An Update from President Jess Denke

Happy Fall 2018 everyone!

I’m excited to say hello as I begin my year as DVC President.   Change provides opportunity for reflection, and so my thoughts go towards all the accomplishments of the past year.  In the 2017-2018 year, we held two successful programs on news literacy and library partnerships, we awarded $3,000 in scholarships to members to support their professional development, and we provided mentorship opportunities for students and librarians.  In effect, we continued to build community for you – our esteemed network of library workers in the Delaware Valley.

I’m thankful for all of the people I have met this past year and the new relationships that I’ve formed.  Each interaction reminds me of the value of the work of a local chapter of our professional organization.   Through our community we provide professional development, support one another during challenges and change, and build our ability to consider different perspectives and challenge our own lens.

Our upcoming fall program supports each of these endeavors.  Librarians as Advocates: Leading Activism on Your Campus and Beyond will be a day devoted to identifying our work as librarians as that which resists systems of oppression and supports those marginalized in our society. Library work has at its core the values inherent in access of information to all – equity, diversity, inclusion, and freedom.  However, sometimes these values are lost in the day-to-day business of running a library.  Join us on October 26th to be reinvigorated in the action of library work towards a better future for all.  We are currently accepting submissions for lightning round proposals, we are in the process of assembling an amazing panel of librarian activists and community organizers, and we are planning an afternoon of roundtable dialogue.  Stay tuned for registration information, which will be shared in the near future!

Libraries and librarians are well-positioned to make a difference in the lives of those who need us most.    Together we are stronger and can achieve more.  Please join me in building professional relationships; your participation will make us a more prepared, effective community of action.

 

This post was original published on 9/10/2018 on the ACRL DVC blog.

Diversity, voice, and community engagement: We are stronger together

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done any serious reflection on my work and consequent writing.  Spring semester ended in a rush of activity and my writing practice went down the drain.  Generally, I’ve been reserving Friday afternoons for an hour or two of writing, which I’ve published here (for the most part).  So, in keeping with that tradition, today I will be reflecting on my Spring semester accomplishments.

I’ve been involved in three planning committees that held programs this spring:  the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED, a committee of POWER), the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and the Information Literacy Learning Community of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC).  Planning these programs took months of committee work.  When these kinds of programs come to a close I feel such a sense of relief and accomplishment.  There are reports, schedules, and resources from each of the programs on their respective websites and I would encourage any curious readers to check them out.   The ACED panel allowed Allentown community members to discuss real estate development and consequent community action with local community leaders, the ACRL DelVal program was about library partnerships, and the theme of the LVAIC information literacy symposium was Structures of Power in Information.  In my mind, these three programs have a lot in common, but this lesson stands out:

Communities are better when everyone’s interests are represented. 

We are stronger together.

Though the marginalized members of communities may be easy to ignore, when they are included their voices bring strength and power.  In my work with ACED, we determined from the beginning that, though we represent the community, we don’t represent all of the community and needed to be able to engage the people of Allentown immediately to determine what their needs and desires were for our home.  This panel was an effort to engage by providing an opportunity for education and communication.  It was followed by round tables where community members could express their ideas and continue conversations with one another.

The panel and round tables were  helpful in guiding the direction of our continued organization work.  This is the kind of democratic community building discussed in Sarah Stanlick’s “Rethinking the expert voice:  Knowledge-making in community engagement,” which was presented at the LVAIC symposium.  Democratic community engagement is important for all library partnerships; it’s important that our work is relational, reciprocal, and that we co-create our knowledge of and in our communities. In my mind, this relates to the way that librarian’s design assessment measures and determine what kind of assessment we value, how we develop research projects and what stakeholders we include in research, and our pedagogical practices within the classroom.

I’ve also been reflecting on voice in preparation for my own presentation at the LVAIC symposium with Kate Richmond titled “Engaging students in identifying voice in scholarship.”  When presenting academic research to students in the classroom, it is often beneficial to discuss the identities of authors and research participants as part of a discussion of authority as constructed and contextual.  Of course, students need to understand the process of information creation that gives academics increased trust in academic journal articles before we break it down.  However, it’s important to remember that many scholarly conversations are only occurring in communities of privilege.  For example, in reviews of peer-reviewed psychology research by Eagly & Riger (2014), the majority of senior authors were found to be are white, upper-class men who were senior professors at top research universities.  And participant populations fall into similar categories.  One of my favorite statistics is in Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan’s (2010) article “The weirdest people in the world?”:

“A randomly selected American undergraduate is more than 4,000 times
more likely to be a research participant [in the behavioral sciences] than is a randomly selected person from outside of the West” (p. 63).

