Conducting Workshops to Cultivate Your Librarianship
By Christine Elliott
There are few graduate library programs that don’t provide the chance to gain practical experience in providing information literacy (IL) instruction. However, if you are like me and you did not get the chance to teach an IL session during your graduate training, then there are other ways to gain the experience and confidence you need for creating and presenting effective sessions: conducting workshops. The world of the academic librarian is an ever-changing one: new technologies, new instructional standards, evolving pedagogies, and a constant rotation of new students with unique demands. As daunting as these changes might seem, they are also amazing opportunities to expand your instructional and interpersonal skills. During the summer months there is very little you can do in terms of instruction to gain teaching experience. Faculty are generally away from campus and there are very few students around to need a librarian. In order to make the most of your time as you settle into your new profession, I highly recommend using this period to learn more about some of the newest technologies and programs available in your institution. As a librarian who graduated from a completely online MLIS program, I felt wholly unprepared for the daunting task of teaching research skills to impressionable young minds despite my confidence in my own research skills. I received some much needed guidance from my peers during my first year of instruction, but I did not have the opportunity to design an instruction session from scratch. Identifying the library’s newly acquired technologies and teaching myself how to use them inspired me to produce workshops that my peers could attend for additional assistance with new software. Recently, Springshare rolled out LibGuides II, the newest version of their famous Content Management System. If you are an academic librarian, then you are very likely familiar with LibGuides and how it works. LibGuides and LibGuides II are essentially very similar platforms; however, with the newest update there are a handful of new tools to learn and a new platform with which to acquaint yourself. New and updated technologies serve as a great opportunity for self-instruction and project generation; LibGuides II was my opportunity. My first two years as a librarian were spent in a small, private college in Iowa, where I had the opportunity to transition the library to LibGuides II as a systems administrator. Recently, I started a position in a large, public library in South Carolina, which incidentally, was in the process of moving to LibGuides II during my first week. My situation is rare because I was able to train librarians in two unique environments with very different workshop methods. Here are some of the benefits I gained from providing my peers with training opportunities:
- 1. Learn something new: In this case, LibGuides II is fairly easy to navigate after a little bit of dedicated exploration. After making note of where the Libguides I functionality had relocated, I worked with my library’s Head of Reference to outline the most important functionalities that needed to be highlighted for our LibGuides users. The process of outlining a workshop lesson plan and generating step-by-step processes provided me with the opportunity to better understand a program essential for my job and figure out what my peers needed from my workshops.
- 2. Practice instruction: I was able to practice both one-on-one instruction and group instruction with this project. In Iowa, my college had a total of five librarians working with LibGuides. This allowed me the freedom of meeting with librarians individually to provide customized training. In South Carolina, I work in a library that has over 50 librarians and staff workers. A workshop setting is more applicable to a larger group, so I created a workshop outline highlighting important tools within LibGuides II that my peers needed to know, and encouraged them to reach out for one-on-one sessions if they so desired. With my workshops, I generated a presentation and shared a “cheat-sheet” for easy reference when first learning how to create a guide.
- 3. Gain experience to expand your professional skills: Beyond instruction and research assistance, academic librarians are also expected to promote the librarian profession. Knowing how to carry yourself during a presentation and sharing your knowledge with a group of like-minded peers is an essential part of librarianship. Through my experience conducting LibGuides II workshops, I have gained the confidence to seriously consider my own research interests and share them through presentations and publications. This confidence is crucial to making an instructional session the best it can possibly be, and in showing your audience (despite their age and interests) that you are passionate about the topic you are conveying. Passion leads to respect in academia, and starting with something as meaningful and involved as workshops goes a long way.
My peers were more than happy to provide feedback and critique the workshops made available to them. I was thus able to adjust my teaching and presentation methods after each workshop and individual session. This did wonders in boosting my confidence as a professional librarian and encouraged me to search for additional professional development opportunities. Christine Elliott is a Research and Instruction Librarian at the College of Charleston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org