Community Collaborations: Librarians Teach High School Students

June 29, 2014
Eliot Finkelstein demonstrates a sample search
Eliot Finkelstein demonstrates a sample search

Over the last academic year, instruction librarians have taught information literacy classes to over 500 high school students from the state of Wisconsin. At the core of these instruction sessions is a passion for teaching, and of course, The Wisconsin Idea.

The Wisconsin Idea, a key component of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mission since its inception in 1905, highlights the importance of sharing the value of education beyond the walls of the university into our local, national, and international communities. Although this is no easy task, the Libraries exemplify these values in numerous spaces and communities, year-round.

How do librarians connect with our communities? It turns out it takes time, commitment, coordination, and possibly some elbow grease. Eliot Finkelstein, Instruction Coordinator at College Library, is one of several librarians who leads and assists to develop such partnerships. Over the past year Finkelstein has worked with numerous curricular and co-curricular high school groups, including the TOPS Boys & Girls Club, College Access Program, Memorial High School, Middleton High School, and Mt. Horeb High School, among others, to provide information literacy instruction sessions. Other libraries, including Memorial and Steenbock, also work closely with students on specific subject areas.

Eliot Finkelstein answers student questions

The partnerships are based on the need and value that teachers, high school librarians, and academic librarians foresee to prepare students for college-level research. Today, universities expect students to be prepared to conduct original research and synthesize information effectively as soon as they arrive on campus. But many high school students who enroll at UW-Madison test out of the University’s Communication A requirement course, which includes a mandated college-level information literacy instruction module taught by UW-Madison librarians.

To be as effective as possible, instruction librarians develop and coordinate sessions that are relevant to student coursework and projects. Finkelstein mentions that “balancing the skill sets needed for college-level research and the skill sets high school students are equipped with is always a welcome challenge…it’s important to meet students where they are intellectually as well as where they are in their current coursework.” Instruction sessions take place year-round, including during the summer. Numerous co-curricular groups, including the TOPS program, meet for extended summer sessions, and use the library instruction session to explore the libraries and other aspects of campus life.

Miguel Ruiz teaching at College Library
Miguel Ruiz teaching at College Library

Librarians from a number of campus spaces collaborate with instructors, school librarians, and teachers to create an effective teaching experience. On several occasions librarians first visit the respective high schools to prepare students for their on-campus sessions held at one of the Libraries’ instruction classrooms. Finkelstein indicates that “collaboration and advocacy are key components to creating successful and engaging experiences for the students.”

Commitment, timing, and coordination. Add value and advocacy. Successful collaborations do not come without a fair share of challenges. Finkelstein notes many factors affect the success of both partnerships and instruction experiences. Along with striking a balance between student skill sets and expectations, librarians must balance the needs of the campus community. University instruction sessions and other library responsibilities take precedent and must be coordinated and balanced with the needs and timing of high school students’ research and projects.

Partnerships must also be maintained, developed, and adjusted based on the dynamic nature of education and technology. All of this requires time, effort, and advocacy at all levels, from students to administrators. Along with these considerations, developing assignments, a key component to a valuable research experience, requires a synthesis of meeting evolving student needs and maintaining effective learning outcomes.

And all of this is done superbly by the Libraries’ Instruction teams and community collaborators! With immense challenges come great rewards. Finkelstein mentions the high level of engagement and enthusiasm that students arrive and leave with. “Many students feel like a kid in a candy store while on campus. It’s great to hear all their questions and discover what works well, how we can improve our instruction, and also identify what students find most challenging about library research. Big college libraries can seem scary, so it’s important for students to recognize that librarians are approachable and that our job really is to help them become successful, life-long researchers.”

Miguel Ruiz with TOPS program coordinators
Miguel Ruiz with TOPS program coordinators

During the June instruction session with the TOPS program at College Library, many students showed signs of excitement and awe when they discovered the books they found in the library catalog were actually located on a shelf for them to look at. It seems as though millennials really appreciate print resources as well!

Finkelstein indicates that some of his most memorable instruction moments include “students stopping by the reference desk years later as UW-Madison undergraduates and telling him how helpful and useful their high school instruction session was for their current assignments.”

Now that’s the Wisconsin Idea.

Library instruction sessions are coordinated through the UW-Madison LILI Program. If interested, please contact the LILI Program to arrange a library instruction session.