23 June 2011

What to teach and when to say enough

While scrolling through my RSS this morning, I came across this article by Steven Bell. In it, Steven suggests that academic librarians welcome the opportunity to include financial literacy in our teaching. His argument is compelling and I applaud the idea that financial literacy is "the ultimate information challenge, and the consequences of the decisions can be life altering." Absolutely. Admittedly, I am still dealing with some poor decisions from college and directly after. I would love to help students learn to make sound decisions about the wide variety of financial information that is out there.

This topic converges with two things that are at the forefront of my mind: professional development and sustainability of information literacy programs.

The Teaching Librarians at Champlain are reading Char Booth's book "Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning" for our summer book (we read something together each summer). In the beginning of the book, Char talks about academic librarians' underpreparedness for a huge part of our jobs--teaching. If we are to take up Steven's call, how are we going to prepare ourselves for that teaching? Is this an opportunity to bring a new type of sponsor to ALA or ACRL? Will we see the likes of Citibank or TD Banknorth offering us bags and mugs with sessions about financial literacy? Or, are we going to take it upon ourselves to learn how to teach this vital literacy. As echoed earlier, financial decisions have lasting impact. Are we prepared to teach those skills, that literacy? Some of us might say yes because we are experts at evaluating and THAT is what they would share with students. Bravo, I say. But there is a lot wrapped up in taking something like this on. Do you have the time and the resources to prepare yourself and the other librarians to do this teaching? Do you know how to prepare yourself for it? I would urge us to think about this call as an opportunity for collaborations and new kind of professional development. It has potential to be wonderfully fruitful! But I don't think we should jump into teaching financial literacy without some help and training on our end too.

On to my second point: sustainability. We have had a number of visitors at Champlain lately. Some amazing librarians from Keene State came to talk about embedded information literacy. We then had the incredible Megan Oakleaf on campus to talk about the same and the value of academic libraries. As usual, I came away from these experiences with a long wish list. A list of ideas for our program, for the Teaching Librarians, for our faculty, for our students. As I sat in my office looking at these ideas, something truly eye opening dawned on me: it will never be enough. You could give me my own course to teach on IL (and I don't mean library skills...I mean, what I am calling, "real deal" IL). You could give me multiple visits to classes. You could give me a lecture series, student ambassadors, a marketing campaign, faculty toolkits, mentorships....give it all to me. And I will still want more. I will still think of things that I think we should think about with students. It will never be enough.

Are you laughing at me? Some of the more experienced librarians or managers might be because I imagine everyone comes to this realization at some point. I don't say this to deter you or myself from consistently reviewing our program, session content, or delivery strategies. Not at all. I say it to remind myself that some things will make it from my notebook to the design session and all the way to the classroom and even to assessment. And somethings won't. And that's ok. Financial literacy would be a terrific thing to add into my sessions. But where we are at Champlain, for something to come into a session, something has to come out, at least until we find a way into more sessions. And even then, it is never enough.

The best that I can do as a program manager is to work with my team to decide what are the skills and habits of mind that are essential. We move from there, knowing that we have more ideas to draw from when our students' needs change. There is something very grounding about that. And something inspiring and focusing about it as well.

What do you think about librarians taking on financial literacy?
Do you feel prepared to teach different literacies?
What training do you wish you had for teaching?
Are there ways to broaden our teaching strategies beyond sessions or classes for something like financial literacy?
Do you find something like "it will never be enough" disheartening or empowering?

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