I do not think that the Framework is our oxygen mask.

One of the reasons I grapple with burnout is that the content of library instruction, and the one-shot model through which I deliver it, is essentially the same thing over and over again. Yes, I can experiment with different teaching methods and activities and so on, but ultimately it’s all pretty much the same thing. So I’ve been interested in exploring whether the new ACRL IL Framework has any implications for resisting library instruction burnout.

First, though, I need to work though my thoughts about the Framework to begin with, and I have to say that as the conversations about the Framework started emerging and circulating over the past year or so, I mostly side-eyed it all pretty suspiciously. I was too burned out and cynical to really care very much. I read each draft as it came out, but I did not submit any feedback or participate in any of the public discussions.

It was with this same spirit of baffled wariness that I regarded the final official version “filed” by ACRL at Midwinter this year. I’m currently taking a Library Juice Academy class led by Andrea Baer in an effort to work through what the fuck I’m supposed to do with this thing, if anything. As of now, I’m still a little suspicious and not entirely convinced that the entire document needed to be articulated through the rhetoric of threshold concepts. But, ultimately, despite my wariness, I’m choosing to view the Framework as an invitation to re-envision what I do and how I do it. My library instruction program has had essentially the same learning outcomes for like a million years, so yeah, let’s revisit them, and yeah, let’s let the Framework stimulate our thinking.

I do not regard the Framework as a mandate to change or do things in a particular or specific way. ACRL does not have the final say about the library instruction program I oversee.

The vision of information literacy articulated by the Framework is more complex and conceptual than the vision offered by the old Standards, I would argue, and I would also contend that it’s rather more interesting than the old view of information literacy. Authority is Constructed and Contextual, you say? Well, yes. Of course it is.

But I don’t think that the Framework is necessarily my ticket out of Repetitiveteachingville, and here’s why: none of this reconceptualized vision of information literacy matters if a writing instructor emails me and asks me to “demonstrate how to use databases” for his students, and if the assignment for the writing class calls for students to find five scholarly peer-reviewed articles and no websites are allowed as sources at all.

That is, I’m not sure if the teaching faculty I work with will really care about this dressed up vision of information literacy.  Admittedly, I’ve not yet really engaged with them yet about these new developments in our field and how they might (or might not) inform our teaching practices, but just based on my years of experience of doing this? No. I mean, maybe like five of the fifty faculty members I work with regularly will care. Everyone else? They just don’t want their students to use Wikipedia, and they want me to reinforce that.

And to me, this is merely a symptom of the larger problem I face and that I’ve been struggling with for the better part of a decade. Despite my consistent and intensive and strategic outreach efforts, despite my partnering with faculty members who are indeed library champions who do get what we do and why, despite all of my efforts to chip away at the culture that marginalizes the very real teaching and learning work we do in the library, I’ll get a writing teacher sending his class to the library, with no notice, with a fucking scavenger hunt assignment that requires students to work with print reference books only. Please excuse me while I *headdesk* forever.

I get really tired of fighting to be taken seriously, to be regarded as a valued contributor to and participant in the teaching and learning community, not someone who merely sits at a desk and answers the phone and points out the bathrooms and “demonstrates” how to use a database. By the way, you know who can “demonstrate” how to use a database? Pretty much anyone who can type words in a box and click “search.” Asking me to “demonstrate” something does not value and respect my expertise.

To return to my main point—and I know this has gotten a bit ranty—the new Framework encourages us to “Reach out to potential partners in your institution, such as departmental curriculum committees, centers for teaching and learning, or offices of undergraduate or graduate studies, to discuss how to implement the Framework in your institutional context.” But here’s the thing: I’ve been doing all of these recommended strategies already for a really long time, and every time I make some headway and convince someone of the importance of the instruction we do, there’s always someone who doesn’t get it, and that someone who doesn’t get it doesn’t necessarily undo all of our progress, but it still feels pretty terrible and demoralizing.

So what do I do? Keep chipping away, making small changes and headway where I can and fuck the haters? I’m guessing that’s probably where I’ll go with this, but damn if it isn’t exhausting and, yes, conducive to burnout.

Framework or no Framework, the marginalization of library instruction—and the concomitant burnout—will not change unless there is a radical shift in the culture of academic libraries and higher education in general. And I’m not fully convinced that the Framework is the tool that will help us bring about this urgently needed shift.



8 thoughts on “I do not think that the Framework is our oxygen mask.

