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“If the library were reimagined as a socially constructed artifact of our culture, it could become a laboratory for learning the ways in which we engage in knowledge construction, instead of being seen as a peculiarly organized storehouse of ready-made and infinitely reusable knowledge” (Fister, qtd. in Birmingham et al., p. 19).

We’ve talked already this semester about the shifts taking place in librarianship, especially the rise of librarian-as-educator, librarian as a partner in the creation of knowledge.

Isn’t this what we’re really talking about when we debate library spaces? We want to balance digital media labs and makerspaces that actively advertise the library as a hub of knowledge creation — and we don’t want to lose the contemplative spaces where ideas coalesce in quiet.

The readings I chose for this week on information literacy tease out the nuances in the theme of librarian-as-educator, and provide an exciting challenge for librarians and their faculty or instructor counterparts.

I would point out, though, that the quote I presented at the start of this post — which certainly feels like a modern vision for libraries to me — was written in 1995. This concept of libraries seems to float on the edges, though it is not new. I think we are moving forward, though. It is perhaps no coincidence that “Library Lab” may be the new name of an ALA-Boing Boing collaboration currently under way (exciting!).

A bit on the readings themselves: I chose three articles dealing specifically with opportunities and challenges for academic librarians, because that is my professional interest. I also focused on information literacy issues that overlap between teacher-librarians and writing instructors, as I am particularly interested in information literacy’s kinship with composition and the larger process of “becoming rhetorical” that writing teachers speak of — that process of developing dispositions and habits that overlay more finite skills.

I think this more holistic definition of information literacy — which in some ways challenges traditional library definitions of IL as a list of tasks that can be checked off (ie “find, evaluate and use”) is important for where we go next as a profession. (And yes, this reimagining of IL as a disposition isn’t new either! See the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner. But I think this view is gaining traction.)

I’ll briefly summarize the three articles and then return to discussion.

“First-Year Writing Teachers, Perceptions of Students’ Information Literacy Competencies, and a Call for a Collaborative Approach” by Birmingham, et al. (2008). In Communications in Information Literacy, Vol. 2, Issue 1.

The authors surveyed writing instructors at three higher-education institutions of varying sizes and determined that half reported no formal collaboration between librarians and writing instructors, despite common goals for the research and writing process. Writing instructors who used more techniques for teaching IL did report a higher rate of information literacy among their students, a finding that points to the authors’ larger examination of instructors’ efforts to “move beyond simply assigning research to teaching it” (p. 10).

“Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy” by Michelle Holschuh Simmons (2005). In portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 5, Issue 3.

For me, this article makes huge strides toward illuminating the periphery of library conceptions of IL, demonstrating how librarians can have a much bigger stake in helping students toward becoming active contributors to academic discourse by acting as interdisciplinary guides and noticing and teaching the “tactily communicated rhetorical processes” of discipline-specific discourse that instructors often may not take up (p. 297). Simmons calls for a “critical information literacy” that gives students frameworks for understanding knowledge as constructed, and for questioning the larger process of information creation.

“Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students’ Understanding of Scholarly Work” by Deitering and Gronemyer (2011). In portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 11, Issue 1.

In the same vein as Simmons’ argument, the authors provide an applied model for teaching knowledge as constructed — knowledge as a large and never-ending conversation happening inside and outside of educational institutions. They describe how writing students at Oregon State University are introduced to blogs written by scholars in multiple disciplines in order to get a peek behind the curtain of scholarly knowledge as it is debated, hashed out, and challenged. Because scholars blogging for an interdisciplinary audience need to make more explicit their particular assumptions or modes of thinking, the authors argue, blogs can help students see the larger context for knowledge creation in academia. And, no small point, students who lose access to proprietary databases after graduation will be better equipped to find scholarly conversation on the open web if they have been given the tools for understanding those conversations.

All right, clearly I could talk about information literacy all day, so I’ll wrap up with a few last thoughts:

• I feel no small tension between the need to instruct students in proprietary databases and the need to instruct them in the participatory web. How can we do a better job of balancing both? Deitering and Gronemyer point out that overly simplistic instructions to find “good” articles in scholarly databases can reinforce students’ mental models that knowledge is fixed and discovered, rather than made.
• Back to spaces — would it help to make libraries more explicitly interdisciplinary spaces on a campus? I know some academic libraries and writing centers are integrated. Does that help get us there? Is it physical or mental division that is the issue (or both) in working more closely with writing instruction efforts?