It has been an odd but inspiring week at work. It was odd because my department members and I took one entire day to sit down together and write a couple of documents on a very tight deadline. It was inspiring because one of these documents mapped our experiences with last year’s first-year seminars to the goals of our newly devised first-year seminars (which the college is calling “Argument & Inquiry” seminars), forcing us to articulate what it looks like to be an instruction librarian for first-year students at a liberal arts college.
It was doubly inspiring because immediately after drafting that description of instruction librarianship in the liberal arts, I got to go and actually do that work with a 100-level course that is one of my perennial favorites: Linguistics 110.
I love this class because it absolutely embodies one point we made in our document: “Locating discussions of content relevant to the course within the context of library instruction makes explicit the connection between information gathering and knowledge production.” The professor teaches his class, talking about the different cortical pathways used to process kanji and kana (with a healthy dose of the convoluted history of Japanese writing systems and vocabulary). Meanwhile, I jump in every once in a while and show how to find out if the article he’s used as the basis for this lecture is still being cited in the literature and is still thought to be credible (he supplied me with the article information ahead of time), how to use terms from that paper to find more papers on similar topics, and how to evaluate the web site that popped up when he used Google to find images of these cortical pathways. Meanwhile, he riffs off of the papers that we find to talk about how they either confirm or complicate what he already knows, or how they relate to other concepts they’ve covered in class.
This feels so much closer to the way real research happens. It’s not set aside as “library day” when students will step outside of their roles as Students Of Linguistics and step into their roles as Students Who Must Soon Write a Paper. This is thesis development that’s built on class discussion and lecture, sprinkled with “but is this really credible,” encouraging the habit of taking facts and asking “but how would I find out more about that” and “what do I do with what I’ve found,” and always circling everything back around to how the new information informs thesis development and relates to the course content.
This model wouldn’t work for all courses, certainly, but every Fall I look forward to the call that will schedule this particular session.