Information Literacy, then and now

A digression deleted from my post on Hack Library School about information literacy. Go read that post, and come back here where it says to.

Old standards:

  1. Determine the extent of information needed
  2. Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  3. Evaluate information and its sources critically
  4. Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  5. Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  6. Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Then: Information was “limited”–if the library didn’t have a resource, the student–at least the undergraduate student–wasn’t likely to request something through inter-library loan. (Stereotypical student writing paper at the last moment? No time to get something through ILL.) It was easier for a student to reach a point where it was apparent that additional research wasn’t going to yield benefits.** Accessing information from journals was difficult without the assistance of a librarian; from my personal experience, I would guess that students avoided journals when not required by a professor’s guidelines for an assignment. (Wow could I have done a better job on research in college!) There’s always been crap research out there (I assume), but when publication required substantial expense, I’d suggest that there was less crap out there. And I won’t go so far as to say that plagiarism was more difficult (my dad is a professor, and he would come home with tales of the plagiarism committed by his students) but it did require more effort. My conclusion from this: some of the old info lit standards were imposed externally rather than needing to be taught and actively understood by students.

Now: Information is seemingly limitless, so there is a greater need for understanding what and how much is needed for a given project. (Don’t just google “Mark Twain” if you’re writing a paper about Huckleberry Finn, please.) Students can skim abstracts before downloading journal articles rather than the multi-step process involved in finding journal articles in print–but this means there also is a greater chance of being overloaded by minimally relevant articles. With any fool being able to post her writing on the Internet (yes, I’m talking about myself here), there’s a greater need to evaluate information critically, and less involvement of librarians to help with this. And a quick ctrl-c, ctrl-v gets you a plagiarized paper. You don’t even have to re-type! Conclusion: education in the old standards is still needed. VERY needed.

And now about the threshold concepts. They sound good. “Scholarship is a conversation”! I love this. It reminds that our conclusions become jumping off points for future scholars rather than having some sort of finality. For an undergraduate, it may be an explanation for conflicting articles. But I wonder if this concept, along with the framework’s consideration of student-as-information-creator, encourages a student to think that any/all research is valuable regardless of quality.

I’m not sure what the practical difference is between “research as inquiry” and “searching as exploration.” Or what they have to do with information literacy. They seem to me to be more about intellectual curiosity. Plus, how do you teach these concepts? What guidance do these give the budding researcher, other than encouraging following shiny things tangents instead of remaining focused?

Now, “Authority is contextual and constructed” sounds all post-modernish, but may actually be a good way to frame the need to evaluate information. So I’ll give this element an A.

“Format as process.” I haven’t a clue. The expanded description doesn’t help:

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.

And finally, “information has value.” Yes, yes it does. But what value does this concept have in establishing or assessing information literacy?

All this leads me to conclude that the old standards–even if not perfect–are more useful for today’s college students.


**This and all subsequent claims are based on personal reflection and experience, rather than research. Ironic much?

Red Pepper Pesto

If I’m going to post something every day this month, not every post is going to be deeply thoughtful. In that vein, I give you:

Red Pepper Pesto


  • About half a jar of roasted red peppers from Trader Joes, including the water they’re packed in.
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Walnuts. I didn’t measure.
  • Spinach. Maybe half a pound?
  • Olive oil. Just a bit.


  • Stick it all in a blender and blend until it’s saucy.
  • Eat.

Networking at the Special Libraries “Symposium”

On Thursday night, one of the class sessions of Special Libraries, which is a summer class offered at CUA, held a symposium of practicing librarians. This is an annual event hosted by the professor of the class.

I have one main observation that I want to share. At this event, both attendees and panelists were split into two groups. When the panelists switched between groups, the new panelists to the group I was in commented that we’d seemed to have had a lot more fun/interesting discussion with the first panel than they had had with the other group of students. We proceeded to have what seemed to be a less fun/interesting discussion with this second group of panelists. Was there a quality difference among the panelists? No. I believe that it was the presence of a moderator that made the difference. The professor who coordinated the symposium* moderated the other group during the first half, and our group during the second half. When the professor left the group, the discussion became freer. It was the existence of moderating, rather than the moderator, that was the problem.

