereads says:

    Ruth you are so right on! Great post! Great points! I feel the shift coming with your post! Inquiry based learning=YES! And I loved how you included everyone in the “blame game”. It takes a village! It takes really awesome teachers who are passionate and really awesome librarians who are passionate about what they do. Those round table meeting are deadly and counter productive a majority of the time. Often times big shifts in learning or ‘projects’ get implemented without trying them out in small trials (with one or two classes) first. There is what I call that McDonald’s mentality where everyone gets a cheeseburger instead of creating a delicious appetizer for one grade, a main course for another, and you get the idea. I’ve had a lot of success with that. I feel like if a child grows up in our school they will eventually get the full course meal–that is also a downside because they deserve to get the full course meal every year. I hope I made sense : )

  5. Super post Ruth!

    I particularly related to the “Blame the Curriculum” section. In Claudia’s post, “Some Do, Some Don’t,” post she writes “one recent convert to the one-shot instructional sessions that I teach was a long-standing hold out member of our adjunct faculty. A good instructor who honestly believed that his college students should know how to research when they enrolled in his classes, and know how to use the Library’s online resources.” This is a comment regarding a faculty member who did not perceive the usefulness of librarians or library resources in aiding his student’s research methods and choices of resources used in writing their research papers. He thought that students should already possess these skills by the time they reached his class. This instructor is from a community college. So it seems that, at least this particular instructor, and perhaps more, are expecting a level of researching knowledge that is higher than is being required of graduating high school students. This may, indeed, point to the curriculum of college-bound high school students inadequately preparing them for what will be expected of them in college-level writing. Or perhaps this particular instructor is not understanding that the level of research expertise required increases as students proceed up the academic ladder in their studies. Perhaps community college librarians could develop a partnership with area high schools and deliver a one-shot session of the use of community college library resources during students’ senior year in order to better prepare them for the step-up in expectations that they will encounter when they enter college.

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