Rigor, revisited

When the Library Loon first (recently, at least) wrote about rigor, I responded at Hack Library School. She wrote again about rigor last week, and I feel that she again is calling for a response.

Now, despite my linking to her own response post in the above paragraph, she actually began with a post a few days earlier using an apt proverb as her introduction. I particularly enjoy writing that is in response to a quotation (I know there’s a fancy word for such a quotation, but am unable to pull it from my brain at the moment), and in this case, I find the proverb as meaningful as the Loon does.

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

—Archilochos (reputedly)

The Loon suggests that she is a fox, as I would describe myself. I think that the profession of librarianship is perfect for foxes (as is–or can be–the profession of law). We do not disagree on the difficulty of training hedgehogs in courses designed for foxes, nor on the ideal of the profession containing both foxes and hedgehogs. Where the Loon and I diverge, if I understand her correctly, is in her assumption that those of us engaged in striving for more rigor in library school are doing so because we feel that library school should be training hedgehogs.

Before I turn to my opinion that rigor and the education of the fox are not incompatible, I want to turn to the Loon’s follow-up piece, the one that explicitly addresses rigor. When I first read the beginning of this post, before reading about foxes and hedgehogs, my thought was that she was describing my law school: “every course…is as deep and rigorous as its instructor’s expertise will permit. No remediation, no consideration of prior background (or lack of same), devil take the hindmost.” Which was fine for me (barely!) and my classmates*, but does not mean that a non-Ivy League law school doesn’t provide a rigorous education.

The Loon suggests–though I don’t believe this is her main point about rigor–that the ALA accreditation standards get in the way of specialization, making the education of the hedgehog librarian-to-be less rigorous than it should be. I return to law school: the law school curriculum is intentionally fox-like. Yet it can be rigorous, even in the required introductory courses, even for the foxes.** The expectation is that specialization will happen on the job.

My law school education makes me believe that rigor and the education of the fox are not incompatible. When I wrote earlier about rigor, I suggested that rigor is about asking the right questions:

Are we learning the basics that we need in order to be well-rounded librarians? Are we learning how to adapt traditional library theories and functions to an always changing library landscape? Are we learning how to advance the library and information field to serve modern patrons? Are we learning to ask questions, and to ask the right questions? …

And finally, we ask if we’re learning these things in an environment that encourages us to reflect, elaborate, discuss, and discover?

These questions can apply to a single course or to a LIS program as a whole for both the fox and the hedgehog. It is easier to answer these questions when the answer is a clear “no”–a course that spends an entire class session learning how to use MSPaint, for example, rather than providing a curricularly appropriate means of supporting students who are not familiar with various modes of creating digital images. Or a participation grade for asynchronous class sessions that encourage shallow thinking.***

It is much harder to state affirmatively that a class IS rigorous by this standard. But it is our professors’ obligation–as it is ours as students–to strive for reflection, elaboration, discussion, and discovery. And these can be achieved regardless of specialization, for both foxes and hedgehogs.

 

Dan, you will be missed.

** To be fair, I don’t know what courses my brilliant, now professor classmates took. Did my tax professor friends take an advanced taxation course? Did my civil procedure professor friends take whatever advanced course would follow the first year civ pro class?

*** I am absolutely sure that I would do no better in coming up with questions for asynchronous courses than my professors have done. This critique of discussion questions is not intended in any way as a critique of my professors.

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