Reflecting on Library Instruction

Palms are sweaty, knees weak but I’m not talking about spaghetti (sorry, Eminem); I’m talking about teaching a credit-bearing library course! This last Fall semester, I not only started my first official librarian position, but I also taught my own credit-bearing library course for the very first time. It’s something I’ve briefly mentioned in previous posts, but it’s actually been a huge part of my experience as a first-year academic librarian.  

Within my library, my position falls under the Teaching and Outreach Department. In addition to outreach services, my department’s responsible for teaching several one-shot library instruction sessions per semester as well as teaching credit-bearing library courses. Most of our one-shots are delivered to first-year undergraduate courses, but we also offer the usual library orientation session and course specific instruction as well. Our credit-bearing classes are often co-requisites of corresponding courses. For example, we teach library research classes that support the following programs: Speech and Audiology, Honors, CHE (a TRiO Program for first-gen students), History, and Criminal Justice. The course I teach, LIB 160: Library Research, supports the Criminal Justice program.  

There are several components that come with teaching a co-requisite course. Myself and my colleague, who has been teaching 160 for some time now, regularly collaborate with the faculty member in charge of the course we’re a co-requisite of, CRJ 380: Research Methods in Criminal Justice. This means we do our best to ensure the work that’s done in 160 is closely aligned with what students are expected to do in 380. The major project students complete in 380 is a research proposal. The final assignment in 160 is a literature review which becomes a part of students’ research proposal for 380. Though we work hard to ensure that 160 provides students with the information literacy skills necessary to be successful in their field, planning for and teaching the course is not without its share of struggles.  

Some of the struggles that came with teaching 160 were fairly standard for teaching a new course. In spite of finishing my MS-LS with a solid understanding of information literacy, learning an entirely new curriculum designed for a subject matter outside of my expertise was my first big challenge. Though my colleague who taught the course before me was open to questions and more than willing to share her materials, I still had several lessons and assignments to familiarize myself with in a relatively short period of time – My position started in July and classes began in August. Thus, a great deal of my orientation process was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of 160. After starting to learn the curriculum, actually being in the classroom itself and teaching the lessons became my next challenge.  

Thanks to my colleagues who introduced me to the idea, reflection has become a part of my teaching process. Last semester, I got into the habit of journaling after every class. I’ll be the first to admit that not every day was my best last semester. To give you an idea, the words and phrases I used to describe my first week of class were: nervous, felt weird, stress, sweaty, talking too fast, and I think they liked my personality. Imposter syndrome loomed large for me. Though I have years of experience teaching high school, the thought of teaching in a university was intimidating for me. I was always a little nervous whenever I taught high school, but this was different. In hindsight, it may have been a combination of different things: new job, new responsibilities, first time teaching a new course. Yet, all of that isn’t to say that there weren’t any successes last semester.  

Seeing my students learn and grow has always been among my greatest successes as an educator. This past semester was no different. At the beginning of 160, my first assignment asked students to illustrate their current research process. At the end of the course, I asked my students to carry out the same assignment but to add any new steps they may have developed in 160. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of my students added several steps to their old processes. Course evaluations were another new but pleasant surprise. 

Needless to say, teaching an in-person course during a pandemic is a challenge. Though my institution has a vaccine and mask requirement, the semester was not without its fair share of quarantines, sicknesses, or students dealing with labor shortages at their jobs. I’ve always felt that, before anything, students are people with lives outside of the classroom – Lives which are often subject to circumstances outside of their control. Because of this, I’ve always strived to be an open and understanding instructor. Even so, it was my surprise to see that several students noted my approach in their course evaluations with comments like, “Professor García truly cares about his students and them succeeding” and “He was very understanding with assignments and helped me when I needed an extension.” Though I often felt like maybe I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m happy to report that I never lost sight of my students’ humanity and my responsibility to them as an instructor.  

Flash forward to the present, my class is entering its third week and I’m happy to report that it’s been great! In spite of the current Omicron surge, students in quarantine, and snow days, I feel so much more comfortable as an instructor this time around. Looking at my reflection journal, the first week was described as comfy, easier, nice balance, and connecting with students well. Though I know improving one’s pedagogy is a continuous process, knowing the semester has gotten off to a great start fills me with great optimism. 

My view of my classroom. 

