Teaching with Librarians

6 January 2022
By Gould Library Instruction Librarians

As Carleton’s instruction librarians, we enjoy meeting new faculty, learning about their teaching, and discussing the ways we can support their classes. We see faculty-librarian partnerships as new ways to reach students and help them grow in their identities as scholars. Through these conversations, we’ve learned that faculty have had a variety of experiences with librarians at their previous institutions. We hope you will come to us with your needs and questions — we’ll work with you and let you know what we can offer. 

Sometimes faculty worry that they are asking for too much or for support that is out of scope. It’s perfectly fine if you’re not fully aware of the Carleton’s library system and staff yet. Librarians can give you examples of ways we’ve worked with faculty and brainstorm ideas for information literacy instruction that meets your needs. You know your students better than anyone, so librarians appreciate learning from you about what works well. Additionally, if what you are looking for is beyond our expertise, we provide expert referral to other support professionals at Carleton and collaborate closely with them. It is not unusual, for example, for two librarians to co-lead a class visit or share the load of consultations in order to draw on our specialized expertise in topics such as data, government documents, and special collections.

The range and flexibility of library support is perhaps best demonstrated through examples. Suppose a faculty member approached a librarian saying, “I heard librarians can help my students find information for an assignment in my class.” After a discussion about learning goals, deadlines, limitations, etc., the two came up with a plan. That plan might have looked like any of the following examples of recent instruction we’ve done:

Scenario #1: A librarian came to the classroom for about ten minutes early in the term to introduce himself to students, spoke briefly to ways he works with students, explained how to schedule a consultation, and introduced students to the course research guide he had put together on the library website.

Rationale: Student topics were expected to range broadly and individual time with a librarian seemed a better choice than trying to address general resources all at once. Providing an opportunity to meet the librarian and see him as welcoming and non-judgemental was a high priority to encourage interactions throughout the term.

Scenario #2: A librarian led an activity-based session for 45 minutes in the library lab-classroom. The librarian developed a Google-doc-based worksheet with three main sections that corresponded to a research guide. Class time was divided between brief lecture, time to work independently on the worksheet, and short check-ins as a class to share observations. The worksheet was designed to let students begin work toward their assignment during class time, show them their progress, and help them see how the librarian could continue to help through the course of the assignment. 

Rationale: Demonstrating a coherent process for finding, evaluating, and organizing information was a priority in this situation. Giving students a chance to learn a small set of common strategies during class time prepared students to work independently and consult with their librarian and professor as needed. 

Scenario #3: A librarian visited the class for half an hour. After first polling students about their level of familiarity with a few different databases, she then tailored the rest of her visit based on student responses. Students received a brief overview of a database that many of them had used before, then took a more in-depth look at specialized research strategies in a database that was new to them. Next, the librarian led a discussion in which students shared suggestions for evaluating the credibility of different sources. Finally, she encouraged students to meet with her one-on-one for additional research help.

Rationale: Students in this class had received some previous library instruction in a prerequisite course. Polling the students allowed the librarian to tailor the session to their level of familiarity with various resources and allowed the students to provide input about which topics they most wanted to cover during the visit. 

In any of these cases, the librarian and faculty member might have followed up afterwards to assess how it went and what they could adjust for next time. For example, they might decide to rethink the structure or to involve additional specialist librarians or other academic support staff. Additionally, they might discuss ways to assess the impact of the librarian’s involvement, such as seeking student input during a midterm survey. Since librarians work during summer and breaks, sometimes these conversations happen weeks later. We value getting feedback and always enjoy opportunities to see the results of the students’ efforts. 

If these examples have sparked any ideas for having a librarian work with your classes (or if you have general library questions), we’d love to hear from you! You’re always welcome to contact the liaison librarian who works with your department. Katie Lewis and Rebecca Bramlett are also available to teach with you on topics related to government documents/maps and special collections, respectively. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, and best wishes with your classes this term.