Archive for July, 2009

Teaching Literary Research

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

Brand-new from ACRL publications is Teaching Literary Research: Challenges in a Changing Environment, edited by LES’sTeaching Literary Research own Steven Harris (University of New Mexico) and Kathleen Johnson (University of Nebraska-Lincoln). This book also features essays by LES members Laura Taddeo (University at Buffalo, see the previous post), Dan Coffey (Iowa State) and Meg Meiman (Delaware).

Teaching Literary Research is “a collection of essays that explores the relationship between information literacy and literary research. English professors and librarians provide perspectives on this relationship through presentations of best practices in teaching students from first year undergraduate through graduate levels.”

This promises to be a valuable resource for all of us who do library instruction. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great project!

Author Conversation…Laura Taddeo

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

What is your most recent publication?

A chapter in the book Teaching Literary Research: Challenges in a Changing Environment, ACRL Publications in Librarianship #60.   Co-written with Austin Booth, the chapter is entitled The Changing Nature of the Book: Literary Research, Cultural Studies, and the Digital Age.

How did you decide to write it?

The editors, Kathleen Johnson and Steven Harris, put out a call to the LES List asking for proposals from librarians interested in contributing to a publication about the challenges of teaching literary research in the twenty-first century.  At the time, our University libraries were going through many administrative and staffing changes.  My supervisor, the Director of Collections (who also had been the Literature liaison prior to me) was interested in writing about the way collections and reference was evolving.  Digital resources were becoming the main focus of our bibliographic instruction. As we reflected upon past teaching experiences and collaborations with faculty, we agreed that cultural studies had a tremendous influence on the English curriculum at the University at Buffalo and heavily influenced what we incorporated into our library workshops.  We assumed other librarians and faculty might be interested in some of our practical approaches.

What was the process that you went through?

We first had to write a proposal for a chapter.  Once we found out the chapter idea was accepted, the editors sent us guidelines to follow, including deadlines, format, style manuals, content/length, copyright permissions. We were instructed to model the chapter on the previous book sponsored by LES, Literature in English: A Guide for Librarians in the Digital Age (ACRL Publications in Librarianship #54). The book’s audience is meant for both academic librarians and English (or Modern Languages) Department faculty members.  Authors were instructed to explain any discipline-specific terminology in order to make their meaning clear to non-specialist readers and to avoid library jargon.

While Austin and I did some research to form the proposal, a lot more research and outlines followed before we came up with our first draft.  We had taught many literature-based information literacy classes and wanted to put together practical tips for literature librarians, while also providing some sort “conversation” about the changing nature of the book, and the influence of cultural studies on the English curriculum.  The chapter went through several editing stages before it actually was ready for publication. The first round of changes was the most difficult because we were told to shorten some sections, expand others, or provide more unique teaching examples.

Talk a bit about the publication.

The emergence of cultural studies as a theoretical framework for literary studies and the wealth of digital technologies available to humanities scholars has certainly changed how students and faculty teach and do research.  Alternative research methods include examining the production, distribution and consumption of literary texts in their sociohistorical contexts; studying canon formation and genre definition; and examining a wider array of material, including popular texts and non-written material such as film and hypertext productions. Our  chapter describes approaches to teaching literary research that explore the significance of cultural studies as well as the relationships among cultural studies, digital texts and information literacy standards.  We provide descriptions of classes and assignments that we used for English undergraduate and graduate students at UB.

What did you like most about the process/project?

The best part was that we were forced to re-evaluate some of our past teaching practices.  While most of our classes tend to benefit both the students and faculty, there is always room for improvement. Writing about class assignments or collaborations among faculty gave us more ideas for future projects. We also identified new ways librarians can incorporate the basic philosophy of the ACRL’s “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education” into the English curriculum.

What did you like least?

Editing my own work was very difficult.  The editors made some very good comments about certain things that needed to be changed or revised.  Even constructive criticism is hard to acknowledge at first.  I thought it would be difficult co-writing a chapter, but it was actually a valuable experience.  I learned a lot from my writing partner, who had more experience working with our English faculty and also more knowledge about the history of cultural studies.  It also made the editing process less painful because we had one another to bounce ideas off of and we could proof each other’s work. Waiting for the final product to finally come out was a little frustrating because it took a few years for the actual book to be published.  However, most academic publications tend to go through a long publication process.

What suggestions would you have for LES members who would like to become involved in research and publication?

Most of my publications have come from calls for papers distributed through listservs.  Staying abreast of what topics are “hot” is very important.  Also, write about something you like to do-it makes the writing so much easier.  And if you have a co-author, make sure you know the author’s writing style and work ethic. You don’t want to have to do drastic editing to make the paper read smoothly. And you also do not want to carry all the weight.  Each writer should have an equal amount of work to contribute to the piece. I began writing book reviews for a journal that one of my colleagues edited.  That’s a good way to get into the writing mode and start to understand the publication process. You should look at a publication’s turn-around time if submitting to a scholarly journal.  Most people writing are on a tenure-track and need to publish to receive a promotion, so timing is important. And always understand the copyright provisions.  Authors should consider alternatives to the traditional modes of scholarly publication such as open-access journals.

Why is something like this important to you?

I always liked research and writing and being around books, so becoming a librarian seemed a natural fit.  Having an academic position is demanding in the sense that I am expected to teach, publish, do reference and collection development work as well join numerous university committees.   Finding time to write has become a top priority for me. Just knowing that the final product will be a contribution to the scholarship of the library field is both professionally and personally rewarding.

Laura Taddeo, Humanities Librarian, University at Buffalo