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
- 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.