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yield more information literate students, especially if the one-shot program supports low-quality curriculum focused on outdated research skills and behaviors.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.
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.
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).
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
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?
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.)
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.)
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.).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Several times a week, I check my mailbox and find a small package from a publisher, containing a book to be read in consideration for the Stonewall Book Award. There’s a growing stack of colorful books by my front door and, most days, I try to squeeze in a few more minutes of reading during my train commute. ALSC confidentiality rules (as irksome as they may be) preclude me from sharing or discussing my thoughts about these books outside of the committee. Reading books and NOT being allowed to talk about them is a pretty good way to torture a librarian.
For most of last week, my nose was buried in articles about peer observations of information literacy instruction. If I wasn’t reading, I was furiously typing–I wrote a 4,000-word document outlining procedures for a new peer observation of teaching program for my department, complete with a table of contents, several pages of rubrics, and a long list of references. If you’re developing or revamping a similar program in your instruction department, I highly recommend this article by Loanne Snavely and Nancy Dewald from The Journal of Academic Librarianship.
While I’m doing my best to remain focused on the enormous stack of articles I still need to read for my #100infolitarticlesin100days project, it’s tough when pre-prints like this one come out and send me into a frenzy. I am extremely grateful for the work that Jones and Salo are doing to question the conflicts between our professional ethics as librarians and the growing pressure to collect and analyze extraneous data about our students in the library. Their words made me feel less alone.
My husband and I drove to Santa Fe last weekend for his birthday. Well, technically, he drove, and I handled the stereo, fed him snacks, and read articles about the Framework. The drive between Denver and Santa Fe is six hours long, mostly flat, with few points of interest or variations in scenery (brown, some green, flat, some hills, more brown, a little green, and so on). At one point, somewhere south of the Raton Pass, Iain said, “Talk to me.”
“Anything,” he laughed. He gestured at the endless stretch of straight road in front of him. “This is pretty boring. Tell me about your articles.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, incredulous. But really, what choice did he have? It was infolit shop talk or fall asleep at the wheel. So I explained that I was in the midst of several articles about the transition from the ACRL Standards for Information Literacy to the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy.
“I’m actually reading an article by Kevin,” I said.
“What’s it called?”
“‘THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING,” I replied. “I think it has the best title of the bunch.” Then I added, summing up about a million dramatic listserv exchanges, “Basically it’s about how the Framework should inform teaching, because it’s more theoretical and conceptual than the Standards, which were more prescriptive.”
I kept going. “This part is really cool. Listen: ‘That means that a model of information literacy instruction which universally praises scholarly research and devalues alternative venues of information dissemination is no longer valid.'” (Seeber, 2015, p. 162)
Iain nodded, “Yeah, that makes sense to me. It sounds like how you teach, when you explain to students that there aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sources of information, just different types, and you have to think about how and why you would use them.”
Then I got really nerdy and explained my great joy for Carol Kuhlthau. “So this article is actually from before the Framework was finalized. It was published in 2013, but Kuhlthau has been researching information literacy since the 1980s, and her big thing is looking at the feelings, thoughts, and actions of students during the research process. She has this model called the Information Search Process, ISP, which basically says that students start out feeling vague and uncertain, then they get a boost of optimism when they’ve picked a topic, and that plummets–” I dipped my hand, like a rollercoaster dropping down a steep incline, “when students start to actually explore their topic and they get more confused and frustrated. Then things get better once they use that new information to clarify their topics, get a solid direction going, and share what they’ve found.”
“So what does she say about the Standards?”
“Well, it’s a short article with three main points. She says that the Standards focuses too much on the process of extracting information, which is too simplistic, like cutting and pasting. She also says that librarians need to take a more ‘holistic’ view of student learning, so that’s her whole ISP thing, with thinking, feeling, acting as part of learning. And she wants to see a more holistic approach to information literacy that includes a bigger emphasis on inquiry and on affective processes.”
“What else have you read so far?”
“Well, there was this article about iPads.”
“What’s it about?”
“They used iPads to teach Information Creation as a Process, which is one of the frames.”
“It’s a little confusing. They did a bunch of different things. Part of it included the students watching documentary videos on iPads in groups, and talking about how those videos were created, and how those videos are similar or different from scholarly articles. The librarian also took a picture of themselves using the iPad, and then the class helped the librarian post that picture to Instagram, so they collectively decided on a caption and hashtags and stuff.”
“What do you think of all that?”
“I’m not sure, exactly. I like the idea of it. I’m not sure that iPads were necessary. The part that’s the most interesting is the fact that they had observers watch the instruction session and code the students’ participation and comments. I hadn’t considered that before. Sort of an interesting methodology, classroom observation of instruction.”
“Hmm, hmm.” Iain nodded in his agreeable, stiff upper lip, keep-calm-and-carry-on way. “Anything else interesting?”
I shrugged. “Just one other article, but they refer to students as ‘budding researchers’, which grosses me out for some reason. Like college students are in the puberty phase of their research habits.”
Iain laughed, and then the road opened up, the landsape got a bit more interesting, the sun sank a bit lower, and we found our little casita just a few blocks from the Plaza in Santa Fe. That night, Iain had a hamburger doused with green chiles, and the next day, he turned thirty-three.
Jacobson, T. E., & Gibson, C. (2015). First thoughts on implementing the framework for
information literacy. Communications in Information Literacy, 9(2), 102-110.
Jones, K. M., & Salo, D. (2017). Learning analytics and the academic lirary: Professional
ethics commitments at a crossroads. College & Research Libraries. Pre-print.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2013). Rethinking the 2000 ACRL Standards: Some things to consider. Communications in Information Literacy, 7(2), 92-97.
Seeber, K. P. (2015). THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING: Criticality and discussions of context in
ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy. Communications in Information Literacy, 9(2), 157-163.
Snavely, L., & Dewald, N. (2011). Developing and implementing peer review of academic
librarians’ teaching: an overview and case report. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(4), 343-351.
Woxland, C. M., Cochran, D., Davis, E. L., & Lundstrom, K. (2017). Communal & student-
centered: Teaching information creation as a process with mobile technologies. Reference Services Review, 45(1), 79-99.
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.
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.
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.
Today is the first day of my project to read 100 information literacy articles in 100 days. My very imperfect reading list is mostly finalized, with big thanks to everyone who commented and provided helpful suggestions, including Meredith Farkas, Eamon Tewell, Elise Ferer, and others (including folks who noticed a couple of duplicate readings–oops). This is why this has to be a team project.
Since I announced this endeavor, I’ve heard a few comments like, “Wow, that’s great, I wish I had the time to do that!” The truth is, I don’t have the time to do this, either, but I’m doing it anyway. Or I’m going to try, at least. I’m doing this to start a conversation and you can be part of it, even if you don’t read any of the articles that I read. I don’t know yet what will happen, but I’m hoping that the process takes me somewhere unexpected.
I don’t know when the idea popped into my head. It probably seeped into my subconscious between my second and third gin and tonic with Kevin Seeber when he name-dropped yet another author I had not yet read, or mentioned some journal I wasn’t familiar with. (Yes, we do like to mix our gin with shop talk.)
But I can’t shake it.
I want to read 100 information literacy articles in 100 days. And write (at least) ten blog posts about them.
Well, why not?
I’ve been an information literacy librarian for five years now. I began my career as an instruction librarian when Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington hired me in January 2012. And since then, I’ve changed jobs three times, I’ve taught hundreds of one-shot instructions, I’ve taught quarter-long classes for credit, and I’ve answered lots and lots of questions that start with, “Do you work here? Can you help me with my assignment? I need to find some articles…”
In all that time, I’ve never really had a chance to step back and look at what people are writing, saying, thinking, and theorizing about information literacy.
It’s not that I never read articles about information literacy. I do read as much as I can, but I was a community college librarian for four years and I barely had time to breathe, let alone sit and ponder the state of the literature in my field. As a graduate student, I dutifully read the articles assigned by my professors, but it all seemed so abstract then.
It’s one thing to read about information literacy. It’s a whole other thing to actually teach information literacy.
I’m an instruction librarian, so I better approach this with some outcomes, right?
By the end of this (possibly foolish) endeavor, I hope to:
Identify trends in information literacy instruction and assessment
Develop counter-arguments to dominant narratives in information literacy theory
Evaluate and analyze various perspectives on information literacy
So, the first thing I have to do is build my reading list. This is where you come in—if you have any readings to recommend, please send them to me for consideration. E-mail is fine: ztrope / gmail, etc.
What counts as an information literacy article for the purposes of this project? I’m mostly interested in scholarly articles, published whenever (no specific date range, although I want to include a mix of older and contemporary pieces). I will also include some popular articles as well (especially newspaper and magazine articles published in the last year or so about fake news and digital literacy).
I plan to finalize my reading list by Friday, March 10, and start reading the articles on Monday, March 13. A hundred days later is June 20, the summer solstice. We can celebrate the longest day of the year together with one final blog post about my project, written with flowers in my hair, a white candle burning on my desk, and a large glass of pinot grigio (with a few ice cubes) at my side.