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! 

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.

Scared, but In a Good Way: Navigating My First Few Weeks as an Academic Librarian

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Katie Kuipers, Assistant Professor and Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University, as a new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger for the 2023-2024 year here at ACRLog.

I spent the weeks following graduation in May as I imagine many graduates do: desperately applying for jobs.  With a Master of Library and Information Science degree in hand, I was eager to dive head-first into the world of professional librarianship.  As each rejection letter came, however, my excitement dwindled.  I decided to pivot my job search and focus on jobs that intrigued me rather than applying to any and every librarian job I found.  Although I had no experience working in an academic library, I took a course in grad school about the issues in the academic libraries and conducted research on first generation students and the information literacy skills of first-year students.  This led me to applying, interviewing, and accepting the job as the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University.

I packed my bags and excitedly moved from my home in North Dakota to St. Cloud, Minnesota.  A few weeks before the semester began, I received an email from the Dean asking if I would be interested in co-teaching a course for the fall and teaching it on my own for the spring.  Wanting to challenge myself, I replied that I could.  At St. Cloud State University, academic librarians are also faculty members.  Not only was I the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian, but I was an Assistant Professor for the University Library as well.  I had no idea what this would mean until I showed up for the new faculty orientation on campus. 

New faculty orientation overwhelmed me.  Suddenly, I was inundated with acronyms I was unfamiliar with like “P&T” (promotion and tenure) and “PDP” (professional development plan).  While other new faculty were finalizing their syllabi and drafting their assignments for the semester, I was feeling massively underprepared and began developing imposter syndrome.  I returned to campus the next day unsure of what lay ahead of me.  After receiving my workload from the Dean, I had a clearer picture of what was expected of me; however, I was scared that I was in over my head.  Along with teaching, I was tasked with creating affordability workshops, designing an online affordability course, and supporting faculty adopting, adapting, and creating OER, all of which was new to me.

Once I met my colleagues, I realized I had a wonderful support network right in front of me.  Over the past couple weeks, they have caught me up to speed on the status of the Affordability Initiative at the university, explained numerous acronyms, shared their professional development plans from previous years, and checked in with me to see if I have any questions as I navigate my role.  My co-professor generously offered to take the reins for the beginning half of the semester to allow me to observe her teaching style.  We have been collaborating on discussion questions and class activities to ease me into the course.  Along the way, I have been making notes to prepare myself for my own course next semester.  The department chair has been instrumental in my adjustment to the position.  She shares her teaching experiences and is patient with me as I learn how to tackle library instruction and research appointments, another aspect of my workload.  Overall, the department has reassured me that everything will be okay.  I will encounter bumps throughout the year, but that is to be expected of a librarian fresh out of grad school.

Even though I am only a few weeks into my position, I can see a lifelong career in academic librarianship.  I enjoy getting to know my students and want to help them succeed.  I am adapting to the workload and drafting ideas to implement throughout the year.  Thanks to my colleagues, the imposter syndrome is starting to subdue, and I am feeling more confident in my position.  Am I still scared?  Absolutely… but in a good way. 

Notes on a Banned Books Class

Last semester, I taught my first semester-long class at the community college where I work. Many community colleges offer both credit courses and classes that are for continuing education, workforce training, and recreation — my class was one of these, based on a class that a previous librarian taught.

That librarian presented a series of discussions of literary classics, largely ones that were banned in the 1960s-1980s. When I took over the class, I focused on recent examples of books that have been targeted by book challenges and bans, since that has been a relentless topic in the news. I selected most of my titles from the past few years of ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books lists. I had about 10 students, most of whom were older members of the community from the surrounding county.

I explained the difference between challenges and bans, and we looked at the landscape of book bans in the United States — where challenges take place (mainly school and public libraries) and who initiates them (until recently, individual and small groups of parents). We also discussed how the process to investigate challenges works in different types of libraries and the role that public comment and citizen advocacy can play in resisting book bans and other types of censorship.

Infographic from ALA's Censorship by the numbers
Censorship by the Numbers, ALA

By covering titles that are on current lists of challenged books, our conversation felt urgent and relevant to the lives of my students. We talked about the troubling trend of challenging books that feature LGBTQ+ characters or themes, as well as discussions of race and racism. 

Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools, PEN America

We began each class period with a discussion of each book’s themes and literary or storytelling merit. When it came time to evaluate the reasons each book was banned, students frequently found these book-ban objections to be cherry-picked and politically motivated.

Respectful debate is possible
In the first class period, we discussed “ground rules” for a civil exchange of ideas in this classroom. I was bracing myself for heated conversation, since we were reading books that addressed sensitive topics. But I found my students to be open-minded and respectful, and that spending time with these characters increased empathy and curiosity about different perspectives. It was gratifying to find that people in a small, safe environment were willing to be vulnerable and open with each other. 

It’s OK to over-prepare…
Like any first-time teacher, I over-prepared for this class for sure, but I quickly found a groove. I brought a lot of statistics (thanks to the incredibly detailed reports from PEN America and ALA), which helped contextualize specific examples from different school districts and public libraries in the US. I tried to resist the urge to enthusiastically “info-dump” or guide students toward the conclusions I was entering the classroom with. 

…but leave lots of room for where the conversation can go.
I remember for my first class, where we discussed Melissa by Alex Gino (a middle-grade novel about a transgender girl in 4th grade), I expected a lot of questions from my students about gender-affirming healthcare for children and adults. Instead, students honed in on the different types of allies in the book, and a rich discussion emerged on how to be a good ally and make spaces safer wherever we go.

