Teacher identities, empathy, and the beginner’s mind: A conversation with Nicole Gustavsen.

Teaching is terrifying. It’s also exhilarating, fascinating, challenging, and deeply rewarding. Making the transition from being a student to being a teacher is a complex process, as evidenced by the questions raised by librarian Nicole Gustavsen on Twitter last week.



I asked Nicole if she would be interested in having a longer conversation about the topic of teacher identity to be published here and she generously agreed. Below you’ll find a lightly-edited transcript of our nearly three-hour conversation, during which we discuss information literacy instruction, teaching philosophies, impostor syndrome, false binaries, classroom management, the importance of community, and more.

Zoe Fisher (Zoe): Tell me a little bit about your experience and background. What’s your current role and how did you come to it?

Nicole Gustavsen (Nicole): I am a new academic librarian, currently in a temporary position as a research & instruction librarian at the University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library. I got this position because during library school (I attended the U of Washington iSchool residential program from 2013-16) I worked at the UW Seattle campus graduate library, Suzzallo & Allen, as a graduate reference assistant. In this position I did a lot of reference and a lot of info lit instruction. After I graduated I wasn’t able to keep the position, of course, but my supervisors recommended me to the head of Teaching & Learning here at UWB when a temporary position opened up, and I’ve been in this position since the beginning of January. It was originally just a 6 month contract but I was recently approved for an additional 12 months, which I’m very excited about.

Zoe: Congratulations on the contract extension! What have you noticed about the differences between the UW grad library and your current role? Specifically, what differences have impacted your role in teaching/your role with students?

Nicole: Just a spot of context about our library: we are in the somewhat unusual situation of serving two schools on one campus: a university (UW Bothell), and a community college (Cascadia College). We teach sessions and provide services for students, staff, and faculty at both institutions. That’s definitely one of the biggest differences off the bat. It affects everything.

At UW Seattle, we were part of a program that was focused on targeting lots of classes for short, 50 minute sessions. Here at UWB, our teaching program is able to do a lot more. There’s significant buy-in from faculty at both institutions, and we are encouraged to experiment. For Cascadia we get to work with a lot of online classes, which I had never done before. Last quarter I got to help with a 100-level English class where we had embedded content throughout the quarter. So cool!

Zoe: That’s excellent! And I definitely understand your context–as you know, I was at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington (about 50 miles south of UW Bothell) for four years, and we were very familiar with your library. In my current role, I work in an academic library that serves three institutions (University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver). It makes sense that the increased emphasis on teaching in your current role would give you reason to reflect on student/teacher identities.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. It’s also a great thing that the culture here among the librarians is very collaborative, so if I really tank a class (as I did last quarter), I feel comfortable discussing it with my colleagues and knowing their response will probably be both supportive and something like “Oh that reminds me of the time I [description of an equally horrible classroom experience.]” I was way too nervous to have those conversations at my last position!

Zoe: That sounds like a wonderful environment. I think the advantage of being a community college librarian is that you teach SO much–even if you do have a flubbed class, it’s only one of dozens, so it’s pretty quickly forgotten.

Nicole: I love that in your description of teaching experience on the blog, you identify that you’ve been in teaching roles beginning at 13. Do you have a sense of any particular point at which you began to see yourself as an educator? Was it a natural progression, or did you find it required a lot of deliberate thought or work?

Zoe: Peer teaching became a part of my life at a very young age. In grade school, I was often singled out by teachers for finishing my work quickly or easily meeting their expectations… so they did what teachers often do, and they paired me with students who were struggling. At times, I resented that (I think a lot of younger students feel this way, especially), but after a while, I think teaching and helping others became a really core part of my identity.

Things opened up for me when I realized that I could be a teacher to all kinds of people, and that’s where my experience as a volunteer at a public library significantly shifted my identity. Even though I was very young, I was teaching all sorts of people how to find information, how to use the library, and how to use computers/technology. It was empowering and exhilarating. It still is. So I would say that my teacher identity began informally at a very young age, and it’s something that I continue to refine & reflect on as a professional. I have been called a “natural” teacher, which I don’t like (I reject the idea that there are “naturals”, in general), but I do think that this is an essential part of who I am and it’s a role for which I have a strong affinity.

Nicole: I see this peer teaching and communal education piece comes out in your teaching statement as well. Do you have any signature classroom activities or techniques that you’ve developed that speak to this?

Zoe: Sure, that’s a great question. Anyone who has attended a conference session that I’ve presented, or been in any class that I’ve taught, knows that I do a lot of reflective writing & pair or group sharing. We often teach how we like to learn best and it’s no surprise that, as a writer, I like to write things down and share them with others. I think this is a quick, low-stakes way to get people thinking, reflecting, and talking. I always want to know what other people in the room think, and it can be hard to just stick your hand in the air and say it out loud to a group of strangers. Writing it down for yourself, then sharing it with one person, can help refine and externalize those inner thoughts.

My ultimate goal in almost any learning situation is to surface process. What was your process, why was that your process, why does thinking about our process matter?

Nicole: Something I’ve been dismayed to see in my teaching since starting here is a tendency to lecture, despite all my best intentions (and my normally attention-averse personality). I’m seeing our conversation as part of a bigger reflection process so that by fall quarter, I’m heading confidently away from that tendency.

Zoe: The fact that you recognize that in yourself is a good sign. Try to be patient and give yourself some grace.

On Twitter, you questioned how you could see yourself as an instructor without losing empathy for your students, and, more broadly, you questioned the authority that students see in you that you don’t (yet) see in yourself. Can you talk a little bit about your teaching philosophy and how you see (or don’t see) yourself as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: My teaching philosophy is constantly expanding and changing, but at its core is a concern with presenting information literacy as a lifelong skill, one that is not limited to the classroom or even school. I want the people I work with to feel empowered to take these skills and apply them all over the place! So I like to do activities that incorporate non-academic sources, contexts, experiences.

When I wrote the tweets that spurred this conversation, I had just got out of a post-quarter meeting with a faculty member. In one of her sections, the students were rowdy, it was hard to keep them on track, I wasn’t happy with the instructional materials I had put together, and it didn’t help that the instructor couldn’t be there on that day. It was a very frustrating experience for me.

I met with the course faculty twice and we talked a lot, in both of our meetings, about classroom management, about managing expectations, those sorts of things.

But what most got me thinking, and worrying, and tweeting, was a comment she made about how no matter how I see myself, the students will always see me as the instructor, and that there’s a divide there that I need to acknowledge.

Having been until just last year a lifer student, I still carry a lot of the student mind-set, and in my head I feel that I can relate to students I work with on that level. Sort of, “Hey, I know what you’re going through, and I want you to know you can do it. That it’s hard, but you can do it.”

Zoe: Thinking about the comments that the faculty made to you, I’m guessing that she was saying that some students might have an oppositional attitude to you no matter what you do because they are so deeply entrenched in the known hierarchies of education. Students’ prior learning experiences inform a lot of their behaviors and choices, especially in the classroom, and it’s true that we can’t always control for how past instructors (or even the current faculty) have treated them. What do you think students expect from you as an instructor? I think about this a lot, and I’ll admit that I try to openly defy expectations of typical teacher roles.

