Interview with Mark Aaron Polger, co-author of Engaging Diverse Learners

Cover of the book Engage Diverse LearnersThis is an interview with Mark Aaron Polger, co-author of Engaging Diverse Learners: Teaching Strategies for Academic Librarians ( Libraries Unlimited / ABC-CLIO, 2017). He co-authored the book with Scott Sheidlower. Anne Hays, fellow librarian at the College of Staten Island, conducted the interview.

AH: Can you give us your elevator pitch on what your book is about?

MAP: The book I co-wrote is a “how to” guide on teaching strategies to help foster student engagement in the Information Literacy classroom.

AH: When you were doing research for the book, what was the most interesting thing you learned?

MAP: The most interesting thing I learned was that there were so many different definitions to student engagement and it meant different things to different people. I also learned that librarians use a variety of teaching techniques to engage their students. I also learned that student engagement does not always lead to learning.

AH: During the long writing process, did anything in particular keep you inspired to write?

MAP: We were inspired by our curiosity to discover what other librarians do in the classroom to promote engagement in the class. Having a collaborator helps because we often shared ideas and we learned from our interviews with other librarians. It inspired to think differently about our teaching, to try different techniques, and to get outside our comfort zone.

AH: What was the hardest part of writing the book?

MAP: Having a co-author who is a friend can pose some challenges. We have different personalities and teach differently. I use theatrics, performance, and exaggeration in my classes and my co-author uses humor and shock. In addition, we both have busy lives so writing together and consolidating different chapters may result in 2 different “voices”. This can be a challenge when trying to write a book with a cohesive “voice”.

AH: What was the best part of writing the book?

MAP: The best part of writing the book was the research involved and my understanding of student engagement. I read about different learning theories and when applied to different teaching techniques, I felt like it came together. I also learned that many librarians experiment with their teaching and that it’s always a work in progress. There is no “right way” to teach.

AH: If a publisher asked you to write a sequel, is there anything you didn’t put in this book that you would like to add?

MAP: I think if I had to write a sequel, I think perhaps writing about the outcomes of student engagement can be addressed. I think it would be interesting to discover whether an engaged class means they will learn better, get better grades, graduate with a higher GPA. Librarians do not conduct a lot of longitudinal research because we do have access to our students progress over a 5 or 10 year period of time. That would be interesting to follow students’ academic paths to see their progress.

AH: Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans?

MAP: Student engagement depends on so many external factors that we must not blame ourselves if our class is seen as a fail. Student engagement involves the right mixing of ingredients and if something is off balance, then students might not be engaged. It’s not the end of the world. Librarians are fortunate that we teach many one-shots and with practice, I think our teaching gets better.

On a completely separate topic, I wanted to plug the upcoming book I’m working on. I’m currently finishing another book (this time as solo author) on a Library Marketing Guidebook for Beginners. I’m hoping to complete it this Spring.

AH: Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the interview!

[Mark Aaron Polger is the First Year Outreach Librarian at the College of Staten Island Library]