Hey, ready for another round of “let’s revisit the Framework?” Like I wrote last time, I never got around to seeing how the final version of the ACRL Framework stacks up against the draft I originally reviewed. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be revisiting the frames one at a time. Last time was “Authority is Constructed and Contextual;” today it’ll be “Information Creation as a Process.” Let’s dive in.
Okay. I really thought I was done with the ACRL Framework. I even wrote what I thought was the final word a few weeks ago…that it doesn’t matter. But, last night I was having a discussion with someone about blogging and the Framework and other stuff; and I realized that most of what I have said about the Framework dates to the Summer of 2014, where I addressed the draft framework. I never actually followed up to see how the final version stacked up. I still think the So, as a writing exercise for a slow reference desk shift, I thought it might be interesting to see what’s changed in two years. So, let’s take another look at the frames, starting with Authority is Constructed and Contextual.
You’ve probably heard of #critlib: that loose affiliation of librarians interested in “critical perspectives on library practice” [link]. Now, I don’t identify with #critlib because. . .reasons. But I do think that the work being done under the mantle of critical librarianship is vital and important work, so it’s something I pay attention to. And one of the things I see an awful lot in #critlib discussions is an uncertainty about the role of critical theory. Reflecting on this, last week I wondered aloud whether anyone would be interested in short overviews of important figures in critical theory. And quite a few people expressed interest. So, I thought a little and I realized something: #critlib is absolutely saturated in the themes and ideas of Paulo Freire–chief architect of critical pedagogy. While his name is rarely explicitly mentioned,1 you still see his influence in talk of praxis, the banking model of education, problem-based learning, enabling student voices, authority being constructed and contextual, scholarship as a conversation, and so on. Personally, I think Freire is one of the greatest educators of the 20th century and his work had a big impact on my development as a teacher. But, I think his work also had some major flaws that people interested in Freire may want to consider. And that’s why I thought I’d take the time to give a brief overview of Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy. This is NOT authoritative. It’s just how one librarian who studied Freire back in the day understands critical pedagogy. The goal is fourfold:
- To give an overview of Freire’s thought.
- To provide definitions and context for frequently used terms (hello, ‘praxis’).
- To identify potential criticisms and considerations.
- To identify where librarians may find something useful
So, let’s begin…
I haven’t blogged in over six months, but I’ve been thinking about getting back into it. I’ve got about a half dozen half-written posts on everything from discovery layers to curriculum design to some 6000 words on critical theory in librarianship. Maybe I’ll publish them one day. Maybe not. But I’ve read a few things over the past few days that I just had to comment on.
As you may have heard by now, the ACRL formally rescinded the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Going forward, the Framework for Information Literacy represents the official stance of the ACRL on information literacy. Now, I really don’t want to keep doing the ACRL Framework versus ACRL Standards debate. Yes, I’ve been critical of the Framework. I was on the task force that made the thing and I saw how the sausage was made. I think it’s based on an underdetermined educational theory and I think the six frames were chosen through a flawed methodology. I could nitpick the thing to death but I won’t (again). Rather, I just want to go on record that the rhetoric surrounding the Framework debate is its largest problem. After the ACRL announcement, the library instructors on Twitter and email lists got pretty worked up, with some praising the decision and others condemning it. And then I saw someone compare the ACRL decision to Brexit as both were “shortsighted” and would diminish the importance of the ACRL and the UK, respectively and…wow. On one hand, a parochial and voluntary association of librarians replaces one toothless policy statement with another toothless policy statement. On the other hand, a racist, anti-immigrant campaign built on lies and misinformation has just destabilized an entire country, if not the world. Yeah. Pretty much the same.
Granted, that’s only one arguably offensive comparison, but still it is illustrative of just how hyperbolic people can get over the ACRL’s decisions regarding information literacy. What I can’t seem to figure out is why.
As I see it, the arguments in favor of retaining the Standards all seem to center on either historical convenience. (“we don’t want to have to rewrite our lesson plans”) or political convenience (“like it or not, we still have to assess and to consider accreditation”). On the flip side, most of the rhetoric surrounding the Framework is about “empowering” library instructors to do things the Standards wouldn’t “let them do.” Most of the Framework excitement boils down to “oh, I can finally do this” or “now we can teach that” or some other statements about how liberating and refreshing the Framework is compared to the dusty, old Standards. Outside of that, the usual line is simply that the Framework and Standards can’t coexist and the Framework has now been adopted, so that’s that. But, guess what…
You don’t want to rewrite your lesson plans? Then don’t. The ACRL doesn’t send the Pinkertons after non-compliant libraries. So you should be fine.
You’re worried about assessment or accreditation? Here. That’s the AAC&U VALUE rubric for information literacy. It’s basically the same as the Standards except it’s actually usable. And your faculty will have heard of it. You’re welcome.
