Successful Library Instruction

At the close of another instruction season for me, I have some observations.


I found that movement around the classroom made a huge difference in attention. Although it felt awkward at times, even showing a book or other item of interest behind the first few rows changed things up and kept the students off-balance enough to renew their focus.

Another technique I found effective was voice variation. I got more mileage out of emphasizing through whispers than I did through loud excitement. Of course it was the bellowing that made the whispers unusual.


What do you do when you hear, “I don’t like my topic” or the softer “I don’t really have a topic yet”? My first response is always, “What’s your major?” Freshman writing can be dangerous going down this road. If they are Undeclared, I move on to “What do you like to do?” Essentially, I try to get them to tell me what they are interested in, why they are in the major they are in, what they do in their spare time, etc. From there we talk about how their individual interests actually can connect with the assigned umbrella topic.

Once they have a topic that they are actually interested in, they need to find information and resources. Students really respond when they see how a tool applies to their research. Answering the “So…how is this supposed to help ME?” question in their eyes can do wonders. Sometimes a practice run through a database with a student’s real topic doesn’t go that well (0 hits). Taking the extra time running through ways of broadening search terms pays dividends. My favorite thing to do is open it up to the whole class. The more or the students who participate openly, the more other students can gain ideas and confidence from their peers.


One of the tools I love to introduce is the bibliography generator (in our case, RefWorks). I know that everyone gets an “ooh, aaah” out the of three-second Works Cited page but I like RefWorks because of its organization potential. I love helping students see how having links back to the item or at least a citation can help them speed up the initial source-finding process. Mark it and export so you can look at it later without having to re-search again.

One of the aspects of library instruction I find can be potentially frustrating is teaching how to use the library catalog. Since the OPAC is not as usable as Google, students can quickly become turned off by it. Helping them see that general terms are best in the OPAC and specific are best in subscription databases has increase the usefulness of the library and books in general. Monographs in the catalog have a lot more information than what their title and limited LCSH have to tell about them.


Finally, even though the instruction sessions are designed to be formal, finding a way to connect to each student is invaluable. Be personal; allow yourself to laugh with them. Show interest in what they are researching and why. This helps you connect faster when you go one-on-one with them during their personal practice time; now they will really accept your help when you approach them. If you honestly try to remember their topics and majors, or at least show that you tried (by guessing and failing) you will have another connection.

One of the funnest ways I have found to connect with the students is learning their names. 20 students names in only 1 to 2 hours (depending on your program)? Mission: possible. Be at the door when they come in and ask them. Then in the middle of instruction you can use the name when they raise their hand or if you call on them. If you forget, take a minute and try to remember. A good laugh comes quickly when students see an instructor struggling on a name–but it also adds credibility. All people, not just students, what to be treated as individuals.


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