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.

When Do We Become Experts?

An ACRL committee membership recently placed me and a handful of colleagues in the position to choose the recipients of two prestigious awards. As the secretary of the committee, I saw my role as a cross between an observer and cautious participant. Here I was, thrown into the big leagues, having to judge whether a particular publication was significant enough in its advancement of the field and I suddenly felt like a tee ball player stepping up to bat against Greg Maddox circa 1993. I felt as though I had a decent grasp of the field, but I began to wonder – at what point will I consider myself an expert?

I read through the nominations, all while taking diligent notes and creating my own scoring system. There were publications where I knew I’d read iterations of the same topics and projects, and then there were publications where I was blown away and knew there it was unique, innovative, and exactly what our profession needed. But then I’d wonder, “Do I really know? Sure, I read a lot of literature in graduate school and even more in the 2 and half years I’ve worked in the profession, but am I qualified enough to make an assessment on whether it’s award worthy or not?”

When the committee met to make the final decisions, I saw that I was right on target with the majority. Of course a few of my top choices were on the periphery, but a few were aligned with the majority of the committee as well. Consensus is a difficult thing, even in small groups, but the discussions which emerged surrounding professional disagreements highlighted the nuances in committee members’ individual expertise.

The entire experience was illuminating, not only as an introduction to ACRL committee work, but also for my own professional development. The nomination and decision process made me a bit uneasy at first, but I finished feeling more confident in my ability to critically examine literature in our field. I left understanding that although I’m not exactly an expert yet, I’m on my way and doing better than perhaps I thought.

So why does this matter in the bigger picture? My greatest struggle with my developing relationship with expertise centered around the idea of how I present my expertise to students and faculty. In the context of researching and helping students become information literate, I do feel as though I’m an expert. I don’t know where the disconnect is when it comes to information knowledge within my own profession. I don’t have the answer, but I’ll keep looking. And isn’t that what experts do – continually look for more knowledge to better answer the types of questions that really have no answers?

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.

On the Wings of #ACRL2013, or Brace Yourself for Landing

Having returned home from my inaugural appearance at an ACRL conference, I felt a sense of professional rejuvenation unlike almost anything I have previously experienced. I spent a good amount of time in my first days back trying to digest what I’d learned, prioritizing ideas I felt adaptable to my institution, sharing thoughts with colleagues, and emailing the new friends I met in Indianapolis. Now two weeks have passed and the honeymoon period seems to have fizzled, but I still want to attempt to do it all!

And voila, this blog rises from my post-ACRL priorities as a means to begin formalizing my thoughts on the profession and as a place to share those thoughts and ideas. Even if they only echo back to myself, this blog will be a place to explore new ideas and informally sift through new (and old) theories and practicalities of librarianship. My sandbox, if you will.

So, welcome. And please share your thoughts and opinions whether they align, diverge, or land somewhere in between. To paraphrase Geoffrey Canada’s opening keynote at ACRL 2013, I may be opinionated but that doesn’t mean I’m correct.