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

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?

3 Responses to “What is a Library Function, or, When should the mission creep? Instruction Controversies.”

  1. AmandaR says:

    Great post — I particularly agree with you here: “framing this responsibility as a new burden rather than a new opportunity is unfortunate”. To me, proper citation is part of a whole constellation of interesting critical thinking issues around information use, not just a matter of mechanical details.

    On the other hand, I have had the experience where faculty ask me to go over citation because they see it as purely mechanical and a waste of *their* time, so I can understand pushback against that experience. Even in those cases, though, that doesn’t mean I can’t teach citation it in a way that deals with larger intellectual issues around remix, reuse, and attribution.

  2. I agree, for a number of reasons. First, citation is a way of developing an information pathfinder for readers who read the work and want to backtrack to sources – that’s certainly a library and information science concern, in terms of teaching best information practices.

    Second, while I know we’re all buckling under budget cuts and increased workloads, librarians cannot take up the cry of “We are relevant!” while at the same time eschewing work that the teaching faculty want us to engage in. I would add this in with our other instructional opportunities as a chance to connect with both students and (perhaps even more importantly) faculty, as a gateway for opening the conversation about what *else* we can do for them and their students. It may start with citations, but faculty are well aware that their students have research knowledge deficits. If we can start the conversation with our good work on the side of citations, it will likely develop into a deeper relationship and liaising with faculty to further develop students’ information practices.

  3. Laura says:

    Great post, Aaron, and a perspective that I’ve shared for a long time. There’s actually quite a bit of work out there on the shared responsibilities of librarians and writing faculty in educating students about academic discourse, much of which focuses what Amanda rightly calls the “larger intellectual issues around remix, reuse, and attribution.” Squabbling over citations is a classic can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees moment — what’s important about citation isn’t where you put the comma or what you italicize, but the function of acknowledgment in scholarly communication. Librarians and faculty both need to support the enculturation of students and teaching about citation is only part of that. When a professor wants me to teach citation, I wouldn’t approach it as “here’s how to cite things in MLA style” but here’s WHY we cite things at all — which is absolutely part of my job.

Leave a Reply