Is a Theoretical Division Such a Bad Thing?

The ACRL Board of Directors has decided to adopt the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. Taking the lead from professional sports, the Board has adopted the Framework with an asterisk. The Board decided not to sunset the current Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education until the profession sees how the Framework plays out.

Much has been written about the new Framework and within the past 24 hours there have been many blog posts and tweets about the Board’s decision. Although I’m not fully sold on the threshold concept theory, I can support the new Framework. I can also support the Competency Standards, if they were updated. But I’m not writing about that today. What really struck me during all of the Twitter chatter, was a particular tweet from the open mic session at ALA Midwinter:

I read a handful of tweets and blog posts over the course of the Task Force’s activities that mirrored this sentiment. The Framework has the potential to divide instructional librarians across the country – those who support the new Framework and those who reject it. And last night, as I read the Board’s decision, which poses a greater possibility of this happening, I thought to myself, “Is a theoretical division such a bad thing?”

Of course having a clear vision and direction for information literacy instruction has its benefits. It unites the profession; it gives us clear direction; we’re all on the same (theoretical) page. But if we want to continuously move forward as a profession, doesn’t a division into various camps help guide and accelerate that progress? Sure, there will be some camps that stagnate or even regress, but I’m optimistic enough to believe those would be in the extreme minority. But a division into different theoretical or practical approaches to information literacy instruction might be exactly what our profession needs to keep pushing us forward.

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Low Instruction Numbers Call for More Aggressive Outreach

As the semester draws to its end, I find myself compiling instruction statistics. While the College of Arts and Science is undergoing a core curriculum revision, which will integrate an information literacy learning outcome into a required course, the current core curriculum lacks such a requirement. There have been two courses which represent our instructional program’s bread and butter – Ratio Studiorum Program (RSP) and Civic Engagement through Public Communication (COM 152).

COM 152 is a speech course that the majority of students take to fulfill a core requirement. This fall, I taught 11 of the 12 sections (92%) of COM 152. This percentage is higher than last fall, which was only 58%. Anecdotally, I attribute the rise to two factors. The first is that I began working at Creighton two days before the start of the Fall 2012 semester; I imagine some instructors hesitated to contact me because of this. The second is that word of mouth of my instruction spread. I know this is true for two instructors who I taught for in the Spring 2013 and Fall 2013 semesters. They told me an information literacy session was recommended by another faculty member. All in all, I’m pleased with the improvement in the raw numbers for this course.

RSP is a required one credit course for freshmen. It focuses on advising, acclimating students to collegiate level academics, and introducing students to Jesuit values taught at Creighton. This fall, librarians taught only 20 of the 49 sections (41%) in the College of Arts and Sciences. The reverse occurred in Fall 2012 when 22 of 39 sections (58%) had an encounter with library instruction. This decrease unsettles me.

I analyzed these numbers to see if there are any patterns or conclusions to draw. Here is what I found:

  • More sections of RSP were taught in Fall 2013 to allow for smaller class sizes
  • Over half of the instructors who taught in Fall 2012 and requested library instruction did not teach a section in Fall 2013
  • No faculty members abandoned ship – if a faculty member requested instruction in Fall 2012, they also requested it in Fall 2013
  • There doesn’t seem to be a pattern in faculty members by department who did or did not request instruction. Notably high departments who did not request instruction for Fall 2013 were Modern Languages and Chemistry

I’d like to note that I’m a firm believer that correlation does not equal causation, but I still see the value in examining observations and data to find patterns that may lead to further research.

I expect numbers to fluctuate each year; however, I have designed instruction for COM 152 to scaffold from instruction in RSP. Information literacy instruction in RSP focuses on Bloom’s lower level skills. We teach students the building blocks of research and show them the various resources the library owns. COM 152 focuses almost exclusively on evaluation and analysis of sources. Perhaps this scaffolded approach is not appropriate if information literacy instruction in RSP is reaching only 40-60% of students?

One of the biggest disappointments in the lowered numbers is that as an instructor for a section of RSP this Fall semester I seemed to have failed at recruiting more faculty requests for instruction. Not only was I at all of the instructor meets, networking with faculty, but I also presented multiple times to the faculty. I believed this would encourage more faculty to utilize our instructional program, but this did not happen.

Perhaps our liaisons, myself included, need to encourage faculty to bring their sections to the library more aggressively. Another idea emerged from teaching a section instructed by a Chemistry faculty member. He showed high interest in RefWorks and wanted me to teach his students about it. I typically don’t mention RefWorks during instruction for RSP. Maybe we need to appeal more to the interests of each faculty member’s discipline. For example, the faculty in the sciences may request sessions if we advertise teaching how to use RefWorks and the differences between primary and secondary sources.

