Long Lost Motivation

In the current-day liturgy of teaching, it seems that motivating students is key. Once you have students motivated, supposedly, they will easily absorb what may otherwise seem dry or mundane. So a teacher’s plan should not be to transmit the material, but to motivate the students to learn the material for themselves while acting as a guiding frame. For librarians who teach, then, the challenge is to motivate students to be interested in searching for and critically thinking about information.

I know it’s possible to be interested in searching for and critically thinking about information, because it happened to me. But that was in graduate school, after many years of appreciating libraries and learning. The question I keep returning to is, what’s the formula for librarians to motivate students in a meaningful way during a brief reference transaction, or at best a library instruction session? Particularly in context, where research is only one part of a broader assignment or class?
(And don’t mistake this as a call for credit-bearing IL courses — I agree with Steven Bell’s recent post)

One recent reference desk transaction that I consider particularly successful involved a patron writing an argumentative paper about how x causes y. She wanted to find research supporting her view. So we tracked down some research, looked at some studies, and found that x has not been conclusively shown to cause y, but there are correlations, and many sources have used these correlations to prescribe certain behaviors. This was a wonderful information literacy lesson because it demonstrated how information is generated and then interpreted, and it was directly relevant to the context of her need. It was also representative of most of the reference questions I handle, in that patrons really don’t care about the intricacies of the catalog or databases until they have a specific question. It’s only when learning search tools and finding aids is integrated into answering a question that the search for information becomes interesting. In a class, though, I find this level of customization is not always possible.

I also do want to promote student independence in information-seeking behaviors, but wouldn’t you hate it if you walked up to some computer guru, asked her to show you how to do something, & she said “I’m not going to show you how to do it, but I’ll show you how I figured it out. I read the tutorial and went to a bunch of training classes, and then I played with it a bunch.” Everyone looks for similar shortcuts all the time, but shortcuts are meaningless without context. So context is essential to library instruction — we have to make library tools relevant to a certain class, or assignments, for the lesson to work.

In conclusion (sort of), it is easier but insufficient to simply feed students the shortcuts (i.e. the finding aids) without a context. We have to come up with truly thrilling examples of how information works, but much of the time we are preoccupied with thinking about how the tools work. Obviously it will vary by discipline, but does anyone have any great examples they’d like to share here? Or perhaps there’s a forum for this type of idea-generation that I haven’t found yet?

Must Teaching and Learning Research Skills be Boring?

Olivia Nellums blogs about her first year experience as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Camden County College in New Jersey.

Even though I’m a young librarian, I can’t remember not knowing how to use the library. I learned gradually, through a process of trial and error, and then by going to library school.

This leaves me in a curious spot as an instruction librarian: A class comes to the library to learn how to do research for a particular assignment, and basically I communicate what I’ve learned so far about how to effectively use a library. Then, unless they find me later at the reference desk, I don’t see them again. Broadly speaking, library instruction seems to be regarded as skills-based: The librarian demonstrates the skills, and the students are supposed to absorb them in that traditional way that equates their brains with sponges. The library is relevant to them only in the context of their course, and I can tell they’d like me to hurry up and get it over with so they can get back to the competing concerns of their class.

So, as many instruction librarians before me, I’ve turned to learning theories for guidance. Here’s what I’m gathering:
-I should leave students wanting to strike out independently to learn more about information and information-gathering, but without omitting essential points in my lecture.
-I should encourage students to be curious about how to solve an information problem. Also I should nurture them into reconsidering what they think they know about information.
-I should assist with the above in a patient, encouraging, and overall enthusiastic manner.

Now, before I started this job my biggest worries were that I talk too fast and might be mistaken for a student rather than a librarian. On the bright side, I’m glad to see I can set aside those trivialities. I’m also glad that the ideas above are really part of information literacy, which seems to be getting an increasing amount of attention from the academy at large.

