About one or twice a week a student I had in a for-credit information literacy class last semester will drop by the reference desk when I’m working it and she’s studying in the library to stop and chat with me. She’s an international student living in America (and Los Angeles (God help her)) for the first time, so often we’ll not only chat about her schoolwork, but whatever issues may come up for her as an ESL student.
The other day she came by and, as we were talking, mentioned that one of her instructors swears quite frequently and that she thinks it’s amusing. She asked me what I thought about that and I told her that I don’t swear in class or at work because it can be alienating to people (though in my personal life I can barely go a sentence without saying fuck (a fact that I didn’t mention for professional reasons)).
We kind of got talking about this, and language differences between her home country and L.A., and she asked me what the equivalent swear-word was in English for a particular phrase referring to saying something not especially nice about someone’s mother.
I jokingly said something along the lines of, “Well, there’s no way I’m going to tell you but it does present an interesting dilemma … How would you go about searching for a phrase like that when you don’t actually know the exact phrase?”
Her response: “Oh! You mean like keywords!!!!” after which she began typing quickly into her laptop.
After about thirty seconds she looked up at me.
“Professor Klipfel! I figured it out.”
“Cool,” I said.
“IT’S MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!” she said.
“Very good. But what did you type in.”
“I typed in “English” “Mother” and “Bad Word” into Google. I even used your keyword chart!”
Just another information literacy triumph.
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.
In a much-discussed article at Slate, social psychologist Michael Inzlicht told a reporter, “Meta-analyses are fucked” (Engber, 2016). What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.
The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked. Our focus will be on things that may be fucked in research methods, scientific practice, and philosophy of science. The potential fuckedness of specific theories, research topics, etc. will not be the focus of this class per se, but rather will be used to illustrate these important topics. To that end, each week a different student will be assigned to find a paper that illustrates the fuckedness (or lack thereof) of that week’s topic, and give a 15-minute presentation about whether it is indeed fucked.
I took a few classes in library school that could have been titled this, but I don’t think it was intentional.
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
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.
The librarian doesn’t tell me what to read, doesn’t tell me what sequence of reading I have to follow, doesn’t grade my reading. The librarian trusts me to have a worthwhile purpose of my own. I appreciate that and trust the library in return.
Some other significant differences between libraries and schools: the librarian lets me ask my own questions and helps me when I want help, not when she decides I need it. If I feel like reading all day long, that’s okay with the librarian, who doesn’t compel me to stop at intervals by ringing a bell in my ear. The library keeps its nose out of my home. It doesn’t send letters to my family, nor does it issue orders on how I should use my reading time at home.
The library doesn’t play favorites; it’s a democratic place as seems proper in a democracy. If the books I want are available, I get them, even if that decision deprives someone more gifted and talented than I am. The library never humiliates me by posting ranked lists of good readers. It presumes good reading is its own reward and doesn’t need to be held up as an object lesson to bad readers….
The library never makes predictions about my future based on my past reading habits. It tolerates eccentric reading because it realizes free men and women are often very eccentric.
My awesome colleague George Thompson passed this along to me. I think it summarizes nicely what, to me, is probably the most fundamental thing to keep in mind as a librarian, educator, or human being more generally: that genuine connection with other human beings is at the core of everything we do.
I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me