Katy Whalen.Katy Whalen, assistant director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues (RCI) first-year course at WSU Pullman, believes the key to students gaining and practicing information literacy skills lies in tapping into their own natural curiosity.

“Curiosity…prompts us to ask critical questions about the world around us—and to sometimes make personal connections to the subject matter before us,” said Whalen, a career-track assistant professor in the Department of History and the 2022 recipient of the WSU Libraries’ Excellence Award.

“The curiosity that is inherent in critical thinking and information literacy is something that must be developed over a lifetime and is transferable to any college course, any profession or job, anytime we read a piece of news, are on social media, or watch a movie or television show,” she said. “If taught well, students [continue to use] critical thinking, and there is no limit to the information literacy they gain.”

Engaging students

Whalen and her colleagues in the RCI program collectively teach over 4,000 students each year, with a core goal of helping students acquire information literacy skills.

Whalen’s students engage in a unique monograph-finding and analysis activity, and librarians play the satisfying role of wandering the history section stacks of Terrell Library to help students locate books, wrote Jen Saulnier Lange, online learning librarian and award co-nominator with Corey Johnson, WSU instruction and assessment librarian. “She is always very engaged in the sessions and every term tells her students that the ‘book finding’ day is her favorite of the entire semester.”

In addition to being a proponent for library instruction, Whalen incorporates information literacy into her classes and assignments. She reinforces students’ academic library literacy and source analysis with public library use, requiring them to go to Neill Public Library in downtown Pullman to identify primary sources and search for secondary sources.

“Katy not only requires students to explore and use libraries for their assignments, but she also instills the value of libraries and their role in lifelong learning by providing extra credit to students who sign up for a public library card,” Johnson and Saulnier Lange wrote.

Honoring lifelong learning

The WSU Libaries Excellence Award recognizes a WSU faculty or staff member who has shown consistent support for the libraries. Recipients are chosen based on encouraging students to use the libraries; personal use of the libraries; personal support of or contributions to the libraries’ collections or services; interaction and cooperation with library faculty; and service on library-related committees.

Johnson has worked with Whalen for 10 years in conjunction with the Roots of Contemporary Issues program and noted in his  nomination letter how Whalen has regularly scheduled multiple library instruction sessions per term throughout that time.

“Because I value libraries so much, it’s nice to know that librarians appreciate the effort I make toward making undergraduate research so central to my own courses,” Whalen said. “My hope is that my efforts have university-wide impact to the degree that my students will gain some proficiency in navigating library databases, which will aid them to do research in any of their classes over their time here at WSU and will hopefully mean they become repeat users of the libraries.”

Top image: Katy Whalen.

By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries, for WSU Insider