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A Blended Librarian Talks Information Literacy

Posted by Editor on August 3, 2010

By Jennifer Howard in The Wired CHE

It will surprise very few people to learn that having grown up in a computer age does not make today’s students automatically savvy consumers of electronic resources. “It’s almost like information overload—like there’s so much of it out there, they just tend to gravitate to what they’re comfortable with,” Mark McBride says of the students he works with at Buffalo State College of the State University of New York. “If they find a need for it, they don’t really evaluate it, they just start using it.”

Mr. McBride is a blended librarian at Buffalo State. “Blended librarian” sounds like some kind of power smoothie. It’s actually a fairly new model of academic librarianship that took root about five years ago. It combines traditional reference skills with hardware and software know-how and an interest in applying them to curriculum development and teaching. (Read more about the movement’s history and goals at the Blended Librarian Web site, which features the slogan “Blending Instructional Design, Technology, and Librarianship.”)

It’s a concept designed for a campus climate in which librarians are called on to do many things besides staff the reference desk. “What happens on a college campus is that our librarians are finding themselves exposed more. They’re not just inside libraries anymore,” Mr. McBride says. “Things happen very quickly in our profession, and we have to be able to adjust very quickly to it.”

That applies to librarians in the classroom, too. With Ken Fujiuchi, an emerging technology librarian, Mr. McBride teaches a course called Library 300. Its goal is not just to teach college students how and where to find information but how to weigh it—what counts as a reliable source and what doesn’t. Although it’s billed as an advanced course, Library 300 focuses on what are more and more recognized as the basics of 21st-century information literacy. The Chronicle asked Mr. McBride to lay out some of those basics.

“First you have to understand the nature of information,” he said. “You have to identify what you need and be able to understand why you need it, and at the same time, if you’ve located something, understand who created it and why they created it.”

Mr. McBride has noticed that many of his students consider school a process that may not be synonymous with education. “They always see that there’s a problem with—you hate to hear it—teachers,” he says. “They just think the instruction is a little too formalized. One student says he prefers to learn than sit in a classroom.”

So Library 300 runs more like a workshop than a sit-and-take-notes class. It doesn’t rely on real or virtual library tours but on flash drives loaded with portable applications. Students are introduced to Web apps, too, and how to use them. Part of Mr. McBride and Mr. Fujiuchi’s goal is to push students to think beyond the kinds of traditional software many are accustomed to using—although the instructors still encounter a number of students who haven’t logged much time on computers at all.

For their final projects, students do not write research papers. They form groups to research and put together multimedia presentations on a big social or global issue of their choice—climate change, health care, education. They learn about copyright and how to vet sources as well as how to use different apps to present research.

“In our class, we try to give them control and take ownership” of the process, Mr. McBride says. “If traditional schooling isn’t your cup of tea, tell us what you want to learn and we’ll get there.”

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