Inclusive Teaching in the Library

By Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros, the Latin American Studies librarian and assistant professor at The Ohio State University

In 2019, Ohio State welcomed its most demographically diverse class to-date. Each student will arrive in our classroom with uniquely formative experiences that are a product of their past education, professional and personal experiences, access or lack of access to educational resources, as well as the domestic or global communities that have shaped them.

Designing for a diverse classroom can present itself as an intimidating task. As librarians and instructors, we are responsible for developing curriculum that will be inclusive and effective for each student. The demographic shifts in higher education and the universal use of the library well position librarians to experiment and model inclusive teaching practices. But how does one go about customizing curriculum to meet the needs of diverse students? Below is a short list of suggestions to consider when designing library instructional sessions.

1.) Schedule a planning session with the faculty or instructor to find out more information about the students. In addition to discussing instructional learning objectives or the specifics of a course assignment, use this time to gather information about the students. Inquire about any special populations that may be in the course (e.g. non-traditional students, first-generation, international students, etc.). Has a student disclosed a learning disability that you should be aware of? Are the students highly engaged or relatively quiet? How are students used to receiving instruction and information? Having a better idea about your target audience will help you to select the appropriate instructional style and tools to use.

2.) Design for different styles of participation. Have you designed different ways for students to contribute, digest and share what they are learning? Consider cultural and physical factors that may contribute or hinder a student’s willingness to respond to a standard open-ended question. Are there other ways to engage students (with or without technology) such as through small group discussion or individual reflections that will maximize student participation? Make sure your communication and directions also speak to different learning styles.

3.) Review the visuals, examples, and language that you are using in your instructional session. Does your selection of visual materials assist or potentially impair your examples? Are your visuals or examples clear to a global audience and will they be appealing to your target student demographic? Are you including metaphors, references to U.S. pop-culture, or using regional slang that can be understood by a global audience? Do your slides need captions, definitions, translations, or decoding to help contextualize or fill in information that some students may not have. Test your slides with different audiences to make sure they are achieving their intended purpose.

Examples are the perfect opportunity to expand students’ global knowledge and awareness. I encourage librarians everywhere to be creative with their visuals–in other words refrain from using cat images as your main visuals except when providing instruction to library audiences.

4.) Consider including global information sources in your information literacy workshops. A fundamental pillar of the library is to provide access to a wide range of information resources. It is important for librarians to teach students how to access global information sources in different languages and from different countries. Including open access databases from respected global institutions and acknowledging the contribution of global scholars (at our institutions and beyond) helps support student’s engagement in global conversations. Often it takes extra effort or perhaps a slightly different search strategy to access international sources. Make the effort to do so. In addition to teaching critical information literacy skills required to access this information, it may help students to reflect on the uneven geographies of information online and in our library collections. Omitting global information from our instruction, limits students to echo chambers of information leading to a limited world view. Because our academic campuses seldom reflect the diversity of our world, we must compensate by making our information resources reflect the populations and perspectives that are missing in our academic communities.

5.) Create materials that speak to the different learning styles of your students including presentation slides, a handout, a libguide, and follow-up email. By providing multiple communication tools and methods, different students are able to gravitate toward the learning tools that are most useful to them.

Librarians are well positioned to experiment with inclusive design that helps to engage all students in the classroom. These suggestions are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but perhaps a starting point.

Consider contributing your own examples in the comments below.


Acknowledgements: The content and ideas of this blog post were created in collaboration with Meris Longmeier, Associate Professor and Head of Research Services. The author would like to thank Stephanie Porrata and Zachary Walton for editing and posting this entry.