With the new core curriculum beginning in Fall 2014, this all may be needless extrapolation. The information literacy outcome imposed on one of the new core courses poses promise for the future of the instructional program. What the Library needs to do going into the future is try to emphasize the partnering of faculty with librarians to achieve this outcome. I know there will be faculty who choose to go at it alone, but it is our job to show that we can be collaborators with them to help their students learn how to become information literate students.

It has occurred to me that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on “usage” numbers. Student outcomes are the most important assessment piece when dealing with information literacy. If students are not learning anything, then the library is failing. But in order to teach students, we need to get them inside the doors, whether physically or virtually.

Dear Faculty, I Get It Now

Dear Faculty,

I never understood. What’s one class period? You’ve always said you want your students to produce the best research papers possible. When your students submit papers with only an assortment of open web sources, you shrugged your shoulders, deducted points, and said, “Well, they should have known better.” But how could they include appropriate, scholarly sources when they know neither what they are nor where to find them?

But I get it now. I’ve spent time in the trenches. My one credit class that meets only 50 minutes a week overflows with content. I struggled to fit in the time. But I did. Granted, I had the advantage of being able to disperse the content throughout the course and not in a one-shot session, but I did it. You can too! Even in your three credit course that meets 2 and half hours a week.

Break the mold of the one-shot session. Embed a librarian into your CMS. Invite the librarian for 15-20 minute segments throughout the semester. Partner with a librarian in way that is meaningful for your class. Don’t just say, “I don’t have enough time.”

But I have now walked a small portion of your journey, and I can promise you this: The next time I hear that you don’t have enough time for librarians to teach information literacy skills, my eyes won’t roll quite as much.

Sincerely,

Your Friendly Instructional Services Librarian

Librarians and Academic Honesty: “Misusing Academic Resources”

Each fall semester I teach a number of information literacy sessions for freshmen in RSP 101: Introduction to the Culture of Collegiate Life. For the past two years, one of the faculty preceptors for this course asked me to focus on academic honesty, plagiarism, and citing sources. His class session is always one of my favorites. I love a good debate and nothing seems to fire students up like the topic of academic honesty and plagiarism. It’s a chance to witness confirmation bias at its finest; unless I reaffirm what a student already believes as academic honesty and plagiarism, they fight back.

Creighton University’s College of Arts & Science has a six page policy outlining academic honesty. One of the examples of academic dishonesty is “misusing academic resources.” I included this in my presentation and asked students to think of examples of what activities might fall under this ambiguous phrase. After students volunteered a series of examples, the faculty preceptor asked a very interesting question, a question which I have been thinking about for several weeks. He asked, “Could the use of a reference librarian ever fall under this category?”

After much thought, I remembered a student who recently came in for a research appointment. He had an unrefined topic for a political science literature review. All he told me was that he was writing about the causes of war. When I attempted a reference interview, he refused to give me anymore to go off, insisting that his professor wanted it to be that broad. So i showed him a few databases and how many search results he would get with such a broad topic. I urged him to narrow it down and offered a few suggestions based on the results we found. As I prepared to send him on his way, he said this to me:

“I’m confused. I was told that if I came to a reference librarian, you would find all of my sources for me.”

The student needed 20 sources, I helped him get started with about 7. (As a side note, the student and I were both on a time crunch – we only had 20 minutes together.) Now, there are few things that irritates me more than a student who blurts out the untold secret. Sure, we help students find articles, but when you need 20, we’re not going to sit there and handpick them for you. We’re going to give you the skills and tools to discern between the results yourself.

Academic Honesty

Word of mouth: The preferred source of the 21st century

Then I compared this to the student who comes in asking for help that only needs 3 or 4 sources. Usually, we help them find all of their sources. Are we entering a grey area of academic honesty? Are we misusing academic resources – the resources being our own expertise?

After much thought and discussion among my colleagues, I’ve come to the conclusion that the occasion of crossing the line into academic dishonesty is rare. The distinction aligns with the teaching mission of reference. We are working with the student, not for the student. We’re showing them how to search effectively. We’re not telling them how to use the information we help them find. We’re not working in a vacuum. We’re helping them learn the research process. We’re making them information literate students. Rare is the case that the librarian does it all for the student.

I’m aware this is a grey area. Some may think that we need to help the student find the 20 sources; however, I feel as though that’s ultimately doing them a disservice. As a librarian, we are professionals and must use our best judgement to determine how far we’re comfortable pushing the line between academic dishonesty and genuinely helping a student.

I think of this line often and I know where it’s placed in my mind. Whenever I work with a student, I’m very aware of how close we get to that line. And I know that it’ll be crossed occasionally. As a librarian, I want to help students succeed on their own and know it’s OK to ask for help, but they also need to learn to work with me.

