With the slower summer days I’m better able to keep up with library and higher education news, blogs, and Twitter, though I have to admit that sometimes I wish I didn’t. I’m not going to link to the very snarky, and, frankly, mean piece currently making the rounds in which a researcher belittles the work of archivists. I guess it brings in the pageviews and ad dollars, though as a commenter noted, I can’t imagine that any archivist who comes across this essay will be welcoming to that researcher in the future. I’ve also been bothered this week by what seemed like a summary dismissal of a librarian’s concerns about textbook publisher access models in response to a faculty member’s question about the potential for student savings. The librarian pointed out that this very sort of vendor leasing model had often ultimately resulted in higher costs for libraries, as the vendors in question increased their prices every year.
All of which has me thinking about expertise. Librarians have it — why don’t many of those outside of the library seem to expect it?
we are not necessarily seen as possessing valuable expertise until we prove ourselves worthy
Veronica specifically highlighted expertise in information literacy in her post, and I also think that there are many ways in which the expertise of workers in all areas of the library isn’t acknowledged. We’ve been trained and have worked to develop our practice in our libraries, often earning one or more advanced degrees as well. What is it about librarianship that leads otherwise smart people to assume that expertise is not required for our jobs? While I’d been a heavy user of libraries before becoming a librarian, I can’t ever remember thinking that librarianship was an unskilled job, or that librarians weren’t necessary in order for the library to function.
This summer I’ve also finally gotten around to reading Roma Harris’s book Librarianship: The Erosion of a Women’s Profession, which has provoked lots of thinking about expertise and gender. Harris notes that librarianship, like other female-intensive professions (examples include nursing and social work), has long had the perception of being low-skilled and requiring little training, and that low status and pay follow from these low expectations. Some aspects of librarianship that Harris discussed were less relevant to the current state of the profession, now 25+ years after it was published, though it was somewhat disheartening to see that some things have not changed. Not long ago I added “Dr” to my Twitter handle in solidarity with academic women in expressing their exasperation at having their research questioned or even explained to them by folks who assume a lack of expertise until otherwise demonstrated.
We have expertise as librarians, and I expect it of myself and my colleagues, who work hard to provide resources, services, and space for our academic community every day. I also expect that I will continue to need to share that fact with others to shine a light on the terrific work we do in and beyond the library.
The current dominant paradigm of information literacy emphasizes the importance of connecting with textual information. This produces a deficit model of information literacy which does not take into account the importance of information learning or other sources of information which are accessed through communication or action.
It all started with this quote. I was sitting in Eamon Tewell’s presentation at LOEX earlier this month, learning about the problematic nature of grit narratives in education and libraries, when these two sentences showed up in his slide deck. Eamon was convincingly linking the popularity of grit to current deficit models of information literacy education. By defining information literacy in academic libraries in a particular way, we categorize students as academically deficient. They may be able to solve complex information problems on their own, in their own way, but because, as Annemaree Lloyd states, we emphasize text as information in academia, their experiences and abilities are invalidated. Our academic librarian version of information literacy is rooted in the written word, and not just any written word, but words of a certain kind: academic journal articles, scholarly books, book chapters, reports, grey literature, legal documents, etc. Our emphasis as librarians is on the things we can read that signal some connection to the academy.
We see examples of this in our work all the time. We might say something like,”You are used to using Google, but Google won’t help you in this situation,” (Spoiler: It probably still will). Or, “Let’s start our research with the library databases.” We might try to branch out from scholarly texts by encouraging students to use Wikipedia or news sources as launch pads for research, but these are all still resources rooted in the written word. I can always count on Library Twitter to help me process problematic ideas and issues, so I posed the following questions to my colleagues:
I wonder why this is the case. Is it academia seeking to replicate itself? Is it librarians wanting to center the library and boost resource use? I recognize it is an example of deficit thinking, but what is the underlying power structure at the root? ? #LOEX2018
In Making the Case for a Sociocultural Perspective on Information Literacy, Alison Hicks moves beyond the ACRL Framework vs. Standards debate to advocate for a sociocultural approach to information literacy. This focuses on the ways in which information literacy “shows itself” in different communities, and the ways in which it is shaped by different contexts. A sociocultural approach to information literacy shows us that the way we’ve defined information literacy as librarians is just one version of information literacy. It is a “social practice that emerges from a community’s information interactions” (p. 73). But by adopting a “single understanding of information literacy” as the information literacy, we impose one group’s knowledge practices on another (p. 75). What we are teaching in academic libraries is specific to an academic context, but we are teaching it as though it is universal.
