Category Archives: Bibliographic Instruction is Dead

Librarian in a Strange Land

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I’m teaching an introductory STEM class using a lesson plan that I’ve used approximately one billion times before, asking students to located a scientific study based on reporting in the popular media (shoutout to my awesome colleague Cynthia Cohen for first introducing me to this idea). Each quarter, I switch up the article so that it’s current; this time, I choose one about how consuming chili peppers can potentially help you live longer. In this class, we looked at two reported pieces: one from The New York Times that was a bit light on details, and one from The Olive Oil Times that included a surprising amount of evidence from the study. I’m hoping to complicate the idea that source type is a foolproof heuristic for quality, expecting that the students will claim that the NYT is a better source because…it’s the freaking New York Times.

We begin our discussion by looking at the NYT piece. “What do we know about this publication?” I ask.

“It’s not reliable,” one student says. “You have to be careful because it can be biased.”

This catches me by surprise. I ask the rest of the class, “Do you think the New York Times is a reliable source?” The majority shake their heads. I’m taken by surprise (not only because we’re specifically talking about peppers here): In every instruction session that I’ve ever led, sources like the New York Times are held up as gold-standard sources, basically the next-best thing you could get to a peer-reviewed scientific study. And, today, suddenly, it’s not.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, with “fake news” becoming an everyday part of our cultural lexicon, Danah Boyd publishes a piece called “Did Media Literacy Backfire?“, where she posits that, as a culture, we have done too good a job of encouraging people to question information, especially information that does not jive with their personal experiences and networks. Boyd writes, “Media literacy asks people to raise questions and be wary of information that they’re receiving. People are. Unfortunately, that’s exactly why we’re talking past one another.”

I read this piece, and it feels right: My social networks are echo chambers, and when I see postings from the other end of the political spectrum, I doubt them more and more quickly than those that implicitly align with my worldview, ultimately true or not. I hear and participate in conversations about how social media is so distressing these days, and my corner of the Internet gets more and more homogeneous as those people who don’t agree either fall silent or unfriend. The echoes amplify, but I barely notice, and I have trouble imagining that there could be an inverse version of my world, but of course there is.

I appreciate the irony that I am validating the conclusions of this post on my own experiences.

One way to understand information (and media) literacy’s goal is to create wary consumers of information. In some ways, this project seems to have been a resounding success; in others, not, as this skepticism tends to come out more in certain contexts, and not at all in others. The project of information literacy feels like success in small ways (e.g., “My students can find peer-reviewed articles!”), but feels like failure once writ large. What happened?

My hypothesis is that we all took the concept of “evidence” (and, consequently, “good” information being rooted in evidence) for granted. And now, thanks to world events, we discover that a concept that we implicitly thought everyone understood the same way… well, we didn’t. And now we have to face that.

So what do we do now? In an analogy that seems more and more apt by the day, librarians and educators must be Vergils, leading learners through an informational hellscape. And to do that, we can’t rely on our old tricks, like CRAAP, because they presume an agreement about meanings of terms like “reliability.” We’ll have to break down these concepts, and build them up together toward a shared meaning. This is going to require empathy, and collaboration with our educator colleagues because this can’t be done in a 50-minute one-shot–it’ll have to happen over years, with consistent reinforcement, and librarians can’t own it alone. It’s going to need us to advocate for spending our efforts on more challenging material, like why someone might want to find a peer-reviewed study in the first place. If we live in a world where people question everything (or everything that doesn’t align with their worldview),then let’s help them think about the questions they’ll need to ask to interpret those sources.

Every morning, I wake up and am not sure how I will find the world. I question things I thought I knew (Sure, CNN is sensationalist, but is it really “fake news”?). I wonder if the work I’m doing will have any impact. I don’t presume to know how learners will respond to questions now. This new world requires humility.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher

Libraries and Critical Thinking: No Better Time Than Now

It is a depressing time to be both an American and a person who thinks that facts matter. We have a President who denies the reality of climate change; claims that performing a study into whether voter fraud occurred is in and of itself grounds for concluding that voter fraud occurred; and, of course, prefers “alternative facts” [sic] when the way the world actually is turns out not to be in his liking. Donald Trump’s world is a zero sum game where if you’re not a winner you’re a loser, and there’s no grey area between terrific and disaster. And this is, like, the first week.

