Tag Archives: Library Instruction

Library Instruction as Translation

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about library instruction and the role it plays within the library and within the lives of the students we teach. One of the functions of instruction I’ve been ruminating on is the idea of instruction as translation.

Let me back up.

In my User Education class last semester Rachael Clemens brought up the concept of environmental interpretation to show ways in which instruction takes place in different contexts. I had never heard of environmental interpretation before, though I had unwittingly been the recipient of it. According to Sam Ham who has literally written the book on environmental interpretation,  it “involves translating the technical language of a natural science or related field into terms and ideas that people who aren’t scientists can readily understand” (p. 3).  I actually had been on the receiving end of environmental interpretation in several national parks in the form of talks and programs given by park rangers–I just didn’t realize there was a name for this sort of instruction.

Before that class discussion, I hadn’t considered the ways in which other fields engage in and train for instruction.  We watched this short student-made video that discusses principles of good environmental interpretation that are based on Ham’s book. As I watched the video, I was struck by how the concerns of the environmental interpreter are very similar to the concerns of a librarian leading an instruction session.

While the students in the video model the need for an introduction to help establish rapport and provide context, as well as a conclusion to signal when the session is over, what captured my attention were the parts that address the concept of translation that Ham discusses. The students warn against playing the “know-it-all” and using lots of scientific terms and advise instead to “stick to the basics.” When I first saw this, I immediately thought of library jargon and how easy it is to use to slip into library-lingo in instruction sessions. It was a good reminder that I need to work to make my meaning known and simplify and contextualize complicated language.

The concept of “instruction as translation” is also at work when Ham discusses the need for interpretation to be relevant. One mark of relevance is that the interpretation is “meaningful.” Ham says “when information is meaningful it’s because we’re able to connect it to something already inside our brains” (p. 12). In light of this, analogies and metaphors seem to be perfect instruction tools because they take abstract ideas and link them to concrete ideas in such a way that the abstract becomes a little more clear. Creating these analogies can be a means of translation.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with different analogies to help students understand the research process. One that I’ve found to be fun and fairly successful is the idea of a detective needing to gather evidence to build a case. There are lots of possibilities for extending this analogy, but that particular class was able to explore why there is a need to find the best possible evidence rather than just any old evidence and then connect that to why, when writing papers, they’d want to dig for articles that support their arguments rather than articles that are loosely connected to their topic. By translating the abstract need (“good articles”) to a concrete concept (evidence to build a case) the students were able to think about their searching and article evaluation differently.

What sort of metaphors and analogies have you been using in the classroom? What have you found to be effective?

Outpouring of Instruction

Between recently receiving some excellent news (I will soon be the Instruction Services Librarian at a small college in the Midwest!), as well as making final preparations for the ACRL Conference next week, I have had library instruction on the brain! I am very much looking forward to attending my first ACRL and to applying what I learn both in my future position and through my work on the many instruction-related projects that are unfolding in the Duke I&O department.

Lately I’ve been busy working on an online Captivate tutorial for “get it @ Duke” — the Library’s link resolver. It has been a challenge to sufficiently cover all of the many possible adventures that unfold when the magic button is clicked, and to do this in a way that is simple, accessible, and, well, keeps the user from dozing off. One thing that I am trying that is different from the previous tutorial, is adding the element of choice. Choice is something that was emphasized in my education program, and allowing students to choose the tutorial content that is most relevant to them seems especially important with a longer tutorial such as this.

Speaking of tutorials, Nicole and I have been considering the recommendations for tutorial placement that Julie and Alice generated last year around this time. In their investigations of peer academic library websites, they found that even when video tutorials were available on Library sites, they were often very difficult to find, thus negating the purpose of the tutorials (asynchronous, point-of-need instruction). Library homepage real estate is extremely valuable, not to mention limited, so it will be interesting to see what we’re able to come up with.

