Friday, July 18, 2008

Information literacy

I read The Impact of Digitizing Special Collections on Teaching and Scholarship by Merrilee Proffitt and Jennifer Schaffner.

It was good, I recommend anyone interested in the connections between special collections and users check it out. But it has this fatal flaw that made me, at the end of the article, just sigh. Why is it always the librarian's fault that faculty don't care about teaching their students to be researchers? Why do we have to make sure that we "don't embarrass" the faculty? I've never seen a faculty member go out of their way to keep from embarrassing a librarian (or anyone else, for that matter). I suppose I'm jaded, but it always gets me that we're supposed to treat PhDs like they're made of glass. Yes, I understand that we are a service industry, but in reality, so are teachers of all kinds. The quote from the faculty member at Temple, at the beginning of the article, was what really got me thinking--they said that it's a waste of time to teach information literacy. Really? What if I called it "research skills"? Would that make a difference?

The article didn't talk at all about how librarians might get faculty to start learning about research strategies to pass on to their own students. Maybe this is like the medical profession's problem: experienced doctors are unwilling to allow new doctors to have normal hours, because the experienced doctors didn't get any breaks when they were new, so why should these young whippersnappers. I feel like many faculty members are perfectly willing to let their students flounder about in a sea of information, without teaching them a thing about doing research. All the while, the students are floundering way more than their teachers ever did, because we are, at present, drowning in information.

In my last job, the information literacy librarian was starting to tackle this problem, by training the faculty in new research strategies and how to teach others how to use the technologies that now exist. She realized that she couldn't get to every student, and that having one hour per semester with one class to talk about library resources wasn't helping anyone. You can't teach that many students when you have a small staff. But you CAN teach the faculty, which represents a much smaller population. She also embedded herself in one class, but that took probably 10 hours of her weekly work, which is not really viable for most libraries. Her work with the faculty was by far the most promising, but I'm sure that somehow she "embarrassed" some of them. Quel horreur.

Anyway, it's an interesting article, and I guess since it got me thinking about all of this information literacy stuff, it did its job.


Merrilee Proffitt said...

Thanks for reading our article.

Most of the "take aways" on information literacy come from the paper given by David Harrington Watt, a history professor at Temple, who actually goes out of his way to praise the efforts of Temple librarians in supporting both faculty and students in developing (and keeping up with!) research skills. It's not so much that faculty feel embarrassed by their lack of information literacy, but Watt in particular feels kind of jargoned at. He knows what we mean, but would rather we use terms everyone can relate to. For more context, check out his paper, which he was kind enough to share in non-PowerPoint form! He probably says it better than we have.

Scribe said...

Thanks for pointing out Harrington's article--and it's true that we librarians "jargon" at a cataloger, I think I probably scare even the reference librarians. :)

"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.