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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As you may have heard by now, the ACRL formally rescinded the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.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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by quinnanya on Flickr. CC BY-SA

by quinnanya on Flickr. CC BY-SA

I want to tell you a story. A story about the worst library job interview of all time. Lots of library blogs talk about how to apply for jobs, but you don’t often read how to interview prospective librarians. Let this be a cautionary tale for hiring committees. Oh, and the following is all true to the best of my recollection.*

Begin.

Before the interview

Friday morning. I looked over the agenda for my on-campus interview and noticed that there was a 45 minute gap between the time the car picked me up at the hotel and my first appointment. Nothing particularly unusual about that…sometimes traffic is a pain in the ass. Then again, my hotel was only a half-mile away from the library where I was being interviewed. I could actually see the library from my hotel window.

The car dropped me off 3 minutes after picking me up. I had 42 minutes to spare.

So, I decided to head in to the library and see if I couldn’t meet with anyone. I walked up to the front door, took a deep breath to steady my nerves…oh, there’s a card swipe. I don’t have a card.

41 minutes until my interview.

Since the car dropped me off early and I was locked out of the library, I decided to stroll around campus for a bit. This lasted all of 10 minutes before (1) I got bored with the sprawling suburban campus and (2) I got tired of being outside in 40 degree weather without a jacket. So, I headed back to the library just in time to catch a student entering the building. She was kind enough to hold the door open for me. Lane 1, Card Swipe 0.

Since I wasn’t entirely sure where the reference and instruction department was, I went straight to the front desk where a rather bored-looking student worker was staring vacantly at a computer screen. “Excuse me, I’m here for an interview. Could you point me towards Wendy Williams’ office?” “Who?” “Wendy Williams? Head of public services?” “Umm…I don’t believe she works here.”

Normally, I hate it when people refer to college students as “kids.” College students are adults and it’s patronizing to refer to them otherwise. But, this kid needed a reality check. “Well, since she is your boss, I have a feeling she works in here somewhere. Maybe you could look it up?” Pointing across the library, he muttered, “you should ask research services over there.”

24 minutes until my interview.

In my library, the reference desk is in the middle of our information commons. I can see the entire commons and students can see me. This library had no reference desk and the Research Services department was tucked into a suite off to the side. I walked in confidently and was immediately stopped by a student worker. “Can I help you?” “I’m here for an interview.” “Oh. Well, I don’t think anyone is here yet.” I was dropped off for an interview and there was no one there. 22 minutes left and I already want to leave.

“Let me double check.” The student worker invited me to sit down in a small chair next to what I later found passed for a reference desk. You see, this library uses a model where student workers provide reference help. Librarians live in offices down a dimly lit hallway off the main suite. It’s at the student worker’s discretion whether to call a librarian for help. I can’t say I approve of the model, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I’m sitting in this chair that, for some reason, is tucked into the space between the “reference” desk and the door into the suite. I’m pushed all the way against the side of the desk and still I just know that if anyone opens the door I’ll get hit in the shoulder. So I stand up instead and hear the student worker talking to a librarian in her office. Finally!

“Umm…there’s a guy here for an interview.” “Really?” “Yeah, he says he’s meeting Wendy at 9:00.” “Well, she’s not here. Maybe he can sit in the lounge to wait for her?” “I’ll tell him.”

Hey there potential future coworker! Nice to meet you too!

I sat in a rather forlorn looking chair from the 1970s and picked at the fraying canvas.

18 minutes to go.

The first interview

When Wendy finally arrived, I was called back into her office. She had been at this library for at least a coupe of decades. In fact, the majority of the librarians I would meet had been at the library for over a decade. This will be relevant later. Anyway, even though this first scheduled meeting was supposed to be an interview with the head of research services (my potential future boss), it was really more of a 15 minute chat about the weather and my flight. Perfectly polite, but where were the questions I had prepared for? I didn’t get to find out because next I was off to the obligatory presentation. I had to present for 15 minutes about my vision for library instruction, were I to be hired. But first, they were providing a light brunch and meet-and-greet as I prepared for my presentation. Great! I couldn’t get breakfast (on account of the car coming 45 minutes early and all). Let’s just walk over to the classroom where I’ll be presenting and….

Brunch is gone.

