On academic libraries and crossover

A couple of days ago I went to a forum on libraries and education at UPenn, at which one of the speakers (Alexius Macklin from Purdue) talked about integrating information literacy into the curriculum in a way that most of us in libraries haven’t yet: by teaching writing classes herself and working the information-seeking skills directly into the classroom. While I don’t think every librarian should try her approach,* I was impressed by the assignments she described, and the lengths she went to. It got me thinking (again) about something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: that academic libraries and the institutions they serve need more crossover, on many different levels.

Not that there isn’t interchange between librarians and faculty; not that there aren’t already a few librarians co-teaching classes); not that there aren’t faculty interested in library issues; not that there aren’t plenty of people who move back and forth between both worlds. But I’m starting to think there should be more structures in place for crossover, more opportunities built into the way higher education happens. Co-teaching is one structure I’d really like to see in place: it’s a common lament among librarians that when we only get one class session to talk to students about how to use the library, the students are likely to tune out, because it’s outside the context of what they’re doing in the class and we’re trying to cram everything into just under an hour.

(Of course, the prospect of co-teaching raises questions about what kind of pedagogical training the potential teachers of such classes will get. But, given the spotty-at-best pedagogical training that so many faculty members get, I think these questions ought to be raised for everyone who gets up in front of a classroom.)

And the other thing I’ve been thinking about: crossover between master’s programs in library science and master’s programs in other subjects. I started thinking about it because taking History of the Book this quarter has made me wish I’d taken that class the first time I went to grad school. There are all kinds of aspects of the study of information (and its intellectual structures, and the way knowledge is created, and the way we organize our understanding of things) that can appeal to people who are learning to be scholars in a discipline. And if we want to make academic librarianship more intellectually rigorous, which was part of what Steven Bell said in that article about niceness, why not encourage intellectual interchange between library programs and other departments? Why not have seminars in the history and theory of information science, and make them open to graduate students from all over the university? Why not have co-teaching there, as well?

These are nebulous ideas as yet. Anyone care to weigh in?

* I’ve taught composition, so I know how hard it is to do well if you haven’t been trained in it. If I ran the world, colleges and universities would pay their composition instructors six-figure salaries, and fight over hiring them. (Mike and Clancy, I’m thinking of you guys!)

2 Responses to “On academic libraries and crossover”

  1. Jane Dark says:

    Mainly I want to add a resounding hell yes to what you’re saying (but I think you know that). You mention information seeking, which is the main reason, I think, that faculty approach librarians; but I also wish the two sides were collaborating more on the ways that information was presented, meaning rhetoric and structure and such.
    Of course, I think this would be a hard sell: why should we listen to librarians about what makes a good essay?, ask the faculty. Both sides, though, have different ideas about how to build units of consumable data — and I think that both sides could be helped by collaboration.

  2. Amanda says:

    Absolutely. There are so many unexplored areas of overlap, especially when you start thinking about how each discipline defines what counts as knowledge and evidence and argument.
    Plus, librarians also get to see students struggling with research assignments in a way that professors often don’t. I’ve had a fair number of reference questions that went beyond “how can I find articles on X?” and into “is X a good paper topic?”