Scalability

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about scalability. This is not a new idea for me, but it has certainly been popping up more in my mind and sticking around longer. Maybe it’s because every year the middle-of-March madness creeps up on me and nearly knocks me over–how is it, really, that I can have forgotten how frantic I’d be? So many email exchanges with instructors; so many reference shift swaps; so many last minute changes; so many lesson preps; so many worksheets! Yet it’s the same every semester: in the beginning, I’m doing systematic outreach to all the full-time and adjunct faculty teaching in my liaison areas–I want them to remember that the library exists, right? And that we’re here to support teaching and learning on campus? By about six weeks into the semester I’m almost secretly hoping they’ll forget my name because I fear I’ve already bitten off more than I can chew.

I haven’t yet figured out how to solve this dilemma, but I started poking around a little to learn more. Lorelei Rutledge and Sarah LeMire include a discussion about scalable models in a broader article addressing new ways to think about information literacy on campus (Broadening Boundaries: Opportunities for Information Literacy Instruction inside and outside the Classroom). For Rutledge and LeMire, it seems the main crux of the issue is about finding new and creative ways to infuse information literacy instruction into students’ academic lives, rather than strictly about relieving scheduling issues among teaching librarians. You see, the problem isn’t just that there isn’t enough time in the world to teach workshops for all the instructors who might want them, but also that our students would benefit from a greater degree of information literacy support, in general. Rutledge and LeMire call our attention to what they call “opportunities for microteaching on campus,” for instance by including “snippets of information literacy instruction” in large-scale campus outreach events, or becoming a mentor for student organizations or committees. They suggest teaming up with potential advocates among stakeholders on campus who could act as ambassadors and library boosters, working hand-in-hand with campus writing centers to prepare writing tutors to help their peers with research and information literacy challenges, working with the Center for Teaching and Learning on campus to help with faculty PD, and developing train-the-trainer programs to support instructors who might be interested in teaching their students information literacy skills and knowledge.

I’m really attracted to the latter idea: finding a way to better empower instructional faculty in the information literacy crusade–the old “turnkey” approach. One of the first formal train-the-trainer initiatives I became aware of is The University of Texas at Austin’s Information Literacy Toolkit (although the Texas toolkit may not have been the first such resource, as the IL Toolkit at the University of Minnesota has been around since at least the early 2000s; see Butler & Veldof, 2002). UTA’s Toolkit LibGuide provides openly licensed resources for faculty, including customizable assignments linked to related guides and tutorials, complete with instructions and example student work, in-class assessment activities, and narratives about sample courses and their implementation of IL assignments and assessments. The Toolkit also serves as a channel for informing instructors about how they can reach out for a consultation with a librarian, request a custom-designed research assignment for their students, or schedule a workshop with a librarian.

In March of 2018, Marielle McNeal from North Park University in Chicago facilitated a webinar on the train-the-trainer model for an Illinois consortium of academic and research libraries. What struck me as I read through McNeal’s outline was the idea that we might be missing something in our efforts to help our instructional colleagues if we focus primarily on trying to teach them better ways to design assignments or courses, and neglect some of the barriers faculty face when it comes to teaching information literacy. As she points out, our colleagues may not fully understand all the factors impacting students’ information literacy challenges, and are most likely not well versed in major IL concepts or familiar with best practices for teaching IL. Sometimes I simply lose sight of the fact that the faculty with whom I collaborate are content experts in their own disciplines, and not necessarily in mine.

There are a lot of fantastic ideas out there! But it’s clear that any scalability initiative has to be customized to the institutional and library context. When I read about building a network of boosters or coordinating with the writing center or launching an online toolkit, I have to wonder how taking all that on could possibly relieve the pressure I’m feeling right now. Obviously, to set up any kind of scalability initiative will take a concerted investment of time and attention and it’s probably not something to dive into without some strategic and collaborative thinking. This year, as I emerge from my mid-March frenzy, I plan to keep the issue on my radar. Maybe I can break the cycle. In any case, I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had working to address the scalability issue.

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2019 LILAC Spring Training Call for Proposals

Add to Your Methodology Toolkit: From Reflective to Participative Action
Friday, June 7th, 2019
12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
CUNY Central
205 East 42nd Street
Room 818/819


We are seeking proposals for 10-45-minute presentations, discussions, or workshops on how you use any of the following methodologies in your college-level instruction practice:

  • open pedagogy (project-based learning, etc. in an “open” environment)
  • active learning (gaming, concept mapping, group work, etc.)
  • reflective practices (journaling, etc.)
  • interdisciplinary (close collaboration with faculty instructors in other disciplines)
  • multi-shots
  • low tech/no tech orientations
  • mobile device-driven lessons
  • other ideas are welcome

Anticipated Event Format:

  1.     Welcome
  2.     Opening ice-breaker activity
  3.     10 minute break
  4.    Breakout sessions (10-45 minute, multiple concurrent sessions)
  5.     10 minute break
  6.     Session sharing and wrap-up

Please submit a description for a 10-45 minute breakout session using this form.

Deadline: April 5, 2019

Not sure about presenting? Register to attend the June 7th event here.

Registration is required. Security needs all visitors names for entry into building.

LILAC Spring Training Committee:
Haruko Yamauchi, co-chair
Daisy Domínguez, co-chair
Linda Miles
Julie Turley
Robin Brown

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Gaming for Info Lit Flow

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A few years ago Michael Waldman at Baruch Library was kind enough to recommend what he described as the least intimidating marathon training book, The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, which introduced me to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, as applied to … Continue reading

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Transferring skills from arts ed to info lit

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The last job I held before becoming a librarian was as a facilitator of arts programs, working 11 years for ArtsConnection, a non-profit that brought professional visual and performing (music, dance, theater) artists into public schools pre-K-12 throughout the five boroughs … Continue reading

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The Power of PowerPoint

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Alright, maybe it is not that powerful, but at least, useful. In my college days, professors’ lectures were mostly verbal and sometimes aided by a blackboard. The professor would either talk my head off throughout the whole lecture non-stop making … Continue reading

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Searching as strategic exploration: towards an embodied information literacy

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As instruction librarians, we know that the iterative, sometimes nonlinear, search process is an expert searcher’s ability; it comes only with practice and through experience. Yet novice researchers – undergraduate students – may not yet have had this experience and … Continue reading

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What does a librarian teach?

So what actually is the teaching role of the Library? When people find out that I am a faculty member at a CUNY school, the next question is “What do you teach?”  For me it is particularly poignent, because I … Continue reading

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A teaching librarian fails at summer vacation

It’s August and I’ve been reflecting on whether I’m making the most of the quiet summer months in our academic library. I’ll confess that I approach summer “break” with an aspirational attitude similar to the one that sparks New Year’s … Continue reading

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What New Things Can I Do?: The Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians (ACRL, 2017)

Taking a bit of time this summer to catch up on my professional reading, particularly as it relates to instruction, I once again happened across The Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians (approved by the ACRL Board of Directors, April … Continue reading

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4 Reasons Why You Should Keep a Reflective Teaching Journal

Back in January, I was casting about for some instructional inspiration. What could I do, what could I try to improve my teaching in the upcoming semester? A light bulb went off when I suddenly remembered Betsy Tompkins’ (2009) excellent … Continue reading

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