6

The Evolution of Library Instruction

image via Denise Chan on Flickr

image via Denise Chan on Flickr

The other day I read Lane Wilkinson’s excellent post about his thinking as he and others are tackling revising the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. This is important work since, as Lane points out, they were approved 13 years ago. Much has happened since that time and this is a document that affects a lot of libraries. Libraries around the country use it to guide their own teaching, college competencies, and accreditation. Lane talks about the idea that instead to simply teaching skills and abilities such as evaluating information, we teach intellectual virtues and dispositions.

This got me thinking about library instruction more generally and the way that it has changed through history and even the way my view of  it has changed since I was in library school. It seems to me that library instruction has undergone an evolution over the years in both the way we talk about it and the way we approach it and teach it. This evolution has been a three step process and each of them build on and are informed by the previous one.

1. Bibliographic Instruction

This type of focus is very tools based. In bibliographic instruction, students are taught how to use our catalog or our databases. They are taught how to do Boolean searching and how to use a table of contents. Many pieces of this instruction are necessary and also inform the other evolutionary iterations. Students need to know how to use our library specific tools to find and evaluate the information they need. It’s much easier to teach tools, but if we simply stopped at teaching students that we have stuff and how to use it we would be doing them a disservice. That is why an evolution was necessary.

2. Information Literacy (ACRL standards from 2000)

For the most part, our current evolutionary step, as Lane points out, is focused on teaching skills. These are important skills like locating and evaluating information. We use tools like the CRAP test and we teach research strategies. Much of the way we devise our own local competencies is based on the language of teaching student the skills and giving them the abilities to succeed in challenging research and in meeting their various information needs. But this language can be limiting. If we are only providing them the skills and abilities and not aspiring for something greater, students may be able to succeed in college but when they get to the real world will they be able to continue that success?

3. Information Sophistication

Something we talk a lot about at Champlain College is fostering “habits of mind.” This sounds similar to the idea of intellectual virtues that Lane was putting forward. I’ve heard other librarians talk about this same idea in different terms as well. We want to help students become not  just literate but sophisticated and fluent in their use of information. This involves not just learning skills but applying and practicing those skills to develop certain habits and dispositions. A student who is sophisticated when it comes to information does not just know how to evaluate a source of information, but would have have the habit of regularly questioning and critically examining information they come across instead of taking it at face value.

Teaching habits of mind is not something that is simple though, and it might involve different pedagogies. At Champlain we often try to use the inquiry method which is directed specifically at teaching habits of mind and helping students to form “an educated response.” Our awesome new Assistant Director for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Alan Carbery has had significant experience with Problem Based Learning and I’m excited to learn more about it and try some new methods. In both of these cases the methods focus on giving students experience in working through problems and doing critical questioning. These methods allow students to practice the habits of mind needed for someone who is sophisticated in their use of information.

Each of these evolutionary steps are necessary for students. They cannot develop skills if they cannot use tools to find information. They cannot develop habits of mind unless they have skills that they can practice. But when students leave college, they shouldn’t just be literate–they should be fluent, sophisticated. It’s an aspirational view of library/information instruction. I hope to hear more librarians continue to talk about it and I’m glad that Lane’s view will be represented when the ACRL standards are being revised. We have to remember that we are not just trying to help students succeed while they’re in college. We want to prepare them to succeed in life.

0

The Short Game And The Long Game

“Librarianship is not a set of skills to be learned, or a set of degrees to be mastered. Librarianship is a conversation that has taken place over millennia.”

David Lankes recently had a great post about engaging in the big questions in the profession. He said that “bad conferences are filled with ‘how we do it good’ pieces.” His point is that what is really important is to invite others into a bigger conversation as opposed to talking about just what you do or how to do something.

There is a great deal of value in talking about how to do something. It’s practical and people can see the tangible effects right away. My posts on this blog about iPad apps or Twitter are by far my most popular. But our profession isn’t solely about keeping up on the newest tech or trends. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of your job or focus on new technologies that you can bring back from a conference, but if we don’t regularly ask bigger questions we’re compromising our future.

I see this other places as well. In library instruction its easy to concentrate on tools or how to do things, such as how to successfully navigate the databases. We’re experts in these things and students need to know how to use them to succeed on assignments. But they are just tools. If we only spend time on them we’re giving students skills for the present, but compromising their future. Tools change. We have databases and catalogs and discovery and Google today. There’ll be things we can’t imagine yet. That won’t be true in the future. In addition to teaching students how to succeed now, we also need to give them the skills to succeed in the future. We don’t want them to succeed just in their upcoming assignment. We want them to succeed in life. And knowing how to use a database is not the answer, or at least not the whole answer.

We need to be helping students develop the habits of mind that are crucial in research and lifelong learning. These are things like critically evaluating different pieces of information, perseverance in the search for information (not just giving up after a failed Google search), and a spirit of inquiry and constant questioning. These skills will last much longer than learning a database whose interface will change in the next few months.

We need to be playing both the short game and the long game in teaching and in the profession. There are tangible, practical skills that students need and that we need as professionals to succeed in our short term pursuits. But we can’t get so caught up in what we are doing right now that we forget to teach habits of mind or have the bigger conversations that will shape our future.

0

New Journal Article Published

My friend Sarah Cohen and I were just published in the latest issue of Communications in Information Literacy. Our article is titled “Turn Your Cell Phones On: Mobile Phone Polling as a Tool For Teaching Information Literacy.” From the abstract:

“While mobile technologies are ubiquitous among students and increasingly used in many aspects of libraries, they have yet to gain traction in information literacy instruction. Librarians at Champlain College piloted mobile phone polling in a first-year classroom as a less expensive and more versatile alternative to clickers. By utilizing a technology that virtually all students have in their pockets librarians found that it increased engagement from previous iterations of the session. In addition, by asking poll questions about students’ experiences, librarians were able to facilitate in-depth inquiry into information literacy topics. Ultimately, from direct experience in over 30 different classes, we found that mobile phone polling is a useful tool for any librarian to have in their pedagogical toolbox.”

The journal is open access you can go download the PDF right now. And apparently they are going to experiment with making our article available in EPUB format as well!