You think the Framework opens up new and liberating ways to teach; that the Standards were holding you back? Then you haven’t been paying attention. There is literally nothing being proposed under the Framework that wasn’t already being done either under the Standards or in spite of the Standards. You think we weren’t already teaching that authority is contextual? Or that information has value? Those six frames aren’t new discoveries…they’re codifications of existing thoughts and practices; thoughts and practices that developed within the milieu of the information literacy Standards. The simple truth of the matter is that where the Framework is useful, it’s not original (and where it is original, it’s not useful, I would add).
You think both the Framework and Standards are useful and want to use both? Go for it. The whole line about the two being inconsistent is nonsense. One of the lessons of the Framework is that the ACRL is not concerned with consistency and rigor with respect to theory adoption. The Framework adopted only the parts of threshold concept theory that suited it, so you can adopt only the parts of the Framework that suit you. And that includes ignoring the part that says the Framework and Standards are inconsistent. I mean, it’s written into the danged Framework itself: “each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation.”
You think that’s all well and good for those with the privilege, but your boss/library/university requires that you use one or the other? Maybe you love the Framework but your mean old department head refuses to leave the Standards. Maybe you’re not ready to leave the Standards but your director heard about the Framework at a conference and thinks it’s the greatest thing ever. If either is the case, and you are receiving pressure from above to conform to one or the other policy, then just conform. It doesn’t matter. You can easily map the same learning objectives to either the Standards or the Framework. Like I said, there’s nothing new in the Framework. If anything, the Framework is so much broader and vague compared to the Standards, that it’s easier to map to it.1 You may feel forced to accept one of these policies, but that doesn’t control how you interpret it.2
Ultimately, I think we need to get away the rhetoric about what these two documents will and will not let us do and realize that the choice is up to us. Instead of focusing on the merits and demerits of each set of standards (yes, the Framework is a set of standards) we ought to be focusing on the merits and demerits of standardization more generally. Emily Drabinski has a very perceptive rundown of the role that standardization plays in librarianship. I only just read it after writing everything above, but she makes some of the same points, albeit much more intelligently. You should read it. All I can add is that we need to remember that the old Standards and the new Framework are just standards. Though they may use language that appears to be describing some fundamental reality about information literacy, they can’t actually do that. Neither amounts to any substantive theory of information literacy. Neither is authoritative. They’re just interpretations. They’re suggestions. They both serve as frameworks through which we learn to speak a common language. Yes, I think the Framework is a deeply flawed document, but at least when I hear someone say that “scholarship is a conversation” I know more or less where they are coming from and we can have a dialogue.3 As a professional community we need these sorts of shared understandings, and that’s what standards and frameworks do for us.
I feel like I’m just repeating what much smarter librarians have already said, so I’ll give it a rest. Give up on the hand-wringing. Use the Framework. Use the Standards. Use them both. Use neither. In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter.
 Recently, a local composition instructor did a deep reading of the Framework with us and said that her entire curriculum could fit under the Framework. Whether that’s because the Framework is too vague or that the Framework is overreaching in its scope is unclear.
 And if your director is at the point of dictating how you are supposed to interpret an information literacy document, that’s a management problem, not a Standards/Framework problem.
 about what a terrible metaphor that is
So, I don’t know if you noticed this, but I haven’t posted anything here since March. To break the streak I figured I’d start by posting the slides from my presentation at the LOEX conference back in Denver in May. Yeah, yeah…I’m six months late on this. But, with the the LOEX Fall Focus only two weeks away, what better time to remind people that some library instructors aren’t down with the ACRL Framework? In fact, my presentation, “Reconsidering Threshold Concepts,” was basically a 45-minute crash-course in the theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical failures of the Framework.
However, don’t read me as saying that embracing the Framework is a dumb thing to do. As I tried to make clear in the presentation (even if the slides don’t convey it), my intent by criticizing the Framework was to strengthen it, not to shame it. After all, there is no perfect theory. About anything. Every theory or framework or method or position can be criticized. The key is in knowing how to deal with those criticisms. And my presentation was about taking hold of the theoretical foundations of the ACRL Framework and giving a good shake to see whether I could feel comfortable standing on it. I’ll let you decide for yourself if you’re comfortable. In the absence of a recording, I can only hope the sentence fragments spread across the slides will suggest a coherent argument.
Oh, and the conference theme was “Perfect Your Craft” and everyone worked really hard to create beer-themed presentations (my personal favorite title being Alison Hicks’ “Drinking on the Job: Integrating Workplace Information Literacy into the Curriculum”). Just had to get that out there in case you viewed the slides and thought I was an alcoholic or something.