Last on my list of instruction-related happenings, is a an event that really brought my attention back to the receiving end of instruction: students. This morning I had the opportunity to sit in on a really excellent program at UNC entitled “Undergrads @ UNC: Who Are They & How Do They Use the Library?” This talk featured a panel of four fabulous undergraduates (first years to graduating seniors) who talked about their experience with the libraries at UNC. The most interesting and really important elements I took away from this talk, were 1) academic libraries need to do a better job of marketing their services (something we all know, but it was especially resonant coming from students’ voices), and 2) that professors provide an important link between libraries and students. All four of the students on the panel said that the most common way they hear about events and resources at the library is through their professors, and they wanted library research sessions to be required for their classes, and for the Library to connect with them better through their course management programs. The students also said that they would like the libraries to connect with them on Facebook (yeah, we really need to do a better job with marketing) and that it would be really valuable to hear about the library-related experiences of seniors as first-year students–the younger students on the panel were surprised by the resources the older panelists mentioned.  More than anything, hearing from these four undergraduates reiterated to me the importance of good service, dynamic marketing, and effective outreach.  I am so excited about what the next couple of months will bring, and I look forward to investigating ways to put what I’m learning into practice!

P.S. If you haven’t done so already, please take our short opinion poll. Just click on the big orange button to the right to get started. We appreciate your feedback!

P.P.S. The undergraduate panel session is now on YouTube: Undergrads @ UNC: Who Are They & How Do They Use the Library?

Reflections on language teaching and library instruction

One of the great things about my working for Instruction and Outreach this semester has been getting the chance to lead some library instruction sessions for Duke’s introductory composition courses. I came to library school with a fair amount of teaching and tutoring experience, much of it language teaching, and I was hopeful that my teaching experience would translate relatively smoothly to the library context. Early returns suggest that it has! Although there are real differences between language teaching and doing library instruction, it definitely feels like my teaching background has served me well thus far.

I think in part this is because language teaching and library instruction have some important things in common: for one thing, in both cases, the goal is not so much to impart information as it is to build student skills. So it’s important that students participate as actively as possible in the process– whether learning to conjugate verbs or navigate databases, they will learn best by doing. And just as in language teaching students often retain words and forms better if they make use of them for genuine (even if simplified) communication, I think that students will learn library skills more effectively if they are using those skills for their own research. In both contexts, what counts is to make it real.

Another thing that has carried over for me from language teaching to library teaching is my preference for lots of interaction with students. I’ve realized that I’m most comfortable and effective in the classroom when I’m asking and answering questions and responding to student contributions. I found this kind of back-and-forth very natural as a language, but figuring out how to involve students in library instruction sessions has been a new challenge. Happily the classes I’ve taught so far have featured some attentive and engaged students!

One issue that has come up with my library instruction is that I can be a fast talker. When teaching Italian this wasn’t an issue for me, as it was easy for me to consciously slow down and simplify my speech to make it more accessible to students. But when speaking English, it’s much harder for me not to revert to my standard fast pace, and at times I can be a little hard to follow. I don’t think this been a big issue with my teaching so far, but it’s something I’m going to be conscious of and try to improve.

Overall, my experience with library instruction so far has been extremely positive, and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to do some teaching here at Duke!

Prezenting Instruction

As one of two new members to join the Duke Libraries Instruction and Outreach field experience team this semester, I have truly enjoyed my first four weeks: getting to know Diane Harvey and Emily Daly and many other staff members at Duke, participating in weekly Instruction meetings, and getting a sense of the inner workings and culture of the Duke Libraries.  These first four weeks have honestly just flown by–most likely due to the many projects I’ve been working on!

Something that has been on my mind of late—both as a result of the projects I’ve been working on, and because of a more intense focus on my own instructional practices (it’s job application season!)—is the use of online software to enhance instruction.  Nicole Kendrot and I have been investigating several programs and brainstorming their potential utility for instruction, as well as foreseeable training requirements for staff should they be adopted by the Libraries.  Today I’ll review two of these programs, as well as their broader applicability to the Libraries.

The first program that we’ve been examining, is Panopto—a lecture capture program that incorporates audio, video, and digital slides into one tidy little window.  Panopto was chosen for use at Duke as part of the DukeCapture program, and as of September had already been used for for 75 courses and events across 13 schools/departments in 8 campus venues, accounting for 668 recordings that had been accessed 3,221 times!  You can find examples of Panopto in use at Duke here.  Panopto is compatible with both PowerPoint and Mac’s Keynote, and previously prepared slideshows can be imported alongside video and audio recordings of lectures into Panopto for viewing online at a later time.  Perhaps the most attractive features of Panopto are the ability to take notes within the interface, as well as the ability for instructors to edit video and create dynamically-linked tables of contents within the browser interface.  Not only is Panopto visually appealing, but—as this report notes—its use within courses may improve student learning and performance.

