Teaching Departmental Courses While Being A Librarian

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2009, Vol. 33, No. 1

For the past few years I have had a regular gig teaching Ecclesiastical Latin and Biblical Greek for my institution’s Religious Studies department. Because relatively few librarians teach full-term courses, readers of the Newsletter might be interested in how my teaching experience benefits my work in the library. The courses I teach mostly draw upper-division undergraduates and graduate students; the Latin course (or a reading exam also set by me) is a requirement for the department’s doctoral program. One obvious benefit is the opportunity to keep up my active command of the languages. It is also a wonderful opportunity to get to know graduate students and what research they are doing; many of them turn up in my office looking for bibliographic or linguistic help on their various projects. I have also taught ancient history, mythology, etc. for our History and Languages department. These are great for keeping in touch with the average undergraduate. They provide insight into student library needs from the other side. I get a much better perspective on term paper topics and what kind of resources we need to support general education courses (resources that don’t always show up among faculty requests!).

Aside from these classes, I currently co-teach undergraduate research methods courses for majors in philosophy and in international studies. These introduce students to discipline-specific resources and more sophisticated searching methods, such as citation searching in Web of Knowledge and Google Scholar. Students’ assignments include writing reviews and comparisons of resources as well as compiling annotated bibliographies (often for seminar papers or honors thesis research). Such teaching is another a great way to learn more about student research interests and needs. It also provides many opportunities to interact with faculty about student learning outcomes and how the library can contribute to these. The philosophy research methods course was recently the object of a very positive assessment by the department.

Other benefits of teaching include greater credibility as a “real” faculty member. For example, I was invited to serve on a gen. ed. curriculum revision committee in large part because I routinely teach regular courses. I have also been invited to serve on faculty search committees outside the library. Teaching has put me on departmental e-mail lists and generated numerous invitations to academic and social events in the departments, such as departmental colloquia, receptions for new faculty and grad students, and departmental Christmas parties. It has been a great way to get out of the library and interact with the faculty as an equal.

There are also some challenges. I have much less flexibility in my schedule. Many evenings go to class preparation and grading. And occasionally you have to dish out bad grades and explain why effort doesn’t necessarily equal an A. But the rewards far exceed these. You contribute to student learning in a much more direct way. And for those of us who work primarily in administration, classes often become an oasis of sanity, amid the budget and personnel issues, and provide a reminder of why we went to graduate school in the first place. I highly recommend teaching a course if you get the opportunity.

Fred W. Jenkins