NELA 2013, Part 4: Information literacy

In addition to all of the great material on the NELA conference blog recapping various sessions, my colleague Linda posted a rundown of the sessions she attended, and of course the Swiss Army Librarian wrote a recap as well (he also contributed to the conference blog). Both Linda and Brian’s posts are concise and informative.

In my previous three posts about NELA, I neglected to list the sessions I attended (normally I post more chronologically!), so here’s the belated list:

Sunday
1pm Keynote address: Rich Harwood
2pm The Art of the Ebook Deal: Jo Budler, sponsored by the Information Technology Section (ITS)
3:45 Table Talk: Engaging the Library in Long-Range Planning, with Mary White (formerly of Robbins Library!)

Monday
8:30am BYOD: Supporting Patrons’ Devices in the Library, sponsored by the ITS (unfortunately, this conflicted with Library Trends: Pew Research, and I heard Lee Rainie was an amazing speaker; there were also some great tweets coming out of the Rating Library Materials: Censorship or Guidance? session at the same time)
10:45 Not Your Average Book Group
12:30pm Culture and Collaboration: Speaking the Language of Faculty, with Laura Saunders
2pm Censorship on the ‘Net 2013, with Melora Ranney Norman, sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC)
4:30pm Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges
6pm Visit to Portland Public Library

The links above mostly go to one of my or Brian’s recaps on the conference blog, or to the description of the session on the official conference site (which in many cases include links to the presenters’ materials, such as slides or handouts). I noticed no one had written about Laura Saunders’ presentation, so my recap of that is below (also cross-posted to the conference blog). No one had covered Melora Norman’s session either, so I wrote a brief post about that on the conference blog as well (see link above).

I think that will be all for my NELA posts, but I can’t guarantee it…I may need to write about ebooks some more, because Jo Budler was awesome.

Laura Saunders, Culture and Collaboration

The ACRL defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Though the term “information literacy” itself is somewhat problematic and can be off-putting to some, most faculty recognize its importance. Despite the agreement about the importance of IL, many college students are not as prepared as faculty would like. The library fits into the larger mission of the university, providing an opportunity for collaboration in this area. However, the reality is that most IL instruction is covered in “one-shot” classes or within General Education (GE) requirements; there is a lack of assessment, a lack of time devoted to it, and a lack of faculty buy-in (they agree that students should have the skills, but aren’t so sure it’s their responsibility to teach them).

Who is responsible for doing what? Where does the library fit into curricular support? Though IL instruction is often covered in GEs, Saunders suggested it might be more useful to move it into the individual academic disciplines. There are “cultures within cultures,” she found when she surveyed faculty, asking, “Do you think information literacy is different in your discipline?” Common concerns include searching for and evaluating information sources, but different kinds of information are preferred in each field (primary vs. secondary sources, for example).

Most IL instruction sessions, however, are structured the same way: most of the time is spent on finding sources, not evaluating them. In an oft-retweeted phrase, “The role of the librarian is to turn students into skeptics.” Often, though, students aren’t skeptical enough. In the words of one faculty member from Saunders’ survey, “The idea of digital natives is such a lie.” Indeed, Project Information Literacy (PIL) has found that students value convenience over quality.

How, then, can librarians improve information literacy instruction? Talking to faculty is the most important step, Saunders said. Anticipate the needs of the faculty, know their concerns, talk to them about what they’re interested in, target your message to their discipline. Students must realize that finding information is only the first step, and just because something is peer-reviewed does not mean it’s 100% reliable; evaluation (“thinking”) is still necessary.

Saunders had excellent slides to accompany her presentation; I didn’t get a chance to write down the details of her data, and the material isn’t up on the conference site (yet). Meanwhile, PIL has lots of great data, and Saunders also recommended Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) on track, which is a neat resource. Although this presentation was aimed largely at academic librarians, information literacy is important to everyone, and public librarians ought to be looking for opportunities to help our patrons improve their information literacy skills. (For a start, see my post for the Robbins Library blog, “Can You Trust It?: Evaluating Information Sources.“)

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