I can already hear the dissent brewing, because so entrenched is my relationship to a particular type of information literacy that I had a similar, initial, knee-jerk reaction. “But we need to teach students how to use and understand these textual, scholarly resources precisely because they are new and they have never used them before!” I had to counter my own reaction with a blog post I read a few years ago by the ever-prolific Barbara Fister. Referencing the PIL study that looks at info-seeking behavior of recent college graduates, she laments the difficulty these young adults have setting up their own personal learning networks. We’ve focused so strongly on information as a textual source in information literacy education, that we don’t address the information literacy practices of different communities, including the workplace. Think about the last time you started a new job and how you gathered new information about your place of work. Did you immediately start digging into scholarly articles about best practices? Or did you set up formal and informal information appointments with your new colleagues? I think we all know the power of information in the workplace and our lives, and we’d be lying if we said we got all of this information from reading text, much less academic texts.
I’ve been deep in this idea lately as I start a new job and seek resources for my son who has various learning differences. As much as I want to say that scholarly, empirical research articles have been my go-to information sources, they absolutely haven’t. For me, as a new employee, my information literacy practices have centered around talking to people and learning from their experiences and institutional knowledge. For me, as a parent of a child with learning differences, my information literacy practices have centered around meeting and speaking with other parents and special needs education advocates. This is the information literacy I practice in my daily life, and I am starting to think more and more about how to incorporate this into the work I do with students, librarians, and faculty as an information literacy educator.
A day in the life of a librarian involves a lot of meetings, am I right? Particularly, as the type-casting goes, academic librarians. We all complain about this. We all wish we had more time and fewer meetings. So why haven’t we solved this? What would we measure in order to do so? I’ve been grappling with these questions as I work on a chapter about how meetings contribute to an organization’s knowledge management. There is so much about this that seems impossible to pare down, especially given the various ways we may experience meetings.
An article about what Google has learned from its research on effective teams came across my feed recently. When Googling it again (ha!) in order to pull into this post, I noticed Business Insider covered the topic in 2016 and 2015 as well. Each one builds a little on the last. The resulting info graphic shows psychological safety as the quality most indicative of effective teams. Think about that phrase for a minute — psychological safety.
This isn’t one of those, “Well of course! That goes without saying, doesn’t it.” kind of things, right? Especially if reversed to imagine what might be wrong with teams that lack this, it’s no wonder the prevailing attitude about meetings is so fraught and our cats and shushing memes so prevalent.
What’s interesting to me about the image is its constructive approach to the qualities of effectiveness that build from psychological safety. One of the things I argue in my chapter is that knowledge management assessments, particularly those involving meetings and teams, must similarly be more constructive. I got to thinking how one measures the quality of psychological safety, specifically, and how that is constructed within meetings in the real (not just academic, not just Google) world.
That means examining how people behave in meetings. How does a meeting actually operate to ensure this quality?
The best example I can think of for a meeting almost completely structured to ensure psychological safety is a 12-step meeting. You can image how safety manifests through the principle of anonymity, in how members introduce themselves (My name is…and I am a…), even how the space is set up (usually in a circle) and how sharing takes place (usually turn-taking and no ‘cross talk’). While the 12-step approach may seem over the top in the context of a typical library meeting, I think as librarians, we take for granted the sense of security that simple organizing patterns like these can provide.
My husband shared that his team uses a checklist at every meeting called norms of collaboration, which I think is attributed to Bill Baker’s Seven Norms of Collaborative Work. How the checklist and norms were described sounded similar to a facilitation tool I’ve used called Plus/Delta. At the end of every meeting you assess what went well (plus) and what could be improved (delta). In this case, what is being assessed is more constructed to specific norms, rather than what I’ve experienced — mainly just accomplishing the agenda or staying on task.
According to Amy C. Edmondson (Harvard Business School), to whom Google credits the concept of psychological safety, there are three indicators of this quality in teams (and by extension here, meetings):
#1: Frame the work [of the team/meeting] as a learning problem, not an execution problem. I work in a mostly strengths-based organization where collectively the Learner strength dominates and the Executing domain does not (it ranks only 3rd of 4). This should set my organization up fairly well in meeting this one. Of course, we may need to look at how we frame the work.