Nicole: Your question about what students expect from me/us is so challenging to answer! Let me think a bit more… I think you’re right about what my faculty member was trying to convey. But I also think it gets, for me, at the truth that if I approach teaching from an “I’m a student too, basically” perspective, it’s gonna look different than if I approach it from a more confident place of feeling like I “am” an instructor, not just studying to eventually be one. As I am typing this out, it sounds a lot like the impostor syndrome problem. Did/do you experience this? Did it get better?

Zoe: You know, it’s funny, I never felt like an imposter with community college students. Not once. But sometimes I feel out of place in my current role and have had imposter syndrome related to other things–teaching graduate students (I don’t have another graduate degree beyond my MLS so I feel awkward in front of them), or presenting to administration who have no idea what information literacy is, or talking about my own research agenda. I will say that after getting a journal article rejected three times, I definitely felt like an impostor when it comes to conducting/executing research. To answer, “Does it get better?” — Yes, infinitely. Your relationship to teaching will change constantly the more you do it!

Nicole: Something I have discovered over the years that never fails to amaze me and make me feel (weirdly) hopeful is how many people around me, who are doing work I admire and who are my definition of success, also experience impostor syndrome. You’re a great example of this; from my vantage point you seem very confident and accomplished, so if you’re having these feelings too (and if as you say they do change and get better) then I feel like I can also manage them.

I think you sort of spoke to my second question just above, but I wanted to ask it again in case you had more thoughts to add on it:   A lot of what I’m thinking about at the moment around this topic is identity: what it means to self-identify as a teacher or educator, and how self-identifying this way might change how I relate to my students. One of my fears right now is that if I embrace the identity of an instructor too closely, I’ll lose touch with what it was like to be a student. Where are you on all of this, having been a library instructor for several years yet not terribly far from your own student days?

Zoe: I think the fact that you’re asking yourself these questions about identity means that you’re a great teacher already! Seriously, it’s awesome that you care so much and you’re already reflecting so deeply about what you do and HOW you do what you do, and you acknowledge the fact that how you identify also impacts your praxis.

Your question is extremely provocative to me because it seems to suggest (and correct me if I’m wrong) that teacher and student are separate identities. To me, they’re not. And the identities of student and teacher don’t exist in opposition.

(We could go into a whole discussion about binaries right now! Are there really oppositional identities, or are they just mirrors/shadows of each other? But, I’ll set that aside.)

I guess I would suggest a minor tweak in language. “Student” is the role you might assign to yourself while you’re actively enrolled in a program or a course. But “learner” is an internalized identity you can hold onto for the rest of your life. I want to be a teacher forever because I want to be a learner forever. I’m convinced that I’ll never stop learning new things as long as I’m teaching others. That really excites me and drives me. So, while my formal “student” days ended in August 2010 when I finished my Master’s in Library Science, I’ve never stopped seeing myself as a learner.

Nicole: You are bringing up something very important with binaries! I just last week gave an LGBTQ+ 101 talk to staff at my library, and a big chunk of the first part is dissecting false binaries in gender, sexuality, and even biological sex. So I’m really glad you pointed out this OTHER false binary that I have been trying to shove myself into.

Zoe: In general, I don’t trust simple binaries, especially relating to gender and sexuality–perhaps that extends to my pedagogy, too? To say I don’t believe in those binaries, I mean, it’s not like they’re the tooth fairy–obviously lots of people structure their lives around those binaries, but it’s just that I don’t live my life by them. Hope that makes sense.

Nicole: Makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s important to acknowledge that these binaries, while socially constructed, do have an enormous effect on every aspect of our culture, so they’re very real in that way. I’m not in the “down with all gender distinctions” camp, so much as the “up with genders beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’!” Similarly, the dichotomy between student and teacher is social, but also very very real!

Zoe: I’m curious about experiences you’ve had that may have reinforced this (as you just called it) false binary. What were some of the key learning experiences you had (at any point in your education) that informed your identity as a student?

Nicole: Well, I think the fact that most of my formal educational experiences have been in classroom, students sit and respectfully listen to the teacher, situations. So some of it’s conditioning. That “sage on the stage” phenomenon made the binary seem even more real and, for a shy person like me, almost insurmountable.

Zoe: Have you come across Geneva Gay’s work regarding culturally responsive pedagogy? I was introduced to her work by your (past) colleagues at UW Bothell. They gave a presentation about culturally responsive pedagogy at Library Instruction West 2014. The presenters included Dave Ellenwood, Althea Lazzaro, Sharde Mills, and Megan Watson.

Nicole: I have not heard of Geneva Gay! Thank you! I had been hoping you would suggest some reading, and this looks excellent.

All of my best learning experiences have been experiential in some way. I learn by doing. I want to bring as much “doing” as possible into my classes.

I don’t know everything about what students want, but based on two quarters of feedback and my own gut feelings, nobody really loves it when I lecture too much or make them sit quietly and listen to a video or w/e.

Zoe: Exactly. And I think the “doing” part of learning throws off some students who expect typically passive learning environments.

Nicole: Yes, that is true.

There’s always at least a few students who clearly came to the session expecting to be able to do whatever on their computers while someone stood in the front and said words.

Probably what I’m most sensitive to in classrooms is the students who are quiet (which usually includes those students who came to chill on facebook or do some homework). People are quiet for lots of reasons. One thing I am nervous about when I plan these activities is that I might be pushing some of the students past their healthy growing zone and into the zone of true fear, where they aren’t learning at all. How do you navigate incorporating these sorts of emotional concerns in your classes?

Zoe: I’ll say that’s probably a weak area for me. I’m an extrovert and an external processor, so I legit have trouble remembering that some people aren’t like me. I know I’ve upset students in the past by expecting their participation. It’s something I could work on, in terms of finding ways to be sensitive to folks who are quiet/anxious about participating, while also encouraging all voices in the room.

One thing I do regularly is acknowledge repeat participants. For example, “Okay, I see your hand, but you’ve already shared a couple times today. Let me just pause for a moment and open it up to anyone else who might like to jump in.”Sometimes doing a second call for participation, or acknowledging repeat participants, will get more folks to join in. I’m also comfortable waiting several seconds if people need time to think.

Nicole: The waiting in silence thing is something I find anxiety-inducing, but it does sometimes get people to talk. I am the opposite of you in that I am very introverted and am challenged more by the extroverted students and how to keep them from dominating my classroom.

I like to do activities where students work in small groups and then present to each other, and I think that can give quieter students the opportunity to contribute without forcing them to also present in front of their peers if they don’t want to. Just having the group stand in front can be activating enough for some students, I think, so it’s not completely challenge-free.

Zoe: We have a wireless keyboard/mouse in our classrooms–we can pass around the keyboard and mouse to the groups so they can share on the projector from wherever they’re sitting. It helps a lot!

Nicole: Part of my “student-identity” is that of struggle. I had a lot of difficulty in college and grad school due to mental illness.

When I see students struggling, especially with anything related to mood or self-image, I relate and want to help and reassure.

However, I don’t know how best to convey this in my instruction, and I wonder often if the “I lived it too” bit is even something my students would find helpful (especially coming from me, a very young-looking white woman with a graduate degree). It could read as presumptuous. Do you see value in bringing these kinds of lived experiences into our instruction? If so, what does that look like in your classes?

Zoe: I think that new teachers get the idea that teaching is all about them—like, you feel this pressure to be the most interesting, engaging, dynamic person in the room. (I won’t lie, I love that feeling.)

But, as time goes on, I think you develop the habit of being interested rather than interesting.

