Creative information-seeking: What I learned from my literature review

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

I spent some time recently reviewing some of the literature on creative information-seeking from the library and information science field as part of my project on the role of research in fiction writing. I wanted to understand what our field already knew about how creative populations find and use information as part of the creative process so that I could use that knowledge to inform my own work.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot of interesting things but I also felt a lot of frustration with what I was finding. Sandra Cowan has a great article that captures her own frustrations with research on this topic, many of which echoed my own feelings.(1) If you’re able to access that article, I highly recommend taking the time to read it if you have any interest in research on creative information-seeking. In the meantime, here’s a summary of my own thoughts, which is maybe a little more rant-like than I intended. Oops.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on Burning Down the House

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research in that process, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today I’m taking a look at Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter. 

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That time I participated in a Banned Books Read-Out and what I learned

Image by robinsonk26 from Pixabay

This week is Banned Books Week across libraries in the United States and all around the world. Banned Books Week is a fun but somewhat hypocritical tradition where libraries uphold themselves as defenders of intellectual freedom while ignoring parts of our own history that show that while libraries like to talk the talk, they haven’t always walked the walk. Which is to say, I have some mixed feelings around the whole thing but there are usually some programs and activities that take place around this time that I’ve enjoyed in the past.

One of those activities is what’s known as a Banned Books Read-Out. This is where you take a book that’s known to have been banned somewhere for one reason or another, you talk about why it’s been banned, and then you read a passage from that book in front of an audience. I’ve participated in several of these at various times in my career and while picking my own reading has always been fun, I’ve actually discovered some great stuff after hearing about other people’s picks (most notably Philip Larkin’s poetry).

One year, though, while I was at my former institution, this activity got a little personal for me. That was my first year on my campus’s Big Read Committee, which was a committee made up of faculty, staff, and students that reviews and selects whatever the Big Read will be for incoming freshman the next year. This was kind of a big deal at the time because a lot of first year composition and freshman seminar-type classes were planned around the Big Read and the various activities associated with it.

My first year on the committee, we reviewed what must have been dozens of books before settling on our choice: Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo. In this book, Thompson-Cannino talks about being sexually assaulted at knifepoint in her own apartment while in college. Afterward, she identified Cotton as her rapist only for him to be exonerated by DNA evidence after spending eleven years in prison (during which time he was able to identify the true perpetrator of the crime). The two wrote the book together (with Torneo) in order to examine what had happened and why. The subject matter alone made it seem like a good Big Read choice but what made it even better was that Thompson-Cannino and Cotton often spoke together on college campuses for a relatively reasonable fee, so there was a chance we’d be able to arrange for a visit from the authors as one of our Big Read programs.

The committee submitted our choice to the Provost.

The Provost immediately vetoed our decision and chose Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the TOMS shoes guy, instead.

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Research in Fiction Writing: Thoughts on The Secret Miracle

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today, I’m taking a look at The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon.

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ACRL Framework: The “Scholarship as Conversation” frame is a problem

I’ve spent the last couple of months working on a book project related to some of my ideas about the contextual nature of research. The basic premise is that context matters in the research process, that information literacy instruction needs to do a better job of incorporating the importance of context into what we teach students, and that the ACRL Framework supports our doing this.

There are lot of ways in which making the case for that last part is easy. True, the Framework is a product of ACRL and therefore its main focus is clearly on academic and scholarly situations. But the word “context” comes up a lot in the Framework. Certainly more than it did in the ACRL Standards. And the Framework goes out of its way to acknowledge that research takes place in a variety of environments, not just academic ones. I’d have to look, but I’m pretty sure the workplace and personal research are both name-checked. Creative research not so much, but no surprise there given that creative research tends to be a big blindspot when it comes to scholarly discussions of information seeking in general. Despite this, I think Nancy Foasberg was right when, in an early comparison of the Framework and the Standards, she said that if the Standards largely ignored the importance of context, the Framework insists on it.

Then there’s the “Scholarship as Conversation” frame.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on The Art of Time in Fiction

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research in the creative process, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today, I’m taking a look at The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber.

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Misinformation: Who’s at fault, the creator or the user?

Image by 5598375 from Pixabay

Note: This post contains spoilers for the American, Brazilian, and French versions of The Circle on Netflix because somehow I’m still talking about that show even though everyone else either doesn’t seem to know it exists or is long since over it.

Until recently, there was an exercise that I liked to use in my credit-bearing information literacy course where I asked students to read a news article about an incident that occurred in 2010: a fourth grade history textbook that was being used in Virginia classroom was found to contain egregious historical errors. Interestingly, the big headline at the time wasn’t about how different students in different states might learn completely different stories about the history of their country. Instead, they all focused on criticizing the textbook’s author (who was not a historian) for using the internet as her main source of information.

Specifically, the textbook stated that many slaves fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War, a piece of information that is not supported by historical evidence but is promoted by groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who created one of the internet sources that the author cites.

As part of the activity, I asked students to weigh in on who they thought bore the most responsibility for what happened: the textbook’s author for citing an inaccurate source, the publisher for publishing a book with inaccurate information, the school system for not properly vetting the book, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans for creating the misleading source in the first place. They were required to rank the choices from “most guilty” to “least guilty.”

The answers about who bears the most guilt changed a lot over time. For the first few years I taught this lesson, students generally placed the most blame on the author for doing her research on the internet. As doing your research on the internet become more acceptable, students shifted the blame to the school system for not properly vetting the book. Almost no one blames the publisher or the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

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The true as the enemy of the good: Creative license and the ethical use of information

Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about creative license and its implications for the ethical use of information.

Now, when information literacy instructors talk to students about the ethical use of information, we’re usually focusing on citation and plagiarism and academic honesty and issues like that because that’s what’s most relevant to the type of research that students do. Sometimes, in keeping with the “Information Has Value” frame from the ACRL Framework, we might dip into stuff about copyright or open access or Creative Commons. But for the most part we’re talking about giving proper credit to the sources you use for academic research.

Though it doesn’t come up a lot (at least in my teaching), I would think the ethical use of information also means representing the content of a source you’re citing accurately. There may be room for your own interpretation, of course, but in general it’s understood that you shouldn’t cherry pick bits and pieces of information from a source to suit your purposes or misrepresent the original author’s stance by taking a quote out of context or something like that. Because if you do those things, you risk doing real harm to the credibility of your work and your reputation as a scholar.

If cherry picking information would be frowned upon in scholarly, academic, and scientific research, creative license would be basically forbidden. Because creative license takes cherry picking a step further by allowing someone to twist or ignore information in order to suit their creative purposes.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on The Way of the Writer (…and a rant)

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today, I’m taking a look at Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling.

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