I don’t just “do stuff with the books”

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On 13 June 2013, I attended a Librarians as Teachers event, “Engaging Learners in the Digital Age” at the University of Warwick.  It was sponsored by Capita, the Academic & Research Libraries Group and the Career Development Group.  It was a one-day event held at the Wolfson Research Exchange of the Warwick University Library.

As with the majority of larger Higher Education university libraries I’ve visited in the past year, Warwick’s Library appeared to be a hub for socialising, research, and information gathering.  It has become clear to me that many university libraries have an energy that promotes academic work with a mix of social and gathering space for young minds.  Before I discuss the programme for this event, I would like to quickly talk about the atmosphere of this library. 

The ground floor entrance houses vending machines, as well as a small eatery where hot and cold, prepared and pre-packaged food is available for students to purchase.  The first floor, once going through the Tube-like turn-styles, houses more vending machines and a coffee bar.  Once walking through a corridor of elevators, you are able to get a glimpse of the more traditional style library, including several RFID machines, computers, copiers, etc. 

I did not venture through the library much, as my workshop was held on the third floor, but all of the staples of a typical university library were present: noise zone areas, signs about what food was allowed, as well as signage related to the collection and row upon row of computers.  The third floor, once walking across an indoor footbridge and into the building next to the library, housed a lab for postgraduate study.  The Wolfson Research Exchange, where the workshop was being held, was part of the doctoral, PhD. Research area, accessible only by keypad.  This area housed two lecture meeting spaces, as well as a number of, yes, you guessed it, more computers for student use.

Overall, the Warwick library gave off the impression that it was a library dedicated to all of its users, whether they were there to perform noisy group work, or to study in a quiet space.  I was very impressed with the both the friendly and professional atmosphere and hope the students realise this as well.

David Nicholas

The first speaker was David Nicholas, Director of CIBER Research, who spoke about the ways in which people seek, use, consume and trust information in today’s digital world.  The majority of the presentation specifically discussed the Google generation and how librarians fit into the mix.  Mr. Nicholas brought up an important point that assessing trust and authority is difficult for digital users today.  The audience were asked whether they thought the students considered librarians trustworthy and an authority on information and then applied that in a general way about the digital space.  I immediately thought about how our students at UCS seem to take what the librarians tell them as fact, which I suppose comes with the title.  This led me to think in a more general sense that perhaps students shouldn’t trust us, until we have been tested or vetted.  Then again, perhaps I was missing out on the process students were having internally about whether or not to trust me?  I’ve come to think that timing is of such great importance with regard to when young people are enrolled in university.  The late teens and early twenties seems like such a fantastic span of time in which the plaster that holds our convictions, character and personality very much begins to set; and without the challenges, both intellectual and social, that are often provided only in a university setting, our potential for developing certain skills, such as information and critical thinking, are abandoned.  Perhaps I am getting too philosophical, but it is my view that if a university setting is doing what it should, the young people involved in it should be enquiring and challenging any information, presented to them.  I am not saying that these skills cannot be achieved unless someone attends a university, I just believe that a university atmosphere should be crafted to facilitate these processes.

But back to Mr. Nicholas…

The Google generation, born digital, as described, were early game changers, as far as researchers were concerned.  At the onset, it was important for researchers to identify and monitor what people were doing online, how that carried into adulthood and how they behaved due to their accessibility.  It was suggested that the Google generation has the greatest appetite for fast information and “skittering.”  They perform the quickest searches and spend the shortest amount of time on visits.  However, they were also the least confident in finding answers to questions posed to them, requiring use of the internet.  It was suggested that this was a result of the younger generation using the first record produced by Google, and not being able to perform more effective searches.  It is as though this generation is more concerned about finding AN answer, rather than THE answer. 

Mr. Nicholas then discussed the impact of social media with regard to seeking, using, consuming, and trusting information.  He suggested that social media is having an impact on all aspects of the research process with regard to CIBER, especially among young researchers.  He then presented the perceived benefits of using social media for research:

Ability to communicate: widespread availability and “connected-ness” of people using social media
Creating new data collections
Increasing citations
Providing alternative research spaces: a digital space
Challenging old concepts of trust: moving beyond initial fear of using something digital

With regard to librarians, Mr. Nicholas presented the idea that we are unsure as to how we will move in on social media and find our place.  I agree with that, as it seems as though most organizations have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, but I am not convinced there is any quantifiable measure of the impact they have.  I also think about the “Creepy Treehouse” idea where social media is supposed to be a social place where “The Man” shouldn’t be sticking their noses in, unless invited.  Obviously, libraries and librarians cannot ignore the impact of social media, however, I am unsure as to how we fit in or alongside it.

