2019 Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award: Megan Oakleaf

Megan Oakleaf is the 2019 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award. Megan accepted this award at the ACRL Annual Conference on April 11, 2019. The 2018/2019 Awards Committee would like to share her acceptance speech as a means of honoring Megan for her many accomplishments, and to continue to inspire instruction librarians to engage in this community, critically reflect on our role as instruction librarians, and continue to assess our teaching.

Many thanks to ACRL Instruction Section for this award, and for your kind words Merinda! I’m so honored to receive this award and share this moment with Sharon, and I too want to acknowledge many of the other Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award winners who I have had the pleasure to connect with and who have had such a lasting impact on my career, both in practice and research, including: Mary MacDonald, Lisa Hinchliffe, Esther Grassian, Beth Woodard, Craig Gibson, Randy Hensley, and of course my professional heroes: Betsy Wilson, Patty Iannuzzi, and Deb Gilchrist. I’m so grateful to be in their company and to belong to a profession that values this work—the “instruction librarian” work so many of us do, oftentimes from our first days as a librarian and sometimes right through to retirement.

I don’t know whether the teaching role of librarians has always had primacy among the many roles a librarian undertakes. I do know that the teaching role of librarians has never been more important than it is now. Indeed, in this place and time, those who teach and those who provide information—and more importantly, provide a means of engaging with information in useful, meaningful, and ethical ways—those are the people, we are the people, who endeavor to develop in learners what someone recently described to me as “intellectual health.”

This “intellectual health” resides both in our heads, where we identify information needs, seek out ways of filling those gaps, and determine whether the information we’re consuming is worth our time and our trust, and it also resides our hearts, where we learn to process information in a different way, look for deeper meaning, seek personal connections, and empower a desire to be compassionate in our dealings, prompting us to ask ourselves:

  • Does our use of information help us attain our goals in positive ways?
  • Does it help others?
  • Does it help us all work toward the greater good?

In other words, are our information practices healthy for our minds and our spirits and for those of the people we share the world with? This work that we do to help learners pursue intellectual health—this work of using our teaching skills to enable the use of information in service of healthy heads and hearts—this is challenging, important, and essential work.

That’s one of the reasons why I value this community so much. I’ve been a teacher all my adult life, and I’ve been a librarian for two decades. And I deeply believe that our work as instruction librarians is essential, within our libraries, across the academy, and throughout society. Our work is core to helping students build lives of the mind in line with their hearts.

And because this work is so core, essential, and consequential—because it matters so much that we get it right—it is imperative that we question ourselves. We need to continuously inquire about whether we are doing things right, whether we are doing the right things, and whether the lens we use to decide what’s right is really, well, right. That introspection, that reflection, that listening to ourselves, our students, and each other is foundational for being responsible practitioners of this most important work.

There’s a word for that kind of inquiry, reflection, introspection, lens-checking, and listening. You knew this was coming, right? That word is assessment. Assessment, as a word, is kind of crummy. First of all, it doesn’t start well. But as a concept? As a concept, it’s central to the work we do.

You cannot teach well if you do not assess.

That sounds dramatic, I suppose, but can you teach well if you don’t reflect on your teaching? Critically inspect your past practice and question whether it could be better? Check your lens to see if somehow it slipped out of focus and needs recalibrated to center your teaching on what grounds and what inspires student learning? Can you teach well if you know nothing about your learners? Can you teach well if you’ve fallen out of touch with the contexts they live in and contend with? Can you teach well, if you’re not listening to them? Really listening?

No, of course you can’t. And so you don’t. Rather, you teach AND you assess.

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve been so inspired by this community, and its ever-growing commitment to assessment, admittedly not always with that moniker. During my time in our profession, our community has committed:

  • to connecting with learners in order to assess the gap between what they know and what they need to know;
  • to assessing whether we’re teaching well or could be teaching better;
  • to gauging the degree to which students learn from their experiences with us;
  • to investigating the impact and, yes, value of teaching and learning in the library;
  • to listening to students and prioritizing their voices as co-creators of their own learning experiences; and, as is evidenced by many programs here in Cleveland,
  • to critically checking our lenses and being open to radical change.

This work—the work of the many instruction librarians in our community to support the intellectual health of students—is a source of constant motivation and inspiration to me, as I’m sure it is to you as well.

So thank you. Thank you for this award which means so much to me, and thank you for including me in this community. I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next!

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