Librarian Transformation: Teaching Disciplinary Courses- Outline


Because of current trends and fiscal challenges in higher education, particularly in the state, during 2017, the CARLI Instruction Committee decided to explore different ways libraries and librarians are adapting to provide quality service and meaningful instruction with different and/or fewer resources. The theme for the year was “Evolving Library Instruction: Negotiating Change in Uncertain Times” and the committee planned a series of webinars from librarians in the region who are being innovative in their response to institutional, fiscal, or programmatic changes.

The outline that follows was compiled by the Committee and is intended to assist librarians viewing the recorded webinar:

Librarian Transformation: Teaching Disciplinary Courses
Amy S. Van Epps, Purdue University

Webinar presented on March 9, 2017

  • Recording:
    • Please note that the recording begins on Slide 4; see the PDF of Slides linked above for the information covered on slides 1-3 not included in the recording.
  • Presenter's Slides


At Purdue University, subject librarians are tenure-track faculty who are expected to connect with disciplinary faculty to support teaching and learning. In recent years, several librarians at Purdue have been invited to teach existing disciplinary courses, or have worked with disciplinary faculty to create and teach new classes that fill needs at the university. In this webinar, Amy Van Epps discussed her opportunities to teach disciplinary classes, and shared insights on how traditional librarian roles can be leveraged to create teaching experiences beyond the IL guest lecture.


Amy S. Van Epps is an Engineering Information Specialist and Associate Professor of Library Science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, where she teaches credit courses, provides instruction sessions, mentors undergraduate students, and works closely with faculty redesigning courses to enhance student centered learning. Her research looks at how students in design experiences use information to assist in decision making. She holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Lafayette College, a master’s degree in library science from The Catholic University of America, a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is a PhD candidate in engineering education at Purdue University.

New Roles for Librarians

Many libraries are experimenting with new liaison models and these experiments tend to be data driven. Purdue University is also trying out new models for their liaison librarians and their librarians more generally. Purdue librarians are teaching disciplinary classes, and the library is also starting to hire people that have a disciplinary Ph.D. rather than a MLS. Van Epps is the liaison to engineering at Purdue and has a background in engineering; she is also working on a Ph.D. in engineering education.

Teaching Credit Classes

There are essentially two models for librarians teaching credit classes:

  • Taking on existing disciplinary courses
  • Creating new classes

At Purdue they recently made some programmatic changes that provided Van Epps with teaching opportunities for existing disciplinary courses:

  • They changed the first year program for engineers and since she has an engineering background, this provided an opening to teach in this revised curriculum.
  • Purdue also introduced a new degree in transdisciplinary studies in technology, and they were looking from faculty from across campus to participate in this new program.

Typically at Purdue when a librarian teaches in another program there is a 25% buyout (for 3-4 credit class) to release the librarian for the teaching, i.e., the department compensates the library for the librarians’ time away from her typical duties.

Purdue librarians have also created new courses to teach as well:

  • One colleague who has a Ph.D. in bioinformatics created a course on Introduction to R (an open source statistical analysis package used in the sciences and social sciences). He created this course because of a gap that he identified in the curriculum.
  • Another librarian who is a long time agriculture liaison has created undergraduate courses and a graduate seminar on agriculture data management in the lab. This course emerged from her library work in the curriculum and speaking with researchers about their data needs.
  • A third librarian is the Purdue GIS librarian and has a Ph.D. in ecology. This librarian created a class in the anthropology department on GIS for the humanities and social sciences. This class grew out of working with researchers and from student requests for learning this information.

Tips and Advice

These teaching opportunities grew out of typical liaison work, but also by paying special attention during that work. When librarians are teaching a typical one-shot, try to learn more about what is going on with the class as a whole and find any "pain points" for the instructor or with the class. These are teaching opportunities, but librarians need to be careful that their contribution is meaningful and not a glorified TA position.

Seek out special topics courses and short courses, i.e., courses that don't last the entire semester, as teaching opportunities, and to start with non-credit bearing opportunities for teaching, e.g., working with departmental faculty. Throughout this process having department connections and champions really helps.

Additional notes to keep in mind when teaching

  • Engage active learning techniques in the classroom and really work to make sure that your class is high quality. This will ensure a good outcome for students and help your cause.
  • Target the honors college or other new colleges/departments since they often have more flexibility in courses and are actively seeking new ideas and courses.
  • Having faculty status helps.
  • Make sure to negotiate compensation and being the instructor of record

Benefits and Challenges

Benefits of librarians teaching courses

  • Improved perception as faculty
  • Teaching leads to connections with students and more requests for instruction
  • It offers a different connection to students since the librarian is seeing them for half a semester or an entire semester, rather than just for a brief interaction at a reference desk.
  • Teaching provides a context for including information literacy skills

Challenges for librarians teaching courses

  • Teaching courses is very time intensive and can take librarians away from their core duties.
  • Librarians teaching courses also potentially reach fewer students, i.e., the 20-30 in the class rather than a potentially larger number at the reference desk or through one shots, even if the interactions are more robust.