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Finding the Silver Linings: New Approaches to IL Instruction

September 15, 2020

Covid-19 has caused untold disruption and libraries have not been immune. Rethinking almost everything we do to accommodate for social distancing and remote learning has not been easy, but alongside hardship, disruption can also bring new growth and revitalization. In my work, I see this more clearly in the area of IL instruction. Being pushed almost exclusively online has brought many challenges, but also unexpectedly, new freedoms and opportunities for creativity. Covid-19 has changed how I’m teaching this semester, and I believe many of these changes are ultimately for the better.

Typically, this time of year we have our “regular fall programming”, the classes my colleagues and I are reliably asked to teach year after year, and for which, to be honest, it can be easy to get into a bit of a rut. Show up to first year orientation and writing classes, introduce the databases, take a spin through source evaluation and credible sources, hype up reference and chat services, give students a chance to do some searching on their own, and then wrap it up. Over the years I’ve tried different approaches to presenting this material, such as incorporating Kahoot quizzes, but I could never quite break free from the constraints of the “one-shot.” In particular, one modality that always felt just out of reach was the oft discussed “flipped classroom” that was very in vogue a few years back. Although eager to give this format a try, I failed at finding a workable mechanism for getting students to complete work prior to IL sessions.  

But this semester, as I partnered with instructors to shift IL sessions online, suddenly the status quo, lecture-based approach I previously employed became untenable. Having me speak for all or most of the class period through a screen seemed like a pretty miserable scenario for everyone involved, myself included. Which led me to an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection: if students don’t want to sit through this style of teaching online, is it that much better when it’s live? Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to stew in this question, but instead, had to get to work on forging a new plan. What I landed on was one where I finally had the chance to “flip” my classes and put students in the driver’s seat. 

 For the most part, the majority of the IL sessions I have planned for this semester involve some version of students watching a video (created by me) and completing a task (either alone or in a group) prior or to our class meeting. Then during synchronous class time, we debrief and I answer questions. I also walk students through some examples of work completed by their peers. In a few instances, we go one step further and require groups to set up a zoom “consultation” with me or another librarian after they have selected sources for their project.

I can’t promise that all, or even any, of these classes will be a smashing success, but I can identify some specific benefits of our new format, including:

  • More targeted, assignment and skill specific instruction
  • Increased opportunity for assessment owing to the completion and collection of artifacts
  • Higher level of peer to peer interaction
  • Higher level of active learning and greater ownership on the part of students

Below are 2 examples of the “pre-work” students are being asked to complete before our class sessions:  

Activity for Keyword searching and source selection

Video and activity for Paraphrasing

(this relies heavily on APA Instructional Aids . I find these instruction aids to be quite helpful, particularly for the difficult task of teaching students how to paraphrase effectively)  

I would love to hear examples from other libraries about how you have adapted your instructional methods to adapt to the Covid environment, and/or the “silver linings” you’ve discovered in these hard times. Your comments are welcome!  

CRD Virtual Journal Club Update

September 11, 2020

As we begin to adjust to the new normal for the Fall 2020 semester, the CRD Virtual Journal Club would like to hear from you! After a summer hiatus, the Journal Club will be hosting sessions once again in Fall 2020. While these may not be scheduled on a monthly basis as usual due to COVID-19 and all the complications it has brought to our work lives, we want to provide some opportunities for us to keep connecting with each other.

Our Fall session will focus on teaching and providing services in an online environment. Please email us at if you have read any related library literature that has inspired you or impacted how you’ve adjusted to the online environment. 

Look for our upcoming emails for scheduling details!

Communicating in these (fill in the blank) times

September 3, 2020

“Remember when times weren’t unprecedented?” Tweets and memes expressing this wistful sentiment are very relatable right now.

As we try to settle into a unique fall semester, we may be evaluating our practices — and everyone’s well-being — more than usual. How are we doing? Are we considering the different circumstances of our patrons, their Internet access, and ways they can borrow items with limited or no contact?

It’s also an opportunity to examine communication with our colleagues. How have our procedures changed because of new protocols or mandates, and can everyone access this information? Is the team staying cohesive and responsive? What is working in a hybrid or changing environment, and what is not?

This was very much on my mind while watching a webinar presentation by colleagues at Pitt. (They are great colleagues, so I am a little biased.)

This presentation, “On the Same Page: Fostering a Culture of Collaborative Communication in Technical Services,” gives us a lot to think about as members of any kind of library team. You can watch their presentation below, or here.

Presentation by Staci Ross, Gabi Gulya, & Brenda Salem, via the WPWVC ACRL Program Committee YouTube Channel.

