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 

Bouquet of sharpened pencils

coloured pencilsIn the 90´s movie called “You got mail”, the male protagonist exclaims that autumn always makes him want to buy school supplies, and if he knew the female protagonist he sends e-mails to in person, he would get her a bouquet of sharpened pencils. I get that. August, though technically still summer, has that effect on me too.

The new semester has not formally started yet. We will receive our new students next week. Still, the light rain today got me into work mode, and I got the strong feeling that summer is over (noooo!).

There are so many things to get ready for the new students, and the returning students and staff members. I will give more open courses this semester than ever before, and I try to navigate the changes in study programmes etc. that the merger a few years back made here at our campus. Study programmes are being merged, some are shut down or changed significantly and others are new. In June, I discovered that some of the students I will be teaching this semester had been transferred to another programme and that some were still finishing their programmes according to the old models. Very confusing! What makes it even more difficult is that so much of the information is spread out over many different platforms. Some information is available on the open web, some on the intranet, some in the LMS rooms. The latter is a significant stumbling block for me, seeing as I am usually just a “visiting professor” in most courses, and the administrators very often do not think of including me in the list of people who should have access to the rooms. Therefore, a lot of information that could have been useful to me is not available until I ask directly for access. I am not writing this to complain – it is just a little frustrating to try to puzzle the pieces together on my own. No matter what I read about or write about concerning teaching librarians, I keep coming back to the point that without a well-working teacher-librarian collaboration, we are lost.

There are so many exciting things happening on campus, and I wish I had more time and a better overview of everything. The control freak in me is not happy unless I feel I know what is going on:). I recently had a tip from my former manager of a journal article about how libraries tackle the rapid shifts in higher education with regards to our services. I haven’t had time to dig into it yet, but it is a fascinating subject. Seeing as my main task is to teach, I have maybe not been as involved as I should have been on thinking about changing our services, but I have thought a lot this spring and summer about changing the way that I teach. Every now and then I get stuck in a pattern, and I stay that way until I am aware that I am stuck and then have mustered up enough strength to get out of it. I am a little ashamed to say that this time, I have been stuck (unaware of the fact) for a while, but I am determined to freshen up a little this semester. I have read more about critical pedagogy, and I was inspired by the people I met at LOEX this spring, and I will try some of the principles for students in the nursing department soon. More active learning, less lecturing – those will be some of my guiding principles this year. Fingers crossed!

Reading list: March

It`s been a while since I have written about items on my reading list. The reason is, as so often before, that other tasks were prioritised. We are just now in the process of learning a new library system (Alma) that will replace the current Bibsys (been around for 40 years!) later this year. Things like this tend to take up some time, and it`s hard to keep focus on the big picture, like learning, developing new services, when maintenance issues like a new library system are coming. Still, I am hoping to have time to get some reading done before the Bachelor`s thesis marathon begins.


Image of the book: "The one-shot library instruction survival guide"While most librarians are walking quickly away from one-shot instruction (and not looking back), there are those who are trying to make a case for one-shot library instruction. I am currently reading “THe one-shot library instruction survival guide” by Buchanan and McDonough (2014). I have to admit that when I saw the title I was surprised that someone would publish a book about one-shot instruction in 2014, thinking that it was a thing of the past. I was so surprised that I just had to buy the book and have a look at these ideas.

The first thing that caught my eye in the book was that the authors claim that it IS possible to plan, integrate and assess lessons, even in one-shot settings. I have always thought of one-shots as lessons that are completely separated from the other content in a subject/course. I have always thought one-shot instruction equaled the “milk and spinach” approach (1) (p.17). Right off the bat, this gave me a new opinion on the whole idea of one-shots. I still think that we (meaning librarians) have to integrate our lessons more, and that we must try to get more involved in the writing processes that go on in many cources. It takes time to build new skills, and I don`t think that one-shots can really help students understand the need to invest time in learning these skills. For that you need to be more involved in the entire course. Still, I am starting to think that there MAY be room for some one-shots where there is a good understanding between librarians and teachers on planning, learning outcomes and assessment.

I haven`t been through all the chapters yet, but there are chapters on how to collaborate with teachers, a chapter on classroom strategies, a chapter on assessment and one on coping with the mass of students wanting your help on assignments. I have had a brief look at all the chapters, and read the first ones more carefully. I think it was well worth my time, and I`ll definitely think about some of the strategies suggested here.

Buchanan, H. E.&B. McDonough (2014) The one-shot library instruction survival guide. Chicago: ALA Editions.

Other items on my reading list for March and April include:

Brabazon, T. (2013) Digital dieting: From information obesity to intellectual fitness. Farnham: Ashgate.

– a book on how we are to deal with the vast amount of information available, and how we can teach our students to take control over the information. Looking forward to this one! Tara Brabazon has a unique way of writing and presenting, and hearing her at LILAC (conference) in 2012 was a joy!

I am also reading some articles about how college freshmen use information, particularly using Project Information Literacy (PIL)/ Alison Head`s “Learning the ropes” from 2013. Great stuff! I recommend having a look at Project Information Literacy`s website. Lots of important and interesting information.

Head, A. J. (2013) Learning the ropes: How freshmen conduct course research once they enter college [online]. URL: http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_2013_FreshmenStudy_FullReport.pdf (07.02.2014).

At home I am reading a mix of novels and documentaries at the moment:

Mak, G.& E. Rasmussen (2014) USA: en reise. [Oslo]: Cappelen Damm.

– travels through the US, following in Steinbeck`s travels in 1960. Very interesting, but a rather slow read. Many details and names..

Winslow, S. (2014) The persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. London (?): Heather Ridge arts

and a couple of others.. Oh, the joys of a good book! 🙂



(1) Meaning that the teacher wants students to have library instruction because it “is good for them” in a general sense, without any real connection to specific tasks or learning outcomes.