Inspecting the Frame: The Draft Information Literacy Framework, Pt. 2

Posted on December 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm in

In the first half of “Investigating the Frame,” I addressed the threshold concept theory at the heart of the new Framework for Information Literacy Instruction, currently in its third draft. I closed with the comment that we should shift the focus of our discussions to the details of the six frames, and how they serve us as instructors, rather than continuing the debate over the legitimacy of threshold concept theory.

I also argued that the move from the standards to the frames is not as dramatic a shift as it might appear at first. By tracking our instruction sessions and reference interactions, my colleague Nicole Branch and I have noticed that certain frames align consistently with existing standards. This is not a bad thing — it eases the transition from one guiding document to the next.

Rubric Soul

One concern I had as an outside observer of the new Framework was about methods of assessment (I even asked the committee about that during the open forum at ALA). I’m not alone in this; I’ve seen the same question asked by many others. However, I’m feeling more confident about assessment under this new model thanks to a recent exercise we undertook at my place of work.

My library uses a rubric to evaluate information use in senior capstone papers in order to assess our information literacy instruction. Our rubric is an amalgamation and adaptation of several of the rubrics available through RAILS, and was built in relation to the ACRL Standards. Each area of evaluation relates to one of the ACRL Standards. For example, ACRL Standard One (the information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed) is represented by two criteria: defining the topic, and defining the research question or thesis statement. Each paper is scored on a zero to three scale for each area of evaluation, and we have twelve criteria total.

As we were updating our rubric for the fall semester, we also looked at the six threshold concepts in the new framework. Could each of our areas of evaluation be directly connected to one of the six threshold concepts? Would each threshold concept be represented? As we try to determine if these six frames genuinely represent the discipline of information literacy, retroactively assigning them to our working assessment seemed like a good way to investigate their accuracy and breadth of coverage.

It turned out each of our areas of evaluation did fit into one of the six frames, and five of the six frames were represented.

There was not necessarily a direct one-to-one relationship between the frames and the standards; we had four areas of evaluation connected to ACRL Standard Three, and while we assigned three of them to “Authority is Constructed and Contextual,” one of them was a better fit for “Research as Inquiry.” Our areas of evaluation connected to ACRL Standard Five were similarly divided, in this case between “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Information Has Value.”

The only frame we could not assign to one of our areas of evaluation was “searching is strategic” (to use the third draft’s verbiage). That wasn’t a surprise. We only evaluate the capstone papers themselves, and we do not witness the student’s information search and retrieval process. We had omitted ACRL Standard Two from this particular assessment tool when we first devised it. Standard Two (the information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently) and the Searching frame are clearly connected.

Do they know Magellan died?

Forgive me for making a pop culture analogy: on a recent episode of the TV show Top Chef, the eight competitors were divided into two teams and each team was tasked with opening a restaurant in 48 hours. One of the two teams couldn’t settle on a unifying theme for their menu, so they decided to go with an “explorer” theme and a globe-trotting menu. In a fit of optimism, they named their pop-up restaurant “Magellan.” Do they know that Magellan died? So did their direction-less restaurant, and their team lost the challenge.

I bring this up because one of the most burning topics between draft two and draft three was the verbiage change from “searching as exploration” to “searching is strategic.” Both Jacob Berg and Donna Witek disliked this change; Jake wanted to shift it back, and Donna suggested “searching is investigative.” I think highly of both Jake and Donna, but in this instance I disagree.

I think “searching is strategic” is the best language for this frame. In fact, I think it’s a significant improvement over the alternatives. Exploration is a romantic ideal, and we all want our students to eagerly cast off from the pier on a voyage to discover new ideas and information. However, it’s far more effective to set sail with a plan. Strategy is a scaleable term; it does not imply expertise. Even the simplest Google search can be far more effective with some simple strategies in place (for example, substitute academic synonyms for your typical keywords, and you’ll get a completely different set of results). That’s a strategy we teach our first-year students (in fact, search strategy is the first lesson in our curriculum map).

