Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Got Soul, But I'm Not a Soldier: On "a quiet culture war in libraries"

University of Utah Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources and Collections Rick Anderson has published an opinion piece in Insights, titled "A quiet culture war in research libraries – and what it means for librarians, researchers and publishers." This article is illuminating and instructive, but not, I suspect, for the reasons Anderson intended. Rather than revealing or elucidating a problem – the author offers no evidence beyond his opinions as the first comment on the article points out and cites only himself – it is a useful look into the mindset of a dean, one that I suspect is shared by others, as well as university and associate university librarians throughout North America. The article can also be read as an apologia for the current state of scholarly communication and library and information science (LIS) practitioners' roles in that.


Anderson posits a spectrum from soldier to revolutionary with regards to how academic librarians and library staff approach their jobs, and that the tension between these mindsets drive much of the labor in academic libraries. To wit:
The soldier can be thought of as generally operating under ‘marching orders’, which he takes from his institution’s mission and strategic goals, and tends to focus mainly on local needs, the impact of library services on current patrons, and the library’s alignment with its institutional mission. Those with a predominantly soldier mindset will tend to think of the library primarily as a service and support program for its host institution.
The revolutionary mindset thinks less in terms of marching orders than in terms of global vision. A librarian with a predominantly revolutionary mindset will tend to think more about the library’s effect on the global scholarly community, its potential role in solving global and systemic problems, and the long-term impact of its collections and services in that context. The revolutionary will tend to think of the library less as a service than as a leader and educator on campus.
Anderson is rightfully careful to note that soldiers and revolutionaries operate on a spectrum, but by focusing on the extremes, "two different orientations," he writes, or at least the Weberian ideal types, the article gives the appearance of binary thinking and false dichotomies. His use of "spectrum" and "continuum" as cover are not unlike a lawyer who introduces something for the jury to hear, knowing it will be stricken and thus resonate.

The multiple uses of "war" are worth examining. Soldiers protect and defend, while revolutionaries take, using tactics that are sometimes outside the norm ("Man the barricades!"). Soldiers, viewed here, are drones, executing a mission, a mischaracterization of what actual soldiers do, and the discretion they exercise. The title of the article, however, postulates a different kind of war, one that will be familiar to students of United States' politics and history, a culture war. This phrase has a particular meaning, left-right/liberal-conservative.

This is a profoundly unserious analogy and metaphor, as the culture war in the United States had, and has, very real victims: poor people, single parents, the LGBT community, women seeking abortions, and people of color who used drugs, among others. However, it is because of these victims, and the co-option of militaristic language by the right in the United States that we must take it somewhat seriously. After all, if Anderson wanted to he could have used the principal-agent problem from organization theory to make the same, still unserious, point. That he chose to use the language he did is telling.

Soldiers defend the status quo (right/conservative), while revolutionaries seek to overturn it (left/liberal). As it pertains to scholarly communication, here is what soldiers are defending:
A professor publishes something, using the labor (librarians) and capital (materials purchased and leased) of the institution. The library, as an arm of the institution, then must pay for that article (again!), often as part of a "big deal" package of databases. 
It's a heck of a system to defend, and a great many people in higher education and publishing would not agree that the current political economy of scholarly communication is worth defending. Yet Anderson seems to treat the status quo as the correct, proper, and neutral system; a defense from someone who knows firsthand how tenuous the political position of academic libraries can be on a campus. Running an academic library is a fascinating middle-management experience; perhaps many library and university administrators expect soldiers while fearing or silencing revolutionaries. Yet when administration and the library align, which can be often, it's a beautiful thing. At one former place of work, I presented to faculty on open access and open educational resources (OERs), then worked with faculty and administration on assigning OERs instead of textbooks, and helped bring about a policy change in the university regarding required texts. Soldiers and revolutionaries look less like a spectrum and more like a Venn diagram than Anderson acknowledges, though there is some overlap on one of his matrices.

If there is any value in rescuing Anderson's soldier-revolutionary continuum, it is that they are not mindsets, but rather a series of practices that are contingent on a host of factors, both local and global, that would be difficult to pseudo-scientifically chart, plot, or graph. Library and university administrators can foster such practices or suppress them; some tech companies tout an 80/20 or 90/10 work schedule that gives room for practices Anderson deems revolutionary.

