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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beer and Music, Music and Beer: 2014 Edition

I wasn't enamored with new releases in 2014. I can't remember a year I thought was weaker, though maybe 2009 comes close, so let’s focus on what’s really good about 2014:

  • ageless wonder Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds wonderful version of “Mermaids” live in Prospect Park, 
  • the live return of Slowdive
  • the album returns of Godflesh and The Vaselines, 
  • the weirdness of Dean Blunt, Caribou, and Aphex Twin (I’ll have whatever they are having), 
  • The Wu-Tang Clan rapping (well) together again, 
  • Michael Gira and Swans continuing “comeback,” 
  • Ghostface and AZ on multiple tracks together, 
  • the concept and execution of Kreezus, Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1 (aka, the best reissue of 2014), and 
  • Run the Jewels being an actual rap group.
My top albums, in order:

1) Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow: There are moments of pure, liquid joy on this album, and in 2014, that’s enough.

2) Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else: An alt-country album with a song called “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” is something I am interested in.

3) Makthaverskan - II: Maja Milner has some Debbie Harry in her voice, and none of the icy composure, in this loose, cathartic album.

4) TV on the radio - Seeds: They’re back, albeit slightly poppier, and with stronger vocals.

5) Los Campesinos! - A Los Campesinos! Christmas: You know the drill; whenever they release an album, it gets slotted about here. Even if the album is a seven-song EP.

6) The Men - Tomorrow’s Hits: Rock. Action. Not a wasted note on this album.

Tier Two, in alphabetical order:

Alcest - : French metal band goes shoegaze, with sexy results.

Alvvays - s/t: Jangle so hard there’s a love song to Archie Moore on this album.

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Beck - Morning Phase: A worthy sequel to Sea Change.

Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else: Seething post-grunge.

The Coathangers - Suck My Shirt: A sleazy mix of garage punk, early ‘80s Sunset Strip rock, and jangle.

D’Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah: The “Chinese Democracy” of R n B is exists, with an album of jazzy, slinky, brittle funk that sounds both loose and composed. So maybe more like the My Bloody Valentine of R n B, then.

Eagulls - s/t: Just as much emphasis on the “punk” as on the “post.”

Eternal Summers - The Drop Beneath

Fear of Men - Loom: There’s a Stereolab-fronted-by-Nico vibe here that’s quite nice.

Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World: I saw a publication refer to this music as “shitgaze,” which made me want to cry. But I guess that’s shorter than calling it shoegaze/post-hardcore/post-rock.

The Horrors - Luminous: Now they’re making songs that would play during the edgiest scenes in John Hughes movies. Yes, that’s a compliment.

Mogwai - Rave Tapes: They continue to mellow, but are no less fine, like a barrel-aged stout.

Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: Alt-country gives way to psych-folk freakouts on what’s maybe the 2014 album with the most staying power.

Trust - Joyland: I got a lot of recommendations for EDM in 2014, and the most Teutonic of them was the best, dark and brooding.

The Vaselines - V for Vaselines: No signs of rust here. Weird, weird power pop, same as it ever was.


Lydia Loveless - Wine Lips
Freddie Gibbs and madlib - Shitsville
War on Drugs - In Reverse
The Horrors - I See You
The Fresh and Onlys - Animal of One
Lust for Youth - New Boys
Parquet Courts - Pretty Machines
Sturgill Simspon - The Promise
Total Control - Flesh War
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Food for Clouds
Mogwai - Remurdered
Against Me! - True Trans Soul Rebel

Beer (either new to the DC market in 2014, or new to the brewery, in no particular order):

via Untappd
Jester King Viking Metal - They're calling this a Gotlandsdricka, which is then aged in gin barrels. Smokey, spicy, gin-y.

Hill Farmstead-Cambridge-Kissemeyer Arctic Saison - Lemony deliciousness.

3 Stars-Millstone Brandy Lyn - a 60/40 blend of beer and cider that's perfectly balanced and blended. Light malts, nelson sauvin hops, apples, and brett all shine.

Great Raft Reasonably Corrupt - Schwartzbier is a hard style to get right, and I'm not being a homer when I say this is great.

Off Color Troublesome - Kinda Gose-y.

Oakshire Hermanne - Vinous, bright, and sour.

Anderson Valley Gose - Either the regular or blood orange version. I'm not picky.

Deschutes Black Butte 26 - An imperial porter with the kitchen sink in it, including pomegranate molasses and cranberries. I love that I can walk into a grocery store and buy this.

Adroit Theory Brandy barrel-aged B/A/Y/S - It seems like it's not a year-end beer list unless these guys have a barrel-aged stout on it.

Virtue Ciders Sidra de Nava - I can't wait for these guys to distribute in DC.

Lost Rhino Bacterium Blondus - Their first attempt at a sour was so good they didn't even have to blend it, they just bottled a barrel.

Albermarle Ciderworks Gold Rush - My favorite all-purpose apple now has a cider.

Additional shouts to the entire state of Virginia, which is killing it. Devils Backbone, 3 Brothers, Strageways, Hardywood Park, cideries... to DC Brau's Alpha Domina Mellis, which is Hopslam for people who know better.

I've done this before, and I'll do it again:

2014 Edition
2013 Edition
2012 Edition
2011 Edition