Upper division students might employ more nuanced strategies, such as controlled vocabulary searches in research databases. Another example might be the PICOT methodology I teach to the students in our graduate School of Nursing. The right search strategy depends on the information need, and this is important for students to understand. I don’t think “searching as exploration” accomplishes that.

Processing • Binding

The hardest threshold concept to fit to our rubric’s areas of evaluation (aside from the aforementioned “searching is strategic”) was “information creation as a process.” I think this frame has suffered an identity crisis through the revision process. It was originally titled “format as a process,” and defined as follows:

Format is the way tangible knowledge is disseminated. The essential characteristic of format is the underlying process of information creation, production, and dissemination, rather than how the content is delivered or experienced.

In draft three, both the title and definition had changed:

Information Creation as a Process refers to the understanding that the purpose, message, and delivery of information are intentional acts of creation. Recognizing the nature of information creation, experts look to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information.

This frame — especially in its earlier form — seems focused on the user understanding the intent of the information creator in order to understand how to best use that source. With online research, you can’t easily judge a source’s format by how it is processed and bound. This can be as simple as an undergraduate understanding the appropriate research use of an online reference entry, or can relate to more complex questions such as the reliability of social media reporting in the wake of breaking news.

But the change in title implies the committee would like this frame to be about more than just format. It should be about the complete circle of the information creation process, from beginning to end. If that’s the case, the knowledge practices and dispositions need to reflect the creative act as well as analysis of the final product. In that case, it may need to inherit some of the knowledge practices and dispositions currently assigned to other threshold concepts.

Donna Witek, in her excellent line-by-line analysis of the third draft, noticed that some of the frames (most notably “research as inquiry”) were much longer than the others. “Research as inquiry” includes knowledge practices and dispositions such as “organize information in meaningful ways” and “manage information effectively.” Those could be a better fit with the information creation frame. If not, the committee might be better off returning to the original “format as a process.”

Defining Value

The best change from draft two to draft three was the “information has value” frame. Gone is this original definition:

Information has Value acknowledges that the creation of information and products derived from information requires a commitment of time, original thought, and resources that need to be respected by those seeking to use these products, or create their own based on the work of others. In addition, information may be valued more or less highly based on its creator, its audience/consumer, or its message.

It has been replaced by the following:

The Information Has Value frame refers to the understanding that information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. The flow of information through systems of production and dissemination is impacted by legal, sociopolitical, and economic interests.

I see this change as a very positive move on the part of the committee. The former definition explicitly privileged content creators (and by extension, copyright), reducing information seekers (our library users) to “those seeking to use these products,” and not agents with their own rights and privileges (as governed by fair use, the first sale doctrine, etc.). Content creators should, of course, own the rights to their work, and the ethical use of work belonging to others is important. However, this new definition, while still acknowledging information’s role as a commodity, does a better job of encapsulating the bigger picture.

Blazed Pathways

The open period for comments on the third draft closed on Friday, December 12, so now those of us on the outside must eagerly await the next revision.

In the meantime, my next step will be to study the information literacy threshold concepts from the historical perspective: on January 14th, my Kentucky Library Association talk Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing: Using the Lens of Library History to Focus on the New Information Literacy Framework will be reborn as a webinar, sponsored by the ALISE Historical Interest Group. Participation will be free for ALISE members and the first 20 non-member registrants. We will be exploring the writings of pioneering, 19th century instructional librarians to see if there is evidence of encounters with the same threshold concepts we are discussing today.

I will share registration details as soon as it opens up in early January. Please join me if you can!

Comment on Inspecting the Frame: The Draft Information Literacy Framework, Pt. 2


Inspecting the Frame: The Draft Information Literacy Framework, Pt. 1

Posted on December 11, 2014 at 6:34 pm in

I came out as a supporter of the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education’s central and somewhat controversial tenet — threshold concepts — earlier this fall. I promised “more on this soon,” but as is often the case, the fall academic semester was too busy a time for me to write down and publish my thoughts. But Friday, December 12 is the deadline for public comments on the third draft, which has prompted me to reflect more deeply on the Framework.

