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photo of Rachel Dolezal at a Spokane rally

Wikimedia Commons. CC SA 4.0

I don’t know how many librarians followed the recent drama swirling around feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, but I think it serves as a valuable object lesson in the complexity of contemporary research into identity. In brief, Hypatia published an article by Dr. Rebecca Tuvel (Philosophy, Rhodes College) entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” (paywalled) in which Tuvel argues that there are logical equivalences between arguments surrounding transgender identities and arguments surrounding transracial identities (e.g., Rachel Dolezal). Tuvel argues that many of the common arguments for accepting transgender identities can be applied mutatis mutandis to accepting transracial identities. What would otherwise be a fairly dry paper on the logic of identity claims set off a firestorm of outrage. An open letter accusing the article of causing harm received hundreds of signatories, the editorial board of Hypatia apologized, the board of directors for Hypatia disavowed that apology, the open letter was rebutted, social media erupted, the paper was called a “discursive transmisogynistic” act of “epistemic violence,”and there have been dozens of think-pieces on the state of feminist philosophy, on “call-out culture,” on the ethics of scholarly communication, on privilege, and so on, and so on. Read the Wikipedia article if you must. (No, really, it’s an academic scandal worth knowing about.)

I’m not going to weigh in with my thoughts on the affair–who’s right and who’s wrong. Instead, I want to look narrowly at one aspect of the scandal that seems to speak to information literacy: the role of identity in information evaluation practices.

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I just realized that I haven’t shared my slides from LOEX a few weeks ago. So, scroll to the bottom for the complete slidedeck. Of course, it would help to have some context to understand what was going on. So here are my presentation notes, slightly reworked for this post. Also, there were a couple of caveats I made during the presentation:

  1. I’m focusing on teaching information evaluation during a one-shot library session in a first-year course. The English 101 writing courses that dominate library instruction. Higher-level classes in other subjects get treated differently.
  2. The pedagogical tactics I’m recommending have been thoroughly researched and shown to be effective…just not by librarians. This is stuff coming out of cognitive psychology, education, political science, and other fields. So, while I’m not going to include assessment data, please know that there is a ton of assessment data out there from earlier studies.

Anyways. Let’s begin…

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by mattbuck, CC-BY-SA 3.0

by mattbuck, CC-BY-SA 3.0

So, I’ve been trying to come up with a research agenda. I mean, I can’t be the “Framework is stupid” guy forever;1 I don’t want to get pigeonholed.

Anyway, it’s Sunday night and I’m thinking that if I’m going to turn my back on whatever the ACRL comes up with, I’ve still got to have a working concept of “information literacy” (or something to that effect.) Well, I’ve had this idea rattling around for over a year and the other day I finally thought I’d pursue it. So I fired up the LISTA database and started searching for something I figured some librarians somewhere had already researched thoroughly: Bayesian interpretations of information literacy.

Nothing. Not a single article. I checked a few of the major journals. Nada. Google Scholar? Just one 2002 article by Carol Gordon (formerly of Rutgers and clearly on to something). I headed over to Twitter and asked where the rest of the research was? Crickets. From what I can tell, no librarians are applying Bayesian theory to information literacy. Shoot, the impression I’m getting is that most information literacy librarians have never even heard of Bayesian inference. So that’s going to be it. My research agenda will be to introduce a Bayesian approach to information literacy.

But what does that even mean? Here’s a brief overview:

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Three people seated around a table having a conversation.

by Int’l Research Institute for Climate and Society, CC BY-NC

 

You know, that last Frame review really bummed me out. I mean, “research as inquiry” is a great concept, but it’s hardly unique to information literacy, and now I’m sort of questioning the whole pretense behind the Framework. But, I’m not going to give up. Time for the penultimate frame: Scholarship as Conversation. To sum up where we’ve been:

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual: A-
Information Creation as a Process: C-
Information Has Value: A-
Research as Inquiry: D
Scholarship as Conversation
Searching as Strategic Exploration

On to the conversation!

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An image of wooden framework in which none of the beams line up or meet at right angles. It looks aesthetically pleasing but is structurally unsound.

by Nathan Umstead, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

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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.

cusack

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

chooseyrownadventureinfolitUltimately, 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.

doesntmatter
[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] about what a terrible metaphor that is

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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.

http://www.slideshare.net/lanewilkinson/reconsidering-threshold-concepts-loex-2015-denver-co

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