Saturday, February 25, 2012

Information Literacy Plan: Instruction & the Collection

We recently began the process of creating a formal Information Literacy Plan for the library. This is a great idea, and very necessary. There are already a few issues that the Plan is raising, however.

First, when we examine our library instruction program, we appear to have uneven relationships with the various academic departments on campus. It is to the point where we spend the bulk of our time supporting one department in particular, with two librarians repeatedly teaching nearly-identical sessions. One idea to make library instruction more efficient and far-reaching is to put some of the teaching materials online. This would result in a convenient self-serve model for faculty, but it would also mean a lack of face time with librarians. It would be better than nothing, though, which is what currently exists in many cases. 

If we pursue a new endeavor like this, it's adds to the difficulties we have with assessment. For the in-person classes we presently teach, the librarians have the status of guest lecturers, there one day and gone the next. Assessment in the form of grading the students rightfully rests with the instructor, but it also means that the librarians have little classroom leverage. This makes it very difficult to measure the impact of library instruction, and our efforts could be portrayed as dispensable. How can we change this? Another assessment option would be to evaluate each other and to have students evaluate us. However, I'm not sure that this would measure actual student learning -- instead it would be measuring how peers and students feel about librarians.

Then there is the collection and how it overlaps with instruction. Let's ignore for a moment the question of whether, in this day and age, a library collection is a quaint anachronism that has largely been replaced by personal, cloud-based media libraries. Right now, library classes are an important introduction for students to the college library's collection. Librarians have the opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of the library and also show how it works. (The latter is not always intuitive, particularly with the online resources.)

There are various ways of measuring post-instruction use of library materials. With digital content in particular, it is possible track precisely how often things are accessed. For better or worse, usage justifies library expenditures. The problem arises in a hypothetical situation like this: Let's say there is an established, reputable source of information about music and musicians. Everyone in the field knows about this source and recognizes it as a standard. Librarians also know about it, and they direct students to use it. Music department instructors, however, do not require that students use it. If usage numbers do not appear to justify the expense (let's say for example it costs $2,000 and only 2 people use it during a semester), the library is in the position of having to fight to defend the purchase. Would it be fair to characterize the resource as unnecessary for the collection? I'm torn. Some accrediting organizations require that a library have the standard resources in the field, and they are not concerned about usage, but this is not the case for every academic discipline.

As much as the Plan is clarifying our goals, it also seems likely to prompt some changes!


  1. Assessing "one shots". I've started using a 5question post-quiz I hand out at the end of the presentation. I also survey faculty at the end of the semester on their perceptions of how well the presentation helped prepare their students for the assignment.

  2. That's a good idea, and definitely better than the nothing we're doing currently. But I worry that it doesn't necessarily demonstrate improvement, for those students who already understood (or believed they understood) the content beforehand.

  3. yes. a pre-quiz AND a post quiz would be necessary. I just can't bring myself to put the classes through 2 quizzes. I already feel like I'm imposing just with the 1 "quiz".
    Can't your argument, though, be applied to any class where you can't demonstrate that the students already understood the content beforehand?

  4. 2 quizzes seems excessive to me as well, and when I start to think that's what is necessary it makes me want to abandon the whole effort. And yes, the same logic should apply to any class, but I hear about it mostly in libraryland -- I'm not sure why we're the only (?) ones holding ourselves to such a high standard. At the institution where I work, I keep thinking it has something to do with the fact that librarians are classified as administrators rather than faculty.