Skip to content

Working with our Writing Center

I’ve written before about working with writing centers. About a year and a half ago the director of our writing center invited me to a joint meeting of writing center professionals and librarians. As is usual with such things, the meeting was great, but the conversations that our campus’ writing center professionals and I had on the way to and from the meeting was even better. In fact, it resulted in my being invited to make a 10 minute appearance in the writing consultant orientation the next fall, and for our two services to exchange publicity materials and generally start talking to each other in a new way.

Well, this fall things progressed much further. Rather than repeat my 10-minute appearance at the tutor orientation, the WC director generously handed over a full week of their fall mentor group sessions. (Writing consultants here don’t take a course prior to working in our writing center. Instead, they gather for one Saturday early in the term, and then for the rest of the term they meet in small “mentor groups” each week for an hour, during which time they discuss a reading with their writing center mentor. One week may be “Working with ESL students,” and another may take on plagiarism. This year, one of the weeks was library week.)

Preparing for these sessions proved to be challenging for several reasons. First, there were logistics. 5 sections of a class in the space of a week puts quite a dent in my calendar, and this year there were some scheduling snafus which will hopefully be ironed out next time we do this. Then there was the challenge of finding a reading that would be appropriate for students, that would give them some touchstone issues to discuss that would be relevant to their work, and that would encapsulated the practical and epistemological worth of the library on an academic campus. Turns out, our profession doesn’t really write such thought-pieces in a way that is appropriate for students. Either that or I just couldn’t find what was out there. So I assigned a piece James Elmborg had written about writing centers and libraries and how we’re a good match.* And finally, I realized that I’ve become completely dependent on preparing library sessions with an assignment in mind. Not having an assignment stymied my efforts to put this thing together for quite some time. I hadn’t realized how dependent I am on using the assignment as a way to prioritize what gets included in a session.

Anyway, at the advice of a co-worker, I finally decided to build the session around a theme of “how we are similar.” I hoped that this would give them something to latch onto (since they lacked the grounding force of an assignment, too), and that it would give me a way to work out my own uncertainties about turf.

Yes, I said “turf.” Here I am, going around believing that if we librarians feel the need to “own” Information Literacy, we lock ourselves into an unsustainable, less-than-perfectly effective, and ultimately untenable position. Not only are we insufficiently staffed to be the sole purveyors of Information Literacy to our population of undergraduates, but our students need to learn these skills in the context of their other learning if they’re to develop any kind of facility or nuanced understanding of the research process. What’s more, how can we make the claim that IL is an essential part of a liberal arts education, that it is inherently intertwined with learning on many levels, and then sequester it in the safe confines of the library? And yet, here was I, worried about turning these writing consultants into mini-librarians.

Luckily, my co-workers have wise heads on their shoulders and pointed out that I was worrying for very little reason. The best outcome possible would be to equip these consultants to help their peers think through research problems at point of need, and that they would know enough about what we do to feel comfortable making the decision to refer writers to us when needed.

So these sessions stressed our similarities. Just as consultants “work with to develop writers, not writings,” so librarians work to develop good researchers rather than hand over the perfect research. We both deal with citation, so we talked about resources for that and when consultants could, perhaps, want to steer students our way. We both deal with “it’s due tomorrow” issues, so we talked through strategies for dealing with these students. Of course, we also covered a few library basics, the “how do I know if this counts as a print source” conundrum (they loved the idea of Ulrich’s as a giant cheat sheet of “print” resources), and where to find the research guides that we create for most classes we support.

All of this seemed to go over well, so next term we’re stepping it up a notch. The writing center director and I are coordinating support for the “writing rich” courses on campus so that each librarian can know if classes they’ve been asked to support also have a dedicated writing assistant. If there is a WA, we’ll invite them to the course’s instruction session so that the WA will have the same understanding of the research involved as do the students we’ll all be serving.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try my own little pilot project. I’m going to arm one of my WAs with a reverse sign-up sheet. This way, the WA can identify students would could benefit from an individual session with me, provide me with the students’ names, and I can follow up and schedule one-on-one appointments. We’ll see how that goes.

*Elmborg, James K. “Locating the Center: Libraries, Writing Centers, and Information Literacy.” Writing Lab Newsletter. March, 2006. (Available Online)

Published inCarletonLibraries and LibrariansOutside the Library

One Comment

Comments are closed.