Post and Beam Barn

Threshold Concept Theory

I acknowledge that many of my peers, whose opinions I respect, are concerned about the foundation of threshold concept theory. Threshold concepts are “those ideas in any discipline that are passageways or portals to enlarged understanding or ways of thinking and practicing within that discipline” (ACRL, 2014). According to educational theorists Jan Meyer and Ray Land, threshold concepts exhibit four characteristics within their disciplines: they are transformative, changing the perspective of the learner; integrative, connecting different aspects of the discipline to each other; irreversible, once learned, never unlearned (much like riding a bike); and troublesome, sometimes difficult to grasp for discipline outsiders or the cause of reflection (Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2008).

I have seen concerns about university faculty responses to the theory of threshold concepts, and the difficulty librarians may have in explaining it. In response I have a suggestion. When presenting these ideas to faculty, use the threshold concepts that have been identified for their own disciplines as examples and analogies for the information literacy threshold concepts identified by ACRL. These examples will resonate much more strongly with their own experience as teachers and learners. There has been substantial research into threshold concepts for a wide range of academic disciplines, both by Meyer and Land themselves, and by other educational theorists exploring the idea. Merinda Kaye Hensley referred me to a useful bibliography that will guide you to many of them.

For example, when I explained threshold concepts to our chair of Math and Sciences, a biology professor, I used Meyer and Land’s example of a threshold concept for biology: the testable hypothesis. Once a student understands the idea of the testable hypothesis, and how the entire practice of biological sciences are built on this core concept, the discipline itself is clearer and easier to understand. This seemingly simple concept underpins the entire world of science, and if a student grasps the range of implications of the testable hypothesis, it is not something they can simply unlearn. It’s not a miscellaneous fact, easily misplaced by memory; it’s a method of practice. It sticks. It alters how they perceive science and how they learn it.

Connecting the Dots

Part of my growing enthusiasm for the new framework derives from connecting the dots between the identified threshold concepts and the work we already do at my institution. Over the past couple of years my colleague Nicole Branch and I developed a curriculum map for our undergraduate information literacy instruction based on the ACRL Standards. We provide a series of scaffolded one-shot workshops integrated into our university curriculum at different levels in the hopes that students will have the information skills they need at each point in their education.

After each workshop, we track our work using an instructor’s survey. This creates an institutional record of our work. Starting this year, we added the threshold concepts to these surveys; for each workshop we lead, we identify on a scale which threshold concepts were addressed and to what degree. We also rank the addressed ACRL Standards in the same way. We have a similar (but less nuanced) scale for our reference interactions.

We are trying to capture how well our existing instruction and reference services already address the elements in the new framework. So far, we’ve found so much of what we already do is reflected in the threshold concepts. We have also found significant, consistent connectivity between certain Standards and Threshold Concepts. In other words, the new framework is not as abrupt a departure from the previous Standards as it appears on first glance, but rather it’s an evolution.

Shifting the Conversation

However, even if you are a threshold concept skeptic, I suggest the debate about their scientific validity is a distraction from what we should really be focusing on: the content of the frames themselves. How well do they represent the academic discipline of information literacy? If these six frames can successfully inform our practice as educators, whether or not they genuinely represent this wider notion of “threshold concepts” (and whether the theory of threshold concepts itself is valid) is not entirely relevant. We’ve been making do with the existing information literacy standards published in 2000, and I certainly don’t believe that those static, binary descriptors (“the information literate student is…”) are reflective of the students we work with or their learning needs. The Framework is a far more flexible document that comes much closer to capturing the complex and evolving world of information and scholarly communications, whatever you think of threshold concepts as an educational theory.

Again, I believe the questions we should be asking — the ones that will actually affect our practice — are about the content of the specific frames, not the overarching threshold concept theory. So in Part 2 of this post, I will delve into the Framework more deeply, compare some of the changes between the 2nd and 3rd drafts, and share the comments on the third draft I intend to submit.

