Troy Swanson & Heather Jagman

This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. My guests for this episode are Troy Swanson and Heather Jagman. They’ve just edited a new book for ACRL called Not Just Where To Click, Teaching Students How To Think About Information.

Troy and Heather, welcome to the show.

[Troy] Thanks for having us.

[Heather] Thanks, Steve.

You guys have just come out with a new book called Not Just Where To Click, Teaching Students How To Think About Information and I’m curious. First of all, how you came up with the title of the book.

That’s a great, yeah actually I think that was, Heather that’s your title, you did it.

Yeah, I think it maybe came out of a conversation we both had together though when you explained to me your vision for this book.

I would just say this is a book that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I mean probably over a decade and I was trying to figure out how to make this happen and it, in a different world I would love to write a full book about epistemology, and library and information science, but in the real world I don’t have time to go through and do that at this point in my life. And so, it really worked out. I was trying to figure out how can I make this happen and I thought about who could we get to contribute. A lot of people are thinking about these topics and I think it makes a lot of sense and so I reached out to Heather and it worked out really well as we worked together, I think smashingly well.

Yeah, I would agree Troy. I really, really enjoyed working with you on this book. I mean and it was just really a great way to seek out people and just kind of, some other people have talked about this book, but sort of crowdsource some of this information because it is, it’s a large book and we really needed a lot of different people getting together and talking about these things and I think what was really interesting as the chapters started to roll in is a lot of people were referencing each other without knowing that they were contributing to the same book. I don’t think we let people know right away, like oh and all of the other authors. Troy, is that right? Am I right?

Right, right.

So it was really exciting to see everybody coming together as a community of practice on these same issues and the different ways that they approached them and succeeded, or in the case of some people, like well we tried this and it didn’t work and then we tried this and we learned that the students didn’t, didn’t respond to this either. So, just really a lot of people making these issues that are kind of wooly issues I think in a lot of ways epistemology, reflective thinking.

Yes, how do we think about what information is, I think that’s the big thing. I think Steven Sanders is one of our contributors, had a, just a, I mention in his chapter that our, our profession has gone through this great evolution obviously since the late 90s up through the present, and it’s, it’s almost like this rapid change where we’ve focused so much on tools and the mechanics of searching and the mechanics of the information world and during this time people have been thinking about the, the softer side of, of meaning and understanding and belief and I think that’s kind of where the title comes from is that we are now trying to, I think, bring people together to have this larger conversation that is not just about a mechanical process of research, but there’s the conceptual side that needs as much attention as the, as the mechanical side, if that’s a way to lay it out there.

I think so, and I think, getting to that conceptual side is what helps students understand why, why they’re doing research. We have a number of authors talk about like how do you get students to understand that this is actually important and part of real life and, and living your life and understanding who you are and why we are all in this world and making meaning.

Well, we’ll get into more about the, the chapters and what everything else is about, but it sounds like you’re, in the initial idea for the book was with Troy and then how did you guys start working together? And I’m also curious as to how you guys work together to put the book together? Like who did what and how you worked together like that.

Well, back in, Troy do you mind if I just start talking about this? So back in 2013, De Paul hosted a sort of a summit for community college partners and librarians and people at De Paul because just this past year we learned from our enrollment marketing and management people that over half , I, or close to half  I should probably have this statistic in front of me, but it’s a really big percentage of our graduating class are transfer students. So, it’s a population that we want to make sure that we are serving and they’re succeeding here at De Paul because they’re such a big part of our student population and of course at a four-year university, like De Paul, there are things that we, we have set up that students get in their first year here with our with our first year, first year programs which are like our, we call it Chicago Quarter but it’s a first year seminar that takes place in fall quarter and all students have some sort of introduction to the library experience there and then of course most of the time they’re in a first year writing program where they’re writing a research paper. So, and we know these things are also happening at community colleges, but we don’t really know what’s happening and how can we best serve these students as they transition. So we had a large meeting and I was delighted to see Troy there representing Maine because Troy and I had worked together back, oh boy it was in the 90s when we met [laughs] no it was not the 80s. I was working at Northwestern University at one of their libraries and Troy was in, in library school as one of our excellent interns at that program.

I was just a baby librarian.

