Professor teaching his students in a classroom

Last week I attended a really interesting event hosted jointly by University, College and Research Group West Midlands and Career Development Group West Midlands. Librarians as Teachers: the New Professionals? was a very popular event, with delegates travelling from across the country to attend. I was invited to join the panel for a debate at the end of the day, presenting the opinion of a new professional.

You can see a programme of the day including presentations and supporting material, and view other blog posts covering the day, or view the archive of tweets, but I wanted to share some of the themes raised during the event which I’ve been contemplating since.

Are librarians teachers or trainers? Which should we be?

This is an interesting topic and something that I think many academic librarians face. I think of my information literacy work as teaching – I set learning outcomes, aim to develop skills and knowledge, and where possible assess learning (this is usually during the session through verbal and written feedback). However sometimes I feel more like a trainer, and I certainly feel (in my experience anyway) that this is how some of our academic colleagues see us. Academic librarians are often invited in during a course to demonstrate to students how to use the library or how to access resources/search online databases, and I think this work is probably more akin to that of a trainer rather than a teacher. Some of my colleagues have completed the PG Cert in Higher Education, and many have commented on how surprised other academics are to see librarians there. One colleague just this morning mentioned someone from his cohort asked if he was there because wanted to move into lecturing – we already do it!

Personally, I think academic librarians should be an integral part of each course, providing support for information and digital literacy. I’d like to see more team teaching with academics; I have seen some great examples of this and think a collaborative effort is more beneficial to students. I currently think of myself as somewhere between a teacher and a trainer, but I’m definitely aiming to be a teacher.

Should librarians who teach/train at University level be members of the Higher Education Academy?

This is a really interesting point that I hadn’t really given much consideration to until the event. It was a recurring theme throughout many of the talks though, and something I have since found out more about. I’ve always wanted to do the PG Cert in Higher Education at some point, but not really considered HEA membership or what that might entail. Interestingly, there are different levels of membership – associate and fellow (and senior fellow). Most academics are advised to become fellows (FHEA), but more recently there has been a recommendation for librarians to become associates. They are still eligible to become FHEA though, and I personally agree with Jo Webb’s view that librarians should aspire to FHEA, not just associates, as long as our roles meet the criteria.

Either way, HEA recognition is something that I now understand as important, particularly for academic librarians at universities – it’s definitely something I’ll consider in future.

Who should be responsible for training librarians to teach/train?

Interesting question this one, I don’t really think there’s an easy answer. I do think there is a responsibility for library and information studies courses to include information literacy concepts and also to cover approaches to teaching (learning styles, pedagogy etc.). Even if students from these courses don’t enter academic librarianship, they are highly likely to be teaching or training in some capacity, whether it’s a formal session or a one-to-one basis through enquiries. During my distance learning course I didn’t have the opportunity to study this, despite the fact that I was already teaching in my job role. It seems this is not the case in all courses, some have excellent modules covering these topics – both the theory and practice. I’m not sure what criteria CILIP use for accrediting courses, but I feel this should be an essential topic.

It is also a responsibility of the employer to also ensure that staff involved in teaching/training receive adequate support – train the trainer type activities and opportunities to share best practice.

However I do think, as with all professional development, it is primarily the responsibility of the individual to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to equip them in their tasks. This could be through attending relevant courses, reading or researching, speaking to colleagues, or through peer observation.

How do we continue to develop our teaching skills?

Approaches to teaching change alongside changes in society – in recent years we’ve experienced a move to a more blended style incorporating both face to face and online learning. There’s also been an increase in mobile learning and the use of technology within the “classroom” (e.g.voting systems). It’s not just technology – as the understanding of learning improves this also changes the way we teach. So how do we keep up-to-date?

I think the best approach is to never stop learning about teaching. Even experts (such as those speaking at the event) can still pick up new ideas and techniques. So all the ideas mentioned in the previous question still apply – attending events, keeping up-to-date with latest research, sharing good practice, and peer observation. There was a lot of discussion at the event about peer observation, and it’s something I think I’d really benefit from. I’d like to see what others do within their teaching sessions, and I’d also like a critical friend to comment on my own teaching – I’m sure there are lots of ways I could improve, many that I may never notice myself.

What role do CILIP play?

Having recently been involved in one of the focus groups for CILIPs “Defining our professional future“, I was particularly interested to hear what people had to say about CILIPs role in supporting librarians as teachers. As I’ve already mentioned, although I think it’s largely the responsibility of the individual (and to some extent, their employer) to develop a librarian’s teaching skills, I do also believe that CILIP has a role to play in ensuring that library and information courses includes the core areas likely to be encountered by a librarian. There seem to be large differences in the content covered in courses, and I’d like to see accredited courses all cover core areas (this may already happen, but I know I didn’t get the opportunity to study information literacy which I feel should be included).

I also think CILIP should help promote the librarian as a teacher (e.g. through advocacy and increased awareness), and think they have a role to play in ensuring those already within the profession can develop their skills to deliver teaching, whether in a traditional class setting or on a one-to-one basis.

I really enjoyed the event, and it definitely gave me a lot of food for thought about what our role entails.

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  • Hi Jo,
    Thanks for posting this. I wasn’t able to go to the conference, and I did wonder about whether or not it was relevant to me in my new role, as I certainly consider myself a trainer, rather than a teacher, in my current capacity.
    It’s very interesting what you say about the Higher Education Authority, and something I might look into for personal development even if it does fit with what I currently do day to day.
    Out of interest – were any “innovative” methods used by the presenters on the day? And what was the general reaction to the people tweeting?
    Katharine

    • Thanks Katharine, glad you found it useful reading.

      Most of the presentations were the traditional style, although Antony Brewerton got us moving around first for a tour of the Learning Grid, and Geoff Walton got us up to position ourselves on a human continuum based on our views about assessment. The afternoon session with Emma King also involved us actually moving to different types of spaces to think about the way we would teach there, which I found really useful.

      Tweeting was encouraged both before and during the event by publicising the #lat10 hashtag, and the tweets from the day were displayed on a large screen at the back of the room using Twitterfall. This was a really good approach I think – it meant that people could follow tweets but they weren’t intrusive and could be ignored by those who weren’t interested. I think it also helped increase awareness so that presenters knew there were people tweeting – the three of us sat in the front row were tweeting throughout via mobile devices.

  • Baffled. In my day, albeit 30yrs ago, the University didn’t employ librarians, they were all Information Scientists. They were an integral part of any research project (woe betide a PhD student who didn’t have a lunch/dinner arrangement with one), and they were on the academic scale of pay.

    What has happened that has undermined their status?

    Cheers, Graham.

    • Thanks for sharing this Graham, really interesting to hear. I hadn’t realised this was the case, and it’s sad to hear that the situation has actually got worse in some cases.

      My own experiences as an undergraduate student (admittedly at Bangor so probably not the best in terms of support – the subject librarian roles were scrapped the year I graduated) were very different; I don’t know if I had a librarian whilst I was there, I certainly don’t ever remember having any information literacy support from the library. I did study a research module which included using databases and evaluating information sources, but it was all supported by lecturers or PhD students within our own academic department. As a close friend to a PhD student, I know they didn’t have any connection to the library or librarians either, and from the other point of view I know there are many research students at my place of work who are unaware of the support we can offer them.

      I’ve always thought that it’s because we need to build greater awareness so that institutions are aware of the support we can offer, but your point demonstrates that maybe this used to be the case but we have lost it 🙁

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  • valerie

    I’d love to be kept updated on this thread – I am extremely keen to progress in my own role as librarian.
    Thank you for sharing this.

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