Information and Visual Literacy, Academic Rigor, and Professional Skepticism: some conference cogitations

This summer I had to cancel a job interview. (Sacrilege, I know!) It was especially unfortunate because the interview would’ve required a presentation and a web-tool showcase, which I was excited to perform — it’s nice to have a structured interview that you can prepare for practically. The presentation would have been on essential information-literacy skills for first-year college students, and I was planning on using a bit of humour and cultural reference as an attack plan.

Specifically, I think students (and web-users at large) would benefit from holding up Sherlock Holmes as their spirit animal: use a bit of skepticism and plenty of attention to detail, and work hard to connect all the dots, no matter how disparate things seem at first [1]. Context is everything, and reading (everything — new stories, academic studies, and statistics-laden infographics) needs to be analytic and critical. I won’t offer any contemporary examples, for fear of digressing into those discussions, but let’s all be aware of the general state of misinformation and gullibility in the world (or, I dunno, trusting the “true story” claim at the beginning of Fargo?).

You thought I was going to put up Cumberbatch, didn’t you.

Lots of people have been discussing information literacy online lately, and I’ve been mulling on it as well. I  missed the visual literacy session at ARLIS/NA this year, because I was at the information literacy MOOC session next door, where I brainstormed some alternative MOOC models (universal design, anyone?). Perhaps those of you who attended the visual-lit session can fill me in on which “real-world [library] examples of how ACRL’s visual literacy guidelines have been implemented” were shared, and whether any suggestions were made as to how to supplement the ACRL guidelines with library-specific instructions (is there a forthcoming ARLIS/NA occasional paper on this? There should be).

One question I’ve been pondering since then is how to incorporate research methods and scientific rigor lessons into information and visual literacy — how to make Sherlocks of us all. I’m sure we all took a (strenuous / boring) research methods class in the MLIS program; for me it was a repetition of the undergraduate research methods I learned as part of a psych minor. Every time you consult a data-collection study, you still have to ask: did they use a control group? Did they control for conflating variables? Are they making assumptions about causation, or drawing one of many possible conclusions? Was there a replicating study? Were the survey questions priming, or compound? Did they set their sights on statistical significance? My MLIS-level research course didn’t really enforce these obvious questions, although we all tried our hand at evaluating a study or two for rigor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the "criticisms" section of my article-evaluation assignment.

I thoroughly enjoyed the “criticisms” section of my article-evaluation assignment.

It’s being generally acknowledged that LIS / GLAM scholarly work has a relatively low standard of scientific rigor: we don’t replicate studies, we generally only survey an easily-accessible demographic (i.e. college students), and our studies are designed less to further intelligent work in our field and more to push academic librarians into tenure. We could point to a number of problems: peer reviewers with no skills in research analysis, the general left-hand/right-hand divide in LIS between practitioners and academics, and professional associations that don’t push hard enough for presentations and publications that span our full profession. If we’re no good at research methods, how will we impart these skills to our patrons?

The contemporary debate has scared me off using the word “rigor” at all, for fear of it being taken for the opposite of “diversity,” as it seems to have been co-opted lately. Rigor in a strict statistical sense transcends demographics; “rigor” used in reference to higher-education skill-sets could absolutely use some work, but that’s really more of a bad-teachers problem in my thinking. Universities have plenty of resources for academic writing, tutoring, disability accommodations, ESL upgrading, computer lessons, etc., if only students were being made aware of their shortfalls through teacher interaction and feedback.

Libraries are doing essential work in both supplementary education for students with shortfalls and in instructional design for teachers, which should include some basic lessons in how to assess students for these problems, and get them working up to speed before final marking. Is there space for librarians to provide supplementary instruction in not just information literacy and research rigor, but in visual and media literacy as well — and to target students who need that training most?

The number of high-school grads that go to post-secondary tends to hover around the 68% mark in recent years, meaning that, if we can educate every college student in basic info- or visual-literacy, we can put a huge dent into general gullibility and increase the knowledge of intelligent research methods. (I couldn’t begin to imagine how to insert this education into secondary school, but if you have suggestions or resources to share, I’m all ears.) And the sooner we plant the seeds of good scientific design, the sooner we’ll see a general improvement in scholarly output — or at least more articles admitting their limitations and mistakes from the get-go.

