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! 

Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship

Towards the end of fall 2023, the STEM Librarian stepped down from her position at CSU Northridge. Throughout her tenure, she covered liaison duties that spanned across many Science and Engineering departments. I heard about this news during a monthly department meeting. Our department chair requested support and asked us to reach out if interested in taking over the STEM liaison roles. Despite the fact that I have an academic background in the Humanities and Social Sciences, I recognized the urgency of the situation and offered my support. In the spirit of camaraderie, I contacted my chair and volunteered to help. Soon after, I was assigned to be the liaison for the single department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, which includes library instruction and collection development responsibilities.

When I started at CSU Northridge, I was initially assigned to be the Central American & Transborder Studies liaison. Due to my background in Ethnic Studies, particularly Chicana/o Studies and Latina/o Studies, I felt quite comfortable with this assignment. I felt at home as I taught information literacy sessions, facilitated research consultations, and performed my bibliographer duties for the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. It wasn’t until I became the liaison to Chemistry & Biochemistry that I began to feel like I was navigating an uncharted path.

Recently, I had to select publications to update the collection for Chemistry & Biochemistry. Since it was my first time performing my collection development duties for this department, I was out of my depth. As a liaison librarian, I must meet 3 important collection development deadlines throughout the academic school year. Just over a week ago, I met the second deadline and I spent 75% of all available funds. To be frank, this was easier said than done for an early career librarian without a STEM background. For more support, I reached out to several librarians in the Collection Access and Management Services (CAMS) department. Although I was already diving into book reviews and book spotlights offered by professional associations, I realized that I needed more guidance. As a result of my colleagues’ mentorship, I learned about ALMA analytics and I discovered how to search for slips in Gobi. These lessons allowed me to finalize my selections for Chemistry & Biochemistry.

As for library instruction, the fall semester will start tomorrow, so I have not taught any information literary sessions for Chemistry & Biochemistry. However, I already received 3 instruction requests from a professor teaching CHEM 464L – Principles of Biochemistry. To prepare, I have been exploring the already established CHEM 464L LibGuide. So far, I have set my focus on current topics and the American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style. Additionally, I intend to contact the former Science and Engineering Librarian with the hopes that she will be open to sharing her Google Slides, instructional handouts, and/or other resources. My intention is to learn as much as possible to help students locate the proper library resources. While I recognize that I have immersed myself into a completely different academic discipline, I am reassured by own professional experience, particularly my 10-year trajectory as an educator.  I am learning to trust the process, so that I may rely on my own skillset, which includes teaching topics like keyword selection, information evaluation, citation practices, and database search mechanics.

As I wrap up this blog post, I would like to encourage other liaison librarians to please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience. What were some of your approaches? How did you become familiarized with your new role? I would definitely appreciate guidance as I continue to dive into science liaison librarianship.

A First Year Academic Librarian’s Teaching Journey

For this blog post, I decided to document my teaching journey so far as a first-year academic librarian. Before I secured my current position as a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN) in July 2023, I had already been an educator for over ten years. My teaching background was instrumental as I transitioned into my current position. I already had experience teaching (and learning from) scholars of diverse backgrounds, such as, students of color, first generation students, parenting students, neurodiverse students, and students of various age groups. For instance, I had gained valuable experience as a Library Intern at East Los Angeles College where I taught information literacy and research sessions for various disciplines. While my past experiences provided a strong foundation for my current line of work, I still underwent a learning curve.

Before I started teaching my own sessions, I was quite intentional about shadowing experienced academic librarians. Throughout summer and fall of 2023, I observed several sessions conducted by 3 different academic librarians. As the new librarian, who had not yet developed any professional relationships at CSUN, I found this process to be a bit awkward. While I recommend that early career librarians take this step, it is important to tread carefully. Due to heavy workloads, not all librarians feel comfortable with taking on the responsibility of mentoring early career librarians. If you sense hesitation, move on and ask someone else. In my case, my colleagues were quite gracious and offered a helping hand. They shared resources like PowerPoint presentations and library handouts that eventually became part of my own toolkit. Observing a few librarians allowed me to learn about different teaching styles, pedagogical practices as well as active learning strategies.

Early in the fall semester, I began to receive instruction requests from faculty members teaching English, Central American & Transborder Studies and University 100 courses. For each session, I prepared extensively and tailored the session to the instructor’s specific assignment (i.e., annotated bibliography, persuasive essay, research paper, or group project). With each session, I became more confident in my ability to teach students how to use the library’s resources. During the last week of October, my chair observed one of my sessions. Admittedly, I was very nervous and this feeling became amplified when the course instructor spontaneously asked me to showcase a database that I was not familiar with at all. Despite a few hiccups, I thought the session went well.

When I received my observation letter, I was relieved since my chair highlighted many of my strengths. She also offered fair feedback. I was encouraged to pause more often and call for questions. Because each session runs for an hour and 15 minutes, I struggle with incorporating more time for student engagement. Time goes by so quickly and there’s so much to cover. After I received my chair’s observation letter, I began to ask myself: How can I be more intentional about engaging students? As suggested, I started to weave in more “check-in” questions throughout my sessions. Once I integrated more time for questions, I still felt unsatisfied and I knew there was room for improvement.

Surprisingly, the answer came to me last week during a Zoom breakout session. I am currently enrolled in a course called Equity Minded Pedagogy, which is offered by the CSU Chancellor’s office. During a conversation with a course facilitator, we discussed the impact of co-creation. Together, we thought about ways to collaborate with students in order to create more equitable and inclusive learning environments. I disclosed that as a first-year academic librarian, I rely heavily on my script and I need to incorporate more ways to engage students. Prior to each session, I develop keywords, select the most suitable databases, and test links. This serves as the preliminary work for my live OneSearch demonstration. However, I realized that my seemingly flawless demonstration could mislead students. It’s critical for students to witness the messy process of trial and error that is inherent to the search experience.

As I came to this realization, the course facilitator referred me to Dr. Brene Brown’s TED Talk. This video expanded my perception about the importance of embracing vulnerability. By facing uncertainty and imperfection, I may create a space to authentically connect with students because as Dr. Brown mentions, “for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” Moving forward, I intend to centralize student engagement by asking for volunteers, brainstorming keywords with the entire class, and relinquishing control. Along the way, students will notice broken links or unsuccessful searches. My hope is that students will value our shared experience, create a sense of belonging, and muster the courage to be imperfect in a vulnerable world.

The Adventures of a Zillennial Librarian

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve attended a few library webinars focused on Generation Z out of my own curiosity. For full transparency, I am a fairly young librarian; I took one gap year in between undergrad and library school. I’m in that liminal space of not quite a millennial, not quite Generation Z (I’ve seen it referred to as a “zillennial”). My birth year has been in both generational cutoffs, depending on who you ask. I often relate to the experiences and outlooks of both of the generations. I still get mistaken as a student, and I am indeed on TikTok like a lot of the typical college-age students I teach.  

I felt particularly “Gen Z” in a research consultation I just had with one of my Environmental Studies students. She needed some legislation from the 80s and 90s, and my state’s government website only has the most recent version. My library is a government repository; we have a specific government documents section of our stacks. Was that the first place I went? Nope. I scoured many a website, and eventually did find the 1989 version we were looking for in the appendix of a 1993 thesis from the University of Montana. Thank goodness for OCR, searchable full text, and institutional repositories!

We did, however, have it in our Maryland Register up in the stacks. This allowed us to find the date it was proposed and the date it was passed, for both versions of the law (and cite it properly!). This consultation got me thinking though about my instincts as a librarian, and how my world experiences and generation relate to the way I go about finding information, even after being trained in it for my master’s degree. Looking in the physical collection is only a thought after I exhaust all of my online searching techniques.  I, and I’d wager to guess many of my students, prefer the ease of finding and reading something online. Although I had dial-up internet for perhaps longer than most folks (I had a version of it until about 2013 or so? Living in the middle of nowhere problems), the internet in general was a big part of growing up and learning how to research. Yes, I love a physical book as much as the next person – but I’m talking more about answering my own questions or doing research. In a webinar on Gen Z by ASERL recently, it was said that “[Gen Z is] so used to finding what they need on their own.” I heavily relate to this. My first impulse is to pull out my phone and perform a Google search; I’m sure this is the case for many now, regardless of generation.  

Another difference I’ve noticed in being a young librarian is that I actively encourage the use of Google Scholar (and actually use it myself). I have attended library sessions before where it is discouraged or interacted with faculty that do not want students using it. I personally find that it is a good steppingstone from performing regular Google searches to getting right into an academic database that might look completely foreign to them. They can still use natural language in Google Scholar and get some relevant results, but they get better ones when we as information professionals introduce them to Booleans and other strategies. It’s also been really useful if a student has too broad of a topic – searching in Google Scholar allows them to see all sorts of discipline conversations about a topic, and how other academics have narrowed things down. They can choose which pathway they’d like to explore further, and once they have a good research question and keywords to try, we can get into the library databases, all the while talking about the differences between Google Scholar and Academic Search Ultimate. The “Cited by” function has also been invaluable in teaching students about the academic conversation as a concept too.  

