Conceptualizing Academic Librarians’ Teacher Identity

July 8, 2024

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Written by guest blogger Mark Aaron Polger.

Over the last year, I have been working on my research study for my doctoral dissertation for my PhD in education. My research interests include faculty–academic librarian relationships and faculty perceptions about the educational role of academic librarians. Since teaching is a core function of academic librarians’ responsibilities, I wanted to study academic librarians’ teacher identity. More broadly, I am interested in studying the power dynamics that are at play when faculty engage in discussions with academic librarians when they plan information literacy (IL) instruction.

Before embarking on this project, I wanted to step back and study how academic librarians see their role as IL teachers and how they describe their own professional identities as teachers. For my initial study I administered a preliminary online questionnaire and followed up with approximately 50 semi-structured interviews with academic librarians. My article focused on analyzing a smaller sample of six academic instruction librarians. I asked them how they conceptualized their professional identity as teachers. I asked questions about how academic librarians became teachers; what they teach; how they learned how to teach; the skills, knowledge, and competences they teach; and their beliefs of how faculty perceive their professional role on campus.

Some of my findings revealed that academic librarians consider themselves natural teachers (Polger, 2023). They believed that libraries are learning spaces and identified as educators in the broadest sense. Library and information science (LIS) literature illustrates that academic librarians do not receive sufficient teacher training in library school. My participants confirmed that they learned how to teach on the job, and it was a natural function of their job (Polger, 2023). Most participants reported they did not receive formal teacher training in library school and described IL education as teaching users how to navigate the online information ecosystem. Participants felt that teaching was ultimately a performance, they had to rehearse and practice their craft. One participant reported that sometimes they felt like a comedian dying on stage (Polger, 2023) because of an unsuccessful IL teaching experience. Another participant reported that they felt teaching was a performance (they identified as an introvert) and they had to rehearse and practice repeatedly (Polger, 2023). Participants believed that faculty didn’t know what academic librarians do; they see academic librarians as Information Technology (IT) experts, but not educators. They reported that faculty saw them as helpful, supportive, and tech savvy, but they believe they are seen as support staff, not professionals.

Due to the increased specialization and ambiguity in academic librarians’ roles, academic librarians’ professional identities are not as clear and understood as other professions. In sum, many participants believed that librarians need to engage in more outreach activities to rebrand and reinvent themselves to help change faculty perceptions.

MARK AARON POLGER (they/them) is associate professor and coordinator of library outreach at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City. Their responsibilities include promoting library services, working with admissions and recruitment with facilitating library tours, new student orientation, and liaising with high schools and public library branches in the community. They are currently in their eighth year of doctoral studies in the Graduate School of Education, University at Buffalo, SUNY, where they are working on their dissertation that examines the faculty–academic librarian relationship, the power dynamics at play, and how faculty perceive their professional identity as teachers.


The Information Literacy Class as Theatrical Performance: A Qualitative Study of Academic Librarians’ Understanding of Their Teacher Identity” was published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 65.2 and is Free to Read until ____.

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