Friday, December 02, 2005

Article Note: Small article on collaboration and information literacy

Citation for the article:

Scales, Jane, Greg Matthews, and Corey M. Johnson. "Compliance, Cooperation, Collaboration, and Information Literacy." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.3 (May 2005): 229-235.

I accessed the article via the OmniFile (Wilson) Database.

This is a short article about collaboration between librarians and the rest of the campus. The context is the revision of a one credit course on information literacy at Washington State University's Distance Degree Program. The authors basically look at their collaborative processes and discuss them in the context of Kenneth Bruffee's theories of collaboration. Kenneth Bruffee is the author of Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interpendence and the Authority of Knowledge (1993).

The article provides a literature review on collaboration and librarians. The authors point out that the topic of librarians collaborating with individual faculty is well documented. I should know since I had to read some of that literature to prepare for a presentation I had to give for a job interview last summer. This article, though a bit light, would have made a good addition to my search. After the brief literature review, the authors describe the course and how they went about revising it. They then look at their collaborative experience in terms of assumptions (what assumptions members collaborating brought in), authority (who was responsible for what), group composition, and language (as in the language of the tasks and vocabulary). These are all Bruffee concepts.

The authors conclude the article by saying they accomplished the task at hand and that they learned some valuable "lessons." I simply question the value of the lessons because I don't think they learned anything new. What the article does is put a theoretical frame to the experiences that many members of committees and group projects go through. They just wrote it down. I am not saying this is a bad thing. There is value in reflecting about experiences and making meaning out of them. In fact, a lot of articles in the LIS field are librarian or library experiences framed by some theory. After all, there are many academic librarians who have to publish for tenure, and this type of article is an example of one way to work towards that goal. And in case a reader may say I am cynical, I will say that I am repeating the advice I got from LIS faculty as well as the practicing librarians I worked with during my library school days. They taught me a few other tricks about publishing, but that makes a different post. Overall, my readers probably know that I am a strong advocate of reflective practice and practice grounded in research. However, this article is not ground breaking. I will list some of the lessons the authors provide to illustrate my point, with some remarks.

  • ". . .the collaborative process can be uncomfortable and confusing, the ultimate outcome unclear while underway." (This sounds like every other group project I have had to work with. We like to think that we are all professionals and get along, but being professional does not mean we are all comfortable with group situations)
  • "However, if the collaboration is successful, constructive synergy develops, and the goals of all players are reasonably met. Issues and conflicts are reconciled, and the outcomes are stable and enduring." (Then again, if it is not successful. . .)
  • "In addition, collaboration is a recursive process that requires time and planning" (234) (This includes coordinating all those calendars, making sure there is place to meet, so on. And this is just for starters)
I think I was expecting a little more of this article. As far as academic articles go, this one is pretty lightweight. I probably would have added it to my bibliography for that presentation, but not likely to have referred to it very much because its lessons seem evident to me. As a teacher, I could have told readers a lot of this. Maybe that experience colors my view. Public education is notorious for latching to all sorts of theories to justify the obvious, and this article reminded me of that. At any rate, for some librarians or students looking for a very basic overview of collaboration concepts, this may be a start.

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