The bagels, coffee, and what I presume must have been muffins had already been set upon by the library staff. Crumbs, coffee but no more cups, and a few depressed looking honey-wheat bagels were all they had left me. I hate honey-wheat bagels. No time to get sad, however. I had a presentation in about 15 minutes and I had to get set-up. Guess that meant no time for the meet-and-greet either. Oh well. I did get to talk to the library’s media guy for a bit and he was really cool. But I was still hungry.

At least my presentation went well. I’ve always considered myself a fairly good presenter** and from the reaction of most of the audience, I was saying the right things. Lots of head-nodding and smiles and that sort of thing. Sure, there were some glum-looking people in the back, acting as if this was all a terrible waste of their time, but most of the audience was fairly energetic and they asked some really good questions. As I later found, the energetic audience members were faculty from around campus who just happened to drop in. You can guess who my future coworkers were.

An HR interlude

After my presentation I was whisked upstairs to a meeting with human resources. It was the standard stuff about benefits, promotion, tenure, and all the rest. It also lasted almost an hour. The woman from HR was really nice, really helpful, and she tried her best to make 401(k)s sound interesting. But I got the feeling that even she felt there was a lot of bureaucratic stuff that should probably wait until I got hired to sort out. Things like parking passes and time sheets. I don’t really remember because I sort of zoned out…at this point I didn’t want the job anymore. Everyone I had met to that point seemed either depressed or inconvenienced at having to deal with an interviewee. Only people from outside the library seemed to appreciate my vision. The service models were the exact opposite of how I like to help students. The student workers didn’t even know their boss’s name. My itinerary was so bizarrely off-base that it hinted at deeper organizational issues.

And I didn’t get a bagel.

by davies on Flickr CC BY-SA

by davies on Flickr CC BY-SA

 

The second interview

So after HR is done with me, my itinerary says I have 15 minutes until my interview with the search committee. Good time to hit the restroom and get a drink of water. Except, as soon as the door opens for the HR associate to leave, the search committee comes in, sits down, and starts the interview. No break for me, I suppose. What followed was about an hour or so of the standard interview questions. Initiatives I had planned and executed. Projects that had failed. Vision for library instruction. Professional development. Typical stuff. Until the outside faculty member on the search committee asked a very specific question about a very specific reference book that we don’t actually have here at UTC. I told him I couldn’t answer the question, but that I knew of X, Y, and Z similar resources and that I’d be sure to look at make use of his specific reference book if I had the opportunity. He sat back in his chair: “Gotcha!” All the questions about instruction and public service, all of my careful answers, all undone because I hadn’t used a specific reference book. The mood in the room changed and for the next 20 minutes most of the search committee seemed actively disinterested. I hadn’t used the magic book. I was not worthy. Oh well, at least my 20 minutes to ask questions was coming up. 5 minutes. 4 minutes. 3 minutes. 2 minutes. 1 minute. 0 minutes. -1 minute. -2 minutes. -3 minutes. -4 minutes…wait! Where’s my turn to ask questions? They just kept on grilling me until it was time for lunch.

Lunch

They took me to a chain Italian restaurant just a touch off campus. It wasn’t really authentic; most of the food was jazzed up Olive Garden fare. But it was all right. I looked over the menu and settled on a carbonara. The server came to take our orders. Our orders at an Italian restaurant. Italian food.

Not me #1: “Do you make hamburgers?” “Umm…yes, we have a cheeseburger on the menu.” “Okay, I’ll have it. Well done.”

Not me #2: “I’ll have the cheeseburger too. What’s Boursin?” “It’s a type of cheese.” “Like sliced cheese?” “No, not really.” “I don’t want the cheese on it.”

Me: “I’ll have the broccoli carbonara.”

Not me #3: “Caesar salad.”

Not me #4: “Chopped salad.”

Which of these things is not like the other?

Why didn’t we just go to Red Robin like everyone clearly wanted to?

by jeepersmedia on Flickr. CC BY

by jeepersmedia on Flickr. CC BY

 

Meeting the dean

After lunch there was a half hour tour of the library. It was the all-too-common brutalist hulk that so many colleges built in the 1970s (my library included) and, for the most part, it was functionally equivalent to where I was already working. Nothing stood out aside from one particular art collection that I wished I could have spent more time with. The tour ended at a pair of windowless doors painted the same dark red as the surrounding walls. You could have easily walked past without noticing them. A small brass placard to the right said “Office of the Dean.” The door opened and I stepped inside.

