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Instructing my First Information Literacy Classes

April 4, 2019

I only recently started my job as the part-time interlibrary loan and information services librarian with Lehigh Carbon Community College’s Rothrock Library back in October 2018. From my very first day on the job, I was handling interlibrary loans through OCLC WorldShare®, connecting with libraries all across the country in search of articles and books. After a few weeks, I was comfortable enough to staff the reference desk and to provide assistance for students and faculty.  I was assured that at some point come the spring semester, I would be conducting my first (ever!) information literacy courses for ENG 105, which is our Research and Composition English course. I was actually pretty nervous about it, being that I really do not have a faculty background. I had been a substitute teacher back in the day for elementary school children, so standing up in front of a classroom really did not intimate me. But you can fool children if need be (sometimes); adults listen, catch on, judge, and know when you are a total moron. (Maybe I am underestimating elementary school-aged children and overestimating adults.) I just wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about and how to be comfortable operating all this fancy technology with which I was not really familiar. I am not ashamed to admit that I can be old-school and tend to shun most social media platforms, save Instagram. Even those huge smart boards in the classrooms which can operate with the simple touch of my finger are absolutely amazing and intimidating to me; I feel – and probably, look and act – like Charlie Bucket winning the last Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when I am operating one of those bad boys!

My first instruction in front of a class was supposed to happen this past Friday at one of our satellite campuses and was for our ENG 106 course, which is Introduction to Literature. Having been asked to do this well ahead of time really put me at ease. I knew I would have the time and resources to prepare my instructional lesson plan. I knew I could be prepared.

But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Two weeks prior to this scheduled instructional session – and first thing on a Monday morning, no less – one of my fellow librarians approached me with an emergency. He had two ENG 106 courses, back-to-back, which he would not be able to instruct, and he wanted to know if I could step in and cover for him.

I probably blanched completely white like one of those cartoon characters out of sheer panic. I only had an hour to prepare. I was not dressed my best. The students would notice my sparse eyebrows and my messy, unruly hair. (Its choice, not mine.) I quickly reviewed my notes which another one of my fellow librarians had provided me. I would be showing the students how to navigate Encore to search our library holdings in addition to some of our databases, in particular, Literature Online and Literature Resource Center. I had very little time to review the short stories which the students were working on, but they seemed like classic works from well-known authors, including Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” and Catherine Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

The instructor was present for both of these classes, so at least she was able to prompt the students to think about their assignment, a short research paper dissecting various themes and symbolism within the stories. My first task was to show them how to look up materials in our library through Encore and of course, as luck would have it, our platform was down at that particular hour. I could retrieve results but when I clicked on a title for a description and summary, I got all that Java talk and errors. No doubt this would happen to me during my very first information literacy instruction! But the instruction must go on, so I delved into the database descriptions for Literature Online and Literature Resource Center. Fortunately, these databases were cooperating with me and I was able to retrieve results for demonstration. I am hoping that I was able to give a thorough understanding of how to conduct research, including on how to cite it properly, and I walked around to each student to ask if he or she needed any assistance.

Even with having displayed my contact information, not one of the students from those two classes approached me afterward to follow up with questions about their research. I see the instructor on a regular basis and she asks me if any of her students have been in touch with me, and sadly, I have to tell her no. To reiterate what Daniel De Kok’s article earlier this week entitled “Those Who Can” for this blog addressed, how do we get the students to ask for our help? What will it take? I cannot imagine that there would be no follow-up questions. It is rather disappointing and discouraging, but I take away from it that once I get more comfortable with conducting information literacy courses, I will eventually familiarize myself with the material and my enthusiasm for the subject will show, especially if it is Introduction to Literature.

For what was supposed to be my first information literacy course this past Friday, I took the time to prepare by reading a few of the short stories which the professor had included on his syllabus. Fortunately, most of them were the same as the previous two classes, being that they are both Introduction to Literature courses taught by two different professors. I was able to re-read a childhood favorite of mine – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which really got me pumped for the class. I felt much more confident and engaged in teaching this course at the satellite campus since I was more familiar with the databases. Now I know I can handle more information literacy courses as they come my way; I have gotten over the initial hump of awkwardness and shyness. I would like to know – what was your first information literacy instruction like?

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