Taxonomy of Collaboration

Back to school means back to library instruction, and while gearing up for the busy fall season I’ve found myself mulling over a few instruction issues. Outreach to faculty is something I think about often, especially outreach to those who either don’t know about or don’t seem interested in library instruction. Most of these faculty we just don’t see in the library because they don’t bring their classes in. But many of our institutions have one or more courses that require library instruction, often the freshman seminar or introductory Composition course. While some faculty are eager to collaborate with librarians on research and library instruction for their classes, others, unfortunately, are not.

I’ve encountered a wide range of faculty attitudes towards the required library session:

Enthusiastic Partners: These faculty members sincerely appreciate research and library instruction, and definitely seem to enjoy collaborating with librarians. They discuss their assignments and student learning goals with us before the session, and actively work with us during the session. These sessions usually seem most successful — the importance of library research clearly resonates with students more when their professors reinforce what librarians teach.

Quiet but Satisfied: Faculty members in this category do find value in library instruction (at least I think they do). However, they often don’t discuss their course with librarians before the research session, and generally don’t participate in the session itself. Some of these faculty might think that they aren’t as familiar with the research resources as librarians are, and feel hesitant to add their voices to the session. Others are probably satisfied with the content and activities of the library session and see no need to discuss any changes.

Possibly Unconvinced: What about the faculty who sit at the back of the room during the library session, checking their email, grading papers, or searching the databases for their own research? They might be like the Quiet but Satisfied folks and feel that the library session already meets their course goals well. But maybe they don’t — maybe these faculty see library instruction as dull and uninspiring, a chore to be gotten through so they can move on to the more important work of their courses.

Missing Out: Then there’s the (thankfully, very small) group of faculty who simply skip out on library instruction altogether. Sometimes these faculty are receptive to rescheduling the session they’ve missed, though not always. Clearly they don’t think that research instruction is at all useful for their students.

Luckily most faculty who teach the course with required library instruction at my college fall into these first two categories, and my colleagues and I enjoy collaborating with them. But finding ways to reach the faculty who are Possibly Unconvinced or Missing Out is a continuous challenge. They may not respond to email or spend much time on campus. Some are adjuncts, with office arrangements that aren’t ideal. On our end, it can be difficult to find the time to contact each faculty member individually (and multiple times) in a course with many sections. And it’s easy to become discouraged when our overtures go unacknowledged.

How can we convince these faculty that required library instruction has value for their students, and that collaborating with librarians is worth their time? Or should we focus on the positives — the faculty who are enthusiastic and satisfied — while we continue to try to replicate successful strategies across the board, regardless of faculty attitude?

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Department Chair, Library, at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

5 thoughts on “Taxonomy of Collaboration

  1. Usually the best way to persuade faculty is recommendations by other faculty, so I’m inclined to focus on the enthusiastic partners. Every innovative thing you try with them becomes something you can offer to folks who are on the fence. I also think a smaller number of sessions where the library is central to the course are more effective than a large number where the librarian is a disconnected guest lecturer.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Chris. In practice that’s what we’ve been leaning towards, building stronger relationships (and often getting the bonus of positive PR) with our enthusiastic partners. But I could definitely spend more time publicizing our good work with their colleagues to the on-the-fence folks.

  3. I’ve also found that reference and collection development work is a good ‘in’ to working with faculty. If you can find information for them, or help them score that perfect video (or whatever) for their course, it tends to break down some barriers. Also, here at my institution, we offer some PD sessions for faculty. That has increased awareness of what the library can offer (and that we teach). Mainly, it takes time, patience, and face-to-face interactions.

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