From clicks toward concepts in the information literacy classroom

I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter the other day when a tweet caught my eye. I wish I could find it again to do it justice, but it was essentially a critique of the author’s missteps in the classroom early in their career by way of a funny apology to students. It immediately transported me back to some of the most disappointing and embarrassing teaching experiences in my own early career days. My whole body still cringes when I remember those moments: the one-shots where, for example, I droned on about database navigation and put students, and myself, to sleep; the ones where I stuffed every minute of class, often with insignificant minutiae, thereby camouflaging what really mattered. I didn’t know how to prioritize or pace instruction, much less how to engage students. 

I’m grateful to say that almost everything about my teaching has changed since then, and for the better. Now, more than a decade later, my teaching is much more grounded in constructivist pedagogy and organized around cultivating students’ awareness and understanding of their research processes. My approach then could perhaps be described as tool-driven and largely based in demonstration. It was common for me to develop some kind of resource guide for the course–essentially a long list of links to recommended databases, books, websites, etc.–and then to spend our time in class focused on modeling and practicing effective use of those tools. Of course, there are still plenty of occasions when it makes sense to orient students to effectively using library databases. But now uncovering, conceptualizing, and shaping the process of research–the methods, stages, and purpose–is my organizational blueprint. Today–guided by constructivist and metacognitive principles, active learning pedagogy, and formative assessment techniques–my teaching is much less about tools and much more about strategies, much less about clicks and much more about concepts. 

While the impact of this long transformation has reaped many rewards in student engagement and learning, as well as my personal interest and satisfaction, I know there are many ways I could further improve what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it. I hope to keep iterating and advancing. Specifically, I’m thinking about a technique that I’ve long recognized as a weak spot in my teaching and that could support this road from clicks to concepts: storytelling. 

I’m using the word storytelling quite broadly for my purposes. Perhaps examples is more accurate (and less lofty and self-aggrandizing)? Yet examples feels just a bit narrow. I’m not referring only to developing instructive sample searches to demonstrate how to keep keywords simple yet precise or selecting the ideal sample article to model how to effectively organize a literature review. Of course, those are important kinds of examples and, when done well, very impactful ones. But when I say I want to use storytelling or examples, I’m thinking more about allegories, anecdotes, and analogies, case studies and real-world problems to wrap around the research strategies and concepts at the core of each class. I’m imagining that such storytelling techniques could extend or enhance information literacy teaching and learning by making abstract or technical concepts more accessible and concrete, facilitating recall, demonstrating relevance and impact, prompting reflection and meaning-making, not to mention simply providing inspiration or general interest. I’ve so far been thinking of these as discrete stories to insert at key moments in class to illustrate a point, hook a students’ interest, or propel us all toward moments of understanding.

The small amount of reading on this topic that I’ve done thus far seems to affirm the effectiveness of storytelling and precise, compelling examples in teaching (not to mention other domains like management and leadership). And the tips I’ve stumbled on so far suggest that, like many things in teaching, it’s best to start small by focusing on a single area or concept that students regularly struggle with in order to integrate storytelling where it’s most needed. Otherwise, I’m still a bit at sea here on how to do this best. It’s one thing to be able to identify where a story would be most helpful; it’s another to compose a compelling story that helps students reach a meaningful takeaway and recognize why that takeaway matters. I certainly need to do more research and thinking, but I’m curious about your experience. Have you incorporated storytelling and examples in your teaching? What kinds of stories? And to what effect? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Pulling Back the Curtain on Library Magic

open book and glowing orb sitting on a table
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Some Context

While we’re making dinner, my husband (also in academia) and I will usually talk about our workday, despite the fact that, at the moment, our offices are separated by only one wall. These conversations usually devolve into what I’ll politely refer to in a public forum as “academia garbage talk,” in which we rage about the great problems of higher education as our onion chopping gets messy and our son tries to drown out our noise with video game YouTube.

Library Magic

Earlier this week our academia garbage talk focused on the idea of smoke and mirrors in academic libraries. As a graduate student in mathematics and then an assistant professor, my husband, we’ll call him C, was always strongly encouraged to use interlibrary loan, reach out to his librarian, request journals and books, and really, ask for anything.

“The way this was sold to me,” C shared, “was that if there was anything I needed, librarians could make it happen. If I needed an article or a book or a journal or a class for my students, librarians could and would make it happen via some kind of library magic.”

