information literacy is larger than a library

Information literacy is outlined in clear standards by the Association of College and Research Libraries and these standards are reinforced by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s accreditation proposals. These are idealistic measures that do not compromise on their definition of success. However, the realities of academic libraries and their ability to meet these measures must be reflected in the highest level of conversation on this hot topic. Information literacy is not only a library matter; its issues and expectations must be addressed by academic administration as a campus-wide initiative.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education readily admits that “general education programs cannot offer a sufficient opportunity for students to achieve fully the higher-order information literacy skills (2).” Yet, rather than review curriculum and academic programming, the Commission and others favor a periphery dialogue between faculty and librarians to resolve this problem. Many academic librarians are already asked to provide bibliographic instruction in less than an hour of class time with no follow-through. Now these librarians are burdened with the additional standards of teaching information evaluation and its social implications – without additional class time, financial compensation, or apt education.

Peckham Library, London by Ellen Forsyth on Flickr
Peckham Library, London by Ellen Forsyth on Flickr

This concern is addressed by Stanley Wilder (2005) who believes “librarians should use their expertise to deepen students’ understanding of the disciplines they study (14).” Herein lies the larger problem. Academic librarians today are often hired without extensive subject knowledge or teaching competence – only heightened research skills. This shift occurred in the late nineteenth century. Initially, scholars worked in academic libraries, supporting patrons with their subject expertise and professorship practice. Then, in 1877, Melvil Dewey established the first library school and, as Frances Hopkins noted, “there is no doubt that Dewey’s good intentions depressed the profession as a whole (Owusu-Ansah, 2004, 7).” Today we are again being asked to be scholars. I view this as a return to a more rigorous academic national curriculum.

Information literacy cannot merely be an extension of bibliographic instruction. In current library instruction, the librarian begins each search process at a superficial and elemental stage of knowledge on the subject, so she stresses trivial methods. By starting each reference search at the know-nothing level, it suggests to the student that research is a tedious and linear development – the exact opposite of what we have learned about common information-seeking behavior. Information literacy places too much emphasis on this erroneous set of actions. Additionally, this process poorly “duplicates what effective teachers,” according to Joseph McDonald, “…already accomplish with their students (2004, 1).” Librarians should be in a position to support these teachers, not replace the focused education and curriculum with agendas hastily created to achieve vague academic standards. Clearly librarians should work with faculty on teaching learners to learn, but offering credit courses outside of subject emphasis places information literacy alongside subject learning rather than directly within it.

It is surprising that something as basic as literacy would be pulled aside for isolated consideration as a requirement for higher education. The ALA’s definition of information literacy reads like the foundation of any university mission statement. University libraries need to support this, not reframe it. While ALA may encourage librarians to work with their institutions in meeting standards, the library should not direct this conversation – the academic administration as curriculum developers should lead. While it can be frustrating to only advocate change and not enforce it, libraries need to push information literacy as more than simply library expansion.

McDonald, J. (2004). Information literacy or literate information? MLA Forum, 3(2), pp. 1-14.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2003). Developing research skills and communication skills. Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Owusu-Ansah, E. (2004). Information literacy and higher education: Placing the academic library in the center of a comprehensive solution. The Journal of Academic Librarianship,  30(1), pp. 3-16.

Wilder, S. (2005). Information literacy makes all the wrong assumptions. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(18), p. B 13.

embedded librarianship

Earlier this week I attended the South Central Regional Library Council‘s webinar Embedded Librarians: What, Why, How hosted by Laura Saunders. I’m really interested in the idea of librarians working outside the library. As print gets stored away for computers and databases, the library as physical place for access to information is becoming passe. Slowly, I admit (and hope) but nonetheless it seems to be the current perspective of our customer.

It’s important to note here that customer is Saunders’ term. She uses it, as well as client, instead of patron. While this is in part to make the webinar feel targeted to a variety of librarians regardless of their setting, it also redefines the user for the librarian. Patron gives a sense of relationship to an entity, the library, as opposed to a person and also suggests membership (which itself suggests exclusion, though Anthony Molaro would disagree). Customer or client, though I find them sterile, brings to mind customer service and a pledge to assistance. Embedded librarianship is an opportunity for us to proactively prioritize user experience over library resource development.

Saunders defined embedded librarianship by what it does and where it does it: co-location, course integrated, just in time, and doing rounds are all terms that embedded librarianship embraces. The characteristics also help define what has become an umbrella term for “out from behind the desk” librarianship. These characteristics include:

becoming integrated into the community of clients, namely by location ourselves in their space (physically and virtually)

a strong subject specialization accompanied by strong customer service skills

continually engaging with members of the community through meeting, teaching, and evaluation

embedded librarians are more engaging...Roxbury Crossing story time from Boston Public Library's Flickr
embedded librarians are more engaging…Roxbury Crossing story time from Boston Public Library’s Flickr

Typical services of an embedded librarian do include our usual reference and instruction, but provides a value-added service. Saunders suggests the importance of collaboration with community members  and synthesizing information for those members (there’s that word again…). Our users value our ability to selectively disseminate information.

Furthermore, removing ourselves from the library may help users with intimidation and anxiety issues to feel more comfortable approaching us. In turn users who work with us in a less daunting environ (say their own space or a coffee shop) will increase their confidence which will likely lead to increased library use. In my view, this might be the greatest value-added service embedded librarianship could provide.

information overload. again.

The Spring 2012 issue of The Hedgehog Review has an enlightening article by Chad Wellmon. Why Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid…or Smart is a reference to Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic article Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr admits that the internet “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” Multiple tabs open for email, RSS feeds, and browsing distract him from focused critical reading of lengthy articles or books. “The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration,” Carr acknowledges.

Wellmon refers to this as information overload, the new catch-phrase of our time. While Carr considers stupidity a result of overload  (too much to process means we stop processing entirely), Wellmon suggests this argument is too simplistic and rather naive. He reminds us that “these technologies do not exist independently of the human persons who design and use them.” Furthermore, we’ve been through overload before – when we invented the printing press.

Wellmon cites Ann Blair’s 2010 article in The Boston Globe, Information Overload: The Early Years. When Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century, “suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight.” Wellmon refers to German readers in the late 18th century claiming “to have been infested by a plague of books.” Christian Thomasius, the philosopher, referred to this overload of printed material as a “kind of Epidemic disease.”

how to simultaneously read many books
how to simultaneously read many books; Ramelli’s 1588 bookwheel

What came of this information headache? Blair tells us “a raft of innovative methods for dealing with the accumulation of information” emerged. Public lending libraries, bibliographies and indexes, reference manuals and encyclopedias all developed to assist readers in determining what needed to be read and where to find those important pages. Note-taking was well-advised. Cutting and pasting (the literal kind) maintained a clean selection of the best reading materials. Soon these sheets of pasted print were used as a reference system themselves; this is the foundation of the library card catalog which in turn influenced the organization of the Internet.

“All of these technologies” Wellmon concludes, “facilitated a consultative reading that allowed a text to be accessed in parts instead of reading a text straight through from beginning to end.” The original infoglut crisis was averted with a variety of coping mechanisms we still use today.

the deeper malaise

“This preoccupation with challenging traditional stereotypes and images, while at the same time seeking reassurance and justification for why and how librarians do what they do, is merely one of a number of symptoms of a deeper malaise or ‘condition of discomfort’ underlying the library profession (165).”

~ from Candy Hillenbrand’s Librarianship in the 21st Century – Crisis or Transformation?

Sometimes I wonder if librarians are still deeply committed to Enlightenment values and have merely taken an insecure hold of Postmodernism  – with the hesitation that it’s only a passing trend. Hillenbrand’s 2005 article nicely addresses my personal condition of discomfort with the profession.

I looked up two of the articles referred to by Hillenbrand. I felt myself agreeing with Dave Muddiman’s philosophy and so I read his 1999 article Towards a Postmodern Context for Information and Library Education. It helped structure how the Enlightenment is transforming into the Postmodern, but something he wrote struck a larger connection:

“In general terms such critics have argued that the Enlightenment project itself has historically ignored the culture of large majorities of the world’s population: women; non-Europeans; the poor, and so on. Information and library science, reflecting this culture of exclusion, has thus helped construct a privileged form of knowledge which, far from being universal, amount to a partial yet dominant culture which is male, European, positivist, and humanist (6).

looking toward the future during the Enlightenment...A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery by Joseph Wright, c1766
looking toward the future during the Enlightenment…A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery by Joseph Wright, c1766

Now that we have a new tagline – Information Wants to Be Free – we need to really look closely at who is freeing it. Information will be organized by and created by this dominant culture because to provide information for free means that only those that are already wealthy (and bored) will have the financial and social means to do so. While Muddiman seems to suggest that Postmodernism helps alleviate library science’s traditional culture of exclusion with the advent of hyperlinks and social connections to information, I’m beginning to question if the Internet and it’s theory of inclusion is really transforming into a virtual Enlightenment.

Could this be the current deeper malaise of the profession?

While this is completely divergent from Hillenbrand’s article, it made me rethink her text and the initial question – crisis or transformation? I initially finished her reading and thought “transformation.” Then reading Muddiman’s text got me thinking “crisis.”

So I also read Miroslav Kurk’s 2003 article Truth and Libraries. From Hillenbrand’s work, Kruk seemed the strongest anti-Postmodernist cited. He begins by pointing out that the library has already established anti-Postmodernist – or should I just say the library has already established a culture of exclusion – by creating Reference, Fiction, and Nonfiction sections. We have order to “truthiness” as per Stephen Colbert. Kruk believes that the modern library is “entirely practical” and moving away from “the sphere of the sacred” that “was a conscious link to the values of that ancient architecture symbolized such as Order, Divine Benevolence, Virtue, and Temperance (235).”

Have we given up Truth for Equality and yet failed to realize that this Equality is only fiction, a fiction that we hold on to for fear that we, as librarians, the Great Equalizers, are no longer needed?

Could this be the current deeper malaise of the profession?

Hillenbrand, C. (2005). Librarianship in the 21st century – Crisis or transformation? The Australian Library Journal, 54(2), 164 – 181.

Kruk, M (2003). Truth and libraries. The Australian Library Journal, 52(3), 229 – 238.

Muddiman, D. (1999). Towards a postmodernism context for information and library education. Education for Information, 17, 1 – 19.

ucontent: new book on user-generated content

UContent: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content by Nick Tomaiuolo

Experienced reference and instruction librarian Nick Tomaiuolo’s (aka the Web 2.0 Librarian) new book is a must-have for all librarians involved in digital content. UContent clearly describes various user-generated content (UGC) tools and how librarians can implement these in their library work and personal development.

UContent is targeted toward the beginner in UGC but tricks and tips will be welcomed by more advanced users. UContent isn’t pretty. It’s a bare-bones how-to do-it-yourself approach, but it works.

Since the content of the book can easily become outdated, Tomaiuolo has created an excellent website to accompany the book. The most important chapters are on blogs, audio and video services,  social bookmarking, and Flickr.

Tomaiuolo provides an overview of the service as well as interviews with expert users or developers. Most importantly, he demonstrates how these services have been implemented by other librarians. This provides real-life demonstrations of the possibilities of UGC and acts as a jumping-off point for developing your own content. And, like any good librarian, he has a terrific bibliography for each chapter. UContent is sure to become a handy reference book for librarians as the enter the Web 2.0 world of UGC.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

bubble for one

Checking in new books at the library, I set one aside called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. The subtitle is what caught my attention: What the Internet is Hiding from You. Now, I know the Internet is data mining my every move and personalizing my searches, but I don’t really understand how or exactly why. So, I checked it out to myself before it even hit the new book shelf (the ultimate joy of being a librarian in circulation services – getting new books first!).

Pariser is making it all clear. I’m only up to chapter 2 (The User is the Content) but I’m already feeling anxiety. I love Google but it’s a one-way relationship. I give and Google takes. And redistributes for petty cash. So does Facebook and pretty much every other site I visit. After browsing for shoes on Zappos, and leaving the site without a purchase, I found myself on my Diigo page with an ad for those shoes I considered on Zappos.

It’s hard to be informed in the filter bubble. Going online to news sites isn’t enough. Reading Pariser’s book is a start. His TED talk follows the book’s introduction and the New York Times review is a helpful overview of the issue. All is not lost (though much of it is). Pariser’s gives us 10 Things You Can Do to ease the pain of being a product in a digital world.

One of the quotes Pariser uses to introduce the second chapter is by John Dewey. He used the term “bars” but I’ve easily replaced it with “filters” to show how clearly relevant his concern is to today’s society:

“Everything which FILTERS freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life.”

I wonder what libraries can do to burst this bubble, to encourage patrons to realize that personal preferences determined by others are not personal at all.

the future of academic libraries

On Friday (11.11.11) I attended The Future of the Academic Library: A Symposium: Bridging the Gap. Sponsored by Library Journal and EBSCO Host, the free conference was held at Temple University. The event press release suggested this would be a day “to overcome our misperceptions and stereotypes about our colleagues and our users.” This is a lofty goal, notably because it means first admitting to having misperceptions and stereotypes.

The keynote speaker was Kristin Antelman, Associate Director for the Digital Library at North Carolina State University. Well-spoken and fearless, Antelman confronted the unspoken gaps and even hinted at librarians’ own fault in the widening of these gaps. She took her view of organizational environment from Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web (seen below), adding in the elements of information and trust.

The Cultural Web

An important part of this is web is Symbols, similar to brand. The future of the academic library may mean a re-branding; this will be a tremendously difficult task, Antelman says, because the founding purpose and mission of libraries have become deeply embedded principles in our culture. During the segment of speakers that followed, Damon Jaggars (Associate University Librarian for Collections and Services at Columbia University) articulated this culturally rooted library branding by suggesting we (in the profession) are “organizationally stuck in nostalgia.” This immediately reminded me of Jaron Lanier’s comments during his keynote at ACRL 2011 – if we cannot compete with the Internet and maintain innovation at lightening speed, perhaps we should return to this romanticism and pull on the heartstrings of our culture to lure them back.

competing values framework
competing values framework

Antelman concluded by addressing organizational culture from the competing values framework of Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron (see above). An informal survey of “future leaders” in the profession demonstrated what I’m sure most of us view as our libraries’ culture: they see their organization as a hierarchy but want it to be more of an adhocracy. Then again, how do we know the administration does not also want this too? This goes beyond librarianship; we all want an environment where we can be creative and work within our strengths.

A key word Antelman used was “timid.” We are timid and, looking around the room of the symposium, I had to agree. At least, we looked timid. We looked tired (well, it was Friday) and unsure, hesitant to walk with our heads held high because we might trip over something. I see timidity in myself since I joined the profession. Not necessarily afraid of failure or taking initiative, but desperately wanting to blend in. I wrote the word large and bold on my day’s notes – and now I resolve to walk away from it without turning back.