Presenting ACRL MD’s Instruction Observation Network

As academic librarians, many of us enjoy interacting with students and faculty on a regular basis, and frequently this interaction occurs in the classroom, where librarians teach key information literacy skills to students of all ages and levels. This is an important part of our role. The feeling of satisfaction at the end of a session where you can tell the students “got it” can be the best part of the day.

But all too often, we have no formal background in teaching, and many of us develop our instruction sessions by modeling them on what we’ve seen others do, or by presenting a “how to” of the skills needed to complete basic research tasks. This is certainly a good start – but what happens when you’ve looked at everything that’s being done by at your own library, and you still want more? What if you’re a library school student applying for reference and instruction positions, but you have no real idea what happens in a library classroom? (I know I didn’t!) What if you can tell that what you’re doing just isn’t resonating and you need to develop a fresh approach?

This is where observing librarians at different institutions comes in. The opportunity to sit in the back of the classroom and watch someone employ a teaching method you’ve never used, or listen to their succinct explanation of the key concept you always trip over, can be invaluable. But how to facilitate this?

That’s where ACRL MD’s new Instruction Observation Network can help! At the suggestion of University of Baltimore librarian Peter Ramsey, we are collecting contact information from librarians who are willing to have others come into their classroom to observe their teaching. We’ll then make that information available online so that Maryland librarians who want to see what others are doing have a pool of willing librarian instructors to draw from.

The Instruction Observation network is open to librarians of all levels – from library school students through seasoned veterans. Maybe you’re new to library instruction and would like to observe some classes to see how it’s done – or you’d like to have someone observe you and offer suggestions. Perhaps you’ve been doing this for a while, but want to change things up and investigate new techniques and teaching methods. Or maybe you feel like your instruction sessions aren’t going as well as they could, and you’d like some feedback from a colleague outside of your library.

For now, we’re running this as a one- or two-semester pilot test. At the end of the fall semester, a representative from ACRL MD will reach out to all of the instructor volunteers to gather feedback and ideas, and see whether or not you are willing to continue participating. Then we’ll figure out if we want to continue the pilot into the spring, and what, if any, changes we should make.

If you are willing to have someone come into your classroom to observe your teaching, please sign up here to let us know what types of classes you typically teach, and if there are any special techniques or technologies you sometimes employ. The information collected will be shared publicly on ACRL MD’s blog and via other outlets. Librarians interested in observing a class with you will contact you directly to identify an appropriate session to attend. (All participants should note that instructor volunteers are under no obligation to honor every request received through the network.)

If you want to observe someone, sit tight! Once we have a few volunteer instructors, we will post the list online and make an announcement. We are hoping to be able to do this in about a week.

If you have questions or comments, please let us know! ACRL MD Past President Alison Cody is currently acting as coordinator. You can reach her at or (202) 336-5725.

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