Teaching information literacy skills is an integral part of an academic librarian’s work. While most librarians would agree that this teaching aspect is invaluable, how to effectively teach students or faculty about information resources can be difficult. In order to work effectively with faculty and help students, academic librarians have a responsibility to familiarize themselves with lesson planning and theory. This paper will discuss the need for more MLIS programs to incorporate instructional strategies in the courses they offer and discuss some pedagogical approaches that academic librarians can take to more effectively serve their users.
Library collaboration with different groups of the campus community is one initiative that the American Library Association supports because instruction is linked to principles of good service (Hook et al. 2004). The perceived lack of training available to instruction/reference librarians is an issue that library administration and the profession must address. For example, there are hardly any opportunities for MLIS students to be teaching assistants, and there are very few courses on instruction, despite the fact that information literacy is quickly becoming a more function librarians perform on campus (Julien 2005). According to a 2002 study about librarian-specific skill proficiency, most respondents believed they learned their job skills while at work. However, many respondents also mentioned that they seek out workshops and conferences to improve their teaching skills. Hook et al. (2004) point out that the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) encourage librarians to participate in professional development with a focus on education. The Library Instruction Roundtable (LIRT) and the National Forum for Information Literacy are two organisations that encourage librarians to improve their teaching information literacy skills. One of ACRL’s most important contributions to information literacy was creating the Institute for Information Literacy (ILL). This organization aims to help librarians better integrate information literacy skills in their services through workshops on the education process (Hook et al. 2004).
Considering the heavy reliance most undergraduates have on web-based resources, one extremely valuable instructional tool is online tutorials. What the librarian must ask him or herself is what kind of materials do students need to complete their research? Effective online instruction should have tutorial topics clearly listed on the first page of the research instruction page of the library website. (Su & Kuo 2010) Many academic library websites have a set of tutorials that teach students key research skills, such as basic searching skills, how to locate information, how to evaluate resources to determine its academic value, and types of information resources they have at their libraries. There is no singular way to teach students online, and a 2010 study by Su and Kuo, reported several types of programming that were more extensive than others. For example, they cite the Online Advancement of Student Information Skills (OASIS) as one method that is particularly useful when a librarian cannot teach a student research skills in-person. That program emphasizes locating information, Boolean search logic, and how to legally or ethically use information in accordance with copyright laws. Ultimately, web-based pedagogy tends to be for “point of need” answers, which fulfill basic information seeking skills. (Su & Kuo 2010)
Nonetheless, both online and in-person instruction can be effective by using the following three teaching strategies separately or in conjunction with one another: The first is active learning where the student can work on brief “assignments” or complete online quizzes to help master what they have learned. It focuses on some kind of interaction between the tutorial program and/or the librarian via chat or email. Active learning tends to be the most effective type of instructional tool, when the student is allowed to use a tool during the instruction exercise. One excellent way is to begin the transaction by asking the student what he or she has already done for their research, where their struggles might be, and show where their information-seeking behaviour can be improved (Oakleaf & VanScoy 2009). This strategy tends to work best with an individual student or a very small group. However, this kind of instructional method can help the librarian identify patterns in undergraduate information-seeking needs and/or behaviours so they can adjust their teaching style or adjust online tutorials to make them more effective (Oakleaf & VanScoy 2009). As Oakleaf and VanScoy (2009) put it, “The overriding principle for this strategy is to allow students to make decisions and take actions while librarians serve as guides who create connections, help students see patterns, ask relevant questions, and encourage reflection.”
The next strategy is situation simulation. In this case, the tutorial program provides the student with a particular research question, while simultaneously providing a step-by-step guide on how to complete their task. Finally, question-oriented presents the student with a problem they can solve using the tools provided in the tutorial (Su & Kuo 2010). For digital and in-person reference help, where there is great opportunity to include a teaching component, librarians can use positive reinforcement to encourage their student when they demonstrate positive information-seeking skills. The goal of this type of positive reinforcement is that it will also encourage students to put their new skills to use in the future, ideally without too much struggle (Oakleaf & VanScoy 2009).
One important aspect of pedagogy is having clear goals in mind, and this principle is applicable to both web-based and in-person information literacy transactions. Walker and Engel (2003) propose the following goals for information literacy teaching: Instruction librarians can help students by acknowledging strengths and weaknesses of how the retrieve information already. Interestingly, much information literacy teaching strategies heavily emphasise the importance of teaching the student how to verifying data and evaluate critically the sources of information that they find. So many students trust what the find doing an extremely simple Google search or Wikipedia search that they accept the legitimacy of the information without much question. Additionally, a librarian in a teaching role must establish information-seeking where information literacy is extremely important when researching for their classes.
Their study also points out the value of print resources, which are often forgotten in the sea of instantly available web resources. Information pedagogy offers and excellent opportunity to remedy a highly problematic issue in academic librarianship: Thorough instruction services either in-class or online creates a venue for increased awareness and visibility for reference librarians and also demonstrates their usefulness in the academic setting. (Walker & Engel 2003) Additionally, demonstrating how search skills can help them in more than one course also helps students be more aware of the importance of librarians to their academic careers. In a more formalized setting, information literacy or teaching librarians can approach faculty who make learning about information sources and services part of their coursework or even a part of their classroom or tutorials, which again remedies issues of visibility of library resources and librarians. (Walker & Engel 2003)
Teaching research skills well is not usually a natural talent for most librarians, new or experienced. In order to fulfill core standards of service, MLIS programs and librarians must expose themselves to teaching methodologies. By increasing the visibility of librarians instructing research skills online and in-person, we can solidify our value to the campus community.