Selected Resources: “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy”

You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on last year’s lists and write about it here.

Today we’re all about “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy” by Eamon C. Tewell.

Disclosure: I am currently a member of the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee, which selects and evaluates materials for the Selected Resources lists. I played a role in the selection process and reviewed several of the items that ended up on the final list as part of that process.

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The Ballad of Purdue OWL

There was a conversation recently on one of the library listservs concerning recent changes to Purdue OWL, a commonly-recommended site that in the past has always provided credible and accurate citation guidance as well as some great academic writing advice. Apparently, the site was bought by (or is now in partnership with) Chegg, a company that basically encourages students to use AI to do research and write for them because clearly that’s the best way to actually learn anything.

Apparently this change happened almost a year ago but some of us (including me) are just realizing it now.

The librarians in the e-mail chain had some good alternatives to recommend, including Excelsior OWL and some others. I know we have a pretty good Citation Guide at my own library that’s kept pretty up to date.

Still. I’m in mourning.

There is no user-friendly way to learn about citation. There just isn’t. The actual publication manuals are labyrinthine. The sites that generate citations for the users don’t actually teach them anything about how to cite and are also inaccurate. Purdue OWL was the one resource I could point students to and be able to say, “This is a credible source of citation information that’s relatively easy to understand.”

This was a resource I shared with students at the reference desk, in my classroom, and in my side gig as an online writing tutor. Whenever a student came to me with a question about citation, it was the first place I looked for an answer to recommend.

To be clear, the citation information on the site still seems good. The many advertisements that follow you around (including everyone’s favorite: the autoplaying video) don’t necessarily change that. But now that it’s attached to a site like Chegg, it’s hard to recommend it without at least some reservation. Because students might come for the citation help, but they’ll stay for the promise of homework assistance that looks an awful lot like cheating.

More than that, though, Purdue OWL was my own go-to resource for citation help.

Generally, I use APA to cite because that’s the citation style I’m most familiar with by virtue of being an online writing tutor for a graduate program where APA was the standard. Some library journals use APA, including the first few that I published in. But a lot of the big ones use Chicago style.

I did not take this into account when writing my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.” If you take a look at that article, you’ll see that there are probably around 80 sources cited. Originally, all of those citations were in APA style because the decision to submit it to College & Research Libraries, which uses Chicago style, came later in the process. Before submitting it for review, I had to convert all 80 or so citations to Chicago, a style I had never used before. And I had to do it by hand.

In short, FML.

While the submission guidelines for the journal are helpful in showing what they are looking for in terms of citation, I still stumbled on many questions along the way. Questions that I answered using Purdue OWL.

This is a story I tell students often. First, because it’s hilarious seeing their reactions to the idea of citing 80 sources when they are daunted by idea of citing 3-5. Second, because it shows that I’m recommending them tools that I use myself. And third, because I think it helps them to know that even as someone who’s required to do research and publish as part of my job, I don’t have all of the rules memorized and I probably never will. So it’s okay if they don’t either.

The change at Purdue OWL doesn’t prevent me from still being able to do this, obviously. But it’s just one more asterisk to affix to another on a rapidly diminishing list of learning resources that could be recommended without reservation.


Studies of research: Reporting in the “Post-Truth” Era

I’ve mentioned before that one of the cool things about the study of research is that it’s already out there, in so many forms and in so many fields (not just library and information science!), even if that’s not what the researchers doing this work would necessarily call it. I saw a lot of examples of this at the ACRL 2019 Conference and I wanted to spend some time here taking a closer look at a few of them.

So let’s take a closer look at “Reporting in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era: Uncovering the Research Behaviors of Journalism Students, Practitioners, and Faculty” by Katherine E. Boss et al.

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Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

Image source:

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of space talking about what pop culture gets wrong about libraries. The natural question is: are there any good or accurate examples of libraries in movies, books, or TV shows?

On the whole, The Public, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez, does a good job because Estevez took the time to do actual research about actual libraries—he even came to the ALA Conference in New Orleans a few years ago to talk about it. But the situation in that movie is both fictional and heightened. Except for a few short scenes early on, you’re not seeing the library as it would function in an everyday sense. (Although the questions the patrons are asking the librarian at the beginning are 100% spot on.)

A better example is probably a brief scene from The Station Agent.

The Station Agent, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie starring a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage along with Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale. In the movie, Dinklage plays a quiet guy who seems to prefer solitude (basically the opposite of Tyrion Lannister) but gets drawn somewhat unwillingly into a tentative friendship with Clarkson and Canavale’s characters (Olivia and Joe), who are also both alone and/or lonely in their own ways. There is also amateur train chasing and a brief lesson on the origins of the phrase “right of way.” That probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s really a lovely movie. Highly recommended.

Anyway. In the movie, Dinklage’s character, Finn, is new in town. He goes to the library to find a book about trains, a subject for which he has a great deal of passion, to put it mildly (he literally lives in an abandoned train depot). He goes to check out the book. In doing so, he startles Emily, the librarian played by Michelle Williams.(1) She screams in surprise. After recovering, she asks him if he has a library card. He doesn’t but wants to get one. She asks if he has a piece of mail with his address on it. He doesn’t. She tells him that to get a library card, he’ll need proof of address. Olivia arrives and offers to check the book out for him on her card. Finn refuses the offer and leaves. “Oh my God, I just screamed in his face,” Emily says to Olivia, embarrassed. The scene ends.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

What makes this such a great library scene?

So many things.

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Why I make changes to what I teach

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Once upon a time, I was invited to speak in front of a small group of librarians in my local area about the un-research project as part of their professional development day. As part of the presentation, I described the structure of the project itself, why I created it, and its various outcomes. At the end, there was plenty of time for questions. I had given this presentation before, so I thought I knew what kind of questions to expect. But the one in which my audience seemed most interested was one I had not anticipated.

I mentioned at the very beginning of the presentation that I am always making changes to what I teach, both big and small. I claimed that I had never taught the same thing the exact same way more than once or twice.

Apparently this was quite a shocking claim.

I think it was shocking for a couple of reasons. The first was a question of time. Like, how much time do you have to have on your hands to constantly be tinkering with what you teach? Interestingly, some recent research I conducted with a group of former colleagues on why academic librarians leave their jobs suggests that librarians tend to be overwhelmed by the number of job duties they are given. Often, whether our job descriptions reflect it or not, we’re asked to do the work of ten people. No wonder spending time on a revision process for a standard information literacy course seems like such a luxury.

To be honest, I have no idea how the demands of my own job compare to that of others, but it might help to know that I usually save the bigger, more sweeping changes I want to make for the summer, when I have a longer period between classes and (theoretically) more time to plan.

The second reason it might have been so shocking is because there’s a lot of risk in change. Not only does it potentially take a lot of time to plan, but there’s no guarantee it will even work. And that could really screw up things like course evaluations (for a credit-bearing course) and assessment data. Plus, once you find something that’s comfortable and that works, why mess with it?

These are legitimate anxieties and certainly I have tried things that didn’t work. But making changes is still worth it to me.

Here are some thoughts on why

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Off for the holidays

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite past posts in case you missed them.

Thanks for reading and see you in the new year!