Some of the big issues and reflections discussed by Mr. Nicholas suggested that we now have access to more information than ever before, yet that does not mean we are consuming it.  There is a difference between having access to information and knowing information.  An immediate example that comes to mind is the notion that a professor could be delivering a lecture where they announce a statistic or figure, but gives an estimate.  A student with internet access could likely find the exact figure within seconds, with greater accuracy, however they are likely to forget that figure immediately, whereas the lecturer KNOWS the information.  This resonated with the idea that, with greater access to information, the portion of our brain responsible for memory is shrinking (citation was provided at workshop, but I don’t have it).  Because we have instant access to information, there is a trend toward neglecting the act of gathering, harvesting and digesting it.  There has become a difference between activity and outcomes with regard to digital access.  Yes, we are able to access and find information, but what is the outcome of that? 

Mr. Nicholas then posed an important question to the librarians and teachers: who is going to ensure that our Google generation, flying high with instant access to such an array of information, is going to land safely?  Is this the end of culture? 

John Loy and Helene Gorring

The next presentation discussed two case studies by John Loy and Helene Gorring, working with NHS libraries to develop library film clubs for students in the medical and nursing fields, specifically mental health areas.  Their presentation focused on the use of popular film in medical education. 

The film club was established in 2008 and won an NHS Innovation Award.  The presenters began by providing a short history of psychiatry in film, discussing how psychiatrists were portrayed not long after motion pictures began developing.  Into the 1940s, there were numerous films in which psychoanalysis became an element of movie plots, sometimes focusing on female psychiatrists and their relationship to their patients.  It was mentioned that numerous Academy Award winners were recognised for their roles as either people with mental illnesses or mental health physicians or nurses. 

It was decided that screening films with an emphasis on mental health issues would facilitate a discussion amongst those studying in the field who were gaining experience either in their work role or out on placement.  The film club also allowed for a more structured environment than a general screening as part of a lecture because the film club included a professional or expert who would chair a discussion after the screening.  There was an emphasis that the arts were able to provide an insight into the human condition in a dramatic way, which could then be discussed as part of an intellectual exercise. 

The film club grew in popularity over time, and was later embedded into the curriculum, as a reflection sheet about the film was developed in order to address learning outcomes of the module.  Along with the reflection sheet, the screening and discussion allowed for students to observe common textbook symptoms, appreciate environmental impact factors, and further recognize the impact of the media portrayal of mental health issues on the public.  The film club received positive student feedback in that it provided a structured, yet relaxed social environment and facilitated the students in further understanding of their subject area, along with encouraging critical thinking and reflection about mental health issues.  The library felt that the film club was an important factor for enhancing the user experience and showcasing its services. 

I particularly liked this idea and wondered if it could be applied for use at UCS.

Helen Curtis and Cate Mackay

This session covered the development and execution of the “Students as Researchers” programme at the University of Warwick.  The purpose of the programme was to embed skills development within the curriculum.  A number of courses across several subject areas were chosen to pilot the programme, including Business, Economics, Classics, French, English and Film & Television.  The application of the skills development programme differed across the subjects, but had a universal aim to broaden information and digital literacy skills. 

To begin the process, the librarians looked at the students researching skills as a life cycle, and therefore wanted to embed information into the course, rather than have an isolated set of sessions for the students to attend voluntarily. 

For the Business cohort, it was decided that an e-learning approach would be most appropriate and effective.  A subject librarian was involved at this stage, providing information about finding, evaluating, and referencing sources.  The students were given practical assignments to complete to pull all of the skills they were supposed to be acquiring.  For example, the students were asked to find journal articles for a particular business topic.  They then had to provide an explanation reflecting the reason for their article choices.  They were also then asked to provide a reference for that article to share with other students within the VLE. 

Other course areas were provided with similar support, although the approach differed according to necessary subject area skills and typical assignment types. 

As a result of this project, it became clear that engagement with academic staff was crucial for success, not only because they provided insight for content included in the programme, but because their engagement demonstrated value of the project to students.  Timing was also important across all aspects, as the librarians needed to communicate with academics with regard to planning and course development.  There was greater success with well-timed organization of planning.  In terms of delivery, timing was important with regard to the module timetable.  It was important that sessions, activities, etc. were scheduled as not to conflict with established module deadlines or events. 

It was also found that celebrating the work put into the programme, as well as that which was produced as a result, elevated the skills development aspect of the project and encouraged students to showcase and apply what they learned. 

Reflection was an important characteristic of this project, for both the students and the staff who developed it.  The library sought to capture student reflections in order to apply as feedback and opportunity for further improvement.  The librarians were keen to give credit to the student voice, citing it as being a powerful tool for advocacy and promotion. 

Jane Secker and Emma Coonan

I forgot that Dr. Jane Secker and Emma Coonan would be presenting at this conference, so when they were called upon to speak, I was taken aback.  These women are like celebrities to me, as they developed the ANCIL project, which I believe to be an extremely valuable tool for academic librarians with regard to tackling the issue of information literacy being embedded into curriculum. 

Dr. Secker began her presentation by mentioning that she and Ms. Coonan recently had a book published, which, funnily enough, I recently reviewed for the Health Librarians Group bulletin.  The topic for the presentation was: “Rethinking information literacy: collaboration, coordination, consolidation.”  From the onset, it was clear that they would be discussing how the idea of information literacy needed rehabilitation.  Perhaps I am just too new to the profession, but it seems as though “information literacy” is a dirty word amongst librarians and shouldn’t be mentioned, unless under the guise of another name.   

