ACRL President’s Program: The Emperor Has No Clothes: Be It Resolved that Information Literacy is a Fad and Waste of Librarians’ Time and Talent

(My notes – incomplete and comprehensible perhaps only to me – from the just-completed ACRL President’s Program at ALA 2006 in New Orleans.)

“Questioning our core values is appropriate.”
Affirmative – Stanley Wilder, Jeff Rudenbeck
Negative – Julie Todero, Gary Radford

Pulse of room: 350 disagree, 50 agree with assertion

Interlude 1: Info Lit top 5 list a la David Letterman

How can you tell that your IL class is going down the tubes?

5. students cry out in unison dewey or don’t we?
4. students complain that they thought BI was bartending instruction
3. students all simultaneously break out in Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”
2. Librarians march outside classes with signs reading: “Faculty Status: Who Needs it?”
1. students ask if “on bullshit” will be required reading for class.

First Talks

SW: Classic bandwagon of bluster, absence of teaching faculty and students on it. Set out and failed to build national following outside library – only in library, not in education. Single comprehensive critique? Magnificently untested! Misguided. IL is not synonymous with education function of our libraries – only one portion of it. Obligated to test it, weigh it against other ways. Are students who have IL training measurably better at lifelong learning than those who don’t? Operate on heartfelt beliefs rather than empirical evidence. Pause – step back – consider what kinds of things to ask of any education function of libraries. Agenda for a fad-free teaching function. (laughter) Being by acknowledging that student objective is course work. Assessment – does our instruction result in better classwork? Immersed in larger teaching discourse. Systematically reconnect with what students do. Replace il classes for students with student literacy classes for librarians. Allow for vigorous debate, civil. Crucial moment in our profession – wastes our time – less able to pursue education function for the future – headed for short-term relevancy. Rant on search.

JT: When asked about program, was told it was on clothes. Only question often about clothes is, “Do I look fat in this?” First professionals in higher ed, then librarians. Profession of higher education – requires scholarship of its professionals. Define approach to scholarship – five elements. 1. school of discovery/collection of new info. 2. school of integration/new knowledge/info. 3. school or application – discipline elements connected to affairs of society. 4. school of teaching/transmission of knowledge. 5. appreciation of existing and creation of new knowledge. True scholarship is never definitive. Look at full spectrum of IL – is it a fad? Where does it fit into our talent and time? Been around since turn of last century…flexibility in contributing to teaching. Best of what we can offer to academy – 1. discipline expertise, 2. bibliographic expertise, 3. info lit. Students/teachers don’t have a clue what we do. Integrate what we do into seamlessly into life of student and education process. Fad? Coined in 1974 as term. Is waste of time/talent? Part of primary responsibility. Component parts of what we do. Research on IL varied and changing. No one piece of research proves IL, but research proves elements of IL. Multi-pronged plan for insinuating ourselves into lives of students, like health sciences. Awareness, prevention, treatment, cure, lifestyle changes for the future.

Interlude 2: ACRL – need a cheer! ACRL Official Pom-Pom Squad.
(Video – I’ll link to YouTube when I post it – IF my camera worked.)
Second Talks

JR: Bolster about some of SW’s perspectives with research on literacy. Decades-long critique of literacy, peeking into IL. Is literacy something you have? Critical literacy scholarship thrown out idea that literacy is functional skill that can be attained, assessed. IL about what? At what point in time? Toward what end? Avoid hitching wagon to horse that’s stumbled and is dying! Important in literacy literature – literacy practice w/in particular social construct. Elevator literacy, grant literacy, information literacy, cheer literacy? Does that exist? Cause for pause w/ in the movement. Calls into question literacy as a tool to achieve an end – disempowers, positions knowledge – all you need is knowledge to be a “better person”. Print-centric history of literacy, linear, hierarchical, anthropocentric, formal, rational, etc. etc., as you extend concepts into non-linear, meaning-focused, polycentric, experiential, myspaced, it’s different world. That is the world most students are in, exist in. to what extent have we done heavy lifting to move print-centric IL to digital world? Do a search on (blank) literacy – so washed-out and openly available in the literature that it’s meaningless… golf literacy, shoe literacy, snake literacy. New literacy studies – extensive and growing, literacies are always situationally and socially determined, embedded in particular social and cultural practices. It si a practice, something you do, not something you have! Literacies are ideological practices – identity, mobility, power, favor ways of thinking and organizing! What does it favor as expressed now? SELF-SERVING for libraries! Digital world complexifies the landscape. Struggle with literacies in plural – never use in singular form. Package deal w/ forms and functions that individuals bring to them. Literacies of the new – implies that river runs – students, individuals, faculty, producers on knowledge.

