On the format of sessions in which reference librarians introduce what the library and librarians have to offer

I have been thinking about the format of sessions in which reference librarians introduce what the library and librarians have to offer. What I realized was that there are three components to the session, which can be handled in different ways.

The first is set-up: library account, free RefWorks or Endnote, addresses of places to ask for help. Students can be introduced to these through an online checklist. Indeed the instructor can ask students to go through these before the session itself. Given that not all students follow instructions, the first minute of the library instructional session would be to point them to the online checklist.

The second component is more or less covered in the case of my graduate program by a customized summary of the major reference sources relevant to students. What might be added to that page would be an overview of the different modalities of using the library resources, for example interlibrary loan, e-journals, the catalog-some students may still borrow books!  Perhaps there could be an additional pop-up guide that reviewed the different ways one captures the information, via RefWorks or downloaded PDFs.

The third component is searching in a way that, in my terms, addresses the goal of phase B while helping you address the goal of phase A. By that I mean one finds out what others have written and are doing in your area at the same time as one refines what one’s area is. During the workshop period of a recent session, I had some important conversations with students that began from what they were searching for but quickly evolved into teasing out different angles, perhaps even different topics, which invited more thinking and clarification on their part. For a library instructor or the course instructor to facilitate the third component, I think it is important to use a concrete case from a student and model the interactive process of searching and clarifying. And to do this with enthusiasm, with excitement at what you can find accompanied by appropriate pauses to reflect and clarify.  Once students are engrossed in the search-alternating-with-reflection process, they can be coached about the technical issues that arise once one used the resources that makes up the second component.

Perhaps there are courses in which the students are all addressing a common well-defined topic, for which it is more important for the library instructor to spend time on the second component than the third. But I wonder; this may be something to continue to chew on.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

One Response to On the format of sessions in which reference librarians introduce what the library and librarians have to offer

  1. Thanks for this, Peter. You may remember me– I worked at the MCZ Library with Ann in an earlier century.
    As a librarian, I have think about how to organize the (relatively rare) one-shot sessions we are asked to conduct. Given that class periods are 50 minutes long, and the instruction is bookended by five minutes or so of housekeeping and reminders and questions about upcoming assignments, I choose what I want to convey carefully.
    I really like the idea of an online checklist completed before the class. Some instructors do that, but it would help if I had one ready to share with them. The second and third components I try not to race through– especially the third, which is the real work of a scholar. I can link to a list of resources (including books!), but searching them takes practice, reflection and persistence.
    My ideal library instruction practice would be a scaffolded framework for undergraduates that, for the first two years, would give them the skills they need as they become important. For example, all of our freshman are taught RefWorks, but they don’t really have a use for it until the following year. I work with a lot of Junior Year Writing classes, and almost every class someone asks why they weren’t told about it three years earlier.
    As it is, I write on the board or a ppt slide, “Remember these three things: Go through the Libraries’ web page. Use a citation manager. Remember your librarian.” Fortunately, I’m the only Maxine in the libraries here, so that’s easy.
    My best to you both.
    Macci Schmidt

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