I Can Honestly Say, “It was… interesting.”

ACRL President’s Program 2006

I am always amused when an organization uses a program to hand out awards and do business type things. You have an audience that is here for the program, a captive audience before which you can present awards to people, because then you will have someone to clap while you take the “shake hands and smile picture.” I like that LITA presents their awards separate from a program.

This debate has the longest title of any program I have ever attended. The Emperor Has No Clothes: Be It Resolved That Information Literacy Is a Fad and a Waste of Librarian’s Time and Talent, a Debate. Seriously, that is the entire title. I should have known from this beginning, that it was going to be an arduous path.
Jeffery Rutenbeck
Associate Professor and Director, Digital Media Studies, University of Denver
Stanley Wilder
Associate Dean, Library, University of Rochester

Gary Radford
Professor of Communication Studies, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Julie Todaro
Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College

The moderator, Jim Neal, spends a great deal of time explaining why they decided to do a program that directly challenges a sacred cow of ACRL libraries. [I think it is imperative that we look at our values and policies. What good is a sacred cow if you do not know what you can make with it? In another sense, what good is faith that is never tested? What good is faith if we can not explain it? Questioning our values helps us to understand them better.]

[I am in a corner and can not see the screen but whatever.]

Stanley Wilder is the first speaker: Affirmative
Information literacy was born in the 80’s [actually is was first discussed, in regards to teaching librarians to be instructors, in literature in the early 70’s] and has been around too long to be a fad. There is an absence of faculty and student support. There has been no empirical testing to prove that IL is successful. A student’s objective is their coursework. [yes and IL helps students do their research.] He asks if it helps students do better course work. [the literature says it does] Search complexity is not a teaching moment. [He is right about that.]

[There is a librarian in front of me drinking from the kind of bottle you use in chemistry, the opaque plastic ones with the tiny mouth and screw top lid. No kidding. Plus, there is a woman right behind him with these crazy see-through puffed sleeves who falls asleep about halfway through the program.]

[Stanley Wilder is saying that IL does not help students with assignments or help faculty to create better assignments, but that is what we do with IL at my library.]

Julie Todaro gets up and speaks to the negative.
Five types of scholarship
Scholarship of discovery, integration, application, teaching, and artistic endeavor
Julie gets it right that IL has been around almost a century, under different names.
Is this a waste of our time? It is one of our primary responsibilities, seamless integration into the curriculum. Seamless delivery, under the radar.

[There are cheerleaders and the audience participates. I do not participate, but I inwardly groan. This is what my brother and I call cheese wiz for the old people. Predictably, the audience appears to love it. *sigh* This is when I decide it might be time to leave soon. I am not the target audience for this.]

Jeff Rutenbeck: Affirmative
[I am at the point where everything now sounds like blah blah blah]
There are many kinds of literacy. The idea of literacy is “washed out” and washed up. Literacy is something you do at a moment in time; it is not something you have. Literacy is an ideological practice and favors particular ways of thinking and organizing. What does our current info lit structure favor and benefit? [I am sorry, how is this an argument? These things are true. The idea of literacy does keep changing quickly. So what does this have to do with teaching or not teaching? No matter what trendy name we give it, people will still need certain skills to write better papers and do better research. I wonder if he would argue that Math is washed up?]

Gary Radford: Negative
These efforts are crucial to faculty being successful by helping them to get students to experience the wonder of discovery. Good scholarship breeds healthy skepticism. Students have to be taught to effectively use information: information literacy. Info Lit is about teaching a changed attitude. It is a way of being in a world of changing information. We need information to understand information. Librarians should not give up on the students. They need to learn and be pushed to understand information better.

[I decide I am tired of sitting on the floor with legs falling asleep for a program whose “interludes” make me want to find a sharp stick and poke out my eyes. Because that would be actual fun. I am going back to my hotel to write.]

