Brooklyn Public Library Offers Online PD Course on Information Literacy

Through the free Teacher Lab program, K–12 teachers and librarians get up to date on research skills—and earn professional credit.
As the coordinator for school outreach at the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), Amy Mikel knows the value of professional development for teachers. However, a few years ago, she realized there was only so much she could teach educators in a 45-minute workshop. So in August 2014, she launched Teacher Lab, a course on information and research skills for K–12 educators. She soon became convinced that even that four-day summer course wasn’t enough. “I can only bring 20 teachers into the classroom, so I started to envision putting the course onto an online environment where I could reach many, many more teachers,” says Mikel. After receiving a Sparks grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, she launched the free online course this past July. The BPL’s Teacher Lab is for educators, including school librarians, who want to learn (or brush up on) research and information literacy skills at their own pace. The curriculum is divided into 13 modules. The first units are designed to give educators a foundation in library basics, says Mikel—from how the catalog is designed to what a librarian does. From there, the segments branch out into other topics. There’s one on archives and how to navigate a special collection; another module focuses on databases, and more evaluate online resources and provide guidance on how to write citations. “What I'm trying to do is help teachers understand how many skills you have to unpack for students to research well and be able to move around the world of information,” Mikel explains. At the end of the course, she discusses what a school librarian does. “If I am doing my job well, I am demonstrating what it looks like to have a librarian around. The best way to support a school is if you have a school librarian and a public librarian working together,” she notes. Educators must submit a final assignment, which Mikel grades. So far, 100 people have graduated from the course and earned 12 hours of professional development credit, with another 400 currently in the program. While all have been from New York State, Mikel hopes that once the word spreads, educators across the country will enroll.

How Teacher Lab works

“The way I designed the course is that it uses the Brooklyn Library as a teaching model, but all the independent work is personalized for whoever is taking the course. So for example, there are assignments that ask educators to visit their local library to explore the resources and databases there,” Mikel explains. One of the more valuable lessons for teachers is getting firsthand experience in research and information literacy. “As a science teacher, I found myself telling my students to do background research on specific science investigations without being able to guide them to the correct resources,” says Laura Scarfogliero, an eighth-grade science teacher at PS/IS 109 in Brooklyn. “Now I know not only how and where to direct students to locate useful resources, but how to teach them to evaluate their validity.” Of course, getting to know the library doesn’t hurt either. “Before this course, I did not use my public library to the fullest,” says Scarfogliero, adding that she’ll be taking advantage of the BPL’s archives from now on. School librarians can also benefit from Teacher Lab. “A lot of what I'm doing in the course is modeling how to teach: how do you teach using Google and how do you teach somebody how to evaluate information,” says Mikel. Cheryl Wolf, a librarian at the Neighborhood School, a pre-K through fifth grade public school in New York City, would second that. She took the online class because she was curious to see how someone would design and teach a research course. “Research feels like one of the hardest things to teach—mostly because research is so complicated and circuitous, not linear at all,” she says. This year, Wolf plans to develop a descriptive review for the students at her school built around the question, “What is research?” To Mikel’s knowledge, BPL is the only public library offering such a course to K–12 educators, but she hopes it won’t be the last. She is planning on writing a field guide for other libraries that might want to replicate the initiative. “I want to expand what I’m doing here, so I’d love for other libraries to take elements of the course and then adapt it,” she says.
Linda Rodgers covers health and education for a variety of magazines and websites.

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