Panopto logo

Within the library, Panopto could be used to record exemplary portions of library instruction sessions (e.g., a Lit20 course introduction to library research), and these recordings could be posted on the Library’s website (provided they are brief … we’ve all sat through enough webinars to know why) for the benefit of other students and faculty at Duke and other institutions, or posted by instructors to their course pages (on Blackboard, Sakai, etc.) so that students would be able to view the material at their convenience.  This would also provide an opportunity to better serve certain student populations, such as distance learners.  Additionally, Panopto software offers Blackboard integration, making it easy for instructors to import Panopto presentations into Blackboard sites.  Finally, Panopto might provide a really excellent way to deliver library staff training (e.g., a recording of the upcoming LibGuides session or Instruction Retreat), especially for those staff who are unable to attend sessions due to schedule conflicts.  Overall, we believe Panopto would be an excellent and low-cost way to enhance library instruction, with little additional effort required on the part of the individual instructor.

Another program we’ve been exploring is Prezi.  While Prezi isn’t exactly a spring chicken in the world of instructional technology (it was officially launched in April of 2009), its utility for library instruction is just beginning to be tapped.  For the uninitiated, Prezi is a presentation program that markets itself as a more stylish and engaging alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint.  While Prezis (when done well—for example, this presentation on Cyberinfrastructure at Academic Libraries) may certainly provide a breath of fresh air to the presentation lineup.

Prezi logo

As with Panopto, it is not our recommendation to use Prezi throughout or as a stand-in for instruction.  Instead, Prezi can be a really dynamic delivery platform with which to illustrate discrete concepts, such as narrowing a research topic, and generating keywords or distinguishing between popular and scholarly sources (two Prezis we currently have in the works).  I should also point out that Prezi at one time had an education exchange forum (http://edu.prezi.com/)where educators could share Prezis by subject area.  While the forum is no longer open, there are many excellent Prezis archived on this site, and this example illustrates the potential for sharing across institutions or libraries more generally, since Prezi is browser-based.  Nicole and I imagine that with a small amount of training, Librarians at Duke could create and incorporate Prezis into their library instruction sessions or embed them in the Research Tutorials page of the Duke Libraries site, allowing for asynchronous and more dynamic instruction.  As noted in responses to this Chronicle of Higher Education article, the ‘wow factor’ of Prezi could contribute to deeper “immersion and and engagement,” and ultimately a more memorable library research experience for students.


While exploring these and other instruction tools, one issue that seemed to surface again and again was the importance of maintaining balance between engagement and entertainment.  That is to say, when do learning tools become mere distractions; when does a presentation program become the focus in and of itself?  When choosing any tool to enhance instruction, it’s important that the learning tool serve the objectives of the instructor, instead of simply consuming more valuable time.  Instruction tools should further engage students and provide increased support for learning.  And if they’re also fun to play with and fun to watch, so much the better.  Panopto and Prezi are two tools that seem to have a lot of possibility in this regard, and it will be exciting to see if and how librarians choose to incorporate them into their instruction.

Truthiness and library instruction

Last week I tried something new in library sessions for students taking the Global Health Capstone Seminar.  They’ll be working in groups to investigate and analyze a global health issue.  I wanted to frame their research in a bigger, more conceptual way before I launched into my song and dance about finding resources.

I started thinking about what is different/unique/challenging about global health information.  I came up with these factors (there are probably more factors, and of course these challenges can apply to information on many other topics).  Global health information is:
•    Produced by diverse stakeholders/players
•    Interdisciplinary
•    Highly politicized and potentially biased
•    Subject to differential access (information haves and have nots)
•    Written in many different languages

When I thought about the politicized or biased nature of global health information, I remembered the term “truthiness” that Stephen Colbert coined on the pilot episode of The Colbert Report.  Truthiness became Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2006, and was defined as “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” October 2005) and “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, January 2006).  As a reference librarian,  I especially like when Stephen Colbert said  “Well, anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen.”

I started off the library instruction sessions by asking students about the challenging aspects of global health information and eliciting the list above.  Then I showed the Colbert Report video, which got some laughs.  I mentioned that last year Charles Seife wrote a book called Proofiness which looks at how statistics are used and misused – another good lesson for students researching in global health.  My take home message to the students was to interrogate information sources using the questions “Who says?  How do they know?  Who cares about these issues enough to produce information?  Why do they care?”

Was my approach effective?  Only time will tell, as students do their research and produce their capstone papers and presentation.  It was engaging, I think, and not the usual library instruction session.  It got me out of a rut and into thinking about information in a new(er) way.