I was, I was still a neophyte librarian myself, I was out of library school by a few years, and it was still a very traditional structure so we connected there and after, after our meeting about the community college at that community college summit we, Troy approached me about this book because he was really excited and I think I had asked him some questions about his dissertation and we both started kind of geeking out about some books about cognitive science like popular cognitive science that were really kind of coming out about how your mind plays tricks on you and what to, how to think about certain situations. I had been reading like the Heath Brothers Made To Stick and all the ways that, the shortcuts your brain takes without you sometimes and how to be aware of things like that. So we both were kind of geeking out about books like that and thought about like oh, maybe the next step is to write a book together. That’s how I remember it, Troy, is that accurate?

Yeah, that sounds right and I, I think I kind of had a draft of an idea floating about that I shared with you and then we shaped it up and then submitted it to ACRL for consideration. And then it went from there. Once it was accepted, I, I had written a couple of books and, but this is the first one that has been a collection and it’s really a different kind of process and a different kind of management for time, especially with having co-editors and it, I don’t know if it’s less work necessarily, it’s just a different kind of work and it’s still intellectual engaging process, intellectually engaging process. But I think that the hardest thing is keeping track of keeping where, of how there’s a different chapters move through at different paces. Life happens to different people in different ways and so it’s keeping track of manuscripts, who is where, connecting with them, giving people encouragement, delicately addressing issues to make sure that the rewrites go in directions that you’re hoping they go in, and trying to have that conversation when we had 19 chapters and then on the way to 30 authors participating. It, it can be a handful at times, so Heather and I would have regular conference calls with each other. I think I did most of my editing between 5 am and 7 am, so.

I, yeah, I did, I think that’s about when a lot of mine took place as well. Troy, I just want to congratulate you on your, I’m so glad that you had experience working on books before and you have amazing organizational skills as far as being able to keep us on task and things like that. And, thank goodness for tools like Google Docs and Google drives so that we could share schedules with each other, keep track of things with spreadsheets, who we contacted, where things were at in the process and then also keep the drafts on there so that we could share them and comment on them back and forth and then share them with the authors. And I hope, I hope some authors end up listening to this podcast and I, I hope that we were, like you said, diplomatic and fair and we were just so excited to see these manuscripts roll in and wanted them to be the best they could be.

It, the, and the connections between ideas, that was the exciting part as you would read and be like ohh, they’re, this person’s talking about this exact same thing and that you could, you put up this call for proposals and things come back in and you get the proposals and you think okay, these look good and, but you don’t really know what you’re getting til you get the first drafts.

And you get the first drafts and then that sort of got really exciting for me when we were like wow these people are thinking in very complicated and thoughtful ways about these topics and I will be very excited when we, when, to start hear from our contributors as they’re seeing what other people have written and as Heather had mentioned, when, when there’s people that were referencing each other in previous publications, it, I think, even within this collection they speak, they’re part of a conversation with each other in some ways.

Well I think you were saying before we started recording that you, the introduction was written in a interesting way?

Yeah, so one of the things that I think Troy and I both wanted to do was we wanted to talk about why we thought this was important and we also wanted to explain, we didn’t want it to just be a laundry list and again not that there is anything wrong with a preface or an introduction that says chapter one this will happen, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four. I’m, traditionally I think most introductions are very linear and I, I think that works, but once we started to see all these people roll in and, I don’t know maybe if it was my background is an English major wanting to connect everything, but just, we don’t, we didn’t want to point out every connection because that could be a whole nother, a whole nother book, or at least an essay, but, and you know, we want people to make the connections for themselves, but it was just really a great opportunity to tie some threads together. Even if they didn’t take place in, we’ve grouped our book by different sections and chapters, but it was really great to be able to see people talking to each other across those groupings that we first came up with. So, it just a chance to be able to like connect people to those ideas in the introduction.