Perhaps this doesn’t affect the way that you read articles, but what if it does?  Sharing this information with students helps them to develop a critical eye towards scholarly work and also allows for conversations about the development and value of different kinds of authority.  The authority of personal experience, or that developed by organic intellectuals (see Mentzell Ryder’s (2015) “Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai”), is valuable and can be valued in the classroom.  One way to do this is by allowing students to design the classroom environment or direct classroom discussion.  We can also increase student’s opportunities to share their own experience and value self-reflection that allows them to contextualize learning.

Co-creation of knowledge in and about libraries is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about cities is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about communities is best done through inclusion of all voices.

And, in closing, I just want to state that I value the public nature of this blog and the readers who occasionally give me feedback.  I value reading and hope to continue to share my own experiences through publication, but I know that I need to continue my writing practice if I’m ever going to become a valued author.  Today I determined that I needed to write something to exercise my writing muscles.  If you want to be good at a craft, remember that growth comes through practice and process.

References

Eagly, A. H., & Riger, S. (2014). Feminism and psychology: Critiques of methods and epistemology. American Psychologist, 69(7), 685–702. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037372

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Ryder, P. M. (2015). Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(1), 175–187.

Libraries and Librarians are Not Neutral, Real

The first thing that I heard from ALA midwinter was the Twitter response to the library neutrality debate, which I loved.  I shared a lot of Library Twitter’s opinions on the debate, including the question Why are we still debating neutrality?  It got me thinking about my own non-neutral experience.  I work to incorporate a lot of instructional practices that highlight voices and deconstruct power in my one-shot sessions.  My latest endeavor in class is to complicate library/librarian neutrality by sharing my own real-life research.  Showing the work I’m doing outside the library shares my values with students and also shows how research is incorporated into life in a non-scholarly environment.  It is a vulnerable act of non-neutrality that that I believe has an extended impact on the classroom environment because students are able to connect with me and the cyclical, sometimes messy, process of research.

Since November 2017 I’ve been organizing with Pennsylvanians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), which is a grassroots movement that empowers members to become “bold agents of liberation, actively pursuing racial, social, and economic justice for us all.”  Most of my work has been towards economic and racial dignity in Allentown in light of unjust development occurring as a result of state-subsidized building in Center City’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.  The Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED) meets weekly – we are working to develop increasing social capital and to identify the needs of the community in order to petition local lawmakers and developers for a community benefits ordinance or agreement.

This work requires a significant amount of research.  Thankfully, many individuals on the team have been involved in researching and educating us all on methods of community organizing, components of successful community benefits agreements, and local community structures.  In order to visualize the way that research contextualizes and advances the work that ACED is doing, I’ve drawn a concept map that I’ve shared in a few advanced research methods courses.

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Concept mapping can be a very useful step in a creative research process.  Especially in advanced courses where student’s final product is up to their discretion, I believe concept mapping is a useful tool.  The structure of the concept map lends itself well to organized and thought-out research.  In the middle of the paper is the main topic, with the participants of the scholarly conversation on level 2.  I do introduce the students to Burke’s “Unending Conversation” metaphor and I also emphasize that databases/information resources are often organized by the “who” and so each branch will likely have different resources to search (with some overlap).

One of the things that students don’t often consider is the research that goes into choosing a specific type of product or outcome.  I like to emphasize that ACED has researched the #BlackLivesMatter movement to identify how to use social media to mobilize people around an issue.  Similarly, we are researching the language of successful community benefits ordinances so we have legal precedent as a model for Allentown legislation.  Research is used to gain knowledge on a topic as a basis for strong arguments and it bolsters decisions we make and helps us be effectual.

Providing students with an opportunity for self-guided research and production can result in them being overwhelmed and uncertain.  They may make choices based on their previous experiences with form and miss the joy that comes from work driven by their own interests.  Concept mapping helps!  It creates a structure to the work and a living artifact of what they have done and where they are going.  My own concept map is a little messy and complicated, but it helps me keep track of the work.  It isn’t perfect, but it models a process that has helped me make decisions and learn in a non-scholarly environment.

ACED is a politically oriented group working towards change – an inherently non-neutral effort.  However, I’d argue that many of the decisions we make regarding to use our time are political.  Emily Drabinski says, “each choice we make for something is a choice against some other thing.”  I am making additional choices to position myself as a non-neutral professional in a non-neutral environment.  Sharing my work with students has resulted in personal connections based on real-life vulnerability and shared values.  I think that these kinds of decisions further embed me within the college community, implicitly teach students about the values of librarianship, and position me as an ally in the fight for economic, racial, a social equity.

Introducing Students to Information Privilege: A call for comments!

