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Nov 06

Negotiating the Ideal

Author:
Melissa Engleman
University of Minnesota Morris
menglema@morris.umn.edu

From the reference desk to the circulation desk to the weekend grocery run, I find myself constantly promoting information literacy. And while I enjoy the chaos of happenstance, I know that the ideal approach on an academic campus is planned and coordinated. Many of us don’t have the luxury of required information literacy courses, so we make due with one-shot sessions. If we’re really lucky, we can turn those one-shots into something more (double shots?).

My ideal information literacy program would require every person in the world to take one info lit course every year from the age of about 3 to death. It’s that important.

But the back and forth can, at times, feel like talking with a brick wall:

One credit hour every year for university students?

I’m willing to negotiate down to a three credit hour required course for university sophomores.

Ok. How about required sessions (multiple, please) during a required core course?

I’ve experienced the push and pull of academic bureaucracy at three very different institutions. Information literacy can be slow to gain ground and gets sacrificed far too easily, even at those institutions willing to admit its importance.

So, what’s a librarian to do?

The teacher in me wants to wax poetic about lifelong learning and better citizens. The business librarian in me knows better. You can start with the starry eyed dreamer speeches, but you best back that up with facts, politics, and general schmoozing. And time. So much time.

I’ve had small successes by joining committees, going to campus and social events, and digging through course syllabi for info lit connections. And you can’t just sit back and wait for things to roll. Market yourself and your instruction abilities. Bang on a few doors and shove your way on committees. Many times this can be as simple as asking. Sometimes, you have to weasel (or finesse, if you prefer) your way through campus politics.

Once you’re in, don’t sit down and shut up. Voice ideas, no matter how small, pushing in favor of information literacy. Do this even if you’re new. You’d be amazed how you can direct a conversation, and university policies, if you speak up about retention, accreditation, and lifelong learning issues.
At my last position, I increased the instruction stats for a business college. I did this by joining key committees no one else wanted (they were boring), like University Studies and a business college committee. I worked with university leaders, college deans, and department chairs, increasing the number of professors utilizing library instruction.

In my current incarnation as instruction coordinator at a small university campus, I don’t have as much force. So, I’m starting small. I’m a guest on the Curriculum Committee. I sit with instructors/professors at lunch. I show up at faculty/staff social gatherings. It’s easy to rev up professors about information literacy after a few glasses of wine. I take my ideas and suggestions to higher ups in the university chain of command. I’ve held my current post since the end of August, and I’m already making progress.

Your ideal instruction program may be wildly different. You may feel depressed about your university’s inability to commit to information literacy or librarians as instructors. My advice: don’t stop trying, and don’t stop pushing. If you can’t get something done through regular channels, then dig around them.

Melissa Engleman
University of Minnesota Morris
menglema@morris.umn.edu

Melissa is the Instruction Coordinator at Briggs Library on the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota. She’s a new resident of the frozen North, along with her husband and three furry quadrupeds. Melissa enjoys collecting degrees and is currently looking for an online math program just for kicks. She lives, breathes, and eats library instruction and has plans to take over the world via information literacy.