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.


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 

15 years

I have had the privilege to work at a great library with wonderful colleagues for 15 years now. It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years since I walked in the doors, were given my staff card and keys to the office. I was 27 years old, and had worked in two other libraries (a school library for 2,5 years and a year at a library on one of the ministries in Oslo). As with all milestones, great and small, it is a good time to reflect a little on the journey.

When I started library and information science studies, I had little idea that I would become an academic librarian. For me, and I suspect many others, libraries equaled public libraries. I loved books, I loved people and I loved technology. Working in a library seemed to me the perfect mix.

I was lucky enough to land my first job as a school librarian even before I had finished my degree, so I never really had time to reflect on where I wanted to work. It was only after a couple of years that I found that I wanted to try other kinds of libraries, and I spent a very happy year as a librarian in one of the government ministries in Oslo. However, when the chance came to have a job at the college library in my home town of Gjøvik, I couldn’t resist the chance to work with a broader set of patrons and completely different tasks.

I will not pretend that every day was a joy those first years. It was a steep learning curve, I had some problems fitting in at first and it was difficult to figure everything out on my own. My predecessor had already left when I arrived, and I desperately wanted a mentor or a “more knoweledgeable other” (hello, Vygotsky!) to guide me. But of course, it was also a lot of fun to figure things out, and it felt great the times I had been able to make a success of something I had figured out by myself.

A lot of things have changed since I started this job, both in my private life and my professional life. In my private life, I got married, bought a house, had a child, sold that house and bought a bigger one, got arthritis, had another child, lost my darling mother, learned to sew (still learning!) and many other things. In my professional life, we moved the library into another building (that happened four months after I started), transformed that library from a book repository with dense stacks to a learning hub with zones (many more work stations for individual and group study, a silent reading room, a relaxing zone with bean bags and plants, an event room etc.). I have been able to specialise more in pedagogy, writing scholarly articles and developing new learning resources. My university college merged with a university and three other university colleges into Norway’s biggest university. I got 130 new colleagues overnight. So yeah– things happened.

I love my job, I really do. It is interesting, enjoyable, sometimes frustrating, and there is always an element of something new. New students, new teaching methods and tools to test, new colleagues, new situations. This corona pandemic has shown me many things, but especially the need to be flexible and to just try something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be authentic. When the libraries closed down in March, a lot of people quickly learned new things and new technologies. I have never been more grateful that we are specialised workers at my library. I didn’t have to worry about acquisitions, because we already have an expert who can handle it. I didn’t have to worry about interlibrary loans, because we already have an expert to handle it. All I had to worry about was how to deal with communication and teaching online. I am not saying that it was a small task, and I am still trying to figure out how to engage the students on Zoom in bigger classrooms. (How do you get students to ask a question or comment on something when there are over a hundred students participating and the record button is on? I have tried a lot of things, but it is hard!) But – at least I knew what I should focus on.

The last 15 years have been good. I have learned a lot, I have had interesting conversations with patrons and staff, I have had days when everything just dovetailed and days when I wanted to cry out of exhaustion or frustration – but it has been, and still is, work that I believe in. I believe that librarians still have a crucial position within the university, I believe that I can make a difference in student learning, and I believe that I still have a lot to learn. A heartfelt thanks to the various managers I have had throughout these 15 years, for being my mentors and for letting me figuring things on my own, and equally heartfelt thanks to my many colleagues and peers who have spurred me on and celebrated every success and supported me when I have failed. You guys are the best!

coloured pencils

Service provider or academic partner: Where to draw the line?

jente sandstrand

Drawing a line?

I have long wanted to write something about the contributions from academic librarians in research projects. First, I wanted to wait until the term was over because I wanted time to think about this, and then I waited because I wanted to find the right words. I wanted to get this right, because this is important to me. Today, I am writing this even though I could have thought some more or found better words.

I have worked in academic libraries for 15 years. During that time, I have changed and the libraries I have worked in has changed along with the institutions they have served. Perhaps even more interesting is that the role of the librarians have changed, too. A few lines of explanation is perhaps needed. (I`ll get to the point, I promise..) I said that I have changed. Yes, I have changed in many ways, but professionally the most significant change has been that I have changed my focus. When I started 15 years ago, my focus was always “Whats in it for my library”. I was very library centric. I wanted a good budget for the library because I wanted freedom to build a good collection, nice furniture etc. (I was a school librarian back then, btw.) After working in a school library, in a ministry library and in a university library, my focus has shifted. I still want the library to have a good budget, but not for the librarys sake – for the patrons. I want a good budget so that we can provide services and academic support to enhance learning and research. I think I have also learned the value of evidence-based practice in libraries. It is important that we have solid research as well as user experience and our own experience and bring this together to build good library practice. It may not seem as a very significant change on paper (or blog), but for me it has changed the way I work. The libraries have changed, too. From being mainly a document provider and a more distant partner (delivery-on-demand) for students, the digitalisation and research support needs have made it possible and necessary to provide new services and to see our roles in a new light.

