Congratulations to Abigail Shelton, an MLIS graduate student at Drexel University, for winning this year’s $1,000.00 ACRL DVC stipend! Ms. Shelton is interested in digital libraries, archives, and reference and instruction. She has an M.A. in Early American history from Binghamton University, SUNY and works at the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia.
Each year applicants for the stipend must respond to an essay prompt. This year’s prompt required students to consider how the IL framework could be used to address the challenges of a post-truth society. Ms. Shelton’s response included emphasis on library partnerships and student exposure to diverse perspectives in library instruction.
Ms. Shelton’s full response to the essay prompt is included below.
Driven by the controversial British referendum to leave the European Union and the 2016 US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as the word of the year for 2016. Students graduating from colleges and universities that same year entered a world in which objective facts are considered irrelevant in the face of emotional and personal appeals. The problems of a “post-truth” society are many: the proliferation of “fake news” through social media outlets, the confirmation of biases, and the polarization of political discourse, to name a few. The challenges of such a social reality are especially hard in academic settings and in libraries. Thus, the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy Instruction for Higher Education is a key part of equipping librarians to help students navigate a complicated information ecosystem—particularly learning how to understand the context of information products and the importance of multiple perspectives.
The twin problems of a “post-truth” society—fabricated or misleading news items and increasing partisanship—are not easily separated but can be addressed by making the threshold concepts of the Framework the building blocks for literacy instruction. Instead of focusing on the types of resources available in the library, librarians should weave key Framework concepts through their lesson plans. This could take shape in the usual literacy instruction coursework as well as by offering special literacy instruction related to news or social media.
To address the problem of fabricated or misleading news stories, sometimes called “fake news,” literacy instruction should help students examine the context of both the creation and consumption of information products. For instance, in a freshman seminar instruction session a librarian could help students to evaluate the context of information products. Using different sources on one topic or news story, librarians could lead students through an exercise to assess the authority of the authors, reflect on their own assumptions and biases, and think about the ways in which the format of the item (printed, audio, video, etc.) influences the content. In an upper level course or graduate seminar, this could take on a more discipline-centric format. Students could delve into questions of how their discipline confers authority and how certain voices might be marginalized in favor of traditional authority structures.
Similarly, to help students address increasing polarization and partisanship, literacy instruction courses—whether a freshmen seminar or graduate class– should emphasize the importance of consulting multiple perspectives on any issue or research topic. This is a theme that appears throughout the Framework’s threshold concepts—from “Information Has Value” to “Scholarship as Conversation.” And this is an idea that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Including a diversity of views is as important for evaluating news sources as it is for writing history research papers and creating literature reviews in the sciences.
Finally, one of the most effective ways that ACRL’s Framework can be used to address the problems of a “post-truth” society is through partnerships between librarians and faculty members. Faculty members, and often graduate teaching assistants, experience sustained relationships with students in ways that librarians often do not. Students see their faculty members each week, whereas they might only interact with a librarian once or twice a semester. Librarians have a great deal to offer faculty in terms of training them to incorporate information literacy skills into the classroom and should actively provide resources and training workshops for faculty. A good place to start, especially at a large research institution, would be to hold special sessions for graduate teaching assistants. In perhaps one or two workshops, subject librarians could introduce graduate instructors to the threshold concepts of the Framework as well as provide examples and resources for subject-specific literacy instruction. These graduate assistants are often the first faces that students see when they enter the university and attend large introductory seminars. Equipping them to equip their students could be one of the most powerful ways to address the problems faced by a “post-truth” society.
While there are a myriad of ways that the Framework could be used to address the problems of “fake news” and increasing partisanship, promoting information literacy in any form is as important now as ever. From literacy instruction sessions to thinking about the ways academic library space is arranged to building digital interfaces that help students evaluate sources, ACRL’s Framework could easily be applied to almost any facet of library services.