The Organization of Information: Pondering the Preparation of a Syllabus

As I work on my very first course syllabus for the Fall term at Dalhousie, I find myself reminiscing about my own time in library school and how I felt about the courses I took.  Were they useful? Practical? Was I given enough hands-on work or discussions? What courses did I like? Dislike?  Why?

The first class I’ll be teaching is the Organization of Information.  And here I am, paging through my old notes and text (yes, I kept them!) to remind myself of what I learned and what I found useful/interesting.  As one of those truly *nerdy* students, I took an abundance of notes for each course, writing more on topics that interested me and making side comments on theories and topics I didn’t understand or speakers that I found dull.  I also, ahem, color coded each week in my binders so that they would all correspond….talk about the organization of information

I do remember enjoying courses where a lot of discussion occurred and the class style was laid back.  I don’t like the feeling that you can hear crickets in the room as the instructor asks a question.  It either means everyone has zoned out, they don’t understand what’s being discussed or they’re bored and can’t wait for class to be done.  Hopefully, I can find a balance between instructing and providing the information they need, with common sense applications and enough interest to keep the conversation flowing with the class.

As with all new instructors, I hope to put a little of myself and my own interests into this class, while maintaining the core structure and content that the students will need as a foundation for future classes.

So as I sit at my computer and work through the course schedule, week by week, I find myself wondering, how can I make this class interesting to newcomers?  What will spark an interest and provide them with enough curiosity to ask questions? And I wonder, what do many of you feel about the courses you took?  What differentiated an enjoyable course from a “so so I never want to attend that class again” course?

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7 Comments

Filed under Our Profession, The Cataloguer

7 responses to “The Organization of Information: Pondering the Preparation of a Syllabus

  1. LynneW

    I was fortunate to take Organization of Information from a teacher who assigned introductory readings before class started, and after a brief explanation/discussion of what we’d read, she jumped right into our first assignment in the first class – we cataloged The Stinky Cheese Man (other groups had different titles), and learned about cover/spine vs. title page, verso, and other details to consider. Then we presented our results to the class and everyone discussed them.

    Combining a brief lecture with breaking into groups assigned a title or titles to practice cataloging in class (without grading the results, and with her circulating to answer questions) kept our interest level high and made for an effective teaching style, especially for those of us with no previous background in library work.

  2. Laurel Tarulli

    Lynne, sounds like you had a great, hands-on experience! That’s a balance I’d like to strike – and also provide practical and relevant discussions that aren’t just theory based (as in “when are we ever going to use this?”) but to take those ideas and apply them to real-life, library situations and discuss them!

  3. Kathleen F. Lamantia

    Lynne, I too will be teaching Organization for the first time this fall :-), so this post was of great interest to me. I will be very interested to follow your thought processes and impressions as you prepare, and then teach.

  4. Laurel Tarulli

    Kathleen – Good luck to you as well! I hope we can exchange ideas through email or the blog. It’ll be great to have someone to talk with who’s new to instructing the course as well.

  5. Kathleen Lamantia

    Hi Lynne,
    I would love to talk with you about this. How can we exchange email addresses?

  6. As a recent grad of library school, I can honestly say that the cataloging classes were my favorite. (Nerd alert, nerd alert. 🙂 The one thing that I didn’t like about them/or found difficult was that there was SO MUCH to cover that we didn’t really have time for discussion or practical examples. We did end up spending one session in the computer lab with a packet of things to classify/organize/catalog, etc… This was great because we were sitting next to our classmates who we could bounce ideas off of or have the professor come over and mull over thoughts. I recommend that if doable.

  7. karenmsnow

    Laurel, First of all, I wish you much luck in designing and teaching your first course! It can be very stressful and intimidating, but it is also very rewarding and exciting! I am a new professor, but I have taught cataloging mainly online and sometimes in person for several years. It is hard to strike a perfect balance between theory and practice, but it can be done. I have my students practice creating different fields within the bib. record each week (we start with title/statement of resp., then we move to edition statements/publication area, etc,…). I use Blackboard and I put images of different items in the assessment tool and students must transcribe the assigned fields (in MARC) and I hand-grade them and provide them feedback on their answers. It can be time-consuming at times, but I never have more than 25 students in the class, so it’s not that bad.

    I also have students answer discussion postings each week, sometimes talking about assigned readings, sometimes having them explore their local OPAC, etc. I have found that these discussion postings makes them think more deeply about the topic and the complexity of cataloging. When I teach face-to-face, I ask students to come to the front of the classroom (using some sort of bribe, like library-themed stickers, or chocolate 🙂 to walk the class through a field in the bib. record or how they determined a subject heading. I find that it keeps the whole class engaged and they respond well to “one of their own” struggling through an issue. I’ve never been too fond of group work, but I know that some students like that, so I have been trying to think of ways to incorporate that.

    I am curious to know how you plan to treat the transition from AACR2 to RDA (will you cover these in any detail in your into. class?). I am revamping my course for the Fall to focus on RDA, because that is the cataloging environment that most of my students will be going into when they graduate.

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