Being a teaching librarian – a few thoughts on organisation of teaching activities

Student asking questionThe spring term is coming to an end, and I am trying to tie up some loose ends and to reflect a little on what I have done this year.

One of the things I have been doing today is to look at a project that will happen this autumn. The university college in Sogn and Fjordane is going to be working on a very interesting project concerning the effect of the information literacy courses they give. I am very interested in this – it was the main subject for my master`s thesis a few years ago now. I am probably going to give a presentation at a seminar in Sogn and Fjordane in connection with this project, and I had a chat with one of the librarians in charge this morning. We have never met, but we had an interesting little chat on what the purpose of the project is, and on how we can learn from each other. I talked to her about organisation of teaching activities. She seemed very surprised when I said that we (at GUC) have one librarian in charge of teaching at all faculties. In Sogn and Fjordane (and probably many other places) they have liaison librarians who teach at their own department or faculty. Here, I am responsible for teaching on all faculties (but I do have great collegues who help me out a lot, specially with EndNote courses and follow-ups there). It may seem a little strange that I teach on all faculties, but actually this has worked well so far. It`s easier for me to have control over our teaching activities, and to make sure that our teaching models work for all faculties.

Of course, I do not have a deeper understanding of all subjects being taught at all faculties, and this has been the argument most often used against the kind of model that we have, and it is a fair point. Still, even if I only had teaching responsibilities on one faculty I couldn`t possibly have been an expert on all the subjects. If that is what we wanted and/or needed most, we would probably have to be replaced by subject specialists.

The way I see it there are more pros than cons in favour of “our model”. Pros include: having control and making it easier to tailor “cross-faculty” courses (we have a number of those), seeing the need for new teaching models and methods is easier when you see the whole board. Cons include: not being a subject specialist it is harder to tailor courses in e.g. structured literature searching because the academic disciplines have different demands.

I am thinking a lot about library-faculty collaboration these days, and one of the things that I am really happy about is that I have been able to be a part of the tutor groups for the bachelor`s theses in the nursing department, and that I have been able to team-teach with an excellent professor there this year. It has made it much easier for me to see the needs of the department. This fall I will do something of the same in another faculty. The experiences that I take with me from the nursing department may not be directly transferrable to the other faculty, but I think that I will be able to use much of what I have learned. I am not a subject specialist, but I don`t need to be, because I am team-teaching with the professor, and she is the subject specialist. Together, I hope that we`ll be able to give the students our perspectives and to share our experiences.

I don`t think there is a perfect model, and I certainly think that we have to “knead the dough” much more, but I really think that we`re onto something here. I am really looking forward to this autumn, and I can`t wait to hear more from other librarians who have different models. I hope they have lots of thoughts and experiences on the subject.

PhD on track – part 2

In my first post from the conference “PhD on track”, I wrote about what the website is and I wrote up my notes from the first speaker.

Curt Rice: Beyond Open Access

The second speaker of the day was Curt Rice, the vice president of research and development at the University of Tromsø. The title of his talk was “Beyond Open Access”. The libraries should be policy-makers, Rice said. To be able to do that, we need more, broader and better knowledge and use it to make changes. We have to be in the lead and see developments in the field, and then recommend neccesary changes (report to the leadership of the institution – our opinions should be heard). Expertise is crucial, and we need to use it to create changes, first on a local level and then on a national level. Administration of Open Access (OA) publishing funds is one example of how libraries can be important collaborators in the institution. Rice told the story of a researcher who had published a number of articles, but then decided to start blogging about them. She blogged about the results in her research, but also about the mistakes she had made, goofs in the labs etc. = the human interest story. Her blog became very popular, and then she also started tweeting. Her articles are now the most downloaded and cited articles of her department. The researchers had approx. 15 times more downloads on the articles she blogged about vs. the ones she didn`t blog about. Access matters, and awareness matters, Rice said. In “Forskningsmeldingen” (a parlimentary report on research) there is much emphasis on OA publishing, and researchers are generally interested in it, but not if it compromises their academic freedom. Some see it  as a problem, and although it may be a “philosophical” problem more than an actual problem, it should be discussed. Can we really ban certain journals because of their poor self-archiving or OA publishing systems? Researchers look for Impact Factor(IF).. There are  major problems with the IF system, e.g.: 1.) retraction rates are on the rise, 2.) publication bias (only studies that show positive results get published..) When librarians say to the PhD student: How can we help you?, we can often position ourselves between the student and his/her tutor, and that requires great diplomatic skills, Rice said. Librarians need to work with the tutors.

There is no principal difference between OA publishing and traditional publishing when it comes to peer-review, Rice said, but the peer-review system is not working in its current state. The “closed” system makes it possible for reviewers to deliver shoddy and “unfinished” reviews. Transparancy is an issue that cannot be overlooked any longer. In one biomed journal (Rice couldn`t remember the name) there is now an open review process where all reviews are published openly, and other researchers can add comments. This is an important process-oriented change in this rather old-fashioned system.

We (meaning librarians and others) have to teach the PhD students how to use social media in a professional manner so that they can enhance their research and get it out to the market faster. Traditional publication takes a long time, and this makes the use of social media even more important. Librarians need more competence and knowledge on these issues. Only that way we can make research better so that we can make society better.

I think Curt Rice gave a good and inspiring talk, and I think he had some very good points. I wouldn`t have minded even more practical approaches and more stories from “real life”, but still.. a good presentation (and kudos for not using a Powerpoint presentation, and instead just walking around with his tablet. Much easier to keep the attention to what he was saying. Note to self..)

The launch of the website:

“PhD on track” was a collaboration between the University of Oslo (NO), the University of Bergen (NO), Aalborg University (DK), the National Library (NO), Bergen University College (NO) and the Norwegian School of Economics (NO). Representatives from the project group talked about their methods in planning and executing the website. Goals for the projects included: acquiring new knowledge about PhD students` information needs and habits, making a website of freely available modules (in English) and creating an awareness on the libraries` role in PhD training. The report that forms the basis of the website can be found here: (in English) and here: (in Norwegian).

The website consists of three modules: “Review and discover”, “Share and publish” and “Evaluation and ranking”. The website underwent user testing, and the project group found that users rarely use page navigation (other than the one on top of the page), they would rather scroll. This meant that the website had to have clearly marked headlines. The project group also found that they had to think about their jargon and try not to use that kind of “academic tribal language” that they had gotten used to. They also had to limit the amount of text on front pages, have short and well-written introductions and more in-depth subject-specific information. The users that tested the website didn`t use the search option. Many of them had bad experiences from other websites, and they were often afraid of being taken out of the site by searching. User-testing is vital, the project group explained, as it uncovers problems and errors, confirmes what has been well done and they got inputs on design as well.

The last part of the day were parallell sessions, and I chose to go to “Literature searching for PhD students” where we had a look at the “Review and discover” at the new website. I have a few notes from the session, but it was really more of a discussion on how to present search examples etc. so I don`t think I`ll write about it here. A few questions that were addressed were: Do we offer PhD students a bachelor course (only a little more advanced) or do we keep it to a real PhD enhanced level? What competencies should a librarian possess? What problems are there when it comes to PhD students` varying levels (concerning their prior knowledge) and e.g. expectations from international students vs. Norwegian/Danish students?

Bente Andreassen closed the conference by saying that developing courses on each institution is meaningless. We should collaborate and learn from each other. …and on that note it was over:) I spent a very interesting day, and I hope to be able to test the website properly soon.