Last week I attended CILIP’s Umbrella conference in Hatfield. It was a bit of a flying visit, with my primary purpose being to present a talk on faculty engagement, specifically with respect to information literacy and librarians teaching. I’m always looking for a hook to hang my presentations on and this time I chose the TV series Inspector Morse, because like Morse and Lewis I’ve spent the majority of my working life dealing with the foibles and idiosyncracies of academics at Oxford University.
My rather tongue-in-cheek presentation asked whether Oxford academics were really as awkward, pompous, sex-mad, disturbed and murderous as Morse would have us believe. I also mused that some faculty I have worked with would probably have rather cooperated with a murder enquiry than with the idea of librarians teaching alongside them in the classroom! I also stopped off along the way to see how I’d developed as a teacher and how with confidence and increased freedom, arising from the trust and support I had gained from relationships with faculty, I had been able to provide ‘point of need’ teaching to which students have truly responded.
I was lucky enough to be joined by two other preseners Carol Webb and Chris Powis for this ‘Information Skills for Life’ hour and despite the relative absence of communication between us before the event, I felt that our respective presentations gelled nicely. The main reason for this was that we all agreed on the importance of emotional engagement and the building and developing of relationships with faculty/teaching staff. One of my slides was headed ‘Relationship’ in a large point size and was there to prompt me to hold forth about the importance of putting all the theory that has been expounded about faculty/librarian collaboration to one side and just getting out there and building relationships with faculty, by: having coffee with them; passing the time of day; and essentially treating them as fellow human beings! Chris took this one stage further by getting the audience to consider in small groups how we see faculty, and how we think they see librarians, and ultimately drawing out the fact that we hold on to a mass of prejudices and preconceptions that are very effective barriers to the development of relationships. He also commented that if he had used slides – the clever sod dispensed with a presentation and got the audience to do all the work (only joking Chris!), then he would have put the word relationship in a bigger point size than even I had done.
Part of my presentation dealt with encountering a situation where you might be starting from scratch at your workplace on the faculty relationship/teaching integration front, as I had done here in Cambridge, back in Autumn 2007. At Oxford, I’d had the cushion of having known the same faculty for years, first at Templeton College and then Said Business School, at Cambridge they didn’t know me from Adam. My main approach at Cambridge (see slide above) was as follows: 1. To make it clear from the outset (as early as interview) that I was seeking to teach and train not simply to curate and protect; 2. To shamelessly declare my teaching credentials by referring to the fact that I had received a teaching award from Oxford University for my lecture/workshop series on effective literature searching; 3. To engage with faculty by embarking on a faculty consultation exercise – partly to find out what their information needs were, but also to make my agenda, abilities and interests known; 4. To ensure that via meetings, email and other forms of communication that I was always ‘on message’ about the potential for the library service’s teaching role and its value and relevance; 5. Identifying latent teaching opportunities e.g. the plagiarism problems at Cambridge which strengthened importance of our provision of plagiarism avoidance lectures; 6. And finally, of course, actually proving myself to some of them as a teacher by making that initial teaching conribution so that faculty are reassured that this was something that I could do and be trusted with. The result of the above approach was that after only 18 months I was teaching on all programmes.
Returning to the question of prejudices, and indeed stereotypes, I took each of the typical characteristics of the faculty as portrayed in Morse in turn and commented on how this tied in with my own experiences. The message being that, of course, reality is far more palatable, surprising and interesting than fiction. There were a few imponderables, such as whether Oxford faculty were sex-mad. I revealed that I have only been propostioned once (a fact of which Chris was profoundly jealous!) but didn’t really like to say whether this qualified the faculty member in question as ‘sex-mad’. However, I did conclude that as I had not stumbled across any dead bodies during my time at Oxford we could probably cross murderous off the list of attributes!