What's New and Where It Fits

How are you addressing our changing information environment in your teaching? How do you make room for new realities and attendant controversies?

August 29, 2017

Joshua Kim recently wrote about the latest ECAR report on tech trends in higher ed, and mentioned some IT organizations are dividing their efforts into two groups: one to maintain systems (stability) and the other to test innovations and respond to new challenges (agility).

Perhaps because he opened with a nod to what had been in the news (a sports event, a television series, a celebrity feud set to music), I’m feeling a similar divide: how to we do the ongoing work librarians do while we also acknowledge and address what’s going on in the world? You could see it as the age-old problem of what to stop doing in order to make room for new tasks. Or as deciding what is critical to preparing our students for the world they live in, not just for the courses they’re taking this semester.

It’s not like we’re not already busy. We’re welcoming international students to the library during their busy orientation to campus. We’re doing the same for new faculty. We’re preparing material for the first faculty meeting of the year. We’re scheduling meetings with students in the first term seminars and following up with the group that’s integrating digital humanities into courses. We’re also wondering if we’re ready to explain the new library catalog and discovery system that just went live. (Where did that interlibrary loan form go?)

As we busy ourselves with these things, millions of people in Texas and in Bangladesh are fleeing rising waters even as leaders deny we humans have any responsibility for destabilized weather patterns and melting ice caps. Our president recently pardoned a monstrous public official who thinks concentration camps (his words) are a solution to undocumented immigration, a law enforcement officer who blithely showed contempt for court orders. Closer to the librarian’s wheelhouse, there’s that new report from the Berkman Klein center on our changing media landscape and what it has contributed to our severely polarized state of affairs. How do we fit this new reality into our teaching?

In August 2005 I was transfixed by images of disaster in New Orleans. It seemed urgent enough that we pulled together a teach-in to share our understanding of what was happening and why. It was old fashioned, but it worked to focus and collect perspectives from multiple disciplines.

This week at our annual faculty development program we’re going to be talking about how to discuss bias and controversial events like the marches in Charlottesville in our courses. Later this semester we hope to sponsor a campus conversation with faculty from other departments on what we mean when we say “free speech” because that’s something librarians feel strongly about and we need to figure out how to support it even as white supremacists and professional provocateurs lay claim to it as a warrant for attacking others. There may be other events in the works that I don’t yet know about.

But I’m still thinking about how to make these pressing issues as they relate to information literacy part of what I teach on a regular basis, not just a special event. What are you doing in your libraries and classrooms? How do you appeal to traditional notions of evidence and validity in our highly-polarized world of alternative facts? How do you carry on with what you need to get across while including what’s in flux in our information environment? I'm really curious to hear about what others are trying.

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