Generative AI & the Evolution of Academic Librarianship

During my first week as an academic librarian, many faculty discussions on campus were regarding the issue of generative AI software, such as ChatGPT. A majority of the faculty at a panel discussion held on campus about AI expressed concerns over plagiarism, copyright, academic integrity, etc. Those on the panel, however, commented on how beneficial using AI was. When asked more specifically on what faculty should do to combat potential cheating from using generative AI, the panel seemed in agreeance on an answer: educate your students on how to responsibly use AI.

I will admit; prior to starting my career as an academic librarian, I had never used generative AI. Of course, I saw generative AI blasted all over the news and saw updates on sites and apps like Snapchat, but I never understood what generative AI was. I did not have any interest in learning about it either. After attending the panel discussion, however, I was reminded of a book I read called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I was assigned to read Who Moved My Cheese? by a professor in graduate school and often refer back to it (I highly recommend reading it if you have not already done so). The book explains how change can happen unexpectedly, and when it does, it is better to adapt and move forward than be left behind. Feeling like I was being left behind while other faculty embraced generative AI, I decided to learn as much as I could about it.

Although I read numerous articles and watched hours of YouTube videos, I was still confused as to how generative AI worked. Near the end of August, my dean notified the library faculty of a course offered through ALA’s eLearning platform. The course was titled Exploring AI with Critical Information Literacy and taught by Sarah Morris. I enrolled in the course and learned about the development and usage of generative AI and machine learning, current discussions around AI, opportunities and challenges for AI usage in higher education, and how to engage AI as an academic librarian. Throughout the course, we examined AI through a critical lens and discussed strategies for AI to be incorporated at our own institutions. I enjoyed the course and found the lesson on prompt engineering to be the most intriguing.

One of the ways in which academic librarians can enter the generative AI realm in higher education is through teaching faculty and students prompt engineering. Prompt engineering is strategizing your generative AI input to obtain your desired output. While one can simply ask ChatGPT a standard question, prompt engineering recommends telling ChatGPT through what lens to answer the question. For example, if I was wondering how to craft a lesson for my class on implicit bias, I could plainly input:

“What lesson on implicit bias could I give my college class?”

Using prompt engineering, a better input would be:

“Act like an Academic Librarian teaching a college course on critical thinking. Design a lesson about implicit bias. Include topics for the class to discuss in small groups.”

While the results appeared similar, the detailed prompt elicited a result more applicable to my course by covering topics such as bias in information sources and media literacy.

Another way academic librarians can educate faculty and students on generative AI is on responsible use. More specifically, we can create lessons and workshops around copyright, academic integrity, and the reliability of the output. I tried this with my critical thinking class. I first introduced the university’s academic integrity policy, including definitions of cheating and plagiarism. Because the majority of my class was unfamiliar with generative AI, I briefly explained how generative AI worked. Afterwards, I had the students discuss the potential benefits and challenges of using generative AI. Using my personal account (my university does not support the use of ChatGPT), I asked ChatGPT and had the students read the output. I stressed that when used responsibly, ChatGPT can be a great resource for brainstorming; however, I cautioned my students from using it for writing assignments due to plagiarism, copyright infringement, and incorrect information. To illustrate this point further, I informed my students of the two attorneys in New York who acquired case law through ChatGPT. The attorneys did not fact-check the case law, and the judge discovered that the case law actually did not exist. The cases ChatGPT cited were made up. Overall, the lesson was a success. Many students chose to explore generative AI in more depth for the final projects.

By embracing generative AI, academic librarians can increase their skillset and become a useful resource for faculty and students navigating the rapidly evolving world of AI. It will be interesting to learn about how varying universities respond, if they have not done so already. I imagine we will see new policies implemented on campus, positions established, and roles altered.

Bringing Disability to the Forefront

It’s been a busy semester at the reference desk. Amidst the busyness, I was elated to see that some of my coworkers created a display of books relating to chronic illness and disability. I was even more thrilled to see that students were often stopping by to look at the display, telling their friends about it, and checking out some of the books that were featured. 

March is Disability Awareness Month, and my library makes sure to create displays and programming relating to chronic illness and disability throughout the month. But with more and more people, including college students, becoming disabled due to Long Covid, it is more important than ever that we consider the needs of disabled students year-round. It is also more important than ever that we as academic librarians highlight books by chronically ill and disabled authors throughout the year, and not dismiss displays and programming as options that solely serve the needs of school and public libraries.

