Category Archives: Top Issues

For postings related to ACRL’s “Top Issues Facing Academic Libraries” (2002).

Moving Beyond Standards: A Response to the Open Letter Regarding the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Ian Beilin, Instruction Librarian and Assistant Professor at New York City College of Technology, CUNY, and Nancy Foasberg, Humanities Librarian and Assistant Professor at Queens College, CUNY.

We would like to answer some of the points made in the widely distributed Open Letter Regarding the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

The main argument of the letter, that the Framework should be used in tandem with the Standards, is based on a misconstrual of the basic theory upon which the Framework rests. It is important to acknowledge that one of the main stumbling blocks for the Framework has been the confusion generated by the language and theory of threshold concepts. But one of the clearest messages that the Framework drafts have conveyed, in our view, is that the use of common standards is problematic and prevents the kind of deeper, active and potentially critical learning that the teaching of information literacy demands. This critique applies to all standards, not just the ones enshrined by ACRL in 2000. So it doesn’t make sense to suggest, as the letter does, that the Standards can be used in tandem with the Framework or that they can be “mapped” on to the Framework. The two documents rest on wholly different foundations. As Troy Swanson recently has argued quite emphatically and eloquently, “The IL Standards and the IL Framework Cannot Co-exist.”

The open letter refers to the Framework as a “theoretical document.” In fact, both the Framework and the Standards are theoretical in nature, as is any document that sets out the kinds of teaching that we value and the outcomes we desire for our students. The difference between the two documents is not in their theoretical nature but rather in the theories to which they subscribe. The Standards understand information as a commodity external to the student; something that can be obtained and subsequently “used.[i]” When we look at information in this way, we are thinking of information literate students as consumers who must choose among many options, like shoppers selecting goods from among those placed before them in the market. The Framework instead aims at a more social understanding of information and information literacy. Most notably, it uses the explicit metaphor of a conversation, but it is also interested in the ways that authority is constructed and the ways that information artifacts are produced. Research is thus framed as an interaction among people rather than a choice among artifacts.

Because it hinges on the production of information within communities, this understanding of information literacy is inherently less friendly to universal standards. The open letter assigns great value and importance to the idea of generalized standards for education – partly because such standards have become commonplace and have been invested (both literally and figuratively) with great importance by educators, administrators, and perhaps most importantly, accreditors, politicians and funding sources. The letter claims that the word ‘standards’ “sets uniform goals and acceptable levels of achievement.” But for many educators and librarians, especially in today’s climate of forced austerity and cutback threats, the words ‘uniform’ and ‘acceptable’ are not ones we would choose to describe our pedagogical goals. Moreover, the letter claims that “Many states are adopting “common core” standards for K-12.  Our president & our governors are initiating conversation about curriculum change around the “common core standards” and major media outlets are covering this issue in depth.” And a little later, “The concept of standards is widely understood as a level of quality to be attained.” Again, these defenses, at least for a good number of academic librarians, read more like indictments. The idea of common core standards, much less their actual implementation, has come under intense scrutiny and critique as equally as it has been trumpeted and supported, and one cannot claim the existence of any consensus on their acceptability or appropriateness, either for K-12 or higher education.

The letter asks “Are we going backwards to insist that each locality ‘interpret’ the Framework according to their own standard?” This, it regrets, will mean the loss of a universal, prescriptive set of information literacy standards for all of US higher education. The letter seems to put forth the view that guidelines for information literacy instruction can be just as standardized as other aspects of library activity, such as collections. Indeed, this mindset was part of the philosophy of the Standards, in its claim that information literacy “is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education” (“Information Literacy Defined”). However, as this list of disciplinary standards suggests, librarians have long recognized that information works differently in different contexts. In fact, there is no universal skill set that comprises information literacy independently of disciplinary and local contexts.

The letter expresses alarm at the prospect of localized information literacy assessment, perhaps motivated by the fear that accreditation agencies and other higher education organizations will ignore libraries unless we can produce something fixed and solid like a list of standards that retain an aura of authority. A careful reading of the Framework and of the theory upon which it rests shows that a standardized approach does not reflect how learning actually takes place, or should take place, in libraries or any other learning environment. Instead of a set of skills which can be used under any circumstances, the Frames present several ways of becoming more attentive to the contexts of information and achieving a good understanding the communities in which the information was produced and will be understood. Under the Standards, “knowledge can be organized into disciplines” (Standard One, 2.a.), but the Framework understands knowledge as originating from various communities (which may include academic disciplines). These communities do not simply organize information but rather determine how it establishes its authority, oversee the processes through which the information is produced, and ultimately pass judgment on its contributions.

