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What does a librarian teach?

So what actually is the teaching role of the Library? When people find out that I am a faculty member at a CUNY school, the next question is “What do you teach?”  For me it is particularly poignent, because I was originally hired as the Information Literacy Librarian for BMCC. (My roles since then has expanded. I am Head of Public Services.) To the uninitiated, I mutter something like, “I teach people to do research.”
Teaching people how to do research has continued to become more complex and more nuanced in the 21st Century.  Our professional association ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) has more than once tried to define what we actually teach. This comes down to attempting to define Information Literacy.  Information Literacy is one of those fuzzy ideas that is hard to pin down, but you know it when you see it.  The current working definition of information literacy is known as the Framework.
The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education
Puzzled?  Take a look at my guide.
The Framework gets away from a focus on skills with particular interfaces.  We still teach people how to navigate our interfaces, but this is within the context of teaching “habits of mind.” The Framework is constructed around 6  frames:
  • Authority as Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

As you can see from this list, information literacy has been recast as being about ideas. How is authority defined? How do we think about information?  It takes real work to integrate these ideas into the day-to-day work of a growing one shot program.  I appreciate that it gives a target to shoot at.

Reference and Social Justice conversation at the LILAC Spring Event

As part of the Lilac Spring Training event, Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, and Eamon Tewell led a very interesting conversation on the connection between reference work and social justice. This is a conversational format, which was very helpful in terms of hearing not just from the presenters, but from the community.
Among the topics that were discussed were  space issues (including eliminating the reference desk, on-call reference etc.) and  the real importance of finding venues for substantial conversations with students. We discussed the power dynamics that are behind many of the academic structures that we take for granted. We also debated whether standard librarian best practices are social justice oriented already. We discussed the difference between reference as passive knowledge transfer, and reference as a conversation.
This was a very worthwhile and interesting event.

ACRL Intentional Teacher Immersion

I was given a chance to go to the ACRL Intentional Teacher Immersion that was held in Nashville, Tennessee from November 16th to November 20th.  It was an incredible, amazing experience.  It will take me a long time to really sort out what I learned, so please consider this a first draft.

The workshop followed two themes.  The importance of reflection on our teaching practice and alternative pedagogical techniques.   (more…)