LILAC12: a conference for teaching librarians (day 1)

There are several good conferences for academic librarians out there, Librarian`s Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC) is just one of them. This week I attended this conference for the first time. Travelling to Glasgow was a little tiresome with a long stop-over in London. It was a really intensive programme and I was unfortunately not able to experience much of Glasgow, but I managed to have afternoon tea at the Willow Tree. Hurrah!
So anyway, back to business.. I was really impressed by LILAC. It was such a focussed conference and I think all the sessions were well suited to teaching librarians. I hope I will be able to return later.
We (teaching librarians) all seem to be facing many of the same problems:
  • One-shot instructions that are detached from the academic setting
  • We are boring ourselves and the students trying to fit too much information into
  • these short sessions
  • Getting good collaborations going with faculty staff
  • Making good decisions about what tasks we can let go (prioritizing)
  • Managing an ever increasing work load

There is some comfort in knowing that there are many of us dealing with the same problems, but the main thing is that so many great librarians are working on solving some of these issues. I went to a lot of lectures these days, and I had the pleasure of hearing about big research projects, papers and longitudal studies as well as those small projects and tips and tricks that just makes your work flow a little smoother. Even though I cannot write about all the lectures, I will present a few here.

Pre-conference workshop

I attended one of the pre-conference workshops: “This house believes that librarians and their services are the barrier to information literacy”. Although the presenters were a little too intense for my liking, the workshop was interesting. We sat in groups and talked about the barriers to IL and some possible solutions to the problems. Some problems that were mentioned were:

  • We use a language not understood by our patrons
  • Who are we speaking to? We need to assess our audience in each setting
  • Who are we supposed to be teaching? Should we “ditch” the students in favour of the teachers?
  • Many librarians feel lost in a pedagogical setting, and feel uncomfortable being a teacher.
  • We are too dependent on individuals. We build personal relationships to a particular teacher, and when either the teacher or the librarian leaves the workplace, we have to start all over again building a new relationship

Some solutions we talked about:

  • We have to put ourselves in the students` shoes. What are their needs?
  • All teaching librarians must have some pedagogical training
  • There is a need for both a policy on IL (a top-bottom approach) and a bottom-up approach where the initiatives come from the patrons and librarians
  • We have to participate at conferences where the teachers and academics are. It is important to get out more from our own sphere.


The keynote, held by Megan Oakleaf, was very interesting. She taked about how we must take a more holistic view of the entire student experience and integrate IL in the courses (hear, hear!). The title of her keynote was “Play the ACE: Assessing, communicating and expanding the institutional impact of Information Literacy”. The focus has moved from the collections to how the collections are used, Oakleaf said. The libraries do not exist in a vacuum and there is always a context where the library must belong. We cannot just believe that things are a certain way – we must prove our worth and our value. That means that we must define some goals, work by them and assess ourselves to see if we met our goals – and these goals must be aligned to the institution`s goals. I think this is very important, and I love the fact that this now seems to really “sink in” in the community. We do not know enough about how the students learn their information skills, what they learn and if their skills are transferable.

Oaklef gave us a form where we could have a look at different learning goals and the means to get there, and we were asked to answer what we thought had impact. It was a useful tool, and I think I`ll introduce that here at GUCLibrary.

Megan Oakleaf`s form on impact

Megan Oakleaf`s form on impact

Oakleaf also taked about a report she wrote for the ACRL on the value of academic librarianship. The report can be found here.

The roving librarian

When the librarians at University of Huddersfield realized that the students weren`t coming to the library, they thought “Well then, we`ll come to them”, and that was when the idea of the roving librarians were born”. The librarians got tablets and positioned themselves at the students` coffee shop etc. They discovered that they suddenly could contact non-library users in a new way. They needed a logo and had a designer make “Roving librarian” logo that they use in marketing, e.g. “The roving librarian will be at the Street Café at 2 pm on Wednesday” – “Bringing information skills to you” was the byline.

The librarians mentioned some success criterias:

  • Timing and place (a cafe or any other place where it is easy to meet students and easy to talk)
  • Regular times (students know when to expect to meet a librarian)
  • Have an opening phrase to get the conversation startet (e.g. “What do you think about Summon?”)
  • Have some free stuff to give them (candy, pens..)
  • The librarians must have some understanding of the subject areas
  • Make it personal!
  • Walking in pairs – get help from collegues

Reading lists – time for a reality check?

That was the question asked by librarians at University of Northampton. They analyzed reading lists at their university, and the findings where discouragingly bad. Only 42 % of the information given on reading lists were correct – i.e. lots of “bad information” out there. 23 % of the books where out of date. 25 % of the books where available in e-format, but only 3 % were labelled as e-books, and 73% of items on the reading lists were books. The average number of items on the reading lists were 35,5 items. Studens find the amount daunting, and teachers think it`s hard to get students to use other sources than the ones on the reading lists.

The librarians at the university re-developed a couple of reading lists and made them annoted, using symbols to label the e-content and “staff picks” (the items specially recommended by the teachers). Some may argue that this is to “spoon-feed” the students, but these reading lists were used by first-year students and they needed a place to start. This was just meant as a starting point for the students, and the librarians observed that it is possible to learn information skills with help from such a reading list.

Interesting lecture. I wish I had the time for a similar project here!

The last lecture of the day (for me) was:

Web scale discovery

Librarians from the University of Sheffield talked about what we want from discovery services. We want:

  • Single search entries
  • Good, modern GUI
  • Enriched content (like book covers etc)
  • Recommended content
  • Etc.

There are some pros and cons to one-stop information shopping. Is it just “dumbing down” the information search process, or is it a way for librarians to use more time on advanced searching instead of helping patrons with simple searches?

John Dove from Credo talked about the different kinds of reference searches: 1. the known item searches and 2. the exploratory searches. The exploratory searches are searches where the students lack the knowledge on where to get started and lack the terminology to know what to search for/understand the retrieved lists.

The question is: even though we are trying to make it easier for the students to search, are we not in fact just adding another layer? Are we making searching easier? It was a question that I took with me out from the lecture hall, and that I don`t know the answer to. I guess it depends on what kind of search you are doing? Maybe discovery services can be great for exploratory searches, but annoying for a known items search?

Anyway, it was a great day with lots of input, and I hope I get time to do some follow-ups here. I`ll at least try to read the report that Megan Oakleaf wrote for the ACRL. I think it will be worth the effort!

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