And, and I think the, the, I think one of the goals for me, right, with the introduction was that it’s also we’re a little bit reflective of where we are in this history of libraries and that Heather and I, but also the larger profession and understanding this idea of more than just where to click. New librarians entering the field now have grown up with internet in different ways than and in an information world we live in and different ways that Heather and I and then where we have grown up with it and thought about it in different ways than the generations that preceded us and so just with where this book is situated in history, it’s hard to still, we’re still at that point where we reflect back to pre-internet and post-internet and I think it’s still too current of events to let that go and I think down the road we won’t think about the way technology shapes what we do in the same way we think about what technology is doing to us now and so I think the, I think we try to use the intro to kind of set the stage for that because I think we’re just now coming to grips with the way the information world operates compared to the days when we lived with CD towers as our main technology compared to the days when we had just piles of indicies and paper and so that’s part of our evolutionary path and I think understanding the epistemology side, the social side of knowing is intrinsically related to that, you can’t get away from that, that it’s still bound up in this technology and in these mental models we build around the technology.

I, I actually did notice that when I was reading the introduction, that you had, cause like you said most introductions go in chapter one we discuss we discuss this and in chapter two we discuss this and you really jumped around between different topics and I think it’s, it’s interesting because you’re sort of living the philosophy that the book is about, of looking at information in new ways and making new connections because the way that the chapters are sort of laid out is organized in a certain way, but then you found new connections in the introduction to bring them all together as well.

And, and we hope our readers find even more connections, of course.

Oh, let’s get into the book itself and we’ll start with the really big, huge, overly broad topic of what is information.

And that was all, just one thing. Well and I think our, the intro section really tries to deal with this, the kind of big picture and then thinks about what do, how do librarians see information, and, but additionally how do faculty members and then how do students think about this thing that is information and that’s a big sticky subject and we have some authors that are thinking about it in some, some very complicated and thoughtful ways, which is, is great. I think that one of, the first chapter by Lane Wilkinson, I think hits on a big picture that I think even if you’re in any kind of library, it’s not just academic librarians, but librarianship as a whole, I think we juggle two different philosophies and this is what Lane really points out in really a nice way and that is that the kind of positive approach where there is truth, we can use knowledge to understand our world. But also the social construction of knowledge where truth is relative, where belief impacts how you see the world and I think there’s attention in librarianship that circles around this, that yes if you, I think of a famous, a famous in our library where I work, old story of a student that came to our information desk and asked for books on mermaids and so our librarian took the student to the mythology section and the student said no, I don’t,  I’m not talking about mythology or religion, I want biology books on mermaids and then it launched into this whole conversation about well, mermaids aren’t real and the, there are no mermaids and that was not, the student didn’t take that very well, and then. So like, there, that’s, there’s a point where we have to say now this is real, this is truth, but on the other hand we still have to be supportive of our, of our patrons and their, and respectful in areas where there’s disagreement, be, where we may not have what we, what is this truth is a slippery thing and so I think there’s, there’s a, there’s a tension that we even on the job have to try to balance and, and Lane approaches that from the, from the big picture and other authors in that chapter reference that as well in terms of how do we think about the wording we use. Barbara Fister has a nice, a nice piece about, that really thinks about what’s the role of faculty in, and how faculty think of expertise and how faculty think of knowledge when, especially in a research run environment, especially, but I think across higher ed our faculty members are grounded into this, into their disciplines and their approach to knowledge is so bounded up in a disciplinary understanding where in some ways librarianship is between disciplines. And then you have students who are coming in, who don’t even understand the boundaries between disciplines and how they navigate between these things and so, there’s, there’s a lot of complexity and ties across this, this epistemological kind of spectrum that, that we work in.

Yeah, and I think the big thing to, that kept coming up for me and comes up in, in my practice is while I was just remembering that students are, are novices in this whole thing. I mean they, and some of them are coming in believing that there are mermaids, so being able to meet them where they are and like how do you make that connection, I mean especially I, Lane’s chapter is, is just so great at explaining all this stuff and just having that in the back of your head, but also being in the real world where you have got one session with your students for a lot of people, just trying to balance all that stuff, just really makes it, I mean no wonder people feel like they have to cram everything into one hour and end up over-teaching. I mean so many of these chapters seem to say to me like we, it’s okay to really slow it down and start to explain things at the level of what is information, why is it in the format it’s in, what, what does it mean and who put it there.

