Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion: The Educational Role of Librarians in Higher Education

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry. Daisy is the instruction coordinator at the David W. Howe Library at University of Vermont. Melissa is the sciences librarian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This post is the second in a four-part series, “Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion.” Read the first post about Information Literacy.

This series was inspired by conversations during a January 2024 Immersion Facilitators retreat that examined our relationship with the foundational pillars of the program. The team explored each pillar by sharing questions and perspectives and considered how to integrate each pillar into the future portfolio of Immersion programming. The first post in this series focused on information literacy. In this second post, Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry reflect and share their perspectives on the changing roles of librarians in higher education. When asked about the educational role of librarians in higher education, our current cohort of Immersion facilitators identified some common themes among us, most notably that all of our potential roles are definitely contextual and sometimes contested. 

(Melissa) When we brainstormed this question as a group, there were many potential roles we could think of: educators, partners, researchers, stewards, interlocutors. I know that over the course of my career, I’ve definitely experienced changes in my educational role. Early in my career I was in a coordinator role for information literacy and instruction, and then a head with more authority for library instruction. After a decade as a librarian, I left libraries for a while and was director of faculty development at UNLV, in the provost’s office. Last year I returned to the library faculty as science liaison. This is a brand new role for me, and I feel like more than ever I’ve been leaning into my relationships with faculty and administrators in my liaison areas. It’s interesting to be in a partner role like this that I feel in some ways is even more about my relationships than about my expertise. How about you? How do you currently think of your educational role?

(Daisy) First off I’ll say that I see myself first and foremost as a teacher; although, I recognize that some librarians don’t see that word as applying to what they do. For me, the work I do with students, in a wide variety of contexts such as working with classes or meeting one-on-one is all part of my teaching portfolio, as is working with faculty to help them build their own capacity to address information literacy. All of this is where I find the most satisfaction and energy as a librarian. I think one thing librarians are really good at is pivoting as higher education changes. For example many libraries are developing new roles for librarians to support their educational missions. On my campus we recently created a new role for an outreach person to work with groups around the state who might not otherwise have access to our services – it ties in to our role as a traditional “land grant” institution. Are there new roles and ways of engaging on your campus?

(Melissa) Yes, we have a makerspace that is becoming a real hub for creativity and community. It’s a fun place to spend time and to see what students are coming up with, in terms of design projects for their classes as well as just-for-fun things like building games or accessories. 

(Daisy) Melissa, as we were prepping for this conversation one of the roles we identified was that of the “researcher-practitioner” or “practitioner scholar.” How do you define this role for yourself and how does it impact your work?

(Melissa) For me as a faculty member and a librarian, I have had opportunities to present at conferences and write about library programs and user behaviors. I’ve had an incentive to do it as well as support for that work. And clearly, institutional culture has a huge impact on the roles that librarians find themselves in. Over several years of facilitating Immersion programs, I remember hearing from many librarian participants about ways their information literacy goals were stymied by either academic departments, their own librarian colleagues, or other administrators. Some institutions see librarians as partners in education, and some have more of a service orientation. How do you think institutional culture impacts the educational role that librarians play? 

(Daisy) That’s a great question, I think there are so many factors but one that comes to mind especially is whether librarians have faculty status or not. At institutions where librarians have faculty status,and mine is among these, librarians have a direct and codified role in institutional governance. So, at my institution this means that we have librarians who sit on the university-wide Curricular Affairs committee. I currently serve on our General Education committee and am part of a team that reviews courses that are being considered for all of our general education requirements including those seeking designations for our two Writing and Information Literacy requirements, as well as requirements related to sustainability, the sciences, and more.This gives me a broad and detailed view of the curriculum across campus and gives me as a librarian a role in shaping the curriculum.

When we think about what our work looks like now and what it might look like in the future, it’s clear that we can’t always predict what comes next! I’m looking forward to considering how we might lead ourselves and our colleagues into new roles. Our next post in the Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion series will build on this conversation and focus on leadership. Join Veronica Arellano Douglas and Jessie Loyer as they reflect on some of the questions we posed here and ask new questions as well. Look for that post in the next few weeks!

