Learning to Teach

… and teaching to learn? Ooh, deep.

As many of you may know, I have recently started a new job as a liaison librarian at a university library. I started a week before Fresher’s Week, so you can imagine I was thrown in at the deep end!

Part of this particularly sharp learning curve has involved running information skills sessions for students, and as a result has required a large amount of teaching.

Most of these sessions have been general inductions to the Library and it’s resources, tailored for specific user groups within my liaison remit. However, some have been more in-depth workshops, involving me taking more responsibility as ‘teacher’ – these have been classes, rather than simply presentations.

This is something that, theoretically, I knew I would be involved with, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the responsibility of being an actual teacher. I have actually really enjoyed it though. I have been taken out of my comfort zone, and since I’ve had to just get on with it, I’ve not really had a chance to get scared by it!

I’m sure I’ll be eating my words when, in a few weeks time, I’m delivering a lecture to approximately 200 students. In a way though, this is less scary than teaching in a smaller, interactive workshop – I really have to know my stuff in smaller sessions, because the opportunity for more in-depth discussion is increased.

I have been learning how to teach ‘on-the-job’, so to speak. I don’t feel the content of my Masters has prepared me practically for it. I know a lot about information literacy, learning styles, and changes in pedagogy, but I didn’t learn how to deliver effective workshops or how to plan a session. Fortunately there is a lot of support at my workplace, and my predecessors have many previous sessions’ content I can draw on. Teaching is becoming an increasingly large part of a librarian’s role, and is something that transfers across LIS sectors. I would like to see that correlating in LIS Masters curricula.

Modules covering information literacy have certainly begun this and will help librarians develop effective theoretical teaching knowledge, but something I have discovered since qualifying is that, firstly, students and lecturers don’t necessarily know what information literacy is – and who can blame them, it is a bit jargon-y! They also might not see it as a key objective, even though it is a means to their perceived objectives – they both want the students to be able to do their work better!

Adding to my experience of management

In September I did just under two weeks of temporary work in Oxford, working on a reclassification project at the Bodleian. Although I was only there for a couple of weeks, I learnt a lot from the experience. It was a contracted out project, something which I hadn’t done before, so a lot of it, such as management style, was new to me.

Since I’ve not had experience of a managerial position, I found reflecting on the experience valuable in helping build and shape my own management style for the future.

You don’t need to tell people the whole grand scheme. Although context for project work is useful, it is more important to those doing the work to know what task to be getting on with right now.

Avoid patronising tones, even when they’ve done something wrong. I made quite a few mistakes, so I definitely understand that people can do things wrong, but being (perhaps unintentionally) patronising makes people defensive.

Anxiety in a leader will communicate across to the team. Sometimes a manager will need to get away from the rest of the team to think things through and work out kinks without expressing any anxiety to the team members.

When trying to meet productivity percentages and targets, people can be inclined to skip breaks.  In the end this is less productive! This is also something I’m experiencing with my new job (blog posts about that to follow!). It’s important for managers to be aware of the workload of their team. I found that, with an emphasis on meeting targets, and productivity percentages influencing pay, there can be a higher inclination to skip a break to get the work done.

Training needs to match the task in hand. The timing of training can be important. For example, in-depth information about reclassification software isn’t as useful right at the start, rather it should come with a chance to do it yourself. Appropriate training for the task is also crucial. I have taken for granted the manual handling and shelving training I have received in the past. A lack of manual handling or shelving training is perhaps in the nature of temporary or contractual work – if anyone has any knowledge or opinions about this, I’d be very interested to hear it.

The most valuable thing about this work was actually to get me used to getting up early, which prepared me for starting my new job with a longer commute!