Competency I

Use service concepts, principles, and techniques to connect individuals or groups with accurate, relevant, and appropriate information.

Competency Definition

Information professionals strive to provide easy and efficient access to relevant information to their users, for “connecting people with information is at the heart of [their] work” (Simmons, 2105, p. 130). They are now in an essential position to intermediate between users and their information needs, which entails being able to conceptualize and teach information literacy (IL) skills through effective IL instruction (ILI; Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). The rise of the notion of information intermediation comes with advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) that promote an unparalleled level of decentralized and diverse content distribution and access (Simmons, 2015). ILI in turn is moving towards an emphasis on what users do in the information search rather than what librarians do, in renewed efforts to maintain its relevance in the curriculum and to students, faculty, and administrators as stakeholders in students’ educational outcomes (Jaguszewski & Williams, 2013). These developments also match library trends moving from physical to digital versions of materials, the transformation of physical spaces for material storage of print reference collections to patron-centered technology hubs, study spaces, and “information commons,” and the consolidation of circulation and reference desk services into a centralized service point (Simmons, 2015).

In response to this decentralization of information and its access, information professionals are now meeting users where they are, at their point of need to assist in addressing their information needs and providing opportunities to learn IL skills (Simmons, 2015). They are now placing themselves in spaces outside of their typical office or library building, creating instructional content and online learning objects (such as LibGuides, screencast tutorials, and learning exercises) and engaging in classroom instruction, from the “one-shot” IL session to assisting course instructors in integrating IL into the curriculum. In particular for academic libraries, such change comes with the ACRL’s (Association of College and Research Libraries) 2016 shift from the IL Competency Standards for Higher Education to the Framework for IL for Higher Education. The Standards and the Framework portray IL differently, which in turn affects the nature of conversation around IL and ILI. Instead of five standards with their respective performance indicators and outcomes, there are now six frames as sets of knowledge practices and their corresponding individual dispositions (ACRL, 2016):

  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual.

  • Information Creation as a Process.

  • Information Has Value.

  • Research as Inquiry.

  • Scholarship as Conversation.

  • Searching as Strategic Exploration.

There are notable distinctions between how the Standards treated IL as “skills-based” proficiencies and how the Framework treats IL as a “social practice” (Foasberg, 2015). The Standards treated information as objects in mechanically quantitative terms, in light of trying to make sense of the overflow of new kinds of information-as-product that arose with continually developing ICTs. IL here is conceptualized as a prescriptive set of skills that have measurable and visible performance indicators and outcomes in satisfying a user’s information needs, additionally providing template material for assessments of an individual’s ability and an institution’s effectiveness in ILI (Foasberg, 2015; Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). The Framework on the other hand places more emphasis on the qualitative and social nature of information, in response to the kinds of information now available, based on how people can exploit the new opportunities afforded by today’s technologies and the contexts and situations in which they originate, for better and for worse. The Framework sees the complex, contextual, value-laden nature of information; it also describes how the individual relates to information as a creator and engager of information (Foasberg, 2015). IL in the Framework is still a set of abilities that help an individual meet her/his information needs, but with greater emphasis on how information is socially constructed and must be engaged with critically. Its six frames provide descriptions of the interrelated knowledge practices and summary dispositions of people who engage in developing IL, as well as the contexts in which information is created and shared. Though arguably nebulous in having a lack of actionable language, the frames show how IL is a process in bringing together information and communities into conversation in order for learning to progress and flourish.

The Standards to Framework shift impacts ILI, even though the language is similar and many of the key concepts overlap between the two systems. The emphasis placed on IL in each is different: the Standards presented the “nuts and bolts,” the “what” of IL, while the Framework describes the “philosophy,” the “why” of IL. The shift is arguably welcome in the sense that the frames encourage agency across various communities towards content creation, consumption, and critical analysis. They encourage a mindset of questioning the underlying principles of information as socially and politically constructed and construed that the old Standards lacked in explicit terms. Yet for assessment purposes, it currently remains to be seen how to teach it effectively to students and describe the continued need for ILI to an institution’s administrators. [For more on assessment, see Competency N.] ILI moving forward then will require collaboration across an institution’s departments, something that information professionals will need to cultivate in their continued efforts to demonstrate the value of their work to their stakeholders. Such collaborations depend on the institution’s context and environment, grounded in striving to remain relevant to users through meaningful communication (Delaney & Bates, 2015) and bringing librarians and faculty together in an integrative and innovative endeavor (Argüelles, 2015). [For more on information professionals’ need and capacity for collaboration, see Competency M.] Given the state of academic libraries and the future directions of the profession, I see the potential for information professionals to engage in what I argue is the strongest form of collaboration: embedded librarianship (EL).