Work in Progress

Next month marks an important stage of my career, as I anticipate completing my two-year probation and entering a continuing appointment at my institution. This gives me a real sense of permanency, a role I can work in indefinitely, and a commitment to myself as librarian. Do you remember what it was like entering into new stages of your career? Being promoted, being granted tenure, being offered a new position; I guess you never really stop moving as an academic librarian.

Recently I read Richard Wilbur’s excellent poem, “The Writer”. The poem sees the narrator—who I see as a writer, but isn’t actually specified—looking somewhat condescendingly on his daughter, as she writes and creates “a commotion of typewriter-keys/Like a chain hauled over a gunwale”. Terrible noises, as seen from the narrator’s perspective early in the poem—something that would make a great many librarians ‘shush’ at, certainly. The narrator patronizingly muses, “Young as she is, the stuff/Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:/I wish her a lucky passage”.

By the end of the poem, the narrator sees their error and can’t help but see their daughter as becoming independent and capable: “It is always a matter, my darling,/Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish/What I wished you before, but harder”. The issues the narrator’s daughter is dealing with, however trivial or small they actually are, are “matter[s]…of life or death” to teenagers. The issues that new librarians deal with are “matter[s]…of life or death.”

In my professional life, I feel like a work in progress. I’ve made significant steps in my professional life: from my liaison duties—library instruction, collections management, research services, and reference services—to research and service opportunities, but you never stop working on yourself.

I look at Wilbur’s “The Writer” and envision myself as both child and as narrator. I am simultaneously continually learning and growing, something I don’t think I’ll stop doing throughout my career, a work in progress. But also, being “the writer” (i.e. narrator) in my career, recognizing that I can see others’ perspectives and imagine how much the issues of ‘life or death’ do matter to those experiencing them. Thinking in terms of the dyad in librarianship, or any profession more broadly, we are at times both teacher-student, librarian-patron, and parent-child.

I like to think that’s a trajectory a lot of us follow, but maybe we forget what it once was like being new and being in precarious work, not being seen as an expert, not knowing the right people; not being “the writer.” But the more you think about, “the writer” in the poem is both the narrator and daughter, both being equal in their pursuit of writing for a living.

As I move closer to a new stage of my career, I don’t want to forget what it once was like being new to the profession. I want to be able to identify with perspectives different than mine, especially as I hope to take on roles with greater responsibility, as I think this moves the profession holistically forward.

It is always a matter…of life or death as I had forgotten. I wish what I wished you before, but harder.

Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion: Information Literacy

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Carlos Duarte and Rebecca Miller Waltz. Carlos is the Associate College Librarian for Public Services at Colorado College. Rebecca is the Associate Dean for Learning and Engagement at Penn State University. This post is the first in a four-part series, “Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion.”

The ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Program, usually referred to as Immersion, has been on hiatus since March 2020, when our facilitator team canceled the summer 2020 Immersion program because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Over the past four years, our Immersion facilitator team has continued to connect and collaborate; after taking time to reflect on and discuss how we can best serve our community, we are thrilled to be re-engaging with the library community with this blog post series:  Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion. This series was inspired by conversations during a January 2024 Immersion Facilitators retreat that examined our relationship with the foundational pillars of the program. The team explored each pillar by sharing questions and perspectives and considered how to integrate each pillar into the portfolio of Immersion programming. 

We will announce additional Immersion offerings soon, so be on the lookout for more information over the next few months.  For now, though, we invite you into conversation with our team as we reconnect with the four pillars of Immersion:  information literacy, the educational role of librarians in higher education, leadership, and critical reflection. 

This first post in the series focuses on the pillar of information literacy.  When asked specifically about Information Literacy, our current cohort of Immersion facilitators identified some common themes among us, most notably that our conception of information literacy was deeply rooted in communication practices and communities. In this conversation, Carlos Duarte and Rebecca Miller Waltz reflect on that discussion and share their perspectives on information literacy, communication, and our communities.

(Carlos) This past winter as we were preparing for our retreat, I took the time to reflect on how my approach to teaching college students about libraries and information has changed over the last five years. Working with students who matriculated during the pandemic, who saw the nation engage in sustained protests around racial justice and the MeToo movement, I’ve seen a willingness to challenge authority, but also a hesitancy to accept that there may be tools that are authoritative in and of themselves. Students and teaching faculty are open to inquiry and challenges to authority, but are faced with serious questions about how to take definitive steps forward in their research or writing process given these challenges to traditional or accepted notions of authority.. 

