Archive for the ‘Instruction’ Category

What is a Library Function, or, When should the mission creep? Instruction Controversies.

Monday, February 13th, 2012

About Aaron McCollough

English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan

An interesting conversation is brewing on the ILI-I listserv (beginning with this post over the range and limitations of “library function” and “mission creep.” The specific question pertains to citation instruction and related questions of academic integrity. Although it is pretty well established in the various Information Literacy guidelines (ACRL, AASL, etc.) that knowing how to “use information” is a key student learning outcome (along with knowing how to locate and to evaluate information), there is plenty of room for debate about what “use” means. Thus, the poles of the discussion on ILI-I seem to be: proper citation is a writing issue and therefore outside the scope of library function–on the one side–and–on the other side: proper citation is both a writing issue and a library issue… we need to be collaborating with writing programs insofar as we can.

I’ve refrained from entering the fray up to this point. In part, my feeling is that others have expressed my basic position, which is something like this: we all recognize that the world of information is changing in deep ways and at fairly high velocity, and we also want to foster student learning in whatever forms that world is taking, so “mission creep” might not be the right analogy here. In addition to this, I’d add that I think proper citation and a focus on academic integrity are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spheres of overlap between the information literacy goals tacitly operating in most introductory writing course learning outcome statements and potential growth areas in library-based information literacy instruction. In other words, I think “writing issues” are “information issues” and that they are the responsibility of many programs/units (including writing programs and writing centers, obviously, but also libraries). I also think that framing this responsibility as a new burden rather than a new opportunity is unfortunate. I’d rather view it as a way to think about demonstrating our value in new ways. Evolving.

Don’t most of us LES members have a vested interest in seeing library instruction and writing instruction finding fellowship, especially as writing pedagogy trends towards focusing more on They Say, I Say-style engagement with the moves successful writers make and less on the traditional “research paper”? Shouldn’t we be trying to articulate what the library can offer students trying to make successful writing moves, and–anyway–isn’t this a vital question in how to “use” information?

Facebook for Academic Purposes?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

About Aaron McCollough

English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan

In some recent work reviewing an updated edition of a writing handbook, I questioned whether it might not be time to start thinking seriously about how we should be encouraging students to work with social networking sites as online research sources. Certainly, plenty of people have been thinking for some time about how to use Facebook for pedagogical interactions (leading, among other things, to the so-called “Creepy Tree House Effect”). Not much thought has been put into “citing the site,” however, or into how students might be exploiting/learning from/re-purposing material that circulates in the social network space. It’s easy to be skeptical about students using Facebook and other social media for research, but Creepy Tree Houses notwithstanding, developments like the one mentioned in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education suggest that this kind of skepticism might be as misplaced as was our general indifference to social media a few years back.

“Using Sources as Tools for Analysis”

Monday, February 21st, 2011

About Aaron McCollough

English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan

In recent months, my colleagues and I here at the University of Michigan Library have been reviewing our approach to information literacy instruction. Doing so is, no doubt, the kind of thing an organization should engage in almost constantly.


Among other things, this review has revealed that a dramatically high percentage of our library instruction is currently being directed at entry-level English classes. While it may not be an earth-shattering revelation, knowing this seems to oblige some new thinking about how best to approach such a high concentration of new library users (serving the patrons well and sparing the instruction librarians any undue redundancies). Also, insofar as the curriculum for these entry-level English classes is homogenous (although much of it isn’t), we’d like to adapt our instruction to its particular learning goals.


In service of these aims, I’ve been consulting with faculty in the English Department Writing Program about ideas for “Do-it-Yourself” information literacy instruction modules. The point of such modules is to offer faculty and graduate student instructors a way to begin directly integrating information literacy into their classes. These modules aren’t meant to replace the traditional 50-minute one-shot instruction session but rather to supplement it by delivering the most basic information in advance and by smoothing the transition between “course content” on the one hand and “library instruction” on the other.




The preceding three paragraphs are all a long preamble to what I’d really like to talk about in this post. In my attempts to develop the aforementioned instruction modules, I’ve been quizzing members of the writing faculty about the kind of content they’d find most useful in this format. Today, I got an interesting response. The assistant director of the program asked me to think about providing a module on the following topic: “Beyond the Research paper–using sources as tools for analysis.” He went on to emphasize how important it is to first- and second-year students to understand that gathering secondary source material is not an arbitrary task and that the sources themselves are meant to do something in a paper.


