Article Reviewed: “Information Literacy: Undervalued or Ubiquitous- Peer to Peer Review”, Barbara Fisher, December 2011.
Barbara Fisher’s article entitled, “Information Literacy: Undervalued or Ubiquitous- Peer to Peer Review” discusses the Department of Education’s preliminary findings relative to a 2010 academic library statistical study. Steve Kolowich, a reporter/ curator for Inside Higher Ed magazine extracted some interesting information from the brief. His analysis revealed that academic libraries spent more money than in the previous year, but a lower amount was spent on individual students. Additionally, many academic libraries are cutting back on staff, spending less on print resources, and are redirecting this money to the purchase of ebooks and subscriptions to electronic journals, clearing houses, etc. These statistics may come as no surprise to those of us in education. The world wide web offers limitless possibilities for accessing information. However, what is shocking and truly depressing is that, “[s]lightly under a third of academic libraries report that information literacy is included in an institutional mission or strategic plan, the same percentage as in 2004. Perhaps even more dismaying, of institutions that mention information literacy in their strategic plan, only a quarter indicate that the library has a role to play.” (Fisher, 2010) Fisher questions why this is the case when virtually every library offers some form of information literacy program. She continues on to say that 2/3rd of these institutions do not even mention information literacy in their mission statement or strategic plan. If we know that students today are producing more researched writing than they did 20 years ago, shouldn’t this be an integral part of the plan? You would be hard pressed to find an educator or librarian that would argue that it should not. So what exactly is the deal? Fisher brings up the idea of job descriptions and the purported territorial conflict between teachers and librarians over this thing we call “information literacy” and the skills attached to it. She postulates that the conflict is the result of the “different lenses” that we look at “information literacy” through – i.e.the wide-angle holistic view vs. the discipline task oriented view. Her arguments make a tremendous amount of sense. As a historian, I train my students to work with sources in a particular way. However, the work I do with my students is grounded in basics that are reinforced in the academic library setting. She also states that library staff often, “have a better grasp than many faculty in the disciplines do of just how challenging it is to master several different ways of knowing in any one semester. We help students develop some all-purpose ways to approach any question, knowing that this will remain an important ability later in life. Faculty in the disciplines may be much more focused on polishing the particular lens through which they help students see the world, but being able to find, sort through, and use information is also very much a part of what they teach.” (Fisher, 2010) Though the medium, vehicle, or what have you may have changed- a skill is a skill. When is thinking critically ever going to go out of style? When did it become something to be taught in isolation in a particular discipline? Some may try to make a case that academic libraries are going the way of the dinosaur, but to me it is a matter of adapting what has been working for generations to the needs of the 21st century. A partnership between classroom teachers and the academic library staff is necessary to provide the students with an understanding of the skills they must have to succeed in a technology driven, global economy. Therefore, Fisher rightly states that an academic library survey is not enough to evaluate how and what our students need and are being taught. An institution wide survey and strategic plan where the library plays an integral role is what is needed. Sadly, reflecting on my own school I can see some similarities to the aforementioned 2/3rds.