Chapter One: Identity of Instructional Librarian

Instruction in Libraries 
Developing an identity as a teacher can be challenging for instructional librarians. This chapter introduces and explains four primary professional development proficiency areas that positively contribute to professional identity formation, addresses teaching perspectives, and describes instructional situations for teaching information literacy skills. Readers will discover key aspects of what and how instructional librarians teach.

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Instruction? Who needs library instruction? The evident and safe answer is “everyone.” 

With proliferation of information in today’s society, it is not prudent, or wise, to simply Google a topic, or term, and settle on the first item that pops up. While overtime Google searching has become more sophisticated, the enormous number and extreme complexities of sources available on the Internet have exacerbated a high need for specialized knowledge and skills to search, retrieve, evaluate, select and use information in its various forms and formats. Professional librarians, as teaching librarians, are educated with specialized knowledge and skills for inclusion and access to materials and spaces (Chapter 2). They teach information literacy skills (Chapter 3) that enable library users to engage with information across the lifespan.

Just as physicians practice medicine, attorneys practice law, and educators practice teaching, so do instructional librarians in all library types assume career-long information practices and technological advancements toward enabling others to use information effectively, efficiently, and responsibly. Teaching librarians enable library users to make better use of information than one can typically do if on their own. In this way, librarians accept multiple roles outlined by members of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, American Library Association, 2007) including advocate, coordinator, instructional designer, leader, lifelong learner, teacher, and teaching partner. 

We understand library instruction as a high impact educational practice (Kuh, 2008; Snavely, 2008; Brownell & Swaner, 2010; Richle & Weiner, 2013) whenever librarians participate in teaching information literacy skills that enables others to engage in information-related activities that benefit individuals and the collective society. High impact instructional practices are those that benefit individuals through intellectual growth and positively changed behaviors in areas of everyday life information seeking (Dow, 2024; Hovious, 2018; Case & Givens, 2016; Savolainen, 2010) and across many contexts including home, school, workplace, and recreation. 

Instructional librarians engage in high impact instruction with people of all ages. We envision individual information needs in many problem-specific areas such as: inquiry into a science fair topic; instructions for replacing the battery in a car; recommendations to avoid debt accumulation; how to determine the nutritional needs of a pre-mature infant; and endless other life situations in today’s knowledge society (UNESCO) wherein knowledge is needed to sustain the economy, enhance education, promote health, and support democratic processes and the wellbeing of all people. 

In this book, we use the terms instructional librarian and teacher librarian interchangeably, and we conceptualize and describe the broad nature and variety of work librarians do, particularly in the roles of instructional designer (Chapter 4), and teacher (Chapter 5 & 6). This is not to suggest that the other four roles identified by ACRL (2007) are not important. We are, however, proposing that one of the most crucial aspects of librarianship today is engaging with people in classrooms and other instructional environments for teaching and learning of information literacy skills. This calls for preparation in the areas of assessing needs, planning, and designing instruction; delivering instruction and evaluating learning; and partnering with others who have stakes in the teaching and learning process. Through self-directed professional development (Chapter 8), instructional librarians determine and achieve goals resulting in relationships; relevance; responsiveness; rigor; and results.

Each chapter has a similar organizational structure of main ideas and featured exercises. It is our goal that each chapter in this open education resource will become your “go to” for addressing instructional librarianship that is current and up to date in keeping with our ever-changing communities and society. 

To get started, here are four essential questions (Wiggins & McTighe, 2013) we ask you to consider while reading this chapter:

Essential Questions

EQ1. What are the benefits of developing an identity as a teacher librarian?

EQ2. How do your teaching perspectives influence your information literacy instruction?

EQ3. Are there perfect situations for teaching information literacy skills?

EQ4. How can information literacy skills be used effectively?

1.1 Teaching Identity

Identifying as a teacher through gaining personal perspectives of how to express oneself in library spaces, and how to adapt to institutional and/or organizational instructional realities is often difficult for instructional librarians. For instructional librarians, developing a professional identity and locating yourself with other teachers is challenging at best when others are not immediately in sight. According to Beauchamp and Thomas (2009), formation of a professional identity cannot productively occur on its own. To overcome and develop new ways of thinking about the instructional librarians’ identity as a teacher, it is likely helpful to first consider possible barriers to beneficial conceptualizations of one’s self as a teacher librarian. 

