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.