And you develop strategies for making students interested in each other. So when it comes to surfacing lived experience, I am less interested in sharing mine and I am more interested in helping students hear about the lived experiences of their peers. What can we learn from the way Tristan, a father of three, approached this assignment? How does Jessica’s comment inform our thinking about evaluating this source of information, given her background in the health professions? What about the person who hasn’t spoken up yet today, what can they contribute to our shared understanding?

Nicole: This is exactly the sort of thing I need to hear right now. I do feel a lot of pressure to perform, to keep the students’ interest, to teach them in a way that’s meaningful, to hit as many of the IL frames as possible, and on and on and on. Which isn’t bad in itself. But what you’re bringing up is a complete reframing of this work. The more I can redirect the students’ attention away from me the more comfortable I am working with them and presenting the material in meaningful ways.

Zoe: The typical response you’ll hear from folks who want to be the focus of attention is, “But what about the content!”

“If they’re not paying attention to me, I can’t show them the databases!”

“If they’re not listening to me, they’ll never know Boolean!”

“They can’t learn from each other because they’re all bad at research and they use Wikipedia!”

Nicole: Students don’t learn Boolean from me telling them how it works. However I choose to present it, they learn by applying it. So the question is how to present it so that’s the emphasis.

I thought what you wrote about what we can learn from our peers was really great. One of my coworkers here told me that her pedagogy is really focused around having the students teach each other, and I thought that was so neat when she told me but it got lost in the rush of the quarter.

Zoe: Well, it’s a theory, right? Which has to be put into practice.

Nicole: Therein lies the challenge.

Zoe: With that in mind, what do you think are some advantages of keeping a student-mindset as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: There are so many aspects involved in being a student at a college that are outside of the bounds of going to class, doing homework, amassing credits, etc.

One of my greatest fears is that I will one day forget just how scary and uncertain and all-consuming it can be to be a student.

Part of keeping a student-mindset, for me, is remembering that emotional aspect of student-hood, and being sensitive to it as I work with students in classrooms, at the reference desk, and elsewhere.

I have a quote written up on my whiteboard that I think is foundational to how I’ll move forward in all aspects of my life: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Zoe: Ooh, I love that quote! That’s a great one.

Nicole: Right?? It’s so powerful.

Zoe: Are there any experiences you’d like to have (but haven’t had yet) that you think would help you more fully adopt a teacher identity? What do you think you might lose in the process of developing that teacher identity?

Nicole: I think the experiences I need to have are more conversations like the one I had with my faculty member last week. Conversations that are genuinely challenging but push me forward. I also think I need to continue to teach and teach and teach, and get back into the groove of reading widely and obsessively. I will learn who I am as a teacher by doing, I think, and by accepting internally that I am good enough and competent enough to embody this new role.

Zoe: You definitely are! And I think you’re right that it takes time.

Nicole: That’s the key, really. I need to be patient, and continue to be reflective, and continue to push myself, and probably one day I’ll wake up and I’ll realize I’ve been a teacher for awhile, and that’ll feel right.

What parts of your student experience did you initially bring into your instruction? What parts of your student experience still inform your teaching? What have you let go of?

Zoe: I’ll go back to what I said earlier, which is that I think we tend to teach in the ways we prefer to learn. I also think we teach in the style that we’ve experienced as students. So, if I’m honest, I think I initially brought a lot of lecture to my instruction and that induced a lot of passivity for my students. But I also experimented a lot, tried a lot of labor-intensive things that were fun and interesting, but probably overwhelmed some students.

Nicole: Do you have any examples of things you tried early on that went spectacularly wrong?

Zoe: Haha! Oh, sure. I can think of a time I tried to split a class into pairs using cards with letters on them. Like, two A cards, two B cards, and so on. It just fell apart. Not enough students, several people didn’t have partners. We spent 5 minutes with students staring at each other, not knowing who their partner was. It was a total waste of time. Just one of many fabulous failures.

When I was a student, the teachers I enjoyed the most expressed love in some way–for students, for the act of learning, for their subject, for whatever. They had passion and curiosity. I remember seeing that as a student, and it’s what I try to emulate as a teacher.

I want students to feel seen and loved.

I think that is the greatest gift I can give them in a learning setting, whether it’s face to face or online or whatever else. If I’m a “natural” teacher, I think it’s because I have the capacity to love and to see others fully. That’s what I try to carry with me.

Nicole: Yes! And the flip version of that, being in classes with profs so checked out you wonder if they even know or care there’s a class of people in front of them.

Zoe: I guess I’ve always believed that learning is a shared experience. I’m trying to let go of some of my ideas of what that should look like, and I’m trying to acknowledge that there are lots of ways to have a shared experience.

I think one of my strengths is community-keeping–making sure everyone is together, being heard, being seen. But I think sometimes that can express itself as control, and that’s really what I want to let go of. I’d like to develop more learning scenarios that require less and less control on my part, but that still hold the experience together as a shared experience.

Nicole: I’m really impressed by your emphasis on community here. It can be easy, at least for me, to miss some of the community aspect in my desire to reach each student individually. What you’re thinking about with community-sustained learning scenarios sounds challenging, but could ultimately be rewarding in many ways.

These are complex questions with no clear answers or ways forward. Do you have any words of reassurance for new librarian-instructors such as myself who are wrestling with all of this? (Of course, new folks aren’t the only ones who are struggling in these ways!)

Zoe: Speaking of community, I think the most important thing that new folks can do is reach out–in person, to other librarians, to other faculty on campus, to the Center for Faculty Development (or its equivalent on your campus), on Twitter, at conferences, on listservs, and so on.

There are so many great resources available to new information literacy instructors, from blogs to discussion groups to conferences, etc. A couple of things I will plug that have been great for me:

  1. I attended Immersion Teacher Track in 2013 and it was fabulous! I made some lifelong friends and I really started to refine my pedagogy in meaningful ways.
  2. I attended Library Instruction West in 2014 and 2016, and it’s probably my favorite conference. It’s affordable, focused on infolit issues, and full of fabulous people. LI West 2018 will be in Grand Junction, Colorado in July 2018.
  3. I stay really connected to folks on Twitter and through my blog. That’s my own personal way of going about things, but it’s not for everybody. I think Twitter can be a great place just to listen/learn/observe, even if you don’t want to jump into conversation. But if you do, there are scheduled chats (like the #critlib chats), or, you know, you might make an offhanded comment someday that turns into a conversation like this one!

Nicole: I would like to cosign from personal experience on a few of these: librarians and the library community are honestly the best people and as I have integrated myself into the community and gone out of my comfort zone to meet librarians, go to conferences,  participate in orgs, and use Twitter more intentionally, I’ve learned so much and been challenged and all sorts of things that wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my internal impulse to stay quiet and removed.

This conversation we have had today, and the original tweet conversations, and all of the worrying and thinking and writing and rewriting and bugging my delightful colleagues for their opinion on teacher identity, it’s all part of my choice to integrate more into our shared community, and your choice to invite me further into it.

So for that I’ve gotta thank you.

Zoe: You’re so very welcome. Let’s do it again sometime!

Nicole: Yeah, let’s do!


On the 10th anniversary of Communications in Information Literacy. (Day 100/100)

Did you know that tomorrow is the longest day of the year? I’m at my dining room table, reading articles about information literacy as lightning flickers across the sky. It’s hot this week and it feels like the whole world is sizzling, waiting. I got a phone call today that could change my trajectory. I want you to know that scholarship is a living thing and tonight it is surviving entirely on Kroger brand seltzer water.


