"Can't Anyone Be a Teacher Anyway?": Student Perceptions of Academic Librarians as Teachers

By Polger, Mark Aaron; Okamoto, Karen | Library Philosophy and Practice, March 2010 | Go to article overview

"Can't Anyone Be a Teacher Anyway?": Student Perceptions of Academic Librarians as Teachers


Polger, Mark Aaron, Okamoto, Karen, Library Philosophy and Practice


Introduction

It is fascinating to view job postings for librarian positions. Over the past ten years, it seems that more job postings are asking for librarians to be able to teach classes. However, when the authors graduated from library school, there was only one course offered, with limited enrollment, which taught library school students how to teach. Most library school courses offered taught us how to provide reference service, develop library collections, catalog materials, archives and special collections, business librarianship, government documents, digital and/or virtual libraries, and library management. While teaching skills are in demand, not all librarians receive formal training on how to teach.

The issue of faculty status is also part of the teacher identity equation. Both authors are employed at the City University of New York (in New York City) and both were hired as faculty. Our expectations are the same as teaching faculty; yet, our job functions are very different. Many CUNY Librarians teach "one shot" library instruction classes, 1-2 hours in length, and most are non-credit bearing. There are some CUNY campuses that teach semester long credit bearing library instruction classes, but those are few and far between. Library faculty work a five- day work week, twelve months a year, and have the same expectations to teach and do research like teaching faculty, who typically work nine months per year, and who are not expected to be on campus five days a week like library faculty. We are, however, considered non-teaching faculty.

For this particular study, we wanted to focus on student perception s of the academic librarian as a teacher. Librarians have debated the meaning of teaching in the profession. Now, we want to turn to our students. Our goal in this study is threefold : T o add to the literature on the philosophy of teaching ; to help broaden our definition of teaching ; and to identify how students in and out of the classroom perceive our roles as teachers in an academic library context.

Background and Related Work

Definitions of Teaching

The Oxford English Dictionary (Simpson, 1989) defines "teacher" as someone who teaches, instructs, or gives instruction in a school. The verb "to teach" is defined as imparting knowledge or instructing one how to do something, "especially in a school or as part of a recognized programme" (Soanes, 2008). "To teach" is also defined as the act of giving systematic information about a subject or skill, and enabling someone to do something through "instruction and training." (Abate, 1999). Other verbs used to describe teaching include to show, present, direct, and to guide (Simpson, 1989). These terms were used by our respondents to define what a teacher does.

Our definition of teaching is more inclusive and addresses components of knowledge transfer, interaction, and the exchange between the learner and educator. Our definition of a teacher is: anyone who uses a variety of methods to share knowledge with another person. It is our belief that anyone can be a teacher and teaching and learning can occur outside of the classroom. The definition from the various Oxford reference titles is limited and restrictive. It assumes that teachers are bound to a classroom. It also assumes that there exists no participation from the student. The Oxford definitions assume students are sponges who just receive information from the teacher, but who do not question or participate in the process of acquiring knowledge. We argue that teaching and learning is an exchange of interacting, of participating in a dialogue, and both learner and educator must use various methods in order to best disseminate knowledge.

Professional identity, status, and teaching

The literature on librarians as teachers focuses to a large extent on the following questions: What constitutes teaching, to what extent do librarians teach, and what does teaching mean to the profession? …

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