My own practices have shifted in that I am spending more time working with students on how they ask questions, what listening and communications skills are at play, as they engage in scholarship. My hope is that with a solid understanding of how practices around inquiry, curiosity, and open ended questions inform their writing process, students will be able to engage more deeply as they develop information literacy and communication skills. 

Oftentimes I hear the term research used synonymously with information literacy.  Research, thought of as skills associated with information literacy competencies, clearly has its place in library instruction, and at the reference desk, but this conflation of research and information literacy moves us away from the Framework for Information Literacy, threshold concepts, and a wider view of the skills and knowledge that students are bringing with them.  How do we adjust to incorporate & maintain a vision of critical information literacy that encompasses formal/informal scholarship & multiple literacies? I guess I am asking how we can keep some space between conceptual ideas of Information Literacy and practical or skill based research practices, while acknowledging the overlapping and recursive nature of the two. 

(Rebecca) Yes, that’s really interesting–I also often hear that connection between or conflation of research and information literacy.  I wonder if “research” somehow feels more scholarly or relevant to students and their instructors than a term like “information literacy,” which has so many different definitions.  To me, the knowledge and skills related to research may be a particular slice of information literacy, but, as you mentioned, doesn’t reflect a broader view of information literacy. Part of this may be because of our traditional models of integrating information literacy into the classroom. One-shot classes, short learning objects, or consultations focused on a specific assignment or application may be good ways to initially connect with students but may make it difficult to help students transfer what they’re learning in one particular context to a different context.  The classroom and the assignment can represent boundaries that prevent students–and maybe their instructors, too–from seeing how the information literacy concepts, such as authority and inquiry, connect with so many other parts of their lives. 

In other words, what is that space between the prescribed inquiry that we see in the classroom and our students’ authentic selves? How do we help our students make those connections between what they might be learning in the classroom or researching in the library with everything that they’re engaged in beyond the classroom? 

(Carlos) I like the way you phrased that, “the space between the prescribed inquiry and the authentic self”. I think that there is something to the idea of wanting to reach the whole student. I have been working to develop a better relationship with the writing center folks on my campus in order to learn how we can act as a compliment to their services, and how they can be integrated into ours. My hope is that by seeking interventions that are outside of the classroom, and away from the reference desk, we can reach that whole student. I feel like our interventions in one-shot library sessions are often too early, we teach to students who haven’t committed to a topic or gained a complete understanding of the course much less the assignment, or are too late, at the reference desk in a moment of crisis with a looming deadline. My hope is that we will gain a wider area of potential intervention. I will be sure to let you know what comes of it.

(Rebecca) Oh, I definitely want to hear more about better or more timely ways to connect with students.  I’m also really thinking about the “moment of crisis” you mentioned–we do often see students during a moment of crisis, don’t we? Those are the moments where we may really have the opportunity to reach the “whole student,” as you wrote above, since the care we can show for our students during those moments of anxiety and panic might be one place we can bridge the prescribed inquiry and authentic self. 

Related to timely interventions, I also think this particular moment in time, where we’re all asking questions about artificial intelligence and what authority and authorship really mean, offers us an amazing opportunity to foreground information literacy in new ways. While I don’t want to make this conversation about AI, I do want to acknowledge that the questions our students and faculty are asking about AI provide the perfect platform for realigning information literacy expertise and interventions within our communities. 

While we think about the specific expertise we bring and the places we might want to develop new interventions, what are the spaces we should be working in? Who are we working with and how are we developing and sustaining those relationships? Carlos, you mentioned building a better relationship with your writing center colleagues to provide more holistic support for our students. There are other groups we could be seeking out, and other roles geared toward student success that we can connect with.  Information literacy experts bring a unique perspective to student success work and I am looking forward to exploring those roles and relationships further. 

Our next post in the Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion series will focus on the educational role of librarians in higher education.  Join Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry as they reflect on some of the questions we posed here and ask some new questions. Look for that post in the next few weeks! 

Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Thoughts From A Search Committee Chair Running Two Searches

This spring, I’m chairing concurrent searches for two new librarians role in my department. I’m thrilled to lead these search committees and bring new colleagues to the team. These roles opened up due to faculty retirements and gave the department and I a chance to reflect on what our institution needs right now. 

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to write a blog post about this experience. At my past institution, I didn’t get too close to faculty librarian searches. I was at a large organization and had a supervisor who had me focus on other work priorities. I hired student interns and research assistants, but I was relatively removed from other searches. At my current institution, we are a smaller shop and as a department head, I have a different responsibility and focus on things like searches. While these two searches aren’t my first time chairing a search at my current institution, I feel a different search chair pressure since these are colleagues joining our department. This pressure is probably mostly internal pressure I’m putting on myself, but with every search, I feel there’s pressure for it to go well and find a successful candidate. 

Instead of continuing to spin my proverbial wheels about how to write this post, I’m going to share a few highlights. These are big ideas or themes that continue to stay top of mind. As always, I’m curious if these ideas and themes resonate with others! 

The Library Job Search + Emotions

In 2018-19, I collaborated with former ACRLogger Dylan Burns on a research project around emotions in the library job search. Dylan and I met in graduate school and noticed that during the second year of our on-campus program, there was a new energy in the air. A competitive and sometimes secretive energy as we all went on the job search. Our research was inspired by that experience and the emotions we felt as we went on the job market. We sent a survey out and had over 1,000 people start our survey! The paper we eventually wrote explored the themes we saw along with focus groups we conducted with survey participants. This research project was informative in so many ways, beyond learning so much about survey design, this research really solidified for me the challenges and struggles librarians experience. There’s such a black box when you apply for a job; you put your materials out there, invest time and energy in crafting a compelling cover letter and thinking about a potential institute that might employ you, and hope you hear something. As I navigate this search from the position of search chair, this paper is top of mind. I do what I can to communicate and move things along as quickly as I can. But I’ve also seen the various ways the systems and structures (or lack of those structures) slow a search down and rely on the chair and hiring manager to be organized. 

Not everyone is invested or as tuned into the search as you are

Everyone has different capacity levels to think about these searches. As the chair, I feel like I’m really in it but that’s not the same for everyone around me. I continue to remind myself that it is my responsibility to pave the way and make it easy for folks to engage with our candidates. And part of that means I have to keep articulating what these jobs will do, and how the folks in the room might interact/collaborate/rely on these roles.    

Searching for new people means less time to think about your current people

Something I’ve thought a lot about is how I’m refocusing my energy into bringing new folks into the department. That means something has to give and that has been some of the energy I’ve been able to put into the people on the current team. I feel fortunate these searches are happening almost three years into my time as a department head; I have a better sense of what folks need and they have a better sense of how to get feedback/support from me, especially when my time is in high demand. This also means when the searches wrap up, I can refocus my energy on the current department. Ultimately, just because I’m running a search doesn’t mean I have double the emotional energy. I’m still working through this, but try to be aware of what I can give and where I need to pull back. 

Bottom line: searches take time and energy

For the past three months, I feel like I’ve been thinking about these searches constantly. I might be brainstorming questions, finalizing finalist interview schedules, noting strengths and opportunities for growth, or scheduling meetings. I’m pouring a lot of energy to prepare for finalist interviews and t once that interview week comes, I’m tuned in to running smooth interview days. I keep thinking of the comment my high school band director told us in the pit orchestra – the best pit orchestra is the one where people don’t even realize there’s a pit orchestra right in front of them. To me, a good search feels like that; it’s running and people are comfortable and supported but don’t necessarily see all the work spinning in the background. But that of course, takes time and energy, and weeks of planning and coordinating!

What happens after the search

I also think frequently about what happens after the search – a successful candidate joins the team. That naturally spurs a bunch of follow up questions: What will onboarding look like? How is the department involved? What are scoped projects I can give these folks to get acclimated to the organization and feel a sense of progress within the first six to eight months on the job? I keep reminding myself to finish the searches and then worry about what’s next. One step at a time. 

At the end of the day, I’m really excited for what’s ahead. I feel like I’m learning and I’m growing in this double search chair role. I’m also going to be very thankful for when these searches wrap up!