Correction: The original version of this post inaccurately described Kevin Michael Klipfel’s post on faculty response to threshold concepts. I apologize for the error and recommend reading his perspective on the subject:

Climbing off the fence: Threshold concepts for information literacy

Posted on September 30, 2014 at 9:38 am in

I’ve done a lot of fence sitting in my comments about the new framework for information literacy instruction and its central tenet, the threshold concepts for information literacy. That was in part because I was still digesting the new ideas, and in part because some librarians I really respect had strong (and divergent) opinions, and I wasn’t sure yet where I fell.

Lions-Gate-Mycenae.jpg
Lions-Gate-Mycenae” by Andreas Trepte. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

But I’ve had some time for reflection, I’ve had time to incorporate aspects of the new framework into my practice, and I was able to immerse myself in the ideas behind the new framework while preparing my talk at the Kentucky Library Association.

I do have some concerns about language used in the new framework. I think some of the definitions of the threshold concepts are troublesome and need continued work (I’m looking at you, information has value), while others aren’t quite intuitive as written. I’m still not sure why “metaliteracy” needs to be included at all. I’m also curious how we can create continuity with the ACRL Standards from 2000, and how we’ll get faculty to buy into new ideas that are more challenging to explain.

But. I’m climbing off the fence.

I like the new framework. I especially like the threshold concepts as a pivot point for library instruction. Telling students where to click in the database is not teaching them how to effectively use information, and the new framework pushes us to be better, more engaged instructors. The research that backs it up resonates with me and my personal, professional experience. I think it moves us forward. I’m on board. More on this soon.

Further reading:


Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing: Bibliography

Posted on September 16, 2014 at 5:02 pm in

References for my presentation Blazed Pathways and Skillful Glancing are below, organized topically.

Early Librarians on College Instruction

Adams, H. A. (1887, November). Seminary libraries and university extension. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science 5. 443-459.

Baker, G. H. (1897, October). Conference of librarians, Philadelphia: The college section of the ALA. Library Journal 22. 168.

Davis, T. K. (1885, May). The college library. Library Journal 10. 100-103.

Little, G. T. (1892, August). Teaching bibliography to college students. Library Journal 17. 87-88.

Lowrey, C. E. (1894, August). The university library, its larger recognition in higher education. Library Journal 19. 264-267.

Morgan, J. H. (1893). College libraries: How best made available for college uses? Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Convention of the College Association of the Middle States and Maryland. New York, NY: Columbia College Educational Review.

Robinson, O. H. (1876). College library administration. In Bureau of Education’s (Ed.) Public Libraries in the United States of America.Washington, D.C.: USGPO.

Robinson, O. H. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: Rochester University Library – administration and use. Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1-1880. Washington, D.C.: USGPO.

Robinson, O. H. (1881, April). The relation of libraries to college work. Library Journal 6. 97-104.

Winsor, J. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: The college library. Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1-1880. Washington, D.C.: USGPO.

Winsor, J. (1894, November). The development of the library. Library Journal 19. 370-375.

Woodruff, E. H. (1886, September). University libraries and seminary methods of instruction. Library Journal 11. 219-224

History of Library Instruction

ACRL. (2000). Information literacy standards for higher education. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency

Hopkins, F. L. (1982). A century of bibliographic instruction: The historical claim to professional and academic legitimacy. College & Research Libraries 43(3). 192-198. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/43/3/192.full.pdf+html

Tucker, J. M. (1980). Articles on library instruction in colleges and universities, 1876-1932. University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science Occasional Papers 143.

Threshold Concepts

ACRL. (2014). Framework for information literacy for higher education [2nd draft]. Retrieved from http://acrl.ala.org/ilstandards/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Framework-for-IL-for-HE-Draft-2.pdf

Brunetti, K., Hofer, A. R., Lu, S., & Townsend, L. (2014). Threshold concepts & information literacy. Retrieved from http://www.ilthresholdconcepts.com/

Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (2009). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold concepts and information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(3), 853-869.

Wilkerson, L. (2014). The problem with threshold concepts. Retrieved from https://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/the-problem-with-threshold-concepts/


Emerging projects: My experience as an ALA Emerging Leader

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 11:55 am in

Several people, perhaps considering their own 2015 applications, asked me about my experience as a 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leader and how I felt the program helped me develop my leadership skills.

