Research Agenda Conversations: Wendy Holliday

Wendy Holliday

Wendy HollidayWendy Holliday is Head of Teaching, Learning, and Research Services at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. She leads a team of librarians in designing, delivering, and assessing the library’s portfolio of support for student learning and success and faculty research excellence. She served as Coordinator of Library Instruction at Utah State University between 2004 and 2013. Her research and practice focuses on student experiences of information literacy and learning, collaboration with faculty, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and curriculum issues in higher education and general education. Prior to becoming a librarian, she was the Hopi Tribal Archivist and a historian. She has more than 20 years of experience teaching both history and information literacy at the college level. She holds an MLS from the University of Illinois and a PhD in history from New York University.

1) In your opinion has library information literacy instruction developed its own theoretical basis and methodologies? If not, should it?

Narrowly defined, I don’t think that IL instruction has developed its own theoretical basis or methodologies, and I don’t think it necessarily should. However, I think there is also plenty of potential for teaching librarians to contribute original and rigorous work on teaching and learning that is valuable to all kinds of librarians and teachers!

I think IL instruction as a practice takes place in the nexus of several teaching and research traditions, and should draw heavily on those influences. These include information theories (information behavior, information seeking and use, human-computer interaction, etc.) and educational theories. All of these research traditions have a lot to offer librarians, educators, and other researchers who want to investigate issues, questions, and “problems” in information literacy instruction practice. As in education research more broadly, we can borrow from several traditions, including ethnography, action research, and discourse analysis, and we will be the richer for it. The tradition that I have increasingly found most fruitful is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Again, this is a field that borrows heavily from both disciplinary expertise and educational research. And I like the emphasis on trying to figure something out about practical problems in the classroom (broadly defined), in a rigorous way, and then sharing our learning with a wider community.

2) What for you are the most interesting current developments in library information literacy instruction research?

The stuff that continually grabs me and makes me think more deeply about my own practice are studies that link information literacy to learning more broadly. The work of Mandy Lupton, Christine Bruce, Annemaree Lloyd, and Louise Limberg, for example, has consistently focused on the connection between using information and learning something (e.g., becoming an expert practitioner, solving problems in a particular domain, contributing to a more democratic society, etc.). I think their theoretical and empirically-based work has opened up my thinking about the purpose and value of information literacy, and how it is more than just efficiently locating information with tools provided by the library. I don’t think that we can teach students that there is some perfect search strategy or algorithm that will yield the perfect set of results to help them succeed in their assignment or larger contexts. We all have to get into the information itself, and think about questions of value(s) and purpose. I also think some of the work that is coming out of rhetoric and composition right now continues to be provocative and valuable for information literacy. I think that teaching information literacy from a rhetorical stance, with the focus on using information for and with purpose, can help advance both our research and our practice. I just started reading Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies and I am intrigued by just the first few pages.

3) In “Talking about Information Literacy” (2013), you write that one goal of your research is to begin a conversation between librarians and instructors of writing about the practice of teaching research-based writing.  How would you open this conversation?  How do you approach collaboration with faculty? 

I’ve actually found that theoretical and research-based approaches can help open this conversation. So I’ve used my article, the Citation Project, and other research on writing and IL to begin talking about where our students struggle in the process of what we call “research-based” writing. This can help break down some of the assumptions that some faculty have about students information and thinking skills. When faculty see the Citation Project result that most students are citing from the first three pages of a source, I see this recognition, “Well of course that’s what they are doing!” They are finding sources that match assignment requirements and then just plucking sentences from them. From this realization, we can begin a conversation about assignments and learning activities that shift attention away from just finding and concentrate on critical reading and evaluating information from a rhetorical stance (does this help me explain, argue, illustrate? etc.). I am also very careful with the words I choose when talking to faculty. I almost never use the word “source” but use information, knowledge, evidence. Faculty don’t always get the word choice (and I don’t lecture them about it), but it sometime shifts the conversation in productive ways, to get them out of the habit of thinking that what librarians teach is “finding good sources.”

