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)

3 thoughts on “Ranting about patting ourselves on the back

  1. Pingback: Librarians? « Carmon Thomas

  2. Spot on! I caught that too, and immediately went: Hmmmm, save for later. I wanted to do some deeper cross comparisons to try to find the exact phrasing of the questions and any other data discrepencies.

    I definitely feel for academic libraries on traditional campuses, because they have to convince faculty one-by-one, semester-by-semester to include them for a one-shot, much less deeper currucular collaboration.

    The nice thing we have found at my online university is that copyright confusion, database searching intricacies and reference data can all be used to drive Information Literacy partnerships. We are invited to every new course design meeting, because the course developers have seen the advantages of promoting our help with course reading search strategies. However, we use that meeting to look at the course outcomes, and promote different types of guides and assignments. We also leverage reference data to convince stakeholders about the confusion surrounding misworded or less-than-perfectly designed assignments, and tackle those partnerships one by one.

    Once our guides are in the course, they are in for good. With our centralized course structure, changes stream across all course sections and have to be actively removed. So, if we convince even one faculty of the value of research assignment collaboration during our dog-and-pony shows, it has lasting impact.

    I did follow the tweets surrounding this ACRL session with interest: http://bit.ly/eFS4Tp “Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs.” It reminded me of this article that has a fabulous responsibility grid for collaborating with IL: p. 226 here –> http://bit.ly/fbdiF5 #lettinggo

    So anyway, normally I never type this much in a comment. (Ha!) But here are my take aways:
    – Maybe it doesn’t always matter whether faculty know exactly what we do en masse, as long as we can still be persuasive to our IL strategic ends.
    – Maybe we need to loosen up a bit in our death-grip on IL, and give faculty some room to teach us something about discipline-specific information evaluation standards. We might become even more respected as we learn to speak their (usually very) discipline-oriented language.

    Love the post!

    – Erika

  3. Pingback: Two links on trouble with databases | History and Futility

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