“Belonging”: The Library Instruction Approach

Posted on October 14, 2021

Belonging. We create a welcoming and caring community that embraces diverse people and perspectives. 

Each year, members of the Instruction and Research team reach thousands of William & Mary students through library workshops where we teach students how to do research effectively. Through our many formal and informal conversations about pedagogy, we’ve come to realize that “belonging” has been a core value of ours -- even before it became a university value!  Librarians Camille Andrews, Candice Benjes-Small, Liz Bellamy, Morgan Davis, Alexandra Flores, Mary Oberlies, Jessica Ramey, and Paul Showalter share some ways we make students feel like they “belong” during library instruction sessions:

Using names and correct pronouns

Librarians introduce ourselves by names and pronouns, and invite students to share the same information on re-usable name tents if they would like.

Liz says, “The reusable name tents seem so simple, but as a perpetual guest speaker they have been a game changer for my ability to relate with students and talk to them in class. When I call on a student in class, I can use their name instead of ‘you in the red shirt’ which makes everything much more personal. I also make it a habit to double-check that I am pronouncing their name correctly.”

Selecting diverse examples

For sample searches, we choose examples that are not only relevant to the course topic but also expand representation of underrepresented and marginalized people

Camille says, “To combat the perception that the sciences are dominated by white men, I try to show searches in a database or the catalog that feature, I women and people of color.”

This can also be done when discussing specific databases. Alex says, “When I teach the psychology database PsycINFO, I review the filters which allow you to focus your search on studies related to a specific gender- but PsycINFO only has settings for Male or Female so I make sure to also show them some search strategies to look beyond that binary.”

Utilizing a variety of teaching methods

Language barriers, disabilities, cultural norms, and past experiences can all affect how students prefer to learn.  During a single session, we may incorporate some lecture, some active learning, small group work, and large group discussion.

Paul says, “I like to start my classes asking students to write on a card what they most want to learn today. I collect the cards and answer the questions through the session. I then segue into a game we developed where students practice generating keyword lists in small groups.  We then come back together as a whole and work together to strengthen search strategy skills.”

Discussing the problematic nature of research

Who counts as “an authority” on a topic? Who gets to make that decision, and how does that process privilege some sources because of worldview, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural background? We teach students to balance respect for expertise while thinking critically about the sources they find.

“One of my favorite activities asks students to consider information creation. I select a range of formats- social media posts, popular magazine pieces, journal articles, books, and dissertations- on the same topic. Students then discuss the strengths and challenges of using each as a source for their paper, leading to some great conversations about how information is shared and whose voice is heard,” says Candice.