Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion: Information Literacy

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Carlos Duarte and Rebecca Miller Waltz. Carlos is the Associate College Librarian for Public Services at Colorado College. Rebecca is the Associate Dean for Learning and Engagement at Penn State University. This post is the first in a four-part series, “Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion.”

The ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Program, usually referred to as Immersion, has been on hiatus since March 2020, when our facilitator team canceled the summer 2020 Immersion program because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Over the past four years, our Immersion facilitator team has continued to connect and collaborate; after taking time to reflect on and discuss how we can best serve our community, we are thrilled to be re-engaging with the library community with this blog post series:  Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion. This series was inspired by conversations during a January 2024 Immersion Facilitators retreat that examined our relationship with the foundational pillars of the program. The team explored each pillar by sharing questions and perspectives and considered how to integrate each pillar into the portfolio of Immersion programming. 

We will announce additional Immersion offerings soon, so be on the lookout for more information over the next few months.  For now, though, we invite you into conversation with our team as we reconnect with the four pillars of Immersion:  information literacy, the educational role of librarians in higher education, leadership, and critical reflection. 

This first post in the series focuses on the pillar of information literacy.  When asked specifically about Information Literacy, our current cohort of Immersion facilitators identified some common themes among us, most notably that our conception of information literacy was deeply rooted in communication practices and communities. In this conversation, Carlos Duarte and Rebecca Miller Waltz reflect on that discussion and share their perspectives on information literacy, communication, and our communities.

(Carlos) This past winter as we were preparing for our retreat, I took the time to reflect on how my approach to teaching college students about libraries and information has changed over the last five years. Working with students who matriculated during the pandemic, who saw the nation engage in sustained protests around racial justice and the MeToo movement, I’ve seen a willingness to challenge authority, but also a hesitancy to accept that there may be tools that are authoritative in and of themselves. Students and teaching faculty are open to inquiry and challenges to authority, but are faced with serious questions about how to take definitive steps forward in their research or writing process given these challenges to traditional or accepted notions of authority.. 

My own practices have shifted in that I am spending more time working with students on how they ask questions, what listening and communications skills are at play, as they engage in scholarship. My hope is that with a solid understanding of how practices around inquiry, curiosity, and open ended questions inform their writing process, students will be able to engage more deeply as they develop information literacy and communication skills. 

Oftentimes I hear the term research used synonymously with information literacy.  Research, thought of as skills associated with information literacy competencies, clearly has its place in library instruction, and at the reference desk, but this conflation of research and information literacy moves us away from the Framework for Information Literacy, threshold concepts, and a wider view of the skills and knowledge that students are bringing with them.  How do we adjust to incorporate & maintain a vision of critical information literacy that encompasses formal/informal scholarship & multiple literacies? I guess I am asking how we can keep some space between conceptual ideas of Information Literacy and practical or skill based research practices, while acknowledging the overlapping and recursive nature of the two. 

(Rebecca) Yes, that’s really interesting–I also often hear that connection between or conflation of research and information literacy.  I wonder if “research” somehow feels more scholarly or relevant to students and their instructors than a term like “information literacy,” which has so many different definitions.  To me, the knowledge and skills related to research may be a particular slice of information literacy, but, as you mentioned, doesn’t reflect a broader view of information literacy. Part of this may be because of our traditional models of integrating information literacy into the classroom. One-shot classes, short learning objects, or consultations focused on a specific assignment or application may be good ways to initially connect with students but may make it difficult to help students transfer what they’re learning in one particular context to a different context.  The classroom and the assignment can represent boundaries that prevent students–and maybe their instructors, too–from seeing how the information literacy concepts, such as authority and inquiry, connect with so many other parts of their lives. 

In other words, what is that space between the prescribed inquiry that we see in the classroom and our students’ authentic selves? How do we help our students make those connections between what they might be learning in the classroom or researching in the library with everything that they’re engaged in beyond the classroom? 