Did you know that Communications in Information Literacy was launched at the Workshop on Instruction in Library Use (WILU) in May 2007? In his editorial for their latest issue, Christopher Hollister said the initial response to the journal was “overwhelming” and “enthusiastic”. They gave an anniversary presentation at the conference this year to commemorate the occasion. For my last installment of this endeavor, I’d like to highlight just a couple of articles from their 10th anniversary issue.

I didn’t seek out book reviews as part of this project, but I can’t ignore the very good work by my colleague, Kevin Seeber, in his review of Michelle Reale’s Becoming an Embedded Librarian. Seeber makes Reale’s book sound helpful and approachable and, most importantly, like something I would want to read, even though I’m not particularly interested in the topic of embedded librarianship. It seems to me that embedded librarianship is a model of librarian labor that’s falling out of favor, but Seeber makes the case that Reale’s book highlights the importance of library-faculty relationships.

Sandra Cowan and Nicole Eva, both at the University of Lethbridge, suggest that librarians should take a multifaceted approach to help faculty incorporate information literacy skills and instruction in their own courses. As they state in their literature review, this is not a new idea. The article is probably most worthwhile for exactly that–their literature review weaves together a variety of perspectives about faculty perceptions of information literacy and the nature of library/faculty relationships (many citations looked familiar to me, thanks to this project!). I’m not sure that their article gave me any new approaches to collaborating with faculty, but I appreciate their contribution. I’d like to see more authors acknowledge that expanding one-shot information literacy instruction programs will not yield more information literate students, especially if the one-shot program supports low-quality curriculum focused on outdated research skills and behaviors.

My favorite article is Khalid Mahmood’s analysis of 53 empirical research studies that compared students’ self-assessed information literacy skills with their actual skills, looking for evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In his conclusion that should surprise no one, self-assessment is not an accurate indicator of actual skill level. Or, as I like to remind information literacy assessment librarians everywhere: student self-confidence is not an indicator of learning outcomes achieved. If your library is trying to move away from self-assessments that focus on satisfaction and confidence after information literacy instruction (e.g., asking students to rate how confident they feel about research after a one-shot), I strongly recommend that you make Mahmood’s article required reading for your next library meeting.


I listened to “Phenomena” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs fifteen times while drafting this post. Did you know that you are a phenomenon? “A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen.” Like lightning. Or writing. Information literacy. Effort. Failure. Connection.

Thanks for sticking with me, you dear witnesses you.


Cowan, S., & Eva, N. (2016). Changing our aim: Infiltrating faculty with information literacy. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p163&path%5B%5D=23911

Hollister, C. (2016). A decade of CIL. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p120

Mahmood, K. (2016). Do people overestimate their information literacy skills? A systematic review of empirical evidence on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p199&path%5B%5D=243

Seeber, K. (2016). Book review: Becoming an Embedded Librarian: Making Connections in the Classroom. Communications In Information Literacy, 10(2). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v10i2p288

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Journal of Information Literacy. (Day 99/100)

The Journal of Information Literacy (JIL) and Communications in Information Literacy (CIL) both celebrated 10-year anniversaries this year–something I only figured out through a very confusing conversation with Kevin Seeber wherein I congratulated him on having a book review published in the 10th anniversary issue of JIL (it’s actually published in the 10th-anniversary issue of CIL). With the last two days of my ridiculously ambitious project (which I’m nowhere near finishing), I’m going to deviate from my pre-planned reading list to talk about some of the articles from these anniversary issues.

Let’s start with the Journal of Information Literacy. I’ll talk about CIL tomorrow. Glancing at the contents for the inaugural issue of JIL in 2007, I was struck by the number of articles about online learning. The articles I browsed referred to cutting-edge technology like Blackboard, Flash, and Captivate. To me, the article that best represents its time is “Show Them How to Do It: Using Macromedia Captivate to Deliver Remote Demonstrations.” tl;dr–they created tutorials that students didn’t use (nothing changes, does it?).

Patalong and Llewellyn’s article made me laugh out loud, in the sense that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Theirs is a disastrous case study in how things can go totally sideways with online tutorials. Significant time and energy were invested in creating a suite of tutorials for business students as part of an online module–but the tutorials were buried in the “Resources” section of the LMS. Although over five hundred students were enrolled in the module, the tutorials were used only a few dozen times. They discovered hundreds of clicks on course documents the library knew nothing about–specifically, Word files and Powerpoint files about accessing the library, search strategies, and plagiarism located in the more prominent “Content” section of the course.

Fun fact: the phrase “instructional design” does not appear once in Patalong & Llewellyn’s article, but the words “inadvertently sabotaged” appear on page 34.

In her introduction for the 10th anniversary issue of JIL, Emma Coonan notes that Mark Hepworth contributed to two of the articles in the first issue and was intended to be an invited scholar for the anniversary issue, but he passed away in December 2016. I feel it’s important to note that the anniversary issue is dedicated to him.

When I look at the list of contributors, I see several names that mean a lot to me, including Barbara Fister, Alison J. Head, Margy MacMillan, and James Elmborg. A bit of context about my reverence for these folks:

Jim Elmborg began his graduate degree in English at the University of Kansas in 1982.

Margy MacMillan finished her MLS degree in 1986.

Barbara Fister began working at Gustavus Adolphus College in 1987.

Alison J. Head was a lecturer at the San Jose State University School of Library & Information Science in 1989.

I was born in 1986.

I cannot overstate how much respect I have for these folks, their wisdom, their passion, and their contributions to librarianship. The work they’ve done for the past thirty years makes my career interesting and meaningful every day. I count all of them as role models; I can only hope to have a career even a fraction as fruitful as any of theirs. If this post is your introduction to their work, you are so very welcome.

Jim Elmborg uses his identity as a literacy educator to reflect on his career, first as a writing teacher and then as a librarian. His article contextualizes many big themes in information literacy and academic libraries, including the integration of constructivism in modern IL pedagogy, the disparaging distance between the evolution of rhetoric/composition studies and information literacy, and the pernicious rise of neoliberalism in higher education. (His takedown of MBAs as University Presidents is hot.)

I regularly refer to Alison J. Head and her work with Project Information Literacy, especially when I’m asked why I don’t (generally) believe in providing database demonstrations, checklists for source evaluation, or quizzes about library vocabulary. Her research investigates what workplace and lifelong information literacy actually looks like for our students after they graduate. Guess what? They’re not using ProQuest to search for articles about buying their first home or how to get a raise. Her article gives a summary of PIL’s findings about the expectations of employers and new graduates in the workplace, and the implications for IL pedagogy. I especially like the emphasis on cultivating curiosity in our students. Being able to ask and answer questions will serve our learners much better than mastery of Boolean operators.

Barbara Fister’s autoethnography is simply gorgeous to read. The long arc of her career traces the transitions from bibliographic instruction to information literacy, the “Information Age” to “fake news”, the Standards to the Framework, from holding a planning document at the beginning of her career to questioning how to frame her achievements as she approaches retirement. Reflecting on the messy, incomplete nature of her work, she closes her article with this lovely line:

This is our work. It is made of fleeting moments. It is never quite right. It matters. (Fister, 2017)

Margy MacMillan’s contribution to this issue is, like her, humble and understated. She is one of several co-authors on the conference review of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Los Angeles in 2016. But, if you are a close reader, you will note that Alison Head also thanks Margy for her help and feedback with Head’s article. If you don’t know Margy (yet), that’s her way. If you offer to help her, she’ll ask how can she help you. If she follows you on Twitter, she likes all of your tweets. If you say that you’re inspired by her (as I often have said), she says she’s inspired by you. When I saw her present at Library Instruction West in Salt Lake City last year, she commented that she was close to retirement but still went to work every day filled with curiosity about students and their learning. What. A. Babe.

