“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle
We had our celebration for the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award on Monday. You can check out some of the pictures from the reception on Champlain College’s Facebook page. We got to celebrate with students, our student workers, the library staff, the faculty, the administration and even trustees. It was truly a community event which is exactly what library events should be.
Another really fun aspect of the party was a video that an alumni of our digital film-making program produced for us. It highlighted the importance of the award and some of the things that make our library great. But my favorite part of the video is at the end when my good friend Steve Wehmeyer, a professor in our Core Division, is talking about the work that librarians do. He says, “Whether they’re coming into the classroom doing creative info literacy sessions, or whether they’re helping us develop engaging activities for first-year students, I’ve really come to see librarians as our allies in education.”
I loved that phrase “allies in education.” That’s how we have to think of our work. We’re not just running a library and curating collections. We’re educators who are partnering with other educators to provide the types of environments, resources, curriculum and events that facilitate and empower learning.
Our library team is really dedicated to the work we do. We were all excited to win this award, but we also know that our work isn’t done. There is still a lot of room for growth and improvement. There is a lot that we can learn from other libraries who are also doing amazing things. If as Aristotle said, excellence is not an act but a habit, we have to continue our work and keep building on our successes. The work of an educator is never done.
Image by Lower Columbia College on Flickr
What if instead of coming into an information literacy session planning to teach students how to evaluate a website or explain searching the databases or catalog you came into class planning to explore an interesting information literacy question with your students? This would be a really interesting or important question that affects not just college research but our everyday lives. These would be questions interesting to us as librarians, but also likely interesting to anyone living in this information age. I thought through an example of a question and session below.
How do I know what information to trust?
In this session, you could ask students to think of a person that they trust and then write down 3 reasons why they trust them. You could then begin to discuss what makes something or someone trustworthy. They might say they trust a person because he or she is smart (you could bring in the idea of expertise or authority). They might say they trust someone because they have earned it and have given them good information in the past (you could bring in the idea of reliability).
You could then transition into having groups of students finding the most trustworthy information they can in 15 minutes about different questions. One question could be “you want to have an informed opinion about the Trayvon Martin case; what information source in your opinion is most trustworthy?” In this instance a book or database likely wouldn’t be the best option and you could bring up ideas about currency, bias and perhaps primary sources.
Another question could be “You want to understand the scientific theory of evolution; what information source in your opinion is the most trustworthy?” The Google results for “theory of evolution” are to put it mildly, all over the place. They may choose a book or science magazine article and you could discuss the nature of the publishing process and again discuss bias. They could also come up with the Wikipedia entry and you could talk about the references and citations at the bottom and a different type of editorial process. In addition you could discuss how knowledge (just like research) is constructed as opposed to simply finding the answer.
Instead of simply deciding to teach about primary sources or bias, by focusing on an interesting question you are able to bring those concepts and others in while putting them in their proper context and highlighting their importance. Primary sources (for example the police report or audio recordings of 911 calls in the Trayvon Martin case) are really helpful in piecing together what actually happened. News media may bias things in the way they present the events, who they choose to interview, or even the pictures they choose to show of the parties involved.
You give up control in a session like this. You may not hit all your points and students may take you on tangents or places you didn’t even think about. This can make the session a little scarier. But it could also be really fun, and it makes the learning that much more meaningful to the students.
Some other possible interesting questions I thought of were:
What would these lessons look like? What are other interesting questions that you would ask? Would you like doing a session like this?
The title for this post came from, among other places, the book Teaching With Your Mouth Shut and from Marilee Goldberg Adams.
From SXSW Ogilvy notes
I love this visual note from a Howard Rheingold presentation at SXSW. He was launching his new book called Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. From just looking at the note, these seem like things librarians can or should be teaching and discussing (curation, crap detection, triangulation, consumption v. creation).
I also just finished reading David Weinberger’s new book Too Big To Know. It’s about how “knowledge and expertise are becoming networks, and are taking on the properties of networks” in this age of abundant and hyperlinked information. In the book he touches on things like echo chambers, the changing nature of authority, the unsettled nature of knowledge, and information overload. I know that this book is definitely going to change the way that I discuss research and information literacy concepts with students.
In his final chapter he makes several recommendations about how we can best move forward now that knowledge is changing and becoming networked. Among them is teaching young people and students “how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference (pg. 192).”
These types of literacies that Rheingold and Weinberger mention are important, but I don’t know if they get discussed many places. Librarians address some of them such as evaluating information and crap detection, but we don’t teach a lot about consumption vs. creation, loving and seeking out difference, curating/filtering information, or attention/distraction.
I agree with Rheingold and Weinberger that these are skills that our students as citizens of the web should have, but I’m not sure where they should be discussed. We often get trapped into thinking that we’re simply helping students with their research. But we’re not just trying to teach students to become successful academic researchers. We are trying to help them become sophisticated consumers and creators of information. This is a much bigger view that encompasses student’s critical thinking skills, lifelong learning and the future of the web.
Are there lessons or ways that you address some of these skills in your information literacy instruction? How do you talk about curation, loving difference, or distraction? Are there places or instances in which you see these conversations taking place? Are these topics we should be talking about with students?