Monday, January 28, 2013

Preach It: Information Literacy and the Evangelical Librarian

Preach it!

Growing up in southeastern Virginia, I remember hearing that phrase when my parents took us on the occasional visit to the local Baptist church. The pastor would be in the middle of a very passionate sermon when two or more people  in the congregation inevitably  shout out those words.

Preach it!

Although I've been an active Catholic for about 7 years, I tend to go back to those evangelical protestant roots whenever I teach. I consider information literacy the gospel, and I am there to give the congregation the good news.  Like a good evangelist, I try to whip my congregation into a shouting frenzy. For the most part, I fail. But I do occasionally get the academic version of an amen: conversation and engagement. Instead of silence, I am greeted with animated voices that share research problems and questions.  I am surrounded by various dialogues and disagreements as students work together to make sense of the research process.  I feel the hum of excitement. And then I realize why I became an academic librarian.

Preach it!

In less than two hours, I face my congregation once again. Most members will silently walk into class, after braving a foggy and snow-laced landscape. Some will be engaged in animated conversations about the latest episode of a "reality" TV show. The congregation most likely will expect a lecture and perhaps a test to exercise their knowledge.

Nonetheless, I try to exercise their spirit and their intelligence. I try to rouse them out of their social and political lethargy to become fully active citizens (Can I get an amen, somebody!).

I know I cannot save their souls or their minds in a one-shot bibliographic instruction session. I can, however, model the curious, probing spirit that underwrites much innovative research.  I can be the shepherd who patiently guides the flock, who searches for those lost in the abyss of information overload and data deluge.

For an evangelical librarian, this mission is enough to face the congregation each and every time.

Preach it!

4 comments:

  1. Amen! An Information Literacy session needs to have some spirit in it. I will assume most Librarian carry on in a very monotone manner without much excitement.

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    1. Cornel, my colleagues (who are largely white and female), usually do not "carry on in avery monotone manner". They may seem very reserved and "professional". But they do not bore students to tears. They engage students with activities and lectures.

      I do the same, but I also dialogue with students. During class, I personally talk with students. I show a real interest in their projects and ask questions that help them to think about research in the context of scholarly conversations that they are expected to participant in. I tend to stress the conversational nature of excellent research. I think this approach differentiates me from my colleagues.

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  2. Engaged activity and discussion on ILI-L (information literacy and instruction listserv) indicates that librarians who are concerned about critical thinking and who promote ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education are very passionate about it and do much to show that passion via student engagement in the classroom.

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    1. I just subscribed to the listserv, and I look forward to conversing with my colleagues. Thanks!

      I assume that I am not the only librarian who is passionate about the classroom and who tries to engage students with genuine excitement. However, as the only African American male librarian at my institution, I usually do not see my white female colleagues take a similar approach. Many of those colleagues would most likely claim that they are "concerned about critical thinking" and ACRL standards. I used the religion/ spirituality metaphor to illustrate the pedagogical diversity and effectiveness an older African American male librarian can bring to the library classroom.

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