Determining a path forward in a time of change

Image by Joe from Pixabay

I mentioned not too long ago that part of the reason I haven’t been publishing quite as much as I normally do in the past few months is because right now my institution generally and my library specifically are going through a time of change. It can be hard to know what to say about change while you’re still in the middle of it, especially when the exact plan for what change might look like keeps, well, changing.

One change that seems pretty certain at this point is a particularly tough one for me and the folks in my department. Basically, the credit-bearing information literacy courses that we teach are being discontinued. As of fall 2023, they will no longer be offered.(1)

Obviously, this is a huge bummer. Teaching those courses, which include a general information literacy course plus a few sections that are focused on specific subject areas, has been a significant part of our department’s identity within the library since long before I started working here as a grad student way back in 2009. For many of us in the department, the courses also represent an important part of our professional and scholarly activities. The prospect of losing them has left us all looking at each other, wondering what we do now.

As a first-time manager, dealing with this question on a department level has been the biggest challenge of my first six  or so months on the job and I’m sure it will continue to be so for a long time to come.  The good news is that though losing the courses has left a pretty big vacuum in our department’s work, we are still a department (at least so far) and it’s been left largely to us to decide our own path forward. To that end, we have a tentative plan in place but with so much constantly changing around us and (especially) above us, it’s hard to make progress. I feel a bit frozen to the spot.

So all of that is still a work in progress that I can’t necessarily speak to at the moment, at least not with any real confidence. But what I can speak to—or at least try—is my thoughts on what my own path forward might look like.

As I mentioned, a lot of my professional and scholarly identity was staked in this information literacy course. I mean, I published a whole book earlier this year that’s literally about how to teach information literacy and, though it covers many different kinds of teaching, used my course as a basis.

Losing the course is especially sad to me at this point because I had finally taken the leap and transformed the content and structure of the course so that it focused on my ideas about the contextual nature of research. There were definitely some bugs in this system that needed working out but I feel like the change was generally going well and I would have been interested to see how it developed further if the course had continued.

The good news is I’ll still be teaching, at least in some capacity. For better or for worse, there are always one-shot sessions, which I’m sure I’ll be doing more of moving forward. And there are other opportunities on our campus, like teaching our freshman seminar course as extra service. That can be a fun option because the instructor is allowed to create their own topic for the course, which allows for some creative uses of information literacy themes in a non-information literacy setting. So I can still be a teacher if I want to be.

But as these changes happen, I find myself asking a surprising question: do I still want to be a teacher?

I think the answer is yes but that the kind of teacher I want to be is starting to change. Working with undergraduates can be fun, especially when an idea that you’re trying to convey clicks into place or when they find surprising ways to relate to the material you’re sharing with them. But more and more I find myself interested less in teaching information literacy and more in teaching about teaching information literacy. Or at least supporting the information literacy teaching of others by sharing my ideas and experience.

I don’t know exactly how to go about this yet, though some ideas are built into the department-level plan I’m hoping to move forward with. But after 10+ years of teaching and writing about information literacy, I think I’ve developed enough expertise to have something to offer others in this area, perhaps as some sort of mentor or even in a consultant-type role. It’s something I would like to find a way to share with others in some way, shape, or form. And, of course, I hope to continue learning from them as well.

Of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that maintaining credibility in a role like this requires being a practitioner as well, lest your ideas and experiences start to become outdated and stale. Like I said, I’ll still be teaching no matter what but my course has always been my main laboratory for ideas. I’ll have to find another way of doing that, I guess.

I’ll also have to find another focus for my scholarship or change how I think about the ideas I study. In some ways, this was already happening anyway as I followed my interest in creative research. But in library scholarship, there’s always an expectation that the ideas you share have to have some sort of practical use and the practical uses that I’ve come up with have always been tied to the classroom. That was just always been the lens through which I viewed my work. Now that my teaching will be changing, I imagine this lens will have to change with it.

Of course, it’s hard to say exactly where things will go from here. But as much as this is the end of something, it’s also the beginning of something else and there’s something to be said for fresh starts—even ones you didn’t ask for or necessarily want. Changing the focus of what I do will be a challenge. But at least I still have a job. And a department. As I’ve been reminded more than once the last few months as all of this was playing out and will no doubt be reminded again, that’s something I should be grateful for.


(1) The reasons why are complicated but basically amount to questions about whether the course is sustainable given the shrinking number of librarians not only in our department but in the library as a whole. We’ve had to think about which functions are most essential and, unfortunately, these courses aren’t one of them. With that in mind, we’ve been asked to shift our focus to thinking of ways to make information literacy instruction more scalable so that we can reach a greater number of students with fewer librarians. It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask given the circumstances but that doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it.

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