Yeah, and I think the mermaid example is a good one as a sort of an extreme example, but that’s a good way to, I think, train your mind for when you get trickier questions. Like I can’t think of, I’ve had people ask me at the public library of show me the books that tell me, that say why that, tell me that vaccines cause autism, or something else that says, it might be a controversial thing that you have to be able to present the facts to people and not say, “Well, they don’t,” so you rawr rawr rawr rawr, or yes they do and here’s this. I mean cause you have to be able to understand how to approach information, how to think about it to help educate our patrons.

And there’s a lot of writers out there that really emphasizes and I think it comes through in our chapters, but in so many times it, I think in higher ed we’re, we’re kind of taught to think at least, to pretend that you get the evidence and then you come up with the conclusion, get the conclusion, you test it, and then you see if it stands up. So you kind of have this like play with induction and deduction. But what happens most of the time is that in, I think in reality is that people hold beliefs about how the world works and then they go out and they find the information that supports their beliefs and they ignore the things that don’t and there are a lot of social psychology has, it studies this stuff that says yeah we tend to have belief mechanisms and those belief mechanisms work to keep themselves in place, they’re self-reinforcing and they don’t go away and that’s part of our job is to try to, I think us as librarians, but also in higher ed is to, even if, even if it’s not our, it’s not necessarily our job to maybe rip apart those beliefs, but it’s our job to get students to reflect on those beliefs and recognize that they exist and the idea of reflection comes up time and time again across the chapters of, of being reflective as practitioners on our side, but also trying to find ways to get students to be reflective in the classroom, in the library as they’re doing research, that research is this reflection process and again not that mechanical kind of production process.

And I know we’re not going to be able to talk about everybody’s chapters in this brief podcast, but it just, while we’re, while you were talking Troy I was really thinking about and Steve, about the chapter by Alison Hicks on knowledge societies and where she put her foreign language students, in a situation where they had to find information about different things that were happening culturally in Latin America.

Like, trash collecting and where they realized that this information’s not so easy to find, here I thought I had a handle on how it exists and how to search for it, so by putting people basically like we were talking before we started rolling, in a destabilizing environment it really is a way to challenge those assumptions and make them realize like oh maybe I don’t know what I thought I know and by giving them a chance to put it in practice and reflect on it, that they really start to open up and see that oh there are other ways of getting to this information.

Yeah, and there’s so many people that, that, there’s some real, I don’t want to scare people with the intro chapters that are very philosophical, there’s some very practical chapters that are on the ground, really in the classroom, that do some of this too and I think about you use the special collections from Marony and Williams, talking about build, making ziens, still doing it in a reflective way where they’re connecting with, with real people and Young and Van Holtens piece about rethinking the research paper, how to reframe sources and what is authority and also, but then connecting it with, with how students are seeing it and thinking it’s, and there’s, there’s many others. Like Heather said, we can’t name everybody in here, but some really useful and thoughtful approaches on this, this reflection, reflecting on what are my beliefs and how does that connect out to this information world and that, that was one of my favorite things that, that I think as a whole this collection speaks to.

Your subtitle is teaching students how to think about information, but it really applies to everybody, I mean it’s, the audience I guess is for academic librarians so that makes sense to do it that way, but we’re talking, also talking about for faculty and other librarians and honestly as a public librarian I think that that’s useful to us as well, but.

Yes, I, exactly and I think, I mean there’s no doubt that this is aimed at instruction and instruction librarians in higher ed, but there’s many pieces that will like send out to all of librarianship and I think also to faculty members in the classroom who are implementing vary similar approaches.

Comes up over and over again throughout different essays in the book is the idea of determining expertise and authority and credibility and especially in this age of crowdsourcing Wikipedia kind of stuff, that that’s become much more difficult these days and I think you mentioned in the introduction that the world has always been complex, it’s just now we know how complex it is.

Right, we, I think when I think back to my college experience, I was in a city where there were two other small liberal arts colleges and we had the resources of three small liberal art college libraries at our disposal and, so at some point you’re like well I, I have exhausted my resources here, but of course you’ve, that’s what you thought as an undergraduate, but of course you really hadn’t, but, so you were just, you were, you didn’t worry about the fact like oh there might be more out there and you also didn’t have random bits about people floating around on the internet where you didn’t know whether they were authoritative or not, I mean there were things in books and things in paper journals and they, someone had selected them for you and that’s what you used.