C

I remember these days. In the early 2000s our budgets were healthier than they are now and all of our outreach efforts centered on this idea of getting students and faculty to not only use the library but to use us, as librarians. I remember standing in front of a class of undergraduate students and talking about interlibrary loan (ILL) as if it was library magic. It’s a FREE service! The article appears in your email inbox the next day! Did I mention it’s free? Never mind the cost and labor involved in making ILL happen. They didn’t need to concern themselves with that. That’s a topic of conversation for library workers, not students.

Before the days of critical information literacy, I taught students how to search for peer reviewed articles to meet their information needs in library databases using the magic of filters and advanced search. I routinely heard students mutter, “how did you do that?” as they stared in happy amazement at their list of results. I may have talked about peer review as a process but I didn’t dig into the economic realities of scholarly publishing or the money involved in creating library databases and the money made by Google when we used it to search.

I remember, in those days, begging faculty to place book orders to spend down our firm order budget but then having to backtrack when they wanted journals or databases instead. “Didn’t you tell us to ask for what we need?” they’d stare accusingly, as I tried to then explain allocations and subscriptions, my magical facade slipping.

The Death of Magic that Never Was

Problems occur when the magic fades, or rather, the problems become evident to people outside of the library once the illusion disappears. After the recession we found ourselves with shrinking budgets and calls to cut cut cut, a situation made even worse by the current pandemic. Library positions are not being refilled, subscription costs continue to rise, and library workers are exhausted. Faculty and students continue to want to call on our magic but we have to admit it was never really there in the first place.

That article you received via interlibrary loan may have not cost you any money but it certainly did cost the library money and library workers’ time.

Those journals we said we could get you are actually rising in cost far beyond our ability to pay so no, we can’t get that new journal and actually we need to cut a bunch of other ones.

Yeah, so, searching in Google might be free but its actually using your search information in its proprietary algorithm that reinforces racial bias (among other things) and yeah, we know that the library’s discovery layer is not great but we don’t have the personnel to fix it.

All of the services we provide, including access to collections, instruction, and research support are fueled by money and people, not magic.

Value and Values in a Non-Magical World

I don’t want to blame libraries and librarians for trading in magic. We were trying to make libraries relevant and prove our value and the rhetoric we used was meant to show helpful we could be in making academic life easier. We wanted to demonstrate our worth and increase our gate/use/reference/instruction/click counts. I won’t get into the doing-more-with-less discussion because there are much smarter folks who have covered resilience and neoliberalism in much more nuanced ways than I can do here. However I do think it’s worth continuing a conversation about how we talk about library work, how libraries work, and how information is produced, accessed, commodified, and shared.

My current place of work is part of the Texas Library Coalition for United Action (TLCUA) which aims to “think creatively about access to faculty publications and the sustainability of journal subscriptions,” and includes contract negotiations with Elsevier. Part of this work involves a coordinated campaign to educate our faculty about the costs associated with academic publishing and library collections. It’s pulling the curtain back on budget conversations that were previously kept in house, and is something that the University of California system has done quite well over the last few years. Journals and databases don’t magically appear out of nowhere. They cost money, and are costing us more and more money each year.

In parallel to these faculty education efforts, we should also be teaching students about information systems and how information works, a topic Barbara Fister advocates for in her new PIL Provocation Essay. We used to hide much of the inner workings of search algorithms, databases, data collection, metadata, subject headings, and the costs of academic scholarship from our students because that was librarian stuff that students didn’t really care about. They just needed to know how to get their books and articles to complete their assignments and access the information they needed. They didn’t need to know that information got there in the first place.

But we have classrooms of students now who are concerned about the legitimacy of information shared online, struggling to spot bias in writing, and wondering where all the data collected about them by websites and learning analytics systems is going. Some of the most engaging conversations I’ve had about the peer review system, academic publishing, news, and social media have been with undergraduate students. We can’t assume that students don’t want to learn about how information and its systems work. More importantly, we can’t have conversations about information literacy without talking about the sociological, cultural, and economic context of the information they seek.

Library magic may have felt easy and appeared wondrous, but in the end what we need is less magic and more dissection. We need to get into complex explanations and uncomfortable conversations and we need to assume that our students and faculty can handle it. If we’re in the business of education then we need to stop the smoke and mirrors and start (or continue!) to critically inspect and explain the information systems around academia as well as those outside of our context. Academia overlaps with the commercial world, political landscape, and cultural contexts, and we need to have a narrative about library work that doesn’t shy away from those realities.