Chronic illness and disability are personal to me, as someone who is disabled because of chronic illness, and whose disability is considered invisible. Some days are better than others, which means I use a mobility aid on some days, but not others. It is often said that disability is the only group that anyone can become a member of at any time. 

Katie Quirin Manwiller, who has written two previous posts on Conferencing while Chronically Ill and The Inaccessibility of ACRL 2021, recently presented on Reasonable Accommodations from the Employee Perspective for the Pennsylvania Library Association 2022 Conference. Her research cited 26% of Americans living with disability prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as 1 in 5 adults who will experience Long Covid. 

However, we never know truly how many of our students, faculty, or staff are living with either chronic illness, disability, or both. There is still significant stigma attached to either, leaving many people to decide not to disclose. Also, no one is under any obligation to disclose to us, as librarians. We should make an effort to prove that we are capable of meeting the needs of disabled students without requiring them to disclose personal information they might not feel comfortable sharing. 

What does this look like in practice? On my end, it looks like:

  • Continuing the practice of masking. While there is no longer a mask mandate on my campus, I and many others on staff have continued masking. Working at a busy reference desk, I feel more comfortable interacting with people while wearing a mask, and I’ve found that many students have appreciated that we are still masking, and are also choosing to wear a mask themselves.
  • Staying up-to-date on the evolving language of disability. Language is constantly evolving. Not all websites have caught onto the fact that disabled people have reclaimed Identity-First Language, as opposed to People-First Language, and often refer to themselves as disabled not as a person with a disability. I’ve found that the best way to stay current on disability language is to follow disabled people on Twitter. Even lurking will allow you to gain a better understanding of issues facing disabled people, which undoubtedly includes many of your students.
  • Promoting materials by and about disabled people. The display at my library includes a combination of memoirs by disabled writers, sociology books on the history of disability, and even ready-reference on disability history. There are also plenty of electronic resources that contain information on disability history, which I’ve been working to familiarize myself with over the past couple of months. This is a work in progress for me; keeping in mind that resources can and will become out-of-date. 
  • Being mindful of library space. I’m always conscious about how my library physically meets, and doesn’t meet, the needs of disabled students. In practice, this looks like ensuring that aisles are kept wide and clear for users with mobility aids and offering study areas with varying amounts of light in order to accommodate students with sensitivity to light and/or sound. However, being mindful, for me, also means continually learning and keeping in mind that there is always room for improvement. 

With this in mind: How have you met the needs of disabled students, and how should libraries improve going forward?

Outreach as a Resident Librarian

Being a library resident has made my first year as an academic librarian an interesting experience to say the least. Through my residency, I have a level of autonomy I’ve come to realize isn’t afford to every first-year librarian. Some of my responsibilities are non-negotiable. Being an information literacy librarian on a campus where librarians are considered faculty means I have to teach a credit course, I have to publish, and I have to complete service work. Aside from teaching, I have a significant say in what the other aspects of my position look like.

Though my position didn’t come with any predesignated liaison areas, I’m still responsible for conducting outreach to my institution’s community. My autonomy has allowed me to think about the areas and populations I’m passionate about and focus my outreach efforts there. I ultimately decided that I wanted my outreach work to benefit others from similar backgrounds as mine. This meant that my outreach would be geared towards undergraduate, underserved, first-generation students. Since I wasn’t able to get much outreach experience during grad school – the second year of my program and internship was entirely remote – I knew I had to seek out advice and guidance from other librarians.

Luckily for me, my wonderful campus mentor was already working with several of the groups I was interested in supporting. More importantly, he was more than willing to let me collaborate with him in his outreach efforts. My mentor’s outreach areas include our institution’s McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), another TRiO program focused on first-generation college students.

Our outreach to McNair and CHE takes on a variety of forms, but the overall strategy consists of being present during the times students will most likely be on campus. For example, both my mentor and I staff monthly office hours for each individual group. For CHE, they take place during their monthly study nights – students in the program are required to attend a certain number of CHE sponsored events each semester. For McNair, office hours are held an hour before their class starts in the McNair office. In addition to office hours, we also provide both groups with library instruction sessions. For CHE, this took the form of a library services session during orientation for the newest cohort. For McNair, instruction was more hands-on. For these students, we taught three separate sessions covering a variety of topics such as library research services, writing a literature review, and an overview of citation styles. That being said, our involvement with these groups isn’t limited to academics.