EL, like any other strategy or framework for information intermediation services, involves maintaining a high quality of customer service interaction and knowledge of the information search process and the information seeking behaviors of particular user groups (Simmons, 2015; Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). Though EL is more common in academia (or at least somewhat easier to deploy, even beyond the library or academic department such as student and career services), the potential for EL exists across all information organizations, from hospitals to corporate entities, even in public libraries and government organizations engaging in community outreach services for specific populations (Simmons, 2015). Yet unlike other information services, EL works from a proactive stance; in academic settings, it focuses on the project and the student in relation to course-specific or group-specific outcomes (Berdish & Seeman, 2011), which makes it work well with discussion-based or project-based courses (Hall, 2008). Librarians embedded into courses understand the assignments, their context in relation to the course curriculum, and the timelines for assignment submissions; they can identify potential points of need in order to offer proactive assistance (Bennett & Simning, 2010). Working with students directly from the beginning of the semester establishes credibility, creating more engagement and allowing students to draw connections from library instruction sessions to classroom content (Hall, 2008). Librarians can measure students’ “ability to appreciate and respond to a teachable moment” for IL, as they balance teaching and providing resources for student success in the short term and the long term (Berdish & Seeman, 2011). EL also means going outside of the library to where the needs are, even “creating space” in order to do so, tailoring the library experience for each college and its students and faculty (Bartnik, Farmer, Ireland, Murray, & Robinson, 2010). Thus, EL integrates the information professional into the fabric and community of the community that she/he serves, with the hope of making the information professional more of a proactive community member rather than a reactive external advisor (Simmons, 2015).

I see this competency as the theoretical core of my experiences on the Information Intermediation and Instruction SJSU iSchool career pathway. One of my formative courses in the program was INFO 254: Information Literacy and Learning, as I drew very tangible and applicable connections with the content, projects, and lessons from taking this course alongside INFO 244: Online Searching and INFO 287: Gamifying Information in the same semester. [See the evidentiary items in Competency E and Competency K.] At the end of INFO 254, as part of my final discussion posts for the course, I presented my personal definition of IL and the “information literate person”:

“The critical thinking and technical skills that allow one to search, retrieve, synthesize, and use information across a variety of contexts. This does not mean that an information literate person has all the right answers, but knows how to systematically comb through and analyze various sources to get to an answer. An information literate person also recognizes how information is socially constructed and knows how to critically analyze the content and context of an information source.”

This definition has influenced how I approached other courses, developing instructional design proposals and online content for courses such as INFO 220: Embedded Librarians/Embedded Libraries (an advanced topic in Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines), where I learned and discussed best practices for embedding information professionals across a variety of library contexts. From my coursework in INFO 254 and INFO 220, I applied the theoretical concepts of the IL Framework in developing cohesive and organized screencast tutorial content and in piloting and implementing EL initiatives.

Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence

Evidence 1: INFO 254 Google Search Tip Tutorial Site

[Not a functional site anymore. The transition from Classic Google Sites was not kind to this site. Clips were recorded in Jing, a now discontinued TechSmith product that used the now-discontinued Adobe Flash Player.]

INFO 254 was a course that promoted critical discussion of IL and ILI in light of the new Framework, alongside building practical, instructional content deliverables such as screencasts and research guides. [For some samples of this course’s discussion points, see Competency A.] This particular project was motivated by the fact that Google searches are integrated into everyone’s search behavior and that information professionals providing ILI should include discussion of efficient and effective Google search tactics. The project entailed using Jing and Google Sites Classic to create a research guide site akin to a LibGuide that has video tips regarding the various search functions that users can take advantage of to make stronger Google search strings. [For more discussion about Jing, see Competency H.]

In my site, I presented 11 tips, ranging from basic Boolean search operators and other traditional database search tactics (OR, truncation with *, phrase searching with quotation marks, etc.). [For more discussion on search operators, see Competency E.] I also discussed other Google specific functions such as quick conversions (e.g., from inches to centimeters, miles to kilometers, dollars to other currencies), searching by image, and how to set up Google Scholar to retrieve academic articles through one’s institutional database access, as seen below. Note that I did not include any voiceover narration in my videos for this project, per project instructions to make short demonstrations of the search techniques already described in text on the site.

I also added a tab on the Google Site that linked additional resources from other sites and web articles that also discussed other Google search tips, including Google’s own help page documentation on refining web searches. Though this was a straightforward project, I felt that this was my start for developing my screencast techniques, as seen in subsequent content I created for other courses.