There are plenty of articles, book chapters etc. that discuss the roles of academic librarians. I am not going to list everything that I have, but see my article on library-faculty collaboration to get an idea (Øvern, 2014). The main point I want to make here and now, though, is that library-faculty collaboration is often problematic because of the skewed power relation between the parties. The librarians know that the route to the students goes via their teachers, and we are desperate to find a way in to the classrooms. Therefore, we usually not only obey our masters` first whistle, but even assume almost doglike admiration for the teachers that see our contributions as something worth “sacrificing valuable class time” (yes, that is a direct quote, but I`ll not give the source) for. (OK. Maybe I exaggerated a little, but then again, maybe I didn`t.) It doesn`t help that we are so trained as service providers, that we find it extremely hard to just say no to people. This way, I think we also often are stuck in unproductive “collaborations”, because we are afraid that if we protest or suggest very different models for teaching, the teachers will stop asking us to contribute all together. But if we never suggest what to us may seem as better ideas, then they will never see our potential as real academic partners either. Librarians generally know more about the faculty than vice versa, an assymetry that both groups are aware of, but only the librarians find problematic (Christiansen, Strombler & Thaxton, 2004, p.117). And as Ekstrand and Seebass (2009) found: librarians are regarded as excellent (service) parners, but that is not the same as seeing them as valuable academic parners (p. 84). Librarians are not integrated in study programmes and often forgotten in planning sessions.

These power relations become even more problematic when it comes to research support. I have several times been asked to help with literature searching etc. in research projects. Once or twice only, have I been told that I will get co-authorship for my efforts. Once or twice. Of course, I wouldn`t dream of demanding co-authorship if my only contribution to the project would be something like suggesting appropriate databases or handing over some search terms that could useful or something like that. But where do I draw the line? When does it become acceptable for me to say, I can do that, but only if I am listed as a co-author?

This is an example (not from reality, but quite close):
Two faculty members, one of whom were also connected to another university, asked me if I could provide support for them for a systematic review. When I asked what kind of support they were looking for it was clear that it is more than just suggesting search strings and doing a few introductory searches in some databases. It was much more than that. Basically, they wanted me to set up tables, do the searches and use a flow chart. In a systematic review, the design of searches, and getting it right in all the databases as well as putting it into tables and flowcharts represents a lot of work. It would be like building the foundation of a house. Yet, I was not offered co-authorship. I asked them a few more questions on their deadlines etc., but before I had received answers and decided to muster up the strength to ask for co-authorship, they informed me that they had found another librarian (from the other university) to do the job.

It seems there is always somebody who is ready to answer when they hear the whistle. Why it was so important for me to get co-authorship? The contribution would have been the same whether my name was on it or not. Yes, but if I could have had my name on it, then I could have sacrificed the very little R&D time I have to my disposal without having to postpone my qualifications programme. If I am to succeed with this, then the little time I have to produce some new knowledge will have to be put to good use. Egotistic? Sure. But for the faculty involved it wouldn`t have mattered as much to share that research point (Norwegian measurement system), but for me it was important. Again – the power relations are not balanced.

So – what should I do? What should WE as a profession do? Is it ok that faculty get a “yes” from somebody else if they get a “no” from me? When should I say no? When should I demand co-authorship? Why is there no guideline for these partnerships?

Where do I draw the line? (Seriously, I`m asking.)

NOTE: This blog entry was not written to, in any way, suggest that faculty is in the habit of exploiting librarians or are trying to belittle me or my contribution. This is not my experience. I have many working collaborations with excellent faculty members that are productive, constructive and interesting. Even in the example I mentioned above, I don`t think that this was done by malice or as an attempt to put me in my place, but rather as a pragmatic way to get the help they wanted as quickly and efficiently as possible. This blog entry was written to emphasise the sometimes problematic situations that arises from the skewed power relations between faculty and librarians, and I have no other agenda than to share my experience with this, and to hope for better guidelines. It is not my intention to offend either faculty or librarians, and I hope therefore that any lack of clarity of thought or words will be forgiven.


