Librarians, Got Information Literacy?

December 20, 2007 at 4:27 pm 9 comments

Over at ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes,

Imagine a future when you go to the library with a 5 minute video you’ve just made about last night’s Presidential debates and that librarian says to you:

“You should upload it to YouTube and tag it with these four tags – two broad and two more specific to existing communities of interest on YouTube and the topic of your video. Then you should embed that video in a blog post along with some text introducing it and linking to some of your favorite posts by other people who have also written today about the Presidential debates. Make sure to send trackbacks to those posts!

“Now, I think this is a particularly good video on the topic, so if you’re interested I will vote for it on StumbleUpon (as a sexy librarian I have a very powerful account there) and give it a good summary explanation. Any of those are steps you can take that will make your work all the easier for people to discover.”

I’ve previously made the point that all librarians should understand RSS because it’s an information literacy issue. Reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post made me wonder how well the average librarian would do if asked to help someone embed a video and catalog, er, I mean tag it, digg it, furl it, stumbleupon it, or otherwise advise on how to make the information discoverable.

Aren’t these also information literacy issues? And if librarians are going to be relevant and help our customers kick ass, don’t we need to know how to do this stuff (or at least know enough to figure it out quickly on the fly?

In days of yore librarians took pride in our information literacy knowledge and in our ability to instruct others, and help them navigate through the myriad of resources and finding tools (indexes, handbooks, specialized encyclopedias, etc.) I am hopeful that we can tap into that shared professional passion for connecting people and information and continue to manifest it by learning how to navigate through the NEW myriad of resources and finding tools.

I agree with Marshall when he says, “wouldn’t that be great.” Yes it would. And sexy!

Added 12/21: Kate Sheehan, the Loose Cannon Librarian, has a great take on this. Check out her post “literacy is hawt“.


Entry filed under: Information literacy, Web 2.0. Tags: , , .

My First Year in Lines (Pete) Ho Ho Ho


  • 1. Peregrine  |  December 20, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Yes! I totally agree. But I can already hear the moans of “But it doesn’t have to do with real, physical books, so it’s not our concern” with undertones of “But then I’d actually have to learn something new.”

    If we are going to stay relevant as a profession, this is the kind of thing we need to consider, as well as caring for the physical books.

    Evolve or Die!

  • 2. Chris  |  December 21, 2007 at 10:02 am

    You say, “Now, I think this is a particularly good video on the topic…”
    What would you do if you disagreed with the political view of this video? What if it is hate speech? How far should libraries go in disseminating opinions/hearsay/gossip (which accounts for a lot of what is out on the blogosphere)? I thought our job is to act as gatekeepers and filters, using objective criteria to provide high quality information that the public can trust. When we enter the realm of opinion, and what’s “cool”, are we in fact ultimately undermining our own authority?

  • 3. Peter Bromberg  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Chris, thanks for your comments. I want to clarify: It’s not me saying “I think this is a particularly good video”; I’m quoting Marshall Kirkpatrick’s imaginary librarian.

    I’m concerned that perhaps you’re not seeing the forest for the trees here. The point of Marshall’s “wouldn’t it be cool” example is that the librarian would actually understand what stumbleupon is and how it relates to the findability of online information.

    Your issue of how far librarians should go in disseminating opinions we don’t agree with is a red herring. We already have professional values that guide us in NOT letting our opinions interfere with the service we provide. If a customer comes to us and asks for help posting a video and asks for advice on how to make it findable (we should be so lucky, really), we don’t evaluate the quality and content of the video–we use our professional knowledge of information tools to assist. I see this as building our authority, not undermining it. If this is cool then what’s wrong with that? Should we form an ALA committee to determine what’s “cool” and then cordon off a 20 foot perimeter, not allowing library service to get anywhere near it?

    Regarding your point about us being gatekeepers and filters: Being a gatekeeper has always been one aspect of librarianship which has correlated with our role as collection developers. However, As more and more information becomes available outside of our walls, our importance as collection developers wanes. I wouldn’t want to hitch my professional wagon to that star…

    There is still a need for us though, and I thought Marshall’s example did a good job of illustrating one way we could continue to be relevant; by helping our customers understand not just how to find information, but how to make their information findable.

    Again, to me, it comes down to whether or not we are going to choose to be highly literate information experts (in the eyes of our customers), and whether or not we will actively acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be valued as experts in 2008 and beyond.

  • 4. K.G. Schneider  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:15 am

    “Should we form an ALA committee to determine what’s ‘cool’ and then cordon off a 20 foot perimeter, not allowing library service to get anywhere near it?”

    Only if you let me chair it, so I can subvert it. Muah hah hah hah hah!

    Great post on all counts. I worry that we’re in a profession where too often professionals aren’t held accountable for their lack of info literacy. Not only that, but we’ve been having this discussion for as long as I’ve been a librarian.