But though Trump is as pernicious an enemy to critical thinking as we’ve seen in quite some time, this current state of affairs provides librarians with an opportunity to (re)establish ourselves as educators whose primary business is helping learners distinguish fact from fiction. Carl Rogers once said that when doing research “the facts are friendly.” I can think of no better credo for the information literacy enterprise, and no better message that we could hope to deliver to our students.

Librarians, I’ve always believed, are in the very business of evidence: we teach learners how to use reliable information so they can construct their beliefs based on the best evidence available to them. Whether helping a student find an article in a database; learn how to cite something in MLA; or write an annotated bibliography, all our efforts boil down to helping learners base their beliefs on the evidence.

The present situation affords us a unique opportunity to use our creative powers to make this expertise explicit, and help both students and other campus faculty see our value in the realm of critical thinking. There are any number of ways to do this that fall squarely within the realm of librarianship. And the best ways, in my opinion, will be lessons that maintain our neutrality in the face of politics and and our allegiance to the facts, whatever they may happen to be. Facts are not political, no matter what this, or any other government administration may prefer you to believe.

 

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Uncategorized

Congrats to Alex Carroll!

Huge congratulations to my friend and fellow UNC SILS library school alum Alex Carroll for   his award from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the MLA

alex

for Professional Excellence by a New Health Sciences Librarian. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving librarian or a better dude. Next Pappy on me when I see you brother.

Students of the game, we passed the classes. Nobody could read you dudes like we do.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes, The Library Game

Our Own Horn

Happy to announce that an article Dani and I wrote that was published by Reference and User Services Quarterly last year – “How Do Our Students Learn: an Outline of a Cognitive Psychological Model for Information Literacy Instruction” – was recently named a “Top Twenty” Article of 2015 by LIRT – ALA’s Library Instruction Roundtable. So I thought this might be a good time to toot our own horn again, and promote the piece for those who may not have had a chance to check it out. I’ve heard now from several people that the article helped them engage in discussions with their colleagues about implementing empirically informed, learner-centered teaching in their own libraries, which is really awesome.

Here’s the abstract:

Effective pedagogy requires understanding how students learn and tailoring our instruction accordingly. One key element of student-centered pedagogy involves understanding the cognitive psychological processes according to which students learn, and to structure our teaching with these processes in mind. This paper fills in a gap in the current literature, by applying empirically grounded lessons drawn from the cognitive science of learning, and discussing specific applications of these lessons for information literacy instruction. The paper outlines a framework for information literacy instruction, grounded in the educational and cognitive psychology literature, for facilitating student retention and transfer of information literacy skills, two classic measures of student learning. Five specific principles and several strategies for promoting retention and transfer within information literacy instruction are outlined.

And you can check out the whole thing via RUSQ. If you’re having trouble locating the article, drop me a line (kevin dot michael dot klipfel at gmail dot com) and I’ll help you out.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

There’s Just Some Stuff Students SHOULD Know: Some Thoughts on Dewey on Education with Reference to Library Instruction

I was having a passing conversation the other day with our new library dean and another librarian at my university that all of the sudden involved me pontificating (a rare occurrence, to be sure) on the nature of education. I’m leading a project at my university where we’re creating a formal information literacy curriculum with written outcomes, modules, and assessments, and  several librarians are involved in the process.

At any rate, as I said, we were talking kind of in passing after the meeting about whether there are things, objectively speaking, that “students should know.” I think this is a common view in libraries and in education. Let’s call it:

The Objective Importance View: There’s just some things an educated person should know.

This is, I think, probably uncontroversial on the face of it. After all, what the hell are we doing here, if not educating students about stuff they should know?

