Zen and the Art of Information Literacy
Last month marks two years that I’ve been at my job as an Information Literacy Librarian, and I’ve spent some time recently reflecting on how much has changed. There are certainly more students on campus (as at many colleges and universities), which means more bodies in the library, more classes to teach, more questions at the reference desk. My work on several committees has introduced me to colleagues across the college and helped me settle in. I’m much more experienced now as a librarian and an educator, and my teaching reflects that, even as I keep working to improve each semester.
I think the biggest change is that over the past two years I have become much more zen about doing information literacy. In my first semester at my job I read as much as I could get my hands on about library and information literacy instruction: theories, methods, case studies, you name it. I concentrated on articles and books from the past decade or so, but I also read a few older sources like Breivik and Gee’s Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library (1989). I spent lots of time thinking about the best way to do information literacy at my place of work. Given the particular constraints of my library and college, how can we best reach all students? Which are the best strategies and plans for delivering IL: one-shots, many-shots, intensive collaboration with faculty in other departments, train the trainers, course-integrated, credit-bearing courses?
I still plan and strategize (hey, it’s part of my job), but what’s changed for me is that I’ve come to accept the multiplicity of options for information literacy instruction. Just like in so many situations, there isn’t one best way to do it. Methods for integrating IL into the curriculum will necessarily vary by discipline, course, and even student. On the one hand this can seem somewhat chaotic. I know that information literacy is a critical component of a college education, and the need for IL instruction can feel urgent. How can we use several different approaches at once? Won’t we lose focus? And what about the students? Wouldn’t they all benefit from the exact same kind of information literacy instruction?
But it’s important to be realistic. Students, faculty, and courses are different, and what works at one institution might not be feasible at another. Much in the higher ed, library, and information landscape has changed and will continue to change. With so many moving targets, our information literacy plans must be flexible and we must be willing to shift our strategies. Two years ago this seemed like uncertainty to me, but today it feels like a necessary part of my job, and one that I really enjoy. And isn’t one of the great things about being a librarian that it’s never boring?