Friday, February 01, 2008

Librarians and classroom faculty: Defining roles in information literacy

For you academic librarians and wannabes on the list.

I appreciated the article "A Discipline-Based Approach to Information Literacy," by Ann Grafstein, published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship (July 2002, pgs. 197-204). I think there is a lot of confusion, especially among classroom faculty and young librarians, about the roles of each in teaching information literacy.

Grafstein first highlights a key assumption in the information literacy literature:

"The [information literacy] literature conveys a widely held belief that because the content of disciplines is constantly changing, subject content cannot be taught effectively; therefore, teaching should focus on process." (200)

But Grafstein goes on to argue that we must distinguish between different types of content: information and knowledge. This leads her to argue:

"Bearing in mind the distinctions between knowledge and information, it can be truly stated that information--not knowledge--is constantly changing. ... The paradigms and knowledge-base of a discipline are a conservative force, and are not subject to rapid, sudden changes." (200) (emphasis mine)

(This, of course, is a reference to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.)

We librarians, then, must respect that subject-based knowledge is just as important as "information retrieval" in helping to develop an information literate person, i.e. one who has the skills of "analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and learning to learn" (200). Indeed, there is "a substantial body of research that supports the view that prior related knowledge is an essential element in the acquisition of new knowledge" (200).

All this is Grafstein's long way of coming to define what she sees as the appropriate roles for librarians and classroom faculty in teaching the skills needed for information literacy. Librarians should teach the following:
  • Searching skills
  • Generic critical thinking skills, such as the evaluation of information using the criteria of timeliness, authority, bias, verifiability, and logical consistency. (This list looks awfully familiar to those who teach evaluation of Web information.)
Classroom faculty, one the other hand, should focus on the following "evaluative skills... within the context of [their respective] discipline[s]" (202):
  • Evaluating the content of arguments
  • Assessing the validity of evidence
  • Proposing original solutions
I think if we librarians can keep these distinctions in mind, we might be able to better reach out to those classroom faculty who think we librarians want to come into their classrooms and take over teaching the content of their courses. We just have to remind them what we do well and praise them for their own subject expertise. I have faculty time and again tell me that they are amazed by the search strategies they learn from me when they bring their classes into the library. This makes sense; we librarians have search skills. I, on the other hand, am always amazed by what I learn from faculty when I sit in in their classes. So, let's work hand in hand, each with our own expertise complementing the other's, and teach our students to work critically with information.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

This is a really interesting issue. I don't run into many faculty worrying that I'll start trying to teach content that I'm not qualified to teach, but it's a good reminder to librarians that a lot of what is included in information literacy is not stuff we can teach. It has to be a partnership.

I'm going to hang on to this post - it's both a useful distinction and a relief to know it's not all down to us.