To my surprise, the dean was wonderful. Energetic, intelligent, passionate about student success. She knew about the latest trends in student engagement, instruction, and assessment. She was witty and her candor was off the charts. She reminded me somewhat of my current dean. And when we got to talking, everything clicked. This dean had only been hired less than two years ago. The previous dean had spent over 20 years at the helm and, apparently, was rather hands-off and resistant to change. So, when the new dean came in, she started updating policies and procedures. She pushed for more engagement with students. She forced them to build an information commons (not yet built when I visited). And, she instituted a library-wide reorganization. The position I was applying for was a new position that fell out of the reorganization.

Everything made sense now. No wonder my interview was so bizarre. The staff didn’t like the new org chart. They resented having to change their ways after two decades of virtually no oversight. I come in talking about visions for the future and they’re pining for the past. The dean knew it too. I got the feeling that she was warning me away. She knew I’d suffocate in that work environment.

The grand finale

Of course the best was saved for last.*** Due to the suburban nature of this campus, my final meeting was at a building a half mile from the library where I was scheduled to meet the faculty of the department for which I would be a liaison. We pulled up to the building, parked, and went inside at 2:55. Navigating the maze of hallways we came to a room with a posted schedule: “Meeting with library search candidate. 3:00.” We went inside. And waited.

And waited.

In silence.

By 3:15 it was clear no one was showing up and I was fed up. “I’m a little concerned about the planning here,” I exhorted, “What’s going on?” The committee member explained. “Well I sent an email out a few weeks ago saying you’d be on campus. I don’t know where they are?” “How many confirmed they were coming,” I asked. “Well, we didn’t ask for confirmation. We just sent them the time you’d be here.”

You sent an email a few weeks ago saying you’d have a candidate visiting today. No request for a meeting. No RSVP. Just an information item. For a meeting at 3:00 on a Friday, mind you. I packed up my things and we left.

Walking to the car I pulled out my itinerary. A car was picking me up to go the airport at 4:30. I had over an hour. And though I silently cursed having to go back to the library and wait it out, at least I didn’t have to stand around in 40 degree weather without a coat like a schmuck. Approaching the car we did that thing where you split so you can get around to the passenger-side. She pressed the unlock button on her key fob once. Once is for the driver’s door. Twice is for all the doors. She pressed it once. “Well,” she said, opening her door, “it was very nice to meet you. The committee will be in touch with you in the next few weeks.” “Umm…we’re going back to the library, right?” “No, the car is going to pick you up here. Safe travels!” And she got in her car and left.

For the next hour I sat on a curb with my fingers jammed into my armpits, daydreaming about that Snuggie knockoff I saw in the SkyMall just a day earlier. The car from the airport came just as it started to rain.****

Conclusion

I got a call a few weeks later from someone in HR. Apparently I was one of the top candidates and they wanted to negotiate salary and benefits (before the offer? hadn’t done that before). I asked for a ludicrously high salary out of spite. Then I felt bad and backed down to the maximum salary they offered. An hour later I wrote an email to HR stating that I didn’t want the job under any circumstances. I still don’t know who they eventually hired.

And that is the worst library job interview ever. Yes, this all really happened. Yes, time has probably embellished certain aspects. But not by much. I had the misfortune of interviewing at a library that was experiencing deep resentments between librarians and administration. Where administration was actually on the right side of things to boot. Where old habits didn’t just die hard, they flourished. Where change was a dirty word. Where forward-thinking ideas were seen as a threat, not an asset. I really, really, really hope that it was just that some perfect storm of coincidences lead to this comedy of errors. But I’ll never know. I just wish that library–and especially that dean–the best. Maybe one day I’ll see someone at a conference and it will turn out to be a big misunderstanding. Maybe one day we’ll laugh over the missteps. Maybe one day I’ll visit again.

Maybe one day I’ll get my damn bagel.

[EDIT: Wow. Lots of people are reading this. Like, thousands of people. Maybe now that I’ve got your ear I can add something I regret not adding in the first place: I’m a gainfully employed, middle-class white dude. What counts as a bad interview experience for me may not count as a bad interview experience for you. You see, my expectations of an academic interview are conditioned by certain privileges. I could turn the job down because I was already employed. I could focus on bagels, rather than leering stares and body-image expectations. I could complain that I didn’t get to ask questions, rather than highlight the questions I was asked. Like, “What does your husband think about moving?” Or, “Is that how you would dress if you worked here?” Or, “Which bathrooms should we set aside for you?” I could complain about a question regarding an obscure reference book, rather than detail how an interviewer explained how reference books work. These things and more.

