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Start Where You Are: Contemplative Practices for Teaching and Learning

Contemplative practices in library instruction were the focus of “Start Where You Are”, a breakout session led by Prof. Jean Amaral of the Borough of Manhattan Community College Library. This session featured extensive discussions about these practices, including their goals, potential pitfalls, and possible methods of incorporating these practices into instruction sessions.

Some particular areas of discussion included:

  • How can we incorporate these practices at the reference desk as well as in the classroom?
  • Could free writing as a class exercise be an effective tool in library instruction?
  • How do we evaluate contemplative instructional practices?
  • Can database demonstrations be eliminated altogether?
  • How can we bring back the idea of the library as a contemplative space?
  • Should the use of questions in the classroom be reevaluated in the context of contemplative practices?
  • No Child Left Behind’s negative effect on student engagement
  • How might contemplative teaching practices promote excitement?

Session attendees also made suggestions for practical applications, such as the following:

  • Asking for a moment of quiet before class: “You are here as scholars, and as scholars to think deeply. We need to slow down, clear our minds, and be present. So we’re going to take one minute to do just that by sitting silently. If you like you can pay attention to your breath, feeling the breath going in and going out, the chest rising and falling.”
  • Using the “dead time” before instruction begins (when students are wandering in) as an opportunity to ask them to free write.
  • Asking questions before class begins to promote a contemplative environment, such as “What’s one word or phrase that describes how you’re feeling about this assignment [or having to do research]?”
  • Asking questions after classes to encourage reflection, such as “How has today’s session changed how you think about research or libraries?” and/or “What is one aspect of your research/assignment that you think is going to be a problem or challenging for you?”

The breakout session wasn’t simply a discussion, however. Prof. Amaral incorporated a number of contemplative practices and tools into the session itself. A few tools and exercises used in the session are listed below:

  • A poem, “Fire“, by Judy Sorum Brown, which highlights a fire’s need for breathing room in order to ignite a spark;
  • Visual cues were also provided, including The Tree of Contemplative Practices
  • Free writing time for librarians at the session gave attendees a chance to contemplate possible methods, concerns, and reflections on these practices in the library classroom
  • A meditative exercise called “Just Like Me” in which participants maintained eye contact with a partner while silently repeating phrases about them with the goal of establishing a compassionate connection. More information about the “Just Like Me” exercise can be found here. The text of the exercise can be downloaded here (in Word format)

Sources for further information on this topic:

Thanks to Prof. Amaral for a lively, informative and challenging session!

Embedding Instruction: A Conversation on Strategies

Iris Finkel,
Reference and Instruction Librarian/Visiting Lecturer
Hunter College Libraries



  • Hunter: Iris presented her experience in Modernism and the Image
    • What worked?
      • Being proactive by following student blog posts and commenting when appropriate
      • Training on finding images from open access sources
      • Research guidance
    • What didn’t?
      • Not enough in-class instruction time for librarian
  • Middlesex:
    • Too difficult to fully embed; not enough librarians — too many teaching sessions
    • Course management system: Campus Cruiser
    • Attempted to embed but technology glitch – collaboration status in course not working so scratched embedded model
    • Uses Remind to contact students
  • Laguardia:
    • Has brown bag lunches for library faculty to review different databases(Alexandra suggested that Jeff use CC license on website)


  • Time – suggest attend 1x a month to establish relationship with students
  • Scale – how to scale with limited amount of librarians


  • Suggest embedding in class 1x a month vs. one shot
  • Use different platforms for communicating with students
    • Example: City Tech Open Labs
  • Laguardia Center for Teaching and Learning – Inquiry assignments; information literacy sessions for faculty; application to participate


Spring Training: Stellar Ideas for the Library Classroom (May 2015)

On Friday, May 15, 2015, LILAC held its annual spring event, “Spring Training: Stellar Ideas for the Library Classroom,” at City College of New York. The event ran from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and featured workshops and discussion groups on topics led by a number of CUNY librarians. This website serves to document the event.

The sessions were as follows. Click the links below to be taken to a more detailed description of each breakout session.

LILAC spring event planning committee:

  • Amrita Dhawan (City College)
  • Robert Farrell (Lehman College)
  • Julia Furay (Kingsborough Community College)
  • Meagan Lacy (Guttman Community College)
  • Amy Stempler (College of Staten Island)

Finally, we love feedback! Please let us know your thoughts via this survey.Your comments will help in determining the format and content of next year’s spring event. Thanks for participating.

Instant expert

In my student years I was often amazed by reference librarians who helped me find relevant information even the subject was remote to his/her specialty (I was told so). They are knowledgeable in general and quick learners for sure. But more importantly, they know the strategy and logic when encountering unfamiliar subjects on their daily job. This ability is seen as one of the prominent characteristics of librarianship. It makes the reference librarian as a walking-encyclopedia, so to speak.

In a recent blog post <http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/2015/05/this-week-conversation.html>, Daniel Russell of Google asks “What do you do when you need to learn about a topic area very quickly?” His take is to “look for groups of people interested in your topic.” Other people suggested sources and tools like Wikipedia, good keywords, professional associations, authoritative guides, blogs, and of course, Google search. I like to check Wikipedia for known subjects, e.g. classical music, and to search Google for just about everything. In most cases, the latter will include the former in search results. Dr. Russell will have a related talk “How to become an instant expert on a topic through Google” at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Philadelphia. <https://www.ire.org/events-and-training/event/1574/1952/>

Is your audience listening?