Dr. Secker immediately pointed out that one of the hallmark aspects of ANCIL was its ability to be part of a curriculum, rather than a bolted-on exercise in which students take a tour of the library.  She then suggested that librarians start thinking about the way they talk about information literacy, specifically with regard to the link between librarianship and teaching, as well as viewing the learning process holistically.  Rather than thinking of information literacy as a destination, ANCIL promotes the idea that developing skills related to information literacy is an on-going process in which there is always room for personal reflection and growth.  Information literacy is meant to be something that can be revisited; a moving target, if you will.

It was reiterated that, without commitment to communicating with academics, librarians would find it difficult to develop a meaningful information literacy programme.  It was also suggested that the library seek the expertise of professionals in other departments of the university, such as career services and academic support, in order to develop a programme that integrates employability and lifelong learning skills for students.  Joining up with other university departments was discussed because Dr. Secker mentioned that the service provided to students with regard to information literacy need to be streamlined, as new students, especially, want help, and it doesn’t particularly matter to them who is providing it.  Therefore, if a system is already in place that has been developed as the result of various professional input, it is likely to be effective. 

At this point, Emma Coonan stepped in to finish the presentation and spoke heavily about the need for librarians to challenge their roles and to think about how they present themselves to academics with regard to what they can provide as professionals.  It was suggested that academics are likely not to see librarians as teachers, but rather, as people who deal with books.  Academics see librarians, not as teachers, but as service providers because they are not always aware of our credibility and capabilities; and because they don’t always know what our role is, they may not know what we are qualified to do.  It is this argument that further convinces me how important it is for librarians to continue their education and to seek out opportunities to earn higher qualifications in teaching and learning.   

It was also addressed that a number of librarians do not or did not anticipate the amount of teaching they would be doing in their roles, especially at higher education institutions, and are, therefore often unprepared for to develop sessions that take different learning styles and theories into account.  This also ties in with the need for librarians to consider further study related to teaching.  Librarians also need to consider providing additional teaching sessions to academics; not only to further develop their collaborative relationship, but to demonstrate their own knowledge, abilities and available services. 

For the remainder of Ms. Coonan’s presentation, she surmised that information literacy models currently do more to “close down,” rather than “open up” because information literacy is often seen, as previously stated, as a destination, rather than a process; and therefore, as librarians, we needed to think about whether we will become merely providers of answers, rather than facilitators of learning.

Ms. Coonan was very vocal about her own philosophy as a librarian, stating that she was not interested in results and answers, but rather that she was intrigued by how student minds were working because she wanted to be involved, more than anything, in supporting their journey.  This resonated with me slightly because I think there is more to information literacy than knowing what steps to follow to retrieve information or formulate an argument.  However, I believe that the philosophy of becoming more information literate, and the process involved does not necessary translate into a measurable output beyond a university setting.  I am not particularly convinced that a student who develops critical thinking skills and becomes more information literate in a more superficial way than a student who takes a more philosophical journey will be any less prepared for life beyond university. 

Virginia Power

The final presentation was given by Virginia Power, the Resources and ELearning Manager at Bridgwater College and discussed 10 tools to help develop effective measures of student and staff feedback regarding the library. 

It was surprising that one of the first questions posed to the group was asking what means the audience typically used for gathering feedback or evaluation from students about the library services and resources.  The majority of people reported using surveys, which was reflected in recent research cited during the presentation.  Ms. Powers then asked if the audience still considered footfall to be a measure with any impact.  When I considered this question, I must admit, I couldn’t think of an explanation as to what impact footfall has on the library, especially not for teaching and learning. 

Instead of recording numbers or attendance, Ms. Power suggested that we think more about developing a means by which we are able to measure whether the sessions we hold are effective and if they are providing our students with adequate teaching.  It was discussed that, because many library services related to teaching and learning do not often have hard outcomes, that we begin to follow the distance students “travel” with regard to building knowledge and skills. 

Ms. Power suggested that librarians consider completing training in PTLLS and to start becoming more aware of QAA standards that relate to the library. 

One of the specific sites suggested by Ms. Power was the MLA Inspiring learning planning and assessment tool, which offered templates of surveys to use during librarian sessions, including those that take into account generic learning outcomes, or GLOs.  The RARPA toolkit was also suggested. 

There were a number of additional sites and ideas presented for use in collecting feedback for librarians and their teaching sessions, however, it was more important to me that the idea was even discussed.  It is reassuring to know that it is important to collect feedback and to perform a sort of audit related to the sessions the library holds, as well as how it looks at developing outcomes for student striving to build information literacy skills. 

In conclusion, I was extremely pleased with the speakers at this workshop and felt as though I left with a great deal to examine within the programme and services currently offered by UCS.  I feel positive about using the information I learned at this session and making practical application of it.

   

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