As for other past concerns – mainly that I’m in charge of helping students learn every little thing about the library, and that it’s a personal failure if they don’t get it – maybe what I ought to be supporting is a framework of information and the basics of how to find it. So, here’s my summary of that earlier list (borrowing slightly from Ken Bain‘s What the Best College Teachers Do):
-I should promote a natural critical learning environment where students can confront beautiful and intriguing information problems, yet not make it so theoretical that they throw rotten tomatoes at me.

I’m on it.

From Russia With Blog

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks I’ve engaged in correspondence with Ekaterina Efimova, a reference librarian at the Scientific Library of the Ural State University in Russia – and Russia’s first academic librarian blogger! She has been working as a professional librarian for 3 years. Katerina, as she refers to herself, first contacted me to request permission to translate one of my recent posts for her own blog titled The Library Bat. Apparently my post on the myth of the information literacy class was better received by our Russian colleagues than it was by ACRLog readers. I was intriguiged by Katherina’s interest in information literacy and blogging, so I asked her if she would be willing to share some of her thoughts about these topics so that we might learn a bit more about our Russian colleagues.

Katerina, could you please describe your university and the library.

Our university is one of the largest and oldest universities in Ekaterinburg. It is usually called a “classic” university, as almost all the sciences are taught here from nanotechnologies to religion studies. And of course our library on, one hand, has books and other resources to meet all the possible educational and scientific needs of our students, faculty and staff and, on the other hand, we try to implement the newest information technologies in our work to offer our users a wide range of services, such as ILL, computers, Internet access, wifi and more. Our library is subscribed to world famous databases, such as Elsevier, Ebsco Publishing, JSTOR, Springer Verlag, World Scientific Publishing and many others. Some information about our library you can see on our web site (in Russian only).

In Russian academic libraries do you have a job position for “Information Literacy Librarian” or “Instruction Librarian”?

Unfortunately, we don’t have such job positions. As a rule, the role of “instruction librarian” is usually played by reference librarians (bibliographers). I think it is not bad, as reference librarians usually know a lot about information resources and information retrieval.

Do you use ACRL’s Standards for Information Literacy in developing your learning goals or program outcomes or has a unique set of standards emerged for Russian academic libraries?

In our library we try to use the experience of our colleagues, but as far as I know, we don’t have a special standard for information literacy. We have chosen a set of skills and knowledge, that our students should learn. Every instruction librarian (I will call them this way here, though we don’t have such position, as I have stated above) writes his or her own course outline, depending on the amount of hours that is given for the course (from 4 to 30), the department (the information given to students of the History department will be different from that given to students of the Chemistry department), the students themselves (are they freshmen or graduates) and so on. But there are some mandatory elements: catalogues search (OPAC and card catalogue), citation rules, database and Internet search. I have developed my own course for the first year students of the PR Department, though it is not perfect, of course.

What are your thoughts on the degree of influence that American IL has had on the Russian librarian’s understanding of IL programs?

Well, I cannot speak for the whole Russian librarianship, but US resources influenced me much. When I started teaching IL about three years ago, I studied ALA’s standards, different resources devoted to IL, read articles. A lot of information for my lectures and workshops I’ve got from my american colleagues. Maybe I was wrong and I should have searched better for Russian materials, but I (and my students) like the results.

Would you say that there is an established information literacy movement in Russian academic institutions or is this something fairly new that your academic librarians are just becoming aware of?

Well, I don’t think that information literacy is something new for us. In Russia it is called “information culture”. I may be wrong, but I think that the information literacy (or culture) movement in Russia has started about 10 years ago. N. I. Gendina is one of the leading scholar, who develops these ideas in Russia. But it seems to me that IL is known mostly to librarians, and not to the teachers at schools or IHEs, or common people. I’ve seached “information literacy” and “information culture” on Russian Wikipedia (I personally like this resource) and found our that there is no information on both these terms. To my mind, it is a vivid characteristic of undevelopment and uncertainty of IL notion in Russia.

