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 28, 2017). I had observed the advent of this reimagining of the 2007 Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators a little more than a year previously, while in the throes of an end-of-semester blur, but at the time I had filed it away as something to come back to when I could afford it closer attention.

The document describes shifts in thinking about teaching in libraries, precipitated in part by the shift from Standards to Framework in thinking about what and how we teach. Our profession has seen a rapid evolution of skills and responsibilities, and there was a desire to articulate a perspective inclusive of the broader range of work that is being done, the variety of institutional contexts, and the different ways we practice teaching-related work in libraries across our careers. The new document provides a conceptual model of seven roles, and a description of the strengths a librarian might need in order to thrive in each of those roles: advocate, coordinator, instructional designer, lifelong learner, leader, teacher, and teaching partner. The document stresses that these roles can and often do overlap, that individual librarians may find they identify with some of these roles more strongly than with others, and that it is not necessary (and may even be a little crazy to think) that any one librarian would or should possess all of them.

The document suggests certain benefits to this re-conceptualization. If you’ve ever found it challenging to describe the sometimes unique and somewhat abstract teaching work you do, this new model may help you name, describe, and situate your practice relative to the other work of the academic enterprise. Four to eight strengths are listed relative to each of the seven roles. For example, as a teaching partner, you may “[bring an] information literacy perspective and expertise to the partnership,” and as a lifelong learner, “[actively participate] in discussions on teaching and learning with colleagues online and in other forums.” If one goal is to be able to think about and talk about the myriad ways we support learning in libraries, this tool has a lot of flexibility. However, the idea that struck me most in reviewing the document is the notion that, with a reinvigorated and perhaps clearer conceptualization of the teaching-centered practice of academic librarians, we might ask ourselves the question: what new things can I do? As acknowledged by the framers, this document is both reflective of actual practice and aspirational.

As a bonus, I also found myself interested by the process of the revision task force – how they actually arrived at the conceptual model, roles, and strengths. So I encourage you to take a look, if you haven’t already. There’re still a few weeks left before the end of summer and the beginning of chaos.

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