  • 5. Chris  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Pete, thanks for your reply. It gave me a lot to chew on. However,
    I don’t think the “collection developer” model is ready for the trash heap yet. We make decisions in the library with our pocketbook about what materials are most useful, relevant, objective, etc. Are you saying we should completely abandon that role and help anyone post anything, and tag it and make it accessible? I am trying to look beyond the technology, which will keep evolving. I don’t think I am coming at this from an anti-technology, or anti-innovation perspective. I agree we need to remain current and not stand in the way, and be helpful. But sexy? I’m not so sure about that. Librarianship is not a popularity contest, at least not for me. For me, it’s about people. And democracy. Archaic and inefficient and imperfect as they may be. I guess what your post brings to light is that as access to information evolves and becomes more user-generated, our role as librarians must evolve, too. Point taken. But what about our customers – the ones who don’t even own computers, the ones who don’t know how to use a mouse, the “unsexy” customers who need help replacing their Social Security card or registering their business? They count, too, and need us now more than ever. I think that’s what I mean about “cool” and “uncool” – the job requires a passionate response from us to both.

  • 6. K.G. Schneider  |  December 21, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    The people without computer skills need our assistance–but frequently what they need is for us to *help them with automation.* Pete’s point is strong and valid.

    Also, librarianship is too a popularity contest — particularly for the “haves” of society, who are frankly the ones who determine library funding. We may have been running monopoly services in the past, but libraries are now a choice for many. If we really want to be able to continue helping the information have-nots, we very much do need to worry about how we are perceived and we need to position ourselves as the winning brand.

  • 7. Chris  |  December 21, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Okay – the Haves in my community think the Internet is a big, bad porn machine. Most of the teens I work with aren’t allowed on MySpace. They don’t blog.(They are really really good at Guitar Hero, though.) Yes, I work in NJ.
    And I really am on board with most of what Marshall Kirkpatrick is talking about. It’s just that last part “I think this is a particularly good video on the topic” that brought me up short. I am just trying to play that scenario out in my mind. How am I viewing it? At the ref desk after we upload it to YouTube?
    I am not trying to attack Pete. Of course his points are strong and valid. I am asking questions in a quest to understand. I thought that was what 2.0 was all about.

  • 8. Peter Bromberg  |  December 21, 2007 at 3:04 pm


    I didn’t feel attacked (and I hope my comments weren’t taken that way either.) We share a lot of common ground here. I agree that collection development isn’t ready for the trash heap–I just don’t think that our role as collection developers — especially as collectors of physical texts– has the same value to our customers that it had in the past, and the future only holds diminishing returns. In the old days, we had a near monopoly on information, and a good library collection was the only game in town. We both know that’s not the case anymore. Mileage differs here for academic and public libraries (and I do tend to look at things more from a public library perspective–my bias) but the collection becomes less and less important when more and more information is available on the Internet.

    As far as your reaction to Marshall’s example of the librarian saying, “Now I think this is a particularly good video…”, remember, Marshall is not a librarian. It’s like when we see some Hollywood movie where the librarian turns over the library records to the cops, no questions asked–we all squirm because we know the director didn’t get it right. But usually that detail is not particularly germane to the overall quality of the picture. Likewise, Marshall’s example of a librarian providing a level of service that is seemingly tied to whether or not they “like” the opinion of the customer makes us cringe. But it’s not ultimately germane to his larger point; that it would be great if librarians had the ability to provide this kind of service.

    Thanks for dialoguing Chris, and thanks too to KGS and Peregrine for your comments 🙂

  • 9. Nancy Dowd  |  December 22, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Hi all, great conversation! Coming from the marketing point of view, my heart smiled when I read Pete’s post because it begins to help people visualize what the expanded roles of libraries will look like.

    Take away the polite comments librarians may use when offering help, the value of providing assistance that will enable people to organize and share their information is priceless. The idea of people knowing their local librarians will be on top of the ever evolving, sometimes overwhelming assortment of web tools so that they can do what they desire to do with their information? It’s something I could envision would keep people flowing through our doors.

    I think the important concept for all of us in libraries to keep in mind is that the process will be an evolving one. It will never be a line in the sand process but I think it’s really important for us to be able to apply all the new information we are learning to help improve our service as we move along.

    As I write this, I’m thinking we don’t even need to “imagine” a librarian doing this, because so many in the field are working to keep on top of web 2.0 and their customers are already making videos, podcasts, blogging , etc – maybe what we need to do is remind them to publicize the conversation a bit by posting stories on their blogs or in their libraries or making simple little cards or signs that say, “Now that you’ve got that new digital camera/video camera/blog/podcast/ etc, come on in to the library and we’ll help you figure out how to share them with friends on the web.”

    I use to run a workshop in libraries to teach customers how to use their digital cameras, doesn’t it make sense to offer web 2.0 help as well? Heck you can still offer the workshops to use the cameras and develop the blogs but it doesn’t make sense not to teach web 2.0 too. Hey why not create some moo cards and really have fun? Okay, my marketing energy is taking me off point… I’ll stop here. Anyway, thanks for letting me join in.

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