#2: Acknowledge your own fallibility. Libraries’ predominantly female profession probably overdoes this when it comes to apologizing or non-threatening leadership styles. Although, I think this indicator intends a more authentic approach to one’s owning mistakes. I personally am a big fan of both vulnerability research and reality-based leadership, which kind of book-end this concept in my mind. But, neither have hit the mainstream of library meeting effectiveness.
#3: Model curiosity and ask lots of questions. OK. Indicator three, check. Our profession is built on modelling curiosity and asking questions. In addition to a curious, questioning, and service profession, we are also an organizing profession. So the kinds of structures illustrated in the meetings above should come somewhat naturally as well. Yet, who hasn’t resisted (or at least felt silly in) facilitation tools like ice-breakers and ground rules?
Surely our organizing talents mean that meetings have an agenda, documented decisions, and assigned action items, right? Aren’t these the very frames our work need in meetings, making them more than just people in a room talking?
When I asked my husband how one would foster the collaborative norms approach, he replied, “You don’t foster it; it’s required.” Admittedly it helps to have it codified as a professional standard of practice, as it is in his case. These kinds of specific norms are not codified in the library profession, if looking to ALA or ACRL for example. More often such norms are left to professional discretion.
Section 3. Governing Procedures. Each Community of Practice shall establish written procedures related to its function and governance that shall be adopted by the membership of the group. A current copy shall be provided to the Executive Director. (http://www.ala.org/acrl/aboutacrl/bylaws/bylaws)
The 12-step meeting structure, which has been codified and working for these groups for over 80 years, has another interesting tradition of operating by the principle of “attraction, not promotion”. This tends to be the approach of adopting new norms in academia as well. This has its perks, don’t get me wrong. If you said I must always abide by Roberts Rules of Order (adopted in many an academic governance meeting), I’d certainly run screaming from the building. But must we rebuke all meeting structure as confining our academic freedoms?
I can’t say that structure is the end all be all for ensuring a foundation of psychological safety. I can’t really say the teams and meetings using it always get psychological safety right. But I can say those meetings that have foundation of information organizing structures in place are the more attractive in this respect, and its members who use them attract my respect.
This brings to mind one final kind of meeting with something to say on the matter. I sat in on a choir rehearsal where the director was teaching 5-7th graders, who had only just met to sing together three days ago, about the importance of what they were creating together. “Excellence,” she said, “the excellence and hard work that you bring as you sing together has the power to touch someone in the audience and change lives”. I had nearly forgotten this truth from my past musical experiences. This reminder of how our actions can impact others set me up to experience that concert, and even my library meetings, in new ways. Perhaps it really is just a matter of paying closer attention to our craft — the organizing and the service — with each other.
See also: Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly,44(2), 350-383. doi:10.2307/2666999
This semester I’ve been working on an article sharing the results of the research I did while on sabbatical last year. I was interested in how undergraduates access and complete (or don’t complete) their course reading, and I interviewed students at three colleges in my urban public university to learn about their experiences. My interest in this topic is multifaceted: I’m interested both as a librarian at a library that offers (some) textbooks on reserve for students and has a robust OER initiative underway, and also as a teacher who wonders why students don’t always complete the reading in courses I’ve taught, and also as a faculty member who hears similar questions about reading completion from my colleagues on campus (and honestly? also a little bit as parent of a junior in high school who’s starting to think about college).
This topic, like most of the research that most interests me, is interdisciplinary. While it’s library and information science-relevant it’s not solely relevant to LIS; it’s educational research but I don’t have a degree (at any level) in education, and folks who work in student or academic support services might find it of interest, too. As I gather and update sources in my literature review, initially compiled almost two years ago when I prepared my sabbatical application, I’m also thinking about where to submit the article. What journal should I aim for? Where’s the best home for this work?
Interdisciplinary research is interesting if challenging. I find that it stretches my brain in lots of ways — my lack of prior knowledge of the scholars and journals outside of LIS and a few other fields can make it hard to find sources, though as a librarian with a public services background my instruction/reference skills are helpful. Even so, sometimes finding keywords to describe a topic outside of my expertise is a puzzle. We academics love our jargon, and jargon often differs between fields even when describing the same subject or topic (information literacy, anyone?). Spoiler alert: our students recognize this as a barrier, too — during my interviews I often heard that students sometimes struggled with the reading in general education courses outside their majors and felt that their instructors assumed prior knowledge of the topic that students did not have.
