Anne-Marie Deitering is the Franklin A. McEdward Professor for Undergraduate Learning Initiatives at Oregon State University Libraries. She is also in the middle of a 3-year term as Head of the Libraries’ Teaching and Engagement Department. At OSU, she serves on the university’s Curriculum Council, works closely with the composition program, and is a founding member of the university’s U-Engage (first-year seminar) program. She loves to do in-depth, qualitative investigations of student research behavior and curiosity and is increasingly fascinated by the interplay between the affective and cognitive dimensions of learning. She thinks on these topics often and writes about them (occasionally) on her blog, Info-Fetishist. She is also found on Twitter @amlibrarian.
1) In your opinion has library information literacy instruction developed its own theoretical basis and methodologies? If not, should it?
For one, I don’t think of information literacy instruction as a discipline or field of study separate from the rest of information science. The LIS research that most heavily influences my teaching doesn’t come from a separate “information literacy instruction” place. It comes from studies in information behavior and information practice, from everyday life and workplace studies, and more. With some notable exceptions, such as the work of Holliday and Rogers, I am drawn less to work about “how do I teach about using information” and more to research about “how do people use information” or “how does using information affect people’s lives.” So a theoretical or methodological basis for information literacy instruction alone doesn’t really make sense to me.
Here’s where I’m coming from. When I was doing my first master’s degree – a master’s in history – we of course studied the discipline historically. And one of the conversations I remember was about how the types of projects and methodologies one could use to get a PhD in the field had changed. In the past, they would say, you could get a dissertation for editing an important person’s papers. The reason was simple – because the profession needed those edited collections to flourish. A professionally edited collection of Abraham Lincoln’s or Benjamin Franklin’s papers made it possible for scholars at small schools, for undergraduates, etc. to work with primary sources.
Now, I personally have doubts about whether this need has gone away, but the basic philosophy – that what constitutes valuable scholarship in a field should at least partly be determined by what the people in the field need to do the work – is still how I think about these questions. And I don’t think we’ve done a great job in academic librarianship of figuring out what we need or what would be useful, but this is where it gets complicated. Because it goes beyond a lack of agreement about theory or method – I don’t think we really have a shared idea of how research can and should inform us to start from. Many – though not all – of the people I know who have strong or clear ideas about this are bringing them from prior experience in the disciplines.
And it’s further complicated by the fact that when we talk about “doing the work,” we’re not always talking about doing more research. What does the practice community need to do the work? Is that the same as what the discipline needs? Is that a real distinction? It seems to me that what we need may not be what other fields need – and our standards and expectations for research should reflect that. I dug a little more into this in a blog post last year.
2) What for you are the most interesting current developments in library information literacy instruction research?
Anne-Marie: I’ve been so immersed in some specific projects – one on autoethnography and one on curiosity – and I tend to get kind of hyper-focused when I’m thinking. So I haven’t been reading very broadly lately. One fairly current thing I have found myself pulling off the shelf over and over again this year has been Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction from Library Juice Press.
I’ve been consistently excited though about the work that my colleagues have been doing – over the last few years, several of us have been exploring qualitative methods more deeply, and we have some really interesting projects going on. Stefanie Buck did a photo-elicitation project with a group of distance learners, deepening our understanding of what their learning environments are like in a really cool way. And Uta Hussong-Christian is currently working on a fascinating study where she captured the information left on library whiteboards to build a picture of how our library study spaces are being used.
The application of critical theories to library and information science is certainly one of the most visible current developments in research and much of this work has sparked a lot of thinking for me. Out of this broader conversation, my colleague Kelly McElroy is co-editing a book on critical pedagogy with Nicole Pagowsky that I am very excited to see.
3) You have stated that the goal of reflective thinking is to identify and question the assumptions that are at the core of our practice. How has your own experience with reflective thinking informed how you teach and work with undergraduates? How has it informed your approach to research and scholarly collaboration?
In 2002, Kevin Kumashiro wrote an article called “Against Repetitions,” which I think gets at this really beautifully. In this piece, he was trying to understand why educators who are committed to social justice sometimes unintentionally reinforce systems of oppression in the classroom. He draws the idea of “repetitions” from Judith Butler. Repetitions happen when certain ideas, practices or identities are repeatedly privileged, and others are repeatedly marginalized. These repeated experiences can make us feel comfortable, like we belong and know what to expect. And so we resist change that disrupts them.
Kumashiro argues that some ideas about what it means to teach and to learn are so entrenched in our schools that even people who are committed to disrupting harmful repetitions in other contexts will resist anti-oppressive change in the classroom, and he further argues that this happens in large part because these teaching and learning focused repetitions go unquestioned and unexamined.