Christiansen, L., Stombler, M., & Thaxton, L. (2004). A Report on Librarian-Faculty Relations from a Sociological Perspective. The journal of academic librarianship, 30(2), 116-121. doi:DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2004.01.003

Ekstrand, B., Seebass, G. (2009). Integrativ informationskompetens: Diskursöverbryggande samarbete mellan akademi och bibliotek. In B. Hansson, A. Lyngfeldt (Ed.), Pedagogiskt arbete i teori och praktik (pp. 83-101). Lund: BTJ Förlag.

Øvern, K. M. (2014). Faculty-library collaboration: two pedagogical approaches. Journal of Information Literacy, 8(2), 36-55. doi:http://dx.doi.orghttp://dx.doi.org/10.11645/8.2.1910

Why don`t students ask librarians for help?

Illustration of a man with question marks over his headI am currently reading up on some things connected to a project that I just started. I have had a book called “College libraries and student culture: what we now know” on my reading list for months, and so far it has been very interesting.

I remember reading in Head and Eisenberg (2010)`s study that students Google, ask their professors and peers, friends – and even family members before asking librarians for help with their studies. Just now I came across the same thing in Miller and Murillo (2012)`s chapter in the book I mentioned.

Miller and Murillo (2012) suggest some reasons why this happens. Possible reasons for students not seeking help from librarians include:

  • They don`t know what we do, and therefore do not think that they can ask questions regarding academic writing. If they ask librarians about anything, it is usually about the whereabouts of a physical book. (Depressing stuff..)
  • Some have had bad experiences with librarians, and they are saying that librarians appear little approachable and helpful.
  • Librarians use words that patrons do not understand, like “circulation desk” and “reference desk”.
  • Students suffer from “library anxiety”, a feeling of nervousness or of being “lost” in the library.
  • Students and staff feel that librarians often give a lot more information than they needed, and that they feel overwhelmed by it.

I find this very useful. How should we work to reduce “library anxiety” for our patrons? What could I do to make the experience easier to the students? What can I do to be more approachable? How can make the students more aware of what we can do for them?

I do not have the answer to all of these problems, but I think maybe we should rethink our desks (they are too big, and we are harder to approach behind them), our web presence needs to be even more thought-through and we need to be more “plain-spoken”. I personally need to stop giving the students “all the options” when all they asked for was a solution to a simple problem, and maybe we could all do a better job at marketing what it is that librarians really do. We have some work to do here..



Duke, L. M. and A. D. Asher (eds.)(2012) College libraries and student culture: what we now know. Chicago: American Library Association

Head, A. J. og M. B. Eisenberg (2010) Truth be told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age. Washington: The Information School, University of Washington.

Miller, S. og N. Murillo (2012) Why don`t students ask librarians for  help?: Undergraduate help-seeking behavior in three academic libraries. In: Duke, L. M. og A. D. Asher (eds.),  College libraries and student culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association, p. 49-70.

Librarians – research support or research partners?

To say that the research activity at GUC has increased is a gross understatement. From 2004 to 2012 we went from having 8,2 publication points (1) to 88,6 points. In that time we have also gotten our own PhD programme and PhD research positions as well as grants for faculty staff members who want to get their PhDs at others institutions.

So – what about the librarians` role? Are we still just research support staff – a person you can call when you need a little help with your reference manager or to dig up a copy of some ancient journal article? OR do we see a new role emerging..?

Several librarians I have talked to lately has spoken about their competence in seaching, finding, evaluating sources and documentation now being sought for something more than “support”. Mariann Mathiesen, a librarian at the Norwegian knowledge center for health services, was part of a research team. Not only did she give advice about knowledge organisation subjects, but she actually did the systematic searches involved in the study that the team was working on, and Mathiesen was made co-author of the study. (Btw, read her excellent, award-winning Master`s thesis – if you read Norwegian..) Is this the way of the future? Can we become valued partners in research teams?

Of course, there are some questions:

  • Resources: Do libraries have the resources to let their librarians engage in research teams?
  • Skills: Do all librarians have the necessary skills to do the job properly?
  • Interest: Are librarians interested in these kinds of tasks?
  • Interprofessional knowledge: Do researchers know that they can ask librarians about these issues?
  • Will: Do the researcher want to engage librarians – as equal partners?

I think it very likely that some research teams here at GUC could have had good use of the librarians` expertise in knowledge organisation, and I (personally) would be very interested in participating in such a team (as a partner), but I also think that I would have to learn by doing, and that I would be a little anxious about not getting it right the first time (Control freak= me). I have talked about Embedded librarianship before, and I still very much believe that we need to be better integrated in the academic environment at our institutions. Being true research partners in teams would certainly be a step in the right direction here.

