Librarian in the ClassroomNovember 29, 2010
It’s the time of year when I write up an annual report of what I’ve done, for my supervisor to review. This year I taught 20 classes, up from 11 in 2009 (yes, we keep statistics on this, as on, well, practically everything). What does it mean when a librarian teaches a class?
Unlike faculty members, librarians mainly teach one session of a class, having been invited in by the regular faculty member to cover library resources related to a class project, often a research paper. Except at the 4000 and graduate level, I have usually never seen the students before, and am unlikely to see them again, although some do follow up for individual meetings. I don’t have much knowledge about their background or level of competence at conducting university-level research; I can assume that senior majors and grad students know more than freshmen, but most classes have a mix of skill levels. I usually have 50 minutes to cover topics as varied as how to use Wikipedia (very carefully if at all!), the importance of Boolean searching in scholarly article databases (searching ‘etruscan tombs with images of charon’ will net you nada in Jstor), how to parse a call number and find a book on the shelf, and how the heck to use L’Annee Philologique.
My saving grace is a web page I custom-create for each class. At UGA we use an open-source software developed by Oregon State University called Library a la Carte, which allows us to create modular chunks of content and re-use and mix them on multiple web pages. Thus I use some of the same content, but with variations based on student need, in pages for a 3000-level Latin class writing a term paper on the Aeneid, a 1000-level Honors class writing a short paper on Greek Civilization, and a 4000-level theater class playing the Reacting to the Past Athens Game. The faculty member can embed these pages in the campus course management software (at UGA, it’s eLearning Commons). Teaching, and providing a page of resources like this, is one of the best ways that we as librarians can reach out to groups of students, rather than waiting for them to come to us, often after they’ve wasted time fruitlessly Googling. It results in better papers for the faculty members as well.
If your class has an assignment of any kind that asks the students to do research, please consider inviting a librarian to your class to teach the students college-level research skills – don’t assume they come to you with these skills. Most universities have a subject specialist librarian assigned to every department; if you don’t know yours, ask at the Reference Desk the next time you are in the library.