What role should 21st century colleges have in helping students to develop hands-on, manual skills? That is the question Scott Carlson asks in this week’s Chronicle Review. At a time when “sustainability” is not just a way of acting ethically but a popularized lifestyle choice, it’s easy to see the appeal of this type of instruction.
One passage in particular caught my attention. Drawn together by a common interest and a human desire to be makers, students at the University of Vermont formed their own artisan guilds:
L. Pearson King, a junior environmental-studies major, taught his peers how to carve spoons in a woodworking guild last year. “It’s kind of trivial, but it’s also cathartic and kind of fun,” he says of the project, and the students in his group were immensely proud of their work. “To be active in the creation of an item forms a completely different relationship with that item.”
Maybe there is something to the guild approach that libraries can build off of. While information literacy is not as necessary to human survival as being able to build shelter or cook food (pending the zombie apocalypse), it is still a vital skill for 21st century life. For universities that do not have information literacy instruction (ILI) built into the curriculum, librarians have constantly struggled to find ways not only to integrate ILI, but to assess it. If your only interaction with a student is the one-off, how do you know if it sticks?
Could the library be a catalyst for “information guilds” or “technology guilds”? : groups of students that come together over a shared interest to get their hands dirty with information and to build [digital] objects. Could the library be an instigator for hacker co-ops, infonistas, techno-mavens, and virtual gurus?
The first objection that comes to my mind is “There’s no need for it.” But isn’t there? How many students come to us frustrated with an inability to even conduct simple research tasks? How many more students never approach us because they don’t know where to begin?
As someone who can’t tell a circular saw from Adam, I can relate to the frustration of not knowing where to start due to a lack of what is actually very basic knowledge. Guilds like the ones formed by the Vermont students inspire just enough confidence and self-awareness to initiate the process of making. As librarians, are we in a position to inspire these types of groups with a focus on information and technology? How do we begin?