One of the things I love about reading is that there are no rules about where to start. In her introduction, Coonan said that they endeavored to create a “landmark” issue. I think they’ve done so. So start here in 2017, or go back to 2007 and start with volume one, issue one, or anywhere in between.


Elmborg, J. (2017). Lessons from Forty Years as a Literacy Educator: An Information Literacy Narrative. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 54-67.

Fister, B. (2017). The warp and weft of Information Literacy: Changing contexts, enduring challenges. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 68-79.

Head, A. J. (2017). Posing the million dollar question: What happens after graduation?. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 80-90.

Jefferson, C., MacMillan, M. E., Manginelli, A., McClurg, C., & Winterman, B. (2017). ISSOTL 2016: exploring opportunities for librarians. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 227-231.

Patalong, S., & Llewellyn, O. (2007). Show them how to do it: using Macromedia Captivate to deliver remote demonstrations. Journal of Information Literacy, 1(1), 31-34.

Featured image includes head shots of Barbara Fister, Margy MacMillan, Jim Elmborg, and Alison J. Head.


Information literacy assessment. (Day 88/100)

My job title is Pedagogy and Assessment Librarian. I took a course called “Assessment” in my LIS graduate program. I just finished writing a 10-page year-end assessment report which I submitted to our University Assessment Director (and he looooved it).

The point is, I should know a lot about assessment. I don’t. I’m still figuring it out.

One thing I’ve learned over the past year is just how complicated, yet simultaneously meaningless, the word assessment can be.

People hate the word assessment because it has too many onerous connotations. Extra work, reports, rubrics, Excel spreadsheets. Administrative obligation. A looming sense of futility.

Maybe we could jazz it up a bit by referring to it simply as giving a shit.

Do you give a shit?

So do I.

Let’s give a shit together.

If you give a shit about something, I think it is natural that you would be curious about it. If you’re curious about it, you would ask a question, and (ideally) care about the answer. I think that’s what information literacy assessment is about–being curious about information literacy, wondering how students become information literate, and caring about how you can impact their learning.

The world of library assessment is messy. I’ve known this for a while, but it became very clear to me when I attended the Library Assessment Conference in Arlington, Virginia last fall. At the conference, I discovered that many of my peers have similar titles (“Assessment Librarian”) but we have radically different jobs. For example, I do not assess spaces, services, or collections. I do not administer LibQual surveys and I have no idea how to use NVivo or SPSS. My job focus is solely on student learning and information literacy assessment. I have not met a single person who is jealous of this.

Information literacy is hard to define. Lots of smart people don’t exactly agree on what it is. If you can’t define it, then how do you measure it?

From a student learning perspective, we would argue that you measure information literacy by defining student learning outcomes. Next, you create opportunities to assess those outcomes. For each outcome, you would identify criteria and performance indicators that define to what degree the outcome has been met (not yet met, partially met, met, etc.).

For 15 years, the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education provided a neat and tidy checklist of over 80 skills that an information literate student should have. Cue the collective teeth gnashing when the Standards, rescinded last June, were replaced by the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, a delightfully nebulous document that utilizes threshold concept theory to describe the behaviors and dispositions of information literate students. “You can’t assess this!”, librarians said. And they continue to say it. I won’t belabor this point–if you’re really interested, you can attend one of the many ACRL-sponsored webinars, workshops, or conference sessions on the topic. (In fact, Meredith Farkas presented a particularly fantastic session last week on the Framework and its implications for instruction.) Or, like me, you can practice the art of silently sobbing when colleagues characterize their engagement in the following manner: “Oh, the Framework? Yeah, we haven’t really looked at it yet.”

From what I can tell (my devoted readers are encouraged to disagree with me), a lot of academic librarians are not engaged with student learning assessment in any way. Some librarians are doing some assessment of student learning, usually by collecting data (worksheets, minute papers) in one-shot instruction sessions. A few librarians are engaged in meaningful, longitudinal, campus-wide initiatives related to the assessment of student learning (through institution-level learning outcomes, reflective learning activities, portfolio assessment, etc.). A small group of folks drive me completely insane by using data analytics to report correlative findings about student performance, e.g., “Students who check out books from the library have higher GPAs.” If you think this is assessment of student learning, I feel sad for you.

Where to start?

So what does real assessment of student learning look like? Andrew Walsh tackles this question in his 2009 article, “Information Literacy Assessment: Where Do We Start?” from the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. He reviewed nearly 100 articles (hey, nice number) about information literacy assessment to investigate how the authors measured student learning. He found that about a third of the articles used multiple choice assessment (blargh). Other assessment methodologies are examined and explained, including observation, simulation, and self-assessment. Walsh eloquently describes the complexity of truly assessing information literacy–as he says, the assessment tools that are easiest and quickest to administer don’t actually measure the nuanced skills and behaviors of information literacy.

Walsh’s article is probably one of the best overviews of different information literacy assessment methodologies, their frequency of use (really, have we changed our practices much in 10 years? Probably not, I’m afraid), and their benefits/drawbacks.

Another helpful introductory article is Christopher Stewart’s short, two-page review from 2011, which provides an overview of the landscape of information literacy assessment. Stewart explains the purpose of tools like Measuring Impact of Networked Electronic Services (MINES), Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS), and surveys like LibQual and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). It also briefly explains the VAL Report and Megan Oakleaf’s insistence that the future of student learning outcomes assessment is going to revolve around linking student data to library data. Barf.

Sail away from SAILS…

I read a couple of articles about SAILS because that’s all I could stomach. Some thoughts:

  • Why was an article about information literacy assessment in Technical Services Quarterly? I’m still scratching my head about that one.
  • Speaking of that same article, the authors, Rumble & Noe describe a remarkably interconnected relationship with their English department and writing tutors. Although the article doesn’t include the results of the SAILS assessment, they observe that simply implementing a test made faculty think more about learning outcomes. I thought that was kind of backwards. Is it possible to care about learning without a standardized test?
  • If your institution uses SAILS, or is considering using it, I recommend Lym, Grossman, Yannotta, and Talih’s 2010 article from Reference Services Review. They discuss how institutions have administered and used SAILS. The most damning sentence can be found in the conclusion:”Our data tend to show that administering SAILS did not produce clear evidence of the efficacy of our sample institutions’ information literacy programs” (p. 184). They suggest doing a pre- and post-test before and after information literacy instruction to prove that one-shots work. Sigh.


