28 January 2010

Still thinking about ALA: What is IL Instruction for?

As you might know from previous posts, even my most recent post, I love conferences. I thrive in hearing about projects at other institutions and thinking about ways they will work at my own library. I get inspired by librarians and I also come to recognize how special as place my own library and campus can be. My trip to ALA Midwinter is no exception.

As part of our travel, my Director asks us to think about “trends, highlights, ideas you think might work (or not) here.” In reading other blog posts this week, there seem to be a lot of ideas around technology trends. But most of the sessions I attended were not geared towards technology. Especially since I was travelling with Andy, who is the Emerging Technologies head honcho. No, I tried to focus my attention on instruction. What I learned, though, is that the way I am developing are instruction program at Champlain is not easily aligned with instruction at a lot of other institutions. That gives me pause for thought.

One of the sessions I attended discussed the role of experiential research in information literacy. Our students are taking on ethnography projects this spring so that felt like the right place to be. However, as I listened to librarians share their strategies and techniques for preparing students for experiential research, I found myself conflicted with this “student as scholar” model. Are we truly setting our students up for success by asking them to behave as scholars? Is that model appropriate to today’s climate or economy?

Thinking back on the Education Life section of the NY Times I read a few weeks ago, I wonder if scholars are really what students should be trained to be? I think back to this TED video by Sir Kenneth Robinson as well. Are we serving students well by asking them to behave as mini-scholars? Maybe. Maybe if we are making it clear what these scholarship projects can do for them out in the “real world”. Maybe if we can make clear connections between the methodologies we are teaching them and the work they will encounter in their cubicles, classrooms, studios, labs. What are students getting from a particular research method that will matter to them after college?

That’s where my head is and has been for a while. I look back at my thinking about seeing Ken Robinson’s video and I still asking the same question when I attend conferences: what is Information Literacy instruction for? From listening to librarians speak, I think we can answer that question to ourselves and maybe to administrators. But I’m not convinced we can answer that question for students.

Are you?

19 January 2010

Dear ALA, about Midwinter

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am waiting to board my plane from Boston to DC, going from one huge conference (ALA Midwinter) to another (AACU). Conferences are funny things. I look forward to them a great deal. I love traveling in and of itself but traveling with learning and improving my understanding of issues in my field is especially enjoyable and rewarding. Oh, and catching up with friends while I’m at it is pretty awesome.

This trip, though, was different than other trips to Midwinter. I don’t know about others, but there was something that hung over the conference. Perhaps it was the location. Boston is a pretty great town but you woulnd’t really know it if you stayed in the vicinity of the conference. I would have greatly preferred being at the Hynes Convention Center than in the no-man’s land of the BCEC. Even on those really busy days when I had four meetings back to back, it would be nice to feel the vibrancy of the city like you do at the Hynes.

Perhaps it was the lack of vibrancy in the Exhibits Hall. I took two hours one afternoon and strolled the exhibits. And while there are some cool things to see, what you really could see is smaller booths, more nervous looking reps from vendors, and less fat. Less celebration. And that just felt….a bit depressing.

Perhaps it’s just everyone’s focus on the economy. One of the discussion groups I attended dealt with how to increase morale among librarians and staff during these trying and scary times. (More on that in a later blog post.) I don’t work at a public institution but that doesn’t mean that I can’t sympathize and feel great concern with their discussions of furloughs, extreme cutbacks, and layoffs. Which is why I find it unacceptable that our profession, which is so interested and dependent on serving users through technology, is not offering more in terms of virtual participation. Because let’s face it: conferences are bloody expensive! And a good deal of what we do could be done virtually. I am not suggesting email, because god knows I don’t want to have to write more emails. But Skype is a pretty phenomenal free service. And sitting down to do committee work really could be done via Skype with a few emails thrown in. Believe me, I love coming to conference. And I am a firm believer in the value of face to face interaction. But I really wonder what the thinking is behind demanding attendance at conferences in order to participate in our profession. To me, it reeks of the very thing that eats at us—being viewed as outdated. This really struck me during the Ebsco luncheon. The presenter kept pointing out what they have that “Google doesn’t have.” “Hmm,” I thought (and whispered to Andy, “that’s an interesting presentation style.” Just because Google doesn’t do it, does that make it better? More usable? Valuable? Relevant? Is that supposed to be a rallying cry to librarians?

It’s not to me. And neither is saying that face to face is inherently the better, more productive way to get work done. It’s about determining what is important to us as librarians and professionals, what is important to our users, and what is important to our vision for libraries. That’s what I want to hear about at conference: vision, innovation, collaboration, optimism, creativity. That’s what inspires me. That’s what gets me back into the saddle, ready to rock it out at my library. So, perhaps this is my plea to ALA: let’s get creative about how we can make conference more essential, interesting, valuable, relevant. I have some ideas and I bet you do too. Share em! Here, in your own blogs, on the Twitter, within your libraries, among yourselves. But share them. Brainstorm. I find most people at ALA are interested in hearing suggestions. So let’s come up with some.