Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and Face the Strain)

Back when I started this blog, I spent a lot of time complaining about how so many LIS programs have curricula that looks at least 5 to 10 years behind what I do every day. But more and more, I know it's not just the LIS graduate programs. Even in this supposed age of technological wonders and instant communication, we're lucky if 10-15% of libraries are on the same page - let alone our graduate programs and our national organizations.

Let me give you an example from when I was just starting to get interested in librarianship in a broader way. In 2010, I attended my first national conference: the American Library Association annual conference was in DC that year. I learned right away what so many people know: that the best learning opportunities come in the unstructured times at conferences. One moment from that conference still stands out in my memory. I overheard some people talking about "how nice that ALA is finally taking graphic novels seriously." This happened as I was walking away from the Dark Horse booth where I'd had a nice, in person conversation with a rep with whom I had connected via email in the past. By that time I had been overseeing graphic novel collections in libraries for 5+ years and had built collections at two different libraries. Overhearing that conversation blew my mind. Something I'd been doing for a most of my career at that point was "finally" getting attention from a national organization.

I'm not faulting ALA, nor really tooting my own horn. I was lucky enough to work at an institution that encouraged new ideas and also lucky enough to have the kind of relationship with students where they'd be honest with me about what they wanted. It was a shock, though, to realize how different things were between my library and the national conference.

I had similar feelings as I read and commented on the various iterations of the Framework for Information Literacy. Above and beyond the jargon and buzzwords and threshold concepts, I was excited to see that at it's heart, the framework resembles how I approach information literacy more closely than anything I've seen from a national organization. The idea of framing these skills as practical, as more central to student learning than any specific outcomes, feels right. The document is not perfect, but it's a lot better than what came before.

All of this came to mind, yes the graphic novel story as well as my thoughts about the framework, when I saw this tweet:

Ms. Hinchliffe's tweet made me think about buzzwords and slow steady change and so much more. Not too long ago, when I started in this field, we were in the midst of a jargon change. I took a Bibliographic Instruction class at my MLIS program. The library where I worked for 5 years had even labelled their classroom with the words "Bibliographic Instruction." Students there referred to that room the way long time staff did... "the BI room." But the rubric I helped write to measure Writing Across the Curriculum focused on "information literacy." Library instruction has also been called "user education" and "library orientation." Heck, that last one is the origin of one of the best conferences we've got! Library Orientation EXchange, or LOEX, has been going on for over 40 years.

We can be slow to change, but also we can be quick to throw and/or forget our history.

The main thing I'm thinking about, though, is that I'm starting to understand why more experiences library professionals say things like, "we've always done it that way." I know it's easy to hear that phrase and think the speaker is stuck. But at this stage of my career, I can hear nuances in that much reviled statement. I can hear when someone means "but I really want to change it" versus when they mean "and I'm scared to try something new." More importantly, though, I've noticed an undercurrent of "I'm not afraid of change so much as I'm scared of uninformed progress for the sake of progress."

Things change. It's a fact so true that it sounds a bit cliched. But change without awareness of history can be worse than no change at all. Knowing where we came from can be a road map of sorts. After all, you want to void those million dead-end streets, don't you?

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate this post. It's easy to peg veteran library staff with the "no change" attitude but I've found it with library staff throughout their career paths (sometimes even the newest folks fall in love with something they've created and can't-let-it-go-or-change). Understanding where things come from and where we can take them is really fundamental in all change. My lay-librarian's research into library history shows me how much of what we tout as new is simply service that has been around for decades that is re-branded - and often rediscovered.