Planning for September: a team based approach to developing information literacy practice

In this blog post, Catherine McManamon, the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s training officer, discusses the information literacy planning in higher education for the year ahead, and the benefits of taking a team based approach for inspiration and support.

For most academic librarians with a teaching and learning remit, it’s that time of year when the work calendar starts looking ominously full. Bookings for “Library” sessions are coming in thick and fast, and for me, it’s the time of year when I’m thinking a lot about how I can build on my previous year’s teaching so that this year I will consistently feel confident about what I have delivered, and assured that students’ Information Literacy skills have developed as a result of my session.

Through many of the excellent teachmeets that have been sponsored by the ILG, through the training events that the group runs and through sessions I’ve been lucky enough to attend at the LILAC conference, I’ve come to recognise the benefits of a “teacher as facilitator” approach. This puts the emphasis on students learning by doing, and therefore, in one sense, me doing less – not standing at the front doing everything – doing all the demoing and doing all the telling. With the constraints of rooms, scheduling and limited time, it isn’t always easy to apply this experiential approach to my sessions, but, where it is possible, it invariably takes sessions beyond basic (and often boring) “Library Skills” instruction, and gets students to start to grapple with the contexts and implications of the ways in which information is produced, packaged and used. How to enable this approach more consistently, and how to improve and be a more confident information literacy practitioner is something I’m often having conversations about with my peers across various networks.

I’m part of the Academic Liaison team at the University of Liverpool and over the past year, our team have really started to thinking about ways in which we collectively support different aspects of our professional practice, including our delivery of Information Literacy Skills training.

As part of this, our team has developed a Professional Practice Group (PPG). The remit of the group is to provide a framework to encourage and facilitate the sharing of CPD activities and the development of skills across the wider team. So far, we have done this by scheduling a programme of learning & teaching seminars where we share the key lessons learnt from external training and events we have attended. Here we reflect on the initiatives or ideas that have been covered and how they could be potentially be taken forward here at Liverpool, hopefully generating a bit of a discussion amongst the group about how this might be achieved.  We also schedule seminars to develop our practice in specific areas, for example, colleagues from within the team have delivered seminars on building assessment into our sessions, devising appropriate learning outcomes, and reflective practice. 

Catherine McManamon
Catherine McManamon

The PPG also administers the peer observation of the teaching of all liaison librarians, and the final element of our activity is a 6 weekly journal club. The journal club is a good tool for current awareness and for encouraging the integration of librarianship research into practice. It has also helped to create a collaborative environment for learning and for professional development. Selected readings so far have been relevant to many aspects of our roles: Information Literacy, scholarly communication and space development.

Most recently the PPG held a feedback session on this year’s LILAC conference. As Liverpool was the host this year, I was on the local planning committee and many of my colleagues who were volunteer helpers were able to attend parts of the conference. We focussed on specific sessions that inspired us, where we could see scope to develop our offer or practice in that area. Sessions we fed back on and discussed as a group included (with links to the LILAC 2018 archive):

Bedford, D. Developing and delivering a learning and teaching support offer.

Brookbank, E. More than another LibGuide: taking social justice into the library classroom.

Corrall, S. & Folk, A. Developing your teaching philosophy.

Emary, L., Kitchin, S. & Lawrence, H. Process drawing: a tool to promote reflective practice in information literacy.

Gandour, A. Teaching referencing to students new to Higher Education (Masterclass)

Isuster, M. & Kingsland, E. Let it be (a wiki): speaking words of wisdom about Wikipedia assignments in university courses(Masterclass).

MacGregor, T. & Chisnell, J. Librarian matchmakers: using speed dating to introduce students to library databases.

Myers, R. & Robinson, S. Nobody said it would be easy: innovative ideas for teaching information literacy as part of an academic skills programme (Masterclass).

Focussing on these sessions enabled an incredibly wide discussion of information literacy, ranging from the way our offering is framed and presented to stakeholders, to practical ideas for activities in individual sessions, session structure, thinking about ourselves as teachers and how we ground our practice in theory, and how we can strive to teach information literacy in a way that aims to transcend the academic context. All of which helps us to push our sessions beyond a show and tell ‘Library skills’ approach. Not bad for one afternoon! My colleague who organised the session was keen to ensure that the session wasn’t just about telling, but about thinking about how we can learn from this practice to develop our own individual and service wide offer. To that end, we incorporated a template of the MoSCoW method, a project management technique to help with priority setting to help us think about which ideas we could take forward and which were the highest priority.

It’s very easy to hear about the excellent practice of others and to be intimidated, or overwhelmed by it, but thinking about practice as a team, with a focus on the practical side of planning and implementation is a very galvanising approach which makes personal and service wide development seem much more manageable. Whilst the activities of the PPG are year-round, having a teaching focused feedback session in the summer leaves us approaching September with the great information literacy ideas we have heard about fresh in our minds. Now just to put them into practice!

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