I’m also finding it challenging to find open access journals that fit my interdisciplinary leanings. At this point I’m tenured and not aiming for another promotion, and I’m even more committed to publishing only in open access journals. Open access coverage is highly variable between fields, still. I’ve become so spoiled by the wide range of OA journals in LIS that I’m somewhat shocked when looking for journals in other disciplines. There are lots of fantastic OA options in LIS, but that’s not always the case in other disciplines.
In recent years I’ve begun to wonder whether the journal itself isn’t somewhat of a dinosaur, at least for interdisciplinary work. I use Twitter plus uploading to my university’s institutional repository as my primary means of self-promotion, hoping that the range of scholars who I follow and am followed by will help my work get to anyone who might be interested in it, both inside and outside LIS. In my own research process I rarely read entire issues of scholarly journals anymore, or even table of contents updates, with a few exceptions (that include those journals I regularly peer review for). A journal can be and represent a disciplinary community, but must it always be? There are multiple means of discovery — our usual library databases, social media, the various search engines — for scholarly articles. Is the journal as container for research still the best model, especially if it can’t easily accommodate research that doesn’t fit neatly into disciplinary categories?
ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Siân Evans, Information Literacy & Instructional Design Librarian at Maryland Institute College of Art.
“One of the hardest things to admit is that you’re not doing okay. We want to be always glowing and effusive, charming and graceful but most of us hide little pits of darkness, ever growing and receding, in our guts.” – A thing I wrote when I was 27, in a collection of essays called “Built to Last: A collection of essays on sex, love, and feminism that I liberated from my ex-boyfriend’s blog,” published by D.I.Y feminist press, Pilot Press
“I don’t know how to be. I don’t know if I’m a librarian, a career that feels like a calling to most. Librarian with a capital L. I’m not sure if I really like helping people that much.” – A thing I wrote in my journal when I was 32, in 2015.
What is the relationship between these two things I wrote? I’m going to admit, right off the bat, that I’m not entirely sure. But, given that I’m writing an essay about mental illness and gendered affective labor, I’m going to take a cue from a gorgeous memoir written by an acquaintance of mine, and explore these things that weave in and out of each other for me all at once in a messy (but perhaps radical?) way.
And that’s the thing about feelings and what we call them, they’re messy at best. In The Glass Eye, Jeannie Vanasco explores her various diagnoses and self-diagnoses, musing on how they often seemed wrong or even arbitrary. I’ve been diagnosed as moderately depressed and, in one case, a psychiatrist made an offhand, confusing but ultimately unexamined comment about the potential of borderline personality disorder.* I tend to side with a Foucauldian way of thinking: that all diagnoses serve the function of classification and, ultimately, control; i.e. “reign in those pesky women and make them productive!” And, besides, what do diagnoses really mean outside of the meaning we give them?** Do they ultimately do justice to the feeling?
Thankfully I’m not the first to write publicly about mental illness in librarianship, nor the first to note the gendered component of depression and anxiety disorders. That is well-documented. But I do think these are conversations that we need to continue to have, as hard as they are. And, especially in higher education because, as Lisl Walsh has pointed out, academia is “irreparably ableist” when it comes to mental health.
Anecdotally, I also know this need for discussion to be true. Over a glass of wine with a librarian friend, I cautiously mentioned that I was working on a very personal essay about mental illness and library instruction. She responded, “I’m basically your target audience.” In a field of largely women, I imagine she’s not alone.
(Pink Collar Labor)
So two things happened to me at once: I participated in Veronica Arellano Douglas and Joanna Gadsby’s interview project on the gendered labor of library instruction coordination and I got really, really depressed. I’m not saying these two things are necessarily linked but I’m also not saying they’re not linked. As bell hooks points out, in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (and I’m paraphrasing horribly here): the moments in which you become aware of your own oppression and the oppression of others are often incredibly painful. And there’s no going back. The veil has been lifted. So, we read. And we learn from what others have said before.
I’ve been doing feminist work for maybe my whole life but was only introduced to the concept of “pink collar labor,” “affective labor” or “emotional labor” (oppression has many names!) in 2014, when I co-organized a series of speculative conversations at a DIY feminist gallery space in Brooklyn.*** I was aware of the genesis of the term, of The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s seminal work on flight attendants and bill collectors. I knew what it meant: that in absorbing other people’s emotions while suppressing your own for the benefit of an employer, you’re doing an invisible form of labor that is affective or emotional, and largely gendered (hence “pink”). But I hadn’t thought much about how it might affect me.