Right now my tenure dossier is being circulated among various and sundry provosts, chancellors, and other administrative types. If you’ve been through the process, you’re probably already aware that these dossiers often have strict requirements pertaining to what needs to be included, what counts as evidence, formatting, section titles, and so on. So, I suppose it really wasn’t a surprise to find that my one-and-a-half page philosophy of librarianship statement would have to be trimmed down to no more than one page before being passed to the next reader. I’ll write a new statement later today but, in the meantime, I thought I’d post the original here.
Philosophy of Librarianship
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”
“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”
David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
There is nothing more basic than belief; our lives are little more than the sum total of our beliefs about the world. Our personal histories, who we love, what we wish for the future…every aspect of our selves is mediated by belief. It is for this reason that the abbreviated function of education is to lead us to new belief: we grow and learn as we encounter and adopt new ways of experiencing the world. Of course, belief comes in degrees. While we may be perfectly willing to modify or even reject many of the things we think about the world, certain of our beliefs are held to a higher standard; there are some things about which we are absolutely sure. There are certain things we just know. Finding these certain, indubitable beliefs has occupied us for thousands of years as philosophers, scientists, poets, and artists all seek not just an understanding of the world, but the right understanding of the world. Taken as a whole, and developed over millennia, this quest for knowledge and understanding constitutes the social transcript…and the librarian is its steward. As librarians, it is our job to facilitate this organization of knowledge and, moreover, to assist others in identifying, accessing, and evaluating the recorded knowledge they seek. If you want to know which beliefs best represent the human condition, look no further than the library.
And yet, in our post-information age we are drowning in belief; drowning in information. It is no longer enough for libraries to collect, organize, and make accessible extant beliefs, because there are just too many. What’s more, knowledge has become increasingly contested. The exponential growth in information available to the average person has resulted in a strange sort of intellectual populism characterized by confirmation bias after confirmation bias. What does it mean to proportion your belief to the evidence when Google can put you in touch with evidence for anything? The choices seem to be radical skepticism or base gullibility. The social transcript has run amok.
As an instruction librarian I see it as my responsibility to help patrons and students understand that the world of information is not simple. Information does not and cannot go uncontested. The unimaginably vast amounts of information at our students’ disposal are not evenly distributed and the beliefs therein expressed are not all equally valid. Thus, it is vital that students learn to critically evaluate the information around them. Students must learn how power shapes dominant narratives, how methods of publication affect information quality, how expertise is communicated, and how knowledge is ultimately transferred. Students need to know which information they can trust.
And this issue of trust is no small thing either. As Hume argued, “there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony of men.” Almost every belief we have about the world comes from the testimony of someone else. You only know your date of birth through a birth certificate. You only know the capital of a far-off country because of a map. You only know the chemical weights of the elements from a chart. Indeed, every single thing that happened before your birth or in far-off places you only know from being told it or having read it. Testimony is so important to knowledge that learning which testimonial evidence to trust may be the most basic critical thinking skill there is; learning where to find that evidence is almost just as basic. And the role of the librarian, as steward of the social transcript, is to guard that evidence, make it available, and teach others how to evaluate it.
The books we collect, the journals to which we subscribe, the films we purchase, even the wilderness of the open Internet, all constitute the social transcript and this is where librarians work. In helping others move from unanalyzed information to synthesized knowledge, we help patrons identify the testimonial evidence to ground their beliefs about the world. This is what I do as a librarian at UTC. It’s not about passively providing answers; it’s about actively teaching others how to find the answers. It’s not about organizing information; it’s about showing others why that organization matters. It’s not about deciding expertise; it’s about teaching others how to identify it.
As an instruction librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it is my mission to assist the academic community in the access and evaluation of information, through responsible collection development, reference assistance, and library instruction. In doing so, I am upholding the longstanding tradition of the librarian as a guide to the social transcript.
Recently, nina de jesus argued that libraries perpetuate systematic, institutionalized oppression by virtue of adhering to the democratic principles and values espoused during the Age of Enlightenment. Her argument can be summarized as follows:
Premise 1: Libraries embody and perpetuate the values of the Enlightenment.
Premise 2: The values of the Enlightenment are oppressive.
Conclusion: Libraries embody and perpetuate oppressive values.
On its face, this is a valid argument, which is just to say that if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true as well. Yet, validity is no substitute for soundness and we can rightly ask whether de jesus’ argument is, in fact, a sound one. Are her premises true?
This post will attempt to argue that de jesus’ argument is flawed in its second premise: hidden within the claim that the values of the Enlightenment are oppressive are historical and methodological assumptions that significantly weaken her argument. This is not to say that libraries are immune from institutionalized oppression. Rather, the argument I wish to make is that the values of the Enlightenment are not the proximate cause for ongoing oppression. If anything, as I hope to show, the historical and material “conditions that both caused and are caused by the Enlightenment” are frequently mischaracterized and misunderstood. The values of the Age of Reason, far from being a direct cause of institutionalized oppression in libraries, may be the best cure.