Lesson learned: there are times and places for moderated panels. This happened to be not one of them. Now, why was that so? I don’t know. There were about 10 panelists in each group, so you would think that moderating would be MORE necessary. On the other hand, it was meant as more of a conversation, so there were polite ways to interrupt if someone started to take too much time.

Observation out of the way, I want to share that this was a really useful event. I got to meet other students in the program who I haven’t had classes with, and we met librarians working in a wide range of fields. While other attendees may be hopeful that job opportunities will come from the event, I am hopeful that the contacts I made will be helpful in starting a [intentionally vague] program that I have in mind. More on that later, when it’s more than a little seedling in my head!


*Not really a symposium. More like a networking event.

Urban Alliance, and I can’t believe I’m doing this

I read the incredibly cheesy portmanteau “Blogust” on Twitter and since it makes much more sense than NaNoBloPo (let’s leave that month to the novel writers, please) and I have a lot to say, I figured I’d take part. We’ll see if this determination lasts past today.

Yesterday was my intern’s last day. Pout. She came to our office through Urban Alliance, which is an a-MAZING program. UA accepts high school seniors with promise (and with enough credits that they can leave school at mid-day), who then spend all of October in what is essentially an extended interview, learning various job and life skills. They get placed with employers at the beginning of November, at which point they work 3 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and on Friday continue to have workshops. Private sector employers make a contribution to UA to participate in the program, and the students’ wages are paid by UA through those contributions and other fundraising. Over the summer the students work full-time.

The program provides the students with a lot of support in addition to the weekly workshops. They each have a “program coordinator” who is a UA employee who does things like make site visits, help the students with college applications, and be the heavy when there’s a problem between the mentor* and student. UA continues to be involved after the students go to college.

This was my second year as a mentor. I have definitely improved in my supervisory skills, though my extreme distaste for confrontation still holds me back from providing appropriate feedback in a timely manner. I’m getting there.

My intern worked very hard this year; so hard that I’m not sure what we’ll have an intern do next year. My intern did a scanning project making my boss’s OpenLIMS project possible, and more significantly, the links to DC Laws in our open source publication of the D.C. Code. I had anticipated that she would scan much more slowly than she did! She also compiled data into spreadsheets (including information about 1720 Superior Court decisions).

I do have ideas for next year’s intern, if not fully fleshed-out projects. My goal is for him or her to get exposure to computer programs and tools that high school students don’t often use: mail merge, for example, or using a spreadsheet for more than just data entry. If you have ideas of projects or tasks that an ambitious high school senior could do, whether substantively interesting or not, please share in the comments.


* Me! The primary supervisor at the jobsite.

Conferences and Diversity

When I go somewhere new (like a conference), I tend to look around to gauge the visible diversity of the attendees. AALL was definitely more white than my place of work. I’m fairly confident it was more white than the average general population. So was Digital Preservation, though my “all of the presenters are white or Asian” complaint was countered by a really interesting presentation about data sharing among zooarchaeologists by Dr. Ixchel Faniel. Still pretty white, though.

As much as I found that disheartening, though, I know that there are efforts to increase racial diversity in librarianship. I don’t know that they’re necessarily working, but it’s at least a topic of conversation.

What I found more troubling was that I saw no one at Digital Preservation (out of about 330) who had a visible physical disability of any kind, and at AALL only one person (out of about 1250) who used a wheelchair–for what looked to be a temporary injury–and only a few with other physical limitations. (For lack of a more appropriate word. Please correct me in the comments, and I can edit this.) I saw no blind librarians, and no sign language interpreters, suggesting no deaf librarians. (Sad for me, as my feeble attempt to learn sign language would have benefited from watching interpretation and making new friends who are deaf. Can’t make friends if you don’t meet them!)

At AALL I went to a subcommittee meeting on the general topic of “individuals with disabilities.” The focus–because the subject has too many facets for a group of 7 to address all at once–turned to patrons with mental illness. But I am interested in making our profession welcoming to librarians with disabilities.