Stuck between university administration and the revolutionaries he sees online, Anderson may have internalized the mindset of the former. This is the writing of a person who views himself as under attack, both professionally and personally, in libraries, politics, and society. To the extent that others in positions of power in libraries share this mindset, this evidence-free article made it through the peer review process, after all, it is worth exploring.


Anderson's scholarship is a self-referential meta-communication, more #critlib than #critlib. Time and time again Anderson has attempted to police the bounds of discourse he deems acceptable in the LIS community, particularly as it pertains to open access and scholarly communication. For someone who seems closed to the works of Michel Foucault, it is an interesting turn. Anderson continually attempts to create "truth," what is or should be accepted as reality, in his writings on Scholarly Kitchen, and this article can be read as an extension of that.

No doubt Anderson has observed the revolutionary mindset on twitter, and I suspect he has built this mindset inductively from his time on that site, a Burkean watching the new media revolution. Yet Anderson does not like to interact on twitter, finding the 140 character restriction to be limiting, lending itself to attacks rather than debate, which gives no credit to interactions like #libchat, #snaprt, and #critlib. He is happy to mine twitter for content, and to stereotype, but not to participate in community-building and learning networks.

Anderson positions himself as someone with answers, someone who sees the big picture and lays it out, never mind that the current model is increasingly unsustainable, which people realize, which is why we are seeing more big deal cancellations and open access mandates. Helpfully, however, Anderson has published this opinion in a web-based, open access journal, itself a revolutionary practice that is becoming more normal. This, too, is telling. After all, if scholars want to reach the most people, open access publications are the best scholarly medium for doing so.


Anderson writes, "We are now working in an information environment that makes it possible for each library to exert a global influence in unprecedented ways. The desire to do so is both praiseworthy and solidly in keeping with many of what most of us would consider core values of librarianship." And yet so much of this article is not about those values, but how those values pertain to monetary value. Return on investment, time is money,... the monetization of all aspects of librarianship, the tension between these mindsets, is what this article is about, not our values. Anderson asks that we consider the trade-offs, the consequences, of his mindsets, but it certainly seems like economic scare tactics to this reader: that one should be more a soldier than a revolutionary.

In the end, it is not the soldier and revolutionary mindsets, nor the spectrum of the two, that matter here, but Anderson's. To the extent that other library and university administrators share his, this article is a valuable look inside, behind the curtain. It is worth reading to understand certain strains of thought in higher education and academic libraries, not for the arguments or opinions themselves. Anderson sees himself, his position in libraries and society, and those like him, as under attack. The same is true for the political economy of scholarly communication. He simultaneously shortchanges and overstates the power of LIS professionals (we cannot cajole or coerce faculty into OA mandates without their buy-in, for example), on social media and in their workplaces. There is danger therein, as is often the case with those who feel threatened. This application of organic statism to academic libraries concerns me, and I wonder what kind of candidates the University of Utah will get for open positions if Anderson's opinion is widely read. Be that as it may, I commend Anderson for showing us his thought processes in an easily accessible journal, and I wish other deans, university librarians, and administrators would do the same.

Elsewhere on this site concerning this author:
A Rant on Vendor-Librarian Relations
Your Special Collections Won't Save You

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reconceptualizing "Fit": Theory, Practice, Praxis

As presently constructed, the practice of hiring based on "fit" is problematic. Fit too often means "people like me" to hiring managers, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of homogeneity.

In librarianship, that homogeneity is reflected in the demographics of our profession: white, cisgendered, middle-class, and predominantly female, with men both historically and presently overrepresented in positions of leadership (I am a data point here) and those pertaining to library technology.
Evidence shows the number of women in senior leadership roles has increased over the years. From the 1930s to the 1950s it was the natural order for men to be heads of academic libraries, particularly major research libraries. Research studies of the decades from the 1960s to the 1980s provide evidence of a shift from the assumption that various personal and professional characteristics could be identified to account for differences in the number of men and of women recruited into senior positions in academic libraries. Despite this, women remained vastly under-represented in director positions in academic libraries (Delong, 2013).  
This over-representation continued into the 1990s, and persists today.

Fit is an excuse for unconscious bias, as well as an excuse for the conscious kind. Norms of what a librarian "should look like" in terms of race, class, and gender identity, among other factors, are all enforced via fit. The homogeneity of librarianship is overdetermined, but I suspect that fit plays a role in why it looks nothing like the United States population. Librarianship is not even remotely representative.

