We all read and talk about the difficulties of faculty collaborations.
I was talking to someone just the other day about how heartbreaking I find it to hear brand-new librarians, just out of library school talk in their job talks about all of the tricks and tools they’ll use to urge recalcitrant faculty to consider the possibility that information literacy might be important. I mean, it’s one thing to listen to someone talking from years of experience working with faculty that forging collaboration is hard. Those people have earned their cynicism, and are probably stronger for it.
It’s entirely another to hear from a brand-newly minted librarian who should be idealistic and confident about the significance of what we do that they don’t expect faculty will care at all. Undue optimism, I can overlook. Unearned pessimism – that breaks my heart. And makes me a little annoyed at all of the library school faculty out there who start their students off with the premise that faculty won’t want to work with them.
So, for all of you out there who think getting faculty to teach information literacy in a meaningful way is a hopeless goal, that those of us who hold out for that are just tilting at windmills, I’d like you to meet Julie. Julie and I have worked together on our FYC (first-year composition) class for the last two years. Julie is a master’s candidate, working on her own thesis while she teaches her own FYC course, and acts as a program-level teaching assistant as well. And Julie is well on her way to making me redundant in her class.
And not in a bad way. This is the kind of redundancy I dream about. We have one required first year composition course at OSU. Information literacy assignments represent 10% of a student’s grade in that course. Generally speaking, instruction librarians like me grade 3 assignments that introduce information literacy concepts to FYC students and also do an hour-long face to face session with them building on the concepts introduced by the assignments.
Because of the extreme pressure put on this one required course, most students do the information literacy assignments during a week where they don’t meet in-class; instead, they meet with their instructor in individual conferences. In those conferences, students focus on a different paper that the research-based argument paper. So they are truly doing these assignments in a vacuum, without a focus either from their librarian or their writing instructor.
Julie is trying something else. She’s taking her students through the information literacy assignments, as a writing instructor. She’s talking to them about research skills in a rhetorical sense. And it’s awesome. Seriously – she’s talking about concepts we can only introduce briefly, in the abstract, in depth. And she’s blogging about it, so you can see it as well.
Here’s the thing – she’s barely started the process and there’s one area where things are different from the norm in an obvious, tangible way. Her students have come up with awesome, interesting topics. I have graded approximately one gajillion IL assignments in WR 121, our FYC course, and I know what kinds of topics FYC students usually argue. Julie’s students are *starting off* from a more interesting place. They’re writing about topics that are unique and rhetorically interesting. We have no idea where they’ll end up after this experiment – it might be the same place that all of the other WR 121 students end up in, but I doubt it. And I doubt it because they’re starting out in a more interesting place. Seriously, isn’t interesting half the battle?
I am so excited about the face-to-face sessions for her classes. She’s even bringing them to the library herself before they come over to meet me – they will have thought about questions that seem simple. Questions like “how do i find a book source for my topic which happened last week.” Let’s not pretend otherwise – this is what we mean, what we care about when it comes to information literacy. The ability to think about different sources differently, to think about their topics holistically and in context – that ‘s what I want for my students and I believe that their chances of getting there are better in Julie’s hands than they are in mine.
Which means I can think about that face to face session in terms of how can I build on what she’s already given them? That gives me the chance to talk about some seriously interesting stuff. And, honestly, I can’t think of anything more exciting than being that kind of redundant.