Pulling back the curtain: Conversations about process and information literacy

My colleague Kate Morgan and I developed a series of panel discussions this past year that we called “From Concept to Creation: Uncovering the Making of Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments.” We invited campus faculty and staff to select a piece of research or creative work and discuss some aspects of its making. By sharing a behind-the-scenes look at their work, we hoped panelists would reveal their steps and stages, as well as the skills, habits, and attitudes that were important to their processes. By increasing the transparency of their works’ component parts, we aimed to help faculty and students recognize and discuss the role of information literacy and digital literacy in research and creative experiences. We also hoped that uncovering process would make research feel more approachable for our students. This idea germinated from a seed I first explored in this post a few years ago.

In our planning meetings with panelists, we shared some questions like the following to help them prepare their remarks:

  • How did you ask questions?
  • How did you identify a path for your research?
  • How did you validate and support your ideas?
  • How did you engage with other scholars’ work?
  • How did your work change course during the process?
  • What attitudes were important to your process?
  • What skills and tools were key to your process?
  • How did you draw conclusions?
  • What were your hesitations, fears, and missteps? How did you manage/overcome them?

I find it interesting that many of the panelists chose to share stories related to their professional paths rather than discrete projects. They talked about their early and adult life experiences, their undergraduate experiences, and their transitions to graduate school. While panelists spoke less about research strategies and tools than I had originally imagined, they spoke more about choices they made, attitudes they cultivated, and about how personal and professional interests and choices cross-pollinated. In so doing, they illustrated skills, practices, and attitudes key to information literacy development such as: how they came to understand authority and develop expertise; affective aspects of their research and writing processes; how they negotiated ambiguity, formulated questions, and synthesized ideas; and how they honed mindsets for curiosity, inquiry, and reflection.

I’m excited by the success we had with this first iteration: attendance at each session was high, the audiences were engaged, and conversations buzzed in hallways and offices well after the sessions ended. I believe that by engaging students, faculty, and staff in conversations about inner workings and rough edges, this series took a productive step toward transforming our perspectives on how we participate and create. Yet, I’m left wondering if the centrality of information literacy in the series was quite so apparent to everyone as it was to me. Did we truly pull back the curtain in such a way as to build a shared understanding of those oh-so-foundational information literacy skills, behaviors, and concepts?

So as we look ahead to the next iteration of this program for the coming academic year, I’m thinking about some of the goals at the heart of this series, particularly our goal to broaden our campus community’s awareness of the scope and nature of information literacy as well as the library’s role as a partner in teaching and learning processes. I’m reflecting on how information literacy is so closely intertwined with critical thinking, metacognition, and a growth, rather than fixed, mindset. And I’m reflecting on how I can better uncover the relationship between these inherently linked strands and how to make my thinking and my process more transparent for others.

How do you talk about process and information literacy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Quiet Solidarity of National Coming Out Day Through Queer Storytelling and Coffee

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Adrianna Martinez, Reference and Instruction Librarian at New York Institute of Technology.

In the Fall of 2018, I started my first full time librarian position. I work at New York Institute of Technology in Long Island, and I hold the position of reference and instruction librarian. As a queer latinx woman of color, I was (and am still) thrilled to work with such a diverse group of students. The students here are a mix of locals and international students. They come from different economic backgrounds, ethnicity, religious affiliations, and primary languages. I wanted to introduce myself to the NYIT community with instruction and programming that made my approach to academic librarianship clear: to elevate and support underrepresented voices with approachable and critical pedagogy. I want to make the academic library a space that reflects and holds resources for the NYIT community as intellectual individuals, not just their program.

Key to this work is constantly reassessing my language and actions by a) greeting people at the reference desk with gender neutral language b) starting every interaction with my pronouns, and asking for others to do the same c) starting literacy instruction and workshops with a traditional territory acknowledgement.

These practices may seem small but make a great impact on inclusion for the entire community– they have resulted in positive feedback from students as well as an increased interest in research help. Yet, I felt that there was a more visible way to reach those students that have not attended an instruction session by me or stepped foot in the library, which made me think, how can I try to reach those students? One answer was creating space for different kinds of students to feel comfortable in, even if that space is only temporarily highlighted as specifically for them.