When I first encountered Banned Books Week as a new librarian in 2015, book bans felt like a quaint, relatively nonthreatening relic of history to me. I remember making making simple book displays with imagery of fire or prison bars (lots of red and black construction paper), highlighting the “silly” reasons people challenge books. And I’ve heard critiques of Banned Books Week as being a complacent celebration of individual classics, that takes the focus away from the pressing issue of coordinated censorship attempts going on right now. PEN America’s Banned Books 2022 report sums it up well:

Many Americans may conceive of challenges to books in schools in terms of reactive parents, or those simply concerned after thumbing through a paperback in their child’s knapsack or hearing a surprising question about a novel raised by their child at the dinner table. However, the large majority of book bans underway today are not spontaneous, organic expressions of citizen concern. Rather, they reflect the work of a growing number of advocacy organizations that have made demanding censorship of certain books and ideas in schools part of their mission.

Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Ban Books

The banned books game has changed, and it’s more important now than ever for librarians and library users to be able to clearly articulate just what is so harmful about this phenomenon. Even in academia, where we are more confident in our academic freedom of speech, we need to be vigilant about the right to read. It’s an issue of democracy, diversity, and freedom for all of us.

I adapted this excellent Bookriot article into a one-page handout with specifics on how community members can resist book bans and other censorship attempts on a local level: Combating Censorship in Your Community. Please feel free to continue to adapt and share this resource if it is relevant to your academic library!

Reflecting on Seven Years of Librarianship

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now?: Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Ariana Santiago, Open Educational Resources Coordinator at the University of Houston.

Just over seven years ago, I began my career as an academic librarian. I also had the opportunity to write for the ACRLog First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. I’m so glad I did, because writing a monthly post motivated me to assess and reflect, and now I’m thankful that my old posts capture the unique experience of my first year on the job. So what have I been up to since then? And how have things changed?

Let’s start at the beginning

I started as the Residency Librarian for Undergraduate Services at the University of Iowa in August 2013. In my undergraduate services role, I focused on library outreach and information literacy instruction, and had a lot of flexibility to try things out so that I could make the most of my residency program. I got involved in campus committees, collaborated on outreach and programming events, was introduced to critical librarianship, and dove into learning about instructional design. I participated in professional development programs that had long lasting impacts on me, specifically ACRL Immersion: Intentional Teaching and the Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians from Traditionally Underrepresented Groups. I also dealt with uncertainty, knowing that I didn’t yet understand the full picture – of the library and university where I worked, and academia more broadly. I struggled with imposter syndrome, especially when it came to teaching, and hadn’t yet figured out how to ask for the help that I needed. I definitely didn’t have a long-term plan for my career, but I knew I wanted to improve and excel at what I was doing. 

Finding my niche with a side of burnout

After my residency, I moved to the University of Houston where I started as the Instruction Librarian in 2015. By this time I had gotten a lot more comfortable and confident with instruction, and really enjoyed not just being in the classroom and working with students, but the problem-solving nature of figuring out how to teach and engage students in different learning contexts. It was around this time that I started to realize my facilitation skills and that I really wanted to facilitate others’ success, whether through IL instruction, working with colleagues on their teaching, or leading a library project or committee. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was headed towards burnout. I got increasingly involved in professional service, started presenting and publishing as I prepared for eventual promotion, and was working on a second master’s degree (M.A. in Applied Learning and Instruction, which I completed in 2017), all the while maintaining a heavy teaching load. I think it’s safe to say I still hadn’t figured out how to ask for help, or even admit when I was struggling and needed help. 

Then in 2018, I got the opportunity to move into a new position at the University of Houston, and started as the Open Educational Resources (OER) Coordinator. I’ve read my fellow former FYAL’s posts and they all speak of the inspirations that shaped their career paths and landed them where they are today. For me, this part of my career trajectory was far less intentional. I had the opportunity to take on this position, though to be completely honest, at the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. But I took a chance, and I’m definitely glad that I did. 

Although an OER position wasn’t something I had been purposefully working towards, I’m now 2+ years into it and clearly see how this work builds on my previous experience and strengths. I’m contributing to improving teaching and learning by helping instructors incorporate OER into their courses, allowing students to have free and immediate access to course materials. I get to incorporate elements of instructional design and campus outreach, and there’s no shortage of problem-solving on a regular basis. I enjoy working closely with instructors to support them in reaching their instructional goals, and further facilitating student success. 

However, because I didn’t start with a strong background in OER, I often went back to feelings of imposter syndrome. When I transitioned into this new area, I was reminded of how it feels to truly step outside of your comfort zone and became painfully aware of how much I didn’t know or understand yet. Fortunately, by this time (or perhaps because of this experience) I had gotten a lot better at identifying when I needed help and asking for it. In recent years, I’ve also practiced my ability to say “no” to things. Earlier on, my eagerness to get involved and help out wherever help was needed led to burnout from taking on too much. Now I know the value of my time and to be more selective about the commitments I take on. 

Still figuring it out

In my very last FYAL post, I gave the following advice: don’t take on too much, ask for help, and keep the big picture in mind. Turns out this was pretty good advice for me to listen to throughout the years! To add on to that advice now: it’s okay to not have things all figured out. I admire people who know exactly where they’re headed and what they want out of their careers, but I’m not that person (at least not right now), and I think it’s okay to figure things out as you go. 

Along with everyone else right now, I don’t know what the future holds. I know that I’m about to submit my portfolio for promotion, and that I’ll continue to work from home for the immediate future, but that’s about it. I don’t know what the next seven years will bring, but I’m excited to find out!