High Threshold Teaching, Intensive Teaching

Welcome to Part III of my summer series about outreach and embedded librarianship. Feel free to check out Part I and Part II! 

Teaching is a core part of my job portfolio. I believe strongly that teaching students how to effectively locate, evaluate, and use information/data/other research in their own work is one of the most important aspects of my job. I tend to shy away from calling my classroom presence ‘bibliographic instruction.’ Honestly, what does even that mean? Does it resonate with my students or my faculty? But when I refer to my teaching practice as ‘research education’ or ‘project support,’ the brain gears of my students and their faculty turn towards enthusiasm.

Students sitting in the Library Center, circa 1975, courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

Increasingly, I see this role as research educator and consoler in the context of project management. Increasingly, as some student learning experiences move from the traditional 10-20 page research paper into collaborative, online projects, the nature of our support for projects changes. Rather than simply supporting the research component in the beginning or handling citation questions at the end, librarians have an opportunity to support student learning outcomes throughout the entire process.

For example, last semester a colleague and I worked with an art history class whose final project was to curate an online exhibition. In this case, we were present from the beginning of the semester (when we introduced the tool they would use, Omeka) to meeting with the faculty member to divide students into groups (to do certain tasks like metadata, curation, and design), to meeting with those groups of students to troubleshoot technical problems and support them as a sounding board for their ideas, frustrations, and enthusiasm.

The librarian as project manager is not a role that can be played in the traditional context of one shot instruction; librarians need to be embedded in the curriculum, trusted collaborators with faculty, and open to meeting with students regularly. The librarian in this role is a sherpa on the long journey from brainstormed ideas to actualized projects that are ready to present at the end of the semester. And speaking from experience, it is gratifying to watch students present their work at the end of a long project you had the opportunity to support from start to finish. As we push our students towards learning experiences beyond the traditional research paper, librarians, technologists, and faculty must collaborate to manage these projects and support our students as they delve into new intellectual territories.

New Presentism: Transitions as Opportunities

Welcome to part two of my series about outreach in academic libraries. Today’s topic – New Presentism. For me, the idea of new presentism means that librarians should insert themselves during moments of transition. What better time to showcase services than when staff and faculty move into different roles?

Not to beat a dead horse, but, dear readers, did you know that the higher education landscape is changing? Changing rapidly? Between this recent Forbes opinion piece about how humanities departments need to be gutted to the recent firing (and rehiring) of UVA’s president, there is much to be said about the myriad changes facing higher education. For some change is crisis, a time to scale back, hide, and hope that the budget axes don’t come for you because your reference statistics are just fine. But lately for me and for Hampshire College, change  has allowed for opportunity.

So often in libraryland, outreach and service are thought about in terms of meeting existing needs, but not necessarily anticipating and meeting new ones. Service is often framed in terms of responding to emails in a timely fashion or having a smile on one’s face during reference transactions. But I firmly believe that in this shifting landscape, we need to be proactive about service, proactive about taking advantage of change.

The digital humanities present significant opportunities to embrace change during moments of transition in higher education generally and in libraries in particular. Digital humanities is not just a discipline or a a new take on a discipline, but in the words of Barbara Rockenbach, a new service orientation for libraries. Moreover, it’s not simply a new service model for libraries, but a culture shift in higher education around open access publishing as well as new types of scholarly production and products. At Hampshire, my colleagues and I in the library wrote a a grant  application to get funding to host learning communities in the Five Colleges during the 2012 academic year. Sure, we collaborated with faculty, but we took the lead in project management, in the writing of the grant, in the facilitation of the meetings, and the vision to move our project forward. Out of this experience, I found that librarians have an important role to play in the management of new forms of scholarly production. We began managing this transition, leading it, and guiding it, as opposed to just reacting to it.

And that’s the key inserting oneself in a moment of transition: embracing change as an opportunity as opposed to something to fear. Librarians at times have been asked to know their place and serve their faculty, but the seismic changes in higher education demand that we question “our place” as service points. We must acknowledge and embrace that we are active agents in our students lives. After all, with the rise of contingent (adjunct) faculty, we are some of the only constants on campus. So let’s take advantage of our presence and take an active role in navigating higher education’s changes and challenges.