Maybe you find my interview story entertaining. Maybe you find it instructive. I don’t know. But please remember that for every one of my left-over blueberry muffin crumbs and for every second spent waiting for someone to start the interview, there’s a person in need of a job yet forced to put up with countless reminders that their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their identity is on interview too. Mine wasn’t really the worst interview ever. This is just a story about dysfunctional organizations. The moral is simply that how you interview says a lot about your place of work. But, please don’t forget that there are countless librarians and librarians-in-waiting that are forced to deal with far more systemic, institutionalized, and persistent problems. I can joke around because I’m privileged in ways that others aren’t. But don’t mistake my experience as the worst of the worst. I’m lucky that this crap-fest of an interview arose because of organizational incompetence, rather than who I was.

I don’t know what it’s like to interview outside of the skin I’m in. But, I’m doing my best to listen. You should too. #itsnotabouthebagels]

 

by sbogdanich on Flickr CC

by sbogdanich on Flickr CC

* It should go without saying that I won’t say where this interview took place. I won’t even say when. Sometime between 2009 and 2014 is all you need to know. And all names, of course, have been changed.

** Though I still have nightmares about a keynote I once gave. I was informed of a friend’s death less than an hour before going on and lets just say I was distracted and I bombed pretty hard.

*** Actually the best was a conversation I had with one of the search committee members after leaving the dean’s office. But I can’t explain it without identifying the committee member. Let’s just say that I asked a legitimate and innocent question about the reorganization and the response was both so casual and so outrageous that it bears not repeating.

**** Listen, I’m from Detroit. I can handle the cold. And 40 degrees is not cold. But, standing outside for an hour at 40 degrees in a suit and tie isn’t exactly comfortable either. Especially when the wind picks up.

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fortitude

by ktylerconk on Flickr, CC BY

One of my favorite things about the old beaux-arts Carnegie libraries is that they usually feature inspirational quotations inscribed deep into their marble friezes, architraves, and whatnot. For example, you may recognize the line in the image above from the New York Public Library. “But above all things Truth beareth away the victory.” Sounds pretty awesome, right? It’s almost as if the library is gently reminding visitors that it’s in the truth-business and since truth is the most powerful thing in the world, if you just stop in and look around, you’re bound to come out a winner! Actually, that’s exactly what it means; the line comes from the King James version of 1 Esdras and the dude who said it ended up winning a speech-writing contest hosted by King Darius I.* (For any millennials reading this, Darius was the dad of the evil king in 300.)

Anyway, inspirational quotations are sort of a mainstay in libraries and, to that end, the new library here at UTC will feature around 100 quotes in and around the building. To facilitate the short turn-around given by the architect, we recently asked the campus community to submit quotations related to libraries, learning, education, and the like. Of course, the last thing we want is to chisel something into granite only to have a student or professor loudly declaim against a misquotation. So, we’ve been attempting to verify as many quotes as possible and, to date, we’ve fact-checked 298 quotations, proverbs, aphorisms, and sayings. In the process, I’ve had time to think about how something as simple as a quotation can act as a barometer of how we understand truth and knowledge in libraries. Allow me to explain…

First, here’s a quote we received that has been attributed to Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

You know, that would look pretty cool in one of the group study rooms. Poking around Google, you’ll see the quote repeated in most of the popular quotation websites. It’s included in dozens of books of quotations. It’s listed at wikiquote.org as appearing in the 1984 book Curing Nuclear Madness, edited by Frank Sommers and Tana Dineen (Toronto: Meuthen, p. 158). The American Library Association includes it at libraryquotes.org. It even sounds like the kind of thing Margaret Mead would say. And, to top it off, it’s quoted on literally every page at the official Institute for Intercultural Studies website. You know, the institute that Margaret danged Mead founded. Obviously, I marked it as verified and I approved it for use in the new building.

