Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Article Note: On surveys of faculty attitudes to collaboration

Citation for the article:

Hrycaj, Paul and Michael Russo. "Reflections on Surveys of Faculty Attitudes Toward Collaboration with Librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.6 (December 2007): 692-696.

Read via EBSCO's E-journal service.

This short article questions what seems to be the conventional wisdom when it comes to collaboration between librarians and faculty. That wisdom, based on surveys, conveys that many faculty see the collaboration with librarians as desirable or as a good thing. The authors of this article review previous survey studies to find that is not always the case. What the authors found, in essence, is that professors don't always put their money where their mouths are. In other words, they are willing to give lip service to how good the idea of collaborating with librarians to teach information literacy is. However, all that is fine as long as the librarians do it in someone else's classroom (or not at all).

The authors of this article conducted their own survey. They noticed while looking at the results that there was a gap between methods to teach library research used by faculty and what faculty said they would support (692). This led the authors to raise additional questions.

First, the authors dispel the common excuse faculty use that they did not use library instruction because they were not aware library instruction was available. The authors write:

"This explanation, predicated on library ignorance, seems implausible. For instance, Leckie and Fullerton note that efforts were made to inform faculty at the two universities participating in their survey about library instruction services. They say that Table 7 of their study 'demonstrates that a high proportion of faculty never made use of library instructional services, despite the fact that both library systems make efforts to publicize these services'" (693).

I'll go ahead and say it. Very often the faculty do have the information available; they are just choosing to ignore it. And if a campus as a whole pays little attention to the need to promote and teach information literacy as part of the curriculum, the faculty can go on ignoring the library.

Ignoring the issue is certainly safer than simply admitting a lack of interest or an outright opposition to information literacy. It would take an extremely recalcitrant faculty member to actually say he/she opposes information literacy. Given that even accreditation bodies are at least mentioning IL, most faculty will at least be polite enough to feign interest. They can take a passive resistance route of saying they would be interested in information literacy. The authors consider this:

"If respondents to the survey had a negative attitude about collaborating with librarians on instruction but wished to avoid expressing this attitude, while still answering the survey questions truthfully, then exploiting the vagueness of 'interested' would be a good way to do so" (694).

In other words, very often someone saying that they are "interested" is the polite way to ignore you without showing a negative attitude.

The author conclude that the overall optimism of previous surveys is not justified. However, given the pedagogical benefits, they do believe that collaborations should still be pursued. I have to agree, even as I have faced moments when saying that "some faculty need to be educated" is seeing as stirring the hornets (heaven forbid one has something to offer to them was the attitude). It may take IL implementation at the curriculum level (or a major push to avoid accreditation failure) to get better collaboration. In the end, the authors acknowledge that other options are important as well:

"Based on the above considerations, however, the authors also conclude that the efforts of library instruction programs should not be expended solely on faculty/librarian collaboration. Instruction approaches that involve little-to-no-faculty involvement (for example, standalone library instruction credit courses, one-shot library orientation classes, online tutorials, teaching at the reference desk) must still be pursued" (695).

I am a believer in collaboration when possible. Students gain benefit when faculty and librarians, who share a common goal of student success, come together. However, teaching information literacy skills that will enable students to be lifelong learners is too important. If it means then we need to use other methods, then I say let's do it by any means necessary.

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