It gets more depressing: American Library Association membership is getting less diverse in terms of race, and according to data (pdf) from American Community Survey Estimates Applied to Institute for Museum and Library Services and National Center for Education Statistics in 2009, there were over 118,000 librarians in the United States. Under 600 of them were black men.

This sameness has deleterious effects. It leads to groupthink, to monoculture. More diverse groups get better results in terms of:
  • creativity and innovation
  • decision-making
  • problem-solving
  • scientific research
In part, this is because social diversity is a form of informational diversity.
Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort. (Source is the above link.)
In the language of the market, diversity improves your bottom line.

And yet, I hire on fit. That's come at no small cost. I know I've been unable to hire people I think would make great librarians because of fit.
Applicant 1, you are brilliant. You will be an amazing librarian, probably a better one than any of the other applicants I've seen in this round of interviews. You understand our mission and you're already committed to it. You've lived it. You code switched three times in the interview in ways that felt organic and natural, not forced. But you won't become a great librarian here, and I'm disappointed in myself for writing that. I realize that oftentimes a discussion of "fit" is an excuse for all sorts of biases in hiring, especially in academia. However, fit applies here. As a manager, I have no idea, none, how I would harness the frenzied energy and passion you would bring to this job. I get the sense that you would kill for librarianship. These two things, the energy level and enthusiasm, terrify me. Our styles do not mesh. There is a mentor out there more suited to your needs. You'll find that person. But not here.
I work at a library with a staff of nine; we need to get along. There's an awful lot of cross-training that goes on, six of us can copy-catalog and four are interlibrary loan wizards, for example. Fit matters. And if we are to avoid the silos within libraries I've seen elsewhere, it matters even more.

What I want to do is to rescue fit, to reclaim it, because the fit described at the top of this post should not be the fit we think of. That fit leads to the decline of organizations. That fit, looking at the demographics of librarianship, above, perpetuates white supremacy.

If hiring based on fit is like a puzzle, then the homogeneous practice of fit is like choosing the same piece, over and over again.

The theory of fit, however, is different. Hire people that complement each other, that minimize each other's blind spots, and that come together to form a complete organization. That should be fit.

Do you have skills other people don't, do you think in ways that other people don't, do you have life experiences that other people don't? If so, then you fit, because those are plusses, and we'll try to get at that in the hiring process. Then we'll try to get at it in our workflows, creating safe spaces for voicing dissent and fostering experimentation.

The more organizations that do this, the more hiring managers and human resource departments that do this, the closer we'll come to having a praxis of fit instead of what we have now.

DeLong, Kathleen. “Career Advancement and Writing About Women Librarians: A Literature Review.” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 8, no. 1 (2013): 59–75.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The BeerBrarian's Guide to Computers in Libraries 2015

Since I live in DC, I thought an insider's perspective might be useful for the upcoming Computers in Libraries 2015 conference, which meets at the Hilton just north of Dupont Circle from Monday, April 27th, to Wednesday, April 29th.

I won't be presenting this year, but I'll probably be around the expo hall, doing the lobbycon and firecon thing Monday and/or Tuesday. Come say hi.

A brief word about the guide:
With a few exceptions, anything posted below have been vetted by me. These are places I frequent, or at least have been in. Not mentioned is that west of the conference there are many embassies, which would be a nice walk during breaks, or after the sessions have ended for the day.

The Washington Post's Going Out Guide is a bit unwieldy and probably needs to be updated or taken offline, but remains useful.

I write for on the side. Here's their guide to beer in the area, which also needs some updates.

Though it's a bit of a hike for lunch, 14th St NW has blown up in terms of dining and bars; there's something for everyone at multiple price points that would be worth the walk for dinner.

If you're familiar with Dupont Circle and think I missed anything, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment

I presented "Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment" at the Association for College and Research Libraries 2015 conference in Portland, Oregon on Friday. What follows is my presentation of that paper. Should you like to read the real thing, it's available here, and feedback is most welcome.
Abstract: This paper introduces librarians and library staff to “paneling,” a technique employed here to analyze the discourse around and within how faculty perceive an academic library at a small university. The concept of panels comes to librarianship from anthropology, and shows great promise as not only an assessment tool, but also one that informs library practices and behaviors. 
How the assessment sausage gets made. 
In both the paper and presentation I discuss the who, what, how, and why of panels. Paneling is a methodological tool, and when assessing one should use multiple tools. 

