Language

I’m a member of the California chapter of ACRL, CARL, but I’m not very active, mostly because I got involved with National first. I’ve really been impressed with Talitha Matlin‘s leadership. The Fall CARL Newsletter was just released, and her presidential message really hit home with me.

In the message, she asks:

What are some words or phrases you’ve been trying to change in your vocabulary?

As a large state with almost 400 institutes of higher education, we play a large role in shaping the discourse surrounding libraries and library work. I realize that some people may roll their eyes at the idea of spending so much time agonizing over language choice. However, using words that demonstrate confidence and do not diminish the important roles we play in our institutions is one step we can all take. We may not all arrive at the same words, but I hope we are all able to speak about our work in ways that feel authentic and affirming.

Her message left me with my mouth hanging open.

I have been doing this lately when it comes to my work as an instruction librarian. It really started with the day a well-meaning writing instructor commented, in reference to my handwriting, that I should have been a teacher as I was writing the URL to the class research guide and the learning outcomes! Ever since then, when someone says presentation, I offer lesson. I don’t correct people outright, but, rather, I use the adjusted language somewhere in my response. When accepting research instruction requests, I’ll write or say, “Let’s meet to discuss learning outcomes…” or “What learning outcomes would you like for me to design my lesson around? In looking at the assignment…[offer my two cents].”

Sometimes instructors also realize the inherent problem of calling research instruction “presentations” or “lectures” on their own. Recently, I was discussing a class with an instructor over the phone, and she hesitated using the word presentation.

Anytime I find myself wanting to write or say library instruction session, I revise it to research instruction or research lesson.

Now that I’m also more organized–and I admit that I mostly got my act together to prove a point–I have been sending a Google Doc with the lesson plan, titled as such, in advance. (It’s not that I didn’t have plans before; I just rarely shared them after getting in touch with instructors about their upcoming classes.) I don’t actually think folks take a look at my plans, but, if they do, it shows evidence that I plan for checks for understanding and learning activities. Even if things change up in the classroom, it shows that I have been thinking about how to teach both concepts and procedures in a way that maximizes the tiny amount of time I have with students.

Making these changes with language and involving the instructor into my process (it’s not always as collaborative as one might like) has helped my confidence. I am more honest about what can and can’t be done in a single lesson, and I’m a bit more bold in offering suggestions. It’s as though I believe that I’m a real educator now!

I haven’t implemented this yet, but, in September, there was a post on JoVE’s librarian blog called “How Librarians Can Really Explain What Their Jobs Are Like” that advises that when you are asked what you do for a living, resist the urge to use the word librarian at the beginning of your response. Brandy King writes:

These days, instead of starting with “I’m a librarian,” I first talk about the difference my work makes and then end by saying “I’m a librarian.”

How smart is this? This has forever changed how I will be addressing this question.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s