Librarian, Instructor, Advisor: Decision 1 of Many to Follow

On top of my summer library projects, which include a redesign of Reinert Library’s modular online tutorial, I will be preparing to teach my first credit-bearing course. In an effort to expand the reach of the information literacy program at Creighton University, I volunteered to be a faculty preceptor for the Ratio Studiorum Program (RSP) at Creighton. RSP 101 introduces freshmen to academic life in the College of Arts & Sciences at Creighton. In addition to teaching students about the value of a liberal arts education and the Jesuit mission, I will also be the students’ advisor until they declare their major.

It should come as no surprise that as a reference and instruction librarian I find teaching to be the most rewarding and gratifying aspect of my job. Unfortunately, with the exception of institutions that teach a credit-bearing information literacy course, librarians rarely have the opportunity to teach outside the one-shot format. While RSP 101 is not an information literacy course, there is a good bit of flexibility built into it. In addition to my teaching style and preferred teaching strategies, I can personalize my section through a book or series of articles.

Playing to the age-old stereotype of the bookish librarian, I spent a healthy amount of time attempting to pick the perfect book. Since RSP 101 is a one-credit course, the recommended length is 200 pages, which narrows the pool considerably. I was also advised to choose a book that both engages students and plays to my research interests. The information field offers plenty of interesting options, but I struggled imagining 18 year-old students feeling the same enthusiasm for The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains or The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption as I do. One could argue that given the academic nature of the course, students don’t have to love the book, but I also don’t want students to look at the class as just another boring requirement. So after staring at my bookshelves for what felt like an eternity, I landed on Peter Rock’s My Abandonment

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My Abandonment by Peter Rock

Perhaps an unconventional choice, but let me explain. The goal of critical thinking skills inherent in information fluency is transferability. We want students to use the search skills we teach them across multiple platforms, not just an EBSCO or ProQuest interface. We want to teach them how to critically evaluate all types of information, not just a website or scholarly article. My Abandonment is inspired by the true story of a girl and her father who lived in Forest Park in Portland. Rock has created a beautiful and gripping coming of age tale from the newspaper stories that emerged upon their discovery. I envision using this novel as a gateway for students to think about how we interact with information, both available and missing, in our daily lives to draw inferences and create knowledge in the world around us. Fiction is not a popular option for RSP 101 texts. I chose fiction because just as dystopian literature can help young adults understand difficult social issues, I believe that fiction can generate questions and conversations in more profound ways than nonfiction.

Choosing a text is just one of the many pedagogical decisions I’ll have to make this summer. I look forward to developing the class and the opportunities it will allow for experimentation with different teaching strategies and tools. I am particularly interested in utilizing the flipped classroom model. Developing a class, mastering the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum, and advising approximately 12 students will not only challenge me  as a teacher, but I also envision it as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate one of the many ways in which the library can help serve the students (and faculty) at Creighton.

Do We Need to Teach This?

As Reference and Instructional Services Librarian, a significant percentage of my work focuses on assessment. One of my favorite classes to teach as the social science liaison is Communication Studies 152: Civic Engagement through Public Communication. Throughout the semester students produce a series of informative, persuasive, and group speeches. Instructors encourage students to speak about topics that not only interest them, but that also engage with the current civic discourse.

Because topics generally focus on current issues, sources run the gamut from open web sources to scholarly articles. Most speeches utilize an array of government statistical sources, local newspaper articles, and scholarly, peer-reviewed material. On top of this breadth lies the fact that a majority of COM 152 students are freshmen, many of whom have never been exposed to college-level research or library databases. This leaves 50 minutes to teach students the information cycle, the difference between scholarly and popular, how to effectively use databases (and a wide variety of them, since topics can fall under any discipline), and how to critically evaluate the information they find. A daunting task, but one that instruction librarians regularly face.

Working with course instructors, information literacy librarians make tough decisions about what to teach and what not to teach on a daily basis. Creating clear, relevant, and measurable learning outcomes helps us prioritize and focus our learning objectives. Assessing these outcomes illustrates if students learn what we teach. We then close the assessment loop by using the results to inform our future teaching. But what do we do if the results continue to show students aren’t grasping a particular concept? We can incorporate different teaching techniques. We can ensure we’re teaching to various learning styles. We can develop different active learning exercises. In sum, we go back to the drawing board. We don’t give up. But how often do we take a step back and ask ourselves, “Is this a skill a students (still) need? Do we need to move on and focus our attention elsewhere?” After all, time is precious and we may be letting one piece distract us from the greater puzzle.

