ACRL 2015, Part 2: The Framework

It was impossible to avoid the new Framework for Information Literacy (hereafter, the Framework) at the recent ACRL conference. For those of us that teach, it was a great chance to see how other are engaging with, using, and teaching the Framework. I attended several sessions that focused on teaching or assessment, so naturally the Framework was part of those discussions. I noticed some trends in the ways people were using the Framework to inform their practice.

1. The frame, “Research as inquiry” was one of the most commonly mentioned frames, along with “Scholarship as conversation” and “Searching as strategic exploration.” I didn’t do any type of real analysis of how many times each frame was mentioned, but I remember those three coming up fairly often. I found this interesting, because I think those three really get at the things we, as teachers, already want to do with our classes: show students that research comes early in the writing/thinking process and that different depths of research are appropriate for different tasks/goals, that information sources go through different processes and how those sources can be seen as in “conversation” with each other, and that searching involves more than the first thing you type in a search box. The other frames also came up, but I didn’t notice them to be as prominent as these three, with the exception of…

2. The frame, “Information has value” almost never got a mention. Why? Because I think we’re still stuck in the mindset that this involves simply teaching the importance of citing one’s sources. And truthfully, when librarians are given 50 minutes to teach a whole lot of things, I think we feel that the lesson for “how to cite” and “why to cite” can be passed back to the regular instructor. Moving forward with the Framework, I think it will be important for librarians to reconsider our traditional approach to this, and think about how much more complex the idea that “information has value” is than simply knowing how to create a citation.

3. There are still a lot of mixed feelings about the Framework. Most of the sessions where it was being explicitly discussed were standing-room-only full. In discussions with my own colleagues, I get the sense that many of us are still trying to make sense of what exactly we are supposed to do with this new format. Broadly speaking, though, I think it holds a lot of promise for one reason: It represents a critical shift in focus from teaching a hard set of specific skills, to trying to foster a greater understanding of what information is, how it is created and for what purpose, and how it can be used, among so many other things. I hope to spend some time, both in my work and hopefully on this blog, further unpacking each of the frames and spending some quality time just mulling over what they might mean for our always-changing practice.

This was my first ACRL conference, and it was a great experience. I reconnected with friends from graduate school, made some new acquaintances, and was challenged professionally to always be looking for new ideas and practices. I am looking forward to ACRL 2017, and all the conferences and gathering in between.

See Part 1 of my ACRL experiences: ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction.

ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I have recently returned from my first ACRL conference, and after spending yesterday and this morning catching up on emails, projects, etc., I have finally settled down to spend some time thinking about the sessions I attended, people I met, and new ideas that have been simmering as a result. So, I present:

Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I attended a contributed papers session by Margy MacMillan and Stephenie Rosenblatt titled, “They’ve Found It. Can They Read It?” that focused on the librarian’s role in teaching students to read and engage with scholarly sources. The topic of freshmen students and scholarly articles has been on my mind a lot lately. A colleague and I are working on a project to investigate why faculty often require first-years students to use scholarly articles to the exclusion of other types of sources. On the surface, the answers seems apparent: They’re in college. They need to use these types of sources. But in many classes, students are told to find scholarly articles and incorporate them into their own writing or presentation (or in the case of many introductory science courses, into their lab assignments), and they are not really taught to how to use them or even, more elementary, what their purpose is. What is the value of a scholarly article over a trade publication? What is the difference between a scholarly article and a blog post by the same author on the same topic? What is the difference between a scholarly article, a trade article, and a newspaper article, written by the same author and on the same topic?

Naturally, I can answer those questions. But I deal with information sources every single day. And I have been working in higher education for 6 years. I should be able to explain this. If pressed, first-year students would probably be able to come up with some basic differences: some are written for a general audience, some for a specialized audience; some are longer; this one has a bibliography. But what can they really assess about the difference between the two when they’re asked to support an argument in a paper? If conversations I have had with faculty or other librarians are any indication, the main difference for students is this: they can actually read and understand the popular articles, some of the trade publications, and almost nothing of the scholarly articles.

Let’s be blunt: first-year students are unprepared to deal with scholarly articles. That’s just a fact. At the presentation, they cited a very important statistic: About 49% of incoming college students cannot read at a college level. Forty-nine percent. Half. Half of our incoming students are unprepared to read their textbooks. (Suppose that explains the continual refrain from professors that students don’t do the reading. They don’t know how.)

I taught a credit-bearing IL course for the first time this past fall semester. Looking back on their major assignment–an annotated bibliography which required at least 2 of the 7 or 8 sources be scholarly–I made a critical mistake in judgement. Eighty percent of my students were first-year students. About half of that 80% had not yet declared a major. Many of them had been put in my class by their advisors who recognized they may need additional support in adapting to reading, writing, and researching for college. And I required those students–the ones who hadn’t even decided on a major–to engage with texts that are incredibly discipline-specific and jargon heavy. Did I spend any time teaching them how to identify, read, and use those articles? Yes. But certainly not enough of it, because there were still bibliographies that were lacking at least one scholarly source, and many annotations that reflected a lack of understanding of the article as a whole.