One of my, this isn’t necessarily come up in the book, but a thing I’ve always found interesting as I’ve done readings in history is that at each evolution in information technology there’s this kind of panic around, around that technology and the panic kind of goes something like this. It’s something like oh my god, it’s information overload, how can we possibly live, information is going to, there’s too much, we can’t possibly handle it, and whether it’s Socrates complaining about writing, or whether it’s oh the church freaking out about regular people reading the bible in translation, or whether it’s the impact of the telegraph, or whether it’s TV, or film, and now we’re into the like TV’s rotting our brains and now the internet’s rotting our brains and Google’s making us dumber. I mean I think every step in the evolution of information, part of what goes with that step is an adjustment of meaning, an adjustment of understanding how we share this information and kind of navigate it and so I think for a while we felt like were were at the, we’re standing at the end of the fire hose getting blasted and I think it, we’re still kind of like that, but I think we’re getting better at managing and I, I feel like even the students I see who are undergraduates at a community college, are much more savvy about their sources than they were 20 years ago, or 15 years ago when I was starting. Whereas I feel like at one point all of us and, but especially students kind of just believe things that were, that were in print and the web looked like print and so like, oh okay, sure we’ll, we believe it. And now we’ve almost flipped where we don’t believe anything, where we, we get something and our first response is skepticism, even when, in cases where maybe it shouldn’t be. And so I think we’re still kind of helping to make that evolution happen.

And to use the example of the Photoshop thing, of you see a beautiful picture and you’re like oh well like they fixed that in Photoshop, like nobody can take a real good photo any more.

We just assume that everything, that Photoshopification of, of everything. We just assume oh it must be Photoshopped because it looks good. Look at that.

Yeah, well and it, yeah just getting people to have an authentic experience. I think that, a lot of people haven’t, don’t know where that, I’m not sure how to articulate this, but maybe some people haven’t, because students haven’t seen themselves as I think authors, maybe and maybe that’s where, where a few people do this in the book for sure, but maybe this is where my train of thought is going, but getting people to see themselves as authors is what can really help them see that not everything is Photoshopped, and things do take work and people who are creating these things, who are creating knowledge and information and putting it out there are, that’s a way to get them to understand like oh this is how expertise is created and how knowledge is formed if. If I participated in it and then I see how things are made, then maybe I’m still critical, but I’m not suspicious. I’m not conspiracy theory level suspicious. Does that make sense?

Yeah, absolutely and, and having them be part of that conversation, like truly part of a conversation, helps them understand how the conversation evolves around whatever, whatever topic they’re researching. One of the theoretical approaches that several authors have taken is the use of critical Patagonian in critical theory, which really challenges educators to think about power structures and I think about where they come into the conversation in terms of their beliefs about society, so you’re more open about here’s where I stand and encourage students to recognize where they stand and to recognize the kind of things that influence the world around us. Whether it’s in a why is this status quo, like the status quo, and what are the power structures that keep that status quo in place and let’s evaluate them. Are they, are they helping or not helping? And then have students connect with that and several authors brought up critical theory as a way to make information literacy kind of more engaging if at that personal belief level and also as instructors, to then break down some of those barriers between me as the educator at the front of the room versus being a true partner in, in the learning process, which I thought was, was really a useful approach, an approach that I’ve thought about in the past as well.

Yeah, a lot of people, it wasn’t just about, like I’m going to tell you this is how you should think about information and critical, critical theory but they made it real for them. Like, there have this experience. Why do you think you can’t find any information about the labor situation of trash collectors in Venezuela? Partly it’s because of where we’re situated in the world, and partly it’s because who’s writing about these people and why is no one writing about these people? So, it’s, it’s really been, been great to see like, to have the theoretical background, it’s, but rather than just lecturing, like this is the theoretical background, it’s just like putting them in a situation where they experience it.