This prompted a bit of reflection on my part. I’d say that the line between the Emerging Leaders program and leadership training is actually an indirect one – but that’s a good thing.

There are other opportunities ALA provides – such as the ALA Leadership Institute – more directly focused on traditional leadership training, if that’s what you are interested in. The structure of Emerging Leaders is more in line with another subject I was interested in this year: project management.

Project Management

[A project is] a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

– Project Management Institute

My 2014-2015 professional development goals at my place of work included gaining project management skills. My official vehicle for achieving that goal was attending a wonderful CARL preconference session led by California academic librarians Margot Hanson, Annis Lee Adams, Andrew Tweet, and Kevin Pischke. But the convergence of the preconference session and Emerging Leaders was perfect, as the experiences complimented and built on each other. Emerging Leaders gave me the practical opportunity to work on a project team and implement the concepts I learned at the preconference.

Emerging Leaders is structured as a team-based project that checks off all of the definitions of project management: a temporary group activity, designed to produce a product or service, with a defined beginning and end, and a defined scope and resources. Various divisions and roundtables of ALA propose projects. Four-to-six member teams of Emerging Leaders are assembled around those projects and given a discrete deadline (a poster session at ALA Annual) when they reveal their final products.

I was part of Emerging Leaders “Team C,” along with the wonderful Mari Martínez, Annie Pho, and Kyle Denlinger. We were asked by ALCTS, the ALA division for library collections and technical services, to deliver a white paper on social media practices with recommendations for how they can improve their outreach to early-career professionals. Beyond that straightforward request, we could develop the project as we saw fit.

Team C(at) with our project poster. Here we are later with our hair down.

We dealt with several moving parts: we had to investigate social media best practices for professional organizations, analyze how ALCTS is currently using social media, discover how ALCTS members and potential members would like to interact (or not) with ALCTS online, and put everything we learned into a cohesive “white paper” (we actually developed a website) that ALCTS leaders could refer to. The camaraderie we developed kept us accountable to each other, despite not having a traditional “leader” or supervisor. The four of us lived in different areas of the country, and would not actually be in the same room between Midwinter and Annual, making coordination crucial. It made for a perfect little capsule – it was petri dish project management. We had fun and put out a product we believed in.

Emerging Project Managers

I opened with the suggestion that the line between Emerging Leaders and leadership training was indirect, as there is not a special focus on the skills of individual leadership, or advancing into management roles in our professional careers. But I do think project management skills are very applicable to a different kind of leadership needed in our workplaces.

Our work as librarians invariably involves team-oriented, discrete projects: implementing a new service, redesigning a library website, and so on. We often will work on teams with no designated “leader.” To be able to work as a team, with a cohesive plan, without creating unnecessary workplace friction, is a valuable and necessary trait for librarians, and applying the principles of project management can be the key to success. That is the type of leadership we need as a profession moving forward.

I still wouldn’t suggest renaming the program “the ALA Emerging Project Managers.” Emerging Leaders has a better ring to it. And also a ring of truth.

Further reading:


ALA 2014: Luck be a librarian

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm in

I’m hopping on a plane in a couple hours for Las Vegas for the 2014 edition of the annual conference of the American Library Association. There’s so much going at the conference of thousands, and I’m still figuring out my schedule. But here are the places I’m sure I’ll be.

Friday, June 27

The first day is busy, with the Emerging Leaders cohort of 2014 gathering for a workshop from 8:30 to 3, which leads directly into the Emerging Leaders poster session and reception running from 3-4pm. My group — EL Team C, comprising of Annie Pho, Mari Martínez, and Kyle Denlinger — has been working on a social media plan for ALCTS, the ALA division for collections and technical services. It has been great working with Annie, Mari, and Kyle. We just had a natural chemistry from the start and the process has been very satisfying, even if it did involve herding cats. You can see a preview of our advice for ALCTS — a dozen social media tips we shared on twitter yesterday (under the hashtag #ELCtips) — and if you’re at ALA, please come by the poster session!