What I appreciated most about their talk is that they emphasized choosing communication or documentation platforms that work best for your team in your situation. Choosing the latest or most buzzed-about software based on recommendations alone may not be ideal; a system only works if it works for the group using it.

This webinar was part of the Western PA/West Virginia Chapter of ACRL’s summer webinar series. We couldn’t have an in-person conference in the spring, so the (wonderful) program committee scheduled a virtual series of presentations. Most are now on YouTube, and you can watch them here. If you’re in search of a quick professional recharge, take a look!

Online Library Instruction in a Time of Remote Teaching and Learning

August 31, 2020
“Meme: who’s really behind this!” A Journal of the Plague Year.

This past summer an Online Instruction Task Force was formed by the Research Services and Scholarly Engagement Department of Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University. Recently its members offered a professional development workshop entitled “Zoom for Instruction.” Topics covered included Zoom Breakout Rooms, Polling & Surveys, and the Webinar Interface.

Here are just some of the resources the Online Instruction Task Force recommended:

• 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching:
Primarily geared towards course-scale instruction, but includes some tips that could apply to our teaching, too.
• Harden Your Zoom Settings to Protect Your Privacy and Avoid Trolls (EFF):
A lot of these are settings that Villanova auto-enables and that have become common sense, but this is a nice summary.
• Video Conferencing with Zoom: Online Course Tips & Ideas (Learning Solutions):
Includes ideas for activities and assessments, as well as Zoom pointers.
• Teaching Remotely With Zoom: FAQ and Instructions (Harvard):
A nice FAQ with some specific scenarios.
• Tips and Tricks for Teachers Educating on Zoom (Zoom):
Mostly basic stuff that a lot of us know at this point, but links to documentation on various useful features.

• Best Practices: Online Pedagogy (Harvard):
• Effective Teaching Online (Inside Higher Ed):
• Virtual Information Literacy (Ashley Lierman, Rowan University, TCLC presentation):

• Accessible Teaching in the Time of Covid-19:
• Disabled People Use the Internet!: Building and Maintaining Inclusive Library Spaces Online (presentation from The Exchange 2020 Virtual Conference):

• The Single Most Essential Requirement for Designing a Fall Online Course:
• Trauma-Informed Teaching & Learning Online: Principles and Practices During a Global Health Crisis (Columbia School of Social Work):

For more information contact Deborah Bishov, Social Sciences & Instructional Design Librarian,

Equitable Reference and Instruction During COVID-19

August 31, 2020

As we return to the library in one form or another, many of us are bracing ourselves for a full academic year of working while also watching and/or teaching our children, caring for extended family members, or otherwise just trying to survive during a pandemic.

But, for all our struggles, we must keep in mind that our students are dealing with the same problems, if not more. This is especially true for students who already struggle to find success in higher education, particularly students from underrepresented groups and first-generation students. Now, more than ever, we as librarians need to make our reference interactions and instruction sessions as equitable as possible to eliminate as many barriers to education and information literacy competency as we can. While this type of evaluation of our services should be an ongoing process, there are some simple, easy ways we as librarians can improve our instruction and reference services: 

  • Avoid library jargon. Even students that have experience with libraries may struggle to understand all the technical terms we use on a regular basis. This is especially true for international students and students without much experience with libraries and can be exacerbated if students are viewing the session through weak internet connections. Sharing or linking to a “glossary” of library terminology, ideally in multiple languages, can be helpful for all students to best understand the resources available to them through the library.
  • Allow students to use their lived experiences in class assignments and activities. Students from underrepresented populations, especially first-generation students, can feel out-of-touch with higher education, often because they do not see people like them, or with their experiences, represented in class assignments. While librarians may not have a say in all of the assignments of the classes for which we provide instruction, for those assignments that we do it can be tremendously valuable to provide students to pick topics that are important to them and representative of their life experience. Even if librarians have no control over the assignments, in the classroom we can develop activities that follow an asset-based approach which can allow students to use their lived experiences as a way to deepen their information literacy knowledge and skills.
  • Engage in reference best practices of friendliness and a level of caring and empathy for the student and their questions. We know library anxiety is a real problem and may be amplified during this pandemic. Therefore, it is crucial that we work hard to create a connection with the student, respect their questions and viewpoints, and remain positive throughout the whole interaction. Keep the student engaged in the reference interaction by verbally walking them through the steps you are taking to locate an answer. These steps will help the student feel valued and involved in the interaction.

While small steps such as these will not eliminate all of the barriers students face when pursuing a college education, they may help alleviate some of the additional anxiety caused by this pandemic and can serve as a starting point for further examination into the creation of more equitable and just services in academic libraries.