This was for one person who I knew would attend. They know who they are. 
Panels are interpretive. What I mean by this is that we, as people, create meaning when we observe, participate, and interact with each other. Panels are explicitly subjective; that is, my interpretation and understanding may differ from another person's. 

Paneling involves editing and coding the testimony of what anthropologists call informants into narratives, which gives a great deal of power, of editorial discretion, to a researcher. 

What I was looking for here are faculty narratives about the library. How do they perceive it, understand it, and tell each other stories about it. So in the spring of 2014, the then Associate Provost and now Provost and I convened a series of faculty focus groups to assess and understand how they view the library. With a major accreditation regime acting as a proverbial sword of Damocles, or a "buy-in," if you prefer, we were able to interview all of our seventy-plus full time faculty in seven semi-structured focus groups. We organized these groups by major, program, and school wherever possible, asking faculty what they thought of library services, collections, staff, website, and more. 

There were challenges to working with faculty in what are often their "natural" groups. Focus groups comprised of colleagues, some junior, some senior, are subject to the same kind of group dynamics that may occur in faculty offices, lounges, and hallways. It's a weakness of panels, one that I was very aware of. Some faculty may have felt silenced, for example, and while editing and coding faculty responses, dissent isn't included if it doesn't fit into dominant narratives. 

Nonetheless, there were very clear faculty narratives present, across majors, programs, and schools. I hand-edited and -coded these, which were then reviewed by the Provost for some measure of interoperator reliability. We were able to organize these narratives into five panels, stories about the library.
  1. Physical library space
  2. Library website
  3. Library instruction
  4. Print and online collections
  5. Customer Service
Note that it is impossible to get a clean separation with regards to these panels. It is difficult, if not impossible, for example, to talk about online collections without talking about the library website. 

With regards to the library's physical space, the dominant narrative among faculty, across majors, programs, and schools, was that the library have more flexible learning spaces. We've been able to carve out some spaces for mixed use, but they also come with mixed results. For example, multiple faculty referred to one of the library's newer mixed-uses spaces as "scary." 

Creating these kinds of spaces can be difficult, and will involve weeding, deaccession of older materials, and stack shifting. When I mentioned this to faculty, the response was positive; being in focus groups, having a conversation with them, allowed me to make that process more transparent, which will hopefully minimize problems down the road. 

At the time of the focus groups, we were transitioning to a new library website build around a discovery service, details here, and those faculty more familiar with the changes liked it. But other faculty members were frustrated with the site, and mentioned going to other institutions' websites to conduct research, or even calling for research on social media, such as "icanhazpdf."

The overwhelming narrative regarding library instruction was "more." More one-shots; more for-credit courses, as one of our schools has; and more learning objects both on the library website and on our learning management system. 

Two narratives emerged from the Print and online collections panel. First, that our collections are out of date. Second, that the policies and procedures by which we develop and grow collections are unclear. Here, as in other panels, faculty are giving us clear feedback. If we act on it, and we are, we as library staff will be better able to earn their trust. 

With regards to customer service, one faculty member referred to our reference librarian, at the reference desk, as "the nice lady at the reception desk." Overall, faculty asked for more events at the library, and some even volunteered their services, talking about their research, or current events, which I take as a sign that faculty are reaching out to the library staff, interested in partnering with us. 

What we as library staff want to do is to act on these faculty narratives, approach them from multiple angles. Faculty are telling stories about the library, narratives. As library staff, we don't have to be passive here. By listening to faculty and acting on their perceptions, we can participate in those narratives and reshape them. 

There are, of course, alternatives to panels. We could have used surveys, as many librarians are wont to do. However, surveys never would have told us about how scary one of our rooms is, for example, and with these focus groups we were able to have all full-time faculty participate. Surveys have more of an issue with representation, because not everyone, or even most faculty, would fill them out, and the questions one asks in a survey often affect the outcome, how people answer. 

On the other hand, individual interviews would be too time-consuming, as would be the case with an ethnographic study of how faculty use the library. 

Again, we were able to leverage accreditation to get full faculty participation in focus groups, but it's just one piece of the puzzle, because yes, you should use these other methods as well. Lots of kinds of meat go into a hot dog, and assessment should be multi-method as well. 

In addition, in a time when higher education seems obsessed with numbers, with statistical data, we shouldn't lose sight of other methods, there's more out there, and if we ignore it, we ignore both interesting and useful questions and answers.
Higher education is quantitative in part because of a policy orientation where evaluation is seen as equivalent to counting and measuring. - Donna Lanclos
Panels helped us uncover stories about the library, and stories have power. We're able to act on those stories, those narratives, and that too is power. And that's why I used panels here.

