Alchemical Thoughts

Let’s toss the instruction and information literacy librarians into the backrooms

Posted on: February 24, 2009

While I do have a healthy respect for some of the elders in the library profession, once in a while I have to wonder if they have been out of the trenches a bit too long. Steven Bell, who is an acknowledged advocate of minimal library instruction for information literacy, has a new piece out on faculty involvement. It all seems pretty good until he gets to this part:

But I can imagine some information literacy and instruction librarians asking themselves “if faculty do ever fully integrate this into their courses and teach it without me – what will I do for a living?” The possibility of librarians being made obsolete by faculty following the examples described above, I think, is highly unlikely. But even if the majority of faculty did, I think that academic librarians would still be needed to support the development and design of instructional activity and digital-learning materials. Our new opportunity would be back-end support – making sure faculty were up-to-date on the e-resources and well equipped with the tools to integrate them into their courses. This could be a whole new growth area for librarian educators. That’s where I’ve advocated the growing importance of instructional design and technology in the work of librarians. I don’t know exactly where academic librarians will be in the future, but if it wasn’t at the front of the classroom that would be fine with me – as long as we play a role in what happens there.

Just some librarians may ask themselves? You just pretty much said that our new role will be in the back-end support. You know, with the IT people and the others in the backrooms who never see real people? Is that really an area of growth, or are we looking at yet another way to de-professionalize and get rid of a few more librarians in the process? I do ask because, for example, here we have what is called an instructional designer who does, well, instructional technology and design. The person is not a librarian by degree or trade, but she would certainly be the sort of person that Professor Bell seems to have in mind. And why is it that being in the front of a classroom seems to be such a bad thing? Some of the best work we do is working with students and in front of their classes. And while educating faculty on things like e-resources is important, we do have a role as well in helping educate students and in the larger educational mission of the university. And statements like the one above can certainly be used to eliminate, or at the very least, keep librarians from the educational roles we should be engaging. Maybe the back-end is good enough for some people. It is not good enough for me, and I am sure it is not good enough for a few of my colleagues. Our instruction librarian would be a good example. Spent the last two years or so building an information literacy program from the ground up with extensive involvement with faculty in what was then known as the Freshman Seminar program. University decides to scrap the program, for some fairly dubious reasons, and we are back to zero pretty much. And while we could document our successes in reaching students, the university pretty much saw us as "the back-end" support anyhow. I am sure she would have a thing or two to say about taking librarians out of the front of the classroom to let the faculty do it, so to speak. I have seen the faculty do it, and it is not always as ideal as the selected examples Professor Bell cites in his post. At the end of the day, that is much of the problem with the library literature: you only see the positives, which at times are exceptions rather than representations of the rule. But hey, we can all just go work in the back-end.


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