Category Archives: Teaching

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.



Even in university libraries

I have often thought that the most personally meaningful reference-type interactions happen in public libraries. In uni libraries, we can have a big impact but they feel to be study-related/study-limited (or perhaps professionally influential). Not that this isn’t important, it definitely is. But, this morning I opened my email box to find that reference interactions can mean much more than that to the student. The student wrote, “I can’t thank you enough for your time, knowledge and kind words. I can truly say my time spent with you will always be one of those influential and valued moments that we have throughout our lives. The greatest thing I have learnt about life is when you least expect it and sometimes in the smallest ways comes a large blessing in so many ways”.  I could tell that this student was learning lots & thinking wonderfully during our discussion, but I never imagined that anything this significant was going on for her. This profession really can bring moments of joy sometimes 🙂

Librarians are at the intersection of so many things

I had a really interesting experience with a student client a couple of days ago. A wonderfully challenging & enjoyable interaction that really got me appreciating the intersections that influence so much of my working day, my professional ontology & my ever evolving professional epistemology (such as it is). I’m writing a post about because I don’t hear librarians talk about it but it seems really important to me, so I’d like to think about it a little.

The student is going into his fourth year of study & this involves undertaking a research project. The student is studying in a discipline which traditionally isn’t big on using scholarly literature as part of the learning journey. So, even exposure to some journal literature can be pretty mind blowing. The idea of being scholarly is completely new to these students (and the student with whom I was working).

I had expected the session to begin with a chat about the search strategies that he had planned & perhaps a bit of a chat about choice of database & GoogleScholar. A bit of a revision of work that he’d already done & helping him feel some confidence about how he was starting off this session. But, what actually happened was a wonderful conversation that revealed something of the complexity & excitement of his learning journey into the scholarly environment & the ways that librarianship lets me experience, understand & connect things. I hope that I can start to unpack it a little.

A discussion about his first strategy didn’t really end up being a discussion about the strategy & the initial results at all, though it could easily have been. The search results list actually became a launching pad to a discussion about being scholarly & how his understanding of scholarliness was evolving through his personal and business values – a willingness to sacrifice to some profit to produce the level of accuracy he considers that his clients deserve, accountability & transparency that he feels has gone by the way these days, a practice of prompting open & objective discussions with his clients, his responsibility to share his knowledge & experience with younger people in his field & to offer them support, the perfectionism that extends into his personal life & how his family responds, & his need to have a relationship with his supervisor that challenges him intellectually & demands that he aim high.

It was 2 1/2 hours of constructivism in action 🙂

Exploration of the research methodologies outlined in papers & his own research methodology came to life as he drew connections with his business operations & his obligations to produce accurate results. Determining how to discuss his methodology in his dissertation & in the conference paper that he is hoping to write with his supervisor gained meaning through their connections with the technical reports that he writes for his clients and how they need to be transparent so he can be accountable to them.

How that transparency in business creates an environment where he & his clients can have rigorous discussions about results that he reports and any assumptions that need to be made in his work or provisional elements that need to be flagged. And, how he came to relate this to research conversations based in objectivity & evidence rather than personal or business experience, perspectives, beliefs etc. And how that should be reflected in the literature that he uses to inform his research & how his information evaluation learning is letting him start to do that.

How the scholarly quest to ask the appropriate questions and identify the appropriate evidence drives the evolution of his search strategies, and how this has similarities with the way the different business environments influence the demands that his clients place on his work & the demands that he places on his work.

And, on this construction went 🙂

Because of the information literacy librarian’s place in the teaching & learning environments at a university & our engagement with such a variety of clients (all of the different world views to which we are exposed & have to work), I was able to take an active role in supporting his construction of the scholarly environment & his realisation that he is truly a scholar at heart.

I don’t think that everyone who works in teaching & learning environments gets this opportunity, simply because they don’t have to work with all the world views that we have to so we can be librarians.

And, it became even more interesting. The day after this conversation, he came to see me. There had been some technical problems overnight & he thought that his data had all been corrupted. He has lots of personal stuff on his plate as he is recovering from a life threatening illness. The data problem had led him to conclude that he needed to put aside his research project for the time being. But, then he re-read the notes from our chat &, that it was those notes that made him reconnect with his deep desire to enter the scholarly world, & that he wasn’t ready to put aside his research project. That, despite his illness, he needed to continue it for himself and the values of personal & business integrity that drive him to be the person that he his, the business man that he is & the student that he is.

Our profession lets us be part of journeys like that. It’s pretty amazing. And, to think that many people think that we’re spending our days checking out books. WOW!!!

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.