  1. Thanks for raising these issues, including the issue of burnout! I’m faculty in theology. One of the college’s instruction/reference librarians introduced me to the Framework while it was being drafted, and I found it to be an exciting document. I look forward to following your subsequent thinking about it. It seems to me that the Framework has great potential to organize an entire curriculum, in the way that some have tried to think of gen ed curricula in terms of “critical thinking.” (I’m not wild about CT as a guiding concept.) If curriculum committees could dig into the Framework, I think they would see its merits. But then, as you say, marginality is a big problem; how to get curriculum committees’ attention?

    In my University of Utopia, courses and disciplines would be way less siloed, and librarians and faculty from different disciplines would design learning experiences that couldn’t be easily pulled apart into “discipline 1,” “discipline 2,” and “research.” I’ve tried planning my assignments more with my colleagues in the library, but I do easily get pulled back into the disciplinary habits that have long been ingrained in me.

    BTW, Andrea Baer was a colleague of mine at King’s College; I was sorry to see her go!


  2. We’ve been actively trying to get beyond the “demonstration” perspective at my library in a couple of different ways. One is to promote research consultations as an alternative to formal, classroom-based library instruction. We usually do these one-on-one or in small groups, and it gives us the opportunity to really have a conversation with the student(s) to figure out how we can help them develop as information consumers and producers. We’ll be launching a Research Collaboratory in the fall to demonstrate our commitment to this kind of teaching. Of course the problem with this in a small library is that it can quickly become too much for the staff to handle. We haven’t reached that point yet.

    The other thing we are doing is developing a campus definition of information literacy to take to our educational policies & planning committee of the Faculty Senate for official approval. This is not to claim IL as our territory, but to set the stage for how we can help with the higher-order thinking skills. We are also working on a mission statement for our IL activities and developing learning outcomes that go beyond the skills cultivated in the “demonstration” sessions. The administration (both of the campus and the library system) values this in terms of assessment, so we do have some buy-in.

    Of course these activities don’t mean that we don’t feel undervalued at times (or a lot of the time), but they are energizing in that we are trying to take an active role in creating our future and what we want our instruction to look like.


  3. Feisty! Thanks for being the tenured person who can engage in these discussions.

    I’m not sure what to say here, except that the challenges we face are obviously structural rather than just individual (although we choose our best responses to humanize the situation :-)). Sarah uses your piece to highlight the feminized nature of the profession (http://acrlog.org/2015/06/24/navigating-new-relationships/), and ends in a call to respect service, but there has to be more than that.

    A question I’d throw out there: if you could teach/research what you want, what would you be teaching/researching? And what kind of structural change would it take for us to be seen as the people who teach/research X?


    1. Thanks for the comment! If I could teach/research what I want, what would it be? I don’t know! What an interesting question. I think it would be pretty close to what I do now, only it would involve zero point-and-click teaching (unless absolutely necessary) and more one-on-one conversations. Actually, now that I think about it, I LOVE one-on-one research consultations. I don’t get to do very much of them, but when I do, it’s so satisfying and fun, and I wish that I had the time and resources to do more of it. I think that in order to do more of this, my library would need more people to carry more of the teaching load, to free up time to do more consultations, and we would need to market librarians as people with important and useful expertise, so that people would seek out consultations. Those are my preliminary thoughts now, but I’m going to think some more about this!


      1. Interesting. I’ve actually been thinking about the balance of teaching vs. consultations myself. I wonder if there’s a way to draw people into discussion by providing our full classes (both conceptual and how-to) in short videos or tutorials online, then having a short follow-up discussion in classes that leads to personal connection. I’m thinking of sharing NEIU’s videos (How to use keywords: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgk3qzl4dLQ , or What are peer reviewed articles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fc7UixWEzc ) for use with at-home assignments, so that we do less point-and-click teaching (or just offer that at a service desk) and more deep thinking… but for that especially, I think we’d need to show expertise in particular areas. E.g. what would happen if we framed the library as a place to ‘join the campus conversation’ (using archives, teaching materials, books, presentations, conversations) and less as a place where you find “stuff” both virtual and physical? I’m sure this has been said before, so perhaps part of the conversation is asking what institutional factors lead us to be ‘stuff’-focused or ‘mechanics-focused’ rather than deep-learning-and-co-scholarship-focused, and what would change those factors?


  4. “Asking me to ‘demonstrate’ something does not value and respect my expertise.” I love this line. Except there is something missing for me. What IS my expertise? I’ve been a librarian for over 15 years and a reference/instruction librarian for most of that time. I’m not really sure what my skills are. Seriously. And I’m coordinating the library instruction program at my College’s library.


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