GR: applaud efforts and initiatives, crucial and necessary component in helping him do his job as teacher. Sense of wonder, curiosity, adventure, not chore. Students don’t get excited about assigned stuff, but do get excited when they have the ability to find it themselves. IL person has means to develop healthy skepticism, sides to stories, question, challenge dominant voices. Textbooks not enough – students who content to use only text are destined to be corporate drones. Others need to be encouraged, grow the spark of curiosity. Orwell (1984) – info controlled by govt – Winston – move beyond info given to him. Students learn because compelled to, get to a desired end. Info to be use for pragmatic goals – few students who have intrinsic desire for more knowledge. Skills are necessary but not sufficient condition for IL – IL is a new liberal art, critical reflection on nature of info, social, political, economic situated. Act of critical reflection requires access to network of texts to contextualize knowledge – ad infinitum. This is where it proves to be a challenge. No single end – true IL person doesn’t find answers, but only more questions. Eco’s Name of the Rose – scraps of parchments compiled and re-read for rest of life. What meaning in them? Textual journeys – texts may have no meaning, figures to be venerated, eventually exhausted meaning in the texts. IL creating changing in attitude less than learning of skills. Way of being in a world of info. Need info to understand info. Fear and uncertainty – textbook students avoid. Challenge – his students need us not to give up on them – afraid – conditioned to view info with fear.

Interlude 3:
IL Headline News
Video on YouTube when I upload

30 Minutes of Audience Speakers

(negative) Semantics – what we do is to help students learn how to articulate and recognize that they’re interested in something. Navel-gazing. What we do is not on ACRL website. Best state to reach is the state of “what do we need to know next?” When we do right things w/ students, the same thing happens to them.

(affirmative) 5% of academic libraries that are liberal arts colleges – only two choices on voting – neutral not available even though she is. If we want lifelong learners, IL to be accepted as important part of higher education – with small #s of librarians, how do we reach everyone? What about WAC model? We need that kind of partnerships w/ faculty.

(negative) get faculty on board, get them teaching IL in classroom. If we want it to happen, need institutional support.

(affirmative) IL possibly a symptom of what’s wrong w/ higher ed. Profoundly pessimistic, students do not, will not, and cannot think/explore for themselves. We can encourage and guide, but we can’t force/tell them.

(negative) Our lit. needs to be informed by critical lit. education. Rant on postmodernism.

(affirmative) important tool is ref. interview – traditionalist. Skills of IL are traditional parts of librarianship. Is it new function? Does it need new term?

(negative) IL is important – mom had to buy stock – smart woman – bought w/ investment group – factiva – two weeks before buying stock, published going into bankruptcy – IL not just in classroom, but in real life. Lifelong learning important!

(affirmative) 1. many students arrive w/ no library skills! 2. faculty do not know library or how to teach students how to use. 3. how to reach 25K students? We cannot do it! Teach online, blackboard.

(negative) 1966 teaching medical faculty how to use medlars – “spoonfeeding”. Lot of names for what we do over years. Whole spectrum of what is happening: today we are learning something with great humor, good way to examine what we do and what’s going on, what we’re doing in future.

Interlude 3 – Is info lit working? A Play.

Video on YouTube when I upload.


GR: not a state or goal, but ongoing practice. Problem is with “education factory”, students not encouraged to think for themselves. System is designing to hold them back. All are frustrated – students, faculty librarians. Get beyond literacy as skill/psychology. IL is an ideal we should strive for, not a goal or state.

JR: ironic that from outside looking in that IL movement doesn’t engage w/ lit on literacy. Recognize PM currents in the ocean. Look at what you do in critical way. Want to hang out with librarians all the time! If assume that literacy is something you have/don’t, need/get, missing the point. It is a PRACTICE. Reform the question to info practices. Formal exposure to what we call IL is not only way this happens. Lit. literature – out-of-school learning – how kids learning ropes from each other. Important in our own way to open ourselves up to own info practices. Develop personal relationship w/ own info practice. Allow conversation to lean towards radically reshaping what we’re talking about. There is no center! PM or not, world is vastly distributed.

JT: cannot wait for someone to identify is as success outside of own world. Does it match institution/faculty needs? Student’s assignments. If does, do it. Must insinuate yourself into work by expertise. Use your time and talent to figure out what part of IL to tackle in curriculum – awareness, prevention, cure, etc. for folks in your institutions. Come out of library step into rest of academic institution. Educate students who don’t come to college informed about information environment – neither are your faculty fully formed. Partnership is critical part. We do more than organize info we’ve purchased. Connection of what we do.

SW: IL is not the same as teaching/educational function of the library. Put yourself in the role of 17-yr-old and read the standards, and find out how you don’t know what you don’t know. Yuck. IL grounded in assumption that search skills – skip the mechanics and get to content (google scholar v. compendex). Is IL the last word in library instruction history? Invite folks to start from scratch! What works?

Interlude: Carnack – questions/answers (YouTube when I upload)

Vote again: similar results as first vote

IL continues to be priority and core professional value.

Ethiopian proverb: two kinds of people – mountain people, no matter how far stand away from each other, can only stand side by side, river people no matter how far begon away from each other, ultimately flow towards each other. We are river people – librarians important part of life of mind and scholarly enterprise. Disagree on how, but not on whether we do.

[tags]ALA 2006, ACRL, information literacy[/tags]

One thought to “ACRL President’s Program: The Emperor Has No Clothes: Be It Resolved that Information Literacy is a Fad and Waste of Librarians’ Time and Talent”

  1. Thanks so much for blogging this program! FYI I was at the Interdisciplinary Studies program and participated in the discussion afterwards. Thank you for helping to produce that program.

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