A Librarian in Freshman Orientation

by Melissa Meggitt

Next semester I will be teaching a one-credit information literacy class to sophomore history majors at Walsh University. It has always been a goal of mine to teach this type of class. All academic librarians at Walsh teach one-hour library instruction sessions, aka "one-shots," when requested in their liaison area. I've always enjoyed teaching, whether at the reference desk or in front of a class, it is easily my favorite part of the job. While I am excited to start this endeavor I am also anxious because I have no experience leading a weekly class. In preparation I signed on to teach a section of freshman orientation to gain additional classroom experience.

Over the years, Walsh, like many colleges and small universities, has redesigned its freshman orientation experience to be up to date with the current student population. With its most recent redesign, the library felt this would be a good opportunity to introduce information literacy skills to the students. A good way to teach students information literacy is by embedding library skills into homework or research assignments. Many librarians recognize that this is the best way to achieve student success, but faculty and staff can be resistant to changing or adding extra requirements to their assignments. Last year, we had a specific day in the course schedule where information literacy was covered by the individual course instructors and not attached to an assignment. Not a perfect situation, but we were willing to take it.

This year the freshman orientation program has forty different instructors, both faculty and staff, teaching 500 freshman students. The main focus of the course is reading the book,
Left to Tell by Immaculee Iibagiza. Unlike past years where individual instructors picked their own book, this is the first year that all freshmen will be reading and studying the same book. Students exercise critical thinking and academic writing skills, complimented with lively in-class book discussions as well as writing research and reflection papers. As with other freshman orientation classes, many other components of university life are incorporated throughout the course, including wellness, advising, study skills, and of course, information literacy skills.

A great opportunity to use a library tool presented itself when the program director asked if I could create additional handouts for the information literacy portion of the course. Because the students were reading the same book and completing the same assignments, this was a perfect time to incorporate information literacy skills into an assignment.

The students' required research questions would now be paired with library research skills and resources. To facilitate the program instructor's request, I used LibGuides, a Springshare product, to create an online guide for the book's research assignments. The guide has five tabs - Welcome, Finding Books, Finding Articles, Citation Help, and Video Tutorials. The guide allowed me to pull together many important library resources for the students and present them in an organized and meaningful manner. The software makes it easy to add Web 2.0 technologies to the guide template. The freshman orientation guide includes a Meebo widget to our chat reference service, book images from highlighted books, and embedded video of tutorials that I created to show students how to use the catalog and databases. It can also be embedded in course management systems, such as Blackboard and Sakai. I presented the guide to the freshman instructors and encouraged them to use the guide in the coursework and ask for assistance if warranted. It was very popular with the program's instructors and made many feel comfortable teaching library research skills.

In addition to showcasing LibGuides, there have been other benefits of working closely with the freshman orientation instructors. After presenting the guide, I received many new requests from faculty to create guides for other courses and have been invited to do more in person instruction sessions for classes I have not previously taught. I have even been invited to give an overview of the library and its services for a student organization on campus. Simply put, I've become more familiar to faculty and staff and more approachable. As more faculty and staff become familiar with our library and its resources and services, the library's involvement in other classes will continue to grow.

When I decided to become a course instructor, I had no expectations other than to learn how to manage a one-credit class, but there have been many new and surprising benefits from my involvement. I've gained confidence and experience from teaching freshman orientation. Through networking with my colleagues, I have been able to promote the library resources on campus. This has been a very rewarding experience and I look forward to teaching the course again.