I realize that conferences do not reflect an accurate cross-section of our profession. To attend a conference, one needs to be able to afford the travel, have a partner to take care of any children at home, have a job that allows time off for conference attendance, and other privileges. I’ve never needed to use a wheelchair, but I imagine that travel is more difficult and more expensive for someone who does. The same for someone who is blind or deaf. In fact, I’d imagine that as stressful as travel is in general, there is additional stress when needing to worry about accessibility that might make attending conferences more stressful than it’s worth in many cases. So the absence of librarians with visible physical disabilities from conferences does not mean that there are no librarians with visible physical disabilities.

Nevertheless, I think about my LIS program, and I haven’t met any students with disabilities.* (Okay, thinking about law school, I only remember 2 students, one in the class I began with and one a class or two below the one I graduated with, who used wheelchairs. And that program was much larger than my LIS program. So maybe the problem is grad school in general? Or the paths to higher education in general?)

What can we do?

I have colleagues in the archives field who have noted that archives job descriptions generally include a requirement of being able to lift [XX] pounds. Yes, archives involve boxes of paper and ephemera.** Yes, those boxes need to be moved on occasion, whether to bring to a researcher or for processing. But does every person working in an archive need to be able to lift boxes? No. The archivist processing a collection could have the boxes brought to her. Other office procedures could be adapted for patron service.

Are we encouraging our paraprofessionals with disabilities to get an MLS? Are we arranging our physical spaces not simply to be compliant with the ADA but to actually be welcoming and comfortable to potential coworkers?

Do you have a physical disability? Do you have LIS classmates or coworkers with disabilities? I would love to hear about your experiences in your LIS program or workplace. What more should we as a community be doing?


*Totally lying. One of my classmates has CP–but if she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have realized it. So maybe I shouldn’t have lazily left the word “visible” out of this sentence.

**I am excited to have had the opportunity to use the word “ephemera.” It’s almost as good as “stuff.”

Questions of Scholarship

A law school acquaintance of mine was killed on Friday, and just as I did 12 years ago when two other friends were killed — that time in a bombing, this time what was likely and shockingly an intentional homicide — I have found myself reading every blog post looking for something new. Partially it’s to desensitize myself; the more times I read “Dan Markel is dead” (or a version of it) the kick to my gut has less force. And partially it’s because Dan — and 12 years ago, Marla and Ben — was SUCH a good person, and I want to know more about what people who were closer to him experienced of his goodness.

Orin Kerr wrote today about questions of scholarship that he debated with Dan, and this debate is what I want to highlight. The salient quote:

Dan and I spent around an hour debating whether it is better for new scholars to start their careers by joining preexisting conversations or trying to start new conversations. I argued that the better strategy was to start a new conversation (more likely to lead to a unique contribution); Dan believed that the best strategy was to join a preexisting conversation (more likely that the scholar will focus on something serious and important). It’s the kind of academic topic that even a lot of law professors consider just navel-gazing. But to Dan it was a hugely important issue, as it raised fundamental questions about what law professors should be doing and why.

These are fundamental questions not just for law professors, but for all higher education (if I may be so presumptuous to say so). I’ve written in this space and others about rigor. Focusing on LIS education, what should our professors be researching, asking, doing? Does students’ impression of our professors depend on whether they are charting new territory in theory or practice or “merely” (in scare quotes because it definitely is more than merely) contributing to existing scholarship? What is our role, as students, in advancing new or participating in ongoing conversations?

My overarching goal in everything I do in the information realm is to provide access. Currently, that goal has formed itself into two distinct projects: digital legal publication that complies with the requirements of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, and activities and research related to access to justice. The former is new. The theory and practice are still in rough drafts. There are few people engaged in UELMA compliant efforts. The latter is ongoing. There are contributions to be made (and I hope to make many), but there is already a large, established core of librarians and lawyers working on access to justice issues. I find there to be benefit in being engaged in both types of questions.

Dan was a valuable guide through my first year of law school; I wish I could have had the opportunity now to discuss the nature of scholarship with him. May his memory be a blessing.