(Carlos) I like the way you phrased that, “the space between the prescribed inquiry and the authentic self”. I think that there is something to the idea of wanting to reach the whole student. I have been working to develop a better relationship with the writing center folks on my campus in order to learn how we can act as a compliment to their services, and how they can be integrated into ours. My hope is that by seeking interventions that are outside of the classroom, and away from the reference desk, we can reach that whole student. I feel like our interventions in one-shot library sessions are often too early, we teach to students who haven’t committed to a topic or gained a complete understanding of the course much less the assignment, or are too late, at the reference desk in a moment of crisis with a looming deadline. My hope is that we will gain a wider area of potential intervention. I will be sure to let you know what comes of it.

(Rebecca) Oh, I definitely want to hear more about better or more timely ways to connect with students.  I’m also really thinking about the “moment of crisis” you mentioned–we do often see students during a moment of crisis, don’t we? Those are the moments where we may really have the opportunity to reach the “whole student,” as you wrote above, since the care we can show for our students during those moments of anxiety and panic might be one place we can bridge the prescribed inquiry and authentic self. 

Related to timely interventions, I also think this particular moment in time, where we’re all asking questions about artificial intelligence and what authority and authorship really mean, offers us an amazing opportunity to foreground information literacy in new ways. While I don’t want to make this conversation about AI, I do want to acknowledge that the questions our students and faculty are asking about AI provide the perfect platform for realigning information literacy expertise and interventions within our communities. 

While we think about the specific expertise we bring and the places we might want to develop new interventions, what are the spaces we should be working in? Who are we working with and how are we developing and sustaining those relationships? Carlos, you mentioned building a better relationship with your writing center colleagues to provide more holistic support for our students. There are other groups we could be seeking out, and other roles geared toward student success that we can connect with.  Information literacy experts bring a unique perspective to student success work and I am looking forward to exploring those roles and relationships further. 

Our next post in the Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion series will focus on the educational role of librarians in higher education.  Join Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry as they reflect on some of the questions we posed here and ask some new questions. Look for that post in the next few weeks! 

Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Thoughts From A Search Committee Chair Running Two Searches

This spring, I’m chairing concurrent searches for two new librarians role in my department. I’m thrilled to lead these search committees and bring new colleagues to the team. These roles opened up due to faculty retirements and gave the department and I a chance to reflect on what our institution needs right now. 

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to write a blog post about this experience. At my past institution, I didn’t get too close to faculty librarian searches. I was at a large organization and had a supervisor who had me focus on other work priorities. I hired student interns and research assistants, but I was relatively removed from other searches. At my current institution, we are a smaller shop and as a department head, I have a different responsibility and focus on things like searches. While these two searches aren’t my first time chairing a search at my current institution, I feel a different search chair pressure since these are colleagues joining our department. This pressure is probably mostly internal pressure I’m putting on myself, but with every search, I feel there’s pressure for it to go well and find a successful candidate. 

Instead of continuing to spin my proverbial wheels about how to write this post, I’m going to share a few highlights. These are big ideas or themes that continue to stay top of mind. As always, I’m curious if these ideas and themes resonate with others! 

The Library Job Search + Emotions

In 2018-19, I collaborated with former ACRLogger Dylan Burns on a research project around emotions in the library job search. Dylan and I met in graduate school and noticed that during the second year of our on-campus program, there was a new energy in the air. A competitive and sometimes secretive energy as we all went on the job search. Our research was inspired by that experience and the emotions we felt as we went on the job market. We sent a survey out and had over 1,000 people start our survey! The paper we eventually wrote explored the themes we saw along with focus groups we conducted with survey participants. This research project was informative in so many ways, beyond learning so much about survey design, this research really solidified for me the challenges and struggles librarians experience. There’s such a black box when you apply for a job; you put your materials out there, invest time and energy in crafting a compelling cover letter and thinking about a potential institute that might employ you, and hope you hear something. As I navigate this search from the position of search chair, this paper is top of mind. I do what I can to communicate and move things along as quickly as I can. But I’ve also seen the various ways the systems and structures (or lack of those structures) slow a search down and rely on the chair and hiring manager to be organized. 

Not everyone is invested or as tuned into the search as you are

Everyone has different capacity levels to think about these searches. As the chair, I feel like I’m really in it but that’s not the same for everyone around me. I continue to remind myself that it is my responsibility to pave the way and make it easy for folks to engage with our candidates. And part of that means I have to keep articulating what these jobs will do, and how the folks in the room might interact/collaborate/rely on these roles.    

