Teaching and Learning for Librarians

By Meg Westbury and Kirstie Preest

This post discusses a pilot 10-month course for Cambridge library staff called Teaching and Learning for Librarians that started in September 2019 and aims to strengthen librarians’ core pedagogical practices. (Earlier posts on this blog discuss development of the course and when it opened for registration.)

Librarians and pedagogy. Are the words a natural or incongruous pair to you? If you asked a librarian, most would say that teaching and educational support are at the heart of what they do. A quick glance through the Cambridge Libraries’ training site, for example, shows many upcoming faculty library classes and interdisciplinary workshops. Librarians in colleges, too, teach many classes such as for Girton’s Thrive programme, Murray Edwards’ Gateway programme and Wolfson’s WolfWorks. Indeed, a 2018 survey of Cambridge libraries conducted by the Cambridge Information Literacy Network (CILN) identified a myriad of ways that librarians teach at Cambridge from formal classes, inductions and bespoke 1-2-1 sessions. It is fair to say that teaching, particularly of information literacy practices, is one of the key roles of modern academic librarianship (Corrall & Jolly, 2019).

Surprisingly, however, training in the theory and practices of pedagogy are still largely absent from post-graduate library school programmes (Gammons et al., 2018). Librarians often learn teaching skills on the job and/or via PGCert programmes for university faculty, and for this reason, librarians’ identities as teachers are often somewhat insecure (Wheeler & McKinney, 2016). Spurred by the development of CILN in 2017, however, and building on a popular 3-day teacher-librarian course at Cambridge on offer since 2013, we decided to create a bespoke 10-month teacher training course modelled on the successful Cambridge TAP programme but with a library focus. Our course aims to build a community of confident teacher-librarians who have a personal philosophy of teaching, understand pedagogical practices and can translate the Cambridge information literacy framework into effective educational support.

Our first cohort of 14 students started in September 2019, and the months have roughly alternated between face-to-face and online modules conducted via Moodle. A few theoretical approaches have provided guiding principles for the course including reflective practice, communities of practice (students’ learning is grounded in group support and identity change), networked learning (effective online learning is rooted in creating convivial learning environments supporting student interaction) and the post-digital (teaching and learning practices are invisibly laced with technology to the point – almost – where the tech becomes invisible).

We also felt that it was crucial to align our course with Cambridge’s priorities for teaching and learning such as widening participation, fostering student wellbeing, developing learning environments and enhancing educational practices. The university’s equality and diversity strategy furthermore emphasises addressing student disadvantage across a range of protected characteristics and ensuring inclusive and supportive teaching environments. Both policies have provided a moral frame for the pedagogical approach(es) of our course.

What topics does our course actually cover? A selection of modules includes:

  • Are librarians teachers and other issues of librarian-teacher identity
  • What is the role of academic librarians in the modern HE context?
  • Issues of inclusivity, diversity, educational technologies and accessibility
  • An introduction to reflective practice and developing a personal teaching philosophy
  • Theories of learning and teaching
  • Approaches to information literacy
  • Effective course design, delivery and assessment
  • Peer feedback on practice teaching sessions
  • An applied project developing a class or learning resource

We believe our teacher-librarian course is the first of its kind in the UK (though we’d love to be proved wrong!). In summer 2020, we plan to seek accreditation via AdvanceHE, the UK professional organization promoting teaching excellence in higher education, which would award participants who successfully complete the course requirements Associate HEA Fellowship (AFHEA). We furthermore believe that the course could be repurposed across HE contexts in the UK and beyond and are considering seeking accreditation via the UK professional association for librarians, CILIP.

We are now about half-way through the course and things are going well. We have been really pleased with the quality of participants’ reflective feedback and have noticed a synergistic buzz in the room during our face-to-face sessions. At the beginning of the course last September, we asked participants what aspects of the programme they were looking forward to most. Said one participant,

“I am looking forward to our next meeting in November, our interaction, inspiring conversations and discovery of teaching and learning. I am looking forward to learn and find out more about pedagogical aspect of teaching. I am very inspired after today’s session.”

And recently, another course participant told us that

“The teaching and learning for librarians course has both introduced me to new teaching theories and approaches, and also confirmed that a lot of the teaching I already do has a solid pedagogical foundation.”

This sort of knowledge, confidence and community support are the main goals of the course. Ultimately, we will know if we have been successful if the course helps to foster effective teaching practices amongst Cambridge librarians, especially by boosting their confidence in teaching and their identities as teachers. Moreover, we are hoping that the course will help participants apply the CILN framework in their teaching, encourage decentralized communities of support amongst Cambridge librarians and last, but certainly not least, foster critical perspectives about the role of librarianship and information literacy in academia. We plan to evaluate these outcomes via interviews and surveys in the years to come. Stay tuned!

Worked Cited

Corrall, S., & Jolly, L. (2019). Innovations in learning and teaching in academic libraries: Alignment, collaboration, and the social turn. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 25(2-4), 113-128. https://doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2019.1697099

Gammons, R. W., Carroll, A. J., & Carpenter, L. I. (2018). “I never knew I could be a teacher”: A student-centered MLIS fellowship for future teacher-librarians. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 18(2), 331-362. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2018.0019

Wheeler, E., & McKinney, P. (2015). Are librarians teachers? Investigating academic librarians’ perceptions of their own teaching roles. Journal of Information Literacy, 9(2), 111-128. https://doi.org/10.11645/9.2.1985

Photo by Nicholas Cutler (2019)

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