This spring I piloted a pre- and post-test assessment piece in four of the sections of COM 152. I learned a lot about the effectiveness of my teaching and how students conceptualize some of the material. The tests also revealed that students repeatedly failed to grasp the difference between keywords and subjects. A handful of conclusions can be drawn from the results, but I began to wonder if this was an essential skill for students in this course to master. A large portion of students’ sources (for better or worse) come from open web sources and newspapers, both of which typically do not use controlled vocabulary and often allow for full text searching. Recognizing the difference between subjects and keywords might prove useful when searching for scholarly articles or using the catalog, but since sources need to be within the past 5 years, students often ignore the catalog and their scholarly sources trend toward broad pieces on general issues.

Through working with students one-on-one in research consultations, I think students often discover controlled vocabulary serendipitously. They’ll search a database and begin to look through the records. They notice that within each record are hyperlinked terms that often reflect their initial keyword search. Since Millennials are so accustomed to URLs, they’ll click on the subject term and realize that the database has now returned more relevant records. Some students will ask why it happened, while other students don’t care why it happened but realize that they’ve “done something right.” They begin to notice the database limiters. Serendipity.

Is it possible to quantify which learning method is more valuable – learning within the classroom or learning by doing? Are the two separate? I can create active learning exercises that incorporate this same process, but the activity is divorced from the students’ point of need. Or is this all irrelevant? Knowing the difference between controlled vocabulary and keywords is a lower order skill. Should my efforts focus on higher order information literacy skills? Is this possible without knowing the difference between keyword searching and controlled vocabulary?

I believe it is possible. Teaching the difference between keywords and subjects may be a traditional learning objective, but its time may have run out. In an increasingly digital educational landscape where information overload is almost inevitable, this is one piece that I’m growing increasingly comfortable removing from the puzzle.

Tradition and the Rhetoric of the Modern Library

“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

“…Tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance.” – Igor Stravinsky

While at ACRL, I attended  “From the Periphery into the Mainstream: Library DIY Culture(s) and the Academy,” a panel session led by the librarians from In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I attended the session not only because I’m very interested in the topic, but I also wanted to see how/if they successfully flipped the standard panel session format. 

As the dust settled from the conference, a few commentaries about the session have emerged. In particular, I found the posts by Meredith Farkas and Brian Mathews both interesting and thought-provoking. They both left the session with quite different opinions on the DIY concept and the librarians who spoke at the session. I do not intend this post to be a response to either of those posts because I find facets of their arguments with which I  both agree and disagree, and I can’t seem to find a way to describe this dichotomy with any clarity. However, they both call attention to comments made during the session about the “traditional library.” As an audience member who made one such comment, I’d like to attempt to articulate in greater depth what I envisioned expressing.

Maybe it’s because I am a liaison for the Communication Studies department or maybe it’s because many of the issues my library faces can be attributed to ineffective communication of value, but in recent months I’ve found myself paying an increasing amount of attention to rhetoric. In particular, I have come to believe that librarians need to stop using the word “traditional” to describe what we do or what we are.

I want to be clear that I believe tradition exists and will forever remain an element of librarianship. Any profession that has survived as long as librarianship will maintain some sort of tradition. I’m not implying that we need to throw away the foundations of librarianship or what has brought us to our current state. What I wish to see happen is a transformation in the rhetoric.

My comment at the DIY panel session was along the lines of this: “We need to stop using the word ‘traditional.’ People often use that word and it generally implies something as static, but libraries have always been the opposite. We’re dynamic institutions, always changing.” In many ways, our tradition has been change – adapting to the needs of our users in an ever-evolving world, which is now highly defined by technology. As a profession, we understand this, but if an outsider was looking in, it’s my opinion that they’d hear the word “traditional” and apply the age-old stereotype of The Music Man‘s Marian the Librarian. These are the same people who expound about libraries not existing in the near future because of the internet. They hear the word “traditional” and think static. Unfortunately, these people seem to outnumber those who know what the true tradition of librarianship is, and these are the people who are more often than not making the administrative and policy decisions that affect how our libraries operate.

If we change the rhetoric, can we more effectively impact the administrative decisions being made regarding libraries? Communicating the value of libraries within our institutions has become increasingly important in an atmosphere of escalating costs among flat-lined or decreasing budgets, and initiatives like ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries and ACRL’s Standards for Libraries in Higher Education perpetuate its importance. By changing the rhetoric of how we communicate our value, librarians can better position ourselves to create the change envisioned by those at the DIY panel session.

In many ways, this call for transformation in the rhetoric fits the attitudes of most of the librarians who commented at the ACRL panel session and what I believe is the essence of the DIY concept – the desire to transform our libraries outside of the traditional hierarchies, norms, and constraints, to meet the evolving demands of our users. What exactly this new rhetoric should sound and look like, I’m unsure. I do know that it needs to start within the profession and it needs to begin today. Until the profession as a whole decides to change the rhetoric, we cannot expect our surrounding external forces to buy into the vision of DIY culture.