4) You identify higher education curricular reform as a professional and research interest.  Could you tell us about your work in this area?

My current thinking on this is really about how we use the existing structure of an institutional or program curriculum to create a more integrated experience of information literacy. Most universities have general education programs, degree/major requirements, etc. Some of these programs even have clearly defined learning goals or outcomes. So, how can we use those requirements, structures, and pathways to provide opportunities for students to develop, practice, and refine information literacy practices, rather than trying to shoehorn IL into random moments of opportunity? So I don’t necessarily have the idea of a “better” higher education curriculum, in terms of what to cover and require and how to structure it. But I think that librarians can play a leadership role in helping faculty and our institutions see how the pieces fit (or don’t) together. Often, faculty (for good and practical reasons) tend to focus only on their course(s) in isolation. If they could see the connection between what they teach and what is going on in the class before or the class after (or even next to), then they might be able to focus on the connections, on what really matters in their course and for the students over the long term.

I’m a huge fan of metaphor as a way to think through these issues, and I read a recent piece in Hybrid Pedagogy that uses a web metaphor ( I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of curriculum, especially in terms of how students experience curriculum. I suspect that a lot of students don’t see the pattern, and nodes on a web might be an effective way to help them (and us) make connections. So in terms of research, I am interested in learning more about how students experience connection, or lack of connection, in their curricula. I’m not sure where this might go, in terms of research yet, but I am looking at some of the practical experiments that places like Southern Utah University are doing with their general education, for example, to structure more web–like learning ( and with ideas about “flipping the curriculum” to help students build knowledge more inductively (

5) What advice would you give to librarians who are trying to formulate their own research agenda?

My first bit of advice is to make sure that research is addressing something that matters to you. I have a healthy respect for “pure” research and knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but most of us don’t have that kind of luxury or purpose. Especially for teaching librarians, I think that research should address problems. Is there something in your class, program, students’ work, etc. that is troubling you in some way? Is there something that you’d like to figure out in order to improve some part of your practice? That’s why I think the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a useful framework and community of practice. So, for example, the “Talking about Information Literacy” project emerged out of a series of regular coffee meetings that I had with my colleague, Jim Rogers. We kept wondering, from our separate vantage points, why students used their information sources in such a shallow way in their writing. One day (after literally years of talking about this), we decided: Let’s go watch a writing class for a whole semester and see if we can figure this out. And an observational study was born. And I still think about what we saw in that class, and what students, librarians, and instructors shared with us. It enlivens my practice to this day. So think about those nagging curiosities, those questions about why something is or isn’t happening, and then think about what kind of research or inquiry might yield at least some answers. Make that your agenda so that it is animated by purpose.

Selected Publications

Holliday, Wendy, Betty Dance, Erin Davis, Britt Fagerheim, Anne Hedrich, Kacy Lundstrom, and Pamela Martin. 2015.  “An Information Literacy Snapshot: Authentic Assessment across the Curriculum.” College and Research Libraries 76 (2): 170-187. doi:10.5860/crl.76.2.170.

Lundstrom, Kacy, Anne R. Diekema, Heather Leary, Sheri Haderlie, and Wendy Holliday.  2015.  “Teaching and Learning Information Synthesis: An Intervention and Rubric Based Assessment.” Communications in Information Literacy 9 (1): 60-82.

Holliday, Wendy, and Jim Rogers. 2013. “Talking about Information Literacy: The Mediating Role of Discourse in a College Writing Classroom.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 13 (3): 257-271.

Diekema, Anne R., Wendy Holliday, and Heather Leary. 2011. “Re-framing Information Literacy: Problem-based Learning as Informed Learning.” Library & Information Science Research 33 (4): 261-268. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2011.02.002.

Duncan, Jennifer, and Wendy Holliday. 2008. “The Role of Information Architecture in Designing a Third-Generation Library Web Site.” College & Research Libraries 69 (4): 301-318. doi:10.5860/crl.69.4.301.

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