A Follow-Up: Teaching Creatively by Mandi Goodsett

Thanks to the generosity of the Instruction Interest Group, I had an opportunity to present about creative library instruction at the ALAO conference in Wilmington, OH, this past October. I thought it might be helpful for those who missed the session or wanted some more in-depth details about creativity in the classroom to share some of the ideas I discovered while preparing this session.

The idea of changing-up library instruction can be intimidating, overwhelming, or uncomfortable, especially for those who have an instruction routine that has typically worked well. However, adding new elements to library instruction has several important benefits:

  1. It can be a defense against the discouraging and unrewarding feeling of teaching the same material over and over, sometimes to the same students. Presentations and articles about academic librarian burnout have been circulating quite a bit recently (some examples here, here, and here), demonstrating how important it is that librarians feel their work is valued and rewarding. Creative library instruction can help.
  2. It can be a way to add variety to library instruction for the students. Often, trying something new in class means taking a risk and giving the students more control, which can engage students and, if they’ve already had the “library session” before, may jolt them out of their sense of complacency.
  3. Creative library instruction spurs librarians to try new—albeit well-vetted—ideas in the classroom, which may lead to better instruction and assessment. In my own experience, the more I tweak my instruction, the better it becomes.

But how can someone become more creative? The field of psychology provides some clues. The personality traits most commonly associated with creativity are plasticity, divergence, and convergence (Kaufman, 2013). Plasticity describes one’s openness to new experiences, and it’s this trait that is more consistently predictive of creativity than any other (Kaufman, 2013). In the classroom, this could mean trying something new, no matter how small, in every library instruction session. Found an instruction idea you’ve never used before? Give it a shot! The more open you are to the unfamiliar experiences that result from trying new things in the classroom, the less fear you will feel trying creative classroom endeavors in the future (Henrikson, 2013; Nerdi, et al., 2014).

Divergence is a buzzword that is usually associated with coming up with many different solutions to a problem, and this is certainly relevant to creativity (Dietrich, 2015). However, as a personality trait, divergence has more to do with independence and nonconformity. Divergent individuals may even be unpleasant to work with at times, since they often ignore the ideas of others and move in entirely new directions. This departure from what has been done before is very important to creative thinking, however (Kaufman, 2013). In library instruction, this might mean starting with someone else’s idea and putting a completely new spin on it to see what happens. It might also mean rethinking how to teach an information literacy topic, entirely ignoring the standard way of doing so. The result could be something radically different, yet also effective.

The final personality trait commonly associated with creativity is convergence, which has to do with precision and persistence. This might surprise you—aren’t creative people supposed to be disorganized and free-spirited? As it turns out, psychologists have found that unless creative people can find practical ways to apply their creative ideas to real-world problems, they lack a trait that is important for the success of creative endeavors (Kaufman, 2013). Consideration of how creative ideas can be organized and promoted can be just as important as the divergent, non-conformist thinking that generated the ideas. In library instruction, this means considering the implications of trying a new creative idea in the classroom. How will the students be affected? Does the timing of the lesson need to be changed? What else will need to be done to prepare the students? This also means assessing creative instructional activities to be sure they were as effective as you’d hoped, as well as making decisions about future instructional design based on the assessment.

The biggest take-away I got from reading about creativity in the field of psychology is that creative thinking often involves bringing two or more existing ideas from different domains or people together to make something new (Dietrich, 2015; Kaufman, 2013). Librarianship often embraces idea-sharing, so I think librarians’ capacity to teach creatively is enormous! Looking at what else has been done and adapting it to your own teaching is a great first step to making your instruction more creative. And this doesn’t only mean exploring what other academic librarians have done. Talk with your colleagues in other disciplines, or with librarians at other types of libraries—what do they know about how people learn that can help you find an exciting, effective, new way of teaching information literacy? In the end, creative teaching isn’t about reinventing the wheel; it’s about keeping an open mind to make connections where none existed before.


Dietrich, A. (2015). How creativity happens in the brain. New York: Springer.

Henriksen, D., & Mishra, P. (2013). Learning from creative teachers. Educational Leadership, 70(5). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Learning-from-Creative-Teachers.aspx

Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Beautiful minds: The real neuroscience of creativity. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-real-neuroscience-of-creativity/

Kaufman, S. B., & Gregoire, C. (2015). Wired to create: Unraveling the mysteries of the creative mind. Perigee, New York, NY.

Nerdi, C., Goodwin, M., Vetting Wolf, T., Olive, S-B, & Maher Wizel, M. (2014). The five habits of creative teachers. Education Week Teacher. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/08/19/ctq_nardi_creative.html


Mandi Goodsett is the Performing Arts & Humanities Librarian at Cleveland State University. For more helpful information on creative library instructional design, be sure to visit Mandi’s research guide and her blog. Mandi Goodsett can be contacted at a.goodsett@csuohio.edu.

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