There Is A Difference Between Information And Learning

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.

4 thoughts on “There Is A Difference Between Information And Learning”

  1. Oddly enough, I don’t think students want a “Home Depot” approach at all. They do (as do I) want libraries that are pleasant, not unduly difficult to use, and enticing. They want a collection of books that isn’t largely outdated or poorly maintained and easy access to the journal articles that our databases tell them have been published. But the students I deal with are not at all averse to libraries, and they aren’t relying entirely on Google.

    I’m not entirely sure why we persist in this cartoon version of our students. I’m sitting our reference desk as I type this and it’s a very busy place. (And for what it’s worth, the last two questions I dealt with had to do with finding books. No, reading books is not an extinct activity.)

  2. Frankly I agree that the “Home Depot” approach to research by students in academic libraries, is on the increase. This concept goes hand in glove with the general idea of “instant gratification”. Students wonder why they should make use of ILL, when electronic material (Google, and otherwise) is available at the touch of a keyboard. Unless a professor specifically requires that a book, or books, be used, some students will concentrate only on the electronic word. With all of this in mind, I have begun, along with the usual tools, mentioning: information literacy competencies, critical thinking skills, and plaegerism avoidance.

  3. It’s true that we do need to continue to make the distinction between supplying information and teaching students lifelong learning skills. However, we also cannot ignore the fact that instruction and reference librarians must become more involved with with helping create and assess interfaces that inherently teach the user how to search for and connect with library resources without the benefit of formal library instruction.

    We want all of our students to be information literate, but we also want them to navigate our (mostly) arcane, unintuitive library search interfaces (or we want to get classroom time to teach them how to do so.) Focusing on streamlining and simplifying search interfaces will only strengthen the impact of traditional library instruction, and would hopefully make it even more likely that students would return to use our resources again and again.

  4. Ellysa – I couldn’t agree with you more and I wrote about this exact issue previously. Take a look at my “Infodiet” article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Ed – Feb. 20, 2004.

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