Except, I didn’t. Even with multiple sources–some highly reputable like the ALA and the IIS–I marked the Mead quote as unverified and unfit for use in the new library. Popular quotation websites are, as most librarians know, filled to the brim with misquotations. The book mentioned on WikiQuote is an incredibly obscure book of New Age social psychology written by a sex therapist. The ALA list of library quotes lists “The newsletter of the Friends of the Largo Public Library, FL” as the “primary” source.** Even the IIS admits (on the FAQ page) that “we have been unable to locate when and where it was first cited.” The one thing missing is a primary source. Without a book, article, interview, or other work by or featuring Margaret Mead, I’m not going to call the quote verified and it won’t go in the library.

Am I being stubborn? I suppose some librarians may think I am. And here we can point to a rather mundane example of how our philosophical theories and attitudes inform professional practice. In contrast to the common argument that librarians need more discussion of practice and less theory, I want to show how deep philosophical convictions play a real role in professional practice. Let’s look at three common librarian attitudes towards truth: constructionism, pragmatism, and realism.

First, if you consider the massive amounts of agreement regarding the Mead quote to be sufficient verification for using it in a library, then you are most likely a social constructionist. This is a somewhat common view and it holds that the truth is whatever we have agreed is the truth. Typically, this agreement takes place through social processes. For the social constructionist, we are justified in believing that Mead said it…because everyone agrees she said it. Further, the social constructionist approach is highly skeptical of authority or credibility. To the social constructionist, what matters is reliability or consensus (Lankes, 2007)*** so it’s the consensus about Mead’s quote that matters, not the nitpicking about primary sources. Dave Lankes of “new librarianship” fame is a good example of a social constructionist.

Second, you may believe that the potential value of the quote for students and the lack of proof that Mead didn’t say it are enough to consider it verified. In this case, you are most likely a pragmatist. That is, you probably believe that truth is whatever we find most useful to believe. For the pragmatist, the quote should be verified because Mead said it for all intents and purposes. Practically speaking, adding Mead’s name gives the quote social and intellectual cachet and doesn’t deprive anyone of their claim to authorship. Likewise, practically speaking, attributing the quote to Mead helps spread Mead’s rather important and compelling worldview. Nitpicking over primary source documents misses the point: truth is about what is most practical and useful to believe, not what is “out there” in the world, and believing that Mead said it is more useful than attributing it to an anonymous source.  Lots of librarians identify as pragmatists (see Crowley, 2005, Spanning the theory-practice divide in library and information science. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.).

Finally, if you withhold judgment about the quote and refuse to verify it in the light of massive social and practical agreement, you may just be a realist. The realist takes as a starting point the belief that Mead either did or did not say something about thoughtful committed people. There is an objective fact of the matter and determining that fact requires absolute a high degree of certainty. A recorded interview, a text written by Mead, a letter…the bar for the realist is set fairly high and a verified quote can only be one with a clear, direct, and unambiguous provenance. No matter what people agree she said, or what practical exigencies require, the realist approach hinges on (for lack of a better term) objective evidence. True, some may argue that a book or letter or interview are just texts and texts can be wrong. This is why realism (at least in fact-checking quotations) is very concerned with authority control. This is also why realism does give preference to expertise in the forms of authority and credibility. Interestingly, the realist (and the pragmatist, to a certain extent) does think that consensus and reliability are important. But, that’s qualified as consensus by credible sources and reliable at leading to truth. Ultimately, the realist position is to only call the quote verified to the extent that objective, authoritative evidence supports it.

Now, in many (most?) cases, all three theories will agree. Did Francis Bacon say that “knowledge is power”? To the constructionist everyone agrees he did, so he did. To the pragmatist, it makes the most practical sense to accept that he did, so he did. For the realist, you can find “nam et ipsa scientia potestas est” in the original text of Bacon’s Meditationes Sacræ, so he did. All three theories agree that Bacon’s immortal words are verified. It’s only in the difficult cases that theory or worldview will start to distinguish decisions. This is especially visible in quotes attributed to the most famous and prolific thinkers: Einstein, Twain, King, Angelou, Jefferson, Franklin…anyone whose name can lend gravitas to a pithy saying. And, I should add, this isn’t just a library issue, as the recent proliferation of Tea Party misquotations adequately demonstrates. Indeed, as a realist, I get pretty ticked off when politicians and pundits misattribute or just invent quotes from people like Jefferson, Paine, Madison, and other important folk. Especially when those false quotations stand in direct opposition to what their supposed speakers actually believed (as is usually the case). For those interested in a decidedly realist approach to fact-checking and verification of famous quotations, I recommend the Quote Investigator.

