San Marcos,
10:08 AM

Library institute inspires K-12 educators

By Eric Breier

Toni Olivas and her colleagues noticed a common element among many freshmen as they arrived on campus at Cal State San Marcos: The students didn’t understand the research process.

CSUSM helps freshmen overcome that through the General Education Life-Long Learning (GEL) course that most take in their first year.

But CSUSM librarians are working to help that learning process begin before college.

Olivas, a CSUSM education and sociology librarian, partnered with the North County Professional Development Federation and received a Community Engaged Scholarship incentive grant for 2015-16. The grant was used to host a two-day workshop aimed at increasing the information literacy skills of students titled “CSUSM Library Institute for Community Schools: Strengthening the Pipeline to College.”

CSUSM Library Dean Jennifer Fabbi produced a similar program when she worked at UNLV and suggested that Olivas apply for the grant, even offering to have the library match an award.

“They took it and ran with it, and it was very successful,” Fabbi said. “The reason why I know it was successful is they’re constantly getting individuals at schools asking them to come talk to their teachers or talk to their librarians.”

Olivas worked with fellow CSUSM librarians Allison Carr, Melanie Chu, Tricia Lantzy and Torie Quiñonez to organize the institute.

“We wanted to introduce information literacy earlier so that when students come to Cal State San Marcos or whatever college campus, they’re not deer caught in headlights,” Olivas said. “They’re understanding a little bit more of the expectations, college-level research.”

The institute brought teachers, librarians and library technicians from middle schools and high schools throughout San Diego County to CSUSM for two Saturdays in January.

The 28 attendees were provided reading material to review about information literacy before the institute. Once on campus, they spent one day learning about information literacy and the research process. The second day took a more hands-on approach. Attendees were able to see the similarities between common core state standards and information literacy standards and create lesson plans to implement at their respective schools.

Attendees wrote reflections on the experience and submitted student work samples, which CSUSM librarians received in June to begin analyzing.

“One of the goals of this institute was to build relationships,” Olivas said. “Not just Cal State San Marcos librarians with the K-12 schools, but librarians and library technicians within the school to talk to their classroom teachers, to collaborate with the classroom teachers. That was one of the really cool things.”

Olivas said many of the reflections written by attendees noted that the institute opened their eyes to the possibilities of collaboration.

“Being able to build that community among the teachers and librarians is really important, and I’m glad we’re starting to do that,” Olivas said. “One of the things we did is we talked to the librarians and the teachers about how to start those lines of communication. We’re fortunate here on campus that a majority of the faculty know who their librarian is … I don’t think that a lot of K-12 classroom teachers know what their librarians are capable of. So this is really neat to show, ‘Look at what your librarians are capable of doing.’ And empowering those K-12 librarians as well. That was the bonus for me.”

The institute proved so successful that Carr was awarded a 2016-17 grant to host another one. Dates are still being determined, but Carr expects it to be in late January or early February.

Anthony Devine, a teacher librarian at El Cajon Valley High School, participated in the January event and hopes to take part in the second institute. Devine said one of the lessons he took from the experience is being able to help his colleagues understand the importance of information literacy and thinking beyond the 10-page research paper.

“It’s really cool to understand what’s being asked for at the next level,” Devine said.

Olivas said the feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive and many wanted to delve further into the process.

“They actually want to go through the process and they want to play with our toys, so to speak,” Olivas said. “We have a lot of cool things here.”

Carr said the second institute will include more workshop time and attendees will spend time as “students” to gain a better perspective on what CSUSM freshmen are learning.

“We spent a lot of time explaining first-year curriculum and they want to see us teach that,” Carr said.

Enthusiasm from attendees carried into the community. Carr spoke to a group of about 30 teachers in Ramona, ranging from fifth grade to 12th grade, and met with librarians in the Grossmont Union High School District.

“We have started to take our show on the road,” said Carr, who also noted that some teachers from Hoover High School in San Diego also visited CSUSM with their classes to learn about research methods from the librarians.

The first year of the institute cost just under $8,000, which went toward everything from parking fees to lunch to a stipend for participants who completed all aspects of the program. CSUSM librarians want to continue the institute beyond the upcoming second event, which means applying for more grants and likely looking for donors.

“We’re going to need to find some continued funding for this,” Olivas said. “I don’t want it to fizzle out.”

Contact Carr at for more information on the 2016-17 institute.