Q: Wait. Nobody is interviewing you! You’re writing both the questions and answers!
A: Prose is hard, dialogue is fun.
Q: Oh, I get it. You don’t have a blog topic, do you?
A: Well, Ms. Gotschall covered what to do when the deadline has passed and you opt for sparking alcohol and Netflix. In my case, it’s a sidecar, Prime Video, and stream-of-conscious desperation.
Q: What did you do when you were on the library factory clock today? No time to coherently pen subject and predicate?
A: That must be the melting clock from the Dali painting. For one, we had a 90-minute call going over our plans for the 1L’s first research class—and that was just prep and very rarely touched upon the content of our presentations. Teaching is supremely time consuming.
Q: Lots of invisible labor?
A: That could be a future post topic.
Q: But you’ve been a law librarian for, what, four years? Shouldn’t the instructional part get easier?
A: Ha! Thanks for the leading question—and that’s a lot to answer. Where to begin?
Q: Perhaps the beginning?
A: So my first time teaching and progress to where I’m at now?
A: The first time I taught law students was the summer before my last semester of library school. I had essentially been an intern at William Mitchell’s law school library in the spring, and a librarian invited me to teach part of her Minnesota Legal Research class.
Q: What do you remember?
A: I didn’t get any sleep. And since it was a morning class, I brought in almond croissants from Trung Nam French Bakery for the students. Here’s a tip: sometimes you need to bribe your students. One of my former colleagues, Nick Harrell, always treated his FCIL class to some international-themed treats. He was well liked because he was a great teacher, but I’m sure the offering of sugar and caffeine didn’t hurt his reviews.
Q: So you just remember sleep deprivation and croissants?
A: Not entirely true. I recall visiting the classroom ahead of time and testing the tech—I’m sure I was nervous. And now that I’ve pulled out my lesson plan for that session, it appears I wrote a script.
Q: A screenplay, so to speak, for the presentation?
A: I think it was a crutch. Public speaking made me exceedingly nervous.
Q: Did it help?
A: Yes. Just to be clear, I didn’t read from it verbatim during the class. I think I even told the class that I once had a history professor who would simply look down and read her prepared lines, but I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have tenure.
Q: Do you still write scripts?
A: For live presentations, no. Doing so would take too much time.
Q: But you read a script for videos, right?
A: I do. For some reason, it’s just different not having an audience. Take this Bluebook video I recently did. It clocked in at about 9 minutes, and when I did nearly the exact same lesson in real time it took closer to 20 minutes. I’m still not sure how that happened.
Q: Which version was better?
A: No idea.
Q: So for the unedited live version without a script, what was your guide?
A: Essentially just the PowerPoint slides. I have a bad habit of not referring to my outline during a presentation.
Q: When you wrote a script for a live class, I take it the purpose was to help organize your thoughts before the presentation, not an aid during the presentation?
A: Exactly. And now maybe I’m better at intuitively knowing how to organize a lesson’s contents?
Q: Why do you think you often ignore your outlines during the presentation?
A: It’s not done so intentionally. In my defense, the PowerPoint serves the same function as the outline. But why do I sometimes fail to take advantage of my outline? The line that pops into my head is what Robert Linz told me about teaching: “Time moves differently for the instructor.”
Q: What do you mean?
A: So if you’re moving from point to point and forget what may come next, you may fear silence might come across as awkward. So you rush ahead to a different topic or supply some filler. But while the time it takes you to look down at your notes and gather your thoughts may seem like ages, that duration of time is shorter to your students than it is to you. In other words, don’t be afraid of that short pause. And, yes, I sometimes fail to follow my own advice.
Q: You’re making teaching sound like performance art?
A: Of course cognitive science and good pedagogy are important, but, yes, I do think there is a performance aspect involved. I mean, timing and rhythm matter. For me, as an introvert who didn’t enjoy public speaking, it’s what’s taken the most work. For the law school grads turned librarians who excelled at oral advocacy, I bet their experiences have been different.
Q: Let’s back up. I’ll repeat an earlier query: after more experience, shouldn’t the librarian’s instructional role get easier?
A: If you’re equating “easier” with less of a time commitment, not at all. It’s the pedagogical planning and assessment that takes time—even when you’re more experienced with constructing a lesson plan. However, yes, the performance aspect gets easier with repetition. The first time I taught, I was frightened. Now I enjoy having an audience.
Q: Last question: do you have advice for the new librarians who aren’t comfortable with presentations?
A: Be kind to yourself—you’ll get better with practice. What works for me may not work for you. For instance, I wrote a script as a crutch and that may be a complete waste of time for you. I also never rehearse a presentation, but perhaps that would ease your nerves. And find a performance style that fits your personality.