On the 27th of June on the newly developed DIT campus in Grangegorman, a range of librarians and colleagues from Higher Education came together to hear about and discuss L2L (Librarians learning to support learners learning); a two year project which plans to explore the application of the National professional development framework for all staff who teach in Higher Education to the work of teaching librarians.
This project promises to result in a framework which academic librarians can use to guide their own professional pedagogical development and tangible, demonstrable evidence of professional development (such as digital badges or awards). One of the major draws of the project (spear-headed by Dundalk Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Carlow, & Dublin Institute of Technology) is the proposed development of a vibrant and inclusive community of practice which can share the issues, challenges and best practices particular to the work of teaching librarians. Herein lies the real value of the project for me and other academic librarians who may work in small institutions and yearn for a network of like-minded practitioners with whom to share our successes and failures in the hope of improving and developing our praxis.
Funded by the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, the project also allows librarians working in Higher Education in Ireland to develop a shared language and currency with their academic colleagues which will hopefully promote a deeper understanding of the meaning and value of our work with the students and staff in our institutions: information literacy (and a range of other academic, digital, and meta-literacies) -concepts which can be difficult to articulate and to measure in practice.
The day began with a presentation by Roisín Donnelly (currently on a year’s secondment to the National Forum from the Dublin Institute of Technology, where she has worked for 17 years as an Academic Developer), who explained the background of the Framework and the project in general, as well as how professional development can transform roles and identities. She described forms of non-accredited professional development activities which many of us engage in regularly without any formal recognition. These activities include (but aren’t limited to) reflective practices such as the creation/maintenance of learning/teaching portfolios, blogs and journals.
Next up was Dr. Claire McGuinness, who helped to contextualise the project by giving an enlightening talk on the past, present and potential future of teaching librarians globally and in Ireland. She described research which explored the teaching aspects of the academic librarian role and identity with all of its complexities, uncertainties and cross-functionalities. The concept of information literacy is (as she said) ‘nebulous’ and has received a mixed reception outside of academic library circles. Some of the research she cited was familiar to me but much of it was not – and I left with notes packed with useful references.
Before lunch, Dr. Ashley O’Donoghue (Head of Staff Learning and Development at DIT) gave a short talk on the importance of professional development both for individuals and for knowledge organisations. She highlighted research which showed that training and development opportunities are a determining factor in the retention of highly-motivated employees (Boxall et al, 2003) – and also provide a major attraction for managers to draw new staff to their organisations. Frameworks such as those being developed to support the National PD Framework play a vital role in mapping clear career development and progression within key sectors in Higher Education.
After a generous lunch we were encouraged to participate in discussion on the Framework and the L2L project in a ‘World Café‘. Groups discussed questions such as ‘How do your libraries contribute to T&L in your organisation?’, ‘How do you see your role as a teacher?’, and ‘How do you think the L2L project might help you in your role?’ (paraphrased), with each group mapping their ideas onto large paper, hung around the room. Afterwards we had the chance to circle the room and write our feedback to each group poster with post-its.
The day wrapped up with a helpful Q&A session chaired by Dr. Mary Delaney (Head of Library and Information Services at IT Carlow) who answered questions from the floor regarding the other groups (apart from academic librarians) who were developing projects around the Framework, and what form the ‘communities of practice’ mentioned in the L2L leaflet might take. It’s hoped that there might be avenues of communication and collaboration between this new initiative and other interested parties such as the Library Association of Ireland which might help to provide pathways of sustainability into the future.
Overall the day was an extremely positive experience, with a good mix of discussion and explanation and the L2L project looks and sounds like it will be a very fruitful collaboration amongst academic librarians and between libraries and our colleagues in Higher Education which should promote dialogue around the role and identity of teaching librarians. Presentations from the day and updates about the project will be posted on http://www.teachingandlearning.ie/l2l-librarians-learning-support-learners-learning/. You can also follow developments on the project’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.