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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2005

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With this issue of ISTL we inaugurate a new column entitled "Viewpoints." Its purpose is to provide a forum for informed opinion and editorials by and for our readers. There is no shortage of opinions among librarians, and we hope that those expressed in this column will be provocative and interesting, and will spark ideas and reactions.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint piece for consideration, please see the Instructions for Authors. We look forward to seeing them.

- David Flaxbart, Viewpoints Editor

Instruction: Teaching or Marketing?

Susan B. Ardis
Head, Science and Engineering Libraries Division
University of Texas Libraries

I have been a strong proponent of user education in our libraries. I have also been an active practitioner, having been a guest lecturer in more than 300 college-level engineering and natural sciences classes over the past several years. I have also taught for-credit classes. Of late, however, I have become concerned about the changing emphasis in library instruction. It seems to be moving away from an emphasis on developing techniques and strategies to help users, and concerning itself more with the mechanisms of teaching. Concepts such as active learning and the theory that library instruction should be "literacy-based" rather than "tool-based" are gaining adherents.

When librarians merely visit a single class session to provide some orientation or a quick demonstration, this isn't really teaching. True teaching involves designing the course, preparing the syllabus, grading student work and giving credit. The fact is, few universities let us give credit for our type of "teaching" and, I venture to say, few students would sign up for such classes even if they did.

What we are actually doing is guest-lecturing. This concept is well documented. Several current books for university professors discuss the beneficial use of guest lecturers in the classroom. Several clearly state the importance of using guest lecturers as a way to expand upon a topic by using the unique professional experience, perspective, and skills of a speaker. Others mention using guest lecturers to fill in when the faculty member must be away.

So, if we are not teaching, what are we doing as guest lecturers? It is my opinion that we are marketing libraries, library information sources, and staff expertise to a group of pre-selected users. By inviting us into their classrooms professors are validating the usefulness of the library, the expertise of librarians, and the relevance of this information to the class. In marketing terms this means we're selling to pre-qualified buyers, and as any marketer will tell you this is always more successful than cold-calling, where the seller randomly tries to find interested buyers.

The following chart makes the point by comparing basic marketing goals with those of library instruction.

Marketing Information Literacy/Bibliographic Instruction
Introduce new products Introduce new library services/tools
Extend or regain market for existing products Extend usage of library tools
Enter new territories Inform new students/faculty
Boost sales of a particular product Increase usage of a particular tool or service
Cross-sell or bundle one product with another Demonstrate how specific tools and services work together--e.g. EI and INSPEC.
Refine a product Improve reference services

To sum up, information literacy instruction as it is typically practiced is not truly teaching. Rather, it is a form of marketing where the action takes place in a classroom and librarians are guest lecturers demonstrating and marketing our resources, expertise, and utility. This activity is marketing because we make potential users aware of what their science and engineering libraries can do for them. We demonstrate to users that there are places to go for help when they get stuck or when the public web doesn't give them what they need. My favorite definition of marketing is "the delivery of a standard of living." Life is definitely better when you have some "smarts." A good place to get them is at the library. And, I don't mind going around and telling people so.


Ardis, Susan B. 2003. A tale of two classes: teaching science and technology reference sources both traditionally and through distance education.Issues In Science and Technology Librarianship 37. [Online]. Available: [Accessed May 5, 2005].

American Library Association. 2003. Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline. Category 9: Outreach 2003. {}. [Accessed May 9, 2005].

Australian Scholarship in Teaching Project. What is Scholarly Teaching? {} [Accessed May 9, 2005].

Davis, Barbara Gross. 1993. Making use of alternatives to lecturing. In Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Flood, Barbara J. Molly, Joy K. 1990. The Professor Business: A Teaching Primer for Faculty. Medford NJ : Learned Information.

Lyons, Richard E. et al. 2003. Teaching College in an Age of Accountability. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

McKeachie, Wibert J. et. al. 2002. McKeachie's Teaching Tips. 11th ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Mullins, Patricia A. 2001. Using outside speakers in the classroom. APS Observer 14(8). [Online.] Available: {} [Accessed May 9, 2005].

Reis, Richard M. 1997. Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering. Piscataway NJ: IEEE Press.

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