“This particular silence doesn’t even register for subject faculty or students. It is simply what they expect of us.”

Lauren Wallis speaks powerful words in her post on the silencing of instruction librarians in academia. I’ve certainly had my share of “only show them these databases please” instruction requests, but I’ve also been blessed to work with a number of faculty who value my work and suggestions. I have no doubt this is due in part to my privilege, but I think much it also comes from the ethos of the liberal arts college where I work which places a high priority on collaborative pedagogy and critical thinking.

Apparently, I am working at the wrong campus. I had 5 students signed up for one of our drop-in workshops on Evaluating Resources this afternoon. No one showed. So while I was killing time, I took a look at the enrolled students’ profiles in the CMS. Turns out they all attend Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa (about an hour away). Some digital detective work discovered that my all-student email went out to both campuses by mistake. It also went out to the Board of Directors of the college… who are welcome to attend, if it please them. =)

When I started teaching library instruction classes, I stuck to the ubiquitous CRAAP model for evaluating resources. Then I learned about BEAM and switched to that acronym for a while. Then I discovered the Edited/Peer-Review/Self-Published x Static/Syndicated/Dynamic grid and kept that discussion alive for as long as I could. Now I use them all (sometimes in very quick succession) and try to convey the more essential idea: it’s your job as the student-writer to tell me why this supports your argument. By placing the ball in their court, the game suddenly becomes interesting.

We’re piloting a new series of information literacy workshops at MPOW this month. To my knowledge, these type of non-course-specific sessions have not been offered for some years (perhaps ever… the institutional memory is relatively short-term due to the youngish nature of the staff). That said, it was not a huge surprise when only one person showed up to the first session… but that one person was riveted. If I could get an entire class of students like her, I would never leave the classroom. Well, I guess you could say I DID have a class-full. 😉

So I’ve been working on a series of workshops for the brief, one-month semester we have at MPOW called JTerm. Three workshops. One each week. Two sessions each. The first is a refresher course on finding library resources, the second on evaluating sources, and the final on citation managers and plagiarism. I’m uber-excited about these but am fully aware that I may be teaching to an almost-empty classroom (based on sign-ups thus far). However, the interest from faculty for future, customized sessions generated by the announcement of the workshops is a win that trumps no shows.

Writer-scholar-teacher-librarian extraordinaire Barbara Fister gave the keynote presentation at this year’s LOEX conference in Nashville, TN. I encourage you to read the full text of her presentation, which she described in the following abstract:

Developing both the skills and the disposition to engage in inquiry is a ubiquitous if ill- defined goal of higher education. Libraries are a space, physical and social, where students practice a number of inquiry skills they can use after graduation to make a living – and, more importantly, to make a difference. But it’s hard to take the long view. Students are focused on completing assignments as efficiently as possible. Faculty want to cover content. Administrators want strong retention and completion rates. Who has time to think about what comes next? The information universe that librarians invite students to use is so complex that learning just enough to complete academic tasks saturates our instructional efforts, distracting us from a fundamental question: what experiences do we provide that support long-lasting and meaningful learning? How will what students learn in our libraries today help them make meaning in the information universe of the future?

In her presentation, Fister asks us to critically and honestly examine what libraries are for, what universities are for, and what knowledge is for, both within the context of higher education but also with an eye toward creating lifelong learners. She then offers six ”outlandish claims” about first-year instruction to help us answer these questions:

  1. Research papers should not be part of the first-year experience.
  2. We should stop teaching students how to find sources.
  3. Very rarely are citations needed.
  4. We should stop policing plagiarism.
  5. We should stop implying that “scholarly” means “good.”
  6. Librarians should spend as much time working with faculty as with students.

As you wrap up your work week and move into the weekend, I hope you’ll think about these claims. I know I will!

Today, I’ll be attending the last of a series of library workshops on integrating information literacy into the curriculum. In preparation for the class, I’ve been searching for examples of librarians that have worked with faculty to develop system-wide changes to student learning outcomes, course assignments, and degree requirements. I’ve listed a few examples at the end, but they are few and far between.