If writing instructors find it challenging to instill this lesson in students minds, there’s every reason to believe we librarians might have some difficulty, too, but I like a good challenge…


So. In order to begin thinking about how to approach this topic as a librarian, I’ve begun with thinking about the way we tend to teach students about plagiarism and how to avoid it. After all, plagiarism is the ultimate failure in the proper use of sources. In order to avoid such a failure, we teach students to identify what they are interested in before they start diving into their sources and to take fastidious notes based on those interests as they are reading their sources. We teach them to summarize, to paraphrase, to quote properly, and to give credit where it’s due. But the task at hand isn’t about what we don’t want students to be doing, it’s about what we do want students to be doing.


In order to turn things around, then, so that the emphasis is on making sources interact “as tools for analysis,” I think we have to probe how we expect students to understand the terms “analysis” and “sources.”


What is analysis? What is a source? There are plenty of ways to answer these questions, of course, but as far as the “discourse conventions” of English Literature study go, the range is not really that wide. I put it to my fellow LES librarians to help me answer this question.


I do have some ideas. I wonder what you think.


Isn’t Analysis something like an operation requiring one to take a critical position on something unclear, debatable, or otherwise interesting in a text (probably, but not necessarily, a literary text)?


Isn’t a Source another text that has already taken a critical position on the thing one is attempting to analyze? Isn’t it therefore an example of analysis, the successfulness of which is open to debate?


In order to teach how students of English Literature incorporate secondary source material into the production of new analytical perspectives, I wonder if we don’t have to teach a specific feature of critical thinking. Don’t we have to teach students to think of sources almost etymologically poetically, as streams of ideas (some stronger, some weaker) to draw from selectively as they develop their own thoughts?


Clearly this is a work in progress, but I’d love to know what others think about this set of questions and where it might lead.

Teaching Literary Research: Challenges in a Changing Environment

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

About Timothy Hackman

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

Back in July we happily announced the publication of a new Teaching Literary Researchbook from ACRL, Teaching Literary Research: Challenges in a Changing Environment, edited and featuring contributions by a number of LES members. Well, my library finally received a copy and I’m very impressed so far. So I’m giving myself the assignment of reading my way through the whole book, and I plan to write posts about each of the chapters as I do so. I’ll tag them “Teaching Literary Research” and include the cover image so they will be easy to locate.

The blog team is always looking for volunteers, so if you’d like to contribute by reading and writing about a chapter just let me know via the comments box. If you volunteer early you can have your pick of chapters!

I’m looking forward to diving into the book. Congratulations again to the LES members on this achievement!

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!

Using Discovery-Based Learning to Engage Students with Information Literacy

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Okay this might be a bit of shameless self-promotion, but I’ll be co-leading (along with Eric Resnis, Information Literacy Librarian at Miami University) an ACRL Instruction Section Current Issues Discussion Group at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.  Here’s a brief description:

The purpose of this discussion session is to begin a dialogue about discovery-based learning techniques and how they might be utilized in information literacy instruction.  Attendees will explore the tenets of discovery-based learning, their relationship with active learning techniques, and the pro/cons of using these methods. The conveners will use their experiences with a university-wide learning community to springboard conversations on incorporating new pedagogical concepts in the classroom.

Date, Time Location: 7/12/2009 Sunday 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Hotel: Sheraton Chicago; Room: Sheraton BR I

I realize that this is at the same time as the LES Collections Discussion Group, so many of you won’t be able to come.  I’d love to hear your thoughts though on this topic since I know many of us have instruction as part of our job duties.  In fact here are two of the questions we’re going to ask:

1.      How do you incorporate active learning into a 50-minute one-shot deal?  How do we deal with the constraints of the method and still teach effectively?

2.      Does your university/college have any campus-wide initiatives to engage students in learning?  Has the library been involved with these initiatives?

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.  Also, if you’d like the handouts from the session, please send me an e-mail at  I’ll send out handouts to those interested right after the conference.

See you all in Chicago!