The hesitation, or inability, for many librarians to identify and develop perspectives as teachers may stem from a variety of issues, particularly if they do not have mentors to help cultivate professional identities beyond what can be accomplished during observations or internships in library school programs. One common, observable reluctance to identify as a teacher is the reality that in the United States, classroom teachers most regularly identify and collect their thoughts about teaching by and through their education and their state’s teacher licensure requirements, which are specialized, include significant periods of practice teaching, and are made highly visible in today’s society. For example, individuals who earn a Bachelor of Science degree in education spend 4-5 years preparing for curriculum and instruction careers with specialization areas such as math, science, digital technologies, literacy, and teaching children with exceptionalities ( is a good site to search for schools of education by location, degree and/or subject areas).  In schools of education, pre-service teachers are typically grouped together according to their desired preparation for teaching elementary or secondary students. The classroom teacher’s professional identity relates to and is readily observed in their dedication to their profession.

In contrast, teacher librarians are educated as professional librarians with four-year bachelor and/or master’s degrees (2-3 years) in programs that meet professional standards recognized by the American Library Association (the Directory of ALA-Accredited and Candidate Programs in Library and Information Studies is a good site to search for degree programs). The ALA Core Competencies of Librarianship (ALACC, 2023) reflect basic knowledge acquired through formal library and information studies programs, job on-boarding, and continuous professional development. While preparation processes for both classroom teachers and teacher librarians are rigorous, they are different from one another. Teacher librarian processes are not well understood by the general public, often leaving teacher librarians outside the scope necessary for developing an identity as a teacher and challenged to successfully become who and what a teacher in American society is typically thought to be.

If dedication to a profession is viewed as professional identity formation, which is highly likely, then it is realistic to consider that the instructional librarian can develop a professional identity as a teacher librarian through library and information science education, mentorship, and continuous self-directed professional learning intrinsic to their role. “Professional learning is self-directed when the learner takes the lead role in facilitating…[their] own professional growth” (Shurr et al., 2014, p. 20). 

We recommend four primary professional development proficiency areas for teacher librarians’ active involvement that are likely, if conscientiously undertaken, to positively contribute to professional identity formation. 

1.1.1 Inclusion and Access Proficiency

Instructional librarians demonstrate an awareness of library users’ information and technology abilities and exercise techniques and strategies to improve access to and use of information, including the library’s information and technology resources. They know what learners can do on their own and where learners need guidance and facilitation. They plan and conduct teaching from the learner’s point of view, moving from simple to complex forms of thinking and making connections to what is meaningful to the learner who participates without fear of failure. Instructional librarians create a positive environment that fosters curiosity, guided inquiry, and project-based learning.

1.1.2 Cultural Proficiency

With high levels of respect for and acknowledgement of cultures, instructional librarians actively work for and with diverse cultures while exercising advanced cultural competencies, humility, and mindfulness to address and minimize information-related disparities in society. 

1.1.3 Instructional Proficiency

Instructional librarians implement successful information literacy instruction by meeting the learner’s appropriate learning level, providing materials and equipment to meet learning objectives, and adapting instruction to information needs. Instructional librarians enable use of learners’ cognitive skills that result in higher order learning and metacognitive awareness necessary for intellectual growth. They enable use of procedural skills that allow learners to practice and master skills and develop positive behaviors necessary for quality of life.

1.1.4 Resource Proficiency

Instructional librarians teach library users as learners about types and kinds of information resources and to identify authors’ expertise and credibility. They increase information users’ awareness of values and ideologies embedded in texts; how knowledge is created, by whom, and for what purpose; and who is represented in a text and who is left out. They teach about various types and levels of authority, and that an information need may determine the level of authority required for a topic-specific purpose. They encourage leaners to critically analyze information and to use information to inform actions to improve their own lives and the lives of others. 

Successful development of instructional librarians’ teaching identity will play a critical role toward their increased presence and visibility in society and in the overall advancement of instructional librarianship in all library types. As you, as an instructional librarian, focus on what kind of teacher you want to be and work to accomplish that reality, you will increase your self-confidence as a teacher. 

Becoming a teacher librarian means changing a previously held identity to that of a teacher librarian and teaching partner; developing one’s own orientation to design and delivery of instruction; adapting personal preferences to institutional missions and/or organizational strategic directions; and deciding how to express one’s self as a teacher and teaching partner in virtual and non-virtual learning environments wherein perspectives of teaching emerge as beliefs, intentions, and actions. In upcoming chapters, more is shared about the instructional librarian’s roles as instructional designer, teacher, and teaching partner.