We might use them again, for adjunct faculty, for university staff who don't use the library for whatever reason or reasons, and maybe for students as well. They're a tool in a toolkit for assessment, and as you can tell, I think this method is more organic, and useful, than most.

I'd like to find out more about what many different groups think of our library, and I think that interpretive methods have a role in getting us there. Thank you.

I had about 13 minutes to discuss what turned out to be more of a 15-minute presentation, so I had to gloss over issues of epistemology in discussing interpretivism, and some of the nuts and bolts of editing and coding faculty testimony, but again, the paper goes into these in a bit more depth, and I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions.

Elsewhere on the site:
Explore the presentations and conferences tags.

Presentation image credits:
Hot dog Venn diagram via Woot Shirt, 3/19/15,
Dancing squirrel via Imgur, 3/19/15,
Snow, “Informer,” via EastWest Records, 1993, 3/19/15, giffed by Back2th90s,
Prime Directive slide from @anthrotweets
Sword, maybe of Damocles, via MS Clip Art
Frye Meme, Futurama, Fox Network, 1999, 3/19/15,
Parker Posey, “Party Girl,” via Sony Pictures 1995, giffed by cryinanddrivin
Loading Page gif via
Puppy! via Imgur,
Counting money, via Yahoo! Money, 3/19/15,

Monday, March 23, 2015

The #acrl2015 post

The 2015 Association of College and Research Libraries conference is in Portland, Oregon this week. Here's where I'll be.

Wednesday, March 25th:
Critlib Unconference. Critical theories and librarianship at Portland State University.
Battledecks. Even The Wall Street Journal is on it.

Thursday, March 26th:
There's so much going on with regards to conference sessions that I'm still narrowing down where I'll be when on this day and the next.
Everylibrary is hosting a reception at Deschutes' brewpub in the Pearl District in the evening. One of my favorite library organizations and favorite breweries, together. For those who don't imbibe, the ginger ale at Deschutes is fantastic.

Friday, March 27th:
Presenting a paper, Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment," from 11:20-11:40am in room D135-136. Here's the abstract:
This paper introduces librarians and library staff to “paneling,” a technique employed here to analyze the discourse around and within how faculty perceive an academic library at a small university. The concept of panels comes to librarianship from anthropology, and shows great promise as not only an assessment tool, but also one that informs library practices and behaviors.
Watch this space for more on the topic.

The conference reception is Friday night. It involves desserts and drinking in museums, two things I am fond of.

Saturday, March 28th:
The Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival. The timing on this was excellent, and a bunch of librarians are going to this after Lawrence Lessig's keynote. Have a gander at the beer list so far.

Speaking of beer, here's what's on my radar in Portland: Upright Engleberg Pils, Breakside IPA, Pints Schwartzbier, and Upright Fantasia and Lodgson Peche n Brett, if I can find those last two.
I'm staying within walking distance of Cascade, Hair of the Dog, and Commons, among others, and I hope to visit Gigantic as well. In sum, for both libraries and beer, I'm like a kid in a candy store here.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Technical Services Brain Drain? Musings From an Outlier

A few recent conversations in libraryland, mostly sparked by troublesome catalogers, have me thinking about the relationship between technical services, the so-called "back of the house" tasks in librarianship, and recognition and leadership.

Let's go ahead and thank Becky Yoose for this.
When I began working here, I had the heady title of "ILL, Cataloging, Acquisitions Specialist." It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? In due time, that became "Technical Services Librarian," and now I think I'm one of the few with a technical service background who has made the move into library administration. And I wonder why that is.

And yet there is some dissent here. This is just my impression, but others have pointed out a number of people with this background in positions of leadership, so maybe this is just my perception, or an inferiority complex.

I haven't cataloged an item this semester. Not copy cataloging via OCLC's Connexion. Not original cataloging, using Omeka, or creating a MARC record. Instead, I've taught twelve library instruction session one-shots this semester. And I spent a lot of time writing about information literacy last year, normally a "front of the house" concern. And I wonder if my transition from technical services to administration is related to moving towards more "visible" library tasks, like teaching.

