When I started my LIS graduate program, I was 23 years old and I had just finished my bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College less than a year before. By the time I was 25, I was an adjunct professor at a community college, and I had a tenure-track job by the age of 27. Did I have any idea what it meant to be a professor, or how to navigate faculty culture? Did I have a clue what it would mean to try to navigate my role when other faculty didn’t see me as a peer? Of course not.
Beyond my time volunteering in the public library as a teenager and working at the Circulation desk at Oberlin, I had no professional experience in libraries when I started my LIS degree. As a result, a lot of the theory in the scholarly articles we read in my foundational classes was abstract to me. I was also working full-time while I was in school–as an HR specialist, not in a library. So it was hard to place the concepts we were learning into practice.
For these reasons, I think it’s perfect that I started my #100infolitarticlesin100days project with a series of articles about the relationship between academic librarians and faculty in colleges and universities. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is exactly the kind of topic that would have made absolutely no sense to me when I was in grad school. Now that I’ve experienced these relationships first-hand for the past five years, I have a much better sense of what the authors are trying to investigate.
I read 16 articles over the past three weeks. For those of you keeping count at home, this means I’m a little bit behind pace to read 100 articles in 100 days (my deadline is June 20). I feel like I’m making good progress, especially considering the fact that I spent a good chunk of March traveling, presenting, and going to spin class. (I’m also hopeful that I’ll get a considerable amount of reading done next weekend when we take a road trip to Santa Fe–10 hours in the car should mean lots of time to read articles, right?)
Okay, so what were the big themes in the articles I read about faculty and librarian relationships?
Faculty think information literacy skills are important, but are unlikely to collaborate with librarians in teaching information literacy.
Faculty see librarians as highly valuable providers of stuff–but not as not teachers or peers (and whether or not librarians have faculty status doesn’t seem to matter a damn bit).
Faculty culture emphasizes content knowledge over teaching practice.
Librarians don’t publish articles in spaces where discipline faculty will read them.
Depressingly, not much has changed over time.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1. Faculty think information literacy skills are important, but are unlikely to collaborate with librarians in teaching information literacy.
The common denominator in all of these readings was Larry Hardesty’s 1995 article, “Faculty Culture and Bibliographic Instruction: An Exploratory Analysis.” This article wasn’t initially on my reading list, but it was cited by several other things I read, so I knew I had to read it–and I’m so glad I did. Right away, Hardesty contextualizes the librarian-faculty relationship struggle within the long history of libraries. He includes quotes from 1940s and 1950s where academic librarians lament their collections going unused–because students didn’t know how to use them, and because faculty didn’t integrate library-related work in their courses (Hardesty, 1995, p. 342). Sound familiar?
Fast forward several decades. In the Spring of 2011, Sharon Weiner at Purdue University surveyed faculty to find out how they teach information literacy skills–by themselves, with a librarian collaborator, through a teaching assistant, or not at all (because students should already know). Weiner sent a survey to 2,554 faculty and received 299 responses which overwhelmingly showed that “faculty in the disciplines generally teach information literacy competencies to undergraduate students without collaborating with others on their campus” (Weiner, 2014, p. 5). Fewer than 10% of respondents indicated that they collaborated with librarians to teach any information literacy concepts in their courses (Weiner, 2014, p. 7).
2. Faculty see librarians as highly valuable providers of stuff–but not as not teachers or peers (and whether or not librarians have faculty status doesn’t seem to matter a damn bit).
Carolyn Caffrey Gardner and Jamie White-Farnham’s 2013 article, “‘She Has a Vocabulary I Just Don’t Have’: Faculty Culture and Information Literacy Collaboration” includes an anecdote about an angry instructor who “felt her classroom was being infiltrated” (p. 239) by programmatic information literacy instruction. In this case, the librarian (an information literacy coordinator) was a tenure-track assistant professor–but that didn’t have an impact on the course faculty who still felt boundaries were being crossed by the collaborative relationship. Atif Yousef surveyed faculty at Zarka University in Jordan and found that professors were most interested in collaborating with librarians…to provide input on collection development. Laura Saunders interviewed twenty-five faculty about information literacy as a student learning outcome, and one of her respondents openly doubted librarians’ ability to teach because they are “not trained” (2012, p. 231).
3. Faculty culture emphasizes content knowledge over teaching practice.
The lack of attention to pedagogy is a significant focus of Hardesty’s article. He writes at length about the fact that “teaching is not highly discussed among faculty” (Hardesty, 1995, p. 349). William Badke also acknowledges that librarians won’t gain much traction trying to change the teaching practices of course faculty, which is why he suggests that the path forward for librarians is to create our own credit-bearing information literacy courses and teach them ourselves. He is so optimistic about this. “True,” he writes, “it will take time” (2005, p. 78). It’s been 12 years since the publishing of his article and I’ve yet to see the dramatic growth of credit-bearing courses that he anticipated.
One thing that has changed, though, is the rapid expansion of teaching support on college and university campuses. My last workplace had a Center for Engagement and Excellence and my current university has a Center for Faculty Development. Both units specialize in encouraging faculty across disciplines to engage in discussions around pedagogy, learning, and instructional design. The tide may slowly be shifting to acknowledge that teaching requires an additional skill set beyond depth of content knowledge.
