Friday, December 09, 2005

Article Note: On Various Ways to Promote Information Literacy

Citation for the article:

Galvin, Jeanne. "Alternative Strategies for Promoting Information Literacy." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.4 (July 2005): 352-357.

I read the article via OmniFile.

This is an article on ways to promote information literacy other than classroom teaching. Since I am always looking for new ideas, I picked up the article to see what it had to offer. The author wishes "to consider the opportunities offered by library pathfinders, individual instruction at the reference desk, instruction in the virtual reference environment, and library Web pages" (352). I have always embraced a philosophy that reference and instruction are closely linked, so what the author suggests helps me to reaffirm that. The author goes on to discuss the opportunities she outlined on her statement above. She provides extensive references to the literature, which at times make this article seem more like a literature review than an actual piece of original writing. That issue aside, the article does have some good ideas I will note and comment on. The strength of the article is that it brings together all of these seemingly disparate elements to promote information literacy.

On guides and pathfinders:
  • "Students benefit from course or assignment-specific pathfinders in that they are provided with a model for proper research techniques" (353).
    • This depends on how well structured the pathfinder is. Does it really qualify as a pahtfinder? In other words, does it clearly outline a research path with options along the way clearly explained that students can use at their own pace? Doing this right takes some work on the part of the librarian. I think it is an interesting exercise to do online searches for pathfinders and guides. How many are mere resource lists? Lists have their uses, but they are not pathfinders. How many actual pathfinders are listed? One can learn a lot from what others do and don't do.
  • "Although making pathfinders available on the Web has obvious advantages in that distribution and updating are easier, one study by Magi at the University of Vermont revealed that students in a business course found online guides somewhat confusing, but they expressed great satisfaction with using a print pathfinder" (353).
    • The confusion may be due to the way the guide was made. Again, structure is an issue. I did find this quote reassuring because librarians often worry over making print guides available due to issues of paper costs, space for displaying them, and updating them. I personally believe that print guides have a place in a library. It is a powerful thing to be able to give a student something in a class or when they come to the desk that can help them later in their assignment. I have often observed students come back to the library with their guide in hand. I know, this is strictly anecdotal, but I would like to think we are doing something right in having pathfinders and guide in print available. In the best setting, these resources should be available online as well as in print. With the advent of tools like wikis, updating and maintenance can be a collaborative effort, maybe even collaboration between the librarian and a faculty member for specific classes. For me, this is an area I need to explore, the use of wikis.
  • "A well-constructed pathfinder includes some information about the type of source (e.g., reference book, government documents, periodical database) that is recommended and why it should be helpful" (353).
    • Enough said, though it makes me think I can do some further work on some of my pathfinders. I mostly follow what the author suggests, but I tend to emphasize some items more. Maybe I need to work more on balance.
On Reference Interviews and the Desk:
  • "In an academic library, imparting skills for lifelong learning is part of the librarian's responsibility" (354).
    • This should be framed over every academic librarian's reference desk, instructional space, and office.
  • Galvin reminds her readers that it is important for librarians to appear approachable at the desk. This is just basic Reference 101, and it remains true.
  • "Roving provides valuable point-of-need instruction. Huwe even recommends roving in the stacks and study areas with wireless technology" (354).
    • The only thing I will say is wonderful idea, but it is wishful thinking for a lot of libraries. In my case at least, I don't see my powers that be giving me a tablet PC or a laptop to go roam the stacks seeking out reference opportunities (not with the funding issues, for one). Would I do it if given the chance and tools? Absolutely; I think we should be doing anything to make librarians visible and approachable to students. I often get up from the desk and roam a little around the computer area, and I often get one or two questions while roaming. It can work, and I am sure being mobile would add to that. At the moment, it seems a nice idea and a wish to hope for.
  • "It is the librarian's responsibility to be attentive to the reference encounter and the opportunities for teaching presented in it, to guide the student to appropriate and valid online resources, and to teach the student to evaluate information found online" (354).
    • Again, Reference 101. Yet, how often do we feel it is just so much easier to give them the answer? Believe me, I have fallen for that once or twice, and sometimes, it is the right thing to give them the answer. Having said that, giving them the answer does not mean forsaking our role as educators. Remember, part of your job is imparting skills for lifelong learning (see above).
On Virtual Reference:
  • From here, the main idea is that librarians involved in this need to be prepared with materials and handouts they can provide the users at the moment of need. The article cites studies showing that instruction does happen during virtual reference sessions.
On Library Web Sites:
  • This is mostly a section dealing with usability and access. It promotes the idea of a library having its own portal. Galvin cites Michael Adams, who "recommends that academic librarians create and maintain their own portals, using criteria having to do with scholarship, appropriate language, design, and timeliness. A well-constructed and carefully maintained portal would be a good vehicle for breaking down the border between the free Internet resources favored by students and authoritative, scholarly databases not available via Google" (355).
    • For those librarians like me who are not web design gurus, learning to collaborate with your Web designer or Webmaster is very important. In my case, I can design basic pages, but I am still learning tools. However, I prefer to create the content and let someone with more visual talents do the design with my input. At any rate, the idea that the library Web page should be a portal, and that it should be a guide to students is a significant concept.
On a final note, the article includes an excellent set of notes and references at the end that readers may wish to consult for further ideas.

No comments: