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Boatwright Library News

January 31, 2013

Wearing Two Hats: Faculty Librarians and First Year Seminars

Three years ago the University of Richmond replaced the required Core course with First-Year Seminars (FYS).   Because one of the FYS program’s stated goals is to “develop the fundamentals of information literacy and library research,” it has been an ideal opportunity for liaison librarians to work closely with multiple class sections.   Two librarians, Linda Fairtile and Marcia Whitehead, have taken it a step further and taught their own FYS courses. We are featuring their reflections on this experience in this issue and the upcoming March issue.

This semester I’m teaching my First-Year Seminar, “Gods, Gold, and Greed: Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung,” for the third time.  My course is more interdisciplinary that it sounds: in addition to reading and watching Richard Wagner’s four Ring operas, we study his sources (ancient myths and medieval poetry), the political system that he allegorically condemned, the Eastern-influenced philosophy that inspired him to rewrite the ending, and some of the ways in which his work has been interpreted (for example, as a socialist manifesto, an environmentalist appeal, and an anti-Semitic screed).  Given the variety of topics that we cover, I believe my students should have as their liaison librarian someone with broader subject expertise than I possess -- and who knows more about everything under the sun than Marcia Whitehead?  Fortunately, she didn’t mind adding yet another library lab to her busy schedule.

Believe it or not, most eighteen-year-olds aren’t opera nuts, and my enrollment has never hit the maximum of sixteen students.  This is a blessing in disguise, particularly when the instructor already has a full-time library job.  While FYS faculty love the freedom to teach topics that they care deeply about, many find the emphasis on writing to be a challenge.  Between blog posts, short essays, an annotated bibliography, and a research paper, my students do quite a bit of writing.  Over the years, I’ve gotten better at evaluating and attempting to improve their work, and it really helps to have a Writing Consultant to reinforce the basics.

One thing that has surprised me about this experience is the number of students who come into the course already aware of Wagner’s Ring.  In fact, each time I’ve taught it there has been at least one who is an expert on Norse mythology.  Another surprise is the difference between fall and spring semesters.  You would expect student writing to be better in the spring, and it usually is, but it can also develop new weaknesses.  With one semester of scholarly reading under their belts, students sometimes try too hard to write like academics, and they need help untangling their sentences.

I’m grateful for the FYS experience, not only because it allows me to teach a topic that otherwise would probably not be offered here, but also because taking responsibility for my own course helps me better understand the needs of faculty and students in my liaison areas.

- Linda Fairtile, Head, Parsons Music Library

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Upcoming Events and Library Workshops

"Muslim Journeys" Book Display
1st Floor, Research & Collaborative Study Area
February 4 - April 15, 2013

Cultural Connections: HEART
Wednesday, February 20, 12:00-1:00 pm
Boatwright Seminar Room 1, 1st Floor

2013 Peple Lecture: David Weinberger
Sunday, Feb. 17, 2 p.m., Jepson Alumni Center
Friends of Boatwright Memorial Library

Jepson School 20th Anniversary Archival Exhibit
2nd Floor, Boatwright Library
February 4 - March 15, 2013

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