Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Article Note: On collaborating with the gov docs specialists

Citation for the article:

Downie, Judith A. "Instruction Design Collaborations with Government Information Specialists: Opening the Conversation." Reference Services Review 35.1 (2007): 123-136.

I read this via Emerald.

The article is mostly a call to action, but it does make a good argument. It also provides a good summary of the obstacles and incentives to the collaboration between instructional design and government documents. Much of this has to do with the fact that so much government information is becoming accessible online, so more librarians are becoming exposed to it as well as their patrons. Personally, I have to admit that if I had not become an instruction librarian, I would have loved to become a government documents librarian. It is an area of librarianship that I find fascinating, and all the gov docs librarians I have met are people with great passion for what they do. To be honest, there are days when I wonder if it would not be too late to switch over. I found my govdocs class to be one of my favorites in library school, and I have tried to follow some of the lessons I have learned in my practice, promoting govdocs when I can during presentations and classes, so this article caught my eye right away.

  • "An essential component of instruction preparation is to review the literature or discuss with colleagues ideas for additional successful teaching strategies, lesson plans, active learning techniques or resources" (124).
    • The author goes on to observe that this often means the librarian limits himself to stuff within his field. We need more exposure to ideas outside of our fields. In essence, we need to be reading more and work towards being more well-rounded. This makes sense to me as an instruction librarian where I feel like I have to know a bit of everything, be a good generalist.
  • A caveat: "The literature discussing librarian-librarian collaboration in instruction is not plentiful and the collaboration must be deduced through content analysis of the literature and authorial partnerships rather than found in direct discussion within a text" (127).
    • At the risk of oversimplifying, it sounds like the author basically took an educated guess of what must be happening. To be honest, I would think someone would be writing about how librarians collaborate when it comes to teaching and instruction. I have had some experience with good teaching teams. Then again, I have also seen lacks of collaboration.
The author then looks at reasons why librarians should be concerned with the inclusion of government information in their teaching. She argues that some of this is found in the government documents journals, and that it then becomes a matter of preaching to the choir (only the specialists read it. Personally, this is now one reason I get mixed feelings about not renewing ALA. I miss the GODORT publications). This idea is the first barrier according to the author. The second barrier is the SuDocs classification and how it is dealt with. Then, "knowledge of a resource's existence does not mean the user automatically knows how to use it properly and constitutes the third barrier" (128). And the fourth barrier to inclusion is isolation. The subject specialist is often isolated from the other librarians, and this hinders collaboration.

For incentives of use, the author looks at how the use of government documents can be linked to the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. In brief, government information comes in various formats, which addresses the students' need for knowledge in various formats. It addresses a need for primary sources, and government sources can also be used in lessons on how to evaluate information in terms of bias, currency, etc. Other things to remember in terms of incentives:
  • "Through commercial acquisitions, the increase of access to government information through the internet, and the support of the Standards for information literacy, every librarian is becoming a government information librarian" (130).
    • Now, the issue of commercial interests taking information that should be freely available and repackaging it to sell to libraries is a separate issue. Fact is that libraries are constantly getting government information through a variety of databases, so librarians need to have some knowledge of government information.
  • Again, on the need to keep up: "Librarians realize the value of constant learning as part of their professional development and find education a necessity in the face of ever-changing technologies and new information" (131).
  • One way to keep up and keep learning about government information: "This training can be through formal or informal venues such as a reference log, where difficult questions using document resources can be recorded with their answers (Darby, 2003)" (131).
    • In the resource blog I created for students, I find that I make extensive use of government documents, mostly linking to them with a brief annotation and maybe a mention of why the students may be interested in such a resource. I try, as much as possible, to connect the items I choose to assignments or topics they may be working on. One of the things I am thinking about adding, and I may have mentioned this before or not, is to add some notes on why a researcher may want to use government information. Something on how to read this information may be useful as well. It is one of the concerns I have, do the students find some of the items too difficult to deal with? Something worth exploring in my humble opinion.
And here is the call to action:

"The incentives to include government information through collaboration with a government specialist while designing instruction outweigh the barriers. The barriers do argue against adding more to an individual's workload and the perception of loss of decision autonomy, but librarians can either lead the way to information literacy by learning about and incorporating government resources or be forced to follow by the increasing access which will generate user questions and needs for help and instruction" (132).

And you don't have to do it all at once:

"Librarians can collaborate with government information specialists in user instruction as well as professional training to gain expertise that can be added in small increments as needed, rather than attempting to learn all aspects of a new body of information" (132-133).

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