Friday night? I can’t dance, but I might try.

Saturday, June 28

Day two features the hearing on the new draft framework for information literacy instruction. Classroom instruction is a big part of what I do, so this attending is a must. I am also going to seek out the Alexandria Still Burns project to see if I can participate. Otherwise, my Saturday afternoon is up in the air. Saturday night? Tumblarian meet-up, then Afterhours with EveryLibrary and the Librarian Wardrobe book release party.

Sunday, June 29

There’s a lot of good stuff going on Sunday. The session I’m most excited about is about threshold concepts, the model of information literacy instruction that heavily influenced the new framework. Two of the presenters — Korey Brunetti and Amy Hofer — had a huge influence on me early in my career when I saw them speak at the CARL Conference in 2010. I’m curious what they’re talking about in 2014.

Monday, June 30

Oh, Monday. Usually the cool down day of the conference, a chance to catch your breath, see a few people you’ve missed, and blow off steam as an attendee at Battledecks (or, as it has transmorphed for 2014, The Library Games). Not this year. Monday morning: I’m a panelist for #TumblarianTalk, moderated by Kate TkaPOW!. Monday afternoon: I’m the moderator, for What I really want to do is direct: First-time library directors discuss their experiences (join us! And be part of the chatter on #iwannadirect). Monday evening, I’ll be heeling it up as one of the agents of the Library Security Agency, or LSA, at The Library Games.

#ALAMYFACE

For the last couple conferences, Tumblarians have been sharing headshots so we can all recognize each other. Here’s my face, with my longest-ever beard that I’m taking to the insanely hot Las Vegas, because I am insane. If you see me walking down the hall, please say hi!

#alamyface


Quotes on the internet: Frederick Douglass and Repairing Broken Men

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm in

This afternoon a student approach me at the Research Help desk. She wanted to cite the following quote by Frederick Douglass:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

Noble sentiment, yes? And the internet is quite certain that he said it. Sites like Brainy Quote, Goodreads and others trumpet this quote. Blog posts refer to it. Nicholas Kristof, writing for the New York Times, attributes this quote to Douglass. It’s on bumper stickers. Even Christian evangelicals have quoted it, to further their own purposes.

But none of them mentioned where Frederick Douglass actually said this. One blog post referenced 1855, but included nothing else.

All of Douglass’s books are in the public domain, so I ventured to Project Gutenberg. Each of his published works can be opened as an HTML document and searched.

It turns out Frederick Douglass frequently uses the word “broken” — it appears 35 times in My Bondage and My Freedom alone. One line in particular, about the violence done to him as an enslaved child, was reminiscent of the famous quote:

Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage?

Here is the entire passage in which that quote — a verifiably real quote — appears. It’s lengthy, but it’s worth understanding the quote in context:

The mistress of the house was a model of affection and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and feeling—”that woman is a Christian.” There was no sorrow nor suffering for which she had not a tear, and there was no innocent joy for which she did not a smile. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence. Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage? It may be broken toward the slave, on Sunday, and toward the master on Monday. It cannot endure such shocks. It must stand entire, or it does not stand at all. If my condition waxed bad, that of the family waxed not better. The first step, in the wrong direction, was the violence done to nature and to conscience, in arresting the benevolence that would have enlightened my young mind. In ceasing to instruct me, she must begin to justify herself to herself; and, once consenting to take sides in such a debate, she was riveted to her position. One needs very little knowledge of moral philosophy, to see where my mistress now landed. She finally became even more violent in her opposition to my learning to read, than was her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as her husband had commanded her, but seemed resolved to better his instruction. Nothing appeared to make my poor mistress—after her turning toward the downward path—more angry, than seeing me, seated in some nook or corner, quietly reading a book or a newspaper. I have had her rush at me, with the utmost fury, and snatch from my hand such newspaper or book, with something of the wrath and consternation which a traitor might be supposed to feel on being discovered in a plot by some dangerous spy.