Thus, to insist that the Framework be interpreted locally is the only way to meaningfully assess the kind of information literacy in which this document interested. Rather than positing some universal skill set which applies to the use of all kinds of information in every conceivable community, we must be attentive to the needs and goals of students and faculty in our own local contexts, which are unlikely to align perfectly with the goals of a prescriptive document drawn up by a national professional association (even a very active one like ACRL).

Finally, the letter bemoans the presence of ‘jargon’ in the Framework, which is made doubly bad, it claims, because this jargon isn’t even taken from the LIS field, but from education and psychology. This problem is also presented as a threat to librarians’ alleged established respect and status within academia: forcing librarians to make themselves understood once again to colleagues beyond the library would set us back. Here again the letter expresses a conservative, backward-looking disposition which does not consider that our field and our practice, like the rest of academia, should be expected to move forward, to evolve and to put into action the results of research not only produced by ourselves, but throughout academia and beyond (and yes, that includes theory!). If we value intellectual curiosity and lifelong learning, we should not turn away from ideas that may improve our pedagogical practice. In fact, were we to avoid theory, we would lose one of the great opportunities of such a revision—the chance to carefully examine what we do and the philosophy that underlies it.

In other words, we really do need to acknowledge that ‘scholarship is a conversation’ and revitalize information literacy. The ambition of the Framework is to produce a more honest document reflecting the true beliefs – and practices – of instruction librarians. The Framework creates IL guidelines that can actually serve as an inspiration for creative, individual, yet carefully directed IL instruction – that is, just what most of us strive to do every day!

[i] Many writers have made this point before us. A review of critiques of the Standards can be found in Kimmo Tuominen, Reijo Savolainen, and Sanna Talja, “Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice,” The Library Quarterly 75, no. 3 (2005): 328-345, doi: 10.1086/497311

An Open Letter Regarding the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Heather Dalal, Assistant Professor I-Librarian at Rider University.

Some of the members of the ACRL-NJ/NJLA CUS User Education Committee and the VALE NJ Shared Information Literacy Committees have collaborated on an Open Letter Regarding the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. We are appreciative of the work of the Task Force who have developed the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. However, there are a number of concerns about this new document that have not been adequately addressed in revisions and that we would like the ACRL Board to take into consideration when the Task Force presents its final draft.

  1. The current standards should not be discarded; they should be revised to be used in tandem with the Framework.  The task force has created a new document that establishes a theoretical basis for information literacy. This does not replace standards. In an early article about threshold concepts for information literacy, Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2009) recommended threshold concepts as “ideas that would add new layers of meaning to the current standards and integrate those standards into a more coherent body of knowledge.” The standards could be updated to reflect the expanded concepts in the Framework. But we still need standards. Why?

