4Es – can they inspire a helpful reflective starting point or am I really talking about a research-based tool?

I realised yesterday that maybe I am actually trying to undertake the early thinking related to the development of an initial concept framework that starts off a research process. The thought had been sitting quietly in the back of my mind but I was so strongly focussed on my concerns about blame culture and how that can possibly lead to us disempowering & demoralising ourselves, that I kept pushing it aside.  Now that I’m listening to myself, I’m wondering (and not for the first time) can what I am doing actually be of sufficient rigour to offer librarians a tool to help begin reflecting on their info lit liaison if it’s not tested through a research process? I had seen research being necessary as a validating process of a “proper” tool but thought that perhaps it wasn’t necessary as a point to help people explore objectively when they are immersed in concerns about their work.  mmmm ….


Update on possible academic client experiences of IL cluster & resulting thoughts about lib management cluster or subfactor/s

Well, I’ve started my lit review & am not terribly far in but it’s clear that academic experiences & understandings of info lit definitely needs to be a cluster.  It doesn’t look like there’s a bucket load of stuff since my last lit review, but there is definitely nice work out there & so far it’s looking like it does justify a cluster rather than a subfactor. As we’d expect, it’s phenomenographic work that’s providing the insights.

As I look at the findings related to academic clients’ experiences & understandings of info lit, I’m sometimes finding how these do & don’t coincide with standard librarians’ conceptions of info lit. This is interesting to me as it’s something that I have almost always tried to do – come to a shared understanding of info lit (in fact the library service as a whole) with my (student & academic) clients. Also, my approach has not always been seen as legitimate by the “info lit powers”. It has even been cited as a form of “disloyalty” to the library.

I have never understood how truly understanding clients & engaging with them could be a measure of incompetence or disloyalty but I’m starting to wonder a little differently about this now. If, when they were less powerful practitioners, these librarians didn’t produce strong info lit liaison outcomes, did they (subconsciously) learn to blame clients for the limited outcomes rather than look for ways to empower all parties in the “info lit game”? And, with this mindset of disempowerment, could they have become managers &/or leaders who can’t/don’t find ways to influence their organisations?

I wonder this because I have experienced some (not all) work environments where liaison librarians seem to be expected to turn around organisational culture as it relates to info lit without any or with very limited simultaneous & ongoing work from managerial roles higher up the organisational food chain. Is it just left to liaison librarians because these managers see no other option? Has their earlier blame mindset continued during their rise up the ladder & continued to disempower them in this area?

Does this suggest that there may be a library management cluster (perhaps of its own) or library management subfactor in some kind of organisational culture cluster that considers whether/how the ground for info lit liaison is appropriately prepared & nourished by the appropriate higher level library people? My early & very limited thoughts are in favour of a subfactor in an organisational culture cluster (should such a cluster be relevant). But this is just a note to self for future work. My priority is still the lit review on academic clients’ understandings & experiences of info lit & I’VE GOT TO STAY ON THAT TOPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Where might the clusters & subfactors be? #1: info lit experiences of our academic clients?

Continuing on from my (previous) Collis & Moonen 4-E Model post … It’s been a few years since I did a lit review of this area (when I was seriously considering an action research project with the teaching team of a first year problem based learning course). I was surprised by the very limited amount of literature in the area. Given the ongoing complaints about academic clients’ preparedness to take up info lit (either through work with their librarians or the lack of student knowledge & skills as experienced on ‘reference’ desks), it will be really interesting to see if & how this has changed.

This seems an incredibly obvious & much needed research area but, given that academics in librarianship hadn’t been bothered with the question when I did my last lit review, perhaps it’s still neglected? Even so, it is such an enormous issue in the practise of academic librarianship that surely our faculty practitioners have been motivated to ask & answer many questions in the area by now, even if our librarianship academics’ motivations have been elsewhere.

If our practising librarians (especially those with faculty status or PDs with own research responsibilities) haven’t been motivated to research into related areas, perhaps we have an indication for another cluster related to librarians’ attitudes to & relationships with academics?

Any research into our academic clients’ experiences may touch on discipline cultures, specific organisational cultures or even broader university culture that encourage or discourage academic engagement with info lit. So we might see another cluster & its subfactors there.