Next week I'm heading to the Association of College and Research Libraries conference, and I don't see a lot of back of the house representation in the conference program. And I don't see that representation in Library Journal's "Movers and Shakers," though some of the more technology-savvy folks could be considered technical services. An aside: I read each and every winner, congrats to all of them, to see if I can "borrow" any of their good ideas for this library.

Is there something to being back there, cataloging and acquiring, alone, or at least the perception, the stereotype of it? Are catalogers worse at communicating their value, and values, than other library staff? As Erin Leach puts it:
As much as we want people to understand our point of view, we have to start talking about how our work impacts the experience of library users in a jargon-free way. We all say that cataloging is a public service, but do we explain how the metadata that has been created and remediated in the appropriate ways has a direct effect on whether or not a user finds what they're looking for? Do we explain how fields in the records we create effect facted searching and how incorrectly coded records show up under the wrong facet? [Read the whole thing, I'll wait.]
Does these factors keep capable people from leadership roles, and if so, what do we lose? What does technical services bring to the leadership table? To start:

  • A focus on details.
  • I suspect the divide between the front of the house and the back of the house is felt more in the back, so library staff who work in the back are more likely to understand the negative effects of silos. 
  • An understanding of the role of metadata in discovery and in the user experience, per this marvelous collection of tweets

I don't have any answers to these questions, but I'm thinking about them. Please think with me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scholarship as Conversation: The Response to the Framework for Information Literacy

This piece is cross-posted at ACRLog.

The Association of College and Research Library's (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education (pdf) has gone through three drafts, and was sent to the ACRL Board of Directors for approval earlier this month.

It was possible to do an excellent job of teaching information literacy (IL) under the old Standards, and that remains the case. It was also possible to do a lousy job. Nothing has changed. The same is true of the Framework; some campuses will thrive under it, while others will not. In all these instances, neither the Standards nor the Framework was or is sufficient or necessary to successfully teach information literacy.

And yet the discourse around the third and final draft should make many academic librarians pause. Conversations in blog posts, listservs, and social media reveal straw men, ad hominem attacks, and a lack of understanding of educational psychology and pedagogy, among other issues. Observing these discussions, we should reflect on how we interact with each other to create knowledge regimes and epistemic communities (1). Here I will focus on blog posts.


In the last few months, we've seen an Open Letter from some New Jersey academic librarians, since signed by others, ask the ACRL to not sunset the Standards, as well as a fierce rebuttal from two academic librarians in New York City, among other works.

The former accuses the ACRL Framework Task Force of being "tone deaf to the politics of Higher Ed." It also lacks any evidence of information literacy "success," however defined.
  • What did information literacy look like in New Jersey academic libraries prior to implementing the Standards, and how have the Standards helped? 
  • Who did these Standards work for? Librarians? Professors? Administrators? How, and why, or why not? 
  • What would change in New Jersey under the Framework? 
The answers to these questions go unmentioned.

In addition, the Open Letter mentions the political stakes for a shift from Standards to a Framework, but fails to show what those stakes are. I would very much like to hear more about this. (For what it's worth, at my place of work I will spend my meager political capital elsewhere, as the administration prefers the American Association of Universities and Colleges IL rubric, and I believe there are many roads to information literate Damascus.)

Maybe the Framework is "tone deaf to the politics of higher education." But maybe the politics of higher education are tone deaf to what educators, librarians included, are trying to accomplish in classrooms and on campuses. No doubt that politics is powerful, more powerful than academic library and information science (LIS) professionals, but given what I see of said politics, I'd much rather be against it than with it, and some push back is healthy.

Meanwhile, Ian Beilin and Nancy Foasberg mount a powerful defense of the Framework in a rebuttal to the Open Letter:
The Standards understand information as a commodity external to the student; something that can be obtained and subsequently “used.[i]” When we look at information in this way, we are thinking of information literate students as consumers who must choose among many options, like shoppers selecting goods from among those placed before them in the market. The Framework instead aims at a more social understanding of information and information literacy. Most notably, it uses the explicit metaphor of a conversation, but it is also interested in the ways that authority is constructed and the ways that information artifacts are produced. Research is thus framed as an interaction among people rather than a choice among artifacts.
Yet their article maligns standards everywhere with the specter of Common Core, a case of guilt by association (though to be fair, the Open Letter mentions Common Core first). To Beilin and Foasberg, the move to return to the standards is "a conservative, backward-looking disposition," never mind that one reason Common Core is so reviled in some circles is how radical it is.