Practicing Gratitude

Thanksgiving has put me in mind of the great benefits of practicing gratitude. As a recent blog post noted:

Did you know that human brains are hard-wired to scout for trouble? Back in caveman days, or even the wild wild west, continuously scanning your surroundings for trouble was a useful way for us to be hard-wired, since danger and life-threatening situations loomed around every corner.

But now that we live in the [comparatively] safer 21st century, this negativity-seeking hard-wire insures that we emphasize the troubles and worries in our life, rather than focusing on the good things. And while there are always plenty of bad things that go on in the world, there are also abundant good things…..if we remember to slow down long enough to pay attention.

So let me enumerate what I’m grateful for, library instruction wise, this year:

Duke’s I&O; staff: I’ve got the best instruction staff around (no contest), and I’m grateful to Emily Daly and field experience students Alex Gallin and Jake Vaccaro for contributing to the success of the library’s instruction program. We have had terrific field experience students and think the world of the UNC SILS program. Thanks, Stephanie Peterson and Jeff Pomerantz!

Support of library administration: Lynne O’Brien is a wonderful boss; reporting to Lynne enables us to work closely with our Center for Instructional Technology colleagues (here’s to you, CIT folks!). That has given us a better understanding of teaching and learning at Duke. We appreciate how the library’s Executive Group demonstrates interest and support for instruction.

Climate of innovation: Amazing and innovative things happen here at Duke, due in no small part to an organizational climate that encourages and values experimentation. Interesting and important changes can happen quickly here, and our users benefit.

Library staff who do instruction at Duke: My colleagues across the library value instruction, and demonstrate a commitment to providing interesting and informative instruction to library users. The 30+ library staff who deliver instruction here deserve a lot of praise for their efforts — thank you!

The larger instruction community: We’re fortunate to be located in an area where we have many talented library colleagues across the TRLN institutions and regionally. The Duke Libraries provide encouragement and support for us to be involved nationally and internationally, so we can learn from others and share the good work that happens here.

As I look forward to celebrating two years at the Duke Libraries, I have a lot of reasons to practice gratitude.

Emerging technologies and library instruction

Public services librarians here at Duke just received a pool of iPads to experiment with (thank you, Library Executive Group!).  Our colleagues in the Center for Instructional Technology have been keeping us posted about faculty interest in using iPads for instruction, and there are at least two projects up and running.  One, giving new masters students in Global Health  iPads to use in their research methods course, has been getting some press.  We knew that we had to get up to speed on the capabilities of the iPad so that we could help faculty and students use library-centric resources on them.  And if you’ve used an iPad, you know that searching a database and getting the full text of materials onto it is not always a straightforward process.  So we’re sharing iPads, and sharing what we learn about them through brown bag lunch meetings and Google Docs. 

Using new technologies for library instruction, or teaching about new technologies, is on my mind these days.  For example, how do you teach with a web-scale discovery interface like Summon?  Does it change the way you explain searching and retrieving?  Should we be presenting mobile interfaces in our instruction sessions?  Last night I met with first year students in one of our FOCUS living-learning programs.  I asked how many students had an iPad (one) or iPhone (many); then I talked about some apps that might be particularly useful for the courses these students are taking.  I’ve never done that before, but there seemed to be a lot of interest in relevant apps.

Photo: Robert Cox (Flickr Creative Commons license)

There seem to be several issues here:  finding out about emerging technologies, identifying the ones that seem promising for teaching and learning, getting our hands on them, and understanding how to use them (or at least talk about them) in library instruction. Many questions, few answers from where I sit.

Standard(s) Operating Procedure

Perhaps it is only in the small, rarefied world of library instruction that an appointment to the ACRL Information Literacy Standards Committee is something to get excited about (okay, maybe ‘excited’ is too strong).  I am happy to be part of this group for several reasons.  One is that I get to work with some smart and energetic librarians like Ellysa Cahoy from Penn State and Bob Schroeder from Portland State.  Another reason is that I have an ambivalent relationship with the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education (okay, people who know me well can snort now…) and as part of the committee I get to be up close and personal with them.

So, how do I really feel about the standards?  First, I’m glad that there are standards, because accrediting bodies and other such groups love the fact that standards exist.  When I was doing learning outcomes assessment work at the University of Maryland, those of us whose discipline had standards (like engineering and education) were in much better shape when it came to writing student learning outcomes assessment, because we had national guidelines to draw on.  But, on the other hand, how useful are the ACRL standards when it comes to planning the library instruction that we do every day?