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, paragraph 120 | Project Gutenberg

This book was published in 1855, the same year mentioned by the blogger.

Nowhere in his published works does the popular internet quote appear. It is certainly possible it was uttered in a speech, the contents of which were published elsewhere — in a news story of the day, or by a biographer whose work I didn’t find. There’s a series of books from Yale University Press that include his private correspondence and the text of some of his speeches, content not published elsewhere. Perhaps the quote is in there — although I doubt a quote buried in an expensive series of academic texts has become an internet meme.

I think it’s more likely that what Frederick Douglass really said has been whitewashed.

Historical Whitewashing

It’s possible the passage in My Bondage and My Freedom has been paraphrased so often over the years that this popular quote about raising children right has replaced the truth about the violent treatment Douglass received as a child, and how the evils of slavery could break not only the spirits of people who were enslaved but also the souls of the white men and women who felt justified in enslaving others.

Racism and white privilege work in insidious ways. The dark, ugly truth of our white supremacist history can be transformed into positive affirmations, affirmations that then appear unquestioned online, on car bumpers, and in the New York Times.

I can’t prove that the popular quote isn’t real, and I can’t prove that it was the passage in My Bondage and My Freedom that inspired it. But that’s what I suspect.

And what did I tell the student? She wasn’t writing a historical analysis of Frederick Douglass, she was writing a psychology paper. The quote — whether real or false — set up her thesis nicely. I didn’t want to disrupt her process on the day her paper was due. So I advised that she refer to the quote as “widely attributed to” Frederick Douglass, and at least cite the Kristof article rather than Brainy Quote.

But then we also had a good conversation about historical truth (while I helped her clean up her references page — we were multitasking!). This type of work with students — digging into how information is presented, how to present information, understanding context, and closing in on the truth (however that may be defined) — this is what I like about being a librarian.

Many thanks to my fellow librarians who helped me in my quest to verify the quote — @cclibchica, @CarliSpina, @mchris4duke, and @sehovde.

A slightly shorter version of this post was originally published on tumblr.

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My year as a school library volunteer

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm in

I’ve spent the academic year volunteering in a public elementary school library. My weekly shifts coincided with a regular 4th grade class visit. My last shift of this academic year wrapped up this morning.

A few things I learned:

  • Calvin & Hobbes is still incredibly popular, even though Bill Watterson retired almost a decade before these kids were born.
  • 4th graders love graphic novels, especially Bone.
  • The vast majority of our circulation came from books in bins organized by series, and very little from off of the shelves. Easier to find, easier to grab, easier to beat the other kids to what you want.
  • It’s awkward being addressed as Mr. when you’re not used to it.
  • 4th grade boys will hit each other over a book.
  • Kids do a lot more reading than stereotypes suggest.
  • The school librarian teaches an amazing variety of things. I saw her teach using computers for research, understanding literary genres, fun poetry techniques, understanding protagonist point of view, and using reference works for research. Oh, and computer coding.
  • The school librarian is also a fabulous reader of stories and great at reader’s advisory for a six-year range of children and reading levels.
  • She’s also the point person for getting the students up to speed on the interface of the new, computer-based standardized tests that will be implemented next year as part of Common Core (and directly affect school funding). I wonder what schools without school librarians will do.
  • I am very grateful San Francisco voters passed a bond measure funding school librarians in every public school.
  • These kids will be more ready for college because of what they are learning right now as nine year olds from their school librarian.

I had fun working with the kids. And I learned a lot from the school librarian.

Post mirrored on tumblr.


On CCLI: A personal story of why to attend

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm in

Registration is now open for the California Conference on Library Instruction, the best little conference that could. It’s an annual, one-day conference focused on librarian-led instruction and information literacy.

CCLI played a critical role in my career. A couple months after graduating library school, while working part time in a temporary position, I attended CCLI. The keynote presenters that year were Nicholas Schiller, Char Booth, and Karen G. Schneider. I had (once) previously met Karen, but it was my first time seeing any of them speak.