To me, that’s where the power of critical reflection is. I am pretty good at “doing school.” There are a lot of things that I like and that I’m good at that have historically and currently been rewarded in the classroom (and also in traditional research and scholarship). As Kumashiro points out, this means that these traditional, repeated practices are comfortable and easy for me. And I am good enough at building a case to be able to convince myself that these things are just what good learning looks like. But I am committed to the idea that we need to disrupt repetitions that exclude and harm – which means that I need to push back at these traditional practices. Even (or especially) when that means leaving a zone that is comfortable.
In teaching this has meant lots of changes from the simple (more group work in my credit class) to the complex (what does it mean to bring feelings and affect into the classroom). In research, it’s helped me open up to new forms of research and new methods – like autoethnography.
4) You’ll be co-editing a book for ACRL Publications that will explore autoethnography as a research method in LIS. What do you think autoethnography has to offer librarians?
This question might be trouble – I’m in the throes of working out the answer to this question RIGHT NOW for the book and pretty far in the weeds.
First, a quick definition: autoethnography is a method that pushes the researcher to reflect deeply on their own experience, to analyze it, and to connect it to a broader, bigger theoretical or cultural picture. Basically, it’s qualitative, ethnographic research where the same person conducts and is the subject of the research. If you want to know more about it, there’s LOTS more on this blog post about the book project.
I think that critical, rigorous, reflective methods like autoethnography offer a lot to librarians. One of the things that first drew me to the method was the idea that this kind of research could help us hear diverse voices and understand experiences that are drowned out in aggregations of data or discussions of universal themes. I still think that is important. Recently, I’ve also been digging into the idea that reflecting and analyzing experience and connecting it to something broader could be a way to get at, capture, and share some of that practice knowledge I described above, knowledge that can’t be separated from lived experience.
5) What advice would you give to librarians who are trying to formulate their own research agenda?
This is a hard one because I frequently doubt my own research agenda, but maybe that’s the most important thing. Realize that we all feel these feelings when it comes to research, at least sometimes.
Related, research isn’t just about finding answers. It’s okay to feel at the end like you just have more questions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it or that you have nothing to say. Good research, useful research is often good and useful because it generates new questions.
If you have the external or administrative support you need, you may also need to give yourself time and permission to read, engage, converse, and think. This isn’t time wasted or self-indulgence, even if you really, really enjoy it! For me, the biggest barrier to doing research usually isn’t finding the time to do it. When I feel the most blocked and the most like I don’t have anything to say, I can almost always track it back to a lack of reading/ thinking/talking time. The image of the solitary genius scholar persists, but for most of us, research is intensely and extremely social. It’s that engagement – with other people, with the literature – that sparks the questions in the first place, and the new questions we need to keep moving forward.
Rempel, Hannah Gascho, Stefanie Buck, and Anne-Marie Deitering. 2013. “Examining Student Research Choices and Processes in a Disintermediated Searching Environment.” portal: Libraries & the Academy 13 (4): 363–384.
Deitering, Anne-Marie, and Kate Gronemyer. 2011. “Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students’ Understanding of Scholarly Work.” portal: Libraries & the Academy 11 (1): 489–503.
Deitering, A.-M., & Rempel, H. G. 2011. “Share and Share Alike: Barriers and Solutions to Tutorial Creation and Management.” Communications in Information Literacy 5 (2): 102–116. http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=viewArticle&path%5B%5D=v5i2p102.
Gronemyer, Kate, and Anne-Marie Deitering. 2009. “’I Don’t Think It’s Harder, Just that It’s Different’: Librarians’ Attitudes about Instruction in the Virtual Reference Environment.” Reference Services Review 37 (4): 421–434. doi:10.1108/00907320911007029.
Deitering, Anne-Marie, and Sara Jameson. 2008. “Step by Step through the Scholarly Conversation: A Collaborative Library/Writing Faculty Project to Embed Information Literacy and Promote Critical Thinking in First Year Composition at Oregon State University.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 15 (1/2): 57–79. doi:10.1080/10691310802176830.
Deitering, Anne-Marie, and Rachel Bridgewater. 2007. “Stop Reinventing the Wheel: Using Wikis for Professional Knowledge Sharing.” Journal of Web Librarianship 1 (1): 27-44. doi:10.1300/J502v01n01_03.
McMillen, Paula, and Anne-Marie Deitering. 2007. “Complex Questions, Evolving Answers: Creating a Multidimensional Assessment Strategy to Build Support for the “Teaching Library.” Public Services Quarterly 3 (1/2): 57–82. doi:10.1300/J295v03n01_04.
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