Category Archives: Personal pedagogy

Concepts used to “teach” info lit can be used to promote strong client liaison

Over many years I have listened to a good number of liaison librarians complaining about their lack of traction with the academics in their liaison portfolios. Discussions around these concerns never seem to improve the situation as blaming (even mocking & demeaning in some cases) the clients seems to be a response from which these librarians cannot move. I don’t say this as a negative judgement of these librarians. I think that this is probably a natural consequence of a combination of:

  1. The profession’s behaviourist information-centric identity & practice in what is actually a people-centric & knowledge-centric environment
  2. The supporting service role that the library plays in universities which seems frustrating for those who have a need to be at the forefront
  3. The theory void that gives us few thinking tools for professional practice & so can lead to unproductive “emotional” responses when this need not be the case.

Below I have taken a Twitter discussion which is typical of the kinds of things that I have heard over nearly 15 years & linked some foundational learning & teaching concepts that are often used to create information literacy learning opportunities & promote learning at the reference desk, etc. I think that these concepts are important to creating truly productive relationships with academic clients &, therefore, can be used by librarians to empower themselves & their clients in liaison relationships.

There may be disagreement about some of my concept choices but the foundational message would, I think, stand. I’m going to let this mull in the back of my mind, perhaps talk to a couple of people about it & then maybe write it up as a paper.



Possible relevance to libraries seeking to shift from conventional to New Librarianship approach? – it has certainly got me wondering.

Asked David Lankes what he thought of potential relevance & he has responded, This is brilliant and I agree right in track. Building knowledge and narratives in a community certainly seems like sense making.

So, perhaps has milieu links in application of personal pedagogy to librarianship????

Librarians & learners

Last week an Australian national treasure, Mark Colvin, died. Some of his colleagues at the ABC told brief stories about Mark, as a person & as a workmate. Now, my work as a librarian can in no way even begin to approach the quality & value of Mark’s work, but a comment about his approach resonated with what I hope has been my approach to reference & liaison librarianship. The comment about Mark was “That’s what Mark did for so many of the guests who came on PM — made them feel held and secure in a way that allowed them to focus, and access the best parts of themselves.”

I think that librarians who see their work being about people & their knowledge creation & knowledge sharing do something very similar. The practice of librarianship from this perspective is a humanist endeavour. Our clients come to us in various states of confidence to seek help – some are confident as this is their nature, or they know (from past experience) that we will respect them, help them fulfil their goals & enjoy the interaction with them; others are hesitant, unsure, perhaps have never sought serious help from a librarian before. Those who come to us with the various degrees of hesitancy & discomfort are the ones we help move away from their insecurities about their lack of knowledge, perhaps even embrace the “blank slate” with which they feel confronted. We help them begin on a journey to join the confident questioners & seekers, using constructivist techniques that encourage them to access the knowledge & thinking processes that have got them to this point, we engage tools together (such as database subject headings) to help them tap into new sources of support, as they discuss what they are finding & learning, we learn more about them & more about the knowledge they are seeking which gives us insights of greater breadth & depth which we use to play our role in building a mutual cycle of confidence & knowledge building.

Our work together helps us both access some of the best parts of ourselves – our clients accessing the best parts of their learning selves & us accessing the best of our professional selves; and both of us growing … together.

For many years I thought that all librarians saw (to varying degrees) their professional roles in a similar way & could not understand why, despite the value clients placed in my work, I continuously failed to find points of “ontological connection” with many of my colleagues (often the most dominant & powerful of my colleagues). With some space away from work & a chance to mull the work of new librarianship & reflect on this blog, I’m starting to think that perhaps not being an “information professional” created a chasm in understanding that I didn’t recognise or have the personal skills to attempt to bridge. Not realising it, I saw “information professional” as a meaningless label while those with whom I rarely found professional connections (but often conflict) have it at the core of their professional identity. So, when some people said things like, “I don’t know why that Faculty respects you”, they really didn’t understand what was happening in the professional relationships – they couldn’t see what work was actually being done, by me & by the academic & student clients with whom I was working. And, I have absolutely no idea what they wanted me to be doing to make my practice legitimate in their eyes.



Lankes’ intro to the Follett Chair panel discussion on librarians in a post-factual world

The social responsibility of the library and the librarian in a post-factual world

This introduction to a panel discussion (which isn’t included in the recording – alas) left me pondering something once again. I have had this feeling since my very early days in librarianship. I have no evidence for it, I haven’t yet explored it through the literature though this is now on my list of jobs to do. I think that perhaps we are “raised” to see ourselves as of the library rather than of our clients/community/patrons (whatever words individual librarians prefer to use to help them understand their professional ontology) – as being part of the “Institution of the Library” first & foremost. I think that this leads to a level of separateness that sometimes leads to a worry that, if we really became part of our community/etc, our professional ontology may be challenged – that people might ask us to take on roles we don’t want for ourselves or can’t imagine for ourselves. I think that this separateness sometimes becomes a protective barrier for us.

In this presentation, Lankes outlines four goals of the Richland Public Library – goals that it established by truly connecting with the Richland community:

  1. Help create a strong and resilient economy
  2. Strengthen community cohesion
  3. Transform educational outcomes for youth
  4. Help break the cycle of poverty.

I see librarians creating goals such as these as courageous & (in a way) to be “truth telling”; to be a way of opening themselves & their library up to be what is wanted & needed of them; to be proactive & responsive & innovative & whatever else is required. For me, these librarians & other library staff are truly inspiring.