Complex or clickbait?: The problematic Media Bias Chart

This guest post was submitted by Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Research at William & Mary, and Nathan Elwood, Library Administrator at the Missouri Legislative Library.

The Media Bias Chart, commonly referred to simply as “The Chart,” has become ubiquitous in discussion of information literacy and news evaluation. The Chart, for those unaware, attempts to differentiate trustworthy and untrustworthy media sources based on two axes: bias and reliability. 

Despite the popularity of this memetic tool, it raises a whole host of issues that must be addressed as part of our larger information literacy conversations. 

The Chart promotes a false equivalency between left and right, lionizes a political “center” as being without bias, reinforces harmful perceptions about what constitutes “news” in our media ecosystem, and is ignored by anyone that doesn’t already hold a comparable view of the media landscape. 

The Chart is a meme, not an information literacy tool, and as librarians we need to be clear-eyed about these flaws. As Ad Fontes Media released version 7.0 last month, we thought it was a good time to explore our concerns. 

Origins of The Chart

First published in December 2016 by Vanessa Otero, The Chart was originally simple and informal, placing sources on a “liberal” to “conservative” left-right axis, and along a vertical axis of credibility ranging from “complex” to “clickbait.” As with all iterations of The Chart, this resulted in sources arranged in a rough pyramid, with sources ranked the most “mainstream” and “complex” as being of the highest information value. 

Creator Vanessa Otero does not come from an information literacy background. While currently an intellectual property lawyer, her previous professional experience was in pharmaceutical sales and as a Regional Advisor for Noveau Riche, a non-accredited vocational school specializing in real estate investing.  In 2010, amidst accusations of being a multi-level marketing scam, Nouveau Riche dissolved. In 2011, the founders of the company were fined more than $5 million by the Arizona Corporation Commission for defrauding students. 

Otero says The Chart is a “passion project” and could be useful to consumers and advertisers.

Within weeks of the first iteration’s release, The Chart became a viral phenomenon. It also received pushback from far-right outlets after seeing Infowars, Breitbart, and The Daily Caller all grouped in the bottom-far right, a quadrant labeled as not credible. 

However, criticism of the original meme wasn’t exclusive to the far-right. Left-wingers noticed the conspiracy site “Natural News” grouped at the bottom left of the liberal/conservative axis. 

Natural News, it was quickly pointed out, was a known purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting being a false-flag. The far-left/extremely “liberal” grouping for the site, Otero justified through the site’s “anti-corporate and popular liberal pseudo-science positions.” Natural News has since fluctuated across the spectrum, before arriving on the far-right in the current iteration. 

On neutrality

In the original iterations of The Chart, all evaluation of sources was conducted by Otero herself. However, after her formation in 2018 of Ad Fontes Media, analysis is conducted by a team of writers, journalists, and other professionals. 

Whenever a new item is evaluated, it is analyzed by a team of at least 3 of these analysts, “with an equal number from left-leaning, center-leaning, and right-leaning perspectives.”

One of the most common points of justification for this project and similar endeavors is that the analysis they conduct is “bipartisan” in this manner. This is something that has been left uninterrogated within the library profession for far too long. It may seem like a strange question, but what is actually “good” about a bipartisan analysis?

When Donald Trump claims that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville riots, we can easily identify what a facile, deceptive framing this is. So why do we allow it within our media analysis?

Say you have, like Ad Fontes Media does, a “bipartisan” group of analysts; evenly mixed between liberals/leftists, conservatives, and centrists. For the purposes of this example, feel free to dismiss that liberals aren’t actually classified as “Left” in most understandings of political science. Instead, consider what the conservative viewpoint genuinely brings to the table.

On January 6th, a majority (68%) of Republican lawmakers, the representative body of the conservative viewpoint in American politics, voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election based on unsubstantiated and proven-false conspiracies. They did this only hours after an attempted coup against our government, based on the same premises, left five people dead.

The consensus view among the American conservative movement is that the attack was justified in its reasoning, if not its method. 

As Eugene Robinson said in his recent Washington Post editorial, “Bipartisanship is nice, but you can’t negotiate with fantasy and lies.” 

The problem with pyramids

Projects like the Media Bias Chart all portray the political center “unbiased,” feeding into what cultural theorist Mark Fisher labels as “capitalist realism,” in which the status quo power structure is the only system that can feasibly exist, and even the thought of alternative systems is seen as inherently radical.

