ILBP Exemplary Programs Interview with Dawn Knight and Malette Payne, Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College

Interview completed by Catherine Baldwin, Instruction Services Librarian, University of Pittsburgh; Christine Fena, Undergraduate Success Librarian, Stony Brook University; Maya Hobscheid, Instructional Design Librarian, Grand Valley State University; Krista Pegnetter, Instruction and Reference Librarian, King’s College; and Jaclyn Spraetz, Information Literacy Librarian, Miami University.

The ILBP Committee recognizes programs that embody best practices from the Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline. We interviewed Dawn Knight, Dean of Libraries, and Malette Payne, Emerging Technologies Librarian, at Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, whose program exemplifies Pedagogy and Assessment. 

Share some historical background on your program. How has it developed over time?

Early history of the library’s bibliographic instructional program tells that it mainly consisted of reference guidance for users at the information desk. Later, the instructional program moved to being an integral component of the University’s Freshman Seminar class, which was a required course for all Southern University students. As the student body and number of academic disciplines grew, so did the library’s instructional program. Instructional duties were included in advertisements when there was a need to fill librarian positions. In 2016, the need was recognized to improve library instruction at the institution. A grant was received to incentivize librarians to receive instructional training and a librarian was designated as coordinator of library instruction. With the increase of instructional duties, the use of grant funds supported several librarians with additional compensation and they were designated as Teaching and Learning Librarians to develop student-centered learning objectives, program objectives, and interactive information literacy instructional tools. Guides, tutorials, and brief online instructional sessions were developed based on the needs of students, learning outcomes, and university curricula.  Now, information literacy is integrated in the University’s Student Success Program, English composition courses, and academic departments research courses using various modes of instruction. While still maintaining the historical reference desk individual instructional sessions, classes are available online, in-person, and accommodate small and large group instruction. The University does not have a required credit bearing course. Librarians’ collaborative and outreach efforts with faculty and the University College are helping to forge a more diverse and meaningful instructional program. With limitations of time and staff, strategies utilize technology more for one-shot instructional sessions and provide learning activities outside of the normal 45 or 90-minute classroom experience, in coordination with the course’s instructor. This format is based on a flipped classroom model and allows for targeted active learning. The expertise of librarians and faculty, along with student feedback are used to improve information literacy instruction at Southern University.

How is information literacy integrated throughout your institution’s curriculum?

Information Literacy is integrated into Southern University’s curriculum under the Subject Liaison Model. Subject liaisons work with campus departments offering specialized library services, such as collection development, information literacy instruction, research services, and scholarly communication, to support students and faculty information needs. This model also allows liaisons to forge deeper connections with academic departments. Additionally, liaisons collaborate with faculty in introducing information literacy and research skills into the curriculum through face-to-face instruction or virtually through embedded library instruction. Moreover, subject liaisons are given a unique opportunity to apply knowledge of the discipline and its pedagogical approaches by implementing research methods. Multiple assessment methods have been adapted to identify gaps between what users are trying to accomplish and find ways to address the barriers that enrich student learning.

How do you use the ACRL Framework and/or other information literacy best practices to leverage the importance of information literacy in student learning?

The Southern University Library has incorporated the ACRL Framework into the planning and implementation of the information literacy instructional program. ACRL Information Competency Standards continue to be used as a benchmark to measure student learning objectives. Implementation strategies, focused on empowering students and faculty collaborations, are used to assess student learning from various outlets, i.e., information literacy instruction sessions, virtual tutorials, course handouts, one-on-one student and faculty consultations, and reference desk interactions. Technology has also made information readily accessible to the user and has increased student learning from various learning platforms. Student-centered learning platforms include Instruct InfoLit Modules, LibGuides, LibWizard, LibAnswers, the library’s website, and the University’s Learning Management System Moodle. Methods for measuring student learning in support of the institution’s mission are derived from active learning exercises engaging students with hands-on instruction through videos and tutorials. Student feedback is then captured from quizzes, questions, and answer choices. These various methods create leverage in promoting the importance of information literacy in students learning by Librarians at Southern University.

What about your program’s development has most surprised you?

I would say the readiness of the human, technological, and information literacy resources to continue with instruction at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic forced move to totally online instruction. One student noted, “our library was there for us on day one when the pandemic started,” in a recent focus group about information literacy instruction and its impact on STEM students. The student was a Southern University engineering major. I would agree with his statement because tools and resources to continue implementation of information literacy strategies were not lacking and actually highlighted the instructional program with campus administration, faculty, and students during this very disturbing time in society’s history. While I was not surprised at the library’s ability to continue the work in this area, the response from stakeholders and users was appreciative, yet somewhat startling. I felt like they should have known that this was normal operations for us. We have been online. However, the reactions presented opportunities for our team to find new ways of promoting and advocating for instructional services and resources offered by the library.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your program?

With the sudden switch to remote learning due to COVID-19, our Information Literacy Program experienced opportunities and challenges during the early onset of the pandemic. The library optimized electronic resources, technology, and subject librarians to provide seamless, uninterrupted services to faculty and students. Southern University Librarians infused capacity-building technological innovations to improve the current level of information literacy services. Technological innovations included the creation of a landing page that highlighted the library’s electronic resources, self-paced virtual tutorials, and electronic course subject guides. In addition, information literacy instruction shifted to virtual information literacy instruction services available through online teaching platforms, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. “Ask a Librarian” services were expanded to include text, email, phone, and virtual one-on-one consultations. Librarians were able to assess student learning through surveys to measure the effectiveness of virtual information literacy instruction. Access to technology presented a challenge for many students during the pandemic. To overcome the accessibility challenges of students, the library offered circulating laptops. This service allowed students and faculty members to check and use laptops while working remotely.

What excites you most about the future of your program?

The opportunities for growth in the areas of assessment and collaboration are both stimulating and motivating. Realizing the institution serves a number of students who enter underprepared brings challenges that impact retention and graduation. Our nursing library liaison in collaboration with nursing faculty is using assessment models to improve critical thinking and analysis skills for students that will support learning throughout their matriculation. Assessments from information literacy instructional activities and developing inclusive strategies are an important part of the work to enhance student learning. Our goal is to support students from admission to graduation with information skills that will impact their lives forever. 

What advice can you provide for other programs that are looking to develop in those areas?

I recommend reading the vast amount of information available in the literature and couching the planning, strategies, and implementation in the ACRL Framework. Most importantly is knowing what works for your users. To know and understand the targeted audience, there must be collaboration with faculty, development for instructional librarians, and inclusion of qualitative and quantitative assessment and evaluative tools. Southern University and A&M College is an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Our students are diverse, therefore our instructional design methods must empower users to navigate and progress in this information and knowledge world. Of course, it always helps to have librarians with a passion for the work.