Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I grew up in denial

The 2015 edition of the American Library Association's State of American Libraries document was released on Sunday and is worth your time if you're interested in learning about the issues facing academic, school, and public libraries.

I was struck by the infographic in the school libraries section entitled "The good, the bad, and the ugly." The two figures in the "ugly" section that gave me pause:

51% of college freshman have a hard time learning to navigate new tools and 43% have trouble making sense of information once sources are found. 
College freshman have the most difficulty conducting research:
coming up with keywords (75%)
sorting through irrelevant search results (57%)
identifying and selecting sources (51%)
integrating writing styles from different sources (43%)
Take these facts and juxtapose them with this information in the "Experiences with information literacy" section of the 2014 National Survey of Student Engagement entitled Bringing the Student into Focus.

...about nine in ten first-year students said their instructors discouraged plagiarism and stressed appropriately citing sources. Additionally, large majorities of first-year students reported that their instructors emphasized using peer-reviewed sources (81%) and questioning the quality of information sources (74%). Two out of three first-year students frequently received feedback from instructors on how to improve their use of information resources. 
It seems like both the students and the librarians who serve them at both the school library and academic library levels must be frustrated.

What students learn before the reach college with regards to information literacy seems largely dependent on the state of the school libraries that support them. Budgetary constraints mean that libraries close and positions are slashed. Every time that you think you have to do less with more, think about a school librarian. Currently friends of school libraries are lobby to get school library funding included in the Elementary and Secondary School Act, but it doesn't seem a sure thing.

On the other side of the equation, ACRL just released the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This framework is anchored by six frames, or core concepts. These frames cover the entire process from information consumption to information creation.

I was struck by how closely these two situations sat in the State of American Libraries document, but how far apart they seem in real life. It is important for college students to be good consumers (and creators) of information, and the Framework seems to give them the tools to do that. But when I look at what the Framework expects information literate people to be able to do, I end up back at the figures about how college freshpeople have a hard time conducting research. And I wonder how we, as academic librarians, can expect college students to become information literate if they come to college without the skills to participate in the larger conversation because of the preparation they received before coming to college.

I don't know the answer to how you take college students who (at least according to ALA's figures) are ill prepared to be good consumers and producers of information and turn them into information literate people. But I think the first step is to acknowledge that strong school library programs create a good foundation for information literacy. And that cutting those programs puts college students in a compromised position when it comes to being college students navigating the world of finding, identifying, selecting, and obtaining information. Which, by the way, are the FRBR user tasks.

Look, I get that shaping students into information literate people while in college is a process that happens both inside the library and inside the classroom. And that information literate students aren't created in a day, or a semester, or even in four years. And I get that you have to have the Framework because it gives you signposts for where you are in the journey.

But I can't help but feel like, from my perspective anyway, these two worlds exist independent of one another. And I also can't help but feel that maybe they shouldn't.

I will admit to feeling ill-prepared to write about this topic, since I'm not in a public services position. I teach a few one-shot classes every semester, but that's the extent of my interaction with information literacy and with students. But I feel like it's important for me to think about (and talk about) this issue. I feel like thoughtful engagement with the ACRL Framework will make me better able to support my public services colleagues in shaping college students into information literate people. Admittedly, there are nuances in this argument that I'm certain I'm not aware of. So I'm sure I got it wrong. And if I got it wrong, tell me in the comments!

Stay positive,


Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe said...

Great piece and interesting to read your reflection. I might suggest an another reading of the two studies you mention. That students struggle with information is perhaps exactly why they are experiencing instruction in information literacy. Even the best high school library is unlikely to prevent struggle in college because college is often about engaging in new ways. The high school-college transition challenge is long documented in the literature. Though perhaps made more challenging by the state of school libraries and high-stakes testing, it is nonetheless not a unique feature of the common era. Perhaps we should celebrate that institutions are providing instruction (NSSE) in the very areas that students struggle (ALA)? Though of course we should also be advocates for school libraries. And, for those of us with teacher education programs - we should be influencing that curriculum so that pre-service teachers are prepared to collaborate with a librarian. The first time a k-12 teacher hears of library integration in the classroom shouldn't be in their first job!

Erin said...

Well stated, Lisa. Thanks!

I think that influencing the curriculum of teacher education programs is definitely one way to address the issue. I also wonder how academic librarians and school librarians could work together to better prepare students before they get to college. I feel like some of the high school to college transition problems could be addressed on the high school end if school libraries were better supported.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe said...

There are some great examples of school/academic librarians working together. Esther Grassian/UCLA kicked off work in CA, UC-Irvine even had a full time K12 outreach position (for awhile, not sure if still have), and in Illinois the Illinois Information Literacy Summit brings school, public, and academic together. But, more to be done for sure - just more challenging as school librarian positions are eliminated or loaded up with so much work that even meeting is a challenge! You might find http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/acrlaaslblueprint and http://www.ala.org/acrl/aboutacrl/directoryofleadership/committees/aas-ilc interesting.

Carolyn said...

In the two years doing this (this=academic library instruction), what I have seen over and over are students who come to college with very rigid, black and white, outdated ways of thinking about info lit. Changing that paradigm is beyond difficult, and I would love to see changes before college. Unfortunately, with the loss of school libraries/librarians, the burden of teaching info lit falls on the classroom instructors, and they're overworked as it is. It's a frustrating situation for all parties.