In the structure of The Chart, the “center” or “status quo” is portrayed as the most preferable, least problematic option. It is, visually, the top of the pyramid. It is “biased” (and therefore less credible) to hold views outside reinforcement of this status quo. 

Within this framing, the Democratic Party represents the left end of the spectrum, and the Republican Party the entirety of the right. However, according to the work of the Manifesto Project, the Democratic Party tracks to the political center, and the Republican Party to the far-right. . 

Within this framing, right-wing and left-wing views are both held as equally “extreme,” despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security singled out right-wing extremists as “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland” 

Mainstream or Utter Garbage?  


Another flaw of the balanced, pyramid structure of The Chart is that it fails to take into account the centralization of the media landscape, as described in the Propaganda Model. The corporate monopolizing that we see in the US media, rather than furnishing us with diverse viewpoints across a variety of sources, has collapsed our media ecosystem into a small set of acceptable views, portrayed by dozens of sources that differ only aesthetically. Our media ecosystem, put bluntly, presents an “illusion of choice,” oriented largely to the benefit of a pro-business status quo.   

What’s the objective? 

Also worth noting is how the “objective, view from nowhere” standard that The Chart reinforces was developed by and for white, cis males, and that enforcing that “neutral” POV can often be fundamentally inequitable.. 

Consider when a reporter for the City Desk program in Chicago accused Malcolm X of being “personally prejudiced” and incapable of being “academic” in his arguments regarding the Ku Klux Klan, simply because they had burned down his home and murdered his father. Or more recently, when Black journalist Wesley Lowery revealed how he had been “muzzled” by editors at the Washington Post.

In the wake of these events, Lowery has written compellingly on the failures of our current conception of “objectivity” in newsrooms, a conception that The Chart fortifies by design.  

The problems of source as shorthand

While the outlet providing an article is certainly an essential consideration when it comes to evaluation, we reject that it is the most important indicator. A media company is not a monolith, but an organization of people. 

Divergence from editorial direction is common. When the NYT published Senator Tom Cotton’s opinion piece calling for the military be sent in to control protests, or the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed questioned Dr. Jill Biden’s use of the “Doctor” title, journalists at both organizations spoke out against pieces. 

Sources are also divided into different areas, with different specializations and audiences. This makes it very difficult to generalize a source’s credibility. For example, Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue have published excellent political reporting while also drawing eyeballs through listicles and pop culture pieces. 

The simple layout of The Chart does not allow for this kind of context or nuance. 

What is included

It’s difficult to tell how Ad Fontes selects the media which appear on The Chart. Natural News and others have transitioned on and off The Chart several times. Many sources in Version 7.0’s “green box” are household names, but just beneath them in the “mixed reliability category” The Chart has previously included outlets like Epoch Times, a pro-Trump outlet with ties to the Falun Gong cult and a penchant for spreading Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

Currently occupying the same space, and even outranking established publications like The Nation in terms of credibility, is Quillette, a publication that has promoted racial pseudo-science on multiple occassions.

In her essay Lizard People in the Library, Barbara Fister argues that librarians must educate learners to differentiate between news platforms which serve as watchdogs for society, and outlets which prioritize profits over any kind of social contract. Ad Fontes amplifies outlets like Epoch Times and Quillette through their inclusion, leading the casual observer to assume that, while problematic, these are legitimate news organizations worthy of inclusion in a normal media diet. 

Just as harmful as these impacts is how The Chart also reinforces the concept of “news” being exclusively a national affair. This is to the great detriment of local news outlets, which often provide not only high quality information, but information more directly relevant to people’s lives.


This is a real problem, because the death of news at the local level has allowed for the propagation of far-right propaganda outlets in the vacuums created. 

Tabula Rasa

Some have argued that The Chart is helpful for students who are new to research and are a ‘blank slate’ when it comes to sources; The Chart gives them guidance as they conduct their research online. But this makes little sense; as a visual source, The Chart can only include a tiny fraction of sites. 

Internet searches will bring up stories from thousands of different sources not on The Chart. Local media sources are one example of a source type that is ignored by The Chart’s methodology, but there are even extremely popular information and disinformation sources that don’t show up. 

Given the variable nature of the chart’s inclusion of sources, how are readers supposed to interpret a source’s absence in relation to its credibility? 

Check your bias

In one of the earliest mainstream media articles about the newly formed Ad Fontes Media, MarketWatch asserted in their headline “How biased is your news source? You probably won’t agree with this chart.” 