Searching for new people means less time to think about your current people

Something I’ve thought a lot about is how I’m refocusing my energy into bringing new folks into the department. That means something has to give and that has been some of the energy I’ve been able to put into the people on the current team. I feel fortunate these searches are happening almost three years into my time as a department head; I have a better sense of what folks need and they have a better sense of how to get feedback/support from me, especially when my time is in high demand. This also means when the searches wrap up, I can refocus my energy on the current department. Ultimately, just because I’m running a search doesn’t mean I have double the emotional energy. I’m still working through this, but try to be aware of what I can give and where I need to pull back. 

Bottom line: searches take time and energy

For the past three months, I feel like I’ve been thinking about these searches constantly. I might be brainstorming questions, finalizing finalist interview schedules, noting strengths and opportunities for growth, or scheduling meetings. I’m pouring a lot of energy to prepare for finalist interviews and t once that interview week comes, I’m tuned in to running smooth interview days. I keep thinking of the comment my high school band director told us in the pit orchestra – the best pit orchestra is the one where people don’t even realize there’s a pit orchestra right in front of them. To me, a good search feels like that; it’s running and people are comfortable and supported but don’t necessarily see all the work spinning in the background. But that of course, takes time and energy, and weeks of planning and coordinating!

What happens after the search

I also think frequently about what happens after the search – a successful candidate joins the team. That naturally spurs a bunch of follow up questions: What will onboarding look like? How is the department involved? What are scoped projects I can give these folks to get acclimated to the organization and feel a sense of progress within the first six to eight months on the job? I keep reminding myself to finish the searches and then worry about what’s next. One step at a time. 

At the end of the day, I’m really excited for what’s ahead. I feel like I’m learning and I’m growing in this double search chair role. I’m also going to be very thankful for when these searches wrap up!

Turn it off and on again: digital literacy in college students

What happened to digital literacy and competency? 

I’ll start this post with some examples of declining digital and computer literacy that me and my colleagues have noticed just in the past academic year with students.  

  • Tried to turn on a lab computer via the monitor, not the tower 
  • Manually added spaces for double-spaced paper 
  • Hitting spacebar to create indents 
  • Not being able to find their downloaded PDF 
  • Saving everything to desktop/not using file directories 
  • Unable to use browser (only uses phone applications) 
  • Not understanding how to navigate Microsoft OneDrive vs computer file directories (or: why doesn’t my paper show up on the computer?) 

I’m sure a lot of these, along with many other examples, sound very familiar to academic librarians. Although the IT Help Desk is just a few feet down from the Library Service Desk at my library, we become tech support in so many ways. The technical understanding of computers, programs, and how they work just isn’t there in many young adults, which might be surprising to some. Surely, the kids who have grown up with technology are good at it, right? They’re “digital natives”? Many a librarian, academic or otherwise, could tell you that that’s not the case.  

The 2018 International Computer and Information Literacy study showed that only 2 percent of students scored at the highest level of computer and information literacy (Fraillon et al, 2020). Yet, Global Web Index’s report on Generation Z says that “[they] are clocking up nearly 7 hours a day online” (2019). Those of us who work in universities, whether as faculty, staff, or otherwise, need to remember that students using technology for interaction and leisure doesn’t necessarily translate to familiarity with tools for academic or professional work. As an example: If I’m on TikTok all day, why would I then know how to use Microsoft Word for APA format in my paper? If I am posting stories to Instagram and direct messaging people, why would I know the difference between cloud storage like Google Drive and the hardware storage of a laptop? 

It’s easier for me to think about this in terms of my own experiences. I had a computer basics class in high school where I learned about the different mechanical parts of a computer, what the abbreviations KB, MB, and GB mean, among other things that I ultimately use every day in my professional and personal life. Someone who came even 2 or 3 years after me at my same high school didn’t have the same thing. Chromebooks were just gaining traction during my senior year, and they were fully implemented a few years after I left. I firmly believe that the rise of these sort of limiting products has limited the digital literacy and competency of today’s students, but perhaps exploring that relationship can be saved for an entirely different blog post.  

