Teaching and Learning in Libraries

Reading through the ALA’s core competencies makes me both excited and apprehensive–on one hand, look at all this great stuff I’ll learn and and these great skills I’ll have! On the other–I hope I can live up to these expectations. According to the list, the duties of librarians include, but are not limited to: being familiar with the nature of information and recorded knowledge, be knowledgeable about collection development and maintenance, information, numerical, and statistical literacy (!), having the tools necessary to help users of all ages and groups to use information, advocate and reach out to specific groups, an understanding of the principles and methods of research, to continue to develop professionally, and being knowledgeable about learning theories and participate in the lifelong learning of patrons.

As I read through the document, I admit I felt a sense of pride for my chosen career path. Librarians do so much to promote knowledge and the learning of new skills, not just for those who have the opportunity for higher education, but for everyone. Thus I appreciated the part the ALA added in about advocating for specific audiences when it comes to information use and information literacy.

An area that surprised me a bit was the section about continuing education and lifelong learning. I have always thought of libraries as places for people in the community to be able to learn new things and skills on their own by checking out books or perhaps attending talks and workshops; I haven’t always factored librarians in to that equation. Now, after working in an academic library for a bit, I have a whole new idea of librarianship. I’ve attended numerous workshops given by U-M librarians, including using TEI principles in XML markup and how to use different databases to search for graduate school funding. I also taught one workshop for Enriching Scholarship last year (a session on creating ebooks, focusing on free content and on EPUB).

The reading for this week, combined with my past experiences above, led me to do some reflection on learning skills vs. concepts (maybe you could call it practice vs. theory). Most of the time, I appreciate hands-on learning over discussion of theory. I want to break things down in order to learn discrete skills that I can then use and put on my resume, etc. However, reflecting on my experience as a teacher of a technology skills class, I remember feeling concerned that the people taking my workshop wouldn’t automatically see the value of learning how to create your own ebook and know how to access it on a mobile device–so as a student I may have been impatient, while as a teacher I saw the importance of contextualizing the skill and giving students a reason for learning that skill.

Another past experience where I utilized some of these concepts was as a Sweetland Writing Center peer tutor while I was an undergraduate. I tutored my fellow undergraduates during drop-in hours; students brought in their papers and asked for writing help. Something we were taught as peer tutors was that were not there to “check grammar” or to tell someone how to write; instead, we were taught tutoring as a collaborative process. This differs from the reading in that the tutor is meant to be learning something along with the tutee. But there are similarities in that collaborative tutoring is also meant to promote “expert-level growth,” to give someone a broader picture that they can apply to other areas in their coursework.


4 thoughts on “Teaching and Learning in Libraries

  1. I completely agree with your feelings of pride and apprehension when reading the core competencies. The language used is sweeping and grand, which I think is meant to instill pride in those working in the library profession. However, as someone who is still in the middle of their information education, that same language does seem like a lot to live up to.
    I was also surprised that there was an emphasis on the librarian being a part of life-long learning, rather than simply the patrons that they serve. I take it for granted that libraries will always be around for adults to learn new things, and I am glad that not only the patrons are allowed, and encouraged, to use the facilities for that purpose. It seems like such a nice perk in an already cool career!
    It sounds like your teaching background has taught you a lot about the need for a combination of practical skills and theory. My history background focused on that quite a bit. My professors made it very clear that learning a bunch of facts was not nearly as important learning the big picture. Plus, that big picture was what made the facts fun! I imagine that is similar to the workshops you taught. Learning the skill is not as interesting without a reason why you would need that skill.
    Also, I think Sweetland taught you the best way of editing papers. I always hated when peers would have to edit, and after watching them silently read my paper, all I would get back were a bunch of marks about grammar. Similarly, some librarian interactions in the past have been just as one-sided. I would ask a question and get nothing but a call number back. This always left me unsatisfied. I would much rather have them work with me to find the answer to my question! The idea about collaboratively working with patrons to find the answers to their question or problem will most definitely help you work in a library!

  2. I agree with both of you about feeling overwhelmed by ALA’s core competencies. It seems impossible to gain all of those skills during the two years we will spend at SI. At the same time it emphasizes all of the value and skills that we can offer a community. In addition, I think it is realistic to realize that we cannot gain all of those skills during our time in graduate school, and that our education on the core competencies necessarily need to continue after graduation and during our professional careers.

    I don’t think i was as surprised by the inclusion of life long learning in the core competencies. My interests focus more on youth services, but I have thought about public libraries specifically where patrons can come to gain knowledge either through books, journals, news papers, or the workshops/programs. I think this is one of the reasons why I have been drawn to libraries, where people can continue their learning and education through informal pathways. Ironically, the idea of a librarian as an “educator” has been relatively knew to me, despite the obvious connection between libraries as a place for continuing education and librarians as educators.

  3. I really like this idea of “contextualizing the skill” for the students in your tech class. It reminds of the part of the reading from this past week where they briefly discuss that perhaps “experts” need to take a step back and remember what it was like to be a novice. Over time, I’ve personally found that I have a better chance of remembering some (a fact, the order of steps in a procedure, anything, really) if I know WHY I need to know that fact, or WHY the steps need to be in that specific order. I need the context for that little piece of knowledge in order for it to resonate properly. I think the idea of learning skills vs. concepts and understanding the context of skills also play into the idea of gradually building up to becoming a better learner– first gathering facts, then growing into understanding of this knowledge, and then being able to transfer your knowledge to other situation. We can’t transfer knowledge until we understand the context in which we first gained it.

  4. I think it’s interesting that you prefer to learn skills rather than theory. A lot of people seem to be saying something of the opposite in this class. I wonder maybe it’s because you are often able to intuit the applications of your skills? As you observe, from the instructor’s perspective it’s difficult to know if your students are doing this on their own, so when we teach, it’s helpful for us to make sure the reasoning and application are explicit.

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