One group I wanted to advocate for inclusion in the library was queer folks. The LGBTQIA+ representation on campus was hard to find. For resources, events, even the club itself I found only a sprinkling of information. There was no queer resources page, no official website or office, only an email address to contact. A campus for higher education without visible queer representation can be dangerous, not only for those on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but all marginalized people on campus. In making one group seen, it opens the door for others to both see themselves reflected in their institutions and be active about wanting to be represented. The academic library can and should be a center for diverse support and inclusion to better serve its community, as well as motivate the rest of the institution to make change. In order to be a voice for marginalized folks on campus, I inquired about the PRIDE student group and administrative diversity initiatives. I already had an idea for an event that would draw attention to the unique experience of queer folks and wanted to include the community.

Student Life and some members of the PRIDE group relayed to me the reason for such an absence in queer life at NYIT. Safety was the main concern for these students. Some members were not out yet, and others had been harassed on campus, therefore they felt that it was safer to have a closed group. This method did, however, isolate those students not included in the closed group. With this knowledge, it was clear that the first event held by an entity that is not traditionally involved in outreach about inclusion. I needed to create an environment that was approachable for students concerned about outing, invite queer folks outside the group into a space of representation, as well as the general public to encourage allyship.

National Coming Out Day occurs every year in the United States on October 11. It was the perfect opportunity to host an event that created the environment the students appeared to be craving. Coming Out is an activity that can symbolize many modes of being. It exists for queer folks of all kinds and those that exist in the margins; talking about it recognizes those people that experience it without isolating them. For this day, I wanted to create a space on campus that was specifically queer for the entirety of the day.

Creating a temporary queer space in the library for this occasion extends beyond the duration of the event in that space. It shows that the library is a safe space for that community year round as well. The event was located behind a counter created in a pseudo-cafe area near vending machines and a microwave. The space was surrounded by small tables and couches, the most casual space in the library (an important note for not only accessibility but also for comfort and noise level). With such little public representation, an all-day event allowed for students to study in a queer centered environment on camps, something that does not happen often. A full day event that did not require myself to maintain needed to be visual and had to do with storytelling. Free to use tools, and accessible material were essential in the medium choice for this event. As a medium for storytelling, YouTube functioned perfectly. Projected from a mondopad the videos could play all day without issue.

People all over the world share their perspectives and experiences on YouTube. The dialogue about National Coming Out Day had to have individual experiences and perspectives at it’s center. To make this event as inclusive as possible, it needed to reflect culturally diverse experiences, from every part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. With this criteria in mind, I created a playlist of stories from the queer community from the material available on YouTube. The playlist was not only composed of queer material but also varying perspectives from allies.

Another element to the playlist was videos from the It Gets Better Project. In 15 minutes of sitting in the cafe drinking coffee one could encounter a video of four tips for coming out to your parents by the parent of a queer child, a video of individuals coming out to their immigrant parents, and a clip from the first National Coming Out Day celebrated on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In another 15 they could encounter a video explaining the concept of two spirit, a Buzzfeed video of individuals talking about how they felt before and after coming out, as well as someone talking about the similarities in coming out in the queer community and coming out in the disabled community. The mix of experiences and moments of high impact in American culture to do with the LGBTQIA+ community that a student may be discovering for the first time created an environment of curiosity for everyone involved.

My role after the playlist was set up for presentation was to invite people into discussion about coming out. To maintain a casual tone of the event, I made coffee for anyone that stopped by. If a student just wanted coffee, while the coffee brewed, I told students what the event was about, and if they knew what National Coming Out Day was celebrating. I would highlight information about the current video playing and allowed the student/s to direct the conversation. Some students discussed in brief their own coming out story, or asked questions which I answered on an individual level, and one even came out to me and we discussed in depth family dynamics and whether he would feel comfortable coming out to them, or if he wanted to stay in the closet until he felt more independent.

This kind of event has never been hosted by NYIT before, to build community in this way, especially not by a librarian, which makes this event significant not only for the queer community but for all marginalized groups. In entering the event space on October 11 students were exposing themselves to voices that had not been elevated on campus before. Whether they were getting an extra caffeine jolt, or working while quietly listening or even just heard about the event; this made an impact. It showed that the library space is for the entire NYIT community, and we as librarians are conscious that representation matters.