In the end, does any of this matter for practicing librarians? Aren’t we more concerned with the day-to-day practice of librarianship, not abstract philosophical navel-gazing? Well, I suppose that depends on what you want to take away from it. I, for one, think it matters to a certain degree. In information literacy, what do concepts like credibility, relevance, or accuracy mean if not in light of these philosophical worldviews? In scholarly communication, isn’t the emphasis on impact factors and citations evidence of the social constructionist push for consensus building? Isn’t research in evidenced-based librarianship evidence of pragmatic or realist tendencies? Where you fall on these and other issues in large pat depends on your philosophical outlook. So, does philosophy guide practice? As Sydney’s Paul Redding just wrote, in response to Australian MP Jamie Briggs’ assertion that philosophical inquiry isn’t practical,

“In the division of intellectual labour, philosophers work mainly at the level of the hinges between thoughts, on those concepts deeply embedded within the argumentative threads weaving through our culture. But these are threads that have started somewhere with the formation of beliefs, and end somewhere in actions. As the concepts on which philosophers work are typically located a long way from where these threads start or terminate, philosophical research is generally described as “pure” rather than “applied”. But “pure” does not mean “irrelevant”. Who would question that the activity of finding and attempting to fix problems in our collective thinking was a relevant thing to do?”

Yes. Philosophical worldviews affect practice. It’s called praxis and it deserves as much attention as it can muster. You can quote me on that.

praxis

by DennisM2 on Flickr. CC BY

* Actually, he won so hard that Darius gave him financial and political backing to lead the Jews out of Babylon and build the Second Temple. Dude’s name? Zerubbabel.

** Just an aside: the ALA libraryquotes.org website treats newsletters and desk calendars as “primary sources.” Of all the professional organizations you’d expect to understand “primary source” you’d think the ALA would be right at the top.

*** However, Lankes’ discussion seems pretty inconsistent. He argues that “the most common way to become an authority…is through reliability” (681) and then claims that “reliability and authority can be seen as opposite ends on a spectrum” (681). Are these interlocking concepts or polar opposites? Lankes is unclear. In any event, the realist advocates for authority and reliability, not authority instead of reliability.

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Photo by loneblackrider on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In my last post, I posed an ethical scenario involving whether or not to waive library late fees. Sixteen people voted and here’s the breakdown:

Case 1, The Harry Potter fan: The vote was 10 to 6 in favor of letting the casual reader check out the last book in the Harry Potter series.

Case 2, The G.E.D. student: The vote was 13 to 3 in favor of letting an unemployed woman check out a G.E.D. study guide despite her library fines.

Case 3, The stranger: The vote was 11 to 4 in favor of letting a complete stranger check out a G.E.D. study guide, despite library fines.

Most of the comments in favor of waiving library fines argued that library fines are a disincentive to use the library, rather than their intended function as a disincentive to keep books beyond their due dates. Most of the arguments against waiving the fines pointed to the importance of personal responsibility on the parts of our patrons. In both cases, the fundamental issue seems to be the fairness, though interpreted quite differently. Those who wanted to waive fines tended to argue that fine policies in and of themselves are unfair to patrons. Those who did not want to waive the fines tended to argue that consistent application of library policy is necessary to make the policy fair. Finally, several comments pointed out that an ILS typically allows staff to override holds on accounts, so there may be other options.

I’m not surprised that most people would let the woman in Case 2 check out the GED study guide; I know I would. It seems to be a straightforward test of our commitment to improving  our community. However, I am rather surprised at the vote for Case 1. Waive or override fines because someone really wants to read a Harry Potter book? Really? Perhaps I didn’t make the scenario realistic enough. For those who would waive the fine for the Harry Potter fan, what would you do in the following case:

Case 4, Pumpkin Spice Latte: A woman comes to the circulation desk to check out Fifty Shades of Grey only to find that she must pay a $10 fine. She admits that she has the cash but she really wanted to buy a pumpkin spice latte after leaving the library. Would you override the hold on her account or waive the fine?

I’m not going to answer this one, because I’d like another shot at starting a new discussion. In the interests of getting a more even split, I’m going to propose another library dilemma, one that happens every Fall semester at our reference desk. Let me know what you think in the comments. (No Google Form this time; it didn’t work the way I had hoped.)

