Faculty + Librarians: Collaborating for Student Learning
Similar to writing a research paper, conducting research is a cyclical process. Many times, however, the research process consists of myriad baby steps with stops and starts that may or may not feel like progress. Thankfully, a variety of people are more than willing to assist the student along the research path. These partners in research–faculty, librarians, writing tutors–provide instructional assistance to the student at key moments in the research process. Deliberate and purposeful collaboration between these various people may help the student with both their research goals and the development of their information literacy skills.
At the most basic level, faculty members and librarians share the same goals and values of encouraging students to discover and evaluate information and create new knowledge during the process. Both parties have an opportunity and desire to teach information literacy skills because it benefits the students. With these shared goals, it makes sense for faculty and librarians to spend more time intentionally collaborating on approaches and strategies to information literacy instruction. A wonderful literature review by Mounce (2010) offers an array of methods and examples.
Collaboration between faculty and librarian already occurs during almost every planned library instruction session at UNG. Typically, a faculty member schedules a session with a librarian, discusses the basics of the assignment and any expectations, and then the librarian stops by during one class session and teaches the students. The students’ exposure to this information is vital to their research process and gives them an opportunity to contemplate and develop some of their information literacy skills. Many times the librarian ends the session by encouraging the students to set up a research consultation for additional assistance. After the session, the librarian waits for the student to contact them, and the faculty member simply hopes they reach out to the librarian, which creates a gap between library instruction and research assistance.
A more collaborative approach for faculty and librarian to address this gap is to offer additional in-class guided research sessions that purposefully bring the librarian back into the students’ research process. This additional contact would eliminate the gap or lack of research assistance that may occur between the face-to-face library instruction session and the submission of the final paper. For example, in two courses, English 1101 and 1102, I partnered with the professor to arrange an initial library instruction session covering the broader information literacy concepts,returning for a second, and possibly third, session to hold in-class guided research sessions. The guided research sessions allowed me to talk individually or with groups about specific topics, keywords, search issues, and more but also ensured that the students continued to talk about their research process before submitting their paper.
Since these collaborations take a great deal of time and effort to plan, faculty should reach out to librarians early in the process so that everyone can discuss expectations and options. Early and frequent communication is key. Ideally, communication should start at the beginning of the semester so that faculty and librarian may discuss the assignment, expected student outcomes or goals, length of instruction sessions, expectations for all session content, as well as the amount of time either party can realistically devote to the process. Continued communication throughout the process not only supports the collaboration but allows both faculty and librarian to remain aware of student progress and struggles.
Second, trust and rapport are extremely important, but they also represent the most difficult conditions to establish since they take time. Many collaborative experiences develop over a number of years, and these relationships can be difficult to sustain given workloads and schedules. Working with faculty repeatedly, nevertheless, helps build rapport and a certain level of trust. With trust comes the ability to discuss the course assignment and content in greater depth, as well as the expectations of the students.
Even with a greater level of trust and communication, it is still important to recognize the natural boundaries, or defined roles, between faculty and librarian. In this particular model, librarians are not embedding themselves permanently in the course, either physically or online. Also, faculty are the content experts and have a broader view of their students’ strengths and weaknesses in relation to the content and will be the ones grading the student work. Librarians are the information literacy skill experts and can help students’ develop and put into practice their developing information literacy skills. I find it extremely important to remind myself and the students of these roles.
Wonderful opportunities exist for faculty and librarians to collaborate and enrich the academic and research experiences of our students. With good communication and extra planning, faculty and librarians can create a richer experience for students that will help them develop the information literacy skills necessary for success in today’s information environment.
Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education | Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework
Mounce, M. (2010). Working Together: Academic Librarians and Faculty Collaborating to Improve Students’ Information Literacy Skills: A Literature Review 2000-2009. Reference Librarian, 51(4), 300–320. doi:10.1080/02763877.2010.501420