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.



Libraries as “havens of future-ready skills lessons”

Liz McGettigan posted an article on LinkedIn. As usual it was a short but thought-provoking article – often the very best kind 🙂

By Megan Borgardus Cortez (& in EdTEch: Focus on K-12), it is called Are libraries the key to teaching computer science? Floating the idea that libraries could be the key to teaching computer science, intrigued me – libraries as the key to teaching computer science seemed incredibly over the top.

As I read the article, I was struck by how Megan was advocating the possibility of libraries becoming what many working class Australians of generations previous to mine actually experienced them to be – providers of the “opportunity to become havens of future-ready skills lessons”. I got to thinking that’s exactly what libraries used to be in the 19th & at least the first half of the 20th Century, so how was it that someone had to tell us that we could become this?

… [begins as a comment on a conversation of comments] Although your conversation is very short, I think that it says a lot. Increasingly our libraries seem to be dividing into the haves, the have nots & the “not anymores”. The reasons for these divides are no doubt complex; more complex than I understand. Obviously resourcing comes to mind immediately & trying to find the funds to provide more access to more things may be an obvious not-so-easy answer, & may be particularly difficult to contemplate for passionate but burnt-out library staff reduced to trying to hold things together for the well-being of their much loved communities.

For me, Cortez raises a fundamental issue when she says, “Libraries have the opportunity to become havens for future-ready skills lessons”. In earlier generations of my family (& many other Australian families) that’s exactly what libraries were (along with places like Mechanics Institutes). These people couldn’t afford high level schooling & opportunities weren’t plentiful in working class neighbourhoods in the days when transport was limited. Libraries, even though they weren’t plentiful, were the places people went to give themselves the educations that they needed for their present & their future. They saw libraries as the very things that Cortez thinks that libraries can become. Libraries were an essential ingredient in lifelong knowledge building.

So, I ask myself how did we move ourselves away from this role? Now, I am no expert in the history of libraries & librarianship, but I wonder if it happened when we decided to become “information professionals” providing “access”. And, I don’t just mean access to books, electronic journals, etc. This applies to what some (perhaps even many) may consider to be “progressive” practice. I have seen libraries (& I’m NOT saying that all libraries & library staff do this & I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for this) using social media to tell people what to do (eg. follow our referencing tips & your grades will sky rocket) rather than genuinely conversing OR discussing the makerspace without any reference to one of its fundamental purposes – helping people create their desired learning outcomes.

We can continue on this path of providing access &, often times, measuring our outputs. But, what if we took ourselves back to that past where we saw our roles founded in the knowledge building & knowledge sharing happening in our communities, & partnering with our clients/users/members/patrons/etc to help them achieve their desired outcomes? Would we, once again, give ourselves avenues to be seen to be “havens of future-ready skills lessons”?

And, what forms might those lessons actually take? If our goals were truly the goals of our communities, might we create ourselves a transformational foundation from which to practice? Give ourselves thinking tools for meaningful strategic change that allows us to continue in “future-readiness”? Might the have not libraries begin to find themselves a position of greater strength over time, & might the not-any-mores actually have a chance of finding their way back?

Don’t our communities deserve this from us? Don’t we, as a profession, deserve it for ourselves? Of course, I’m not the only librarian on the planet who has been asking these questions over a period time. Others, much smarter & more eloquent & more able than me, have also been doing it & they are gearing up to challenge us to embrace a people-centric & knowledge-centric (& future-ready) foundation of practice.

Finally, we have a theory from which to apply our practice (New Librarianship). No longer do we have to rely on augmenting & applying the theories of other disciplines to create ourselves roots of professional practice; though doing so is incredibly useful & intellectually stimulating 🙂 Perhaps this new theory will encourage the development of more new theories, even theories in opposition to this approach. WOW!!! How exciting would that be for our current & future practice. How useful would that be to our future-readiness? A gift to ourselves & our communities; to our present & our future.

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????

Fab quotes

The Unquiet Librarian is moving on to a new blog & in her announcement post she said something really nice – sometimes we must be brave and courageous to venture into places we might not go in order to make those turns and moves that “will clear our vision” of what once was and to begin to be what can be.

The best leaders understand that it is not their job to know. Instead it is their job to create the systems that discover – William Barnett 8th July 2017 on RN’s Best Practice

ACRL & other blogs’ posts: insights for professional identity & practice

I found myself responding to an ACRL Blog post again today. It’s so inspiring to see librarians responding in non-traditional ways when they discuss the things that they consider important to professional practice. I need to go back through this blog & explore the various expressions/descriptions of professional practice & identity – there are valuable insights there for me. I’m going to use this post to collate the posts so I can really reflect on what they mean to me:


Media & digital literacy for kids

Crinkling news  – heard about on Media Watch tonight (20 May 2017)

Crinkling news has announced closure 😦

Curious kids

in The Conversation – kids questions answered –

Facebook’s new Messenger app

in The Conversation

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.