1.2 Teaching Perspectives

Perspectives are lenses through which people see the world. In particular, perspectives on teaching are lenses that teachers use to view fundamentals and relationship within a general model of teaching. It is difficult to assess perspectives, or views, of teaching without the help of a formalized process to facilitate and guide in addressing key issues. To achieve the goal of assessing teaching perspectives, Pratt and Collins (2000) developed the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI). The TPI, evaluated for validity and reliability, is intended to be a tool for conversations about the kind of teacher one is or wants to become. It is a 45-item inventory that assesses teaching philosophy, focusing specifically on an individual's interrelated set of educational beliefs and intentions that gives direction and justification to one’s actions. 

In addition to completing the TPI items, respondents answer a series of brief questions about their academic background, employment experiences, geographic locations, and types of learners they teach. The respondents' TPI scores are calculated based on a 5-point scale for each item. Results of the TPI include identification of dominant and recessive teaching perspectives along with interpretive paragraphs. Teaching perspectives are classified as: (1) transmission, (2) apprenticeship, (3) developmental, (4) nurturing, and (5) social reform. Robertson, Fowler, and Juve (2017) report that this survey tool has been used in a variety of ways for teacher/faculty development, teaching assessment and improvement, and in educational research. 

Regardless of amount of experience, we recommend that instructional librarians take the TPI as a useful strategy for learning about different perspectives of good teaching and to develop understandings of their dominate perspective on teaching in libraries (context), about information literacy (content) and with learners (library users). The TPI sub-scores for beliefs, intention, and actions within each person help to identify one’s philosophy of teaching. 

1.3 Instructional Situations

Depending on library type, instructional situations, also known as instructional events or instructional opportunities for teaching, vary from one library to another. Instructional situations in academic libraries are identified by Benjes-Small and Miller (2017) as course integrated sessions; one-time, drop-in workshops (aka “one-shot” sessions); and credit-bearing courses. In PreK-12 schools, elementary school librarians typically have students in the library for weekly library instruction and checking out books. Middle and high school students come to the library in groups and individually for assignment-based library instruction, and school librarians at all grade levels are available to partner with classroom teachers around specific topic/content assignments. In public libraries, instruction occurs at the reference desk and during programming with library users of all ages and interests. In special libraries including medical, law, government, and corporate libraries, instructional librarians guide and facilitate use of research-based evidence, legal resources, and government documents. In all these situations, the librarian has opportunities to teach library users how to do more with information than they could otherwise do on their own.

It is important for instructional librarians to recognize instructional situations for what they are: as high stakes learning events. Without clear understandings of the knowledge and skills of an instructional librarian, it is not typically well-know what the benefits are of engaging with a teacher librarian for instructional sessions. It is well established that for most people asking for assistance from a librarian is usually a last resort, if done at all. Settling instead for information that is quick and easy to locate is typically a common approach rather than prioritizing use of quality information. This least effort reality in today’s society presents an opportunity for change through wide-spread information literacy learning. We encourage instructional librarians to assertively educate others about when and where library instruction can and does occur. We also encourage you to be continuously on the lookout for teaching situations for your participation.

1.4 Information Literacy Learning

What do instructional librarians teach? Instructional librarians teach information literacy. The need for information literacy skills instruction begins in lower elementary school and continues beyond high school across contexts in homes, colleges and universities, and workplaces. While views of information literacy, what it is, and how to teach and learn information literacy skills have evolved over time, there continues to be widespread agreement that standards by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, 2016) and by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL, 2018) are both of value toward understanding expectations and factors that influence attainment of information literacy. 

The ACRL Framework is organized around six frames that are threshold concepts as essential components to information literacy:

· Authority is Constructed and Contextual;

· Information Creation as a Process;

· Information has Value;

· Research as Inquiry;

· Scholarship as Conversation; and

· Searching as Strategic Exploration (ACRL, 2016).

The AASL Standards are organized by six shared foundations (central ideas and educational practices, priorities, and trends):

· Inquire;

· Include;

· Collaborate;

· Curate;

· Explore; and

· Engage (AASL, 2018).

This document is a set of standards for learners, school librarians, and school libraries. 

Both the ACRL and the AASL are signaling a paradigm shift in education from functionalist to interpretivist views of teaching and learning in their writing about information literacy learning. The ACRL Framework is a clear shift from a skills-based approach to a threshold concepts approach to information literacy learning, emphasizing foundational concepts that enable the learner to create new perspectives and ways of understanding scholarly disciplines and various fields of knowledge. The AASL Standards still focus primarily on skills and observable behaviors but also reflect inquiry-based learning, which is a form of active learning that begins by posing questions, problems, or scenarios. This is in contrast to traditional education that relies on the teacher to lecture through presenting only their own knowledge about a topic or subject.

