Home > Education, Libraries > Dropping Orientation for Ongoing Collaboration

Dropping Orientation for Ongoing Collaboration

July 23, 2010

Last week one of my fellow librarians forwarded to me an article entitled “Using Library Experts Wisely” by Rob Weir and appearing in Inside Higher Education. It wasn’t until this week that I got around to reading it, and I wish I had done so earlier.

Weir, a seasoned professor in higher education, chose to dump the one-shot library orientation session for one of his classes. In its place? An ongoing collaborative effort to make the librarian, Dave MacCourt, an integral part of the course. The article tells their story. What a great real-life example of how the knowledge of a classroom instructor coupled with the expertise of a librarian throughout the semester could improve our students’ learning experience.

Why don’t we do more of this? Two possible reasons come to mind:

  1. It’s easier to go with the status quo. For the professor, perhaps the current course outline is a well-honed product that has been used (effectively) for years. For the librarian, the orientation is possibly so well-rehearsed that it could be given at a moment’s notice with very little effort. To completely rethink the design of a course requires a significant amount of time and energy–particularly if moving to a collaborative approach. Let’s face it: The status quo requires less effort (where less effort = good).
  2. We’re afraid of how the other person will respond. What will the librarian think about the idea of dropping that library instruction session that we have been using for years in this class? How will that professor react to a suggestion that might significantly alter his or her course syllabus? The answer to both of these questions is: We really don’t know. One thing’s for sure: We won’t know unless we have the conversation. And I can’t help but believe that there are a lot of other librarians and professors out there like Rob and Dave (and me). If the suggestion of trying an ongoing, collaborative approach were made, we would sing, like Dave, “I’ve been waiting for years for someone to say that!”

Yes, it would require some work on our end, but think of the benefit to the student.

OK, confession time. I’ve thought of suggesting this semester-long collaborative idea with faculty at my institution more than once but never got beyond mental conceptualization–not really sure how they would respond. If there is anyone else who finds themselves floating in this boat with me, perhaps it’s time for us to just simply ask.

Librarians, professors, students…What about you? Have any of you been part of a class experience that involved exciting collaborative efforts between the instructor and a librarian? I would love to hear your story.


  1. July 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I regret that during my undergraduate years I had very little contact with the librarians beyond the one shot library orientation in a few classes. I was a history major and spent a good deal of my time in the library. An ongoing collaboration with a librarian would have been a great experience.

    I believe that librarians (with a need to prove their relevance today) should be seeking opportunities to leave the library and enter the classrooms. Yesterday I had a rather simple idea, but it would be a huge step in connecting librarians, professors, and students. Librarians should contact professors in the department of their specialties and suggest that the professor puts the librarian’s contact information directly on the syllabus. This would give the students a specific person to contact at the library instead of being faced with an anonymous stranger (at least at the beginning) at the reference desk. Don’t just limit it to email and phone number. Encourage IMing, Facebook connections, and Twitter. Essentially personalize the connection. The professor, when explaining the syllabus, should encourage the students use this resource for any research or information seeking questions. It’s not much, but it would be a big step towards collaboration.

    The librarian, when this happens, should have a good idea of what classes are being taught and in what areas additional materials from the library are going to be needed or even just good for supplementing what’s already being taught.

    • July 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks, Frank, for the response and suggestion that centers around librarians “leaving the library” and going where our users are.

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