Living Outside the Networks; or, Life in the Ether

This week, we got to find our own readings. We were tasked with finding readings from scholarly journals which both related to our future careers and the topic of “information literacy” (or transliteracy, or information fluency, or any of the number of names for these somewhat nebulous but popular instructional and learning concepts). I found one reading that related to both school libraries, and the transition of learners from these school libraries into the world of academic libraries (Jaeger, 2011); one reading that discussed a new instructional paradigm of “connectivism” and its connection to transliteracy (and metaliteracy) and libraries (Dunaway, 2011); and a reading that discussed transliteracy in the context of the digital humanities and “new media” (Thomas, 2008).

Surprisingly, the most relevant ideas I picked up from these readings were not from the two people (Jaeger and Dunaway) writing from library and information science perspectives, but from Sue Thomas, who is a professor of New Media at De Montfort University. Thomas was also one of the founders of the group Production and Research in Transliteracy (http://www.transliteracy.com). In her article, Thomas discusses the idea that, if we map the “patterns of our lifeworlds” as the intellectual networks we form and move about, we will find that there are certain structural holes in these networks. In other words, we are not necessarily at the center of one completely fleshed out and self-sustaining network. We may be connected to a number of networks that are only connected to each other via individual nodes (i.e. our colleague who might not be in the middle of one of our networks, but serves a connecting point between two or more of our networks). Beyond this, Thomas cites Tobey Moores as discussing the idea that not only do we have these singular nodes that connect our networks, but we often have (or are) entities that exist outside of the network altogether. This “increasing number of individuals…not tied to any single network…[who] float freely in the space between them” sounds a lot like librarians to me (Thomas, 2008). For instance, take the following characterization of the state of the “transliterate world” and compare to how you feel about the world of libraries right now: “It is transient (of course). It is uncertain, confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating. One often feels like an amateur, and always slightly out of control”(Thomas, 2008). However, despite this description, THIS is the place where those who exist “outside of the networks” feel most comfortable, just as we feel most comfortable.

In class this past week, Kristin discussed with us the idea that, in the past, library science was a very “left-brained” science, full of order and silence, but that now it has become a most certainly “right-brained” science, full of questions, experimentation, and uncertainty. I think this above characterization suits this perfectly. I also think that it serves as a good lead-in to my problems with the article I read by Paige Jaeger.

I did find many things to like about Jaeger’s article: the focus on making sure students know that research is “goal-directed,” and not just random clicking around; the fact that marketing and outreach proved to be a big part of getting learner and patron buy-in for information literacy; and the idea that instructional librarians need to consider the different contexts in which students approach media. However, when comparing this idea of “transliteracy” with the ideas presented in Thomas’s article, I am left with a question – are we just, at times, attempting to make students literate in the ways we want them to be literate? For example, Jaeger seems averse to the idea of teaching students how to evaluate and cite videos, citing the slogan she used in her library, “Print is important” – sure, print is important, but why is important, and who is it important for? As Thomas (2008) discusses, there are many cultures where print doesn’t matter, who seem to now be making a leap from “pre-literate” to “multi-media” cultures. If we can provide methods for communication of knowledge that completely skip over print, is that okay? If not, why not?

My other issue with Paige, and the traditional library approach to information literacy in general, comes from the way we teach students to evaluate sources. Paige (2008) gives an example of holding up the New York Times and the Weekly World News and asking students which one their teachers would rather have them use for a research paper. Of course, all of the students know that the NYT is the place to go. As Paige says, “The New York Times might get them to college when the Weekly World News will only engage them in the task”(2008). This, right here, seems quite problematic to me – what are we trying to do? Do we want to “get them to college” or do we really just want to engage them? Which is more important? I hate when students come to the reference desk where I work and express shock and fear when I tell them to use Wikipedia a jumping-off point for their research. “But my professor said no Wikipedia!” Why are we trying to make students afraid of resources? Sure, you can’t have students basing whole papers on Wikipedia, but you also wouldn’t have them basing whole papers on Encyclopedia Britannica. And, as cited in Dunaway (2011), Head and Eisenberg (2010) found that “Wikipedia plays an important role when students are formulating and defining a topic. But when students are in deep research mode [conducting] scholarly research, it is library databases, such as JSTOR and PsycINFO, for instance, that students use more frequently than Wikipedia.”

Students want quality resources – they want to know the truth. The Internet has exposed them to so many contradictory ideas, and they want help sorting through these ideas. It seems clear to me, though, that the way forward in this quest for teaching information literacy is not, as Jaeger suggests, a restrictive over-valuation of our hallowed print sources and databases, but an integrative approach. As Dunaway (2011) suggests, it is important to teach students the similarities and connections between all of the myriad resources they have available, not just teaching them what is wrong or off-limits in that world of resources. As librarians, we have just recently moved beyond the image of “shushers” – let’s not get a new reputation for being restrictive in a different realm.

References

Dunaway, M.K. (2011). “Connectivism: learning thoery and pedagogical practice for networked information landscapes.” Reference Services Review. Vol. 39, No. 4. 675-85.

Jaeger, P. (2011). “Transliteracy: new library lingo and what it means for instruction.” Library Media Connection. Vol. 30, No. 2. 44-7.

Thomas, S. (2008). “Transliteracy and new media.” Transdisciplinary Digital Art, Sound, Vision, and the New Screen. Vol. 7. 101-9.

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About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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One Response to Living Outside the Networks; or, Life in the Ether

  1. Kelly says:

    That transliteracy article on networks sounds fascinating. I will have to look for that one. It reminds me a little of one of the articles I read, too — “Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators,” which talks about how librarians can use their unique position as “middle men” to be the translator of often tacit disciplinary expectations of new writers and researchers entering the academy. I like this idea a lot, in part because it turns librarians’ status as occasional outsiders into a positive, in much the same way tutors get to be that sounding board and guide but act in a different power structure than many teacher-student relationships. I will have to explore this more. Thanks for finding that transliteracy article!

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