Sometimes the ACRL standards seem a bit abstract or lofty for the average 50 minute instruction session. Granted, the standards encourage a degree of collaboration with classroom faculty that recognizes that some of the standards and outcomes simply don’t belong in a library instruction session.  A more pressing question is, how have the standards held up since they were developed ten years ago?  Do they deal adequately with changes in technologies and the recognition of new literacies? 

The good news is that ACRL has authorized a revision of the standards.  The Information Literacy Standards committee will be designing a process by which that revision will get done.  It promises to be a long, complex, but ultimately rewarding process.  I hope that we can learn from the recent revision of the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, as well as the discipline specific standards developed through ACRL.
I hope that the revised standards are relevant, clear and above all useful.

My Favorite Instruction Blog

There are many blogs in the world of library instruction, which enable us to keep up with current thinking about how best to teach students to do research using library resources.  My favorite of them all is info-mational, the blog of the amazing Char Booth.

Char is the E-learning librarian at UC-Berkeley, where she explores “ways to integrate education, technology, and design in library services.”  Those of us in library instruction are eagerly awaiting Char’s new book Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators.  I’m particularly interested in the models and templates Char provides in the book that guide librarians through a process of intentional instructional design.

But back to Char’s blog, whose title comes from a comment she received from a student: “thanks. very info-mational.”  Char’s posts get to the heart of why we teach and how we teach.  I could quote endlessly from the blog, but I’ll just choose one example:

“Most practical library instruction seems to spend a necessarily disproportionate amount of time explaining  the range, breadth, and function of ultra-similar resources (use this for that and this for this other thing), which does more to reinforce the way students (mis)understanding of how the web works than to counter it.”

And let me add, perhaps most importantly, that Char is one of the best and wittiest writers and presenters in librarianship today.  Not for nothing was she named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2008.  So, if you’re going to read anything about library instruction, read info-mational.  And enjoy.

A Survey of Instructional Video Tutorials

In preparation for updating and expanding Duke’s library tutorials, we decided to first get a sense of the current landscape of instructional video tutorials. As part of this project, Alice Whiteside and I completed an environmental scan of peer institution tutorials. Of the twelve institutions that we surveyed, five did not have any tutorials. Our conclusions are drawn from tutorials created by UNC, UVA, Yale, Stanford, NCSU, Cornell, and Emory.

There was a fair amount of consistency in terms of content, especially related to “how-to” tutorials. Many libraries had tutorials on how to search the catalog. Another popular topic was how to access materials that are not readily available: ILL, requesting off-site materials, and how to use a proxy server. There were several tutorials on how to search article databases, either generally or a specific one such as Google Scholar. A few libraries had tutorials related to RefWorks. Some libraries, such as NCSU, tend to focus on more topic-oriented issues. The most common type of topic-oriented tutorial was explaining either the difference between popular and scholarly resources or what defines a scholarly resource.

There were some consistent issues related to presentation, particularly regarding the location of tutorials within library websites. Many universities with multiple libraries have a main library homepage in addition to homepages for individual libraries on campus, and we found that tutorials were sometimes linked from the latter without being directly accessible through the former. Some libraries presented links to videos, while others embedded the video directly. Video tutorials that were simply linked were not always clearly identified as such. We think that it is most effective if videos can be embedded rather than simply linked, as students will be more likely to click on them. If this is not possible, then they should be clearly marked as video tutorials, so that users understand what is available and what to expect if they click on the link.

In all, we felt that Cornell offered very strong tutorials that provide an excellent example of effective delivery. Promoted under the title of “Research Minutes,” these tutorials are brief, creative and consistent. NCSU has created some unique and informative topic-oriented tutorials such as Peer Review in Five Minutes and Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface.

Libraries wishing to develop or expand tutorial offerings may want to consult The Animated Tutorial Sharing Project (ANTS), which is a shared repository of library tutorials created using screencast software. Since many libraries may wish to create tutorials on similar topics, it is worth checking to see if something meeting your needs may already be available here before reinventing the wheel.

For more information on developing video tutorials, we recommend the following links:

Learning to Teach Through Video (Kim Leeder)

Guidelines for Animated Online Tutorials Used in Database Instruction (ANTS)