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Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Librarians’ Experiences of the Teaching Role: Grounded in Campus Relationships June 5, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events, events@UBC.
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Heidi Julien, University of Alberta; Jen Pecoskie, University of Western Ontario

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

Notes on the presentation:

Symbolic interactionism — roles and identities evolve through social interaction. Based on the work of George Herbert Mead.

Role theory — individual conduct is associated with a specific position or set of circumstances. Concept from sociology.

Complex, asymmetrical relationships between instructional librarians and teaching faculty at academic institutions. Relevant variables: gender; traditional campus hierarchies and cultures; campus roles as ‘scholars’ or ‘service providers’. Most librarians are female, most academics are male (in Canada the latter ratio is about 2:1).

The social relationships that exist outside of campus get replicated on campus. The campus is a very traditional, hierarchical place, regardless of the rhetoric.

Themes include:

Dependence/subservience — librarians position themselves as unequals and cede power to teaching faculty. They expressed gratitude for the ‘gift’ of time with students ‘given’ by faculty to come in and work w/students. ‘Deference discourse’ embedded in the interactions between librarians and faculty.

Ceremonial rule — ‘conventionalized means of communication by which the individual expresses his character or conveys his appreciation of the other participants in the situation’ (Goffman, 1967). Linguistic acts, such as ‘praise or depreciation’ of other participants.

Qualifying talk — ‘really sort of, not co-teach, but it is a collaboration’. Qualifying talk is more common among female participants. Other qualifying language used by (both male and female) interviewees: ‘pretty much’, ‘kind of’, etc.

Deference behaviour — ‘honorific and politely toned, conveying appreciation’ (Goffman, p. 60)

Difficult relationships — some unequal power relationships verge on exploitation by teaching faculty, supported by both institutional culture and librarians’ self-positioning (defeated, passive, dependent). Describe themselves as being ‘used’ by faculty, ‘at the mercy’ of faculty, having to ‘earn’ their time in the classroom, faculty ‘allowing’ them into the classroom, feeling ‘marginalized’ or like ‘substitute teachers’ or ‘babysitters’.

Role uncertainty — ‘we don’t have the status of, we don’t have the right to be teachers’ … ‘all your efforts about teaching are kind of done in a funny kind of vacuum and you’re always wondering if it’s valid …’ Another said, ‘I’m not great at going to the department and saying “you need me!” when I’m not sure they do. They lack confidence about their instructional work and how to broach those roles.

Positive aspects — One librarian said there is a change from ‘the servant to the colleague’. Another said some faculty respect librarians and it might be related to gender (both the faculty she had good relations with female professors of CS and math). She credited this to ‘luck’, which can be considered a qualifier as well even in these exceptions to the deference trend.

‘Success’ as an academic librarian is sometimes defined as ‘successful faculty relations’ rather than in terms of learning outcomes for students. The relationship remains fraught and this probably should be included in

Question from the audience (mine): Is there a role for technology expertise in defining librarians as higher status staff members in the eyes of faculty, especially those with less technology expertise?

Answer: Librarians’ technological expertise is not respected or understood outside of the library walls (haven’t talked to faculty though, so we don’t really know about whether it’s having an impact).

Question from the audience: Does it make a difference if information literacy courses are offered for credit? When I taught in Saudi Arabia it was like North America, but where I taught in Singapore, information literacy courses were for credit.

Answer: That’s very utopian. Certainly I would think that would make a difference.

Question from the audience: What is the role of the institution itself, how administrations view their own librarians, in the way faculty perceive librarians? You might look at mission statements, or discussions in interviews, which might contain self fulfilling prophecies like, ‘you’re lucky to get into a class’. This kind of thinking is deep in the system, so it’s hard to get rid of.

Answer (from Heidi Julien): It does. Some of my previous work has looked at those kinds of things.

Answer (from Jen Pecoskie): Some of these attitudes are self fulfilling prophecies.

Question from the audience: Is it an institutional problem? Are there certain institutions where librarians are more respected than others?

Answer: It’s quite broadly based. I’ve been getting this kind of data for over a decade … not all the negative comments came out of University of XYZ

Question from the audience: Are there any commonalities in the exceptions?

Answer: Not that we’ve determined. Now we’re going to rush off and start analyzing them!

Question from the audience: Is there any relationship to the universities w/LIS faculty, are the LIS faculty any better or different in the way they relate to librarians?

Answer: Not that we noticed. We weren’t looking at that particularly, though.

Question from the audience (mine): Does being close to faculty, physically, by being in an office in liaison faculties make a difference? There seems to be a trend toward doing this.

Comment from the audience: One librarian I’m familiar with has a very close relationship to her faculty, while she doesn’t have shared space, she does sit in on curriculum meetings and faculty meetings.

Answer: It isn’t happening enough yet for us to really be able to tell whether it will make a difference.

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