Between working from home and an upcoming sabbatical in the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.
So here’s what I’m reading for work and for fun and some other little stuff as well.
As a way of staying in touch while under stay at home orders, my colleagues in the information literacy department have been conducting weekly Zoom meetings to talk about interesting articles we’re reading and research we’re working on. For one such meeting, one colleague recommended “First-Year Students and the Framework: Using Topic Modeling to Analyze Student Understanding of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education” by Melissa Harden(1). The article is an interesting exploration of how to use topic modeling to assess students’ understanding of information literacy concepts.
What I thought was really interesting about the author’s approach, though, was her use of the Framework as a text. Basically, as part of the assignment she was assessing, she asked students to read the Framework, albeit a modified version which eliminated some of the jargon. I’ve seen similar approaches in other articles and my own colleagues have discussed activities they’ve used that involve having students read the actual Framework.
So I’ve been at this work from home thing a little over eight weeks now. At the start, I shared some details about how I was approaching the new reality by carefully structuring my days and keeping productive. I reread that post now and I can see how part of me was still in a bit of shock. The world had changed so quickly and yet I felt like I was in a slow-moving apocalypse.
Part of me still kind of feels like that. For all that my state (New York) seems to be past the worst of the first wave of the outbreak, it still feels very much like Winter is Coming. One by one, the universities in my area have fallen to furloughs and layoffs. The budget situation at my own university is…not pretty. We’re being told they’re doing everything they can to avoid job losses and I believe those who are telling us this but, realistically, it’s hard to imagine how we could possibly get out of this without some real damage being wrought to people’s job situations. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, now that we’ve moved from the early stages of this crisis to something that looks more like a middle stage, I thought I’d share some updated thoughts and reflections.
As always, I want to acknowledge that these reflections are coming from a place of privilege for all of the same reasons I’ve cited in past posts.
In the time since I started writing about the contextual nature of research and research as a subject of study, I’ve noticed that I have a habit of using the phrases “information literacy skills” and “research skills” more or less interchangeably. But really IL and research aren’t one and the same. So I’ve started wondering lately where exactly the line is between them and wanted to spend some time thinking through this issue.
As an academic librarian, I tend to think about the contextual nature of research mostly through the lens of the academic library environment. Specifically, information literacy, since that’s my specialization.
But before becoming an academic librarian, I spent some time in public libraries: three years as a clerk at a small public library in my hometown and then two years as an intern at a larger public library in the suburbs near where I went to grad school. As an intern, I spent some time at the reference desk and helping out with programming.
Some recent conversations have gotten me thinking about how all this talk about the contextual nature of research might apply not only in the academic library environment but also in public libraries. Thinking back on my own experiences working in public libraries as well as my continuing experience as a public library patron, I actually think public librarians are in many ways better primed to address the importance of context to the research process than academic librarians are.
Recently, someone paraphrased a famous quote to me that the best way to learn about a subject is to try to teach it to someone else. Partly this is due to the inherent challenge of having to learn something well enough to be able to explain it to another person but it also gets at how your understanding of a topic can grow and change through the act of teaching it.
I don’t know who the quote was originally from (my friend didn’t either) but the idea stuck with me. It got me thinking about what I’ve learned about information literacy as a subject in the time that I’ve been teaching it.
I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before but I wanted to spend a little time talking about Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, a book by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle which was the main inspiration behind the research I’ve been doing related to research as a subject of study.
The main reason I originally picked up Naming What We Know is because the ACRL Framework had recently introduced the idea of threshold concepts into thinking about information literacy and I was still trying to get my ahead around what threshold concepts even are. I’d read a bunch of stuff by Meyer and Land, the researchers who originated the idea, but a lot of the examples used in those books are from economics, biology, and other fields of study that are outside my expertise. So I was excited to find a book on threshold concepts for writing studies.
As an information literacy librarian, writing studies is considered outside of my professional realm but there are some connections there. For example, at my institution, our writing and critical inquiry program has a close relationship with our information literacy department (or, more accurately, my colleague who is the liaison to that program) because as part of those courses first year students have to write at least one research paper, which means that in addition to this being their first encounter with college-level writing, it’s also their first encounter with college-level research.
Besides that, I also have a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing, so I have at least some understanding of research in that field. At least more of an understanding than I do in some of the other more technical fields where I’d seen threshold concepts discussed.
Reading through Naming What We Know is what sent me on my current research path. Here are some thoughts.