I’ve just finished a 45-minute lesson in which students learn to distinguish scholarly, trade, and popular resources.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature in the library? Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature in the library?  Students:  Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature in the library?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me (or another voice from the crowd):  So why the library?  Why are we here?

I love this line of questioning because it seems to change the way that students see me, a librarian.  I think that they come to the library with the idea that I’m pro-library NO MATTER WHAT.  I’m going to defend libraries existence instead of convince them that the library is a resource to use.  It also opens up a conversation about open access and information privilege.

Access to an academic library has clear benefits to the experienced researcher, but students often need to be convinced to take the extra step and try out a library database, to disrupt their Google habit.   Librarians choose the best resources, we filter out the garbage.  Library databases are structured in a way that we can retrieve valuable information more efficiently through strategic searching.  In all three of my most recent classes, students have suggested this information in response to my question.  Then I’ve been able to say that, in addition to carefully curated and organized information, the library has access to more information resources because we have paid for access.  Resources from the New York Times to the Journal of the American Medical Association require payment for access to full-text content.  The scholarly articles that are available online are able to be read through Open Access… the publishers have circumvented traditional publishing means in order to allow everyone to read the work.

I say, “Open Access is an ethical imperative because otherwise only those who can pay have access to the most recent information and so knowledge development is limited to the rich.  You are privileged by your access to information based on your affiliation to this institution.”

This is what I’m interested to hear from you, what is the language you use to introduce information privilege to your students?  How do you set it up?

 

Oppression and Information, Learning from One Another

I suggested in a previous post that active learning pedagogies allow students to learn from one another and share different perspectives and experiences.  I’m very invested in increasing my skills at facilitating active learning and recently participated in an Intergroup Dialogue workshop on campus in hopes that I will be able to lead conversation around difficult topics, in particular information privilege.

Unlike race or gender, class (especially as it relates to information literacy) is hard to distinguish.  It’s hard to discuss.  However, I propose that information literacy is a privilege and that our society exhibits similar racial and economic disparities in information literacy as we do in other social sectors. Education affects one’s ability to achieve information literacy and funding for higher education is unequally applied in detriment to low-income Americans.  Access to the internet at usable speeds is increasingly required for access to information and digital redlining plagues our communities.  There are many other ways that systems of power and information literacy are tied.

In a library instruction session, what are the questions that could begin a conversation around information privilege?  How do we better understand each other through the lens of oppression?  If I’m proposing that active learning would allow students with privilege to come into contact with individuals not afforded the same privileges (I think this is truly what Seale means when she identifies students from the “global North” and those who are “subaltern”) how do I make this happen in a classroom space?  Is it even possible in a one shot session?

My answer to that last question is likely not.  It takes time to create spaces of trust and community in order for safe dialogue around privilege to occur.  However, let’s imagine a best case scenario in which students have come together to share their identities and listen to one another.  Here are the questions I’ve come up with:

  1. What information resources are available to you?
  2. What identities/memberships allow you access to these resources?
  3. Has your access changed over time?

It is in this hypothetical ideal scenario that students would be able to link their experiences and social identities with their information privilege,  share moments in their life when they have not had the same access, and explore next steps in advocating for others.  This ideal scenario is not the scenario in which I teach, and I imagine that it isn’t the scenario that many other librarians experience.  I’m going to continue to think about how conversations around information privilege can occur, and I’ll share them here if I have any great ideas.  In the past, I’ve emphasized the privilege of the access and education that my students have now that they are at Muhlenberg, however this is just a momentary declaration and doesn’t allow for the creation of information activists.  I think that the group dialogue discussed above would inspire students to impassioned work for social change.

Thoughts?

 

Power, Generalizations, and Information Literacy

This year my colleagues and I have focused our collective attention on the politics of information.  The actions of congress (tax reform, budget changes) and the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality make this topic a classroom imperative (if given the time, control of discussion, etc.).  If we do not address the relationship between power and information in the classroom we are not preparing our students to resist the structures and individuals who seek to maintain power by controlling access to information, nevermind producing information that speaks to their ideologies.

Earlier this month our local librarian community had a reading group, which focused on Maura Seale’s (2016) “Enlightenment, Neoliberalism, and Information Literacy.”  Seale (2016) critically evaluates the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education by addressing its liberal and neoliberal epistemological tendencies, which went unnoticed by me (which is proof of my own bias – a good reminder that I am not a neutral reader).  Both liberalism and neoliberalism emphasize the individual over the group and ignore, or “transcend” depending on how you feel about it, historical, social, and cultural differences to achieve a universal goal (Seale, 2016, p. 85).

