Teacher or librarian?: what roles to play?

Illustration: colourbox.com

Am I primarily a teacher or a librarian? This is a recurring issue for me. My education is in library and information sciences, and I work as a research librarian at a university, which would put me squarely in the librarian field – however, my work is mainly focussed on teaching, tutoring and communication, which would put me more in the teacher field. In many ways, I feel like being in the middle of these two professions and traditions can be more interesting than belonging to just one, but in other ways it is challenging to have one foot in each camp, so to speak. The library is where I work and where I see my colleagues, and it is where I always feel comfortable, but I love teaching, and if I consider myself more of a teacher, and emphasize learning more in that field, that gives me opportunities to go beyond the library’s sphere and to interact in more diverse ways. Having the teacher identity can make it easier for other faculty members to collaborate with me. And then there is the power structures issue.. more on that in another post..

In a recent article by Lisa Becksford (2022), a brief overview of the history of this discussion (on whether we are librarians or teachers) is enough to understand that this is a case that goes way back. I am not going to summarize Becksford’s article, as it is well worth reading in its entirety, but one of the things I thought was interesting was that one of the main issues in whether we are considered teachers, or consider ourselves teachers, is whether (or how much) pedagogy training we have. This is not surprising in itself, but when the author asked the respondents to indicate what kind of pedagogy training and professional development they had done, most had taken some courses and/or done quite a few professional development activities. Some other interesting points from the study includes these issues:

  • Teaching, particularly one-shots and the repetative nature of regular library instruction sessions, increase the risk of burnout
  • Pedagogy training remains an issue and it not emphasised enough in library graduate education
  • The lack of time is a serious obstacle for professional development
  • Seeing yourself as a teacher increases agency and is associated with higher professional satisfaction

As mentioned, I see myself in the span between these two, but I do see myself as a teacher more and more. For years, I have tried to move away from the one-shot, and I now have more integrated courses and often more collaboration with the faculty staff than before, and I believe that this has changed the way I see my own practice, too. When I am in a class where I have been collaborating with their course teacher and we have planned it well, working toward understanding more than just where to click in the databases, I do feel like I am a teacher. I once asked the students, as part of a study I did, what they saw me as, and nearly all of the students saw me first and foremost as a teacher. They didn’t separate me from faculty members who were teaching the same course.

Being at the same time on the inside (teaching alongside other teachers, and being perceived as one) and on the outside (someone who has no power over their marks and their progress in their studies) has its value. I do believe that students often tell me things that they would be too afraid to tell their teachers (one example: a student in his third year “confessed” to me that he didn’t understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have said that to his teacher), and that probably gives me a better insight in what the students are actually struggling with. That is something that I can use when I teach, as I can start with where they are at, not where they “should be”.

Being a teaching librarian means that I have to work more independently to develop as a teacher. It is not emphasised in my education, and it has not always been seen as really important by managers in libraries. I have still much to learn, and I try to learn new skills, find better ways of communicating and trying new methods as often as I can, but I would not have been where I am today without a great effort to learn and practice, without support from some wonderful managers I have had, without my lovely colleagues, and without the curiosity and interest that I believe my darling mum instilled in me. I am grateful for all of this.

In conclusion, I think I’ll say that there are days when I really reach the students and when we have connections and conversations that fill me with joy to be able to contribute to their learning (and my own), and there are days where it seems like no matter how I try, I cannot get the response I need to foster learning or reflective thinking. These kind of days are hard, but they have also proven to be educational for myself, and most days (the good and the bad) inspire me to try harder and the more I practice, the more I feel like a teacher.

Reference:

Becksford, L. (2022). Teacher, librarian, or both? A quantitative investigation of instruction librarians’ teacher identity. College & Research Libraries, 83(3), 372-392. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.83.3.372