Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sara Harrington, Head of Arts and Archives at Ohio University Libraries.

The ACRL Instruction Section charged a Task Force with revising the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators. On November 2, 2016 the new draft document “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education” was released to the ILI-l listserv for review and comment by stakeholders.

Major changes in the revision include a shift in language from proficiencies to roles and from “instruction librarian” to “teaching librarian,” a structural change from a list to a conceptual model, and a change in focus from skills to strengths needed to thrive in each of the roles. The document is intended to help both clarify roles which may be assumed by a proficient teaching librarian as well as inspire new roles.

Included in the draft is a summary of the Task Force’s charge, the timeline and approach the Task Force followed, a discussion of the contexts framing the draft, and guidelines for intended use.

The document is divided into the following sections:

  • Charge and History
  • Approach
  • Context
  • How the Document was Created
  • Purpose of the Roles
  • Intended Use
  • Roles
  • Bibliography

The Roles Are:

  • Advocate
  • Coordinator
  • Instructional Designer
  • Lifelong Learner
  • Leader
  • Teacher
  • Teaching Partner

Each role is accompanied by a short description of the function and activities exemplified by the role, and a series of strengths demonstrated by the proficient teaching librarian working in that role.

A previous ACRLog post discussed the role of Advocate.

Word, Google doc, and PDF versions of the full draft are available:

The Task Force invites your comments on the draft. Your feedback can be submitted on ACRLog using the comment box below, or you can send an email to: (The comment function at each location where the document is posted is not available.)

  1. Write up your comments and use one of the feedback methods listed above.
  2. Comments sent to will have identifying information redacted to maintain privacy and will be posted to a publicly available Google doc.
  3. Names and email addresses of those sending email to will not be shared with anyone outside the Task Force.
  4. A narrative summary of comments will also be prepared by the Task Force.

Please submit your comments by December 1, 2016.

The Task Force will then compile the feedback and submit recommendations for revision to the ACRL/IS Executive Committee by Midwinter 2017.

We encourage you to review the document and provide your feedback in order to make the document a truly useful tool for librarians, instruction coordinators, administrators, library school students, and others.

The Task Force hopes to receive constructive response to this draft over the next few weeks. We intend to summarize all comments and share them before everything goes forward to the ACRL/IS Executive Committee.

Thank you!

Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators Revision Task Force Members
Dawn Amsberry, Penn State, Member,
Candice Benjes-Small, Radford University, Member,
Sara Harrington, Ohio University, Co-chair
Sara Miller, Michigan State University, Member and IS Executive Board Liaison,
Courtney Mlinar, Austin Community College, Member,
Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson, West Virginia University, Co-chair,

2 thoughts on “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education”

  1. Will this document still be a Standard? Or, will it become a Guideline? Or, a Framework? This might seem like semantics but ACRL defines these differently and, at least for me, my feedback is in part contingent on the kind of document it will be.

  2. Overall, I think it makes sense for ACRL to work on this revision in light of the adoption of the IL Framework and rescinding of the Standards. However, just as librarians complained that the Framework does not offer discrete, measurable goals in the way that the Standards did, I predict that ACRL will see the same pushback in the wake of this revision.

    One compromise could be to keep the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators as part of the “constellation” of documents, alongside Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education. The Standards for Proficiencies provides those concrete skills that some libraries likely depend on for their hiring, evaluation, and assessment processes. While I can see how some may view them as restrictive, that need not be the case. Pairing them with the more holistic Roles and Strengths is one strategy that might give libraries options about how they interpret the documents and customize them to best meet their own institutional needs.

    That said, it concerns me slightly that ACRL seems to be on a trend of asking institutions to create their own goals, objectives, and standards. For instance, lines 121-127 seem to task libraries with articulating the skills that candidates for librarian positions will need to fill their role(s). It seems to me that the Standards for Proficiencies already does this. So what, exactly, is the Roles and Strengths document adding? What is it taking away?

    Our current information landscape is one of proliferation and confusion. In this “post-truth” era, it seems unwise for ACRL to move further into the land of theory and conceptualization, without grounding this holistic, theoretical view with concrete examples articulating the skills that librarians (and learners) should be able to use.
    Regarding the Roles and Strengths document, the roles are reasonable enough, although there is a lot of overlap between them, as acknowledged in lines 105-106.

    Some questions and comments I have include:

    Regarding a strength for the Advocacy role (line 165-166) “Engages with representatives of campus programs and initiatives to integrate information literacy into co-curricular activities” – what might that look like? Also, in the strength “Promotes and advances information literacy standards to library leaders and campus administrators” (line 167-168), does “standards” refer to some homegrown set of standards specific to that particular institution, or some other set of standards?
    In the Coordinator section, one of the strengths seems overcomplicated. Lines 187-189 read “Collaborates in the development of campus-wide information literacy initiatives and goals and facilitates change while generating trust, support, and commitment from administration and faculty partners.” Could this be expressed in a more straightforward way? It seems to me to say, “Collaborates with administration and faculty to develop and support campus-wide IL initiatives and goals.”

    Also in that same section, lines 192-193 discuss maintaining the IL program, but miss an opportunity to include language about being open to innovation. I also think that there is a missed opportunity to mention knowledge of the curriculum here, an important point from the Standards for Proficiency that did not make it into this document. I am not sure I understand the motivation to include language about “social intelligence and political savvy” in the strength on lines 185-186. As an IL coordinator, I suppose I do this to some extent, but I worry that featuring this sends a message that librarians have to connive to promote and defend IL, which undermines the credibility of information literacy as the “set of integrated abilities” it is defined as in the Framework.

    I also feel uncomfortable with lines 296-297 In the Teaching Partner section, “These relationships aspire to be partnerships rather than support services.” The word “aspire” seems to me to imply that the majority of librarian-faculty relationships do not reach this state. Now, that may be the case, but this language could be written in such a way as to normalize such partnerships. Perhaps, “These relationships should be partnerships rather than support services.”

    On a more positive note, there is a line in the Teacher section that I think reflects the best concepts that came out of the Framework and which I am glad to see translating into other ACRL documents. Lines 277-279 read “The teacher employs a learner-centered approach, encouraging learners to be agents in their own learning.” I absolutely love that ACRL is using language like this, which can inspire librarians to teach in ways that empower their students.

    I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to the Task Force for working to revise this document to increase its usefulness for the profession, and especially for being open to feedback from the community of teaching librarians.

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