[Series] Experiencing LIS – Information Literacy & Instruction

Carolyn Caffrey is in her last semester of the MLS program at Indiana University Bloomington. Originally from Southern California she relocated to the land of corn where she works in instruction and reference. She is an aspiring instruction librarian, who loves roller derby, office supplies, spring, and critical information literacy. You can find her on twitter (@cmcaffre) or at her blog.

Following up our recent editing-team post about Internships, here’s another way to get experience while in school. Carolyn has written a thoughtful post with great specifics for those interested in information literacy and instruction. Comments and other tips are welcome!


As LIS students we’ve heard over and over again how important it is to gain experience to get that job when we graduate. Information literacy and library instruction experience can be a tricky thing to gain in library school. Like any other interest it just takes some creativity and a lot of motivation.

This is the dream, get yourself a paid position:

-Check out your library’s department in charge of instruction, this may be reference, public services, or their very own teaching & learning department. Not all libraries allow LIS students to fill these positions but chatting with the librarians about the type of experience you would like to gain and what you can offer never hurts.

-If you can’t find a position teaching information literacy in the one-shot or course integrated model, look for ways to highlight other information literacy moments. While working at the reference desk you engage in one-to-one teaching moments. Thinking about a reference transaction as a library educator might change how you answer questions. Also, if you engage in e-mail or IM transactions, consider spicing up your instruction moment with screencasts such as the free software, Jing. Plan on how you can articulate these moments to a future employer in order to highlight your involvement with information literacy every day.

Observe library instruction in action and volunteer:

-Can you sit in on a one-shot library session? Perhaps the librarian would be up to co-teaching a session, or even letting you teach a session all on your own with their guidance.

-Don’t neglect distance education students. Is there a way you can help maintain online learning objects or test out new tutorials?

-Katie Westlake recently posted about her volunteering experience and many commentators recommend volunteering as a way to gain real world skills. If there aren’t opportunities in an academic library, think outside the academia box. Maybe you can work with the public library on their literacy initiatives or technology fluency?

Network and attend professional conferences:

-Professional librarians love to see students involved, and many are willing to mentor and support you along the way. Conference activity has been my favorite mode of involvement. LOEX is a conference dedicated solely to information literacy. Considering doing a poster presentation, since it’s relatively small it’s a great one to get your feet wet.

-Can’t physically attend a conference? Consider virtual attendance! ACRL is coming up and student virtual registration includes presentation slidecast access for a whole year. Lots of those sessions are devoted to information literacy in theory and practice.

-Be involved on twitter, blogs, and listservs. I get most of my information from twitter and blogs, but I do love the ACRL Il-I listserve

Finally, stay informed and learn on your own:

-Take any instruction courses your LIS program offers. Also branch outside of LIS to your school’s education department. My school offers a graduate course through the School of Education on “Teaching & Learning on the College Campus”. Many future instruction librarians have audited this course.

-Read the literature in LIS and Education. Librarians have a lot to learn from other educators. My top picks: Educause Review & Chronicle of Higher Ed

-Don’t forget about those technology skills. Brush up on how to make online instruction objects, LibGuides, and Course Management Software. Edutools.org and Lynda.com are my go to.

4 replies

  1. Getting instruction experience is crucial for those looking into academic librarianship. Getting the experience in school is tough, in my opinion, unless you happen to already be employed at a library teaching info literacy. Through my mentorship, I have been able to observe these sessions but there’s a bit difference in observing and actually doing.

    The subject liaison librarians at my school all develop relationships with their departments, so it’s not likely that MLIS students are going to get experience with teach info lit. courses here. I guess it depends on the school and the library. I have asked several faculty members as to how I can get this experience and the answer seems to be getting an internship that has bibliographic or information literacy as part of the duties.


    • You are definitely right! The environment definitely varies from school to school. We have a pretty active (paid, though minimally) program here for library science students to teach and thus many of the librarians are happy to have students volunteer. Even if your library doesn’t want to let you in on information literacy one shots, do they hold any technical workshops (we have some endnote workshops where librarians always love a class assistant)? I’m focused on academic libraries but I’m sure there is an equivalent in public libraries.

      I think observing sessions can still be really useful, especially if you can ask the librarian questions like “how did you plan this session?” “what were your learning outcomes?” “how often do you communicate with the instructor?” and “how do you assess your sessions?”

      Even you can’t hands-on teach a library instruction class, you can definitely still be in the know and learning about instruction. When it comes time to interview you can explain what you’ve been doing. I just signed up for (and heard about) ALA online courses. I’ll be taking one through ACRL at the beginning of summer on designing online learning objects. How cool is that? And it’s something that will help me later on in my job. The student price of $60 for 3 weeks is so much less than a workshop (with out of state tutiont) at IU it makes me want to cry inside, but it means it’s completely affordable.

      (side note: since I wrote this ACRL has already happened, but I think you can still register and watch all the slidecasts)


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