I think the ultimate problem with digital literacy is not necessarily the lack of technical knowledge, but the lack of curiosity. Oftentimes when students come to the desk for help with formatting a paper, they haven’t attempted to figure it out themselves. One way to address the lack of curiosity and digital literacy is something many librarians are already doing: modeling inquiry. We perform reference interviews to get more information about the question or issue at hand, and often times, we are figuring out technology issues along with the patron. I am always telling students exactly what I do – no, I don’t remember this off the top of my head, I Google things about programs constantly. Even in our instruction sessions, we model curiosity and exploration; I purposely try not to have canned database searches, because I know how messy research is. Students might not yet. If they see that a librarian can get a “no results found” search or something that isn’t as relevant, they might feel better about continuing to try in their own research process. They can also learn how to search the web for their problems – how many times have you Googled something, gotten completely irrelevant results, and had to change or add keywords? This first attempt is where I find that students might stop, if they do try to figure it out. It’s okay if they can’t find the answer and come ask us anyway – I just want to empower them to try.  

Although they’re of a generation who is quite familiar with technology, everyone’s experience varies. This is why I don’t really like the term digital native (Prensky, 2001). I prefer the term digital learner – none of us are born knowing natively how to use these tools, but they and we are born learning them (Gallardo-Echenique et al, 2015). Since every student comes to us with different backgrounds, experiences, and access, we should focus our efforts on modeling and teaching with inquiry and curiosity. As fast as technology changes, having a solid foundation of curiosity will benefit students for the rest of their lives.  

References 

Fraillon, J., Ainley, J., Schulz, W., Friedman, T., & Duckworth, D. (2020). Preparing for Life in a Digital World: IEA International Computer and Information Literacy Study 2018 International Report. Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38781-5 

Gallardo-Echenique, E. E., Marqués-Molías, L., Bullen, M., & Strijbos, J.-W. (2015). Let’s talk about digital learners in the digital era. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v16i3.2196 

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1108/10748120110424816 

Dwindling Reference Questions

“If you build it, [will] they will come[?]”

As another season of baseball is just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about ways to get hits and avoid strikes—so decided to break out a classic quotation from Field of Dreams and apply it to academic libraries. In recent years, our library has seen dwindling reference questions. We’re not getting nearly the number of students at our front desk asking questions, nor making as many appointments with librarians, compared to pre-pandemic.

I’m not totally sure what to make of this. I can’t imagine students not needing library services, such as help with literature searching, questions about using databases, or help with citation management software. Not to pump our tires up too much, but these skills typically don’t come intuitively or out of thin air—at least at the level academic librarians support students. Our help is still needed, but without students seeking us out to get that help, we’re missing out on a huge number of opportunities to make students’ lives easier. We want to help.

I suspect that in our post-pandemic era, a ‘generation’ of students don’t have the same familiarity with libraries as they did in previous generations. Did these students miss out on using their high school libraries when they were completing high school largely from home? Did social interactions change post-pandemic? Do students prefer online reference questions and consultations, rather than in-person? And is this affecting the number of questions we’d normally get?

While this is a problem, there’s also opportunity; opportunity to devote more time to seeking in-class instruction—where you seek students out and not vice-versa; opportunity to work on offering enhanced library services; opportunity to plan library events; and more.

I’ve thought about how to address shrinking reference questions. If you assess the number and type of reference questions you’re getting, and it’s different from before—such as fewer or simpler questions—in broad strokes you can approach the issue from a couple perspectives:

  • You can make decisions reactively (e.g. less library staff at the front desk, shorter library or front desk hours), or
  • You can make decisions proactively (e.g. broad, university-wide promotion strategies to inform students what library staff can do for them, reinforce there are no stupid questions and it’s worth getting help from library staff).

Whichever approach you take, you need to think about your goal: are you reacting to fewer reference questions to maintain the status quo or are you proactively trying strategies to ensure students are getting the help they need, and meeting them where you are?

I always think that if we build it, they will come. But maybe we have to tell them what we’ve built. And one thing’s for sure: we must think hard about what to build.