One Instructional Philosophy to Unite Them All


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ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Nicole Pagowsky, Research & Learning Librarian and Instruction Coordinator at the University of Arizona Libraries. You can find her on Twitter at @pumpedlibrarian.

When I first thought about writing this post, I considered how boring it would sound to read an article about a library’s instructional philosophy. Who is going to be racing to read that? I mean doesn’t it kind of seem like recycling in a way? We all know we should be doing it but it’s not necessarily exciting, and do we know for sure if those supposed recyclables aren’t actually just getting mixed in with the trash and dumped in a landfill? Analogies aside, having an instructional philosophy for our library is essential and I want to talk about why that is and then share what we developed.

With a library re-organization comes new roles, along with the continually changing roles of librarianship as a field. The University of Arizona Libraries have undergone a re-organization over the past year from functional teams to a liaison model (I was an Instructional Services Librarian, now a Research & Learning Librarian). To facilitate a cohesive instruction program that would align all liaisons, library faculty created an instructional philosophy that positions shared pedagogy as inherent in our new work. This is an important first step in establishing an instruction program: what can we all agree on, and what can we all reference, as we build our teaching roles as liaisons? We should also be thinking about how faculty view us: what they expect of us and what they don’t (and why). Having a shared instructional philosophy can be one way to signify that we truly are educators and partners. Clearly, one document will not solve everything, but it is one step toward aligning our roles, improving our teaching, and changing faculty expectations.

Aligning our roles

We felt that developing a shared instructional philosophy was important to revamp and revise how we envision ourselves as educators, and how we can communicate this to campus. Although we all have different liaison assignments and focus areas, how can we approach a library instruction program collectively? With varying disciplinary needs for instruction the details of our approaches might be different. However, we’re aligned through bigger-picture goals, expressed in our pedagogy. By connecting this pedagogy with activities such as curriculum mapping, we can then enable a point-of-need program to reach students across campus with scaffolding and differentiated instruction through collaborations with faculty as we continue to move away from the one-shot.

Improving our teaching through praxis

With library practice and instructional technologies often in flux (because that’s just the nature of things), a philosophy with an evidence-based link to theory and reflection can help ground us even if our practice changes. By actively linking theory to practice, we are then engaging in praxis. Praxis, as Freire and hooks have described it, is theory into practice–action!–through reflection. Action embodies our values. And theory makes it possible to question and examine what values we hope to put into action. So we don’t want to divorce theory from practice, nor do we want to emphasize the importance of one over the other. Our instructional philosophy doesn’t view theory and practice as mutually exclusive but wraps them up together into praxis to guide our work as educators.

Changing faculty expectations

Often, disciplinary faculty don’t think of librarians as necessarily interested or capable instruction collaborators. These expectations carry weight, primarily because how we’re perceived influences what’s expected of us. We need to transform these inaccurate impressions of us as teaching partners. In the educational psychology literature, this is referred to as “expectation effects” and is linked to “impression management.” This has been studied extensively when looking at the impact of teacher/student expectations on student success.

So, what do we do about this? Centering a critical philosophy to our information literacy pedagogy is one way we can work to transform our image and campus expectations. Critical pedagogy is not simply moving away from skills-based instruction to bigger ideas–although that can be part of it–but a main focus here is on examining power structures (see Stommel, 2014 for an expanded definition to provide more grounding). When looking to information literacy instruction specifically, this can be teacher/learner power structures, publishing and access power structures, or larger societal issues of cultural hegemony, racism, sexism, etc. and how that’s reflected in higher education and the research process. This aspect of critical librarianship can also include an examination of librarian/faculty power structures. Why are we thought of as helpers and assistants more often than collaborators and partners? It’s not like this is a new question–in fact this conversation has been going on since the 60s–but it continues to receive attention because although we might realize what the problems are, solutions are more difficult to achieve.1

If faculty have incorrect or uninformed expectations of us through the lens of this power structure, it will color perceptions and maintain our assumed role as just “helper,” subsequently maintaining how we are able to approach teaching. This is part of what gets us relegated to the one-shot. If faculty won’t interact with us fully to understand what we do and our capabilities as educators, their expectations will remain the same, and our relationships–and teaching approaches–won’t change. Of course programmatic instruction and collaboration with faculty take work and require relationship-building, which is not instantaneous. Being able to navigate these power structures while understanding how they hinder us should be considered a piece of the puzzle. By having a library instruction philosophy document that liaisons can share, we can explicitly show what we’re capable of doing, as a way for faculty to better understand our roles as educators.