Gimme that good trip that make me not quit (Grande, 2016)

What I liked:

  • Perruso Brown and Kingsley-Wilson (2010) provide an interesting example of collaborating with Journalism faculty to administer and assess an exam that tested students on how they would handle real-life information needs of journalists. Open-ended answers were difficult to assess, but I like the authenticity of the questions and they way they let students choose how to resolve their information needs (students were able to choose which sources to consult). I also appreciated that the article shared versions of questions that didn’t work, e.g., outdated questions that required students to refer to print encyclopedias instead of using easily available free web sources.
  • There are several things I appreciated about the 2013 article from Yager, Salisburg, and Kirkman at La Trobe University in Australia. They published their findings in The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, a scholarly publication outside the realm of libraries/information literacy. I also appreciate that they used two different forms of assessment with first-year students: an online quiz taken early in the course as well as a course-integrated assignment, which was assessed with a rubric. Their sample size is large–nearly 300 students. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about their overall approach (using a quiz to determine who will be successful with the course-integrated assignment later), but their results are interesting–they conclude that the “quiz was not particularly useful in determining those students who would later go on to demonstrate that they exceeded the cornerstone-level standards in Inquiry/Research” (p. 68). I interpret this to mean that the students who were low-performing in the beginning of the course had a positive and transformative learning experience throughout the course.
  • I was impressed by Holliday, et. al.’s article from 2015 in College and Research Libraries. The authors reviewed 884 papers from different students at different points in the curriculum (the papers came from ENGL 1010, ENGL 2010, PSY 3500, and HIST 4990). At the end of the article, Holiday et. al. conclude that the benefit of the assessment process was looking at a large body of student work, getting to know the curriculum, and making changes to information literacy instruction as well as course assignments. Hallelujah. I love that they used the assessment process to drive curriculum and pedagogy changes, rather than trying to prove the efficacy of the one-shot. Kiel, Burclaff, and Johnson come to a similar consensus in their 2015 article, “Learning By Doing: Developing a Baseline Information Literacy Assessment.” They also looked a large number of student papers (212!) and found that the process provided “insights into student assignments outside of the specific skills being assessed” (p. 761).
  • I really liked the 2007 article by Sonley, Turner, Myer, and Cotton which discusses assessing information literacy using a portfolio. The portfolio included a bibliography, evidence of the search process, and a self-reflection about the student’s research process. I think all of these components are so important, so it’s great that they were included–but the researchers only had nine completed samples. Oof. It’s hard to imagine this being done at scale (with an entire first-year cohort of 1500 students, for example).
  • Chan’s 2016 article about institutional assessment of information literacy found that as students progressed through their degrees, they self-identified as using the free Internet less for research. I question why is this a good thing that we want to reward, given that searching the free web will be the dominant search retrieval method that students use after they graduate. We should encourage more adept use of the free web, not less use of it overall. I wonder, will the emphasis on academic research atrophy their web searching skills by the time they graduate and begin working?


If you’re new to student learning assessment–don’t read too much about it. Reading about it is really confusing until you’ve had some experience with it. I think the best way to learn more about information literacy assessment is to talk to other teachers about it (at conferences, via e-mail, in department meetings) and participate in student learning assessment for yourself. When I was at the ACRL Immersion program in Seattle in 2013, Deb Gilchrist said this about assessment: Start small, but start. It’s good advice.


Chan, C. (2016). Institutional assessment of student information literacy ability: A case study. Communications in Information Literacy, 10(1), 50-61.

Holliday, W., Dance, B., Davis, E., Fagerheim, B., Hedrich, A., Lundstrom, K., & Martin, P. (2015). An information literacy snapshot: Authentic assessment across the curriculum. College & Research Libraries, 76(2), 170-187. doi:10.5860/crl.76.2.170

Kiel, S., Burclaff, N., & Johnson, C. (2015). Learning by doing: Developing a baseline information literacy assessment. Portal-Libraries and the Academy, 15(4), 747-766.

Perruso Brown, C., & Kingsley-Wilson, B. (2010). Assessing organically: turning an assignment into an assessment. Reference Services Review, 38(4), 536-556.

Rumble, J., & Noe, N. (2009). Project SAILS: Launching information literacy assessment across university waters. Technical Services Quarterly, 26(4), 287-298. doi:10.1080/07317130802678936

Sonley, V., Turner, D., Myer, S., & Cotton, Y. (2007). Information literacy assessment by portfolio: A case study. Reference Services Review, 35(1), 41-70. doi:10.1108/00907320710729355

Stewart, C. (2011). Measuring information literacy: Beyond the case study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(3), 270-272. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2011.03.003

Walsh, A. (2009). Information literacy assessment: Where do we start? Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41(1), 19-28. doi:10.1177/0961000608099896

Yager, Z., Salisbury, F., & Kirkman, L. (2013). Assessment of information literacy skills among first year students. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 4(1), 59-71. doi:10.5204/intjfyhe.v4i1.140


Critical information literacy. (Day 74/100)

At the CU Libraries Instruction Unconference, I attended a session about practical critical information literacy. The facilitator suggested that we introduce ourselves by explaining how we first learned about critical information literacy. Several participants indicated that the session itself was their introduction to critical information literacy, while others commented that they learned about the topic through graduate school, research about pedagogy, Twitter, and blogs.

I can’t remember when I first learned about critical information literacy. I think I was assigned some critical infolit readings in grad school, but I’m not sure. According to Twitter, the first #critlib chat in which I participated was on July 22, 2014, just three months after the inaugural #critlib chat. Immediately following that chat, I attended the  2014 Library Instruction West conference at Portland State University with fellow #critlib folks including Kevin Seeber, Rebecca Halpern, Eamon Tewell, and Veronica Arellano-Douglas. (How was that three years ago? Wow!) Based on this evidence, I can say that I’ve been thinking about critical information literacy and critical librarianship for about three years or so.

Critical information literacy, which applies critical pedagogy to information literacy instruction, felt like something I already knew without knowing what to call it. Most of my career has been focused providing information literacy instruction to community college students whose life experiences are often highlighted by mistreatment and oppression due to their (perceived or actual) class status, socioeconomic status, immigration status, languages spoken, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender; with those students, I always felt it was necessary and urgent to honor their experiences and openly address the power systems inherent in producing and accessing information.

When it was still under revision, I pushed back on the ACRL Framework for overemphasizing scholarly conversations only in the context of higher education; nearly half of the students I taught were pursuing vocational and technical degrees, so what does “scholarship” mean for them? Auto mechanics don’t refer to scholarly journals when they’re looking for trends in replacing catalytic converters. Even outside of professional/technical programs, I’ve questioned the necessity of relying on scholarly literature in undergraduate education. I acknowledge that most of the students will not be pursuing additional degrees beyond college. With that in mind, what does information literacy mean for them? Does it mean using databases to access scholarly journal articles to write research essays, or does it mean something else?

All of the articles I have read about critical information literacy ask some version of these questions:

  • Do we perpetuate or dismantle the status quo of information literacy instruction (and higher education more broadly)?
  • What’s more important–meeting course learning outcomes or developing students’ agency?
  • Are we preparing students to be scholars or workers? Researchers or citizens?
  • Do we value compliance or resistance?
  • Is information literacy a set of linear skills or a recursive experience of meaning making?

Outside of general readings on critical pedagogy (e.g. Freire), the best foundational texts about critical information literacy include Kapitzke (2003), Swanson (2004), and Elmborg (2006). For a more recent reading, Eamon Tewell’s literature review from 2015 is incredibly well-done and will save you a lot of time.

Excerpt from Tewell, 2015.

In 2003, Kapitzke broke the dam when she directly asserted that information and ideas are intersectional, not neutral. Elmborg thought so, too, and he questioned whether librarians should “serve the dominant ideology of the academy, or whether librarians see themselves as critical educators in pursuit of more ‘democratic models’” (p. 197). Swanson dared to make the radical suggestion that librarians should teach about information (how it’s made, accessed, stored), not how to use tools. (He elaborated on this idea in his 2015 collection, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information.)