But, one step at a time. First, info lit as it is experienced by our academic clients. Time to review the literature & perhaps explore the experiences of some clients. I wonder if there could be value in talking to some clients who have partnered with me to create info lit learning opportunities for students? We’ve done work with which we’ve been happy & faced some barriers that have created compromise with which we’ve not been happy. BUT FOCUS – LIT REVIEW FIRST!!!!

Can Collis & Moonen’s 4-E Model be adapted to create a tool that supports liaison librarians in their work & resulting morale?

The ACRL’s blog has a post related to the willingness of academic clients to accept the expertise/advice/recommendations/work of liaison librarians & information literacy. This post is written by an author whose work I much admire. In this particular post though, I find myself wondering if the case put is a bit too simplistic for the complexity of the university environment as I have experienced it (which I recognise may not be representative of the experiences of other liaison type librarians no matter where they work). At first blush I’m thinking a few things but I’m sure that, with time to ponder, there will be points to add:

  • The university environment is a complex one &, in my experience, academic clients have many demands on their time & their thinking. I think that this impacts on some clients’ capacity to take up a librarian’s advice/recommendations/suggestions even though they are in perfect agreement with the librarian
  • Academic clients who are passionate & skilled teachers often feel that their work is restricted in ways that are, at their core, very similar to those expressed by liaison/info lit librarians, and that learning & teaching advisors/instructional designers also share these experiences
  • Becoming a member of learning & teaching type committees can feel like a great advance providing all kinds of promise for change. But, committees like these often seek administrative solutions to learning & teaching problems, so the reality of membership can be very disappointing
  • There is a level of defensiveness amongst some librarians that leads to demeaning, degrading, mocking & frequent complaining about academic clients. I think that this is probably in part associated with issues of professional identity & genuine misunderstandings about clients; with these two reinforcing each other over time creating a cycle that makes change very hard. I think that Collis & Moonen’s 4-E Model might be adapted to create a tool that librarians could use to more systematically evaluate their liaison work & how realistic their expectations are. A Collis & Moonen inspired model might let people see patterns in their ongoing situations (good things of which they aren’t sufficiently aware & the challenges) & ask meaningful questions which could then be used to build a meaningful evidence base to support professional growth as lifelong learning librarians & to respond more positively & usefully to their relationships with academic clients
  • Having a tool that helps librarians get an objective & realistic measure of their progress & achievements would also be helpful in a world where spin is so prevalent. I have experienced incessant & shrill self-promotion from librarians who have actually very limited outcomes to show for their work & do not have strong professional relationships with clients. Being an old lady, I have learnt to look for the evidence for the spin & so tend not to be taken in by these people. But, I have also known many less experienced librarians (with superior outcomes to the spinners) to be taken in by all the bluff & feel an ongoing sense of demoralisation as a result
  • As liaison work tends to include info lit work, having an understanding of a great learning & teaching tool (through its adaptation) is also of potential benefit to the teacher side of the librarian.

Collis & Moonen’s 4-Es:


Social media age – journos talking info lit

I need to listen to this Big Ideas episode in full. I’ve now caught different bits of it on two separate occasions & on both these journalists were talking about stuff that could positively influence info lit ‘interventions’.

Concepts used to “teach” info lit can be used to promote strong client liaison

Over many years I have listened to a good number of liaison librarians complaining about their lack of traction with the academics in their liaison portfolios. Discussions around these concerns never seem to improve the situation as blaming (even mocking & demeaning in some cases) the clients seems to be a response from which these librarians cannot move. I don’t say this as a negative judgement of these librarians. I think that this is probably a natural consequence of a combination of:

  1. The profession’s behaviourist information-centric identity & practice in what is actually a people-centric & knowledge-centric environment
  2. The supporting service role that the library plays in universities which seems frustrating for those who have a need to be at the forefront
  3. The theory void that gives us few thinking tools for professional practice & so can lead to unproductive “emotional” responses when this need not be the case.

Below I have taken a Twitter discussion which is typical of the kinds of things that I have heard over nearly 15 years & linked some foundational learning & teaching concepts that are often used to create information literacy learning opportunities & promote learning at the reference desk, etc. I think that these concepts are important to creating truly productive relationships with academic clients &, therefore, can be used by librarians to empower themselves & their clients in liaison relationships.