The difficulty, as many of these studies point out, is that models for intense librarian/faculty collaborations in curriculum reform and/or oversight are not sustainable. In particular, assessing student learning according to accepted information literacy rubrics requires significant resources, mostly time and often additional funding (e.g. incentives, additional staffing). It is possible to focus on a single academic department or sub-unit of the student population and expect reasonable success, but to create change at the institutional level, that requires momentum and resources from beyond the library.

On the other hand, we know from both the research and anecdotal evidence that one-off courses do not provide enough information literacy instruction to last a student throughout her four years at the university. It can be a powerful push in the right direction, but students need more than just forward momentum to keep going for the long term. They need time and space for reflection, synthesis, application, reassessment, and realignment: all of which require a longitudinal approach to info-lit learning. Yet despite over a decade of research focused on information literacy, universities have been slow to recognize its importance in their goals. So in lieu of institutional support for system-wide info-lit instruction, librarians continue spend a large amount of their time teaching and preparing for one-offs.

All this is prologue to an idea I’ve been thinking about of late: what if we didn’t? What if we didn’t spend 60% of our week teaching 1-hour info-lit courses? What if, instead, we spent that time on curriculum integration and strategic design? On info-lit assessment at multiple levels of student experience? On proving to stakeholders the benefits of info-lit skills and connecting those to institutional goals?

As I see it, that reality is not far off. I can easily imagine converting 90% of our one-off classes into asynchronous online tutorials. All the basics — search strategies, primary vs. secondary, specific database usage, the information cycle, source evaluation, etc. — could be converted to online modules and assigned by faculty as needed for each class. Yes, this would require a gargantuan amount of work at first, but once up-and-running (and if assigned to a dedicated staff member), it could be easily maintained. If not librarians, I am quite confident someone will do this. Soon.

What then? To what would instruction librarians turn their time and attention? There are three things I’ve learned from my experience and research thus far regarding effective info-lit learning:

  1. Course professors are the best conduits for IL learning. They are the most-trusted resource in the classroom. (Authority)
  2. Specific, course-related, IL assignments work best. (Scaffolding)
  3. Info-lit must be constantly reinforced and requires reflection over time. (Longitudinal growth and meta-analysis)

To this then I would turn my attention: taking a more holistic view of undergraduate education and searching for ways to embed info-lit beyond the individual class assignment. This approach must produce scalable programs that can benefit both the entire curriculum and individual courses of study that include assessment procedures seamlessly integrated and connected to the institution’s student learning objectives. The ultimate goal of such a program would be to prove that every student has the essential info-lit skills necessary to succeed post-graduation

It sounds cheesy, I’ll admit, but I see it as where we are headed given the growth of online learning, the importance of learning assessment, and the need for more in-depth info-lit instruction. In the least, it is a potential direction and one we should strategically position ourselves to pursue.


Further Reading

Bennett, S. (2007). Campus cultures fostering information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7, 147–167.

Booth, C. and Matthews, B. (2012). Understanding the learner experience: Threshold concepts and curriculum mapping. Invited Paper at the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference, April 7, 2012, San Diego, CA.

Dupuis, E.A., Maslach, C., Schrager, C.D. and McDaniel, S. (2007). Information literacy and undergraduate research: Meeting the challenge at a large research university. In Information Literacy Collaborations that Work, T.E. Jacobson and T. Mackey (Eds). New York: Neal-Schuman.

Field, T. and Macmillan, M. (2011). Toward development of collaborative, comprehensive information literacy and research skills program inside the journalism curriculum. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 66(2), 176-86.

Gamsby, M.K. (2010). The physics of designing an integrated physics information literacy program. Science & Technology Libraries, 29(4), 350-61.

Pritchard, P.A. (2010). The embedded science librarian: Partner in curriculum design and delivery. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 373-96.

Salisbury, F. and Sheridan, L. (2011). Mapping the journey: Developing an information literacy strategy as part of curriculum reform. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 43(3), 185-93.

Scaramozzino, J.M. (2010). Integrating stem information competencies into an undergraduate curriculum. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 315-33.

Travis, Tiffini A. (2008). Librarians as Agents of Change: Working with Curriculum Committees using Change Agency Theory. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 114, 17-33.