Reinventing the Academic Library: Innovation in instruction

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


The Library Serves as a Hub for New Forms of Instruction

MOOCs; continuous education; alumni teaching; intensive programs to improve STEM education: the library plays a unique role in spanning disciplinary boundaries to identify, understand, and disseminate innovative educational models. All programs are co-sponsored with an academic unit on campus. No more stand alone instruction.

Through programs like “hack the campus” and “lock in doctoral research weekends” librarians team with the university’s best faculty to produce the best graduates.

Further Talking Points

Production teams and “Hack the University” are just two types of educational innovation that librarians can facilitate. It makes sense that all programs of the library have an instructional angle, because librarianship is all about knowledge and learning. Books, databases, rare books, images, even the very building, are tools to accelerate and enhance learning.

Just as a mission of accelerating the scholarly conversation creates a natural research agenda for librarians, so too does it make the library into an ideal incubator of instructional experimentation. By understanding new methods of instruction online and in person (and most often in a hybrid setting) librarians can advance their own curriculum of information literacy. They can also serve as valuable partners with faculty and IT services in areas such as distance education.

However, the real potential for library-based instructional innovation is in the potent of a continuous education model. Rather than looking at the university as a sort of commencement provider (starting people in careers with a bachelors degree, adding management and depth in a  masters program, or depth and research skills with a doctoral degree) what if the University was able to expand to starting people in a degree, but sustaining them throughout their life with continuous access to expertise (faculty, graduate students, staff, other alums)? Imagine a knowledge hub where alumni and others regularly interact with the University to both increase their skills, certify their learning, and teach the next generation of alums.

All over the university folks are struggling with new modes of instruction. From the flipped classroom to MOOCs to online education, these efforts need to be brought together. Creating a hub for this innovation allows the library to adequately support new forms of instruction, but more importantly, it speeds diffusion of innovative practices to all corners of the campus. The world that higher education lives in is changing rapidly, and the university is ripe for disruptive change. Rather than wait for this to happen to the University, the University would foster disruptive change that forces other institutions to respond.

One Reply to “Reinventing the Academic Library: Innovation in instruction”

  1. Here, you seem to be talking about (at least) 2 forms of innovation: innovations in teaching (pedagogy, technology); and innovations in terms of thinking about the scope and audience for instructional programs housed in (or supported by) the library.

    In the first case, there is the question of opportunities to partner with the Center for Teaching or for existing units that focus on promoting improved teaching on campus, use of technology in face-to-face, hybrid, or online learning, etc. There are several examples of successful partnerships between academic libraries and campus centers for teaching, for instructional design, or for faculty development specifically in the area of online learning.

    In the second case (which is the one where I think there is more “vision” involved), one might ask what it means to make a commitment to taking information literacy skills – broadly defined to be inclusive of information skills, media literacy skills, data literacy skills, financial literacy skills, etc. – to a broader (and lifelong) audience. In each state, for example, there is a land-grant university (and NY is, as I recall, somewhat more complicated than that) and an extension program. While extension is founded on the basis of the need for agricultural information, it has expanded over the years to include support for small businesses and other areas. At Washington State, we took initial steps to try to engage the extension network as a means of providing instruction in the use of government information, in support of “digital inclusion” initiatives, etc. That was a long time ago and many extension networks have been downsized during that time owing to budget cuts, but I think the question is still relevant – can the academic library at a land-grant institution add another dimension to the instructional and information services provided across the state by bringing librarian expertise to the programs delivered through extension agents? Likewise, every community has a public library and the past decade has seen more and more of those libraries – budget permitting – take on some form of instructional role, e.g., financial literacy, career information services, information literacy and technology skills, services aimed at target groups, including job-seekers, homeschoolers, and older citizens. Many of us have built programs that bridge the divide between different library types that have some mission-mandate to serve the public (school – public – academic), but few have been as systematic and sustained as they could be. I am currently working with a new group called the Chicago Collections Consortium that aims to highlight collections and expertise housed across Chicago-area academic, public, and special libraries, as well as museums, historical societies, and others. It’s still young, but the potential to finally bridge some of these gaps is there. Also, with all due respect to the awesome Dr. Who MOOC about to launch at Syracuse, imagine the “Chicago” MOOC that we could put together in the city if we could draw on our shared collections as well as the expertise of faculty studying Chicago across our different institutions (and how such a course might be employed by students, faculty, and members of the public).

    In the first case, I think there is more we can do but the framework is already in place on many campuses. In the second case, I think we have the potentially to really dream up something new that gets at the question of what benefit the public may gain from the existence of a strong academic library in the community and at the question of how librarians at different institutions might work together to leverage their expertise in a way that highlights the value of the library/archives/museum community more broadly.

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