    • “Standards” is a powerful and clear word. It sets uniform goals and acceptable levels of achievement.  We should claim our right to set such standards in our own knowledge domain (call it a discipline if you want).  We disagree with the notion that the concept of standards is outdated. AASL has standards to help support their professionals as “education leaders”. Other academic groups (such as the National Council of Teachers of English) have adopted standards for their programs (see Writing Across the Curriculum).  A conversation around “standards” is now also part of the national dialogue on improving education in the United States.  Many states are adopting “common core” standards for K-12.  Our president & our governors are initiating conversation about curriculum change around the “common core standards” and major media outlets are covering this issue in depth.  “Standards” are now part of the vernacular.
    • There are political implications of losing the standards when other non-library agencies – for example, Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), Association of American Colleges & Universities, NJ Council of County Colleges – have finally adopted them, which took years of engagement on the part of many librarians.  To say that “this is not an issue for the accrediting agencies and they will work with what we have” is naïve. MSCHE just dropped information literacy and libraries from their “Characteristics of Excellence” and librarians fought diligently to get it reinstated. This Task Force is not helping us make our case on the importance of information literacy.  They seem tone deaf to the politics of Higher Ed. Standards have easily been used to articulate active learning outcomes that everyone understands. They have practical applications that are universally understood. The theory outlined in the Framework is good and should be retained but supported with standards. There is room for both documents — the Threshold Concepts providing an overall theoretical structure and the IL Standards providing skills, learning objectives and suggested assessments. The power of the standards was that they were NOT local.  Are we going backwards to insist that each locality ‘interpret’ the Framework according to their own standard?  ACRL has other standards.  Why are we comfortable being prescriptive about library collections but not about instructional goals?
    • We disagree with the notion that standards are outdated as indicated in (a) above. National conversations about education are centered on the idea of standards. The concept of standards is widely understood as a level of quality to be attained.
    • The Standards are working well in New Jersey academic libraries.  It has taken many years for NJ librarians to communicate and integrate the Standards in their own institutions, and we have been rather successful.  We have seen wide adoption by individual institutions of the Standards and their integration into a variety of curricula for instruction and assessment.   We have also worked with K-12 colleagues to develop Information Literacy Progression Standards that articulate the skills that should be learned in the first two years of college. These standards are endorsed by NJ State College Council of Academic Vice Presidents and the Provosts at senior public colleges and universities. We planned to continue progression standards through the 3rd and 4th years and graduate school, but put those efforts on hold during this revision process.  In 2011, the New Jersey General Education Foundation was revised to reflect the difference between “technological competency” and “information literacy,” establishing IL as a general education integrated course goal – a skill that should be integrated in courses throughout a general education curriculum. Such work was made possible by the outcomes-based competencies defined in the Standards. There is no advantage to confusing our non-library colleagues with new jargon, when the core ideas and learning goals remain the same.
  2. It is NOT counterproductive to map the IL Standards to the IL Framework. So many curriculum maps and programs have been designed with the IL Standards as the foundation. As stated above, the Standards do need revising, and in doing so can be mapped to the Framework to create cohesive documents that are used in tandem. The Framework as it is written can not be “implemented,” a fact that the task force has acknowledged in its declaration that the Framework is not prescriptive. Rather than recommending that ACRL form an “implementation task force,” the next task force should be dedicated to revising the standards in light of the Framework, and in a way that they are still useful for teaching and measuring information literacy skills.
  3. The Framework is a theoretical document which makes it difficult to assess outcomes. Assessment continues to be an integral part of higher education. By relying solely on a theoretical framework that is not assessable, we are making information literacy irrelevant to the learning outcomes emphasis in higher education.
  4. The entire framework is filled with jargon, especially the new definition of information literacy. It’s not even library jargon, it is educational jargon that does not resonate with librarians, the primary audience. Only faculty in a few disciplines (education, psychology, and writing) will relate to this document. We disagree with FAQ #8 that the Framework is designed to be shared with faculty, and the introductory statements for faculty and administrators are insufficient. In addition, the Framework can provide a catalyst for instruction programs to have a more cohesive approach to curriculum mapping or scaffolding yet, because of the jargon and the removal of the standards, it actually sets librarians back to square one where we will need to re-educate our faculty with new terminologies and thus lose the momentum that was gained with the standards.
  5. The lack of parallel structure of the frames is grammatically jarring. Yes, this is discussed in the FAQ; however, the frames will eventually be reduced to their simple titles. We are academics and we should make the effort to use the English language as precisely as possible. There surely can be another way to maintain parallel structure and the meaning behind the current titles. In fact, the statement from the FAQ, “Information creation is indeed a process, but it is much more than that, and this Frame focuses on the one aspect of the creation process” does not seem to make sense. If the Frame focuses on creation, then stating “Information Creation is a Process” captures exactly what the Frame intends: the process of creating information, isolated from the many other things that information is. Also, consider “Inquiry is Essential to Research” as a concept that encapsulates what is intended by that Frame while keeping parallel structure. We urge the Task Force to make a greater effort to re-title the Frames.

Thank you for your attention.

