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Meet the TATIL Advisory Board: Joseph Aubele

Today we talk with Joseph Aubele, Librarian at California State University Long Beach in California. Joseph joined the TATIL Advisory Board in 2015 and has been instrumental in making the new test come to life. Learn how his approach to teaching has evolved from feeling like an imposter to handing over control to students. Read his perspective on using assessment results, the library patron as customer, and more!

Q: Please tell us about your job. What do you do? What do you like about your job?

Joseph: At the most basic level I am a reference and instructional librarian -- and almost anyone reading this will have some idea of what that entails. Beyond the obvious, as a tenure track librarian, I engage in research/writing. I also have an administrative assignment as Internship Coordinator for our library which has me meeting with graduate students who are interested in participating in our semester-long experience and then mentoring them once they’re here (and beyond!).

I spent many years in the private sector before coming to librarianship, working too many hours, doing work that -- while rewarding in its way -- lacked the intellectual stimulation that is so much a part of what I do know. So, while I hate it when others say this, I have to say that there is not any single part of my work that is absolutely my favorite. Instead, I enjoy each aspect -- assisting students and faculty, teaching, research, and contributing to the preparation of those who are joining our profession -- and the satisfaction I feel is actually greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: Why did you join the Advisory Board for the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy (TATIL)?

Joseph: A great deal of library assessment measures everything BUT information literacy, and that is understandable -- measuring a student’s ability to recognize when information is needed, or the ability to evaluate information, especially in the context of a one shot session, is daunting. The work that TATIL is doing enables educators of all stripes to assess where students are at when they arrive on campus and how far they progress during their time in college. Colleges and universities talk a lot about helping students become critical thinkers but the only regular assessments are the grades they earn in their classes. The assessments TATIL has developed focus on something much more fundamental to the individual, and being able to make a very small contribution to that effort is as exciting as it is rewarding.

Q: Please tell us about a project you are currently working on.

Joseph: Our library has participated in chat reference, in one form or another for some time (we have contributed to QuestionPoint coverage for as long as I have been here, now we do that as well as providing assistance via Springshare’s LibChat). And for as long as we have done so, the transcripts of those encounters have been an untapped source of information, about both those seeking assistance as well as those providing assistance. This past summer three colleagues and I began to examine chat transcripts, both for the nature of the questions/queries as well as the level of assistance that was provided in each encounter. More specifically, our reference philosophy is to treat each reference encounter, irrespective of the platform in which is occurs, as an instructional opportunity. One of the original research questions of our project was whether or not we (i.e., the librarians) were remaining true to that philosophy when encountering a chat patron, and which of the ACRL Frames are incorporated into our instruction. In other words, do librarians teach when chatting or do they emphasize expediency?  Further, are patrons -- especially those who are digitally native -- open to a longer encounter, i.e., willing to be taught?

We presented our initial findings at the meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Currently, one of my colleagues from that project and I are revising our coding manual and preparing to test that with other librarians (and graduate students) in the hopes of refining our qualitative examination of the transcripts.

Q: Do you teach? How has your approach to teaching changed since you started your career?

Joseph: I do teach, between 30-40 instructional sessions each semester, and my approach to instruction today is quite different from when I first began. As a new librarian I suffered from feelings of being an imposter and as a result I was very afraid of getting questions from students and/or faculty, particularly questions for which I did not have an answer! Because of that fear my sessions were highly structured with little organic instruction/learning built-in (or tolerated).

Over time I have done so much teaching (e.g., a couple of years ago I taught 140 information literacy sessions) that I have become more comfortable and more confident. Today, my sessions have almost no structure -- I ask students for suggestions on research topics, I spend less time as a “sage on the stage” and more time facilitating workshop style sessions in which students work in small groups, and/or on individual research topics/questions. Rather than fearing ambiguity, challenging questions and/or situations (e.g., technical issues) are treated as highlighting what can go wrong, and another reason for students to begin their searching sooner rather than later. Frankly, while I still get a little nervous for each instructional session (and would be nervous if I weren’t nervous), I personally enjoy the instructional moments much more now than I ever did as a new librarian. Giving more “control” over the sessions to the students has been absolutely liberating.

Q: How is your library approaching the Framework?

Joseph: My colleagues and I enjoy a high degree of autonomy as to our instructional methods and I must say that my adoption of the Framework has mostly been accidental. As I developed as an instructional librarian my vision was, initially, very narrow -- i.e., what do I want the students to be able to do once they leave this session? Any librarian who has done any instruction knows the basics (efficient and effective searching, refining results to those items likely to be most useful, evaluating potential sources, obtaining the full-text of the things s/he identifies as useful, proper citing of sources, etc., etc.). Helping students get to a place where they could do that on their own with minimal frustration was a practical goal and initially I did not consider any theoretical underpinnings. It was only after I began to make myself familiar with the Frames that I realized that much of what I focus on during instructional sessions is covered by them (e.g., searching as strategic exploration, information has value, scholarship as conversation).

Q: What types of information literacy assessment have you done?

Joseph: I have tried a few different types of assessment. Our library has a common assessment form, focusing on indirect assessment, that is available to us to use any time we wish. While I am glad to know that those attending an information literacy with me “feel more confident,” I am personally more interested to know whether they can do the type of searching we have covered during the session. As a result, I have partnered with teaching faculty to include graded assignments related to the instructional homework. Depending upon the session, students are asked to either formulate a search, identify an appropriate source for searching (e.g., a database), utilize strategic searching (i.e., keywords and synonyms, truncation), and obtain the full-text of potentially useful sources, or to do all of that and then engage in cited reference searching and bibliography searching. Thanks to my teaching faculty, I am able to score these homework assignments, and communicate directly with each student about their chosen topic. This allows me to intervene with students early in their searching process in the hopes that they will avoid the frustration of fruitless searching.

Also, a few years ago, while serving as the Criminal Justice librarian, because of my integration into the department, I was able to assess all the students who attended the mandatory library session that was part of their freshman writing class (i.e., one that was required by and taught in the department) and then reassess (with the same tool) the same students at the very beginning of their research methods library session (usually two or three semesters later). The goal was to measure retention of the basic information provided during that first library session. Finally, I have also used Kahoot! to gamify some of the assessment and I have used this to good effect as part of sessions that were less about searching and more about information ethics (i.e., citing and plagiarism).

Q: What role do non-library, classroom faculty at your institution have in promoting information literacy of students?

Joseph: I recently saw a video in which a university professor said two things that get to the very heart of information literacy. The first is the question “why?” This professor urged students to never stop asking why and insisting on evidence to support claims. The second point was that no learning can occur unless we are willing to entertain the idea that we are wrong about something we believe. The power of healthy, reasonable skepticism is vastly underrated and it is teaching faculty who are in the best position to inculcate students with the belief that asking questions and insisting on information that stands up to examination is important.

The American Library Association has defined information literacy as the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (Association of College & Research Libraries, Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, 2000). While librarians are vital for the locating information the time that teaching faculty have with their respective students is invaluable to fostering information literacy.

Q: Please tell us about a recent professional development activity that you found valuable. What was it and how was it valuable to you?

Joseph: In a previous professional life, customer experience was central to the work I did. Recently, I viewed/attended a webinar in which the presenter (Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked) spoke about creating triggers for customers that help to make a product more salient to customers. In my experience as a librarian many colleagues have looked askance when I have spoken of patrons as customers but this webinar reinforced for me that there is a lot we can do to improve patron experiences, both in-person and virtual, if we examine our interactions with patrons from a more commercial, customer service perspective.

Thank you, Joseph!