So I read more.
In reading one of the most canonical (if we can even use that term for such a niche field of study) articles on emotional labor in librarianship, I was struck by two things: (1) feelings and (2) names. The study describes the emotions expressed by librarians in reaction to the teaching experience as “ranging from joy and satisfaction […] to feelings of misery” (emphasis my own). I found myself coding the names of the pseudonymous librarians interviewed by whether or not they made positive or negative comments about their own teaching:
Steve and John, it seemed, were thoroughly impressed with themselves. While Kerri, Melissa, Amy, Colleen, Fran and Sandra had mixed feelings.**** I know that students’ reactions to teachers are often gendered, which may also account for these highly critical self perceptions because when you’re repeatedly told you’re not as good, of course you don’t feel all that good. And I also know that impostor syndrome in librarianship is real…
But I couldn’t help but draw loose mental connections between the statistics on women’s mental health and the affective labor of largely gendered professions, like librarianship, social work, nursing, and so on. But those threads are still so, so loose. And I’m not sure where they’ll lead me.
What I do want to explore is the potential for liberation. Always.
Emily Drabinski and Karen P. Nicholson have both written about the connections between the capitalist commodification of time and how the genesis of the term “information literacy” is rooted in neoliberal ideals of the university as a space of production. Nicholson, in particular, argues for an adoption of the principle of feminist slow scholarship to challenge this:
“Slow scholarship — which applies to academic work in the broad sense to include teaching, research, and service — resists the accelerated, fragmented time of the neoliberal university, along with its audit culture, intensified work order, and ‘fast, take-way, virtual, globalized, download/uptake’ pedagogies. Feminist slow scholarship seeks to re-envision the university itself by challenging structures of power and inequality and calling attention to the value (and toil) of academic labor.” (p. 31)
So, back to the beginning. Back to feelings. In her take on surviving academia with mental illness, Walsh writes “Do I even have the right to write this story? is a voice in my head today, as I think about what I need to be doing on a Sunday morning to prepare for Monday…” Simply getting out of bed, reading an email, writing a sentence, let alone teaching can be a struggle for those of us who experience varying degrees of mental illness. When my friend Veronica interviewed me for her project, I told her it felt cathartic. I didn’t realize just how wrong it had felt to admit that teaching took almost everything out of me sometimes, that students’ blank stares, colleagues’ insinuations that my feminist, critical pedagogical methods were futile, and just the sheer number of instruction sessions (57, roughly 50% of all instruction this semester) may precipitate bouts of depression.
What kind of liberation is possible? Critical pedagogy asks us to be vulnerable with our students, but what if we already feel so very vulnerable, as if some imaginary membrane between us and the world barely exists? Where is the space for a radical, open vulnerability in the increasingly neoliberal academic landscape? Walsh’s suggestions for what inclusivity for academics could look like line up perfectly with the premise of slow scholarship. The one that stuck with me the most is simply acknowledging that academics (and librarians) with disabilities (of all kinds) exist. In meetings, in the classroom, in daily conversation. For me, this has involved being open about my feelings. It has also involved being intentional about making space for reflection as part of my teaching praxis, and demanding that that space be recognized as what it is: labor.
In other words, more of this. And more of this.***** Taking the time.
**This is not to deny the usefulness of psychiatric medicine and of diagnoses (I benefit greatly from my access to mental health care), but rather to highlight that it is not a linear path from the (imaginary) Dark Ages to now but rather a complex social history that is peppered with scientific advances but also informed by patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and many other structures of domination. There’s SO much written on this, but you can start with Foucault!
***Epic thanks to my love Jacqueline Mabey for sharing her curatorial genius with me and to shero Kate Bahn for introducing me to this concept and for continuing to be the radical, feminist, punk rock economist and wonderful friend that she is.
****Note that this is not a quantitative study but just my initial reaction to reading the article. Of course, we cannot assume gender based on name (look at mine!), nor can we assume that the authors selected names that corresponded with the gender identity of the participants.
*****But does this boss really care about her or just care about her productivity? Do any of under late stage capitalism? Damn the man! 😉