Friday, October 23, 2009

How Useful Is Library Instruction?

I'm a huge of fan of library instruction. No, take that back. I'm not a huge fan of library instruction; I actually think library instruction is kind of pointless. Case in point: I was in the elevator at Gorgas the other day and two students got in holding worksheets. They were joking around about being on a scavenger hunt and I happened to notice that one of the instruction librarian's name was on the sheet. They were doing something for a library instruction session. Those library students in the elevator with me started to giggle and when asked we told the students that we were librarians. As the doors opened, we wished the students good luck and one of them said, "I don't need it. This is pointless because I'm a senior".

That took me by surprise because what is a senior doing in a library instruction class? I could see if it was an advanced course that involved some research, but it was clear that this was a very easy instruction session aimed at new users to the library. So what was a senior doing in that session? And more importantly, what was he going to learn?

A lot of librarians think that instruction is pointless. The students don't listen; they're too busy playing on the computers. But I think that, when do well and correctly, instruction can be very beneficial. I'm a huge fan of teaching information literacy. What that means is teaching students how to search so no matter which database or catalog they end up in, they can find what they need. Information literacy also teaches how to evaluate sources to determine how credible they are. This is especially important when looking at web resources. But plain old library instruction? Teaching students about call numbers and where books are in the library? That's what is pointless. In this day of fast access to peer-reviewed journal articles at any time, students need to know about databases and searching in all types of formats. There are very few students who are going hunting through the library for a book when they can find something else just as good online.

So in this library student's opinion, classic library instruction is outdated. But teaching students the mechanisms for search is a skill they can use throughout their education and throughout life.

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