I felt the real impact after the event ended. The event sparked a trust among the queer students and myself. Some students would find me in the library to share with me their experiences on campus as queer folks. The planning and follow through of this event allowed me to have a platform show my support for the community even when they didn’t ask for it. In doing so, it built a trust between myself and the closed PRIDE group that benefits the entire NYIT community. I am now working with the PRIDE group to become their adviser.

As a member of the queer community, I am personally invested in supporting the NYIT LGBTQIA+ folks during my time here. However, one does not need to be a part of a marginalized group in order to support them in a forward facing way. This kind of event does not require a lot of materials or space. Especially in a reference and instruction there are simple steps that one can take in order to make students feel visible. Solidarity and representation is happening on many fronts of librarianship: from the reimagining of knowledge organization systems, to archival work, but there is more to be done, especially on the fronts of outreach and instruction at the academic level. The process of inquiring about an underrepresented group can be an act of advocacy. Communities change through allyship and conversation.

An academic library can exist as many things, including a center for reflection and self growth, not just scholarly thought. If underrepresented populations are not placed into these spaces, it is a disservice to the community. This is just one example of a way that outreach at an academic level can exist that strengthens the queer community. In the upcoming months I will be bolstering the library’s collection in order to fill in the intellectual gaps here, as well as creating a library guide about LGBTQIA+ resources through the library and beyond. This is only the beginning of my time at NYIT, but it is not the beginning of this train of thought. On a commuter campus like NYIT it is hard to make an impact that leaves an impression of what someone can get out of the library; adding queer solidarity and acceptance to that list may motivate more students to seek them out.

Weaving It Together

Image from "Technology of textile design. Being a practical treatise on the construction and application of weaves for all textile fabrics, with minute reference to the latest inventions for weaving" by E.A. Posselt is in the public domain. Courtesy of the Internet Archive via Flickr.
Image from “Technology of textile design. Being a practical treatise on the construction and application of weaves for all textile fabrics, with minute reference to the latest inventions for weaving” by E.A. Posselt (1899) is in the public domain. Courtesy of the Internet Archive via Flickr.

I recently finished writing my narrative statement for my second year tenure review file. It felt like pulling teeth. The statement required me to weave together the aspects of my work as well as my research and service to tell a meaningful personal story about my professional purpose and goals. The other sections of the file–the description of accomplishments, presentations and publications, committee work, etc.–were a piece of cake by comparison. I’m not sure why the statement felt quite so difficult, but, boy, did it ever.

All my teeth-gnashing about my narrative statement made me think about a program I developed with colleagues this semester, a series of panel discussions that we called “From Concept to Creation: Uncovering the Making of Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments.” We developed this program in order to celebrate the work of our faculty and staff. Even more importantly, though, the idea for this series grew out of a desire to share stories within our campus community about how we engage in research and creative work. We wanted to host conversations about process, not just product. In sharing a behind-the-scenes look at their work, we were hoping panelists would reveal their steps and stages, but also the information literacy and digital literacy skills, habits, and attitudes that were important to each project. I was excited about the potential of this panel series because I think uncovering process is not just interesting, but empowering. And by increasing the transparency of their component parts, we hoped these kinds of research experiences might feel more approachable to our students.

In conversations with panelists as we prepared for the series, we offered guiding questions they might consider as they prepared their remarks like the following: How did you take your first steps?, How did you ask questions?, How did you identify a path for your research?, How did you engage with other scholars’ work on the topic to develop your own?, How did your work change course during the process?, What attitudes were important to your process?, What skills and tools were key to your process?, How did you gather/organize/analyze data?, How did you draw conclusions?, and What did you learn along the way?.

I had imagined panelists would likely select a particular publication or project and discuss some aspects of its development. Instead, most chose to talk about their undergraduate experiences and their entry into graduate work or their field. Panelists described choices they made, challenges they encountered, and how their paths changed over time. Embedded in each of their stories, too, were practices and perspectives related to information literacy that seemed to me to have been crucial to their process.

What strikes me most now, though, is how each panelist interpreted the program theme and the guiding questions and how they chose to tell the story of their work. When my collaborator and I asked our colleagues to talk about their research processes, I didn’t give much thought to how personal their stories might be. As I reflect on the difficulty I felt in drafting my narrative statement, I’m thinking about the balance I, too, was trying to strike. I’m thinking now about how we weave together process and purpose, personal and professional to help focus and understand our work.