Tuesday, May 5, 2015

So many wonderful treasures

The first time I read the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy was when I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. I'd heard and read a lot about the document, but I hadn't bothered to invest the time in reading it. The Framework languished on my to-read list because I felt like it has little relevance to what I do as a cataloger. I'm committed to staying current on trends in academic librarianship, but I was prepared to see the Framework solely as a blueprint from instruction librarians.

When I read the Framework for that blog post, I was surprised to see myself in the last frame of the document: Searching as strategic exploration.

The description of this particular frame talks about the search process from beginning to end and describes the experiences of people on all parts of the learning spectrum:
The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies possible relevant sources and the means to access those sources. Experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the searcher’s cognitive, affective, and social dimensions. Novice learners may search a limited set of resources, and experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. Likewise, novice learners tend to use few search strategies; experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.
I appreciate the fact that this concept distinguishes between the novice learning and expert learner, and acknowledges that their needs and experiences are different. As with all of the other frames, there are "knowledge practices" and "dispositions" that describe what people who are becoming (and have become) information literate should be able to do.

When I looked at the bullet points in these sections, I saw the way in which the work that I do as a cataloger has a direct impact on whether or not a library user becomes information literate. Three bullet points in particular have me thinking.

1. Match information needs and search strategies to search tools
As laid out in the description of the frame, novice and expert researchers have different information needs. And libraries have responded to the one size doesn't fit all argument by offering both "next-gen" catalogs and legacy catalogs. Novice researchers may prefer to use the library catalog that has been augmented with a discovery layer, while expert researchers may prefer our legacy catalog. The "next-gen" catalog gives novice researchers the opportunity to search using keywords born from natural language and then refine based on a set of facets. The legacy catalog, on the other hand, allows expert researchers to refine at the outset based on advanced search options.

I wonder whether we put equal resources into maintaining both our "next-gen" and legacy catalogs. I have had to train myself to check my cataloging work in both catalogs to ensure that the information displayed in records is usable to both novice and expert researchers. It is so easy, as a cataloger, to prefer the legacy catalog because "next-gen" catalogs are notoriously bad for known item searching. But the point of these discovery systems is to give novice researchers a way into a research process that can be tricky. And given that, according to the 2015 State of America's Libraries report, 51% of college freshpeople have a hard time learning to navigate new tools, we owe it to our novice researchers to help them find a way into the process.

2. Use different searching language types (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language)
It seems obvious to say that searching with controlled vocabulary yields different results than keyword searching. It seems less obvious to suggest that well-formed metadata is an important part of developing library users into information literate people.

There are a lot of reasons why it isn't really an option anymore for catalogers to touch every piece that comes through the door. Shelf-ready books with accompanying records are a way for us to get material on the shelves faster and MARC record services for journals provide title-level access in a way that individual catalogers just can't. The move from cataloging every title to focusing on hidden collections is a smart one.

I would argue, though, that we should push back when we're given records with poor quality metadata. Sure, some access is better than none, but our users need to expect that different searching language types will surface the material they are looking for. If we teach them to use a variety of searching methods and none of those methods return the resources they're looking for because the metadata is of poor quality then we've failed them. I believe that we could get more buy-in from our library's leaders if we positioned metadata as an information literacy issue.

3. Recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering.
Serendipitous discovery is such an important part of the search process. Have you ever gone to the shelf to find the book you're looking for and recognized that the books around it are also valuable to your research? It's an amazing feeling to go to the stacks looking for one book and leave with a stack of them.

But when your collection moves off-site or you purchase electronic resources, you lose the capacity to find that material when browsing the shelves. It is important, then, that you ensure that these materials can be found by way of virtual browse. By putting call numbers in records for your electronic material, for example, you make them discoverable in a call number browse. And by ensuring that records are up to a specific standard before their corresponding physical items are moved off-site means that off-site items are found in a subject browse. By placing as much value on virtual browse as physical browse, you make the various piece of your collection easier for your users to find, identify, select, and obtain.

The bottom line for me is that the Framework isn't just a resource for instruction librarians to consider, puzzle over, interact with, and react to. Whether you accept the Framework without reservation or push back against some of its claims, I believe technical services librarians should be in conversation with it and use it as a lens through which to see our work. If you work in technical services in an academic library, I invite you to read ACRL's Framework for Information Literacy and to find yourself there. How does the work you do directly impact the ability for library users to become information literate people? And if what you're doing actually hinders their development, what can you do differently?

Stay positive,

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