From my reflection assignment for this project, I discussed how I was already primed to come up with Google searching tips from a game I made for INFO 287: Gamifying Information. I made a text-based scavenger hunt game conveying Google search features and tactics, using some of the concepts I put into this game in this Google research guide. [For more about my work building other instructional games, see Competency K.] I also found it easy to explain and demonstrate the concepts I described, since I already use a majority of them in my own daily Google searches. Yet I found that completing the project still took unexpectedly more time than I had anticipated, coming up with examples, making mistakes and re-recording my sessions, and ensuring that the embedded Jing screencast code showed up properly. It was very hard to manipulate elements in Google Sites, even in HTML mode, as it was made for people with little HTML and CSS experience (I gained experience with HTML and CSS in INFO 240: Information Technology Tools and Applications). [See Competency H for more.]

Nevertheless, this project introduced me to the concepts and rationale behind building online instructional content in relation to ILI. Thinking back to this project near the end of my time here at the iSchool, to this project that was my first attempt at bringing instructional content together in a cohesive manner, I can say that the picture and file quality could be better if I had used a better screencast recording program. (I discussed in a screencast program analysis project for INFO 246: Web 2.0 and Social Media in Competency H.) But I still feel that I did well here in recording the videos without audio so people can follow along with the steps I outlined in text on the Google Site. This experience translated well into the other instructional screencasts and recorded presentations that I built for a number of other courses, and I know that it will transfer well into future opportunities to demonstrate and teach what I know to others so they too can develop effective search skills.

Te_Mills College_FW Olin LIibrary_Embedment Proposal (Group Project).docx

In INFO 220: Embedded Librarians/Embedded Libraries, I discussed and critically reflected on the level of engagement required and challenges that arise when working with users where they are, through outreach and collaboration that maintains a library’s relevance to their stakeholders (Delaney and Bates, 2015). Information professionals have marketable research skills and a mind for systems and technology to facilitate access to these systems; taken together, they are capable of designing discipline-specific ILI and helping faculty and students to navigate databases and research questions across emerging, new systems and tools. Effective leveraging of ICT is also involved in deploying EL strategies, which is necessary to embed IL meaningfully into discipline-specific curriculum. They can set up LibGuides and tutorials in institutional learning management systems (LMS), and offer assistance online beyond the library reference desk and the one-shot IL session, even with designing instruction using other emerging ICTs. Information professionals then are in a prime position to collaborate with faculty to address the research needs of their courses and their students.

Yet one recurring issue in faculty-librarian collaborations is that faculty members tend to think in terms of discipline-specific content rather than in terms of “process and skill development” that could apply across subjects (Badke, 2005, p. 66). As “process specialists…[librarians] have both the philosophical foundations and the skills to acquire, evaluate and put to use information coming from most any discipline…[and can] be seen as masters of a subject area that is information itself.” (Badke, 2005, p. 72-73, italics theirs). Faculty may not fully see the context and constraints of librarians and their work, and may misunderstand what librarians can and cannot offer (Olivares, 2010). They may feel that it is not the fault of librarians, but rather say that teaching information skills is their job, which may be rooted in librarians’ lack of “social standing” at their institutions (Fister, 2009). Teaching students IL is a shared endeavor, which may come off as a hard, cold realization for some that this is not something to do alone. There is also the equally relevant thought that faculty may feel reluctant to display their ignorance about new ICTs publicly (Fister, 2009). Speaking the language of the discipline or at least understanding faculty’s specific concerns, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and starting small in building scalable tools helps in the process of forming strong and lasting collaborations (Krkoska, Andrews, & Morris-Knower, 2011).

Information professionals operating on these assumptions can begin establishing common ground with faculty. Combined with use of emerging technologies, information professionals can also begin overcoming the limitations of the one-shot lecture and create “outcome-based tutorials” that demonstrate students’ IL competency (Krkoska et al., 2011), as long as IL is placed within the contexts of specific departments and their goals (Badke, 2005). It is in this context of faculty-librarian relationships and perceptions that proposals for EL are necessary, towards providing measurable benefits to specific institutions’ and their users’ needs being addressed, rather than “some larger, profession-wide measure” (Olivares, 2010, p. 141).

In this final project for INFO 220, alongside two other group members, I helped generate a proposal for some level of librarian embedment into a particular group at an institution, aimed at a particular audience of stakeholders at that institution (e.g., library administrators, disciplinary faculty, campus administrators, other librarians, etc.). This proposal was built on the observations and findings of an environmental scan of the same institution conducted earlier in the semester, in order to establish the need and rationale for the EL proposal. [For the context of this project and the corresponding environmental scan, see Competency C.] The proposal also needed to be feasible, realistic, and justifiable within that institution’s context, discussing possible factors such as funding and time constraints that would come from embedment. The project required a discussion of the necessity of an EL project, the problem(s) it was designed to solve, the potential benefits of EL in the proposed context, the resources involved, the potential roadblocks and how to overcome them, and evidence-based ways that EL works and could be assessed in the proposed context.

