Archive for February, 2012

What is a Library Function, or, When should the mission creep? Instruction Controversies.

Monday, February 13th, 2012

About Aaron McCollough

English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan

An interesting conversation is brewing on the ILI-I listserv (beginning with this post http://lists.ala.org/sympa/arc/ili-l/2012-02/msg00125.html) over the range and limitations of “library function” and “mission creep.” The specific question pertains to citation instruction and related questions of academic integrity. Although it is pretty well established in the various Information Literacy guidelines (ACRL, AASL, etc.) that knowing how to “use information” is a key student learning outcome (along with knowing how to locate and to evaluate information), there is plenty of room for debate about what “use” means. Thus, the poles of the discussion on ILI-I seem to be: proper citation is a writing issue and therefore outside the scope of library function–on the one side–and–on the other side: proper citation is both a writing issue and a library issue… we need to be collaborating with writing programs insofar as we can.

I’ve refrained from entering the fray up to this point. In part, my feeling is that others have expressed my basic position, which is something like this: we all recognize that the world of information is changing in deep ways and at fairly high velocity, and we also want to foster student learning in whatever forms that world is taking, so “mission creep” might not be the right analogy here. In addition to this, I’d add that I think proper citation and a focus on academic integrity are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spheres of overlap between the information literacy goals tacitly operating in most introductory writing course learning outcome statements and potential growth areas in library-based information literacy instruction. In other words, I think “writing issues” are “information issues” and that they are the responsibility of many programs/units (including writing programs and writing centers, obviously, but also libraries). I also think that framing this responsibility as a new burden rather than a new opportunity is unfortunate. I’d rather view it as a way to think about demonstrating our value in new ways. Evolving.

Don’t most of us LES members have a vested interest in seeing library instruction and writing instruction finding fellowship, especially as writing pedagogy trends towards focusing more on They Say, I Say-style engagement with the moves successful writers make and less on the traditional “research paper”? Shouldn’t we be trying to articulate what the library can offer students trying to make successful writing moves, and–anyway–isn’t this a vital question in how to “use” information?