But this is all, literally, academic. How do we get information-literacy education out into the public, especially when most popular news outlets seem to benefit directly from a lack of critical thinking? More specifically, how do arts librarians working in visual literacy and media literacy help to educate both their patrons and the public at large — especially if visual literacy skills are universally important but we only get access to arts students?

If you haven’t read the ACRL Visual Literacy Standards, here they are (2011). ARLIS/NA has also put out standards and competencies for information literacy competencies (2007) and instruction (2002). As it stands, it’s our job to (not only teach basic info-lit, but also) hand out lessons on copyright and plagiarism, good design and accessibility, data visualization (and how it can mislead!), image-editing detective work (which invariably leads to an addiction to Photoshop Disasters), and everything from technical evaluation (“how true is the digital colour to the original?”) to art-education evaluation (“what period/genre is this from?”) and semiotics / semantics / cultural theory diversions. Skepticism and rigor in visual literacy could, I predict, lead to everything from a higher interest in art and design among the general populace, to better body image (“Nobody is that beautiful without airbrushing!”) and consumer ethics (“I’d better not buy this plagiarizing pillow“). And sometimes it’s just about getting the joke.

Let’s play “name the reference.”

Information literacy might need a bit of a rebrand: like taking a technology class at your library, lots of people aren’t willing to admit they could use a refresher or don’t really get the underlying principles behind their daily use. As usual, the best policy seems to be “Get ‘em while they’re young,” and making digital / media literacy and scientific rigor a base part of public education — a required seminar for all first-year college students, at least.

Can art librarians design a quick, fun, painless way to lay out the pitfalls and consequences of being design-dumb? Are the threats of bad website navigation, low-resolution printing, inadvertent copyright infringement, and lack of accessibility important enough to get bureaucratic and financial support? Or will the information-literacy MOOCs fall by the wayside, underused and unacknowledged?

[FYI: ARLIS/NA has an Academic Division (who worked with the ACRL VL Taskforce), a Visual Resources Committee, and a Teaching SIG, but no ongoing groups working on visual literacy specifically, or any published plans to update the 2007 info-lit guidelines. I have yet to hear about collaborations with the International Visual Literacy Assocation, or similar bodies, but if you know of any, post a comment! Maybe it's time for a little ARLIS/NA visual literacy focus ... ]

 

1: I have always been confused by Sherlock’s use of “deduction” — isn’t he using induction, to take the clues in front of his face and construct a narrative, rather than beginning from a premise and eliminating possible outcomes? If someone can give me a mnemonic or something, I would greatly appreciate it. Says he:

“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”

- Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box


Interview: Life as The Banff Centre’s Library Work-Study

For those of you thinking about spending six months in gorgeous Banff, Alberta (yes, international applicants are encouraged!):
Here are some words of wisdom from last year’s Library Work-Study, Jaye Fishel, who spent her tenure working to promote and display the Banff Centre’s insane collection of artists’ books. Jaye kindly answered my questions about being an American book-nerd in Alberta, the projects she worked on, and the application procedures to get into one of Canada’s prettiest cultural institutions.

 

The Banff Centre Library

The Banff Centre Library

ArLiSNAP: Can you start with a bit of your background?

Jaye Fishel: I was an artist before I got my MLIS degree, which I in-part pursued to professionalize my interest in artists’ books in particular. I worked in the rare books library during my undergraduate studies (at Emory University) and was introduced to artists’ books in processing collections. That led me to move to San Francisco in 2005 to study at the Center for the Book there, where I learned letterpress printing and other techniques. Since then, I’ve expanded my artistic repertoire but books and works on paper still figure largely into what I’m interested in engaging with, both professionally and as an artist.

 

ArLiSNAP: What were you doing previous to taking the work-study position?

JF: I was living in Oakland, unable to find a professional position suitable for me. I only realized after graduating with my MLIS that any job, let alone a job dealing with artists’ books, was very difficult to come by.

 

ArLiSNAP: What was the application process like?

JF: The application process was straightforward — I submitted a project proposal in addition to a standard cover letter that outlined a project I would produce while at the Centre. Since the work-study position is an educational program, like an internship, I stated some learning objectives. Applying to work in Canada from the US seemed to have little bearing on the application process, although once I accepted the position, I had to secure a student visa, which did not show up until the day before my flight to Banff, causing more than a little anxiety.

 

ArLiSNAP: A student visa?

JF: I needed a student visa because the work-study program is considered an educational program, so technically I was a student in the eyes of the Canadian government. Work-study participants receive a stipend, not a salary, and are generally treated differently than staff at the Centre.