Cover image of Swanson’s book, Not Just Where to Click.

Together, these three articles have been cited more than 600 times, and the literature they’ve inspired covers a vast number of topics. This post only begins to scratch the surface of existing critical information literacy articles and more articles are published every year. (Maybe that’s a project for next year–100 Articles about Critical Information Literacy. Hmm.)


Excerpt from Kapitzke, 2003.

Some highlights from my reading:

  • I always make the standing recommendation to read everything by Safiya Noble, my favorite contemporary LIS scholar. Most of Noble’s writing, including her forthcoming book, focuses on algorithms, search engines, and racism. Her 2014 article, “Changing Course: Collaborative Reflections of Teaching/Taking ‘Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Information Professions’”, is unique because it concerns a course she taught while she was LIS faculty at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She authored the article with her co-instructor and three students who took the course. We learn from the article that this course had been shelved for 9 years (it went untaught from 2002 to 2011), it was an elective, and it is the only course at the graduate level to address issues of white privilege and heteronormativity in LIS. As I read Noble’s article, I couldn’t help but think of Nicole Cooke’s invited talk at ACRL2017 in which she noted that it was expected that she, the Black LIS professor, would be responsible for teaching “that stuff” (cultural competency, etc.).
Tweets about Nicole Cooke’s talk at ACRL 2017 in Baltimore.
  • Julia Bauder & Catherine Rod’s 2016 article about critical information literacy pedagogy and the ACRL Framework is lovely and succinct. They do an excellent job of rounding up recent examples from the literature that highlight the ways the Framework lends itself to “troublesome, transformative, irreversible, and integrative” learning. I loved that they cited Barbara Fister, Heidi Jacobs, and Maura Seale. The only downside is that they skip over the “Searching as Strategic Exploration” frame because they feel it’s too similar to the Standards–this felt like a missed opportunity.
Excerpt from Bauder & Rod, 2016.
  • Angela Pashia’s short-and-sweet article in Radical Teacher is a great starting point for folks who are looking for ways to integrate the Black Lives Matter movement into their information literacy curriculum. Pashia writes about her credit-bearing “Information Literacy and Research” course at the University of West Georgia, and how she encourages students to critique scholarly authority, news, and social media in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. For example, students use tweets about the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri to “poke holes” in reports published in the news. (Full disclosure: Pashia is one of the editors of a forthcoming book titled Credit-bearing Information Literacy Courses: Critical Approaches, to which I have been accepted as a contributing author.)
  • Gina Schlesselman-Tarango’s 2014 article, “Cyborgs in the Academic Library: A Cyberfeminist Approach to Information Literacy Instruction” is just fucking fantastic. This is the kind of reading that will grow your mind and stretch your boundaries–and it is exactly the kind of article I hoped to read when I started this project. Her article deftly combines an analysis of feminist pedagogy, critical information literacy, ecofeminism, and, of course, cyborgs. Her root text is Amanda Yoder’s 2003 article, “The Cyborg Librarian as Interface: Interpreting Postmodern Discourse on Knowledge Construction, Validation, and Navigation within Academic Libraries.” I loved the way she framed the “cyborg librarian” as a nimble navigator of an information diaspora, one who encourages students to “use the digital tools of Web 2.0 to problematize dominant voices and information paradigms” (p. 38).
  • I am grateful to Eamon Tewell for his literature review from 2015, which I’ve already mentioned, but I also have to acknowledge the excellent work in his 2016 article, “Toward the Resistant Reading of Information: Google, Resistant Spectatorship, and Critical Information Literacy.” One of the things I really appreciated about this article was the way that he explained Stuart Hall’s 1973 theory about the encoding/decoding model of communication. It made me reflect on how the theory of dominant, negotiated, and oppositional approaches to reading relate to the literacy (e.g., reading) component of information literacy. I am deeply interested in how reading, and approaches to reading, inform learners’ information literacy capacities, and this article gave me a new lens through which to consider the act of reading texts. Tewell also gets bonus points subtly digging at the “apolitical” “checklist” approach to source evaluation (p. 303).
  • Michelle Holschuh Simmons published a groundbreaking article about genre theory and critical information literacy in 2005 when she was a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa studying discourses. At the time, she was among a small group of scholars writing about critical information literacy, and her words beautifully prophesy the language that would be used in the Framework ten years later. The conclusion of her article, which follows, really resonates with me because she emphasizes the library as a place of learning and resistance, both inside the library classroom and at the reference desk.
Excerpt from Simmons, 2005.

A couple lowlights:

  • I was excited to read the Goomas, Baker, and Weston article about critical information literacy in community college psychology curriculum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t detect any connection whatsoever to critical pedagogy in their article. From what I can tell, they conducted traditional library instruction sessions that focused on using databases to find articles from psychology journals, which students then cited in APA format using NoodleTools.
  • Kyle Shockey’s 2016 article about the American Library Association’s focus on the myth of neutrality and the decline of progressive librarianship was interesting, but only tangentially related to critical information literacy. I probably should have skipped it.

Yesterday, Jim Elmborg participated in a panel at the 2017 Workshop for Instruction in Library Use (WILU) in Alberta, Canada. The session, titled “Putting Critical Theory to Work: Pedagogy and Praxis for Librarians,” was well-received on Twitter, and I gathered from the tweets I read that Elmborg made a comment about theory as exclusionary practice.


Tweets from #wilu2017 about Elmborg’s comments regarding the exclusivity/elitism of theory.

I want to acknowledge that the literature of critical information literacy can feel incredibly dense and overwhelming. But I also want to invite you to engage with critical information literacy in any way you can because I believe there’s value in it, for you and for your students. If you disagree with me, or you’re just not interested, or you take a distinct pleasure in distancing yourself from (critical) theory, that’s totally fine.

If you’re willing to try, though, here’s your official permission to Do Your Best and Fuck The Rest. You don’t have to read everything. You don’t have to understand every article you try to read. You don’t have to get it right every time, know all the names, or rattle off Foucault like you had coffee with him last week. You don’t have to be perfect. I don’t know anyone who is. However, I do know a lot of librarians who are questioning many of the things that are taken for granted about what we do, and how we do what we do. I’m fascinated by these conversations and I feel lucky to be a part of them.


Bauder, J., & Rod, C. (2016). Crossing thresholds: Critical information literacy pedagogy and the ACRL framework. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 23(3), 252-264. doi:10.1080/10691316.2015.1025323

Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A positivist epistemology and a politics of outformation. Educational Theory, 53(1), 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2003.00037.x

Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192-199.

Goomas, D., Baker, L., & Weston, M. B. (2015). Critical information literacy within the El Centro College psychology curriculum. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(1), 95-99. doi:10.1080/10668926.2013.836690

Noble, S. U., Austin, J., Sweeney, M. E., McKeever, L., & Sullivan, E. (2014). Changing course: Collaborative reflections of Teaching/Taking ‘race, gender, and sexuality in the information professions’. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 55(3), 212-222.

Pashia, A. (2016). Teaching note: Black lives matter in information literacy. Radical Teacher, (106), 141-143. doi:10.5195/rt.2016.305

Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as disciplinary discourse mediators: Using genre theory to move toward critical information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297-311.

Schlesselman-Tarango, G. (2014). Cyborgs in the academic library: A cyberfeminist approach to information literacy instruction. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 33(1), 29-46. doi:10.1080/01639269.2014.872529

Shockey, K. (2016). Intellectual freedom is not social justice: The symbolic capital of intellectual freedom in ALA accreditation and LIS curricula. Progressive Librarian, (44), 101-110.