One of the things we don’t want to see during teaching is the disconnection between the lecturer and the listener. It happens for various reasons. It could be the lecturer; even a veteran speaker could have a dull moment. It could be the listener; he or she might have had a long day already. It could be the use of jargon, clarity of speaking, tempo of talking (either too slow or too fast), unchanged pitch of voice, student’s lack of interest, slow computer, or even the weather…

The most effective way of teaching involves two-way communication. We should try to create an active learning environment to make sure students remain engaged in learning process.

Ways of engaging students may include asking simple questions, doing classroom easy quizzes, using game-based demonstrations (I still remember vividly Sandy’s, a wonderful former colleague, game of Boolean Logic).

Visit Vitae, a service of The Chronicle of Higher Education, one may find useful teaching tips there. Although they may not relate to library science, general rules can be applied. For example: “What if You Have to Lecture?” By David Gooblar. URL: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/909-what-if-you-have-to-lecture?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en



IL is rarely on administrator’s agenda

Reading through the interview (link below), one can see a number of items on the newly hired university librarian’s agenda as priorities: reinventing the building, caring for the legacy materials and physical books, and delivering 24/7 services. Dr. James J. O’Donnell’s envision of the future academic library is “one in which everybody in the institution…gets everything they need, wherever they happen to be, immediately.”

It is true that the library profession originated as a service type and we always strive for better quality to serve users. We must remember, though, that the profession has evolved over the time in both concept and content. User education is an inseparable part in a modern library although the degree of involvement may vary depending on the mission and nature of the library. Academic librarians act dual roles: keeper and educator. Teaching is part of our job. Information Literacy education and library instructional programs are necessary, to say the least.

Interview link [It is a news link, thus, has more than this interview. Read the top item only.):

A Former Provost Is Recast as a Librarian, and Other News About People






Praise from a professional

Daniel Russell is a researcher at Google. Some of us may have taken his MOOC of Search ReSearch. A scholar, scientist, and an expert online searcher, Dr. Russell regards library highly and speaks of librarian with respect. “I have many reasons to use my local library-but perhaps the best is that it’s a place where I always learn something.”

“Reference Librarians. They’re excellent resources of information and a source of research skills. When you go to your public library, be sure to chat with the reference librarians. They are, in essence, professional SearchReseachers. They know all kinds of things that are key to finding information (both online and offline) in places and in ways you might not have thought about.” For full text, read his blog post:

5 reasons you should have a library card

“reference librarians are both incredibly well-informed about the infoverse AND incredibly happy to tell you everything they know in order to make you a better researcher. I like that. I like it a lot–they’re not out to make a dime from every transaction, but they’re genuine saints who want nothing more than to teach you how to do the search on your own and make you self-sufficient.” Full text:

Why libraries?

The current status

To keep up with the progress of redefining IL, Keiser’s detailed report on ACRL’s work is rather helpful. (Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.)

Reimagining Information Literacy Competencies





“Change Literacy” and the future libraries

Brian Mathews of Virginia Tech suggests to put “change [as a noun] literacy” into consideration for the ongoing revision of definition of Information Literacy. Change literacy is, describes Mathews, “the ability to anticipate, create, adapt, and deal with change (in the broadest since) [sense, I’d guess] as a vital fluency for people today.” The rationale is “If we treat change as a literary [literacy, I’d guess] then we can better prepare students for the challenges they will face tomorrow.” Despite the somewhat awkward term, Mathews’ view of “change literacy” reflects the evolving concept of literacy. His blog post about it can be viewed at

On a separate topic, a recent essay by the same author, “Librarian as Futurist: Changing the Way Libraries Think about the Future” appears in July 2014 issue of portal. He advocates “What will libraries be in the future? They will become whatever their users need.” His statement, while inspiring, has raised questions: how do we decide user’s actual need (in what scope and at what level(s))? Who decides user’s need (user-initiated or librarian-initiated or both)? These are the issues that deserve to be discussed.

Citation: portal: Libraries and the Academy, Volume 14, Number 3, July 2014 pp. 453-462.

Intentional Informationists

Among the 2013 top twenty articles recommended by ALA Library Instruction Round Table, <http://www.ala.org/lirt/sites/ala.org.lirt/files/content/archive/2014jun.pdf> Hoffmann and Wallace’s “Intentional Informationists” is of particular interest. [See citation below] The case study depicts IL practice at California State University-Channel Islands, a young institution of ten years history (as of the time the article was written). Their goal is to shift “the emphasis from literate to informed, from passive receptors of information to intentional users and consumers of information.” The authors define an “intentional informationist” as a person with “the contextual, reflective and informational skills to identify information opportunities, tackle complex information problems and pitfalls, and provide solutions or considerations that do not just meet her individual needs.” (Full text can be retrieved in ScienceDirect)

Hoffmann, Debra, and Amy Wallace. “Intentional informationists: Re-envisioning information literacy and re-designing instructional programs around faculty librarians’ strengths as campus connectors, information professionals, and course designers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39.6 (2013): 546-551.


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