My library mentor introduced me to the idea of attending the events of your liaison groups. Though it may seem like a small gesture, I’ve come to realize that being present and participating in the social aspects of students’ lives is not only beneficial for their social-emotional wellbeing, but also demonstrates that librarians care about more than just academics. For example, this past Fall semester, my mentor and I both attended CHE’s student employee orientation and McNair’s Annual Awards Banquet. Attending these events allowed me the opportunity to get to better know the students we work with and vice-versa. Though I’m still new at my institution, I’ve quickly come to realize just how much more willing students are to meet with and ask for help from librarians they regularly see and interact with versus approaching a stranger at the reference desk. The outreach I’ve done for our campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center has served to reinforce this realization.

My institution is home to eight different cultural centers. From the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to Veteran’s Services, each center focuses on one of the various populations present on campus. It’s important to note that resources like cultural centers can be crucial to supporting the success of underserved students, especially since BIPOC students account for half of all first-generation students. This, along with my desire to give back to and support students from my background, is why I provide outreach to my institution’s César Chávez Cultural Center.

My outreach to the Chávez Center is not that different than the outreach my colleague and I provide CHE and McNair. The Chávez Center typically hosts support events during both mid-terms and finals. In order to meet students where they’ll be, I work with the Chávez Center’s director and graduate assistant to coordinate office hours to coincide with other mid-term/finals week events held at the Center. When possible, I also do my best to attend cultural events held by the Center such as their annual Latinx Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff.

Like all good things, I’ve come to learn that building healthy outreach relationships takes time. Earning the trust of campus partners, especially those focused on supporting traditionally underserved students, doesn’t happen overnight. Assessing the fruits of that trust can be tricky but, for me, being recognized by students outside their respective social spaces serves as a significant marker of success. In one such instance, a cultural fraternity recognized me from the Chávez Center and used that connection to request a library session for the brothers themselves. Though I’m still crafting my outreach methods, being specifically sought out by students has been among my proudest moments as a first-year librarian.  

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. 

Learning to Learn


Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Yesterday I attended a presentation and tour of a private school for children with learning differences (everything from dyslexia and dysgraphia, to autism, ADHD, anxiety, and processing issues, etc.). I’ve written about my son’s issues with learning within a school setting before, in part as a means of processing my own feelings about standardized education, but also as a way to reflect on my own work as a teacher. It’s hard for my experiences as a parent of a child with different learning needs NOT to influence my approach to the classroom.

At this presentation, the school administrators stressed the importance of teaching students to learn how to learn. Because the school sells itself as a transition school–one where the typical student attends for 3 years before moving on to a mainstream public or private school–some parents were concerned about students’ abilities to catch up in certain subject areas. I was so impressed by the school administrators’ answer, and realized that is what we try to do (to varying degrees of success) with students in college. Yes, there is a focus on content; it’s what academic majors are, after all. But there is also an emphasis on metacognition and the development of students’ ability to self-reflect, organize, self-regulate, and solve information needs and problems.

For children with learning differences, success is about coming to terms with the self. Self: acceptance, efficacy, accountability, motivation, advocacy, etc. They’re often the outliers in their classroom, and the source of frustration for teachers. Their confidence is rattled, their anxiety is high, and they often feel alienated by learning at school. Their ability is there but it’s hidden behind a complicated puzzle that can only be solved with care, time, attention, and an understanding of difference. Affect and feeling are central to unlocking their potential (really all learners’ potential) and making learning more than just a meaningless slog. A holistic approach to education is critical for these learners.

In taking a holistic approach to teaching and focusing on everything that makes learning possible, educators facilitate a version of learning that is self-directed and empowering. Learners have the agency to learn about whatever they want to learn and have the strategies and skills to make that happen. That’s not easy in public schools where teachers are accountable to standardized testing scores and hundreds of learning benchmarks. It’s difficult in college classrooms where faculty feel pressured to cover more content than is possible in one quarter or semester. It’s challenging in the teaching we do as librarians, where we manage our own desires to teach processes and critical thinking with faculty requests and student needs.

What could it look like to put learning how to learn first? How would that change our approach to teaching in libraries? In information literacy programs? The common refrain about library school is that it doesn’t teach you all the answers, but it teaches you how to find whatever answer you need. What if our graduate programs focused on teaching us to ask questions rather than find answers? To study learning as a social process (and research/information as a part of that process)? How might that impact our own approach to information literacy education?