Featured Teaching Librarian: Shari Laster

Several times a year, the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee selects and interviews a librarian who demonstrates a passion for teaching, innovation, and student learning. Nominate yourself or someone great!

Name: Shari LasterShari Laster

Institution: University of California, Santa Barbara

Job Title: Government Data & Information Librarian

Number of Years Teaching: ~8

Who’s your favorite fictional villain?
Jim Moriarty!!!

What is your favorite movie based on a book?
Howl’s Moving Castle — the book and movie differ notably in tone and theme, and I love them both.

Describe a favorite activity that you use with students (this could be for a face-to-face class, online, or hybrid class).
As a government information librarian, I want to create opportunities for students to engage with government resources. There’s some kind of aura or mystique to phrases like “according to a government report…” that makes these sources seem remote or inaccessible, or something only so-called experts can read. But, in most cases, that’s simply not true. Government documents, which are created with taxpayer funds, usually are (and should be!) freely available for anyone to read. While not all of them are page-turners, most are created with the general public in mind. One instructional approach I like to use is to start out with a news story about a topic of interest to my students. I ask them to first find a government document that’s referenced in the story and then explore and evaluate the publication as they would any other information source. This approach presents an opportunity for students to connect the information in the publication with the mission of the agency that produced it, which can spark discussions about government process and power and the role of an informed public in understanding and responding to government activity.

What is your favorite class to teach and why?
Anytime I get to teach a one-shot for a course in which students are working with primary sources, whether government information resources, archival materials, or data sets, I can count on having extra fun with the class. When students are working on projects they care about, many of them come to a library instruction session already primed with really thoughtful questions and interesting approaches to their topics. I also get the chance to show off some of my favorite databases and online tools, particularly for government and data sources. I find that discussing the research process with the students in the class can lead to great conversations about what libraries collect — and don’t collect — and why. As a bonus, I’m always happy when I can get someone else worked up about metadata!

What’s your teaching philosophy?
Above all: honesty with my students and with myself. I care about students and about what I’m teaching, and I try to demonstrate this through my words and actions. Sometimes this can mean expressing my enthusiasm and sense of humor, but sometimes it also means finding constructive ways to communicate concern and admit my own errors. I also strive to be as transparent as I can about the goals for each activity as we proceed through the session, though I still have to work hard at speaking less and listening more. I know my strengths as an instructor, and I also have a long list of ways in which I have room to improve. While I do feel vulnerable exposing myself as a person who’s constantly learning, changing, and adapting, I find that doing so helps me build connections with the students I’m working with. My intention is to model curiosity, openness, and self-reflectiveness, and to do so in a way that invites students to do the same if they wish.

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