Swanson, T. A. (2004). A radical step: Implementing A critical information literacy model. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 4(2), 259-273. doi:10.1353/pla.2004.0038

Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy: A review of the literature. Communications in Information Literacy, 9(1), 24-43.

Tewell, E. (2016). Toward the resistant reading of information: Google, resistant spectatorship, and critical information literacy. Portal-Libraries and the Academy, 16(2), 289-310.

When you’re #leftbehind.

There are so many great conferences happening this week.

In Los Angeles, some of my favorite librarians gathered yesterday and today for the inaugural Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference (IACAL, #iacal2017), organized by the incredible Rebecca Halpern.


In Alberta, Canada, even more of my favorite librarians are convening at the Workshop for Instruction in Library Use (WILU, #wilu2017), which began today and ends Thursday.


And right here in Colorado today, I joined my nearest and dearest librarians in Boulder for the CU Libraries Instruction Unconference (CULIU, #culiu17). We had nearly 70 attendees from around the state, representing community colleges, universities, and special libraries.. We spent over three hours engaged in participant-led discussions about student learning assessment, librarian burnout, professional development for graduate students, high school transitions, cross-institutional collaborations, critical information literacy, and more. It was simply fabulous. (And how could it be anything less with folks like Kevin Seeber, Juliann Couture, and my boss, Andrea Falcone, at the helm?)


In the Twitterverse, folks who are missing out on conferences label themselves as those #leftbehind, e.g., #wiluleftbehind or #iacalleftbehind. But being left behind doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from the incredible conversations and presentations happening in these spaces. Here are a few ideas for how you can get involved, even if you don’t have the time or funds to join your colleagues.


Follow the Twitter hashtag.

This is the quickest and easiest way to catch real-time comments about sessions and speakers at the conference. By reading tweets with the #iacal2017 hashtag, I learned that…


Read the conference program and proceedings.

The contents of a conference program can tell you a lot about current conversations in librarianship. When you’re reading a conference program, consider the following questions:

  • Who is presenting & what are they talking about?

You’ll see certain names appear in different conference programs again and again, and they tend to talk about the same things. These folks have dedicated their professional lives to investigating particular issues or questions. If you notice that you have some interests in common with a presenter, don’t be afraid to connect with them via Twitter or e-mail. It can be a great way to find collaborators and partners for future projects.

  • Which institutions are represented? Which institutions are missing?

In general, the folks who present at conferences have the funding/support to do so. This means that tenure-track librarians at large universities are generally over-represented at conferences. We don’t see very many non-tenure-track librarians, community college librarians, solo librarians, or graduate students in conference programs (unless the conference is specifically for one of those groups). This is frustrating because their voices are incredibly important in our professional conversations.

  • What topics are represented in the sessions? What does this tell you about current trends in the field?

Looking at the WILU program, I can see that there are sessions about…

  • Active learning
  • Critical theory
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • International students
  • Tribal colleges
  • Data visualization
  • Wikipedia
  • Copyright
  • Gaming
  • Student learning assessment

The list above provides a solid sample of hot topics in information literacy instruction. These are the kinds of things I want to discuss with my colleagues, and I would also expect new professionals to understand these facets of the current information literacy landscape. As a graduate student or new librarian, it is an excellent strategy to analyze conference sessions for ideas for future presentations, papers, etc.

Participate in livestreamed events or watch recordings.

On Thursday at 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern, you can watch the livestream of the WILU closing keynote with Jessie Loyer from Mount Royal University. I really appreciate the opportunity to participate from a distance, and I think it’s a lovely gesture when a conference makes its keynotes or other speakers available remotely.

Be grateful always.

I acknowledge that a metric shit-ton of labor (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and beyond) goes into organizing a conference, preparing and providing sessions, live tweeting, sharing materials, and discussing these big ideas, so I want to thank everyone who has put their time and energy into any of these activities. I see you and I value you, and I’m grateful for all the ways you make me a better librarian.



Information literacy assessment in 25 easy steps.

Today I humble-bragged about our instruction department working together to assess over 230 samples of student work from 30 sections of first-year English composition. So, how many steps did it take to get to this moment? And what comes next? Let’s take a look. I’ll give a step-by-step explanation of our assessment process, leaving out details about the content of the lesson and focusing on what we did and how.

Full disclosure: planning, scheduling, teaching, and assessing at scale is definitely a team effort. I am not responsible for every step below, but I did most of the wrangling (and expediting) after the sections were taught. Oh, and I am a quick draw with a mail merge.

  1. Create a shared lesson plan for a 75-minute one-shot instruction session, complete with learning outcomes, a hands-on learning activity, and a built-in active learning assessment.
  2. Print extra copies of lesson plan, class handouts, and other required materials.
  3. Review lesson plan and practice lesson with instruction team as needed.
  4. Set up Google Form to collect student responses.
    • The Google Form asks students to answer questions related to the class activity.
    • The Google Form does not ask for any identifying student information (we don’t collect student names, instructor names, librarian names, section number, etc.).
  5. Teach! (I’m not going to go into details of the scheduling but I’ll say that everyone in our department teaches at least a couple of sections.)
  6. During hands-on learning activity, librarians direct students to answer prompts in a Google Form.
  7. Collect all responses from all students in every section using same Google Form.
  8. After all sections have been taught, export all student responses to an Excel spreadsheet.
  9. Clean data, removing duplicates and blank submissions.
  10. Finalize scoring rubric, determining clearly defined performance indicators for exemplary, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory performance for each of seven criteria.
  11. Set up Word template to create hard copy student work samples for scoring.
    • Ensure each sample is numbered.
    • Ensure template includes spaces for initials of three reviewers.
  12. Mail merge Excel data into Word template, creating individual student work samples.
  13. Edit individual documents, removing blank pages.
  14. Print 232 student work samples.
  15. Send meeting invites to librarians for scoring sessions.
    • Reserve five hours in the same week.
    • All librarians are asked to commit to at least two hours of scoring.
  16. Reserve conference room for scoring sessions.
  17. Set up Google Form to collect scores.
    • The Google Form collects the number of the work sample and scores for each criteria.
    • The Google Form does not collect any data about the librarian scoring the sample, course section, or student.
  18. Administer scoring sessions. As a group:
    • Review rubric.
    • Review scoring procedures.
    • Establish norms by scoring a few student work samples together as a group.
    • Allow librarians to work individually, entering scores in Google Form.
    • Librarians write their initials at the top of each student work sample to ensure to that three different reviewers provide scores.
    • Student work samples rotate among reviewers as needed.
    • Expediter controls workflow using designated baskets for completed forms.
  19. After all 232 samples are reviewed three times, data is cleaned.
  20. Determine consensus scores for each criteria (e.g., if two reviewers give a score of Satisfactory and one reviewer scores as Exemplary, the consensus score is Satisfactory).
  21. Any scores that are unclear are sent back for additional review.
  22. Use consensus scores to create an overall assessment report that details student performance on each criteria of the assessment.
  23. Use assessment results and departmental discussions and observations to drive curriculum and assessment improvements for next semester.
  24. Share assessment report with Department Head, internal administrators, and University administration as needed.
  25. Archive report using standard knowledge management practices to ensure its discoverability.


And that, my loves, is how you “do assessment” in the library world (or my library world, anyway).