Building upon our environmental scan of the F.W. Olin Library (OL) at Mills College (MC), we discussed how in the context of MC’s financial crisis and subsequent plan of MillsNext to generate a new, marketable “signature educational experience” (MillsNext, 2017), the effective use of technology is necessary in moving both OL and MC forward into the future. We saw that MC uses Blackboard LMS, but OL has no presence within its courses. Though understaffed, OL remains a prominent place on campus for study and collaboration, and its librarians engage in strong reference and information literacy instruction, with reference interactions at an all-time high in 2016 (Braun, 2016). Yet, without a leap to providing a solid presence and easy access to relevant resources on Blackboard LMS (learning management system) course pages, OL may find its services and status slipping in the eyes of students, faculty, and the administration. These observations formed our rationale for proposing an EL program in the School of Education’s (SoE) graduate programs, as the largest graduate program at MC.

In the proposal, we discussed how LibGuides effectively supplement traditional library instruction, assisting students at every stage of their online research processes (Glynn & Wu, 2003). Yet reduced visibility of these resources affects how they are used, which in turn relates to students’ inadequate research skills in research paper writing, a frequent faculty concern. To address this, we proposed that by using already-existing Blackboard infrastructure, OL can and should expand its services to SoE, providing point-of-need assistance and easy access to library databases through research guides linked through SoE’s Blackboard course pages. We cited various academic libraries and their effective use of links to LibGuides and other instructional content on their respective LMS. These libraries were able to implement LMS library access easily across numerous courses because they reused existing resources and centralized access in prominent locations in the LMS where students would notice and benefit from the point-of-need assistance during their research processes.

We then discussed a pilot program implementation and its related assessment strategies. We deemed that establishing collaborations between OL librarians, SoE faculty and staff, and the Instructional Technology Administrator (ITA) was a necessary first step to demonstrate awareness of the potential of EL for SoE, towards promoting a shared vision of strengthening the research skills of SoE students and graduates. The pilot program itself would be deployed in one to three sections of SoE’s Research Methods course, over the course of two years. The first year would be devoted to planning processes (development meetings, securing administrative approval, resolving technology matters, producing course-specific content); the second year would be implementation of the pilot program, followed by assessment and review for potential deployment in other SoE courses. OL liaison librarians would use existing subject guide content to create more applicable content geared to those Research Methods courses, to provide course and assignment-specific assistance with research and information gathering. Librarians would also engage students through Blackboard by monitoring discussion boards to answer any library-related questions that arise. They would also provide two library sessions, the first early in the semester that provides an overview of OL services through Blackboard, and the second after the course’s major research assignment is introduced by the course instructor, to provide pointed instruction on topic generation and database search strategies. Assessment of this pilot program would involve quantitative and qualitative data collection, in the form of pre- and post-semester surveys, gauging website traffic, individual librarian journal reflections, interviews with faculty and the ITA, and other formative assessments that can measure student mastery over IL skills.

This project demonstrates my ability to leverage knowledge about ILI and EL to propose ways that focus on specific groups and their needs, and being able to present these EL ideas to various institutional stakeholders. Alongside my other group members, we were able to think critically about the context of the relationships between OL, SoE, and MC in light of MC’s financial crisis, as well as wider issues of faculty perceptions of librarians in academia, which impacts librarians’ work in ILI. For instance, a concern we raised in this proposal was OL librarian access to Blackboard. OL librarians are currently in a liminal space with their Blackboard access; they can be added as teaching assistants without difficulty, but this level of access does not allow greater flexibility in customizing library resources in Blackboard. There has been previous resistance to providing librarians with instructor-level access due to FERPA concerns, as this would provide access to grade books and other instructor-restricted material. Meetings with the ITA and college leadership are therefore necessary to establish a new administrative protocol for librarian access to Blackboard and conduct guidelines to ensure clarity of roles for faculty and librarians alike. And as we concluded the proposal, “Fear [from the financial crisis in particular] can be a powerful force that stifles change and innovation. As librarians, administrators, faculty, and department heads, it remains our responsibility to keep students first in our decision making and continually stretch ourselves to improve their college experience. Our proposal aims to forward such improvements to student learning, at a comparatively low cost. We strongly encourage SoE and OL to work together directly on this program, and for the administration and technical services to help smooth its path to implementation. Our students will be all the better for it.” This responsibility for students and their learning experiences is a critical focus of EL and ILI in general, something which I will bring with me to future workplaces, even if I am not in a position to engage in EL.