And, and part of, I think that experience with the, if you think about the, in the psychology literature, thinking about personal epistemology, this comes up, there’s a progression that students go through where it’s, it’s like I’m absolutist in my beliefs and they go through these moments of ultra relativism where oh you’re, I’m not wrong, you’re not wrong, no one’s right, no one’s wrong to, to this kind of level of informed belief where you recognize what beliefs are and that at some level we have to, we have to make judgments, we have to make value judgments or else we can never move forward. But also recognize the problems with making those judgments and that sometimes judgments are wrong and how do we deal with that. And I think that’s a hard thing, I think Steve you mentioned the, the autism-vaccine debate and the, one of the whole, the ethos behind science is that we use the best theory we have given the evidence that we have in that scientists will never say this is absolutely right, but they will say given the evidence, we think this is how things work and even just that kind of rhetorical stance starts to undermine the credibility in the, in the popular thought of, of what scientists are saying. Well so there is this a possibility that autism is caused by vaccines, well the evidence doesn’t suggest that, a ha! But there is the possibility if we had other evidence and it, just that, that building that knowledge of how these beliefs are constructed I think is part of our job, especially dealing with undergrads, but it moves you through that sort of progression to a point where we recognize that there is a, nothing is really absolute, but we have to do the best with what we’ve got and what we have.

The scientific method is pretty absolute, that to get to the point when they will say 100%, it has to be absolute and so they’ll say eh 99%, like even the idea that the earth goes around the sun is still just a theory.

Right.

Well, I think Lane has an example in his chapter, it’s like where he said oh I, my son was, or maybe he said I was born July 27th, but I don’t, I know this, I think this is true because people have told me this, I, you don’t have any personal, at some point you’re just like yes I have to accept this as true because I have to live my life.

Right, I mean how do we know the whole universe wasn’t created yesterday and we were created with all these memories.

Right.

Prove that’s wrong. I mean. Anyway.

Oh man, now, now.

That would be a lot longer podcast.

That’s part two of the podcast.

Right.

That’s part of my new philosophy podcast.

The simulation.

The, the, I was thinking as we’ve been talking to kind of sum up, the whole book I think sums up why librarians are still needed today, that yeah they’re, we’ve, everybody has access to all this information, but that’s almost a worse problem before, than before when we didn’t have access to things cause now it’s, it’s the fire hose, like you said, it’s too much, so now we need somebody that can help not necessarily determine that expertise, but be able to teach other people how to look for the expertise, so that’s, I think that’s, I think we’re more needed than ever now.

It, well and I think if you, and you know Heather and I both are from the higher ed side of our profession. It, I think it’s, we’re needed, I think faculty need us, I think it’s obviously students need us, or we’re really, that’s our primary goal, partner with students, but I, I don’t, it’s not just the student side, it’s, I think faculty deal with their, they have their content but they also, they don’t think about information literacy the way that we do and when we can come in and partner with them, it’s a, it really is a, an added value to, to what they do that makes them more effective and I think that’s, that rings true through all of these chapters, that we can provide this, this service, this partnership that no one else within the academy is really providing, that’s our role.

And in some ways we’ve always done it, but in some ways it’s also so exciting to see how it changes in the end, what’s, where we’re going to go next.

Yeah it’s a really exciting place to be, I think, in this in between space between students and faculty and as generalists, just to be able to translate different, different community’s worlds, the student world and the faculty world and of course the faculty have compelling relationships with their students, seeing them twice a week and I think we also saw that in some of the chapters, like oh it’s, when librarians are involved on a more regular basis, just the learning, learning goals are just so much richer, or the outcomes, the learning outcomes, excuse me are so much richer.

All right, so Troy and Heather, how do people find out more about the book and about you guys?

You can learn more about the book, find the book, through ACRL’s website and also it’s available through Amazon and your typical book sellers. You can connect with me on Twitter. I’m @t_swanson and also I write for Michael Stephens’s Tame The Web blog.

And I’m on Twitter as well. I’m @hjagman, H-J-A-G-M-A-N, on Twitter.

I hope everybody goes and gets the book cause it’s really great, even if you’re not an academic librarian, so.

And if nothing else you can suggest that it be added to your library and you can check it out and read it in little chunks.

Yes, no it will be, it will be a great addition to your professional development library, so.

And, Steve, thank you for this opportunity and let me just say I’m a big believer in this podcast, I think that you do great work, so thank you for that too.

Yes, Steve, thank you so much.

All right, thank you guys, bye bye.

Bye.

 

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I mean I have people talking about sometimes something that oh it’s just snowing outside, and then it comes out in like March or something.

Right. Well I’m.

Well, although I guess up there it’s still snowing in March. I was thinking it would never snow in March.