What we learned

The process for this document went through several iterations. We had a good amount of debate back-and-forth on content and wording, because we certainly didn’t all agree on everything off the bat. I began the document and wrote out what I felt could be some main points of focus to guide our instruction. These were either things we already have been doing, or things that I thought we could be doing. Of course having one person begin a document makes it skew more in one direction, but it was an approach that helped get the process going. The hope was to develop something that was not quite a manifesto, but to collaboratively create something that would guide and inspire. The document was then shared with our instruction group (within our department) for discussion and revision. Then, we shared it with our whole department and again had some discussion and revision. We all compromised to create a truly shared philosophy. Some of us feel more strongly about certain points than others, but this is something we can use to situate and clarify our abilities as educators to campus. After we accepted it for our purposes, we thought it would be useful to share it with other departments in the library who do instruction (Special Collections and the Arizona Health Sciences Library liaisons). These two groups felt the document represented their interests, and at this point we’re using it to serve as a focal point for driving our new instruction program forward, and an official piece in our constellation of guiding liaison documents for the UA Libraries. Although a philosophy is meant to be longer-lasting, this document is also fluid in that we are open to change as we continue to learn and progress in our instructional program.

University of Arizona Libraries’ Instructional Philosophy

  • Information literacy, multi- and cross-disciplinary, is critical to student success and lifelong learning
  • Teaching the research process is complex and involves collaboration with instructors or other campus partners through sustained, integrated, and programmatic approaches
  • We will provide learning opportunities at the most effective points in a student’s educational career, where our librarians’ time and expertise can have the greatest impact
  • We strive to provide opportunities for students to engage in transfer of learning through our collaboration with campus partners
  • Because knowledge is contextual and socially constructed, impacting the idea of neutrality that libraries are associated with, we encourage deeper examination of the research process and asking difficult questions
  • We strive to be inclusive in our instruction, taking into account differences of all types and also being aware of intersectional diversity
  • Students have the right to transparency in their learning, where librarians use their expertise to teach as guides rather than gatekeepers
  • Teaching within the affective domain (emotions, values, and attitudes) has importance alongside skills, knowledge, and abilities within information literacy
  • Because technology can erase as well as create barriers, we will be informed and selective about what technology we use and will avoid an “educational technology as solutionism” mindset
  • We teach what we value, not value what we teach, and are focused on the greatest benefit to students and campus through information literacy

Readings that support our philosophy

Blog posts:

Char Booth on information privilege and pedagogy http://infomational.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/on-information-privilege/

Cathy Davidson on how a class becomes a community http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/08/01/chapter-one-how-class-becomes-community-theory-method-examples

Barbara Fister on why the research paper isn’t working https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library_babel_fish/why_the_research_paper_isn_t_working

Audrey Watters on ed-tech solutionism http://hackeducation.com/2013/03/26/ed-tech-solutionism-morozov/

Articles and Books:

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods. Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press.

Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press.

Cahoy, E. S., & Schroeder, R. (2012). Embedding affective learning outcomes in library instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 6(1), 73.

Detmering, R. & Johnson, A. M. (2012). “Research papers have always seemed very daunting”: Information literacy narratives and the student research experience. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(1), 5-22.

Egea, O.M. (2014). Neoliberalism, education and the integration of ICT in schools. A critical reading. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 23(2), 267-283.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Pagowsky, N. & DeFrain, E. (2014). Ice ice baby: Are librarian stereotypes freezing us out of instruction? In the Library with the Lead Pipe http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/ice-ice-baby-2/

Ward, D. (2006). Revisioning information literacy for lifelong meaning. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(4), 396-402.

  1. See Leigh & Sewny, 1960; Garrison, 1972; Biggs, 1981; Harris, 1992; Hardesty, 1995; Radford & Radford, 1997; Church, 2002; and many more for explanations about how feminized work, stereotypes of neutrality and social awkwardness, and a doctor/nurse-like paradigm influence faculty interactions and exist in expectations. I also integrated this research into a larger presentation on these topics as a keynote for the 2015 Wisconsin Association of Academic Libraries annual conference. []

One thought on “One Instructional Philosophy to Unite Them All

  1. Interesting question about perception of libraries. (Without having read the full historic debate,) I wonder if it is because we offer two strengths that kind of oppose each other in people’s perceptions: (1) neutrality and shallow expertise across a wide range of topics; (2) opinionated and deep educational and research expertise. Only one can win in a patron/partner’s mind.

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