Interview with an Academic Librarian

I had a chance recently to sit down and interview Kathy Molenkamp, director of the Grace Bible College Bultema Memorial Library, and ask her a few questions about the role of librarians in instruction and teaching.  Below is the transcript of the interview.

EH: Good morning, and thank you for meeting with me.  This interview is basically just to get your perspective on the role of librarians in teaching and instruction.  So, how long have you been an academic librarian?

KM: I have been an academic librarian since 1991

EH: And, were you a different kind of librarian before that?

KM: No, when I went to library school, I actually got the degree in school and library media because I already had a teaching degree, so I thought that would make me more marketable and more versatile, but pretty much all my library experience has been in an academic library.

EH: So your educational background is in elementary education?

KM: Yes, K through eight.

EH: What has your experience been in instruction in your current position?

KM: My current position allows me to also be an adjunct professor so I get to just straight out teach from time to time, which is good for me, because I enjoy that.  As far as library instruction, it’s probably been fairly minimal.  I mean, I get to give general orientation to the library to every incoming class, but then I also get invited into classes periodically to talk about library resources and how to get them, but it’s not a scheduled…it’s not as regular as I would like it to be, and it’s not as pervasive as I would like it to be; it’s kind of hit and miss.  It depends on the professor, it depends on their schedule, and it’s pretty much at their discretion.

EH: So in terms of information literacy, do you generally give one-on-one instruction when students come to you?

KM: More often.  I mean, it does happen in the classroom from time to time, but a lot of times even the kids that have been through it in the classroom will prefer to sit down with either myself or one of the library staff one on one, and get some hands-on instruction.  Just this morning I had a student come in who was a junior and still didn’t know how to get into the catalog.  So they came in and they said, “Can you show me how to find what’s in the library?” So we went and sat down, and we just walked through what that looks like, and how they can get at resources, and they were satisfied!

EH: As an adjunct professor, what classes have you taught?

KM: As an adjunct professor, I get to teach in the areas of Christian education, and children’s literature.

EH: In terms of any kind of instruction, your choice, what methods have you found most effective?

KM: I think it’s most effective when you’re teaching at a point of need. So, the orientation sessions are not very effective, so we really don’t do much in the way of showing students resources at that point.  It’s mostly just locational kinds of things, and to try and build a rapport with the students, to let them know that the library is a welcoming place, that the library is here to serve them, the library has resources that will be helpful to them.  So when they do reach a point of need they won’t be intimidated or scared or reluctant; they’ll know that there’s people here that want to help them and are capable of helping them.  When it comes to classroom instruction or even the one on one, then we try and just make sure that we do the reference interview effectively enough so that we can get at what they really need as opposed to what they’re asking for.  So, um, another thing that helps in that is my ability to serve on committees, so my interaction with the faculty is very helpful in that regard, the fact that I’m an alumna of the college is helpful in that regard, because I have an understanding of the academic goals and educational objectives for what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to accomplish it.  So if they come in and they tell me, “I have a certain class with a certain professor,” I generally have a pretty good idea of where they’re going with that so I can help them connect with the resources that are going to be most helpful.  So sitting in on faculty meetings is very helpful, any kind of curriculum planning is very helpful, um, even just committee meetings are just helpful to keep tabs on the academic pulse of where the institution is going so that as students come in you have kind of a bigger picture of where they’re going and what they’re asking for because a lot of times they come in not really knowing what they need.  It’s the gentle assist of helping them discover what would be most helpful for them, because, you know, they’re young adults, they know…they think what they need and want, so it’s much more effective if they think they came up with the idea, or if they discover the resource rather than I just push things at them and say, “This will be helpful, this will be helpful; take this, take this.”  So, point of need is probably the biggest…um…the big effective tool for trying to meet them when they have a need.  That’s why it’s more effective to go into an English class right before they start a project, or um, human services, psychology, sociology classes, I talk to them specifically about the sociology or psychology resources instead of just a general “anything you want is here, just pick a database” kind of a thing.

EH: So you find that when they come in at a point of need, they absorb the information better?

KM: Yeah, they’re much more motivated to want to listen to what’s going on and to put into practice right away, versus “someday you might need this.”  Well, then they’ll come back and ask me when someday arrives, they’re not going to pay attention or try and retain anything, or any handout that I give them, or anything like that.  When it comes to the point of need, in the online environment, that’s where we’re meeting them, too, so that at the point of need they can get to a tutorial or a—what we used to call pathfinder—that would help them navigate to the stuff that’s gonna be most helpful, and at the same time have access to knowing there is a human that will also help them over the phone or through email, or if you’re here in person, to stop in.

EH: What has disappointed you most as an instructor and librarian?

KM: The lack of faculty use of our resources, because I feel like if the faculty valued and used our resources, well, if they used them, I think they would value them more.  Um, but if they were more familiar with our resources I think they would be a better advocate for our resources.  And that’s just human nature, you go with what’s tried and true, what you already know, so that’s the challenge, is to keep faculty apprised and aware and keep pointing out the added value that the library adds to their instruction without threatening them and making them feel like “I know your subject better than you do, here’s what you need.”  You know, that doesn’t fly well either, so just a partnering with faculty to help them be more aware of what’s available to them and also to their students, then they can pass that value on to their students, too.

EH: Do you think that’s somewhat universal or is that unique to your institution?

KM: No, I think that’s universal, I think that’s just human nature; we often don’t embrace change or newness and I think especially the rapid rate of change that has come in the last several years, in Information Science especially, um, what’s available, how it’s available, how you can get at it, how it’s indexed, how you can search, how you can pull up and compare, all those kinds of things, even with young faculty that have been to school fairly recently.  And it changes from environment to environment, depending on operating systems, and which databases are available.  So even if they had a great experience with their education experience in the past, even four or five years out, it’s all so different, so just to keep up with that change, I think, we’re just naturally resistant to that.  Or if we don’t see a really strong motivation to embrace what’s coming or to even be familiar with what’s coming—we take the path of least resistance, so we’ll tend to go back to what’s familiar and what we know, and what used to work for us, and then that’s what we expect of our students, too, which is fast becoming, I think, a bit of a crisis in education, where the students don’t want to learn the way that we are accustomed to teaching.  Fortunately I see splashes of that awareness, not just in library literature, but in educational literature, too.

EH: Conversely, what has most pleased you about being an instructor and librarian?

KM: Probably what has please me is the general feeling of collegiality, the willingness of the faculty and the academic dean or the provost to be accepting of the librarian in a faculty status position, to be pretty welcome in any committee meeting.  I’m able to insert myself into committees or meetings, without much resistance, you know, I’ve never had anybody say “well, you’re the librarian; what do you have to do with this,” or you know, “we don’t need any stinkin’ librarian here,” so the fact that they’re welcoming of that is helpful, like I said, to just keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, so that we can be aware and be making sure that what we do have and what we do here is something that is going to be helpful to the institution, to our students and to our faculty.

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