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! 

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