Pick 2: A simple approach to library instruction

Years ago I saw this image popularized on social media and shared by an engineer friend of mine. Such a simple image had a huge impact on me and I have been reflecting on it as I consider my professional teaching philosophy. The image is clean, simple and concise and helps keep expectations in check. How does this image work? Well, you get to pick two of the three options. The third option is the one you sacrifice from your project, design, etc.

Original Pick 2

For example: If I want something done quickly and good; it’s going to be expensive. If I want something good and cheap, it most likely won’t be done quickly.

“Pick 2” in the library

Have you ever been preparing for an information literacy session and a faculty presents you with their list of content they want to be covered?

  1. Searching the library website
  2. Searching databases
  3. What is a database?
  4. Building effective searches
  5. What’s popular, what’s academic?
  6. What is peer-review?

On top of all that, I want to have activities included. Oh, and I can give you 20 minutes. 


Know your limits

This is the problem sometimes with library instruction. Faculty don’t always have the class time to dedicate to the level of library instruction that we know students need. This isn’t their fault, it isn’t our fault, it’s just how the situation plays out. 

To cover all the topics I mentioned above, in 20 minutes, with activities, isn’t possible. Well, it’s certainly not possible to do well. Knowing what we can get done in a set amount of time is something we need to be aware of. We also have to be able to communicate that effectively with faculty members. In libraries, we struggle with saying “no” or “we can’t do that”. It’s not in our vocabulary. We want to satisfy everyone. However, that kind of mentality just isn’t possible or sustainable. We have to be aware of our limitations, to avoid burnout. There is an interesting conversation happening around a concept known as Vocational Awe, check that out here.

Modified “pick 2” for library instruction

This is where I’ve modified the pick-two pyramid for library instruction. Using this method allows me to effectively communicate what I can provide faculty in the classroom. Like everything, this isn’t a rigid approach to instruction. Using this gives me some direction when explaining to faculty what services I provide. 

Library Modified “Pick 2”
  • Want something quick with activities? Well, you have to sacrifice some of the details. 
  • Want something quick and detailed? Well, you are sacrificing some of the activities. 
  • Unfortunately, these are the tradeoffs with quick, one-shot instruction sessions. 


At the end of the day, library instruction tends to be messy. We are expected to slot into university courses in one-shot sessions. Embedded librarianship is ideal, but it’s not always an opportunity we are provided with. Recognizing our value and what we can accomplish within a certain timeframe (e.g. if you give me 20 minutes I can cover, x and y but not z) is something we must be able to convey. In libraries, we try and please everyone, the pick 2 chart shows that this isn’t always possible. 

Header Image

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

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