I read the article “Librarians as Partners: Moving from Research Supporters to Research Partners” by Monroe-Gulick, O`Brian and White(2013)  today – and the article served as inspiration for this blog post. Although the article didn`t really provide me with much new information, I think the fact that it is being discussed at all is interesting. And then again — it seems like we (meaning the library profession) is moving in very different directions. On one hand we are to be “learning centres”, focussing our efforts on our students and to provide them with the academic writing skills they need as well as more traditional services like access to information. On the other hand we need to be/ want to be partners in research teams. These are interesting times to be a librarian. I think that we`ll see more of this professional developments and that we are moving towards a less unified perception on what a librarian is. There will probably be no such thing as “core competensies” to all librarians in a while. We will be “research librarians”, “teaching librarians”, “digital service librarians” etc. and probably have less in common than we do now. The questions are: How do we handle the transition? Are we willing to live with the consequences of our choices?

Well – these were just a few musings (and rants) on a Thursday afternoon. And now– coffee!

Monroe-Gulick, A., O`Brian, M.S., and White, G. (2013). Librarians as Partners: Moving from Research Supporters to Research Partners (online) URL: http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/conferences/confsandpreconfs/2013/papers/GulickOBrienWhite_Librarians.pdf (25.04.2013).

(1) Here in Norway there is a system of awarding publication points for different types of research publications. The institutions then receive monetary support according to publication points achieved.

“The atlas of new librarianship” by R. David Lankes

The atlas of new librarianshipFor the past four months I have had this book on my desk. It is a promising title and I have been looking forward to looking inside.

“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their comminities” (p. 13)

Starting with this as a basis, Lankes goes on to explain how this mission is connected to the importance of a worldview, creating a new social impact and theory concepts like learning theory, motivation theory and sense-making (to mention some). Participation and conversation are key concepts that are discussed in length. The book is divided into so-called “threads”, meaning key concepts organised into flow charts that tries to explain how key concepts are related and intertwined. This is a very good idea – but it also makes it a little harder to browse, I think.

The book is full of real examples, illustrations and well-presented ideas on what new librarianship encompasses. I would definately recommend having a look at it. For my part, I am afraid that the superficial look I could afford (time-wise) to have at it left me not much the wiser, but only because I could not get around to really study it. It is not a book that one can understand in an hour. It is very comprehensive (the word “atlas” gave it away) and I look forward to listening to the author in London this fall when he will be keynote speaker at Internet Librarian International. I hope that he`ll present some of the ideas there and thatI`ll have time to study the atlas more carefully later.


Embedded librarianship

Bilde av bøkene jeg skal lese The pile of books that I should have read is now on the verge of toppling over. There hasn`t been much time for reading up on academic texts lately. And the books all seem so interesting that I have not the heart to return them unread either.

But today I got started on “Embedded librarians: moving beyond one-shot instruction” and it is very promising. This is a subject that is of great interest to me, and on one of the first pages I came across this defintion:

[Embedded librarianship involves]“… focusing on the needs of one or more specific groups, building relationships with these groups, developing a deep understanding of their work, and providing information services that are highly customized and targeted to their greatest needs. It involves shifting the model from transactional to high trust, close collaboration, and shared responsibility of outcomes. In order for an embedded librarian to achieve these goals, there must also be some long term planning between the customer and the librarian”  (Brower 2011, p. 3)

This is a pretty tall order for any academic librarian in a small academic library like ours, but I do think the principles should be followed. I look forward to the rest of the book – and the rest on my reading list.

Brower, M. (2011). A Recent History of Embedded Librarianship: Collaboration and Partnership Building with Academics in Learning and Research Environments In: Kvenild, C. and Calkins, K. (2011) Embedded librarians: Moving beyond one-shot instruction. Chicago : Association of College and Research Libraries

The librarian look

Well.. I don`t think librarians will ever get our own show at the Paris Fashion Week, but that said I think it is interesting to see what people associate with librarians. I was preparing a class for tomorrow and I needed an image to one of the slides. I am going to say something about me being a liaison librarian, but I didn`t want a big picture of myself. SO.. I logged on to Colourbox and searched for “librarian”. That was funny (and a little depressing..). These are some of the pictures I found:

Now, to be fair I also found one or two of young, good looking girls (and one boy), but they are, without exception, holding or standing next to a stack of books. I understand that Colourbox needs to match searches to the stereotypes, but on a more serious note.. I think it does constitute a problem if people remain to see us only as the curators of books. I wish Colourbox would tag some of their images, like people searching databases, working on computers and so on, with the “librarian” tag.. Most of librarians look like “normal people”, guys.. It`s our Clark Kent, thing..