Nicholas Schiller presented about engaging students by teaching Google search strategies, SEO, and how Google Search works under the hood. Char Booth presented topics from her (then) new book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, including how to be a self-aware, reflective teacher. Karen Schneider spoke about incrementally transforming a small academic library. In addition to the keynote speakers, there was also a panel that featured Nicole Greenland discussing faculty outreach through technology training.

Nicholas’ presentation formed the nucleus of a freshman workshop I developed later that year, a workshop that has evolved but is still in use for our first-year English students. Char’s presentation gave me confidence and inspiration in finding my voice as a teacher, something that at the time I had very little experience with. Four years later, I’m happy that I can now say I am friends with both of them. But equally importantly, Nicholas and Char gave me ideas to use when discussing library instruction and librarianship during a job interview I had a month later. I was a green, inexperienced librarian, but I approached that interview like I knew what I was talking about. Thanks to CCLI.

That interview was with Karen and Nicole. They hired me into my first (and current) librarian position.

CCLI is small, and compared to national conferences, affordable. It’s only a one-day commitment, and I guarantee you will learn new things and come away with practical ideas. If you’re a northern California instruction librarian or MLIS student, it’s a great place to be.

Also: I’m also quite happy to say that this year I’ll be one of the panelists (alongside my great colleague and frequent co-presenter Nicole Branch.)

Post mirrored on tumblr.


Now trending: Staying on top of current trends

Posted on February 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm in

I got an anonymous question on Tumblr:

I’m really trying to stay on top of current trends in the academic library field without having a ton of money to go to national conferences…what are your favorite blogs, listservs, tumblarians, etc. to follow or even websites to get news from our community? I feel like I’m always behind…or following things that are more just noise than good sources of trends. When I was in library school it was easier but now not as much. Thank you so much!

This question may have been inspired by my last post, where I wrote “be able to name trends! Be able to discuss trends! I’ve seen candidates be confused about this question. How does that happen?

So — staying on top of trends. First, two pieces of advice before I recommend a few blogs:

  • There may be local conferences in your area that are more affordable than national conferences. For example, where I live, there’s an annual one-day conference on library instruction called CCLI. These types of local conferences — with no travel costs, hotel costs, and a lower registration fee — are more feasible for those with a limited budget, but still supply a ton of value. They connect you with local professionals, help you learn trends relevant to your area, and you often learn about forthcoming jobs before they hit national listservs. I don’t know if I’d have my present job if I hadn’t attended CCLI four years ago, when my (then-future, now-present) boss was a keynote speaker.
  • Find a local mentor you can sit down with, hopefully someone who doesn’t work at your institution (if you’re employed). Getting the perspective of someone who works in a different environment is a good way to learn what’s happening beyond your local silo. I had lunch yesterday with the librarian who mentored me when I was an intern and it was tremendous, and made me realize I should do that more often.

Reading is free

If you can’t afford conference travel (without the workplace support I get, I wouldn’t be able to either), the most affordable way to keep up on the profession is following smart, interesting bloggers (whether or not you always agree with their viewpoint). I’ve seen a few folks out there bemoaning the current state of library blogging, but I still find a lot of good ideas and information out there. Here are a few (not all) of the blogs that I follow:

Full disclosure: one of these is my boss. Some of the others are my friends. I am not bias-free. Who is?
Tumblr division, academic librarians (again, partial — I follow well over 500 total tumblrs):

Full disclosure: one of these is my boss. Some of the others are my friends. I am not bias-free. Who is?

Tumblr division

(again, partial — I follow well over 500 total tumblrs):

Some of these are professionally focused, some are not, but I enjoy following them all. I enjoy the mix of personal and professional on tumblr.

I also follow a lot of public librarians (you can good ideas to port over!), institutions, and submission blogs like Librarian Wardrobe. You can browse the tumblarian list for both institutions and individuals to follow.

You should also check in on C&RL, the open access journal of the ACRL, and C&RL News, its non-peer reviewed outlet.  I also like the OA Communications in Information Literacy. I prefer to support open access LIS journals, which are accessible to those who don’t have the advantage of institutional access.

This post originally appeared in shorter form on tumblr.


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