Having successfully shifted from one end of California to the other and into (among other wonderful abodes) this unbelievably dreamy airstream office space, I can finally hammer the last rivets into the subject of this post: the invited paper I will be giving this Thursday at ACRL 2011: The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice.* Per usual there were twenty-nine directions I wanted to go with this talk, and as always I tried to keep down it to a manageable three (or less, god willing). In a nutshell:
Whereas librarians in higher education
1) are uniquely suited to facilitating academic growth through objective interpersonal and intellectual mentorship,
2) are unequivocally equipped to observe, understand, and reflect our academic communities,
3) and possess an unassailably strong conviction of our enduring purpose and value,
we can become situated educators, melding to our contexts, leading our efforts with instructional literacy, and engaging our constituents with critical inquiry.
These ideas have been percolating over years of library instruction and while researching and writing my recent book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. With luck my presentation will express the entirety of these convictions, in a heart-plus-brain-on-sleeve style. There is a podcast preview at ACRL Insider, if you’re so inclined.
It’s always odd submitting a presentation proposal or description months or even a year before the fact, the point at which you need to lock in a subject that you know full well will flex by the date of delivery. In my experience, a title and summary pitch should consist half of what will signify interest and utility to a prospective audience, and half of tactical vagueness that should, when the time comes to actually do the work, remind me what I committed to speaking about while so specifically as to preclude inevitable adjustments. Because I tend to digress and run on and change things down to the last minute, at the root of it all should be an idea or conviction strong enough to withstand shifts in time and perspective.
My root for this particular talk is that librarians are de facto educators, teaching in the briefest moments and interactions. We help individuals discover their intrinsic motivation, feel confident in their own intellectual enthusiasm, and be honest about what they need and want to know, and why. We are academic confidants and counselors, and we are a persistent (and often vulnerable) aspect of a representative knowledge economy. We support the contents of people’s interrogative character and make no judgments about rightness, only feasibility. We understand our organizations, customizing our content to disciplinary and cultural needs, exposing connections, affordances, and efficiencies within complex systems that might otherwise remain hidden. It is this work that should be recognized as vital, and cultivated for what it is: essential, and unique.
In general and despite the gnawing anxiety factor, I tend to enjoy teaching and presenting. One of the reasons is the singularly raw energy they create, which, if channeled productively, manifests in a strong and/or slightly bizarre delivery. When I present and/or teach it is typically on some aspect of librarianship, a craft for which I possess inordinate amounts of enthusiasm. When I communicate my thoughts on its more personal derivations (research, culture/context, technology, access, education), I have noticed that this admittedly begins to resemble something closer to possession. As in channeling, testifying, being caught by the spirit. Demons out.
Enthusiasm for something like librarianship or [insert 99% of all job titles here] can be difficult to explain to those external to its orbit: the range of rationales that call an individual to one profession or subject over another are vast. Once you are within a particular niche, much of the impetus drawing you towards its center becomes inscrutable to others. This is the same struggle that occurs in front of a live or virtual classroom: maintaining one’s motivation for a subject while attempting to engender enough of it in others to sustain their attention. The trick is, it is precisely the conviction that does the convincing.
My conviction in teaching and librarianship is rooted in a sense of rightness, a recognition that not only am I doing what I was set on this earth to do, but that this act is undeniably good. While there are plenty of other things I can imagine doing day in and day out, few feel as accurate, fitting, justifiable, and altruistic a match for me than librarian. I believe in what I do, and further the necessity of our existence is the core to our definition and redefinition and the locus of our contribution to society, individuals, and the learning collective.
situating library education
Which brings me back to the talk in question. I am exploring librarians’ educational impact on the academy and the researchers and learners who comprise it, and, how we can extend this impact by building our convictions in the form of instructional literacy. In the panoply of literacies, instructional literacy is an awareness of ourselves as teachers and the cultivation of the complex array of skills and convictions this implies. By cultivating these skills and applying them in communities we have taken measures to understand, librarians can become situated educators, that is, strategic, participatory, and engaged for greater pedagogical impact.
Be there or be square.
* Thursday the 31st from 3:15 to 4:15 in the Marriott Liberty Ballroom.