I came across this item in the Chronicle’s Wired Blog. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said he is worried about what he called an emerging “Home Depot approach to education,” in which there is “no distinction made between information and learning“. Gregorian said this yesterday as part of his remarks as the keynote presenter at the Higher Education Leadership Forum, a two-day event sponsored by The Chronicle and Gartner, a technology-consulting firm. This remark really resonated with me because it hits right on the head a nail that is being driven into the long tradition of user education within academic librarianship. I have seen more than one instance, in print and at conferences, of some of our colleagues suggesting that we are wasting our time with information literacy. They claim that in a Google universe our students no longer have the patience or need to learn how to conduct research, and that we do a disservice to them when we attempt to raise the quality of their research through user education. Doing so, we are told, simply alienates them and drives them farther away from libraries. Instead, we are told, we should just give them the information they need so that they can get on with their writing. I think that philosophy of academic librarianship is exactly what Gregorian would describe as the “Home Depot” approach to education. Let’s not forget why we entered this profession. We need to continue to make the distinction between learning and just supplying information.
Earlier, we noted the announcement of the creation of an Endowed Chair in Information Literacy at Purdue University. Today, the Career section in the Chronicle notes the opening of a new administrative position in the Purdue University Libraries with the search for an Associate Dean for Learning. Here (in good “Google” fashion) is a snippet from the posting:
“The Purdue University Libraries have embarked upon a dynamic new role within the University, emphasizing a closer integration of the Libraries into the academic mission of Purdue. An administrative re-structuring of the Libraries supports this new direction through the creation of this position, Associate Dean for Learning . . . . Greater emphasis is being placed on advancing the Libraries’ reference and information literacy instruction program, using multiple approaches (in-person and virtual, one-on-one and classroom settings) to integrate active learning throughout the University curriculum along with expanding and deepening the research/discovery efforts of the Libraries’ faculty. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/”
As someone with an interest in instruction who has served as an AD for Public Services, I have watched the recent appearance of learning-centered administrative positions with great interest (see also the ongoing search for an Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives at Berkeley). To me, the creation of such positions (if they truly are focused on articulating and enhancing the role of the academic library as an instructional center on campus) suggests a level of recognition for the teaching role that is new and (for people like me) very exciting. What do people think when they see these positions being created: new focus for the profession, or old wine in new bottles?
And, while a 2-time degree-holder from Indiana University like me is hard-pressed to say it, kudos to Purdue for pushing the envelope and getting us to ask real questions about what it means to integrate a commitment to teaching and learning (in the libraries and across campus) into the core mission of the academic library, as represented by the commitment of human resources and representation at the highest administrative levels.