Ranting about patting ourselves on the back

I’m not sure how to write up this post since I’m bothered by two separate, but related things, so bear with me.

The Chronicle published a piece this week about what academic librarians value most about their work, and it’s no surprise (for me) to learn that it is instruction and information literacy.  Titled “Librarians Put Increasing Value on Their Role in Support of Student Learning, the article reports on the Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2010: Insights from U.S. Library Directors, and it tells us that we’re a happy bunch, that we value our role in education and academic support services, and that we’re always ready to give it the old college try.   (Yes, I’m being slightly facetious.)

However, The article also reports on the difference in opinion between librarians and teaching faculty on how we perceive our work in teaching and learning.  Ithaka compared the ways that library directors valued teaching and learning in the 2010 survey to the opinions of teaching faculty on the same subject in its 2009 Faculty Survey, and the difference in opinion is not pretty:

Ninety-seven percent of library directors said it was important that their library help facilitate teaching [in the 2010 survey] . . .  Just under 60 percent of faculty members felt strongly about libraries’ pedagogical involvement [in the 2009 survey].

Librarians understand this already.  We spend a lot of time strategizing how to convince teaching faculty to let us enter the classroom and show our stuff to the student body.  We know things, yes we do, but not everyone knows that.

What bothers me, though, is the way that this news article has spread on Twitter.   Maybe I’ve overlooked something – and please correct me if I am – but I’ve seen a lot of people retweet this news piece today by retweeting the Chronicle’s own headline on the news story, which misses the point entirely:

I want to forgive everyone who retweeted the article without reading it since it’s something I’ve done in the past, too.  After all, it’s the nature of Twitter and information exchange to value messages given to us by people we know: we take it on faith that the article must be good if some one we know retweeted it. But then I surfed to Bit.ly to look closer at who tweeted the page and how.  You can do the same:


(Yes, it’s so important to this post that I had to center the text and change its font size.)

Not only have a lot of people who re-tweeted the post, but we are also collectively re-tweeting it as if it is focused on the the good things in our field – that we value information literacy. Of course we value information literacy.  But The Chronicle’s article is actually troubling because it explains plainly that many of our peers in academia don’t understand the value our work in teaching and learning.  And it’s even more troubling that we are re-tweeting the article as if it shines a glowing light on our work in the academy when many people don’t know what we do, how we do it, and why.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure how to write up my thoughts right now.  On the one hand, I want to comment on the fact that we value our work but that not everyone else does.   But on the other hand, I’m compelled to talk about way we’re re-tweeting this article as if it says good things about our work.  I admit it – I could be quibbling since The Chronicle did report on some good things, after all.  But I still think we should spend more of our energy thinking about ways to shrink that 37% difference of opinion on the librarian’s role in teaching and learning as opposed to giving ourselves a pat on the back and calling it a day.  This isn’t about talking about ways to just get in to the classroom.  It’s about convincing the other 40% of teaching faculty (and that 3% of library directors) that we actually do make a difference.

These librarians are smiling because they're certain that everyone knows what a great role they play in teaching and learning on campus. (Photo Source: Christchurch City Libraries)