 

ArLiSNAP: What attracted you to the position?

JF: The job description was like a dream! Working fairly exclusively with the artists’-books collection in an international art residency centre? I was attracted to everything about that. Plus, I needed a change in my life, so I felt ready to move to remote Banff from the Bay Area, which was changing rapidly before my eyes into a place that felt less and less accommodating to artists and craftspeople. I was also attracted to the adventure.

 

ArLiSNAP: What period of time were you there? What was it like moving to Banff and settling in?

JF: I arrived in Mid-May and I left at the end of February, so I was there for nine months. It was an adventure the entire time — living in the middle of the Canadian Rockies in an art residency center was unlike my life in the Bay. I hadn’t lived through a snowy winter since I was a child, so that was definitely an adjustment, as was living in a very small tourist town. I had a sometimes quiet, simple existence — sometimes filled with lots of art and parties and people from all over the world.

 

ArLiSNAP: What was a typical work day like?

JF: I worked four days a week, nine to five, with one day away from the library to work on outside research or projects. Typical days usually included working on artists’-book catalog records, planning upcoming events, and working with patrons. Then I’d walk home and see at least one deer or elk, on average.

 

ArLiSNAP: You started a few neat initiatives while you were there. Can you tell us about getting those programs going?

JF: I had a lot of freedom to create new initiatives and work on a variety of projects. The bulk of what I did at times was cataloging, or improving the very basic cataloging of the artists’ books collection, which is extensive at over 4,300 items. I would pull items from a particular press or artist at once to make comprehensive improvements to parts of the collection that relate to one another. I also initiated a public program series of artists’ books showcases, where I would pull random items from the collection and invite the resident artists and the public to engage with the items. I also started a several-year-long project to display every item in the artists’ books collection in a case in the library, as well as online via documentary images. (http://banffcentrelibraryandarchives.tumblr.com/)

I had wonderful support from my mentor, Suzanne Rackover, to do whatever I wanted with my time to enhance use of the collections. So I just came to her with my ideas and she supported my process. For the artists’ books showcases, I would loosely try to pull items that would be of interest to visual artists on residencies. I would make sort of weird promotional fliers and hand them out and post around campus. Setting up the Tumblr project required simply creating a randomized spreadsheet of the collection, creating the new display every Monday of fifteen items, photographing the works, and posting to the Tumblr. It’s a fairly simple process, so now almost anyone who works in the library can continue the weekly changes.

Artists'-Book Showcases

Artists’-Book Showcases

 

ArLiSNAP: Do you have any advice for someone looking to apply to the Banff Centre Library, or things to do while working there?

JF: I’d advise anyone interested in working with an outstanding artists’ books collection to apply. It is truly an amazing collection that I feel so lucky to have worked with every day. I know I’m a great deal more knowledgeable about artists’ books than I was before working at the Centre. Working at The Banff Centre is very special because artists across media from around the world come to make and show work. I encourage any future library work study to go to every show, performance, artist talk, party, dinner, bingo night, hike, and outing possible. There is a lot to experience in a very short time.

 

Applications for the Library Work-Study are due on June 15th!


Extracurricular activities?

Shortly into my MLIS program I realized that, while school and internships would no doubt provide me with indispensable knowledge and experience, it was important that I was not relying only on these things to help prepare me for a career in art librarianship.   I assume I’m not alone on this that most of you are following blogs, reading journals, watching webinars or doing various other activities that you believe will help you to land your dream job or stay relevant in the field.

For this discussion post, I was hoping that we could share some of these resources that we rely on.  I thought it might be interesting and helpful to see what other people are doing outside of work and school to sharpen skills or to learn more about the world of art librarianship.  Please be encouraged to join the conversation and share any readings, websites, activities, or anything else that you feel has helped you.

Below are some of the things that I do, read, etc. that I think will help me in the long run, a few of these I have suggested on earlier blog posts but thought I might as well share them again.  Enjoy!

Duolingo – It has been a few years since I’ve taken any language classes so my skills have started to get a little rusty.  I wanted to re-familiarize myself with both Spanish and French for a number of reasons.  First, I think that having a working knowledge of French, Italian, German, and to a lesser degree Spanish, can help a great deal in working with art historical publications since those seem to be the major research languages.  Also, proficiency in more than one language is definitely a desirable skill and something that can set you apart from other job candidates.

