Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Perception Wars

via Flickr creative commons license, courtesy of law_kevin
A couple weeks ago an excellent piece was posted on the always thought-provoking Attempting Elegance blog, "My peers are not my tribe."

In this post Jenica analyzes and comments on some striking data from library leaders in the Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2010: Insights from U.S. Academic Library Directors.

Her post speaks for itself, but I was excited to see a focus, in both the survey and in Jenica's comments, on the teaching aspect of academic librarianship.

Faculty perceptions of librarians, and more specifically on what we can bring to the information literacy teaching and learning table (as opposed to the traditional gatekeeper/buyer table) seems to me the lynchpin to many of the issues Jenica identifies. As Dale (in the comments section of Jenica's post) correctly states, the reasons for this generally low perception of our teaching role are many (as a side note, read the first few comments on this Inside Higher Ed post to get a taste of this low opinion of librarians). But I think this perception battle is one we can (and need to) win, but only if we do a better job as a profession of 1) equipping ALL new librarians with foundational teaching and pedagogical skills and 2) doing a much better job of explaining and marketing our teaching skills to the rest of academia.

To my mind, no one else is willing and able to directly take on this key and nebulous area of necessary academic learning. Faculty often do not have the time or inclination to address IL skills in their content classes, or they assume students already know it. Instructional technologists are often more focused on the technology. Academic librarians are positioned well for this and I believe there is data (if anyone can point me to it, you would get my thanks!) showing that while faculty members and administrators recognize the importance of these kinds of foundational skills, they are unclear about who can and should be responsible for addressing them.

It will be a long series of battles for us as a profession to win this war of perception and, ultimately, focus, but I believe it's a war that must be fought. What say you?


Andrea Stanfield said...

Our Dean of Libraries recently came back from a conference and talked about how our jobs are focusing more on administration and teaching. I felt my MLIS program was heavy in the administration area - with a lot of attention being paid to the big picture, but it occurred to me that I have not yet heard of a graduate program that has some sort of teaching track.

Having taught before becoming a librarian, I am sometimes a little dismayed at how haphazardly we librarians treat teaching. It's something we need to be paying more attention to, and when we are getting it right, we do need to make sure people outside of our libraries know, as you point out here.

Dana said...

Hi Andrea!

It's awesome that your Dean is at least talking about the teaching role. Is your institution planning on any initiatives to spread the word and get staff some prof dev in this area?

I'm trying to do that (especially, as we all do probably every day: getting the word out to faculty), but it is an uphill battle here at a college that has no librarian teaching tradition at all and where the library is part of the IT dept.