The very definition of information literacy, in conjunction with a framework written around threshold concepts, emphasizes this focus on the individual and their progress towards an ultimate enlightened status of information literacy.  Thinking about it now, it seems ridiculous that every individual in the world could have the same target for understanding information.  The very notion that there is an objective truth about information needs, structures, processes, … well, I’m still growing.

Library and information science has fallen into a common trap of social science research – belief that our goals or conclusions can be generalized, that the work of some is representative of the whole (see Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010).  My primary takeaway from Seale’s (2016) article is that different students require different knowledge of information; their contexts change their understanding of and access to information.

[The education of metropolitan students in the global North] needs to be supplemented with responsibility to the other and rooted in recognition of difference in order to contest neoliberalism.  …Enlightenment notions of liberal subjectivity and rights are also important; they are aspects that are needed in subaltern education, so that subaltern cultures are able to act politically, within the institutions that are invested in those ideas. Seale, 2016, p. 88

This is a reminder to focus on the “local context,” emphasized by Emily Drabinski’s (2014) “Toward a kairos of Library Instruction,” of each class and each reference appointment.  In the places where the Framework does not successfully consider the context of power in regards to information, it is important to address these flaws.  Seale (2016) specifically mentions the failure of Searching as Strategic Exploration, Information Creation as a Process, and Research as Inquiry, which do not successfully recognize the constructedness of information systems and the complexities of knowledge production and the creation process (p. 83).

Active learning pedagogies allow for students to learn and contextualize new information according to their individualized experience.  As teachers, we have the opportunity to present problems in an effort for them to learn through inquiry, application of previous knowledge, and interactions with peers.  Through active learning and open discussions, metropolitan and subaltern students might interact with and learn from one another.

I have many more thoughts surrounding this theme and will continue to write.  I am challenged by these ideas and feel an ever-increasing need to reflect on my experiences in an effort to solidify them within my own mind and grow.

References

Drabinski, E. (2014). Toward a kairos of library instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 480–485.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Seale, M. (2016). Enlightenment, neoliberalism, and information literacy. Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1. Retrieved from http://cjal.ca/index.php/capal/article/view/24308

 

All things to all people: An unjust suggestion and its inverse

In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses winning others to Christianity by making himself like the individuals with which he comes into contact.  “To the weak I become weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV).  This verse was the focus of Sunday school lessons and podcast episodes of my childhood and sometimes it slips into my head when I’m at work.  Paul appears to be recommending flexibility, a quality that may as well be included in the title of Public Services Librarian.  When a student asks me to look over their citations and mentions that I might, also, read the paper to see if it makes sense – I, like many other amenable librarians (I bet), am tempted to do so.  For some, this may not be seen as a fault.  Librarians aren’t converting others to a religion, but the profession puts such a strong emphasis on service that  I often feel like I’m trying to create library converts so that the value of the institution, and essentially my role at the university, is recognized.  I submit that the ‘all things to all people’ model is alive in librarianship because it is alive in me, but this post is a reminder to myself that it is a disservice to myself and my constituents.

Most importantly, I feel like the ‘All things to all people’ model lacks integrity and is the opposite of cultural humility.  Sara Zettervall (2016) calls to librarians to stand up for the experience of others: “Our responsibility as human servants committed to social justice, whether we are social workers or librarians, is to foster awareness in ourselves that our perspective isn’t the only one and trust others when they speak about their own lives.” I am so proud to have this responsibility.  If I were to follow Paul’s example and change the components of my experience in order to connect with others I would be decreasing the importance of their experience.  Instead, I need to listen and support, provide space for other individual’s truth to be heard.  I need to recognize the authority of another’s experience and think about how their experiences have created information that is a valid, important part of the world.

‘All things to all people’ decreases the position with which I see myself.  I need to value myself enough to know my talents, interests, perspective, and schedule and allow my actions to be consequences of these components of my personality.  This will reduce burnout, increase passion, and likely increase the effectiveness of my career.

‘All things to all people’ does not allow me to exhibit inter-relational humility.  When a student requests help in an area where I am not an expert, it is my best course of action to humble myself before them and place value in their endeavor.  I can suggest additional expert resources so that they are receiving the best help and have the best chance at the best result.

I will be content with being some things to some people.  I will seek to exhibit cultural humility, relational humility, and personal strength.  This isn’t anything new, but arguing against the tired monologue in my head that tells me to try to be everything for everyone is freeing.  I needed to hear, from myself, that it is alright to direct my professional life by staying true, being honest, and placing value on both my experience and authority and the experiences and authority of others.  I am only one person, and I have the opportunity to place importance on my community by emphasizing the humility of my situation – I’m good at some things but often need to defer to others.  And, in that way, I can be a good example to all people.