Column Description: The column title is inspired by the Malvina Reynolds song of the same name, which depicts a world in which people are mass-produced factory-style; a world without deviance, spontaneity, creativity, inspiration, without a difference. It is also inspired by a GIF in which a gender-diverse person looks anxiously at a small cardboard box with "GENDER" written on it. The person exclaims "Help, what do I do? I don't fit in the box!!" Then a second person dressed as a fairy godmother with a long lilac wig and a glittery wand dances across the frame declaring "There is no box!" The box disappears and the masculine-presenting person is relieved and happy. This column will discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher educational spaces, within academic libraries, and how academic libraries can support their parent institutions in DEI efforts while also making their own efforts.
Information Evaluation in the Time of Post-Truth
Utica University held a series of talks to mark Black History Month, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two of them. One talk given by my colleague Dr. Clemmie Harris was entitled “The Kyle Rittenhouse case had little to do with self-defense: An unresolved history of racial violence, whiteness, and American retrenchment to civil rights during the long black freedom struggle in the urban north.” In his talk, he discussed the relationship between the 2nd Amendment of 1791 and the first version of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 resulting in the long history of the policing of Black bodies and the violation of Black civil rights in the United States.
Harris argued that Kenosha Guard militia leader Kevin Mathewson’s call for armed citizens to come ‘keep Kenosha safe’ and ‘assist’ Kenosha PD in handling the protestors related to the shooting of Jacob Blake represents a callback to this history of White Americans being deputized to police Black bodies. Harris also touched on how Black public figures and White allies often have their character impugned by the press, sullying them and therefore casting a pall over the causes they support.
At the end of this talk, as there often is, there was a question and answer period. A student stood up and asked “There are so many different voices saying radically different things about the same events, the same topics. If I want to watch the news or read it, how do I know what I’m seeing is the real news, not biased opinions?” My hand, of course, shot into the air to take the mic.
I will have been a librarian for only five years as of September 2022, and have worked at three academic libraries: a small community college and a small master granting college simultaneously, and my current library serves a doctorate-granting university. In each setting, I did instruction, and in each case, instruction focused on doing research using the library’s databases and how to properly cite information found therein. In my first and current libraries, instruction sessions are the ubiquitous ‘one-shot’ format, in which there isn’t room for the information evaluation instruction that our students so desperately need. Do enough librarians get the opportunity to teach these invaluable concepts? Do enough librarians get a chance to work with students for more than one class period, co-teach a research methods course, and to consult on information literacy instruction?
You might be asking yourself “Isn’t this column supposed to be about DEI? What does garden variety library instruction have to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion work?” What Dr. Harris touched on, in part, was the role the news outlets have to play in the national conversation around social justice. The stories that are and aren’t covered, the language used to describe the people and events, in short, the stuff of information literacy and evaluation. In this era of extreme political polarity, of conspiracy theories posing as ‘news’, of a marked increase in violence towards minoritized groups, of citizens so inundated with mis/information they put their lives and those of others at risk (see: horse dewormer as covid treatment), working with your library and faculty colleagues to bring information literacy and evaluation skills to students is more critical than ever.
So how do we get students the information literacy and evaluation instruction they need?
- Get to know the folks in charge of assessment at your institution. See if you can sit in on a departmental meeting, or simply email asking where you might find data on information literacy and evaluation skills at your institution if that data exists. If it doesn’t collaborate to collect that data!
- When answering reference questions or performing individual research sessions, ask students a few short, pre-determined questions assessing their information literacy and evaluation skills, and keep a record of responses.
- Recording their majors/programs and their years will add more context to this data that can be presented to your library colleagues for discussion, or to the faculty within your liaison department.
- Embedded librarians: create modules with info lit and eval exercises. Ask the instructor if they would be willing to award an extra point on an exam to students who have completed the whole module.
- Work with instructors in your liaison department to see where existing materials and assignments can be modified to include information literacy and evaluation skill-building.
- Seek buy-in from instructors you have a rapport with and suggest piloting this work in a few sections of a course. Collect data throughout the semester on the courses with info lit added versus a section where it wasn’t and you have the foundations of a research paper on your hands!
Something hopeful re: media literacy ed
Sam Berry-Sullivan graduated with her MLIS from the University at Albany in 2017. Her librarianship centers around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the power of representation to build compassion, tolerance, and possibility. We can't solve inequities we don't see/talk about.