Monday, November 26, 2012

Disaster Tourism-Sea Bright, NJ

I grew up 20-30 minutes, depending on the traffic, from Sandy Hook, NJ. Traveling down Rt. 36 to its end forces you to either go left to Sandy Hook and the beach or right onto the barrier island of Sea Bright. If you travel far enough Sea Bright turns into Long Branch and eventually, I believe, LBI. The houses in Sea Bright largely face the ocean with the river at their backs so that even in relatively mild hurricanes or nor'easters there is flooding. My father would often take us down to the beach after a hurricane to see what had changed on the beach or how Sea Bright had fared.
It is deeply sobering to see people's appliances, housing materials, clothes and other more personal materials piled in front of their houses waiting for trash pickup. It was late afternoon as we were driving around so the sun was starting to display the colors of sunset and the wind was chasing the clouds around the sky. There was a strange juxtaposition in the natural beauty of the day and the chaos of carefully purchased household items heaped in front yards and sidewalks. There is an odd aesthetic or architectural sense of awe in looking at how the storm punched out walls or moved houses off their foundation. Some of the houses missing their back or side walls seemed to have been designed that way. They are almost picturesque, framing the now-peaceful river moving in the background. This is not an attempt to diminish the loss or destruction caused by Sandy; rather, impressions received as we drove through and marveled and sorrowed.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Less Definition-More Action: Doing Information Literacy Better

This post is the result of a failure to read all the details in a particular request for submissions. I failed to grasp the audience was not librarians but that was after I had finished what follows. So rather than consign it to the ether, I share it here. Please comment as able and willing.

The call of a particular publishing organ for an essay defining information literacy prompted the following thought: We don’t need any more essays/articles offering another definition of information literacy. While it is tempting to spend some time crafting a more marketable or catchier t-shirt wearable slogan, another essay that attempts to provide that kind of definition is exactly what is not needed. Instead of quibbling over verbiage in yet another IL definition, what is needed instead is discussions of doing. To that end, this essay will look at two issues that need to be dealt with in any institution, regardless of size. Secondly it will recommend three areas that we need to be better in order to take full advantage of information literacy opportunities.
                Information literacy is not an end to itself. It is deeply intertwined with and rooted in the processes of life-long learning and critical thinking. Successfully realizing an information literacy approach is found when students consistently ask three evaluative questions throughout their research process:

1) “Where do I look to find the information I need?”
2) “How do I evaluate the information that I’ve found?”
3) “How do I correctly use/cite the information that I’ve incorporated into my paper?”

                Many approaches to information literacy are often tied to the particular library rather than being tied to the process of life-long learning for two particular reasons:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             1) Time
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2) Money

                 Often, librarians do not have enough time to spend in the classroom because of the amount of material the class needs to cover.  Attempts have been made to address this with first year programs and various seminars but these are far from being ubiquitously adopted. Technological responses have also been sought where some really nice tutorials/videos/games have been built to help students engage with tools and processes that will assist them. These tools take time to learn and as libraries combat for attention and use for engaging in the research process rather than simply shopping for information.
                 Money is the unavoidable second issue as the libraries are paying many hundreds of thousands of dollars for research database access. Often, these are only available for students as long as they are enrolled at the institution. Once the students graduate and are no longer counted in the full time enrollment, the access to the tools that they’ve been using, and trained to use, for the past 4-6 years are then removed from their reach. Information literacy practices should then focus not just on the habits and use of database searching but at the searching across all kinds of information sources (where do I look?). Because libraries are spending very much money on these resources, some return on that investment would be nice and time is limited so rather than actually teach a fully comprehensive information literacy curriculum, we end up teaching an information literacy that is platform dependent on a particular library and ends up lacking in relevance once the student leaves the institution.

Information literacy is not library instruction. Library instruction is often helpful, if not also deeply necessary, and is a definitive component of information literacy but a library instruction session does not an information literacy approach make. There is the hope that the other classes and training the student has received has equipped them with critical thinking skills so that they are able to track down needed information through other means upon graduation. Library instruction is not, by definition, interested in the students after they graduate. In contrast, information literacy needs to care about the student as a whole person in their educational process through college and continuing on through the rest of their life. Academic libraries do not do a typically good job of passing college graduates onto the public libraries. If information literacy programs are succeeding, public libraries should be receiving college graduates as new patrons. This does happen but not nearly enough as it ought too because more often than not, due to time and money, we settle for library instruction over teaching information literacy.
Librarians need to be better teachers. We need to read more books like Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, The End of Education by Neil Postman, Socrates CafĂ© by Christopher Phillips, Walking on Water by Derrick Jensen, What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain or Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach by Anne French Dalke.  There’s a bunch of really great examples out there of librarians working to be better teachers. (Example 1, Blog 2, Blog 3, Blog4?)  Good teachers engage their students and try to understand what their different audiences need. In order to do an exemplary job of presenting information literacy practices and not squander the precious opportunities that are available, librarians need to be good at communicating our own passion and joy about using good resources. In short, information literacy cannot be boring, lame or dumb. How can problem-based learning initiatives be incorporated into a class session? How can the Socratic method aid in helping establish a rapport with a class so that they begin to engage with the material? How hands-on can you get? What’s the takeaway or perhaps more importantly, what’s the hook? Why should students even start listening to you in the first place?[1]
Doing information literacy well requires a culture/process of assessment.
How do you know when the session went well or that students got it? As a profession, we’ve definitely gotten better at this, thanks in no small part to the diligent efforts of professionals like Megan Oakleaf, and projects like TRAILS, and RAILS. Most of us don’t have the time, energy or _______, to do a Journal of Academic Librarianship level of assessment on our information literacy sessions. We also don’t need to. Look at what other libraries are already doing and adapt an assessment plan to meet your needs. (Columbia, Cornell, Indiana State, etc.)[2] Subscribe on ACRL’s Information Literacy listserv. These people know what they are talking about and they are way friendly also. You don’t have to create stuff from scratch. Share some of your knowledge occasionally, glean from the threads and a lot of the stress from assessment will melt away.
                Ideally, librarians would work hand-in-hand with each academic department, serving as references for new class design, helping to design assignments, have ample time to spend in group and individual interactions with students, gain the respect of faculty and administration and commute via unicorn. But this is not typical library reality and the long hard process of fighting for information literacy inclusion into/across curriculum is not going to be accomplished with more discussion about definitions. Rather understanding what information literacy is supposed to do, practicing and working to be better communicators and teachers while measuring how we are doing will be instrumental in establishing information literacy as an essential part of the educational process.

[1] A couple of years ago a student named Chris very candidly remarked to me that “…at the very moment the professor mentions that the librarian is going to be coming to class, at that instant, I already beginning to be bored.” It’s difficult to say how much mileage I’ve gotten out of that quote because that’s what many students are thinking and well, it helps to let them know, that you know, how they might be thinking and also gives a launch point from which to say fair enough-I get it and then change the viewpoint.
[2] Indebted to the ACLR ill-l list-serv for furnishing this list.
Email from Megan Oakleaf on April 25, 2012 “Re:program assessment plans”