Friday, April 25, 2008

Library Instruction A la Carte: The InfoLit Menu

In recent weeks the ALA's Information Literacy and Instruction listserv had asked for those librarians who had helped create or who work under a "menu" system to post their "menu" to the listserv. Anyway, I learned that several librarians across the country have implemented a systematic program where professors on campus can choose from a menu of information-literacy options. Someone made mention of an article that explained how librarians from Radford University had created such a menu. Here's the full citation:

Benjes-Small, C. & Brainard, B. (2006). And today we'll be serving…An instruction a la carte menu. College and Research Libraries News, 67(2), 80-82. Retrieved Wednesday, November 15, 2006 from Library Literature and Information Science Full-Text database (200603203836004). [See also a brief summary of the article at the following site: Information Literacy in Higher Education: Annotated Bibliography. I highly recommend reading the article.

Take a look at the sites I have tagged with the word menu. I will only talk about two more of the sites in this post. Radford University's Instruction A La Carte Menu outlines a few basic information-literacy topics that their librarians are willing and able to teach. According to the article, they had professors who wanted them to teach something else the day of instruction in addition to what they had already agreed upon teaching. Now, they can point to the menu whenever a professor tries to get them to teach more than they are able in the allotted time period and say that another instruction session would be need to adequately cover the desired material, or they would need to cut one item from the menu.

Creating such a menu has opened the eyes of their faculty to the kinds of things their librarians can teach. In their own words Candice Benjes-Small and Blair Brainard note: "We had hoped that the menu would communicate to the professors the limitations of a single 50-minute session, but we found that the menu also served as a vehicle for sharing possibilities" (82). Faculty did not realize that their librarians could cover more than just finding articles in databases and books in catalogs. It's good that librarians share their expertise and be assertive in doing so. The Radford-University librarians seem to have succeeded in doing this in a consistent manner with the help of their menu.

Some librarians would disagree with a few items on their menu, such as the plagiarism item. Benjes-Small and Brainard claim that this has become a popular topic for librarians to discuss in recent years, but just because it is popular may not justify its presence in a library-instruction session. A campus Writing Center or a Freshman English course may be a better-suited venue for a plagiarism discussion. Speaking from experience, plagiarism discussions beg the question of how to properly cite and paraphrase sources, focusing on the mechanics of writing.

Why should librarians teach plagiarism or academic honesty? Librarians are trained to find and evaluate information. On the other hand, if instructors believe their students will take the plagiarism discussion more seriously from someone who is not their teacher, perhaps it is justified, yet the stern nature of a plagiarism discussion makes it so that the librarians look like the bad guys in front of the students, further exacerbating the bad reputation librarians have been bequeathed as stuffy, they-don't-like-to-have-fun people who live in a romanticized world full of books. Well, we do get the privilege of interacting with books--one of the greatest pieces of technology ever, but that doesn't mean we should be the ones teaching about plagiarism. Chances are that I might re-write this post, because it shows evidence of my frustration with professors and instructors who do not respect the work of librarians, those who act non-plussed to be in the library and only come because it's a requirement for their freshman seminar class. No doubt I have misinterpreted body language from instructors, but the perception of being under-appreciated [the Spanish word "menospreciado" seems to capture my meaning more closely as it is somewhere between being under appreciated and despised] is certainly not a good one to experience. Let us do what we do best = help people find and evaluate research materials and information to suit their needs.

[If someone writes a post or article justifying why librarians can or should teach a plagiarism session, please let me know. Even as I re-read the previous paragraph the idea occurs to me that information literacy involves analyzing sources and ideas for their validity = the positive side of learning and research. Information literacy to some extent is the antithesis of plagiarism, so maybe plagiarism is justified as a library session. Still, I would rather focus on the positive, creative efforts of finding and evaluating information than on the negative don't-do-this-or-else type of plagiarism discussion.]

The Radford menu shows that there are plenty of items to please a large number of professors. Again the Benjes-Small & Brainard article inspires me: "The menu has become a powerful marketing tool. After being shown the array of choices for library instruction available, professors are now much more likely to request a second library session for their classes" (82). Hurray! This sounds like a positive step in the right direction--a step that I feel would be good for most, if not all, academic libraries to take, particularly if they value library instruction. When I presented the idea of having a menu in our program, my colleagues seemed to agree that it would be worth doing. We will probably even create a specific freshman-seminar menu, so instructors can choose what they want, rather than being forced to follow a particular program.

The University of Alaska Southeast has create a similar Information Literacy Instruction Menu. They have presented their menu in a somewhat similar style--with a question such as "Will your students need to select and narrow a topic?"--as the Radford-University librarians, although it is manifested a bit differently on their website. They allow for their instructors to click on boxes next to the menu item, so a request can be sent to the librarians with all the desired items.

An important element that each website includes is the caveat that the menu only speaks to the most popular selections of the group at large--not the individual needs of a specialized class. They reserve the right to cook up specials for a professor's class; this would require that a professor express their unique needs to the assigned librarian who could then tailor the instruction session to fit the tastes of the clients in question.

For those instructors who desire hands-on activities for their students, the cost [accounted for in number of minutes] would increase. Quantifying instruction in such a way really goes a long way in justifying to instructors the necessity of bringing their classes in for more than one fifty-minute session.

Please post a comment to my blog. Let me conclude this post with a quotation from Albert Einstein on the positive thrill of teaching: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Quote found at Quote World. This particular quote was found here.
It speaks about the real teacher, someone who can actually "awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." These are the kinds of teachers that light fires for people, inspiring them to learn, be creative, and be movers and shakers--productive with their lives. This is something worth aspiring toward.

No comments: