I’m a huge of fan of library instruction. No, wait, take that back. I’m not a huge fan of library instruction; I actually think library instruction is kind of pointless. Case in point: Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student (not to mention employed!) I was in an elevator at the largest library on campus when two students got in holding worksheets. They were joking around about being on a scavenger hunt and I happened to notice that one of the instruction librarian’s names was on the sheet. They were doing something for a library instruction session. The library students in the elevator with me started to giggle when we all realized what they were doing. The two students looked confused so we told the students that we were librarians. As the doors opened, we wished the students good luck and one of them said, “I don’t need it. This is pointless because I’m a senior”.
That took me by surprise because what is a senior doing in a library instruction class? I could see if it was an advanced course that involved some research, but it was clear that this was a very easy instruction session aimed at new users to the library. I knew this because I participated in this same library scavenger hunt as a freshman in undergrad. So what was a senior doing in that session? And more importantly, what was he going to learn?
A lot of librarians think that instruction is pointless. The students don’t listen; they’re too busy playing on the computers. But I think that, when done well and correctly, instruction can be very beneficial. I’m a huge fan of teaching information literacy. I interpret that to mean teaching students how to search so no matter which database or catalog they end up in, they can find what they need. The key is learning how to search, not just where the books are or what databases are best for a particular type of assignment. My version of information literacy also teaches how to evaluate sources to determine their credibility. This is especially important when looking at web resources. But plain old library instruction? Teaching students about call numbers and where books are in the library? That’s what is pointless. In this day of fast access to peer-reviewed journal articles, students need to know about databases and other online reference tools. Students need to learn how to manipulate search engines to find exactly what they want and how to judge the validity of that source. They need to be able to critically think. Teaching about print sources is important, but there are very few students who are going hunting through the library for a book when they can find something else just as good online.
So in this librarian’s opinion, classic library instruction is outdated. But teaching students the mechanisms for search is a skill they can use throughout their education and throughout life.