Arianne Hartsell-Gundy

Not Enough Time in the Library

Monday, May 18th, 2009

About Timothy Hackman

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

Our literature librarian colleague from Yale, Todd Gilman, has written an excellent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the value of library instruction. Check it out:

Mr. Gilman makes the point that, “While college students may be computer-literate, they are not, as a rule, research-literate. And there’s a huge difference between the two.”

Well said. If I could find a non-obnoxious way to do it, I’d send this to all of the faculty at my institution.

Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

This is a tale to contradict the notion that students will not use a resource that isn’t available “on the computer.”

My institution can’t afford EEBO, but a year or so ago, when another university in the state was able to acquire it, they put their microfilm set of Early English Books up for grabs. It took 15 seconds after the e-mail offer came through for me to stake my claim. It then took me months to convince my administration to let me have this 3,434-reel resource for the cost of a one-day U-Haul rental. I surveyed my liaison faculty — twice. I found free cabinets. I negotiated for space to put those cabinets. I put in a formal proposal explaining the value of the collection, even though I would have thought it self-evident. I had to check every detail about access, labeling, and cataloging with the donating institution, and I even had to submit the number, dimensions, and weight of the book boxes in which the film would be transported. Hoop after hoop after flaming hoop.

I’m happy to report that the set is being used. Some users have no particular research need for EEB but are fascinated by the content. Others are finding it crucial to their work, such as the philosophy professor whose publisher required him to cite from a particular edition of a work of Locke’s, or the MA student who is doing a thesis around a Centlivre play that has never been republished. But to raise interest even more, I decided to make EEB February’s “Resource of the Month.”

This was the first time in my roughly 30 months at Wichita State that the RotM was not an electronic resource. Attendance was surprisingly good and included undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. Since there is no microfilm reader in the library’s classroom, I had participants gather in a reading room near the film cabinets. There I told them all about Messrs. Pollard and Redgrave and Mr. Wing and gave a brief history of the UMI filming project. I showed them the indexes to provide a sense of the scope of the collection and the diverse nature of the libraries that house the originals, even though not everything indexed was filmed.

Since the documents are all in our OPAC, I happily did not have to show my audience how to use the indexes. But I did draw their attention to the broad scope of available content by passing around pages I’d printed on the subjects of religion, politics, travel, literature, cryogenics (!), and medicine. (That last one was a prescription to cure coughing in children that involved washing worms in wine before drying and crushing them into an ingestible powder.) Then we did a few catalog searches, selected a document, located the proper reel, and threaded up the ol’ microfilm reader.

And everyone agreed that the process was not so hard, and certainly worth the trouble. And that the serendipitous discovery of great stuff on the way to the destination document was pretty cool.

For anyone interested, here’s a link to the handout I prepared for the class and beyond:

Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

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

I had my first library instruction session of the semester last week, and it was a doozy! The 400-level English course was called “Victorian Bodies,” and the focus is the ways in which discoveries in science (and pseudo-science) influenced Victorian literature. The students’ assignment was to find some articles from Victorian periodicals on things like phrenology, mesmerism, evolution, etc. Let me tell you, undergraduates are NOT enthused when you tell them they may have to become familiar with that Victorian-era beast, the microfiche reader.

I did come across a handful of electronic resources that proved useful for this class’s assignments. The databases 19th Century Masterfile (Paratext) and Periodicals Index Online (Chadwyck-Healey) are terrific resources for finding citations, and it’s relatively easy to copy and paste periodical titles over to WorldCat or your library’s catalog to find holdings. Periodicals Index Online also includes some links to JSTOR, so you may get lucky enough to find full-text that way.

A couple of excellent (free) web resources: the Internet Library of Early Journals has digital images for six periodicals, including the Annual Review and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical has no full-text, but provides excellent indexing for sixteen 19th-century titles.

And taking the quick-and-easy route (which undergraduate students would never do), there’s the Undergraduate Victorian Studies Online Teaching Anthology at the University of Minnesota Libraries, which has done everyone the favor of scanning some Victorian-era articles in three topic areas: “Condition of Women,” “Empire,” and (lucky for my students) “Science, Evolution and Eugenics.”

If you’re interested in the other resources (electronic, print and microform) I identified from my library, here’s the course web page.

How ‘bout you? Had any difficult instruction sessions lately that led you to interesting resources? You can leave a comment, or send your story to a Publications Committee member to be posted to the blog.