How much do your faculty know about information literacy?

Maybe they have heard this notion. For me it is rather difficult to assess their literacy level. The faculty members, like librarians, are very different in age and research experience. Some of them are afraid of computers, some are advanced computer and Internet users. Of course we don’t teach computer skills, but we arrange meetings with faculty to tell them about library news, new databases or books, and give workshops.

How would you describe their state of knowledge or concern with student use of Google, Wikipedia, plagiarism.

It also depends upon a faculty member. Some will be satisfied with a ready-made work, downloaded completely from the Internet, the other will not allow to use Internet resources at all. Of course we have some “advanced” faculty, but the majority thinks that either “Internet is evil”, or “everything can be found in the Internet”.

Are they ready or open to collaborating with academic librarians to improve student research skills?

The classes in information literacy are taught at most of our departments. Some in administration do their best to organize such classes. Sometimes even faculty members ask us to conduct a class in information retrieval or to select some resources on a particular topic and to tell their students.
More often faculty members aks us to help them with their personal research. We help them to find relevant information, correct the citations, give advices for independent search. And of course very often students come with such words: Professor XXX told me to come to you. She/he said you could help me. And we do our best.
What are your thoughts on how American and Russian academic librarians could work together to improve our international collaboration and sharing of ideas? Can we overcome the language barrier?

I am for collaboration with both my hands! Sharing experience is always good. I know in some aspects Russian libraries lag far behind, but still we are eager to learn, and I am sure we can teach something useful. I think there are lots of possible ways: international conferences and workshops (e.g annual conference in Sudak, ScienceOnline etc.), international programs such as Fulbright or Edmund Muskie programs (btw, this fall I go to USA for a year thanks to Fulbright Faculty development Program). We also can establish individual contacts (through blogs of social networks). Of course the language barrier is a great problem, very few Russian librarians can easily communicate in English. But still if there is only one person in a Russian library, who has a good command of English, some interaction is possible (I am an unassuming result of it).

I know you read quite a few of our American librarian blogs. What are some of your favorites? Are these blogs widely read by your colleagues or as Russia’s first academic librarian blogger are you trying to create more awareness?

Yes, I have to read a lot blogs on library topics just to be well informed about what is happening around the world, or I’ll better say – over the ocean. It is difficult to chose the favorite. I like David Lee King’s blog, Annoyed Librarian, Digital Reference, L-net: Oregon libraries network blogs, ACRLog and many others. I also like LISNews much. I don’t know if my colleagues read them, it is rather difficult to “force” them to read and comment on Russian library blogs. The main reasons, to my mind, are 1. Very few librarians know English language, 2. Even less librarians know what a blog is or don’t want to waste time on such unimportant or silly things. That is why I try to share the news or ideas I’ve read in blogs, sometimes making translations, sometimes – on our meetings, or even in private conversations.

Finally, tell us a bit about your blog and what you try to accomplish? Are you focusing on any particular topic, such as information literacy? Do you think more Russian academic librarians will start their own blogs soon?

Well, my blog “Library Bat” or “Мышь библиотечная” in Russian, is relatively young – it is about 1.5 years old. At first I was blogging in English, but very quickly switched to Russian as I think it is more important and essential. I am not focusing on a special topic. I think that the Russian biblioblogosphere is too undeveloped for single-topic blogs. I try to tell about everything connected with libraries and books, do a lot of translations. Maybe some day I will make a blog, devoted to virtual reference services – my mostly loved library issue nowadays after library blogs. If to speak about the future of library blogging, it seems optimistic to me. Last summer I have written an article for InfoBib about Russian library blogs. The amount of blogs has grown three times since, but the problems still exist.

Many thanks to Katerina for sharing this information. I would have many more questions for her about academic librarianship in Russia but our space is limited. If you’d like to contact Katerina do so through her profile at Facebook or Library 2.0 profile.