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Transforming the One-Shot Library Session into Pedagogical Collaboration: Information Literacy and the English Composition Class

Heidi LM Jacobs and Dale Jacobs

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This article examines the programmatic and philosophical changes that resulted from a collaboration between a librarian and a composition and rhetoric professor. In particular, this article examines the ways in which a focus on research as a process arose from this ongoing dialogue and how the collaboration itself put two disciplines in conversation, thereby transforming thinking beyond this one relationship.

Mapping the Common Ground

It all began with a casual observation between an information literacy (IL) librarian and a professor of composition and rhetoric: research is as much a process as writing. Like effective writing, effective research does not happen in just one sitting but involves iterative processes such as revision, reworking, rethinking, and above all, reflection. Why is it, we wondered, that we incorporate these concepts into the teaching of writing in our composition courses but not into the teaching of research? This article examines two central questions that emerged over the months that followed that casual observation: first, what might a focus on research as a process contribute to the teaching of IL in English composition courses and second, what can be gained by a collaboration that not only puts into dialogue two practitioners in two different disciplines but also two bodies of scholarship and professional knowledge? Through this collaboration, each of us began to look at our individual work and disciplines in broader terms and consider larger questions related to student learning and learning communities on our campus. Further, it made us think about the nature of collaboration and the need for all parties involved to be able to contribute meaningfully to a common pedagogical goal.1

Those of us who work in the fields of IL and English composition would say that we are student-centered, that we are involved in pedagogical practices that enhance teaching and learning for the benefit of all students on campus. At the heart of both disciplines lies attention to student engagement in research and writing processes. However, when we focus only on our own disciplines, we miss opportunities to see the larger picture of student learning on campus and to learn from each other’s pedagogical practices and discussions. When we talk only to those who teach what we teach, we run the risk of mistaking our part for the whole or thinking about what we teach in isolation from other forms and forums of teaching and learning. Christy R. Stevens articulates such thoughts in terms of IL:

The [ACRL] standards acknowledge that neither librarians nor subject faculty are equipped to meet IL objectives on their own. . . . Creative collaborations that are responsive to the specificities of a given institution and its constituencies are, ultimately, what the document implicitly calls for, and they are precisely what instruction librarians should attempt to develop and deliver to their campus communities.”2

In other words, we should be asking ourselves about the diverse needs of our diverse student body. How does what we teach fit into those sets of needs? How might our teaching relate to other teaching on campus? What could we learn from the ways in which teaching and learning happen in other parts of campus?

As we—Heidi, an IL librarian, and Dale, a composition and rhetoric professor—began the collaboration that is detailed in this article, it became apparent that both of us had, each in our separate spheres, been asking these questions of ourselves. Further, we realized that by engaging in a sustained dialogue about teaching and learning with each other, we could not only better engage the immediate learning needs of students on campus, we could also enhance our own pedagogical theories and practices through exposure to new ideas and new questions. Of course, this view of collaboration is not new. Nor are the notable parallels between library and information science (LIS) and composition and rhetoric. Jeff Purdue, James Elmborg, and others have convincingly described the intellectual and conceptual parallels between the two fields.3 Purdue, a former composition teacher, has noted “any writing process is provisional, subject to constant change, and never neatly sequential. And, in fact, the research process is quite similar.”4 Elmborg has written astutely about the connections between IL and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs and argues that “one of WAC’s strengths, according to its practitioners, is that it has integrated a multitude of theoretical perspectives into a dynamic theory of writing. Many of these perspectives could be employed just as effectively to understand information literacy.”5 What remains to be discussed in greater detail is how collaborations between composition and rhetoric and IL might work both in theory and in practice. This article is not meant as a description of how such collaboration could be replicated elsewhere but is, instead, an attempt to show how one librarian and one professor collaborated on a shared pedagogical vision and to illustrate what emerged from a collaborative venture.

The challenges and potentials of librarian–faculty collaboration are well documented in LIS scholarship. For example, Ruth Ivey writes:

A review of the literature from the last decade identified many existing information literacy programs, as well as the key issues and barriers to developing effective programs and collaborative partnerships between librarians and academics. But it failed to find information about the roles of partners and the collaborative process of planning, delivering and evaluating learning programs.6

Further, as Claire McGuinness writes, “despite an ideological commitment to pedagogical innovation within the post-secondary sector, in many cases the inclusion of IL, both as a desired outcome, and as a tool of undergraduate education, remains an aspiration rather than a fully realized ideal.”7 She adds, “To date, the actual voices of faculty have been featured to only a marginal extent in LIS papers in general and in those dealing with IL in particular, which are written largely by librarians for librarians.’”8 This essay seeks to address the gaps described by Ivey and McGuinness and to provide two voices and two perspectives on how we might attempt to move IL from an aspiration to a “fully realized ideal.” We ask, what is possible in pedagogical collaboration? What does meaningful pedagogical collaboration between a librarian and a faculty member look like? In short, we examine the programmatic changes that resulted when a librarian and a professor engaged in creative and critical dialogues about composition and IL.

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