On the first Friday of April, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2019 Information Literacy Summit, hosted by Moraine Valley Community College and put on by Moraine and DePaul together. It was amazing, and I was very happy, which is probably in part because my mentor/hero—the amazing Dr. Nicole Cooke—presented the keynote and because my friend K from grad school (who is way fancier than I am now, to be sure—special collections folks are fancy, I think, don’t you?) was there, and I got to hang out with her. So I was as happy as an information literacy clam, but, in the midst of a lot of amazing socializing, I also got a lot of incredible information. This is a bit of a terrifying time to be teaching about information literacy, and, while we weren’t exactly able to walk away feeling like it’s better (because it’s not!), we did walk out of Moraine Valley at the end of the day with concrete ideas and approaches for working with information and its iterations.
Because, boy, are there are a lot of iterations of information. Dr. Cooke’s keynote was “The Dark Side of Information Behavior,” and there are a lot of dark sides, too. I’m always glad to hear Dr. Cooke speak—she’s a genius, and a brilliant speaker, and you ought to go hear her, if you’ve the chance (and an interest in information literacy or the ways people seek and interact with information, which is endlessly interesting for anyone who works with, you know, people)—but, as someone whose day job involves information, gathering more information about people and information isn’t just fascinating, it’s essential. The difference between misinformation (false information) and disinformation (purposely false) and malinformation (think doxxing or revenge porn or other “information” manufactured to cause harm) is no small deal, when one works with information and information/media literacy in our post-truth (or emotional reaction to information) era.
Among the intensive information about information, Dr. Cooke also stressed the human: it’s essential that we remember the emotional aspects of information, because, in the end, that determines almost everything. Emotional responses, she reminds us, can override almost everything, in almost everyone. (To give an example of my own: I tend to despise emotional appeals. I also detest overly emotional language. Both will make me shut off entirely—and I often have to remind myself that whomever it is spouting hysterical words is on my side, they’re just annoying and not communicating in ways I would prefer. For all I know, this is actually correlated to that whole liberal brain structure thing, just brought out in an obnoxious way.) I won’t try, here, to synopsis the talk: I will, however, say that Dr. Cooke wrote this report about the state of misdis information (and information literacy), and it’s a great place to go to learn a lot more both about the history of misinformation and its kin as well as ways in which we can work towards an information literacy that acknowledge emotion. (Oh, and you can also check out her slides, which are a great example of slide design.)
Picking sessions, at a conference like the Information Literacy Summit, is always painful: there are, invariably, multiple things to which one would really like to go, all at the same be-damned time. So I picked carefully, trying to choose those which would give me tools I could put to use in the classroom tomorrow, or, in my case, the following week. I’m sure all the sessions I missed would also have provided me such tools, but I am very lucky that those I was able to attend did, indeed, leave me with ideas for improving my own information literacy work. From “There’s Wisdom in the Room” (handouts here) I gathered pointers for engaging a class during a one-off instruction session, as well as a plethora of tips and tricks for maintaining a classroom that follows CPR: communicate, participate, and respect. (The session began with each librarian positioning herself in her particular social location.) Perhaps most helpful of all, the librarians presenting—Dasha Maye, Amanda Sprott-Goldson, and Heidi Syler—created a website, Inclusive Pedagogy for Library Instruction, filled with even more tips and tricks and available to anyone with an internet connection.
“Adopt, Adapt, and Improve: An Instruction Librarian Development Program You Can Implement TODAY* (*More or Less)” was fantastic, and also a little depressing. I mean, it’s basically what I would have wanted, before I plunged into library instruction—and it’s a lot more useful, I think, than the instruction class I took back in library school. (I also took instruction in my Spanish Master’s, but that’s neither here nor there.) I won’t be training anyone in the next few days, but it gave me a lot of ideas for training myself—and, for what it’s worth, I came away with additional ideas for strengthening my own instruction. It was, in other words, a total #win. (Oh, and the course is available on a creative commons license!)
“Visual Thinking Strategies and ACRL’s Framework: How to Encourage Research Confidence in Undergraduates” was a hell of a lot of fun (ruminate! said the librarian, waving her hands over her head like a gleeful rain cloud). It was also a lot of useful information, from ways to incorporate cultural heritage (the presentation was by a librarian and a curator) into our information and media literacy—because yes, visual literacy is essential, and always has been—to ways to empower students through engaging and even entertaining research queries. I’m an art person: I scored as high (or, rather, as low) as possible on Pantene’s color identification test; I have a degree in art history (I mean, I got that because of the scandals, but whatever). Discussing the use of visual images as research aid and inspiration was a joy—and also, I think, a really great idea, and something I could, in a computer lab and with the right class, use to rather grand effect myself.
“Not Tolerating Intolerance: Unpacking Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom” forced a reckoning, among everyone. It was also cleverly set up: the presenters (a librarian and a media studies professor) spoke for maybe half the time—and then had us work in groups. Many of us use critical pedagogy, in one form or another. Many of us work in distinctly different environments than the one discussed by the presenters: I, for instance, am in a very urban space, filled with my fellow very urban people; we are, for the most part, varying shades of blue in our blue state. We are still careful, or at least most of us are: I, for instance, have frequently told classes exactly what my politics are—but, unless they research postcolonial theory, and the theorists I’ve told them are my wheelhorses, they probably won’t have a clue.
When I stuck around for the post-conference unconference (I think they called it a meetup?), I carried over some of the ideas we had discussed in Unpacking Critical Pedagogy, as well as my ongoing frustration with the ways in which education continues to envision the (non-activist) student of the 1960s and ’70s, rather than the working, often commuting student of today. “We need to meet students where they are, rather than where we’d like them to be,” as was said repeatedly in our discussion, and it’s a thing which drives me mad, but is also a topic for another rant. Similarly—and also to be furthered elsewhere—I continue to wonder if I do my students a disservice when I do not adequately discuss the ways in which Google, which is powerful and wonderful and terrible, actually functions. I mean, tomorrow, when they’ve all graduated, they won’t be using my databases anymore.
Conferences are a strange thing, for me. Crowds terrify me, and new people terrify me, and working a crowd often makes me sick. On the other hand, professional discourse is invigorating, and once I find a friend—in this case, an actual, real friend—I am fine, even with the crowds. This particular conference was small enough to be manageable, even for someone as introverted as I; it was also large enough to be magnificent. And, in the midst of our terrifying landscape of mis-dis-mal and propaganda and alternative facts, it was awfully nice to see the ways in which we can turn tables and encourage information literacy—and to talk to others fighting the same often uphill battle. It’s good, sometimes, not to be alone.