Please spread this post far and wide (I ask of the 4 people who are reading this)… I’d like to get feedback on this from as many corners as possible.

I’m one of the two faculty instructors for INLS 501, the Reference course in the School of Information and Library Science. That’s not to say that only the two of us ever teach the course; the School has several other instructors, but they’re all adjuncts: PhD students and librarians from the various campus libraries. I say that not to be disparaging to adjuncts (quite the opposite: I’d like to see more professional librarians teaching courses in library school), but just in the interest of clarity. And in fact, I haven’t taught 501 in a long time: since Spring 2010, to be precise.

But now it’s caught up with me: I’m on the slate to teach 501 in the Fall 2012 semester. Which is long enough ago now that I need to rethink my approach to the course. And anyway, librarianship in general and reference in particular is changing so much that what was a timely and relevant course 2 years ago would look pretty stale now. I mean, when I taught 501 last, social Q&A was a big deal, and I had an assignment to match. Now, Google has killed Aardvark, and I’m not sure social Q&A is as interesting from a reference standpoint as we (or maybe just I) thought it would be. That’s just an example; there are many others. I’m going to restrain myself from trying to list them, because that’s kind of the point here: I want your input on what’s interesting from a reference standpoint; I don’t want to potentially bias your input by telling you what I think is interesting.

So anyway, here’s the point of this post: in a few months I’ll be teaching Reference for the first time in a few years. I’ve thought for a long time that INLS 501, and Reference courses in general, need dramatic revamping… and if that was true two years ago, it’s even more so now. (Whether Reference should any longer be a required core course in LS programs is another issue entirely, one about which I have strong opinions, but which I will not address here. Another rant for another time.) So now’s my big chance: I have the summer to completely redesign 501. The problem is, I’m not on the front lines of reference and other customer-facing services in a library these days. So, gentle readers, I need your help.

Do you work on a reference desk as any part of your job? Do you do any form of reference-like work? E.g., liaison librarianship, research consultations, etc. I’m sure there are other reference-like things I’m not thinking of… which is, of course, the point here: I need help in identifying what the State of the Art is for reference and reference-like activities.

I want to teach a reference course that will prepare students to go out and do that kind of work in real environments, and be aware of the issues and trends that will face them over, say, the next 5 years. What I don’t want is to teach the same course that I’ve taught before. In my own defense, I make some changes to every course I teach every time I teach it… but in the case of the reference course, that feels like tweaking around the edges (not to say rearranging deck chairs). My syllabus for 501 is still fundamentally the same framework as the course I’ve been teaching for years. I want to break the frame, really seriously re-envision what a reference course can be and should be. And for that I need your help.

Speaking of my syllabus, here it is. As it says right at the top: Please note that this syllabus is under development. In particular, I do not plan to use all of those assignments. I’m considering using each of those assignments, or some variation on them, but not all of them. I think that would be too much, both for the students (who are, after all, taking more courses than just mine) and for me (who, I admit it, tends to be slow in evaluating and grading student work). For another thing, I’m thinking of dropping Bopp & Smith as the course text… maybe using selected chapters, but not requiring that students drop almost $50 for it.

Also, here’s the course schedule: a link to the Google Calendar (back it up to Spring 2010, remember) and to a PDF export of same. The readings and other notes for each class session are in the Description field. I apologize for the poor readability of that field in the PDF.

In terms of the structure of the course, here are some things I’m thinking about. I’m fond of project-based courses: witness my Digital Libraries and Library Assessment courses. I’m thinking of making Reference project-based as well, though maybe not a semester-long ├╝ber-project like those two other courses, but smaller projects, like organizing a street reference event. Thoughts? If reference can’t be taught by apprenticeship (which, honestly, I believe would be the best approach), perhaps an active learning / action learning approach would be second-best.

Further, let’s talk about case-based education. As usual, Kevin Smith totally nails it: in his recent LJ article he makes a case for law school-like case-based education in library school. I’ve had that thought myself, but have always been stymied by a dramatic lack of existing cases to use, which means I’d have to write them all myself. Thoughts on what would make good cases for a reference course? Anyone want to write one?

So: Lay it on me. Do your worst. Topics, order of topics, assignments, texts, basic structure, you name it. I want feedback, suggestions, ideas, proposals on all of it. I’ll acknowledge all input on the syllabus. I’m also thinking of contributing my syllabus to GitHub.