Later: I am not sure that the gimmick of the debate worked. It would have helped if the debaters were using actual statistics, but I did not hear one statistic the entire time I was in the room. I am a little appalled that the dean of a library would actually think that teaching students information literacy, regardless of label, has only existed for 25 years. I was very disappointed in this program, which had an interesting premise but fell short. I think for me, the “Interludes,” meant to lighten the mood, only drove home that there is a huge disconnect in ACRL between the NextGens and the older librarians. Yes, I just made a huge generalization and not everyone will fit into it, but it is there none the less.

At the beginning of the program, the ACRL president gets up and says she wanted a program that people would be talking about for years to come. I think that will happen pretty definitely, though not in the way she intended.

–Jane, shakes head and sighs to self

10 thoughts on “I Can Honestly Say, “It was… interesting.”

  • June 28, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Oh my. I’m not sure what else to say except that I found your comments about the people sitting around you more interesting than the idea of this debate. It would have been more fun if they’d followed debating format more closely and had cards and a timer and all of that (or did they? you didn’t mention it either way).

    My new response to anyone who is opposed or disinterested in what I do: Math is washed up. Perhaps the puzzle of what I’ve said will allow me to slip away quietly.

  • June 28, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    They did have time limits like in a debate, but it was not “on the fly” as most debates are.

  • June 28, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    zzzzzz…..How disappointing, boring and just silly. I think your comment (“there is a huge disconnect in ACRL between the NextGens and the older librarians”), summarizes quite nicely.

  • June 28, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    >[I decide I am tired of sitting on the floor with legs falling asleep for a program whose “interludes” make me want to find a sharp stick and poke out my eyes….]

    >Later: I am not sure that the gimmick of the debate worked.

    I should say not, unless fantasies of self-blinding were what they were after!

  • June 28, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    About a decade ago when I was doing a lot of talking about Internet filtering, I reached the point where I began turning down panel discussions. Invite me to give a talk presenting my conclusions, but don’t ask me to be half or a third of a point-counterpoint “debate.”

    I think for the program you presented, someone wanted to make a point about user education, but instead of doing that, presented a “balanced” program that was anything but. Happens a twee too often in LibraryLand…

    I do wince a little when I hear about the “older librarians,” of which I am one, but I understand the point made.

  • June 29, 2006 at 8:35 am

    And “older” really was targeted at the “humor.” I do not think age should ever/always be the indicator of how we will act or what we will know. That is a generalization that does not ususally apply. I just could not think of a better way to delineate what I was witnessing.

  • June 29, 2006 at 10:19 am

    There is a possibility that this program was modelled on one that has been a rip-snorting success at the Canadian Library Association conferences. 2006 was the eighth year the debate was staged. Sounds like this one failed to capture the spirit of the Canadian version which does have a timekeeper (speakers get 3 minutes), and debaters have been known to show up in costumes.
    Here’s a bit from the write-up of the 2003 event debating the value of the library as place (which was the combined ALA/CLA in Toronto):

    Over 400 audience members cheered on the debaters and enthusiastically participated in the debate as well. Ernie Ingles (University of Alberta) and Jim Neal (Columbia University) had the more challenging affirmative side of the debate question, but they gamely engaged Gillian McCombs (Southern Methodist University) and Madeleine Lefebvre (St. Mary’s University) in what, occasionally, became an hysterical battle of the sexes…McCombs and Lefebvre drew first blood when they waltzed into the ballroom and onto the platform dressed in full Canadian jurist attire (powdered wigs and all), vowing to put “the library itself on the stand to defend itself.”

    Sounds more fun than this one!

  • June 30, 2006 at 9:52 am

    I agree with Alane above–I went to this program in Toronto and it was excellent. This one in New Orleans was dull, lacked any sort of evidence or logic, and seemed pretty hokey. Not at all what I was expecting. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one.

  • July 9, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    I was at the debate – and managed to videotape the “interludes”. If you want to poke your eyeballs out, I posted 3 of them to YouTube. The last one was the absolute worst – yes, worse than the cheerleaders.


  • July 11, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    I really wanted to attend this program but had a conflict so I decided to attend the last half. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at 3:30 just as the entire audience was leaving. When I inquired about the stated time, I was told that time included a reception. Why wasn’t that made clear in the ALA planner? Sounds like I didn’t miss a thing though!

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