Respectfully,

Cara Berg, William Paterson University, Reference Librarian/Co-Coordinator of User Education, Co-Chair of VALE Shared Information Literacy Committee
Leslin Charles, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Kilmer Library, Instructional Design/Education Librarian
Steve Chudnick, Brookdale Community College, Department Chair, Reference/Instruction Librarian
Heather Cook, Caldwell University, Learning Commons Librarian
Heather Dalal, Rider University; Co-Chair of ACRL-NJ/NJLA CUS User Education
Megan Dempsey,  Raritan Valley Community College, Instructional Services Librarian; Co-Chair of VALE Shared Information Literacy Committee
Eleonora Dubicki, Monmouth University, Reference/Instruction Librarian
Chris Herz, Rowan College at Gloucester County, Reference Librarian
Amanda Piekart, Berkeley College; Co-chair of ACRL-NJ/NJLA CUS User Education Committee
Lynee Richel, County College of Morris, Coordinator of Instructional Services
Davida Scharf, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Director of Reference & Instruction
Theodora Haynes, Rutgers University – Camden, Instruction Coordinator
Roberta Tipton, Rutgers University – Newark, Instruction Coordinator
Mina Ghajar, College of Saint Elizabeth, Assistant Director, Research & Access Services

If you would like to show your support for this letter, please add your name to the public signature page. You can also see the list of signatures already collected.

Do You Have The Tao In Your Toolkit?

In his blog post, The Tao of Librarianship, Andy Burkhardt reminds us how we can apply the ancient wisdom of Taoism to library policies and services. Burkhardt addresses library food policies, space design, planned abandonment of outdated formats and services, and adapting to change through the lens of Taoist philosophy, which he summarizes as, “instead of struggling against everything all the time, Taoism states that humans should try to see how things actually are and live in harmony with them.”

Another more colloquial way of stating this is the expression, “go with the flow.” Going with the flow is more commonly associated with surfers and hippies than librarians. Traditionally as a profession we tend toward rules, policies, standards. We prefer to “get things under (bibliographic) control.” A tweet at a program at ACRL 2011 put it this way: “Control freak streak runs in the profession. Sadly, yes. #lettinggo #acrl2011.”

Burkhardt is right to suggest that Taoist principles could help us more effectively deal with the change in our world and in our libraries. In addition to the areas that Andy brings up, Taoist ideas can also be useful when it comes to collaboration within and outside the academic library. In their ACRL 2011 program, Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs, librarians Meghan Sitar, Cindy Fisher, Michele Ostrow, of the University of Texas Libraries explain the difficulties they faced and the concepts they had to embrace in order to give up control and collaborate with other faculty and professionals on campus.

One of the more beautiful metaphors in Taoism is the admonition that we should be like water, fluid and responsive (Tao 8). Is your library frozen like a glacier or flowing like a mountain stream? Are you part of the ice jam or part of the break up? Have you come to terms with your inner control freak? As a profession, how can we become less controlling, and what should we let go? Can the principles of Taoism help us?

There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching. An interesting one is The Tao of Leadership by John Heider.

The Age of Big Access

This month marks the second in our new series of guest posts from academic librarians around the biblioblogosphere. October’s post is from Iris Jastram, the Reference & Instruction Librarian for Languages and Literature at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She also blogs at Pegasus Librarian.

While we were all busy wondering what it means to be a librarian in the Age of Google, we got flanked. This is not the Age of Google after all. That was just a distraction — a clever and dazzling light show. Meanwhile, behind the curtain, a totally different age was gathering itself: The Age of Big Access.

We saw and were outraged by Elsevier’s extortionist tactics. You know the story: our scholarly communities can’t function without these journals. We needed to provide access, Elsevier knows we needed to provide access, and so we have no leverage. The part of our librarianly DNA that is hardwired to provide access and further scholarly pursuits kicks in and overrides everything else.

We saw and were outraged by OCLC’s revised Use and Transfer guidelines. Sure, we could decide not to hand the record over to OCLC, but then the other systems that we really do need (such as ILL) wouldn’t work as well. We couldn’t lend our items, which means we couldn’t build up credits, which means that we couldn’t afford to borrow as much. Our scholarly community would suffer. We need to provide access, OCLC knows we need to provide access, and so we have no leverage. That librarianly DNA kicks in again.

We saw and were outraged by EBSCO’s increasing holdings of exclusive rights to periodicals, often offered through increasingly obscure EBSCO aggregators. But we need to provide access, the journals know it, they contract with EBSCO to get as much out of EBSCO as they can, we have no leverage. That blasted librarianly DNA keeps kicking in.