There may be disagreement about some of my concept choices but the foundational message would, I think, stand. I’m going to let this mull in the back of my mind, perhaps talk to a couple of people about it & then maybe write it up as a paper.


Libraries as “havens of future-ready skills lessons”

Liz McGettigan posted an article on LinkedIn. As usual it was a short but thought-provoking article – often the very best kind 🙂

By Megan Borgardus Cortez (& in EdTEch: Focus on K-12), it is called Are libraries the key to teaching computer science? Floating the idea that libraries could be the key to teaching computer science, intrigued me – libraries as the key to teaching computer science seemed incredibly over the top.

As I read the article, I was struck by how Megan was advocating the possibility of libraries becoming what many working class Australians of generations previous to mine actually experienced them to be – providers of the “opportunity to become havens of future-ready skills lessons”. I got to thinking that’s exactly what libraries used to be in the 19th & at least the first half of the 20th Century, so how was it that someone had to tell us that we could become this?

… [begins as a comment on a conversation of comments] Although your conversation is very short, I think that it says a lot. Increasingly our libraries seem to be dividing into the haves, the have nots & the “not anymores”. The reasons for these divides are no doubt complex; more complex than I understand. Obviously resourcing comes to mind immediately & trying to find the funds to provide more access to more things may be an obvious not-so-easy answer, & may be particularly difficult to contemplate for passionate but burnt-out library staff reduced to trying to hold things together for the well-being of their much loved communities.

For me, Cortez raises a fundamental issue when she says, “Libraries have the opportunity to become havens for future-ready skills lessons”. In earlier generations of my family (& many other Australian families) that’s exactly what libraries were (along with places like Mechanics Institutes). These people couldn’t afford high level schooling & opportunities weren’t plentiful in working class neighbourhoods in the days when transport was limited. Libraries, even though they weren’t plentiful, were the places people went to give themselves the educations that they needed for their present & their future. They saw libraries as the very things that Cortez thinks that libraries can become. Libraries were an essential ingredient in lifelong knowledge building.

So, I ask myself how did we move ourselves away from this role? Now, I am no expert in the history of libraries & librarianship, but I wonder if it happened when we decided to become “information professionals” providing “access”. And, I don’t just mean access to books, electronic journals, etc. This applies to what some (perhaps even many) may consider to be “progressive” practice. I have seen libraries (& I’m NOT saying that all libraries & library staff do this & I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for this) using social media to tell people what to do (eg. follow our referencing tips & your grades will sky rocket) rather than genuinely conversing OR discussing the makerspace without any reference to one of its fundamental purposes – helping people create their desired learning outcomes.

We can continue on this path of providing access &, often times, measuring our outputs. But, what if we took ourselves back to that past where we saw our roles founded in the knowledge building & knowledge sharing happening in our communities, & partnering with our clients/users/members/patrons/etc to help them achieve their desired outcomes? Would we, once again, give ourselves avenues to be seen to be “havens of future-ready skills lessons”?

And, what forms might those lessons actually take? If our goals were truly the goals of our communities, might we create ourselves a transformational foundation from which to practice? Give ourselves thinking tools for meaningful strategic change that allows us to continue in “future-readiness”? Might the have not libraries begin to find themselves a position of greater strength over time, & might the not-any-mores actually have a chance of finding their way back?

Don’t our communities deserve this from us? Don’t we, as a profession, deserve it for ourselves? Of course, I’m not the only librarian on the planet who has been asking these questions over a period time. Others, much smarter & more eloquent & more able than me, have also been doing it & they are gearing up to challenge us to embrace a people-centric & knowledge-centric (& future-ready) foundation of practice.

Finally, we have a theory from which to apply our practice (New Librarianship). No longer do we have to rely on augmenting & applying the theories of other disciplines to create ourselves roots of professional practice; though doing so is incredibly useful & intellectually stimulating 🙂 Perhaps this new theory will encourage the development of more new theories, even theories in opposition to this approach. WOW!!! How exciting would that be for our current & future practice. How useful would that be to our future-readiness? A gift to ourselves & our communities; to our present & our future.