“Design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories.”

After Melvil Dewey, Charles Cutter may be the most famous name in the history of American librarianship. His biggest contributions were in the field of cataloging, and call numbers still feature his eponymous invention, cutter numbers. However, one of his most intriguing creations to look back upon is an article he wrote in 1883, envisioning a library one hundred years into the future. The speculative piece features first person narration as he tours through the Buffalo, New York public library and is given “insight” into its inner workings.

The article is entertaining to read and frequently prescient. For example, Cutter envisions a library where the temperature and humidity are closely monitored and controlled to ensure the preservation of books. While modern HVAC technology was a pipe dream in Cutter’s time, such standards are routine in archives and rare book rooms today. He also meticulously described a system in which works could be loaned between libraries through recorded sound; text would be read off and recorded and shipped to the borrowing library. While he failed to conceptualize the powerful text-on-screen capabilities we have today, he certainly did grasp that technology would allow libraries to share information in new ways. The details may have been wrong but the concept was correct.

Another passage I particularly love, and is germane to the topic at hand, is his description of nascent library education and training. After describing the bibliographic lists the research librarian of the future might supply his patrons, Cutter writes:

You must not be misled by my speaking of his preparing reference-lists for compositions. He does not lay these lists before the scholars. That would keep them too much in leading-strings. A main object of the system is to teach them to help themselves. So, although when, in their school course, they reach the time at which they first visit the library, he gives them such lists, he does it not so much to assist them in that particular case as to show them by an example what can be done. And he tries to lead them afterwards to do the same thing for themselves, only giving them hints from time to time, and by a Socratic questioning leading them to discover for themselves.

This passage is wonderful for two reasons: first, it forecasts the importance of bibliographic instruction in the future. Secondly, it suggests the best manner of teaching – guiding by suggestion, and involving the users and encouraging them to discover their own solutions. Teaching tools is far more useful than just giving answers. Cutter was again ahead of his time; this is the philosophy that most librarians adhere to in bibliographic instruction today.

Library Instruction

The biggest trend in academic library reference is the increasing emphasis on library education and training. On one hand, younger researchers grow up with little familiarity with traditional, formal print research tools and resources. On the other, online research tools are constantly changing and not necessarily intuitive. A mere familiarity with web-browsing and web search services is not a stand-in for skilled use with the evolving subscription-database tools. Understanding both print and online facets of research requires training, and more and more Universities and colleges are insisting students either take a short course in library resources or include information literacy as a component in writing or rhetoric classes.

My experience at the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library informs my understanding of library instruction, as I was asked to provide leadership for freshman and junior-transfer library instruction sessions. Working in conjunction with the experienced Gleeson Library staff, I crafted lesson plans and talking points for two-hour sessions in a classroom setting. These lesson plans emphasized a constructivist approach, an educational theory that encourages students to learn by actively doing; after I presented a given tool or material, the students would be given time to actively pursue their own research on their own subjects with advice and support from myself and an attending librarian. The resulting instructional sessions were both informative and successful – not only did the students come away with a better understanding of research tools, I learned by interacting with them and absorbing their reactions and ideas. By having the students learn actively, the participants came away from the lessons far more empowered and engaged in their research.

I submit my internship report (previously submitted for evidence under Competency I) that describes in further detail my library training experiences at USF.

Online Teaching Tools

With the twenty-four/seven nature of online library resource use, users and patrons need to have educational tools at their disposal even when the library is closed and reference librarians are not at hand. This is when online tutorials become useful. Traditional research guides, such as Pathfinders, are increasingly going online using Wikis or other easily edited formats to stay up-to-date. I discussed a number of these tools and their practical application in a Pinakes blogpost assignment for LIBR-246 (Advanced Information Tools and Technology); I submit that post, titled “Wiping the Screen Clean”, as evidence of my understanding of the tools available for training and education.

One specific tool is the “screencast”, a video screen capture combined with audio narration used to familiarize the viewer with a particular technology or tool. I prepared a screencast tutorial on the subscription art database ARTStor for LIBR-246, and submit that as evidence of my practical usage of educational technology.

Exhibit K-1: Internship Final Report | Available upon request

Exhibit K-2: Wiping the Screen Clean (blog post on The Pinakes).

Exhibit K-3: The Pinakes Presents: ARTStor (blog post with screencast on The Pinakes).

References and Further Reading:

  • Cutter, C.A. (1883). The Buffalo Public Library in 1983.  Papers and Proceedings of the Sixth General Meeting of the American Library Association, Held at Buffalo, August 14 to 17, 1883. Boston: Press of Rockwell and Churchill. 49–55. Retrieved from
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