But here’s the thing. I actually think The Objective Importance View is false.  More colloquially, I probably think it’s controlling bullshit.

Here’s why.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes

Information Literacy Implications of “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems”

In the not-too-distant past, my library adopted a new discovery system for our catalog access. Right away, my colleagues and I noticed weirdness: some keyword searches would pull up seemingly unrelated items (where a search through the bib record revealed no clues) or an exact title search would display the title we were looking for several items down. I’ve been stumped for why this is happening, and got no good answers from the vendor.

Which is why I’m super grateful for Matthew Reidsma’s recent, very excellent blog post, “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems.” It’s long, but worth reading the whole thing. In fact, I’d say it’s a necessity for all librarians—go read it, I’ll wait.

Welcome back! So, to summarize: Reidsma tested Summon’s Topic Explorer function and discovered some odd, leading things, which are the function of how the tool’s algorithm works. For example, a search for “muslim terrorist in the United States” led to a Wikipedia result about “Islam in the United States”—a distressing conflation.

This is why it’s really *not good* for us to present the whole “Internet=bad, Library=good” dichotomy that is so easy to fall into. In many cases, the library search isn’t great either: the algorithms that run it are created by people, and are certainly not perfect, and may reflect the biases or simple not-thinking of the creator. So no matter what the tool is that we use to find information, that question of evaluation is critical: is this actually a reflection of what I was looking for, or does it take a leap (e.g., terrorists –> Islam)? And even if all of the results do seem related, we need to interrogate how they are being displayed: most people are only going to look at (maybe) the first ten results: do they represent a certain viewpoint? These problematic issues exist in ALL library discovery systems, not just open web products like Google.

When I go back to teaching in the fall, I’m going to be sure to teach evaluation outside of the context of a specific search engine—I want students to feel comfortable questioning all information they see, and not to elide that skillset because they implicitly trust that a certain search (i.e., the library search) is more reliable. If our job is to teach students to be critical consumers and creators of information, I’d say that it’s incumbent upon us not to take the easier path, but to surface the way these systems are constructed and the potential for bias and leading that such systems create. Many thanks again to Matthew Reidsma for his excellent article, that highlights the problematic nature of discovery systems.

How will you approach this in your teaching?

#questioneverything

For more related research on algorithms, you should check out Safiya Noble’s work on how commercial search engines represent gender and racial identity. It’ll make you stop in your tracks and rethink how you approach teaching searching. Promise.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction Online Course

Dani and I will once again be teaching a course on Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction, with a focus on the science & psychology of learning,  via RUSA/ALA. You can now register for the course that begins on 2/15/2016 and ends on 3/27/2016.

Here is a bit of info on the course:

This course will introduce library practitioners to empirically sound approaches to learner-centered teaching that can be applied to creating effective reference and instruction services that maximally facilitate student learning. The first part of the course will be devoted to understanding the current science of how students learn from the perspective of cognitive and educational psychology, and concrete ways that library practitioners can apply this learning to the library context. The second part of course will deal with motivational aspects of learning: What does the psychological research say about what makes students want to learn, and how can we use this research to motivate information literacy learning? The final part of the course will cover issues of diversity and inclusive pedagogy from within the framework of culturally responsive pedagogy: In a diverse educational landscape, how can we construct our teaching so that it includes, rather than alienates, as many students as possible?

The aim of this course is to give librarians the tools to feel more confident in their instructional strategies and ability to support student-centered learning. Not only will the course introduce participants to scientifically grounded pedagogies, but will lead them through exercises to concretely apply these theories to their own library contexts. This course will be of interest to any librarian who engages in reference or teaching, and is unique in providing a current overview of the current educational literature alongside practical strategies.

We’re excited to teach it again; please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

For questions about the logistics of registration you can contact: registration at ala dot org

For questions about the course itself you can contact me at kevin dot michael dot klipfel at gmail dot com (Dani is on leave for a little bit right now so it’ll be easiest to get in touch with me at the moment)

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game