Future Directions

IL is a necessary “survival skill” in today’s Information Age (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015, p. 161). It is the job of information professionals to provide quality ILI and the means to access that instructional content from anywhere beyond their information organizations. Information professionals must also be approachable, demonstrate interest in users’ needs, have strong listening and inquiry skills, knowledge of the search process and use applicable search tactics, and know how to follow up with their users (Simmons, 2015). Looking to the future of the LIS profession, teaching users may prove to be one of the most stable aspects of the profession that no longer has to store materials just in case they are needed (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015, p. 169), which provides a strong rationale for information professionals to engage in EL. With emerging ICTs, virtual EL is also feasible, in providing ready virtual reference services and materials on LMS and massive open online courses (MOOCs; Simmons, 2015). The IL skills that information professionals gain and teach in ILI to students are also important in competing in today’s job market, as employers seek individuals that have the ability to search for, evaluate, and communicate information, as well as the capacity to learn new techniques in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). [For more about transferrable competencies and skillsets, see Competency B.]

Yet information professionals also have to remember that in discussions about IL and ILI, LIS came up with the term IL; it does not seem to hold the same value and traction outside of LIS (maybe perhaps in education, but still, this is a terminology issue). LIS as a discipline is also not in consensus regarding how to define and conceptualize IL, which affects how it is branded and advocated for across institutions. IL is the LIS profession’s contribution to the wider context of education, and as such, it needs to find ways to leverage the new possibilities that the Framework and emerging ICTs provide to generate genuine, long-lasting collaborative efforts between information professionals, course instructors, and institution administrators to engage in strong ILI.

At a personal level, I appreciated what I gained from INFO 254 in my first experiences in generating instructional screencast content. Creating Jing videos for the Google Search Tips Tutorials site was a good exercise in overriding some of my perfectionist tendencies, though it was still difficult for me to create the videos without doing too many retakes. (In later videos such as the Web of Science tutorials in Competency E, I also had to balance this with my desire to be candid in my recorded instruction.) I wonder then, that if I find myself in an instructional librarian/liaison position somewhere, how I will be able to do these kinds of videos at work. Besides recording/retakes time, making these videos requires good quality equipment (computer, headsets), preparation time (scripting, PowerPoint/Prezi building), and actual availability without interruptions. I kept asking myself, “When is “good enough” good enough?” when creating these instructional videos. I will know for sure when I know I built a tutorial that allows a student to take away useful information, but until then, as long as I build these screencasts with a purpose in mind and break it down into digestible short videos, I know that I have done my due diligence. An additional sample of my work can be found in the following two Quick Tip Tutorials that I created as a content editor for SRJ and SRJ’s YouTube channel. [For more about my SRJ work and activities, see Competency B and Competency M.]

I can also see my potential in being an embedded librarian (hopefully in the social sciences, but I am open to working with any discipline), positioned to provide ongoing support to students and faculty where they are, in their courses and departments. I explored these ideas through my semester-long INFO 220 WordPress blog, imagining how I can use my research experience and my desire to help in their research needs by leveraging various ICTs that can help facilitate information seeking and learning. [For more about my own research experiences, see Competency L.] But for it to be sustainable, I see that any EL strategy requires balancing priorities (like for most important things in life). It is definitely possible to introduce librarians as educators alongside faculty in the classroom, yet it requires a librarian’s full presence. Having competing demands at work makes the relatively “less important” ones suffer. Put another way, saying yes to an EL opportunity requires the librarian to engage in a heightened level of focus for the needs of a specific group of people. And in the wider view of things, it needs continued resourcing and reallocation in order to stay effective, as “embedment without adequate resourcing will not be sustainable and it can confirm what professors already think – that librarians are at the institution to provide a service, particularly in terms of research, and do not appropriately belong in “their” classrooms” (Bowler & Street, 2008, p. 447).

The conceptualizations of IL and ILI put forth by the Framework remind me of this quote from my undergraduate studies: “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting” (Plutarch). The Framework treats the individual as a social entity in relation to others that sparks critical thinking and discourse, like how it takes a combination of things (flint, tinder, right amount of oxygen) to start a strong, warm fire. In essence, I see this competency defining my involvement in the LIS profession and in academia in general, as the language of lifelong learning in both the Framework and throughout my iSchool courses resonates with me at a personal level. [For more discussion on lifelong learning, see the Conclusion.]


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