Writ large, their defenses of localized learning and the role of theory in library and information science inadvertently expose Threshold Concepts (TCs), mentioned only once in their article, for what they are: a loose collection of pedagogically unsound and empirically untested practices. To wit:
  • If localization is a worthy goal of the Framework why do Threshold Concepts come from a Delphi study as opposed to individual institutions? 
  • To what extent are these Threshold Concepts like, and unlike, Standards?
  • Theories gain acceptance when tested. What are the tests for Threshold Concepts? Where are they? (2)
It is interesting that an article so focused on theory should ignore the theoretical issues that make up the bedrock of the Framework.

Responses garnered from the most recent feedback form (pdf) that accompanied the third draft in November showed that, of the 206 surveys received,
• 91% were satisfied with the opportunities to provide feedback to the Task Force on drafts of the Framework
• 67.4% support the new Framework
• 63% were satisfied with the proposed definition of information literacy
• A majority of respondents were satisfied with the new frames (satisfaction ranged from 71% for Information Creation as a Process to 83% for Scholarship as Conversation).
I do not know if 206 responses is a good number or not, but one jarring realization to emerge from this process is that while many academic librarians are faculty and/or instructors on their campuses, we lack a grounding in educational psychology and pedagogy. (3) How else would we have come to either embrace or tolerate Threshold Concepts?
“What do you wish your students were able to do?” “What kind of work do you think they could create?” “What do they come to this school being able to do?” “What does a graduate of X college look like?”
Those are questions one library director asks faculty at her place of work. (4) They are good questions, but neither Standards nor a Framework makes those questions possible. If the current discussion has enabled or validated one to ask them at a place of work, that is excellent, but as I see it, those questions were always there for the asking. There is nothing in LIS education that prevents this discursive formation under the Standards, or before their adoption in 1999.


The upcoming ACRL meeting at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Chicago will have a spirited discussion on the Framework, featuring the Board of Directors and a question and answer session. Because scholarship is indeed a conversation, at least part of the time, it is my hope that the discussions provoked by the above links, including those in the footnotes, shed some light on how librarians and information professionals interact to create knowledge and knowledge practices in the profession. I think we can do better. I will not be able to attend Midwinter, and I hope it's free of some of the discourse we've seen leading up to this point.

Meanwhile, absent a set of Standards, or a Framework, strong work in information literacy will continue to take place.


(1) "Knowledge regimes are sets of actors, organizations, and institutions that produce and disseminate policy ideas that affect how policy-making and production regimes are organized and operate in the first place." John L. Campbell and Ove K. Pederson, "Knowledge Regimes and Comparative Political Economy," 2007 (pdf).
On epistemic communities, see Wikipedia.

(2) The Women and Gender Studies Section of ACRL will be the first to test this Framework.
Again, I point to Darrell Patrick Rowbottom's "Demystifying Threshold Concepts," Journal of Philosophy of Education (2007), in which he argues that one can test for abilities, but not concepts; that it is empirically difficult, if not impossible to show multiple conceptual routes to the same ability; and that thresholds differ from person to person, among others.
See also, Lane Wilkensen's "The Problem With Threshold Concepts," Sense and Reference, (2014), and Patrick K. Morgan's "Pausing at the Threshold," portal: Libraries and the Academy (2015).
A similar critique can be applied to Task Force committee member Troy Swanson's defense of the Framework; instead of shoehorning Standards into lesson plans and learning outcomes, we can now do the same with Threshold Concepts.

(3) Again, see Dani Brecher and Kevin Michael Klipfel's "Education Training for Instruction Librarians: A Shared Perspective," (2014) and Kimberly Davies-Hoffman, et al.'s "Keeping Pace with Information Literacy Instruction in the Real World," (2013), both in Communications in Information Literacy.
For a good example of how educational psychology can effect academic librarianship, see Jessica Olin's "Not Mutants nor Ninjas nor Turtles, but Teenagers," Letters to a Young Librarian, (2015).

(4) This footnote is not present in the ACRLog version. The library director in question feels misrepresented by my use of the questions she asks, and has commented as such on the ACRLog version of this post. Please note that she asks these questions having thought that the ACRL Standards did not serve her teaching or her community, and that she thinks the Framework is a better vehicle for teaching information literacy. Read her post.

My previous writing on the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education:

The (Second) Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: My Thoughts
Ethics, Copyright, and Information Literacy, Letters to a Young Librarian
The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Some Initial Thoughts
The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Survey Feedback