While research (Burns, Gross, & Latham, 2019) indicates that the ACRL Frames (2016) and the AASL Standards (2018) cannot be directly aligned to each other, research indicates that there are shared emphasis and priorities for ethical behavior, evaluating of information, and for the importance of a focus on audience when creating and evaluating information. The Frames and Standards should be studied to thoroughly understand what is meant by teaching information literacy. In addition, in an upcoming chapter, we will show how the Framework can be a useful tool for instructional librarians and others who share responsibilities for teaching information literacy skills if they look at the Framework Knowledge Practices (KP) and immediately recognize how the KPs fit into established teaching and learning goals.

In an effort to present practical applications for the Frames and Standards documents introduced in this section, we share these realistic, yet fictional, scenarios (below) of information literacy learning as it may likely exist across the lifespan. We hope you will read and unpack each scenario in terms of 1) how to be a good teacher of individuals who are likely to be in each situation; 2) what information literacy skills objectives to teach to enable the actions in each scenario; and 3) what the learners’ new knowledge may look like as a result of your instruction when put into day-to-day practice. We hope by reading these scenarios, you will have clear insights as to an answer to the questions, “What do instructional librarians teach?” Try to imagine how each scenario may flow across age ranges. Think of additional, related skills that an individual will likely be capable of performing.

1.4.1. Young Child, Information Literacy Learning

With assistance, listens to reading of title, author, and stories in books; views educational programming on screens and electronic devices that combines language arts, reading, music and/or art; types of basic search terms in browser and makes choices for additional books and programs. 

1.4.2. Youth, Information Literacy Learning

With assistance, recognizes types of information sources; combines terms relevant to a topic (also known as facet analysis) to formulate search terms; evaluates authority (for mis- and dis-information) and retrieves and saves sources; avoids plagiarism; writes a report and/or creates a video recorded presentation.

1.4.3. Young Adult, Information Literacy Learning

Uses information to focus and learn about specific areas of interest. Searches for and reads authoritative sources on specific topics and for use in decision-making about everyday life issues such as about credit card options and debt avoidance. Engages in information inquiry about everyday life situations such as health issues and approaches to healthy living through diet and exercise. Learns about national and international current issues through local and mass media.

1.4.4. Adults, Information Literacy Learning

Develops a strategic search plan for information about getting a new job in their chosen profession; determines initial scope required to meet this information need; determines types of information most appropriate to the tasks; identifies parties who might produce information; uses divergent and convergent thinking to justify selection of best sources; matches need and search strategies to appropriate search tools; understands how information systems are organized to access relevant information; manages searching process and results effectively.

1.4.5. Seniors, Information Literacy Learning  

Applies and synthesizes details through the lens of experience overtime. Reads and makes use of information in digital and paper formats. Shares and supports others in learning new things relevant to quality of life.

1.5 Featured Exercises in Instructional Librarianship

Featured items are opportunities for pre- and in-service instructional librarians to engage in intellectual exercises extending chapter content that may challenge your thinking and encourage additional practices in instructional librarian. 

1.5.1 Featured Exercise – Essential Questions 

Please review differences in the essential questions and non-essential questions in the table below. Also, we recommend reading The Second Principle, The work of Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D. (Retrieved from What are Essential Questions? - The Second Principle)

Then based on chapter one content, please respond to each essential question beside the green symbol below. Reflect on details and patterns in the chapter content. Fit pieces of the puzzle together as you dig deep into instructional librarianship. Provide support, rationale, and/or justification for your responses written in a brief, informal essay.

Essential Questions vs. Non-Essential Questions

🔋Essential Question: What are the benefits of developing an identity as a teacher librarian?

🚫NOT an Essential Question: What is a teacher librarian?

🔋Essential Question: How do your teaching perspectives influence your information literacy instruction?

🚫NOT an Essential Question: What is your teaching perspective?

🔋Essential Question: What are examples of ideal situations for teaching information literacy skills?

🚫NOT an Essential Question: When and where do instructional librarians teach?

🔋Essential Question: How can information literacy knowledge and skills be used effectively?

🚫NOT an Essential Question: What knowledge and skills do teaching librarians teach?

Please ask yourself, are the library instruction lessons I design informed by essential questions that help me to organize content and inform my instructional choices?  If not, please give essential questions a try next time you design an information literacy lesson.

