We Talk the Talk, but Do We Walk the Walk?

Is it just me, or does it feel like, in practice, our focus as librarians is overwhelmingly on the mechanics of information literacy rather than on the big picture? Let me define what I mean when I say “mechanics” and “big picture.” The mechanics is the how-to stuff: Boolean, database search limiters, proximity searching, the tell-tale signs of a scholarly source vs. a non-scholarly source. The big picture is the critical thinking, evaluation, and ethics stuff. Put another way, the mechanics is concepts one and two of the old ACRL Information Literacy Standards. The big picture stuff is all the rest of it, and pretty much all of the new ACRL Information Literacy Framework.

Without being too anecdotal (read: leaving my workplace out of this), I’m struck that librarians are very territorial about these mechanical things. If someone in the writing center or tutoring center dares to teach a student about using search limiters in a library database, we cry foul. “That’s our domain!” we shout, “Stop encroaching on us! You can’t do it right! We’re trained in this!” As if only someone with an MLS can navigate the complexities of EBSCOhost. This seems petty to me. In this age of the flipped classroom, can’t all these mechanics safely be left to someone else so that we can focus our attention on those higher level concepts?

In addition, we need to realize that we’re not the only ones on campus who think information literacy is important. Those folks in the writing center? They have a stake in this too. As do the faculty members teaching the classes. And yet, according to a very interesting Dissertation by Grace Veach at the University of South Florida, librarians think that four out of the five original info lit standards outlined by ACRL should be taught by librarians, not writing faculty (see figure 13, page 79 of that study).

So here we are, focusing most of our attention on standard 2 (the mechanics), and getting upset whenever anyone else on campus tries to teach the mechanics, yet ostensibly thinking that we should have responsibility for all of information literacy instruction except for teaching the purposeful use of information. And then along come these complex new Information Literacy Framework concepts. Where does that leave us?

I don’t know the answer to that. And frankly, I’ve been brooding over this post for days, trying to make it sound less angry, less confrontational, and more coherent, and I’m ready to let go and send it out into the ether. So I apologize for coming off angry, confrontational, and/or incoherent. That’s just the kind of week this has been.

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