Photo by selva on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

A library service scenario: The music assignment

You work at the reference desk in an academic library. Every semester, Professor Jones assigns a devilishly tricky “library treasure hunt” to his music history students. The assignment consists of 50 music trivia questions and no guidance as to where to find the answers. Here’s an easy one: how many times did Kirsten Flagstad sing the role of Brünnhilde in the 1939-1940 season at the Metropolitan Opera? (Yes, that’s a real question on a real assignment.) After several semesters of the same assignment, the reference desk has put together a document with the answers to all 50 questions. How would you handle the following situations…

Case 1: The last-minute student

The day before the assignment is due, a frazzled student comes to the reference desk and asks for the answers to half of the trivia questions. Do you give her the answers? If so, why? If not, do you provide some other type of assistance?

Case 2: The very last minute student

Ten minutes before the assignment is due, a frazzled student comes to the reference desk and asks for the answers to all of the trivia questions. Do you give him the answers? If so, why? If not, do you provide some other type of assistance?

Case 3: The music history professor

Professor Smith is considering assigning a similar project for his music history students. He has an answer form with half of the answers filled in and he knows that he could probably find all of the answers on his own if he spent a few hours, but he asks you for half of the answers so he can save some time. Do you give him the answers? If so, why? If not, do you provide some other type of assistance?

 

What, exactly, are the ethical dilemmas here? Do all three patrons have the same information need? Does the amount of work each patron has already put in matter? Do the research abilities of the patrons matter? Would your answer change if you worked in a public library? Can you create another case that leads to additional ethical dilemmas? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

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Sorry I haven’t updated in a while: since I quit using Google, I’ve spent most of my time in the fetal position under my desk. I’ll post an update on Google really soon, I promise, but in the meantime…

Hoo-boy! Have I got a job for you! You may remember that the library at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga recently hired two new librarian positions. Well, we’re at it again, and this time we’re looking for a Web Design & Instruction Librarian. You can read through the ad yourself (here’s the detailed description), but it goes something like this. We’re looking for a forward-thinking librarian to help redesign and then manage our website and content management systems, as well as play an active role in our award-winning instruction program (multiple PRIMO databases and last year’s ACRL President’s Program Innovation Award, if you must ask). Web-development + library instruction = this job.*

The job ad explains what you’d be doing, but I’d also like to point out that you’d be joining a kick-ass team of librarians. Our librarians are well-established presences at national and international conferences; ALA, ACRL, Internet Librarian, LOEX, CIL, Brick and Click, you name it and we’re presenting. We’re also at the forefront of some pretty cool new initiatives. Library Boing Boing? That’s our guy. OCLC’s Web-Scale Management Services? That’s us, too. Trust me, if you want to get creative or pursue novel initiatives, this is the place to be.

What’s that? You’re worried that a gun rack won’t fit in your Prius and you don’t know how to make moonshine? Well, don’t worry, Chattanooga is actually a remarkably progressive city. Did you know that the New York Times recently placed Chattanooga in it’s top 45 travel destinations in the world? (Granted, we kind of have an in) Chattanooga is also routinely ranked as one of the most livable cities in the U.S., due in no small part to a great housing market, a nationally respected art scene, a killer restaurant scene (weighted towards locavorism), the nation’s fastest Internet speeds, internationally renowned outdoor activities, and environmentalism in your face (from the solar farm at the airport to the electric-car recharging stations to more LEED buildings than you can shake a sustainably harvested stick at). What’s not to love? We’re like a smaller version of Portland…with fewer hipsters and more fried chicken.

"I use eleven herbs and spices...you've probably never heard of them."

So…ummm…yeah. Come work at UTC. Who knows, in a few months you could have the office right next to mine!

 

*And, on a personal note, I want to give a big shout-out to the person you’d be following: Caitlin Shanley, who recently left us for a sweet job at Penn. If you apply for this job and are even half as awesome as Caitlin, I know you’ll be hired. (And, Shanley, if you’re reading this, I tried to send you a care package of your favorite things, but my barbecue pit died out before I could catch a squirrel. Sorry.)

 

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Non sequitur

(1) This blog is about libraries.
(2) This video was found in a library.
(3) This video is relevant to this blog. QED.

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