Another aspect of Gen Z from the ASERL webinar I attended is that despite being constantly online, we generally prefer face-to-face communication. In my personal experience, this preference is heightened due to the pandemic when face-to-face wasn’t even an option. I will take any and all other forms of communication over a phone call, though; I’m not sure that’s necessarily attributable to being Gen Z, but more of an “Emily” thing. The reason is because I can’t read the other person’s body language or facial expressions. You might now ask, Emily, you also can’t do that when it comes to chat, text, and email? But the difference is there isn’t an expectation to immediately respond – I can have a moment to really take in the other person’s words and consider my response.  

As an example for face-to-face communication in my workplace and work life, I would much rather go down to my colleague’s office and ask them my question as opposed to emailing. This is partly due to our collective open-door policy, but for some reason, emailing feels overly formal to me in a lot of cases. If that isn’t an option, I might send the message over Slack. Of course, if it’s important to have some sort of paper trail, I’ll gladly email – it is very helpful to have a record of what a professor and I talked about when I’m preparing the lesson plan, for instance. If my email data scarf had been expanded to all kinds of work communication, I’d be interested in how the percentages broke down! Perhaps that should be my next data project.

These are just a few things I’ve been thinking about as a strange middle-ground zillennial librarian lately, especially since that research consultation. I am endlessly fascinated by generational research as a whole, so if you’ve got any thoughts, please comment them down below.  

Building Community through Inclusive Research Guides  

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Nery Alcivar-Estrella, Reference and Instruction Librarian at California State University, Northridge, as a new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger for the 2023-2024 year here at ACRLog.

As a first year Academic Librarian, I have become immersed in a project at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN) with Lisa Cheby, the Education Librarian, and Yi Ding, the Online Instruction Coordinator & Director of Affordable Learning Solutions. We have embarked on a CSU-wide effort inspired by the LibGuides Open Review Discussion Sessions also known as the LORDS Project, which was originally created by Cal Poly. My team and I use rubrics and frameworks from the CSU Wide Toolkit provided by the LORDS team at Cal Poly. Our own version, entitled Engaging Diverse Voices through Research & Resources, will help students research the perspectives of marginalized communities. It will provide students with jumping-off points like search strategies, databases, theoretical and methodological frameworks, community resources as well as reading recommendations to help them diversify their research. Students researching one or more forms of oppression, whether that’s sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, religious persecution, or linguistic discrimination would benefit greatly from using our LibGuide. The tabs located on the right side of the LibGuide have been organized by communities or identities that have been systemically excluded by academic institutions.

As a community of librarians and scholars, we must challenge traditional research practices and encourage critical reflection, particularly as it relates to referencing methods. Typically, academic librarians work with professors and instructors, who require students to cite scholarly or peer reviewed journal articles. Subsequently, many academic librarians have established a conventional way of approaching information literacy and research instruction. However, we must not oversee the importance of recognizing and uplifting different forms of authority. Because of institutionalized discrimination and systemic oppression within predominantly White, research-intensive institutions, publishing processes must be critically examined. As noted in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, “Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations.” In this way, academic librarians may help students identify not only traditional authorities like peer-reviewed journal articles, but also alternative sources of information like blogs or podcasts. Our LibGuide, Engaging Diverse Voices through Research & Resources, will raise awareness about inclusive academic processes and citational justice.

In our LibGuide, Lisa Cheby will cover the section about citational justice and she will discuss its current role in research and scholarship. She asks, “How are we decentering, decolonizing, diversifying research practices?” With these questions in mind, we developed our LibGuide with the intention of fostering and supporting campus-wide discussions about inclusive research practices. We hope that our suggested readings and tools about citational justice will encourage educators and students from various disciplines to implement this practice into their own scholarship. Citational justice involves a critical awareness about who we are citing and why. Rather than just locating bibliographic information, citational justice involves a commitment to diverse perspectives and schools of thought. This includes questioning our own biases, learning about the identities of cited scholars, and embracing marginalized voices into our scholarly conversations.

As I begin my career as a Reference & Instruction Librarian, I have come to recognize the importance of digital learning objects. Since more students are becoming distant or hybrid learners, it is critical to provide various points of access, which includes online resources centered on inclusive research practices. Although our CSUN LibGuide will not be officially published until spring 2024, I will share our work-in-progress. Please feel free to explore our work and consider implementing a similar research guide at your own college or university.