Agony Aunt: Keeping up to date with information resources

May 4, 2001

Q: I regularly send students off to the library but realise that I am probably out of date about what it has to offer. Any suggestions?

A: The first thing to do is to make contact with the subject-specialist librarian or whatever they are called in your institution. One university has called them faculty information consultants, which describes their role very well.

Ask for a session to bring you up to date with what is new in your subject area. These information resources may well turn out to be online or internet resources, so you may need to book a session to get some help using them.

It can be embarrassing to show your online ignorance, but the professional librarians can help you at times when you will not be exposed by sitting at a computer next to your students: during the university holidays perhaps.

After that, and to keep yourself up to date, you should consider some collaborative work with the specialist librarians. Get them to help you to design an introduction to information resources for your students and work with them on it so that you are learning as well as facilitating. It will need to be updated every year.

The specialist librarian would probably be interested in bringing information skills development into your curriculum, so you could design that together as well.

Also, there should be some way within your institution to enable the librarians to learn about curriculum development and assessment. Then they can take responsibility for assessing the students' information handling skills.

Although lecturers and their specialist librarians work with the same students, they seldom collaborate because they are deployed in different departments, have different professional qualifications, different roles and they are almost always based in different buildings.

Just as some lecturers are reluctant or unable to keep up with information resources, some specialist librarians resist being drawn into a teaching role because they do not see that as their responsibility. This is changing, and will have to change, as students increasingly spend a higher proportion of their time gathering information from sources other than from their lecturers.

If there is a teaching and learning strategy that includes elements of resource-based learning, then the specialist librarians should be involved in teaching that to the lecturers as part of their continuing professional development.

Librarians and lecturers have between them all that is needed to support and develop each other. They just have to get together and get on with it.

Richard Downing Information Management Consultant specialising in staff development for resource-based learning methods.

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