From the beginning, the biggest flaw in this project has been viewers’ own confirmation bias. Frequent consumers of sources that The Chart claims to be untrustworthy or biased will often dismiss The Chart entirely. Conversely, the centrist consumer who reposts The Chart to their social media page will often ignore the unscientific and haphazard nature of the work.

So what chart should I use instead?

While we have focused our discussion on the Media Bias Chart’s flaws, many of the same critiques apply to other websites that claim to rate media outlets’ biases. Professors and librarians are looking for a ‘silver bullet’ that will help students become more discerning consumers of media. As educators, we must transition away from crutches like these, and instead endorse comprehensive, skill-based evaluation of information sources.

While Nathan does not recommend any methodology in particular, he has found that the Five W’s as framed by Jessica Olin are a helpful tool when training students to read sources critically. The easy recognizability of the framework helps it to stick with students, and promotes a constant and variable interrogation of sources rather than a standardized checklist. He has also regularly talked about the misinformation categories identified by media professor Melissa Zimdars, whose work was popularized around the same time as Otero’s meme. In addition, he feels that information literacy, as a skill designed to create more informed citizens, must be coupled with a comprehensive and rigorous study of the basics of political science and civics. 

Candice advocates people use Mike Caulfield’s SIFT method when evaluating a news article, since it emphasizes lateral reading and the need to recontextualize information. While media bias charts try to provide a heuristic that encourages people to trust or distrust a source in isolation, SIFT recognizes that we must view each story within the greater information ecosystem. This is not something that can be done with a meme – and to suggest information literacy can be so simplistic is insulting. 

Combatting Imposter Syndrome with Comradery and Critical Pedagogy

One of my friends from my graduate program is currently an instruction librarian at another institution. At the beginning of the academic school year, he asked if I would like to join him in reading partnership centered on instruction and pedagogy through a critical lens. So far this year, we have read bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While reading these books we have met weekly or biweekly to discuss the contents of each chapter. I am as sick of Zoom as the next person, but these meetings were often the highlight of my week.

During these sessions we have shared our experiences, opinions, and instruction strategies as they relate to the work of hooks and Freire. It is hard to select just one topic from hours of lively conversation, but one common theme has been resonating with me as I reflect on last semester and look ahead to the new one – the complicated student-teacher relationship.

Both authors problematize the traditional hierarchical classroom setting where the teacher is always the leader of the classroom and students are often stripped of their agency upon entry. Rather, hooks and Freire explore the ways in which it is necessary for teachers to empower student agency, and to enter into a teaching and learning relationship with the students.

Creating a classroom where students have agency, and their experiences and voices are truly valued is demanding work that becomes more complicated when applied to the library one-shot instructional model. Part of this complication comes with the course instructor/librarian relationship. If the course instructor teaches with a traditional lecture model, and does not see the value of centering student voices and experiences in the classroom, librarians may not feel empowered to create this environment, or may even run the risk of not being asked to return.

As a new librarian at a new university, building relationships with teaching faculty has been one of my primary goals. Through my various communications with faculty in my liaison areas, I have not encountered any strong push back to my instruction style. However, and this may be completely in my head, I often feel that there is an expectation that I will come into the Zoom room as the Expert and fill the students with my Librarian Knowledge. This unspoken, and perhaps fully imagined, expectation feeds into something I have written about before – imposter syndrome.

This is made worse by the fact that I am what some of my colleagues like to refer to as a “generalist” – I do not have a master’s degree in any of the fields with which I liaise. This is where student experiences, voices, and expertise come to play. My reading comrade and I have been discussing strategies that implement hooks’ engaged pedagogy and Freire’s dialogics – essentially centering student voices and experiences in the library one shot.  

In reality, I am not a generalist. I specialize in library pedagogy and information literacy. When I give over half of the classroom time to the students to share their thoughts, experiences, and even expertise on information literacy topics, I am seeking to empower student knowledge, and allowing for them to teach and learn from each other. Of course, I bolster their ideas with additional perspectives where and when it is helpful. By creating a learning environment that centers students, I am able to bring together my subject expertise and their knowledge base.

Learning to navigate classrooms norms and pedagogical power structures is something instruction librarians are always participating in. In conversation with my reading comrade, I have developed several new strategies for this. It is my hope that as I push and break down the boundaries of the hierarchical classroom, my new colleagues will see the value of this practice.