Art Documentation – I read this journal to keep up to date on any important research, trends, or issues surrounding art librarianship.  Plus, if you are a member of ARLIS/NA a subscription of the journal is included in your membership!

w3schools – In the past year or two, I have really been focusing on building my tech skills to help me compete in the job search, the tutorials on this website are free and really great.

That’s it for now, I wanted to first get the discussion started and then I’ll definitely join in and share some more.


Job postings

Library Assistant (Full Time & Part Time openings), Academy of Art University, San Francisco

PT LibrarianArt Institute of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX 

 


ARLIS/NA Canada Call For Proposals: Book Chapters on Art Libraries in Canada

Attention all Canadian art-librarian hopefuls! Here’s a great project to be involved in, if you have worked at, or are interested in, one of the many art libraries our country has to offer. If you’d like to get published, do an interesting research project, and support the efforts of Canadian ARLIS members, take a look.

The first edition of the History of Art Librarianship in Canada: Essay in the History of Art Librarianship in Canada came out in 2006; the second edition would ideally come out in 2015, and needs to be expanded to include more libraries as well as recent developments. Some discussion about the project, and a short list of art libraries to be profiled, is in the 2013 Annual Report.

There are two deadlines for proposals: April 25th (if you’d like to have your proposal discussed in Washington next month), and May 30th (the extended deadline). I encourage you to send a query before April 25th, even if you can’t complete a full proposal by that day.

The full CFP has more details, but here are some excerpts:

This initial project was generously sponsored and funded by the National Gallery of Canada Library and

Archives and first made available online in 2006. We would like to continue this tradition of excellence by

publishing a second edition that will include additional essays on libraries, institutions and related resource centres not profiled in the original publication.

 

We have compiled a list of libraries that could be included, but realize that logistically some may not be able to commit to a full research project of this nature at present. So the committee is eager to hear from you directly and encourages you to submit proposals for the second edition of the History of Art Libraries in Canada. Our hope is that your input will help us build the structure for this anthology of library histories.

 

….

 

It is understandable that histories will vary in length and include diverse types of documentation, so we

encourage any potential contributors to apply, even if primary supporting sources for your library’s story

would be oral histories, memoirs, or other unpublished ephemeral information sources. As was the case with the first edition, the History of Art Libraries in Canada vol.2 will profile the establishment and evolution of collections, spaces, visual and information literacy services, as well as the profession of art librarianship in Canada.

 

The working committee is eager to profile as many libraries as possible, so we encourage you to submit

a proposal if you are capable of researching, documenting, and writing an essay within roughly the next year. Although an official publication date has not been finalized, we hope to have a clear picture of the libraries to be included by Spring 2014 and begin compiling and editing the publication by 2015.

 

….

 

If you are interested and can realistically work within this timeframe, please consider submitting a

proposal (Microsoft Word document preferable) that includes:

Institution name;

Primary author(s) name and job description or professional connection to the institution;

Estimated length of text and a general overview of the content for the entry (roughly 250 words; a bulleted list of topics is acceptable);

Whether rights-cleared images will be included for reproduction;

General bibliography of sources.

 

Submit all applications by email to:

Daniel Payne dpayne@ocadu.ca

Canadian Member-at-Large, ARLIS/NA Canada; Head Reference & Instructional Services, Dorothy H. Hoover Library, OCAD University

Application Deadline:

Please endeavor to have proposals submitted by:

Friday 25 April 2014 (so that results can be presented on Sat. 3 May at the ARLIS/NA Canada Chapter meeting at the 42nd annual ARLIS/NA Conference in Washington DC).

The committee realizes, however, that this leaves little time for preparation of materials and planning for research allowances, so an additional deadline will be offered for those that need an extended preparation time period, set at:

Friday 30 May 2014 


Getty Foundation Multicultural Undergraduate Summer Internship–Library, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA

Please circulate this posting to any undergraduates who might be interested in art librarianship! 

In order to increase diversity in the professions related to museums and the visual arts, the Getty is offering a summer internship in the Library at Art Center College of Design to undergraduate students of culturally diverse backgrounds.

The James Lemont Fogg Memorial Library at Art Center is a visual arts library designed for the aspiring practicing artist and designer. The Library intern will work in all departments of the Library, gaining experience in librarianship, archives, digital image curatorial work, public services and mentoring students. The intern will spend time in reference services, circulation, archives, cataloging, and digital imaging. The intern will develop a special project, such as choosing a subject for collection development, curating a display in the Library, or planning a special program for Art Center students.