This presentation was a real eye-opener for me, for the work that I do with my liaison groups, such as Freshmen Composition and First-Year Focus, for the one-shots that I teach, and for the credit course I helped design. I need to do better. We need to do better. And the women from this presentation have offered some great ideas to get started, meet challenges, and find further research. See their website: Adding Reading Strategies to Your IL Toolkit

Stay tuned for more reflections and reactions to a really great, thoughtful, engaging conference that has challenged me to continue to push my own boundaries of what libraries and librarians “can” and “should” do.

Reflections on one year of librarianship

It has been just over a year since I began my first professional library job, and it has been a wonderful year for me professional and personally. I have stretched and molded and am still settling in to my own professional identity, but it feels so good to be in a place where I feel like I can do those things, and be supported by my coworkers to explore, engage, and learn. As I think back over the last year, there are a few things that stand out as experiences that will help me continue to shape myself and my career.

The first experience that stands out is attending and presenting at conferences. I attended 3 conferences, all different sizes and purposes. The first was ALA Annual in Las Vegas (VEGAS!). It was only my second year attending ALA, and my first trip to Vegas. It was great for all the right reasons: big presentations, small networking opportunities, and social gatherings. It was wonderful to attend the conference as a librarian and have this secret feeling that I was part of “the club.” I could introduce myself and my job, talk with others who are just as nerdy and excited as I am about teaching and libraries. I also got to meet Lois Lowry and have her sign my book. It. Was. Awesome. The one drawback to something like ALA is that the sheer size makes it easy to feel like you never have a real, deep connection with what’s going on.

My second conference experience was a smaller gathering, the Oregon and Washington chapters of ACRL’s combined conference. For two days, I saw the same people, we ate meals together and played games together, and I felt, again, like I was finally part of a group. This was also the first presentation I did as a librarian (I have presented a paper I’d written before, at a small, regional literature conference). I honestly did not believe that my proposal would be accepted, but I submitted it anyway. I take almost any opportunity that comes my way to submit presentation and poster proposal. The worst they’re going to say is no, and I get the experience of putting together abstracts, titles, etc., that could compel someone to say, “I’d like to hear more about that!” So I did a presentation about using concept maps in library instruction (PDF of the slides available on my Portfolio page). It was a 2-minute “shock talk” but I heard good comments afterward, and it gave me a little boost of confidence to keep going.

The final conference I attended was a one-day local conference on information literacy. Smaller still than the last, all the attendees could fit in one room. I did not present at this one, but again, had great conversations with people from all different backgrounds, giving me a lot of food for thought to take home with me.

All three of these experiences were valuable for me for various reasons. I’m glad I was able to experience three very unique conference formats, big (HUGE), medium, and small. I’ve met some wonderful colleagues, been challenged as a professional, and learned what makes a compelling talk, poster, small group discussion topic, etc., to apply to my own proposals.

The second experience was writing my first paper for publication. And I can say it went really well, as it has been accepted for publication in the fall. I was invited by one of my colleagues to collaborate on writing a paper about an assessment project he had worked on during a sabbatical. I was happy to assist in any way. It feels amazing to know something I helped write is going to be published, and the experience of going through the research, writing, and now revising process is so, so great. I am working on some outlines for potential papers now, and I feel like I am better prepared to tackle this, having had a great guide through my first experience.

The final experience is more personal, and that is the decision to move somewhere completely new. I am the definition of an introvert. So new situations, people, and places riddle me with anxiety. While I have worked hard to overcome my natural tendencies to avoid crowds and new situations, I am still a work in progress. Part of my job now is to be a liaison and outreach to various campus groups. That’s hard when your natural reaction to meeting new people is to not. And small talk? Nope. Not even. But moving to a town where I literally only knew the one person who was coming with me (the hubs), and had met, once, a few of my future colleagues while visiting for my interview, has presented me with a challenge. I had to re-establish relationships I took for granted (like a hair stylist, a dentist, a doctor), and I had to learn how to forge friendships (this is my biggest struggle, TBH). I am still learning how to do those things. How? I pay attention to the questions other people ask me or others when they’re just meeting. I default to things I can (and like to) talk about: my job, the library, the local farmers’ market, the weather. I have improved over the last year, and am more comfortable sitting down and talking to a complete stranger, but I still have a tendency to carry a book with me everywhere, in case I need something to occupy my untalkative self.

There are more, smaller experiences that have been wonderful this past year: supportive colleagues, finally feeling like I have found my fit in librarianship, Captain America 2 and Mockingjay Part 1 coming out, having my husband and dog with me under one roof again, and on and on. It’s been a good year. Here’s to the second year being even better.