We saw and were outraged by Nature Publishing Group’s price hikes, made public by the University of California system when that system announced a boycott (PDF) of all of Nature’s periodicals and Nature-related activities. How dare Nature sell our own work back to us at such a price, we asked. Because we need to provide access to these things, Nature knows it, and so we have no leverage. Is there any way to amputate DNA?

We saw and were outraged by OCLC yet again when a lawsuit reminded us just how often we have no choice of vendor now that OCLC controls our cataloging, ILL, and to a lesser but growing extent, our catalogs. Apparently librarianly DNA loves these parasitic relationships around providing access.

And weren’t we just talking about how we’re no longer gatekeepers now that there’s so much free information out there? What about information overload and result fatigue? Have we wondered and worried about our futures so long that the future got written by big corporations in the business of selling us access, and selling it to us again, and then selling it to us again?

As usual, Barbara Fister is way ahead of me with her Liberation Bibliography manifesto. But what about me? I don’t have an activist bone in my body, but surely recognizing that I’m living the wrong future must have some effect. Surely there’s a place for instruction librarians in this alternate future.

I was pretty comfortable with my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Google. I’m totally at sea trying to figure out my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Big Access.

Latest Ithaka Study On Faculty – A Small Step Forward

Today we learned from both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle that the Ithaka Group released their Faculty Study 2009. I’m not going to write about the latest report in any great detail. You should read what these other sources had to say about it, and take a look at all the comments (I left one at the IHE article which had the more provocative title). If you want to know what I have to say about the report, you can take a look at the ACRLog post I wrote about the same report released last year that featured data from 2006. In that post I wrote:

But why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer? I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider – the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner.

A comment came from none other than Roger Schonfeld, who authors these Faculty Survey reports. In response to my post he wrote:

I’ve made a note of your suggestion that we add a question about the learning partner role should we pursue a 2009 faculty survey. Through other research areas and our affiliated organization NITLE, we have an ongoing interest in the support of teaching and learning, and these surveys could do a better job of addressing these interests.

That’s certainly not a promise, but I was encouraged by the comment. So how did Schonfeld and his Ithaka colleagues do in adding some questions for faculty about the library’s instructional role? I have yet to give the report an in depth reading, but I was pleased to see one chart (figure 9 on page 13) that asked faculty to rate the role of the importance of the library for “teaching support”. They write:

Almost three-quarters of humanities faculty indicated teaching support is a very important role of the library, while a notably lower share of social scientists and scientists saw teaching support as very important. Is this role really most strongly valued by humanists and if so why? Alternatively, is there some reason that perceptions vary so significantly? As numerous libraries have invested in building information commons over the past decade, are there alterative or additional teaching roles that would be valued by social scientists and scientists?

As far as I can tell – and correct me if you find otherwise as you read the report – there is nothing else beyond this in the report about the teaching role of the librarians. But when you compare it to the 2006 report, this is a nice step forward. I can only hope that Schonfeld and colleagues will work on developing a more robust section on the teaching and learning role so that we can also learn how faculty respond to our efforts, along with those sections on materials and scholarly publishing.

So how do we respond to the news in the latest Report that in some ways the library and librarians have a diminishing role for faculty across the disciplines? I’ve been sharing my ideas since the last Report on things we can do to put less emphasis on the “gateway, archive and buyer” roles on which these Reports focus. I think we academic librarians would agree that while those roles are all essential to how we support our communities, they are the passive ways in which we do so, and there is so much more we do – in an active way that is ignored by these types of reports – which are unfortunately the ones that get the attention of academic administrators. To get a sense of what I’ve been writing in response take a look at this and this – and heck – share them with an administrator so they know that we academic librarians are thinking about these issues and have lots of ideas for how we can be much more – when it comes to faculty – than just gatekeepers, archivists and buyers. Chime in on what you think we can do – and what you are already doing – to make faculty aware of how we can contribute to student learning and their research success.

Two last items:

1) What’s with IHE and the Chronicle. I thought it rather odd that neither article about the Ithaka Faculty Survey featured comments from an academic librarian. Excepting the IHE article offering a comment from Mary Ellen Davis of ACRL, you would think we have nothing to say about the report. Now maybe both reporters did interview academic librarians and the quotes didn’t make the editor’s cut, but I suspect there is diminishing interest in what we have to say.

2) This blog is one of the only ones I came across that mentions the Ithaka Report, but perhaps others will chime in on it.