How my personal pedagogy influences my academic client liaision

When I first began thinking about my personal pedagogy, I didn’t realise how entwined it is with my academic liaison work (student too, but that’s a different post for another day). In fact, the librarian I was very much influenced the teacher that I was when I first began teaching. And now each reinforces the other on almost an equal footing.

My partnership approach to liaison is very much influenced by a belief that my clients are lifelong learners in all aspects of their complex and challenging academic lives (as researchers and as teachers). I have feedback from a client that says “We learn from you everyday” and hopefully many of my academic clients feel that they learn from our work together.

I certainly learn from working with my clients. My first eight years as a librarian were spent in hospital settings and it was very clear right from the beginning that I would have to practice from a learning foundation. I couldn’t even spell many of the things that I had to search for and I felt as though a medical dictionary had been surgically attached to my body during my first year of practice. Of course this also made the reference interview critical. No being tempted not to reveal my ignorance due to false pride; patient care and the professional development of clinicians were at stake.

As I moved to work with engineers, spatial scientists and urban and regional planners in the university sector, my learning foundation held me in good stead as I had a whole lot of fresh learning to do. And, eight years on I’m still learning about these disciplines. My reference work and information literacy work are particular drivers of this learning as they provide opportunities for me to understand more and more about the way these disciplines think and the questions that they ask. These insights are wonderful for working with students who are struggling to work out what their courses are trying to get them to think about.

There are very few recipes to apply to liaison work like this. Yes, there are some basic starting points that any librarian would use, but after that it all depends on what and how I am prepared to learn about my clients, their disciplines and their teaching and/or research environments. I love this; it ensures that every day is different thanks to the different journeys I take to work with my clients.

Some librarians say that, these days, liaison work is generic but, I don’t agree. I think that being a proactive, critically thinking, client-centred librarian means that we cannot practice generically. It’s not physically possible as getting to know our disciplines gives us new thinking tools that we can’t help but apply. Our brains just use them. I bet there’s some kind of neurobiological explanation.

Just as teaching and learning are very personal activities, so liaison work is a very personal activity; embedded in the librarian I am becoming. And, I am always in a state of becoming. My understanding of my personal self, my librarian self, my understanding of my academic partners, my understanding of the disciplines with which I work, and my understanding of our  environment/milieu all reinforce each other as I practice each day. I’m always learning something new thanks to all the short and long journeys that each day brings. No wonder I feel as though I am always in a state of becoming!!

And, this brings me to an interesting question. As a professional practitioner, my focus has been on professional ontology. But, what does this mean for the evolution of my very own professional epistemology? Something new to think about now 🙂 And, it’s probably a particularly useful time to do this thinking as our library is undergoing a major review and who knows what changes await me.

Unpacking personal pedagogy with a metaphor

Using a metaphor to unpack one’s personal pedagogy is another great strategy for awareness creation. It’s probably going to be a tricky method for me but, I’m giving it a shot 🙂

When I teach well, I am like a bus driver. Each of my passengers is on their own lifelong journey to build and share knowledge, and I am responsible for helping them reach just one point in that learning destination. The short trip that they take is an information literacy or library-related trip directly related to their study or research goals.

What they actually make of that journey is up to the passengers; how they choose to engage with me and with their fellow passengers and how they choose to engage with the other elements of our journey.

When they embark, I seek to offer my passengers a hospitable environment (Palmer 2007) through a genuine welcome and a commitment to a respectful, interactive, constructivist journey that induces regular laughs along the way. I hope that my passengers will engage with each other; my pedagogy is designed to encourage it. But, if an individual’s learning journey needs to be more solo than social, I attempt to respect and accommodate this as well. I am not the silent disengaged bus driver, but the bus driver who sees each passenger as an individual with their own goals, needs, personality, mood, attitude to the trip, etc.

Although our route is rather well defined, the stops are determined by the learners and how they respond to the session as it progresses.

The learning objectives, content and pedagogy define our route, and these are authentic to ensure that we are connected to the real world as we move through it. Our planned learning activities, and our interactions with these, are directly related to the real worlds of assignments, professional competencies and course-specific learning objectives set by examiners. As we travel, my passengers feel part of their world.

As I travel with my passengers, I engage with them and learn from them. I reflect during the journey and after it (Schon 1983). This is essential as the more I understand the learners, and the disciplines in which they operate, the more knowledge I have to help me improve journeys to come.

Our bus is not state of the art but I make every effort to appropriately incorporate the technology to which I have access. By incorporating technologies in the appropriate manner, I create opportunities for the journey to be more comfortable and engaging.

My passengers disembark satisfied with new relevant thinking tools and have had some of their entrenched information views and behaviours challenged in a useful way. They feel ready to take another journey with me, and their course examiners are also motivated to explore further information literacy journeys. I cut the bus’s engine feeling energised, a little wiser, and hopeful that the learners will approach me when they need help, or even come to another class or use another online resource some time.

Palmer, PJ 2007, The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schon, DA 1983, The reflective practitioner, Ashgate, London.

The structure of my personal pedagogy

This structure has been informed by three particular sources:

  • Elbaz, F 1983, Teacher thinking: a study of practical knowledge, Croom Helm, London.
  • Marland, P 2007, Learning to teach: a primer for pre-service teachers, Pearson Education Australia, French’s Forest, New South Wales.
  • McGill, M 2013, EDU8705 Personal pedagogy in context: module 2 – personal pedagogies: an introduction, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba.