Information Sophistication

moet & chandon champagne

CC image from naotakem on Flickr

Our institution was recently in the New York Times for the focus we are placing on financial literacy. We require students to attend multiple sessions about how to manage their money and make sound financial decisions. I think this is a forward thinking initiative, and wish that I had something like this when I was an undergraduate. What really struck me about the article, though, is the language that is used to describe what we’re teaching:

“Champlain… doesn’t actually use the term financial literacy. The opposite of literacy, after all, smacks of ignorance. Nobody wants to be ordered into a classroom for being illiterate. So the college speaks of its “financial sophistication” offerings…”

This is something I am going to begin adopting in the way I approach information literacy and teaching. As terms, I think ‘financial literacy’ or ‘information literacy’ are fine. People know what you are talking about. But they carry a lot of baggage, especially when used around students.

I almost never use the term ‘information literacy’ in the classroom, because I don’t want students thinking that I believe that they are information illiterate. If they think that, I’ve lost them. And in truth, I don’t think they’re information illiterate. I think they’re bright as hell and often they teach me things. They are really comfortable and adept at searching the web. I just think they’re not as sophisticated in their use and evaluation of information as they should be.

As part of our information literacy assessment, librarians got to look at annotated bibliographies handed in by first year students. In some of them there were rather questionable sources being used. Some included websites from high schools, some included only websites. People with a high level of information sophistication would include sources from a variety of formats. They would try to find sources that argued against their thesis, anticipating arguments. They would recognize bias and approach their problem with balance and objectivity.

I don’t believe that students are information illiterate, they simply need a higher level of information sophistication. At first students are only drinking the Pabst Blue Ribbons of the information world. These are things like Wikipedia and biased blog websites, and sites in the top five hits of a Google search. This is fine is many instances, but I want to help them develop more refined information palettes. I also want them to enjoy the Moët et Chandons of research articles, reports, and information presented in a scholarly, balanced way.


Don’t Make It Easy For Them: New Post on ACRLog

I was recently asked to guest post on one of my favorite blogs, ACRLog. I always find their stuff valuable, and I was happy to get an opportunity to contribute. Here’s a short teaser:

“I love customer service in libraries. I love improving our systems and services so they are more user-friendly. I love helping students with their research and answering their questions. But I don’t want to make things easy for students. If I did, I wouldn’t be giving them what they want: an education.”

Check out the full post at the ACRLog, and subscribe if you haven’t already.


7 Ways to Cross-Pollinate Yourself and Your Staff

bee pollinating a flower

photo by Express Monorail on Flickr

The staff at our library recently had a meeting in which we were brainstorming new ideas. The question that the director asked to guide our brainstorming was “if time was not a factor, what would you really like to work on or do?” We could think as big or small as we wanted and we came up with some really interesting ideas. One theme I kept seeing in people’s answers was having the chance to look at things from another perspective and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Cross-pollination is a way to get fresh ideas and break free of a certain way of thinking. It’s important in libraries to not constantly be focused on ourselves and “the way things have always been done.” Sharing and exchanging ideas improves relationships and makes everyone stronger. There are few ways we can do this in libraries:


This is one of the most common ways to cross-pollinate in librarianship. At conferences you can talk to hundreds of other library professionals and hear what they are doing. You can watch and participate in presentations that expose you to new ideas. You can take ideas that you find at conferences, tweak them, and implement them at your own institution. Getting together with a lot of different librarians is almost always a recipe for fresh ideas.

Non-Library Reading

I read a lot of librarian blogs (and if you’re reading this, you likely do too), but I also try to read outside the field as well. I read marketing blogs, education blogs, business blogs, tech blogs. It is from these blogs that I get a lot of new ideas. I learn things about higher ed in general or try to find creative ways to use marketing ideas to promote the library.

Visit Other Libraries

Whenever I am in a new city I like to try to see a library or two. Whenever I attend a conference or event at a library I like to explore their building. Visiting other libraries helps you to envision your own library differently. Perhaps a library you visit has great signage or perhaps they set up their public areas in a very interesting way. You can get a plethora of ideas for how to arrange your library by examining what others are doing. Anyway, libraries are just fun places to hang out in general.

Business Field Trips

No, libraries are not businesses, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn anything from them. Some businesses have almost unbelievable models of service (like the Nordstrom employee who refunded a customer returning snow tires even though they did not sell that product). Some businesses have really cool ways of approaching problems. You don’t have to always go very far either. I’ve posted in the past about places locally that have provided a wonderful user experience. You could attend a place like this as a staff and then debrief about what you’d like to imitate.

Observe Professors or Teachers

Librarians are (or very much should be) educators. Why then do we not learn more from our educational peers. My good friend Gary Scudder just won the Vermont Professor of the year. I think it would be very enlightening to attend one of his classes or see how other folks approach teaching. Not only could we learn teaching and classroom management techniques, but we could also see what students are learning and understand the questions their struggling with. In addition, we could observe our fellow librarians in their classes. Seeing how other people approach teaching is immensely helpful to me.

Job Switching

One of the reference librarians here at Champlain College has mentioned this idea multiple times and I think it is a really cool one. Instead of constantly being in public services perhaps you could spend a semester cataloging or working on collection development. Or instead of doing only cataloging, maybe you want to volunteer for a couple of hours a week at the desk. This might not be feasible everywhere, but putting yourself in another librarians shoes for a little while can help you appreciate their perspective and what they do.

Librarian Exchange

I’m not sure if any libraries are doing this, but wouldn’t it be fun to spend a semester or a few months as a librarian at another institution (locally or internationally)? Both librarians would learn a lot and gain a lot more experience. They would also bring fresh perspectives to their host institution. They’re not bogged down by seeing the same things everyday which would allow them to try different approaches to problems.

These are just a few suggestions for how to cross-pollinate yourself and your staff. What are some other ways to spread new ideas hither and yon?