snake oil librarian

My information literacy/LI/BI/research strategies load isn’t a heavy as some librarians. But, this spring I’ve spoken to eleven (count ’em) department chairs about how we can “embed” in their curriculum or serve their disciplines better. Perhaps target specific courses in research methods and automatically have faculty contact us regarding library instruction for students enrolled in those courses. I know, that sounds like a given for most academic libraries, but my organization has dealt with dozens of years of disorganization and unaccountability and while it’s sort of not my problem or responsibility, because we have a flat organization, I’m taking responsibility for getting our library instruction program in order.

We’re kind of like the English department in that each librarian has her own pedagogy that she follows in the classroom. And we like that freedom. Otherwise we

Turn. Into. Robots. With. Our. Delivery.

But since talking to the head of Literature & Languages and committing our small cadre of librarians (single digit number here, folks) to teaching info lit to 93 sections of ENGL 1010 and ENGL 1020 in the fall semester…. well, we must agree on uniform delivery.

And that means that my snake oil show might get cut from my regular repertoire. I hope not. Because what I do, that’s so different from what other librarians at my organization do, and perhaps other academic libraries as well, is that I give a bit of library literacy first. It all started kind of because at a faculty meeting several of my colleagues bitched about our identity problem on campus. Nobody knows what we do. Nobody acknowledges our value. So, if we don’t communicate it, then they won’t know.

Librarians are a humble bunch. At least, the gang I work around. I’m not. Surely there are others who are not. It stems from our profession’s feminized origins. We all suffer from “good girl syndrome” and can’t bring attention to ourselves. Having the Dean of Libraries school incoming faculty about us at new faculty orientation in August–that librarians are tenure track, have academic rank, publish, etc.–was embarrassing.

I ground the students, and their instructor/professor, in the basics of why the library exists, what librarians do, why we do it, how we do it/how we’re specially trained to do it, and how we’re valuable to them.

So I point out that librarians want to serve and help, especially when you’re frustrated. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the building or at home, because we have chat, text, etc. And I talk about our various degrees and training and how we’re skilled in solving problems and finding answers. How we love mysteries, crosswords, forensic detective shows. I mention how many of us got into the profession because we love books, but that others were drawn into it because we value intellectual freedom. Then I discuss what intellectual freedom means and how it applies to their research and time at the university. I discuss how we provide access to information and resources to a variety of communities. That we do it mostly digitally these days. We understand that many cannot get to the library during our business hours, nor do they work the best. Maybe their biorhythms have them creating a paper at 4 a.m. and our ebook collections can accommodate them. They have busy lives filled with school, work, family, social obligations, and their most valuable thing is time.

We, as librarians, save them time in a myriad of ways.

Then, once I reveal the concept of librarians’ work as time-saving for students, I weave this through the rest of my presentation/demonstration of finding books, articles, etc.

I show a lovely graphic novel image of two women fighting and talk about how, besides saving you time, librarians fight for your rights. Right to read, right to privacy, and then give examples of instances that occurred on our campus. I also reference a couple of episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that have scenes in libraries. I tell them that librarians would never share patron records with police or FBI/CIA. That our ILS are set up specifically not to track those histories. While I love L&O, those shows are desperately in need of a librarian consultant to get those library scenes and privacy issues depicted correctly.

Then I show a photo of a geographic anomaly that resembles a huge pile of crap. And I teach them the CRAP mnemonic. I wasn’t smart enough to devise it, but another librarian did. CRAP stands for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose/POV. I mention that if they go through the CRAP test for every article they find on the web they spend a lot of time doing that. But, if they use the databases that we select for them, and that their tuition dollars pay for (and I also mention that while their tuition increases yearly, the library’s budget hasn’t increased in years), they won’t waste their time and they’ll get a return on their investment (ROI).

Next, I seal the deal with a photo of Neil Gaiman, who most don’t know, but 1 in 100 knowingly acknowledge, along with his famous quote:

Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.

Then I close the deal by letting them know our outcomes. They’ll learn to do a lit search, navigate the interlibrary loan process, and generate a bibliography via Refworks. The last item, I always talk about the time element again. When you have lots of time on the front end doing your research, import your citations into Refworks so that when you’re crunched for time at the end, all you have to do is two or three mouse clicks and your bibliography magically appears and that saves you time and the odious nit-picky detail work associated with periods, commas, parentheses, and everything else that must be in place for the bib/works cited/references.

Almost forgot. I tell them how informal I am and that they should jump in with their questions. And that there’s a survey I ask that they fill out at the end since we’re undergoing SACS re-accreditation. I also try to defy typical librarian stereotypes as well.

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