1.5.2 Featured Exercise – Teaching Attributes Assessment

In addition to our recommendation above that you complete the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, we constructed the teacher librarian attributes assessment below by adapting the work of Robertson, Fowler, and Juve (2017) who focus on teaching attributes of medical residents. We ask you to locate yourself by level, indicating where you are now in terms of teacher librarian attributes. Keep track of your level now. Repeat this assessment, as well as the TPI (1.5.3 Featured Exercise below), again as you reach future milestones. Engage in discourse with other teachers about practice-based learning and improvement and to address your developing identity as a teacher and your perspectives of teaching as you move forward in a teacher librarian career.

Click on each level to see the bullet points (criteria) for each level. 

Knowledge, Skills, Dispositions, and Other Attributes

Level 1

  • Discusses information needs and responds to questions from library users.
  • Acknowledges limits and asks for assistance from supervisor and/or other library personnel.

Level 2

  • Explains library services and resources to library users.
  • Describes basic concepts to individual library users.

Level 3

  • Effectively explains basic library services and resources to library users.
  • Teaches library users about the library space and points out the library collection.

Level 4

  • Teaches library users information literacy skills and risks of misinformation (vague, unclear, without intent to deceive or harm) and dis-information (deliberately created and distributed with intent to deceive or harm) with oversight of supervisor or other experienced library personnel.
  • Plans, designs, implements, and evaluates information literacy skills and serves as an information literacy skills expert for library personnel, library users, and other community stakeholders.
  • Participates in community education about the information literacy
Note: Adapted from Robertson, Fowler, and Juve’s, 2017, Residents-as Teachers Curriculum)
1.5.3. Featured Exercise – Teacher Librarian Identity and Perceptions

To address the teacher that you think you are and the teacher you want to be, please complete this online survey of teaching styles: Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI).

Please respond to the TPI in light of libraries as context, information literacy as content, and library users as learners. If you already hold an education degree and have teaching experience, please answer in terms of being a teacher librarian, trying not to bounce around in your responses between your other teaching context, content, and learners. 

Perspectives on Good Teaching

What did you discover about yourself? What perspective will you work on?

Transmission: Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter.

Apprenticeship:  Effective teaching requires that learners perform authentic tasks within their "zone of development."

Developmental:  Effective teaching must be planned and conducted "from the learner's point of view."

Nurturing:  Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent, effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head.

Social Reform:  From the Social Reform point of view, the object of teaching is the collective rather than the individual.

1.6 References & Further Recommended Reading

All Education Schools (n.d.) About us. Retrieved from

American Association for School Libraries. (2019). ALA/AASL/CAEP school librarian preparation standards. American Library Association. Retrieved from

American Association of School Librarians. (2018). AASL standards framework for learners. American Library Association. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2006). Directory of ALA-accredited and candidate programs in library and information studies. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2023). ALA core competencies of librarianship. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Librarians. (2007). Roles and strengths of teaching librarians. Retrieved from:

Association of College and Research Libraries (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from

Benjes-Small, C., & Miller, R. K. (2017). The new instructional librarian:  A workbook for trainers and leaners. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.

Brownell, J. E., & Swaner, L. E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality.American Association of Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from

Burns, E., Gross, M., & Latham, D. (2019). The information literacy continuum: Mapping the ACRL framework to the AASL school standards. School Libraries Worldwide, 25(1), 1-20.

Case, D. O., & Givens, L. M. (2016). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior (4th ed.). Emerald Group Publishing.

Dow, M. J. (2024). High impact learning experiences and changed behaviors in college students: A systematic review with implications for information literacy. Journal for Education of Library and Information Science. In-press.

Hovious, A. (2018). Toward a socio-contextual understanding of transliteracy. Reference Services Review, 46(2), 178-188.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact education practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

Pratt , D. D., & Collins, J. B. (2001). Teaching Perspectives Inventory. Retrieved from

Pratt D. D., & Smulders, D. (2016)  Five perspectives on teaching: Mapping a plurality of the good (2nd ed.) Krieger Publishing Company.

Riehle, C. F., & Weiner, S. A. (2013). High-impact educational practices: An exploration of the role of information literacy. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 20(2), 127-143.

Robertson, A. C., Fowler, L. C., and Juve, A. M. (2017). Using the teaching perspectives inventory as an introduction to a residents-as-teachers curriculum. The Journal of Education in Perioperative Medicine, 19(4), E614.

Savolainen, R. (2010). Everyday life information seeking. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.

Shurr, J., Hirth, M., Jasper, A., McCollow, M., & Heroux, J. (2014). Another tool in the belt: Self-directed professional learning for teachers of students with moderate and severe disabilities. Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services. 33(1), 17-38.

Snavely, L. (2008). Global education goals, technology, and information literacy in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 114, 35-46.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2002). Building knowledge societies.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2013). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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