Did You Hear The One About The Library Presentation

Editor’s Note: Here is a guest post from ACRLog reader Marilyn R. Pukkila, Head of Instructional Services for the Colby College Libraries, in which she shares an interesting but not entirely pleasant encounter and experience at a First Year Experience conference. The ACRLog blog team thanks Marilyn for her contribution.

I’m just back from the annual First Year Experience conference . It was a great event, but I was rather taken aback by an exchange in a session on encouraging undergraduate research. The speaker was discussing various methods of integrating research into the first year seminar. Up came “Presentations — Library” (along with Office of Undergraduate Research) on the PowerPoint slide, and the speaker asked, “And what do we think of the library presentation?” in a tone which obviously invited ridicule and criticism. One of the participants obligingly responded with a rude noise, and the presenter nodded and laughed along with others in the room.

While I didn’t hear anyone openly advocating the exclusion of libraries from the first year experience, the word “boring” definitely put in an appearance, and there was a strong suggestion (if not actually stated) that the library presentation was a waste of time. I was not the only librarian in the room to offer an alternative perspective, and the rude noise maker later had the grace to apologize to me. Evidently no one had expected librarians to be in the room!

Fortunately there were also a few faculty there who chimed in to support faculty/library collaboration in the realm of undergraduate research, but the whole experience has left me more than a bit perturbed. I never worried much about the “librarian image”, but now I’m wondering if it isn’t more important than I thought. Yes, my ego was a bit bruised, but I’m much more concerned with the messages that students are receiving from faculty about the useful/uselessness of librarians in the educational enterprise.

Certainly those of us on campuses with active FYE programs or components thereof (such as a First Year seminar) can work to get on those committees or talk with those administrators. We’re going to invite our Dean of Students to a future Librarians meeting to tell us about his new initiative to use administrators to engage students academically. Librarians also volunteer to be moderators for the various panels at our annual Undergraduate research symposium. But I have a deeper concern. Can we counter decades of faculty and administrators equating librarians and libraries with dull, boring, and useless presentations and program?

Ironically, in another presentation on social networking sites, participants were falling all over themselves to applaud librarians’ knowledge of and contributions to this cutting edge technology. Perhaps this is more of a generational disconnect? Or are we becoming more associated with information technology and less with information use (otherwise known as research)? Whatever the case, I strongly encourage academic librarians to attend non-librarian academic conferences as a means of letting our colleagues know that we ARE a part of this education enterprise!

6 thoughts on “Did You Hear The One About The Library Presentation

  1. My sense is that what’s going on is not so much antipathy to library research per se but rather a focus on immediate, hands-on research experiences for FYE. Secondary sources, e.g. the library, just aren’t perceived as especially exciting.

  2. I wonder if some of this doesn’t have as much to do with how a FYE program is structured and implemented on a campus as anything else? It seems like a program where FYE courses were integrated into the academic curriculum, and students were working on research building across their coursework, or doing service learning projects drawing on a lot of their academic experiences — where the “library presentation” would be tied to real academic work that students are doing — would be very different from those programs that are essentially tours through the resources of the university.

  3. There’s more than one way to read this issue. One is that, as Anne-Marie points out, a lot of FYE courses are not tied to academic subject matter, and a “how to” without any “what” is not very engaging when it comes to doing research.

    Another is that often an FYE course that teaches content as well as the intro-to-college may also run into trouble with the library component because the students are being taught to write from sources, document them, and use the library before they’ve really gotten a handle on the subject matter or on college-level writing, so it becomes a catch-all assignment that frustrates students and professors alike in ways that more advanced research-and-writing assignments don’t. And they are less well-thought-out and extensive than what Anne-Marie sketches out, but just one assignment among many. A chore.

    A third possibility is that a lot of the “we’ll talk really fast and show you what you need to know about the library in fifty minutes” sessions for first year students really are dull, boring, and useless, at least often enough to be problematic.

    If we aren’t any of the above, but still have an image problem, it may be partly because learning how to use the library in the first year is only a starting point. What happens as student move on is what matters most, and yet quite often an FYE course is treated as the one and only chance to reach all students with everything they need to know.

  4. Wow, this is really interesting. I think the comments above are absolutely on, concerning the focus of the FYE program in question, and also the orientation/delivery of library instruction.

    My own experience with library instruction for lower-level undergrad students (and specifically with FYE programs) has been mixed. I’ve heard librarians say that freshmen (or even all undergrads) don’t need to learn research skills, because their assignments focus exclusively on their course texts. I’ve also heard librarians pine for access to cross-curricular FYE programs, as a way to get students’ attention early on in the course of their degrees.

    I wonder where the “Librarian of the Year” idea fits in here–i.e., those programs that assign a librarian as a liaison to a particular graduating year, for instance the librarian of the class of 2010. I haven’t seen much research about how successful these programs are, but they may be one way of modeling a successful relationship with FYE programs and lower-level undergrads in general.

  5. The blog about the Library Presentation at at the First-Year Experience Conference was brought to my attention because I serve as the liaison from ACRL to the National Resource Center For the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

    I think it is ill-mannered that the speaker used the podium to engage in criticizing colleagues. And it is even more ill-mannered that a faculty member gave a rude response.

    Nevertheless, in attending probably four or five of the FYE conferences in recent years, I have not seen a public display of disdain towards librarians, but I have often witnessed public expressions of appreciation for what librarians offer. And, I know the FYE staff has been very supportive of librarians. John Gardner, the founder and prime mover behind the first-year experience movement is, in fact, educated as a librarian. The FYE folks published this past year, at John’s strong encourage, the book I edited on “The Role of the Library in the First College Year. So, I don’t think any expressed negative attitudes towards librarians at the FYE conferences are systemic. I also have received positive responses when I was attending the Council of Independent Colleges conferences as the ACRL liaison to that organization, even when I attended the new deans’ workshop on Saturdays and was the only librarian in the room.

    So, are there people that engage in boorish behavior? Yep. Do some librarians (including myself) have room to improve in their presentations? Yep. Do classroom faculty members have a responsibility to help ensure that the librarian presentation are relevant, timely, so students find them of more interest? Yep

    Beyond that I don’t think there is a need to be too upset about the bad behavior of a couple of individuals. I would hope that the blog readers don’t think such behavior is characteristics of attendees of the FYE conference. About 30 academic librarians attended the recent FYE conference, and I think there were 9 presentations at the conference by librarians. As part of my report to ACRL, I polled most of the librarians who attended the conference, and the vast majority found it a very positive experience.

    Larry Hardesty
    ACRL Liaison to the National Resource Center to the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition
    Interim University Librarian
    Winona State University

  6. A couple of interesting programs where the librarians and the research component of the course are well embedded in a an FYE course are at St. Lawrence University, where a research project is a focus of a spring semester half of the program and a librarian is deeply involved in developing the assignments and providing scaffolding, and at the first year program in the Faculty of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary – described by Doug Brent in the first two publications under “papers on rhetoric and communication studies. In both cases, the research assignment itself introduces students to academic values and culture and is learned as a nested set of skills in a sequence – it isn’t “this week, you’ll write a paper about something so you’ll know what a college paper needs to look like.”

    A lot depends on whether the course you’re working with is really about something or whether it’s a how-to-be-a-successful-student course. I’m sure both have value, but the former is much more likely to be a place where students can engage with the library.

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