Why it matters how faculty view librarians

I love it when my friend Vardibidian blogs about libraries, because he always has such intriguing and thought-provoking things to say.  Yesterday, he had a post that very neatly connected some dots surrounding the recent Ithaka S+R report and its contention that while library directors prioritize the library’s role in facilitating teaching and learning, faculty see the library’s role primarily as a purchasing agent.

What was great about V’s post was that he offered a compelling argument as to why this is a problem, which is essentially, that faculty who view the library primarily as a purchasing agent won’t necessarily think to recommend to their students that they go talk to a librarian when they’re having trouble with their research.

And that is a problem, because the research that I did last fall, which will be published in the Spring 2012 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly, shows that students who are encouraged by a librarian (in the context of library instruction in their courses) to ask at the library for help are not statistically more likely to do so. But students who are encouraged by a faculty member to ask for help are more likely to do so — lots more likely.

So this is a problem, and one that we probably need to address head-on.


  1. Blake
    Posted August 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    “…published in the Spring 2012 issue…” GAH!! It drives me crazy that publishing STILL takes so long. Your work is done, there’s no reason we need to wait months or years for things to get published now. (not a rant against you, just the old slow process people are so wrapped up in).

  2. Posted August 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Glad you liked the note, but you should instead credit Steve Kolowich, whose Inside Higher Ed piece sparked the note in the first place, and who made the point that librarians have very little clout over students compared to their instructors. He also implied (or outright said, I should go back and read it) that instructors aren’t likely to persuade students to use the librarians’ services, because instructors don’t use those services themselves. Which is what led me to wonder why not… and why… and whether that’s a good choice or not. Curious what your readers think about that.


  3. Posted August 26, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I made this same point about faculty influence over student research behavior back in 2004 in my “Infodiet” essay that was published in the Chronicle. http://bit.ly/b6jW7L

    I wrote:

    Faculty members, too, must be involved in improving students’ information literacy. Academic librarians typically lack the power and influence to make students change their research behavior: Students think they already know how to find information quickly and efficiently, and they resist instruction in doing research that seems to be less an integral part of the curriculum than an awkward appendage to it. Only faculty members can develop assignments that will force students to use information sources beyond Google.

    So we continue to have this conversation – without getting the results we’d like – but we have to be persistent to create change.

  4. Fran
    Posted August 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    One thing I’ve noticed as effective (for students) is getting the library to come to them. When librarians come to our classes to talk to our students, they are more likely to reciprocate and go to the library. I teach at an institution where the importance of building skills is really important–we have a required academic strategies class (library basics, time management, etc.) which we’ve started to link with discipline classes; we have a tutoring center; we have a writing center. I mentioned to my Dean recently that it would be nice to have a librarian all our own (Yes, and a pony too). What we talked about was having a reference librarian who did a shift of an hour or two a week in our tutoring lab so as to work with students on projects, searching, etc.

    And before you and your readers jump on me, I _know_ that this means the library is taking on the _extra_ work (likely uncompensated) of coming to our students specifically instead of being in the library where they are at the beck and call of any walk-in. I’m a greedy faculty member, sorry. I guess what I’m suggesting is that the more our library can create a presence where the students are, the more likely they are to reciprocate. One thing they like is how porous the research barrier is (theoretically); they love being able to sit at their desks and not move but get articles just the same. We faculty need to encourage the porousness so that the library isn’t just that building down the hill that stores our books. We need to invite librarians to be partners in our classrooms and our labs.

    And yes, we obviously do need to do more building of assignments that take the students through the process of searching, reading, writing, citing. I wish I were a better example but I’m not doing this. I’m still building competent sentence writers and basic readers. But I will certainly keep trying not to see my library as a purchasing agent only.

  5. Janice
    Posted August 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    This is also a great argument for academic librarians to BE faculty members and to teach credit courses on research skills.

  6. Posted August 27, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Fran, I do come to the departments, and, while it is more work, it’s been great. I get a lot more interaction with students AND faculty. I had a student tell me this summer that I was the most helpful person on campus. That’s so good to hear. I saw a decline last semester in the number of students who made individual appointments with me. It’s only one semester, but it’s intriguing. I also speak with more faculty.

    The hardest part is scheduling. The department and I have to find both places and times that work. When departments are pressed for space, that part isn’t as easy as it should be. I’ve found that timing my visits to particular classes works best–like just before or after the research or theory class, for instance. The trick is to be there when the most students are there AND able to stop in. So, in between classes doesn’t really work–but lunch time does.

    If it’s feasible on your campus (space, time, personnel), I highly recommend giving it a try.

  7. Catherine
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Hey, thanks for the good discussion, folks! And yes, Fran and Rebecca, I agree that going to departments is really important, especially on larger campuses where a) the library is more intimidating and impersonal, and b) departments have more of an actual physical presence. Here at Saint Mary’s, I’m not sure where exactly I’d go…a hallway, maybe? There are lovely office suites in the new classroom building, but only the faculty ever go into those. But Fran, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for faculty to ask for this, and I know of a lot of campuses where it’s already happening.

    One thing that I think is equally important is that we bring the students to the library. Whenever possible, I try to schedule library instruction sessions here in the library, both because our instruction classroom is specifically designed for this kind of pedagogy, and to emphasize that yes, sometimes you do really need to come to the actual, physical building.

    And Steven, I know that we librarians have known for a long time, anecdotally, that we don’t have the same kind of pull with the students that the faculty do — who hands out the grades, after all? — but we haven’t had much in the way of empirical evidence that shows that our anecdotal experience is true; the research I’ve done offers some actual empirical evidence.

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  1. By info-fetishist on August 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    […] students have been on their own when it comes to research and evidence.  I think this all makes the soon-to-be-published research I saw teased on my Twitter last week a little more important.  What do you think?  Does a lack of school librarians mean starting with […]

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