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.
Affirmative:
Jeffery Rutenbeck
Associate Professor and Director, Digital Media Studies, University of Denver
Stanley Wilder
Associate Dean, Library, University of Rochester

Negative:
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