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.

More on Purdue University and the “Learning Library”

Earlier, we noted the announcement of the creation of an Endowed Chair in Information Literacy at Purdue University. Today, the Career section in the Chronicle notes the opening of a new administrative position in the Purdue University Libraries with the search for an Associate Dean for Learning. Here (in good “Google” fashion) is a snippet from the posting:

“The Purdue University Libraries have embarked upon a dynamic new role within the University, emphasizing a closer integration of the Libraries into the academic mission of Purdue. An administrative re-structuring of the Libraries supports this new direction through the creation of this position, Associate Dean for Learning . . . . Greater emphasis is being placed on advancing the Libraries’ reference and information literacy instruction program, using multiple approaches (in-person and virtual, one-on-one and classroom settings) to integrate active learning throughout the University curriculum along with expanding and deepening the research/discovery efforts of the Libraries’ faculty. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/

As someone with an interest in instruction who has served as an AD for Public Services, I have watched the recent appearance of learning-centered administrative positions with great interest (see also the ongoing search for an Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives at Berkeley). To me, the creation of such positions (if they truly are focused on articulating and enhancing the role of the academic library as an instructional center on campus) suggests a level of recognition for the teaching role that is new and (for people like me) very exciting. What do people think when they see these positions being created: new focus for the profession, or old wine in new bottles?

And, while a 2-time degree-holder from Indiana University like me is hard-pressed to say it, kudos to Purdue for pushing the envelope and getting us to ask real questions about what it means to integrate a commitment to teaching and learning (in the libraries and across campus) into the core mission of the academic library, as represented by the commitment of human resources and representation at the highest administrative levels.

Come On In And Enjoy The Posts

I hope this visit will be your first of many to ACRLog. A team of dedicated individuals has been working hard the last few months to bring this blog to life. ACRLog is the latest addition to several ALA Divisional blogs. Both the ACRL Board and the members of the blog team are proud to offer a blog devoted to the interests, needs, and concerns of academic and research librarians. I have been blogging for almost two years over at Kept-Up Academic Librarian. Kept-Up helps academic librarians “keep up” with news and developments in higher education . I’m looking forward to this opportunity to share my thoughts about and insights into many of the issues covered at Kept-Up. I invite you to do five things.

1. Read “Why an ACRL Blog” on our page as it explains how this blog evolved, why we think it has value, and what we hope to accomplish here.
2. Read “About ACRLog” which provides the mission statement of this blog.
3. Read “Who We Are” to learn more about the blog team members.
4. Read the posts added by the blog team over the past few weeks – go back into the archives for September and October. I think you will like what you see. It will give you a feel for what you can expect in the future
5. If you do like what you see, or just want to give us a try for the next few weeks, subscribe to ACRLog in your news aggregator so you can enjoy our regular posts. If you have yet to explore RSS technology and the benefits of news aggregators, now is a great time to get started. You can find more information and tutorials on everything you need to know to subscribe to ACRLog at this page.

ACRLog is just in the crawl stage. We will be evolving and growing over the next months. The blog team invites you to join us in shaping our development. We hope to hear from you by way of comments to posts or contact the bloggers directly with your thoughts and suggestions. This is your blog. We hope you enjoy it.

What Does This Blockbuster Merger Mean for Academic Libraries

The biggest news in higher education yesterday, at least in the technology sector, was the merger of Blackboard and WebCT. It seems the impact on academic libraries will be far less than on our colleagues in IT who, to a greater extent, will be dealing with the cascading consequences of the merger. There is no immediate impact as all of the merged company’s products and platforms will be maintained. For academic librarians who are actively involved in their campus courseware at some level, and I hope this is the case at a growing number of institutions, particularly at the administrative and support levels, the eventual impact may be more significant especially for those at WebCT institutions. It’s a merger but it appears the new company will be called Blackboard and I would expect that the products and resouces supplied by WebCT will eventually diminish, perhaps even more so than for customers of Dynix after the creation of SirsiDynix – at least this one keeps the Dynix name intact. One common element in these mergers: all the companies say “the merged company will give customers the best features of both products, no matter which system you own now.” That sounds great but can they deliver? Or will this elimination of one more competitor allow the new company to grow more powerful, eliminate smaller competitors (as Blackboard has done in the past through outright purchases), and ultimately raise product costs? The Blackboard discussion lists (and I imagine those for WebCT folks as well) were abuzz with speculation on the meaning of and potential outcomes of the merger. One comment got me thinking though. The writer said, “These guys must really be worried about Moodle.” If you’re not familiar with it Moodle is an open source courseware system. It initially was used more heavily in K-12 settings, but in the last year more IHEs (institutions of higher education) started using it as well – primarily to save money (well there is that argument that open source has its costs too) but also to escape the bureaucracy and control of behemoth system vendors. This leads me to look at our own library automation systems industry and ask why no open source solution has evolved. There is certainly no dearth of OPAC complainers. You have Andrew Pace (OPACs suck), and Roy Tennant (You Can’t Put Lipstick on a Pig) writing and presenting about the need for change (more simplicity) in the OPAC world. I can appreciate their arguments for a simpler OPAC (not to mention the rest of the system) but other then present their arguments, neither has much in the way of suggestions nor have they sparked a movement among librarians or the automation vendors to do anything about the situation. I’m not criticizing Andrew or Roy, after all, someone needs to at least start the ball rolling. But what’s not happening is any development, coming from within our profession, on an open source library automation system. I am not sure why that is, but I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps these systems are far too complicated for someone to step up and create an open source version (you mean courseware systems are not that complicated – right!). Is it possible that because we’re not IT folks we lack the programming knowledge needed to create an open source library automation system? Perhaps to do something of this sort requires extensive organization and some financial support from IHEs (think the SAKAI project). Heck, with all of our associations and networks we’re so overly organized almost nothing happens in our world without some sort of inter-organizational collaboration. You’d think we could get organized over this issue. I suppose these are all possibilities for why we will continue to complain about our automation systems, but the vendors will continue to hold us over a barrel and give us products that too frequently do not work for us or our user communities. Perhaps the number one barrier is organizational support. Until our parent institutions truly understand the extent to which our libraries are dependent on these systems, until they truly recognize how deeply these systems impact each and every student, and until they are willing to provide the financial and human resources to create a coalition effort to develop an open source solution, I don’t think much will happen and we’ll all just continue to complain and hear compaints from folks like Andrew and Roy. I can only imagine what might be happening in the library automation arena if we did have an open source alternative emerging as profoundly as Moodle has in the courseware marketplace. And what is even more amazing about Moodle – a lesson about open source that we must follow – is that it was simple enough for K-12 schools to implement. An open source automation system that requires a team of programmers to implement and support will be of use only to ARL libraries and their peers. I am looking forward to a talk next month at PALINET’s annual user conference. A good colleague, Gregg Silvis, the systems librarian at the University of Delaware, will be presenting about an intriguing topic, “The Impending Demise of the Local OPAC.” I will be interested in what Silvis has to say, and wonder if he’s been thinking about the potential of an open source library automation system.