All interns will attend a day-long gathering sponsored by the Getty Foundation and will submit a report to the Foundation at the end of program. A stipend of $4,000 will be provided for a full-time, ten-week period beginning in June and ending no later than August 22, 2014.

The internship is a full-time (40 hours/week) position, with a salary of $4,000 for a consecutive ten-week work period beginning no sooner than June 2 and ending no later than August 22, 2014.

Qualifications Eligibility 

Students must:

  • Be of African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent;
  • Be currently enrolled undergraduates who have completed at least one semester of college by June 2014 (students who are enrolled in a second BA or BS program are not eligible);
  • Reside or attend college in Los Angeles County; and
  • Be a United States citizen or permanent resident.

Full post here.


PT Library Aide– Fashion Institute of Technology

About Fashion Institute of Technology:

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), an internationally renowned college of art and design, business and technology of the State University of New York, invites applications for the position of Part-Time Library Aide for the Library at FIT.

Job Description:

The Library Aide is responsible for providing general and specialized circulation assistance and services of a to the FIT/SUNY community in a courteous and efficient manner and in accordance with the Library’s policies and procedures.

PURPOSE OF THE JOB
Provide public service desk coverage and support the Unit’s mission and daily operations:

Customer Service

  • Answer patron queries in person or on the phone, regarding library resources, services and campus information
  • Page materials requested by library patrons and communicate access policies
  • Assist patrons with the use of print and online catalogs
  • Request technology assistants to support patrons upon request
  • Responding to queries regarding photocopiers, scanners, microfilm readers

Collections / Access

  • Maintain organization in reading rooms by shelving materials, shelf reading and inventory
  • Provide assistance to the Inter-library Loan aides when necessary. Including, but not limited to managing incoming and outgoing interlibrary loan requests, generating requests using the ILLiad Interlibrary Loan system
  • Work alongside with student workers, provide guidance in workflows and instruct them on unit processes
  • General ALEPH (the Library’s integrated library system) maintenance, including, but not limited to linking, editing, or creating items in ALEPH. May also include troubleshooting ALEPH technical questions.
  • Compiles, edits, and manages metadata and scanning for the Library’s Designer Files Collection
  • Adding, creating, weeding images from the Library’s Picture File

Administrative

  • Perform duties such as filing, answering telephone and email inquiries, photocopying, scanning, and data entry
  • Compiles statistics, maintains records on library integrated online software, processes materials daily and provides support to the Unit and its functions
  • Maintain collection of Library handouts by service desk
  • Responsible for opening or securing the closing of the Library as scheduled
  • Special projects as assigned
  • Schedule may change based on the needs of the department

Requirements:

Associate’s degree and one year of related experience year in an academic library or environment. Work experience must include not less than one year in a fast paced, customer-oriented service work environment.

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES
Fundamental knowledge of the operation of an integrated library management system, with ALEPH experience desirable. Experience using technology applications such as ILLiad and Odyssey, Banner, or similar systems highly preferred. Ability to work quickly and accurately with detailed data. Ability to keyboard at least 25 wpm and proficiency in utilizing word processing and database software, preferably Microsoft Office Suite, including Excel.
Knowledge of computer graphics programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator a plus. Ability to trouble-shoot basic computer problems.

Must possess the ability to work with a diverse community, while exercising good judgment and common sense. Excellent customer service skills, including professional and courteous telephone communication and electronic mail correspondence. Must possess excellent conflict resolution skills, strong communication skills, tact, resourcefulness and the ability to identify and solve problems. Proven ability to work independently and effectively in a collegial manner in a changing environment.

Additional Information:

WORKING CONDITIONS
Work is performed under typical library conditions with requirements for frequent sitting and standing for long periods of time, as well as frequent lifting and carrying of heavy library materials and maneuvering carts full of books. Ability to sit or stand for long intervals. Ability to lift up to 50 pounds and push and pull 100 or more pounds.

Salary 88/0 $22.62 per hour (24 hours per week)
Work Schedule:Tues 11:00am?5:00pm; Wed, Thur 11:00am?6:00pm; Fri 12:30pm?6:30pm Occasional Saturday shifts may be expected

Application Instructions:

Application Instructions:
Applicants interested to apply MUST submit the following documents online.
* Resume/CV
* Cover letter
Returning Applicants – Login to your FITNYC Careers Account to check your completed

 

Apply here.


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