Strategic Plan in Action: Forming an instructional community

by Ellysa Stern Cahoy, Education and Behavioral Sciences Library, Strategic Action Plan Blogging Team

The University Libraries have a unique instructional advantage — a breadth of instruction librarians situated across all twenty-four Penn State campuses and the World Campus. In sheer numbers, we are very lucky to have our own substantial academic library teaching cohort. Few academic librarians have this dynamic college of instructors in their own institution. This dispersed and significant instructional community mandates a strategic approach to our
engaged pedagogy. In our current Libraries Strategic Plan, we have committed to the goal of “Expand(ing) our role as a partner in online and resident education to support engaged, critical, and informed learners,” with the objective to “support excellence in teaching through professional development for library instructors.”

Our size and breadth dictate an approach that builds community among all of our librarians with an instructional focus. In “Library Instructor Development and Cultivating a Community of Practice,” Malia Willey describes the need for a faculty collaborative focused on instructional work in an academic library. Willey identifies the following challenges for academic instruction librarians:  a (still) developing identity for the academic librarian as teaching partner; a continuing (although improving) lack of pedagogical teacher training in LIS programs; and a host of on-campus demands, including challenges with faculty buy-in for information literacy
instruction and curricular reform, and a distinct possibility of building stress and burnout due to the continued advocacy expectations placed on instruction coordinators and librarians. She describes a community of practice as an antidote to these issues, providing a network of colleagues to facilitate instructional professional development, engage in problem-solving, and organize strategic instructional efforts across the organization.

In the Libraries, we have taken on this challenge with several approaches: an Instructional Community of Practice and a Libraries-wide Instruction Steering Committee. These groups allow us to informally, formally and strategically pursue and build upon pedagogical initiatives across all Penn State campuses. Our Instructional Community of Practice was initiated by
Anne Behler in 2013 with the following identified goals:

  • Continued informal instructional discussions
  • Peer-to-peer mentoring/observation of instruction
  • Larger professional development opportunities (speakers, workshops, etc.)
  • Communication – liaisons to liaisons, instructional needs, etc.

Over four years later, we have a robust Instructional Community of Practice (COP) connecting our librarians in support of our students and users diverse learning needs, and an Instruction Steering Committee working in collaboration with Library Learning Services to direct a robust professional development program for instruction librarians. Monthly discussions on a variety of teaching topics occur regularly, communication among instruction librarians has been facilitated through a variety of outlets, including a common listserv, and there have been multiple large professional development opportunities for Penn State instruction librarians, including a 2016 regional Immersion program facilitated by Immersion faculty members Craig
Gibson, Lisa Hinchliffe and Karen Nicholson.

The COP continued this conversation on May 9 with the first Community of Practice Instruction Showcase. This day-long event focused on pedagogy and sharing new ideas relevant to teaching and learning for our users. Whether you are a newer librarian or a seasoned teacher, our instructional community now has many opportunities to involve and embed yourself as a pedagogical practitioner. These efforts foster our strategic role as a teaching partner
and lay a path for even greater and broader curricular impact in the future.