Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Becoming a Teacher-Librarian

Because I am in the school library program at Pitt, instructors constantly tell my classmates and I that we must be teacher librarians.  They proclaim that students will be floating in and out of the library, and it will be our responsibility to teach them the skills they need to succeed in selecting print resources for research and online search strategies, to name a few. We are required to take 5 education courses, and learn the various instructional theories that schools might use.  I feel like I have written enough lesson plans for a lifetime!  The bonus to all of this, of course, is that we earn our teaching certificate as well.

But what about public librarians?  The students in the youth services track at Pitt are not required to take any additional education courses.  Most of their courses are centered on library management, collection development, knowledge of special library services, and library trends.  Unless the student was previously a teacher or earned a teaching certificate as an undergraduate, they do not receive any instruction in the art of teaching.  But teaching has become a large part of library services.  Public librarians are being required to teach just as much as school librarians.  They teach workshops as well as special programs, and must write lesson plans or outlines for these programs.  Even story times usually require some type of lesson structure, with games and crafts.

A recent article in American Libraries highlights this need for education skills. In "Build you own Instructional Literacy" Char Booth explains why educational skills are important for public librarians, but that they are often neglected in the MLIS degree.  She gives some great tips on how librarians can be teachers, and discusses four main topics: reflective practice, educational theory, teaching technologies, and instructional design. 

How do you feel about this new role of the public librarian, that of teacher? How much teaching do you do in your position in a public library?  Should MLIS programs include education courses in the public librarian's list of required courses?  Possibly, if significant research is done on the topic and enough public librarians argue for the need of instruction in teaching techniques, library schools will begin to alter their course requirements to address this developing need.


Anonymous said...

I debated with myself before leaving a comment on this post. I am a public librarian, who taught for years in schools before deciding to become a librarian. While I absolutely do believe that my teaching experience adds to my credentials and view of my job, I do not think it necessary for a public-librarian in-training to take official teaching philosphy classes.

A tiny, tiny part of the reason I got into library science was because I did not want to pursue my Masters in teaching. I wanted to be out in the community contributing, not inside a school. That said, I did not want to spend a good chunk of money taking Masters-degree teaching courses & spending much of time learning *more* about teaching philosophies & practices.

Sure, I do think that it would benefit new-be public librarians to take a course strictly on programming planning (it's a lot like lesson planning). And I think that part of this course should focus on giving instruction & how to identify needs. So if that's the course we're discussing I'm all for it. But let's face it, there are hundreds of different learning styles & teaching philosphies out there...taking a few course in graduate school do not even begin to touch the surface. Part of the joy of being a public librarian is bringing your own touch & style to your library. Why not make coursework that would benefit a public librarian directly, such as ones that showcase different program styles, ideas, instructional lessons, etc. Let's get MLIS programs to focus more on literacy in the future...fill our readings with statistics and studies in addition to the hands-on work. Basically, energize us & prepare us for the future of reading, technology and more.

Char Booth makes excellent points in her article and I agree that all good public librarians should be reflecting, have ideas about educating youth, be aware of the technologies available, and creating our programs with a purpose. But one of the most wonderful things about being a public librarian (in my opinion) is the beauty of thinking outside the lesson plan. It's the energy we can create to inform and build readers-for-life. It's about knowning your community, yourself, your patrons, and everyone's needs and meeting them in creative, innovative ways.

Perhaps I don't think it's necessary because I do have the teaching experience already. I don't really know. But I do know that if we want to add a "teaching" class to the MLIS requirements, it should be geared specifically for the needs of public youth librarians, not general teaching methods/styles/philosphies. If we do see it happen, I would gladly welcome that type of class.

Dani said...

I completed the Pitt program in 2008 and now work in two wonderful public libraries. I decided against the School Library program for a variety of reasons. Prior to becoming a librarian, I worked in daycare, both as a preschool and toddler teacher. While employed there I learned how to write lesson plans and all about child development. I have pulled from those experiences more in my time as a librarian than I have anything I learned while at Pitt. I don't necessarily think that library students should be forced to take education classes but it would be beneficial for them to take classes on learning styles, child development, and managing large groups. Or just spend a few years working in daycare ;-)