4. Librarians don’t publish articles in spaces where discipline faculty will read them.
The librarians whose articles I read repeatedly expressed their irritation with the fact that librarians don’t write articles for audiences of discipline faculty. I suppose the underlying notion is that faculty will respect librarians more if we publish in their journals. Again and again, authors lamented the fact that librarians only write for other librarians…while publishing their librarian-authored works in library-specific journals. (For example, the first page of the article by Laura Saunders, published in The Journal of Academic Librarianship, includes a sentence that says, “The vast majority of writing about information literacy comes from the LIS literature, and is written from the librarian’s perspective” [Sanders, 2012, p. 226].) Apparently we have no sense of irony, either. If you look at the references below, you’ll note that most of the articles I read were published in library journals like The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Reference Services Review, and Reference and User Services Quarterly. There is one exception: Sharon Weiner’s article in College Teaching.
5. Depressingly, not much has changed over time.
There’s a reason that Hardesty’s 22-year-old article is so popular: it has staying power.
At the end of my information literacy instruction sessions, I like to use this reflective question: What will you do differently based on what you learned today?
I’m going to turn that question on myself: what will I do differently now that I’ve read these 16 articles about librarian-faculty relationships?
A few thoughts:
- I see myself as a teacher, and I always will, even if I someday don’t work for a college or have the title of “professor”–it’s just who I am and what I do. But, after reading these articles, I have a better appreciation for the concept of “faculty culture” and how my teaching identity exists outside of the faculty ecosystem. I can’t expect other folks, especially discipline faculty, to understand that my role as a librarian and a teacher is intertwined. I think the long arc of my career will put me in situations where I’ll have to decide if it’s worth my time to try to prove myself as a teacher.
- I am so in love with phenomenographic research. I know I read Christine Bruce’s phenomenographic research about the seven faces of information literacy when I was in graduate school but I definitely did not understand the importance of phenomenography as a methodology. Several articles in this mix used phenomenography, including Boon, Johnston, and Webber who do a particularly fantastic job of explaining the methodology. Cope and Sanabria use it very effectively in their 2014 article.
- We are relentlessly optimistic. Every article I read, even if it confirmed previous (disheartening) findings, remained optimistic about the future of information literacy instruction in higher education. I feel like I have a much better perspective now on just how rapidly the landscape has changed. Consider this: Library Orientation Exchange (LOEX) began in 1971. “Bibliographic instruction” is now considered outdated term, but it was an emerging concept for most of the ’80s and ’90s. The ACRL Standards for Information Literacy were approved in 2000 and stuck around until they were old enough to get a driver’s license. Now it’s 2017 and we have the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, Google Scholar, SciHub, metaliteracy, Immersion, Library Instruction West, Twitter chats, critical information literacy pedagogy, and wild job titles like Pedagogy and Assessment Librarian.
Goodness, what a time to be alive. So, I could choose to look back at the articles I’ve read and feel bummed about the state of librarian-faculty relationships, or I could choose to sit back in awe, imagining what developments I might see in a lifetime career in information literacy.
I choose to be amazed.
Hot take: If you could only read three of these articles, I would recommend Hardesty’s 1995 original sauce, the phenomenographic study by Boon, Johnston, and Webber, and Bury’s 2016 article in Reference Services Review.
You can find the rest of my reading list here.
Badke, W. B. (2005). Can’t get no respect: Helping faculty to understand the educational power of information literacy. The Reference Librarian, 43(89-90), 63-80.
Boon, S., Johnston, B., & Webber, S. (2007). A phenomenographic study of English faculty’s conceptions of information literacy. Journal of Documentation, 63(2), 204-228.
Bury, S. (2011). Faculty attitudes, perceptions and experiences of information literacy: a study across multiple disciplines at York University, Canada. Journal of Information Literacy, 5(1), 45-64.
Bury, S. (2016). Learning from faculty voices on information literacy: Opportunities and challenges for undergraduate information literacy education. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 237-252. doi:10.1108/RSR-11-2015-0047
Cope, J., & Sanabria, J. E. (2014). Do we speak the same language?: A study of faculty perceptions of information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 14(4), 475-501. doi:10.1353/pla.2014.0032
Cunningham, S., Carr, A., & Brasley, S. S. (2011). Uncovering the IL disconnect: Examining expectations among librarians, faculty and students. Association of College and Research Libraries Conference.
Gardner, C. C., & White-Farnham, J. (2013). “She has a vocabulary I just don’t have”: Faculty culture and information literacy collaboration. Collaborative Librarianship, 5(4), 235.
Gullikson, S. (2006). Faculty perceptions of ACRL’s information literacy competency standards for higher education. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(6), 583-592.
Hardesty, L. (1995). Faculty culture and bibliographic instruction: an exploratory analysis. Library Trends, 44(2), 339-368.
Hardesty, L. (1999). Reflections on 25 years of library instruction: have we made progress?. Reference Services Review, 27(3), 242-246.
McGuinness, C. (2006). What faculty think–exploring the barriers to information literacy development in undergraduate education. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(6), 573-582.
Meer, P., Perez-Stable, M., & Sachs, D. (2012). Framing a strategy exploring faculty attitudes toward library instruction and technology preferences to enhance information literacy. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 52(2), 109-122. doi:10.5860/rusq.52n2.109
Nutefall, J. E., & Ryder, P. M. (2010). The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10(4), 437-449.
Saunders, L. (2012). Faculty perspectives on information literacy as a student learning outcome. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(4), 226-236.
Weiner, S. A. (2014). Who teaches information literacy competencies? Report of a study of faculty. College Teaching, 62(1), 5-12. doi:10.1080/87567555.2013.803949
Yousef, A. (2010). Faculty attitudes toward collaboration with librarians. Library Philosophy and Practice.