The Dark German Forest of Library Instruction by Paul Clayton Campbell




“Alright, ready.”

Just like the intro to RadioLab, I sometimes find myself having a similar internal dialog right before I step into my library instruction room.  I have done library instruction for what seems like a million times and I have learned that this uneasy feeling seems to be tied to when I try something new in my instruction.  Let’s face it, change is scary.

Jad Abumrad, in his keynote at ACRL 2015, spoke eloquently on how we all go through a proverbial “…dark German forest” in search of our own intellectual and professional voices.  Further, he made the point that we need to learn to “…embrace the gut-churn” feeling that accompanies the time we spend in that German forest.  My own interpretation of Abumrad’s keynote is that the dark German forest is an allegory for the inevitable change in life, while the gut-churn feeling is our initial reaction to that change.  Each time I modify my instruction and try something new is when I experience that gut-churning feeling.

I remember a class I taught several years ago when I was fresh out of library school.  I allowed myself to believe that my newly minted MLIS inoculated me against having to fully prepare myself to try some new learning activities in my instruction.  Because I did not plan out how I was going to integrate these new activities into my session, I jumped around in my lecture with no logical transition while trying to fit—or cram—these activities into my instruction.  The amount of confusion on the students’ faces only increased as the session continued.  I was deep, I mean, DEEP in the forest.

I spent some time picking up the pieces of what was previously my ego.  I tried to figure out how it was possible that the students were not understanding something that was so obvious to me.  I soon realized that just because I was an expert in library research didn’t mean that I was effective at translating my expertise into student understanding of the subject.  Being an expert in a particular field and being able to educate others are two different skills.

We can all trade stories of our experiences in a library instruction session and being deep in the forest.  I am convinced that most negative instructional experiences stem from a common origin: there was no instructional design used for the library instruction session.  Incorporating instructional design (ID) into library instruction serves as an effective roadmap out of the forest.  It provides a method of communicating our expertise in a way that is more accessible for students.  ID also supports librarians’ tendency to search for continual improvement, allowing us to develop our talents while acknowledging our weaknesses.

There are many different instructional design models, but they all are rooted in the same basic principle of continuous evaluation and improvement of instruction.  The ID model that I regularly use, and highly recommend, is called ADDIE.  The name is an acronym for each step of the design model: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  I appreciate ADDIE because it has stood the test of time and is one of the most versatile (Molenda, 2003).

Using ADDIE encourages the librarian to place deliberate thought into each phase of the model in the preparation of library instruction.  I say deliberate because ADDIE allows the librarian to break up a daunting task into several smaller more manageable tasks.  Focusing on each step of ADDIE increases the likelihood that the newly developed library instruction will directly address the students’ information gaps.  In their book, Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques, Bell and Shank provide a simple definition of each element of ADDIE (2007, p. 43):

Analysis: the process of defining what is to be learned.

Design: the process of specifying how it is to be learned.

Development: the process of authoring and producing learning materials.

Implementation:  the process of installing the instruction product in a real-world context.

Evaluation: the process of determining the impact of the instruction.

When a faculty member approaches me seeking out library instruction I use the ADDIE model to cater my instruction to the needs of that course.  The following is an abbreviated version of how I develop a library instruction session using ADDIE.


  • Create learning outcomes for the instruction session.
  • Is this course freshman English or senior capstone?
  • How much basic instruction do I need to provide?


  • Is this course online or traditional?
  • Is the location of the instruction going to be a computer lab or standard classroom?
  • What learning activities and learning objects do I need to design?
  • What assessment tool am I going to use?


  • Develop learning activities and learning objects that align with the session’s learning objectives.
  • For an online course I will need to produce short videos.
  • For a traditional course I will need to create a LibGuide to teach from and/or a PowerPoint.
  • NOTE: this phase of ADDIE is time-consuming.


  • Final touch-ups with what has already been created. Print out any handouts.
  • This is the GO LIVE stage. So, basically, this is where you have the gut-churn feeling and the internal dialog quoted at the beginning of this blog post.


  • Analyze the results from the student assessment tool.
  • Interview the course instructor to evaluate how the session went from their perspective.
  • Immediately after a session I spend some time thinking about how I felt the session went and make notes on what worked and what did not.

Using ADDIE has played a vital role in helping me confront my professional requirement of continually developing and broadening my skills in order to meet the information literacy needs of the current students I serve.  It also helps me confront the reality that what works for library instruction today may no longer be relevant to the information gaps future college students will experience.

Undoubtedly, instructional librarians need to embrace the gut-churn and venture into the dark forest with trying out different pedagogies, experimenting with new instructional technologies, and, especially, figuring out how to integrate the newly released Framework for Information Literacy (ARCL, 2015) into our instruction.  We have no control over what changes the future holds, but we do have control over our reaction to it.  Through the effective use of ID, instructional librarians are able to embrace the gut-churn and see it as source of empowerment that encourages us to grow intellectually and professionally.


Abumrad, J. (2015, March 26). Excerpt from Keynote – Jad Abumrad [Online video]. ACRL 2015. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). (2015, February 2). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from

Bell, S. J., & Shank, J. D. (2007). Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques. Chicago, Il: American Library Association.

Molenda, M. (2003). In search of the elusive ADDIE model. Performance Improvement42(5), 34-36. doi: 10.1002/pfi.4930420508


Paul Clayton Campbell is the instructional librarian at Ohio University Lancaster.   His academic interests are with the relationship between instructional design and library instruction.  He is currently working on a second master’s degree in education.

This entry was posted in Featured Blogger, Information Literacy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Dark German Forest of Library Instruction by Paul Clayton Campbell

  1. Susan Hurst says:

    Great article – Maybe ADDIE can help me find my way through that forest. As you say, even after years of doing instruction, sometimes I still manage to get WAY off the trail.

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