The last six weeks have been a bit of a blur. Between ACRL, LOEX, and wrapping up the semester, I’ve mostly been focused on what was immediately in front of me, and haven’t had a chance to slow down and look around. Now that the academic year and my two big presentations are behind me, however, I’m starting to take stock on what worked, what didn’t, and where I want to go from here. I’m also thinking a lot about the profession, and likewise considering what’s working, what’s not, and what I hope might be coming next.
I have to admit, I’m more or less out to sea on the Framework. At the Critlib Unconference and ACRL, it seemed like it was everywhere- presentations, roundtables, conversations in the halls. We were all comparing notes on the frames and talking about next steps. To be sure, there was a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism, but it all seemed energetic. As I’ve struggled to find some common threads from my week in Portland, “energy” is one that became apparent early on. People were speaking passionately about things that mattered to them, and others were responding in kind.
The biggest question that I’ve had since then is “where did all of that energy go?” In the month-and-a-half since Portland, where all of these big ideas were addressed, it seems the ensuing response has been much more mechanistic. There has been an increasing push for “concrete examples” of what we should be doing in our practice, and I think a lot of what happened at LOEX reflected that sentiment. Several of the conversations dealt with either how the Framework could be directly implemented and assessed, or faulted the Framework for not including those guidelines in the first place.
To me, both of these developments are concerning. As I’ve written before, I firmly support the Framework for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it specifically does not prescribe what we should be doing in class. It challenges each of us to take from it what we will, and use that to shape our own practices. While I have spent the last year reworking my instruction program and rethinking my assessment plan, until recently I’ve been hesitant to share those specific with others because, frankly, what works for me on my campus likely won’t work for you on yours. Teaching and learning are relative endeavors, and I didn’t want to see the Framework concretized into standard activities that would be used all over the place.
What the last six weeks, especially the conversations at LOEX, made clear to me is how shortsighted I’ve been. Expecting individual librarians to change course and rework their classroom sessions is one thing, but when it comes to our programs, our campuses, and establishment higher education, there’s much more rigidity in play. It takes time to move them. A phrase that came up at the Critlib Unconference in connection with the Framework was “comfort with ambiguity”- the document requires us to be comfortable with there not always being “correct” answers. The more I’ve thought about it and worked through it, the more apparent it’s become that while individuals might be comfortable with ambiguity, our institutions are much less likely to embrace that approach.
So, with that in mind, I’m reframing (pun intended) my work and starting to think about how we could use the Framework to improve standardized practice. Not because I think practice should be standardized, but because the standardization is already taking place, and I’d much rather see these developments driven by thoughtful librarians than by vendors. We’ll need to not only take the Framework out and test it, but tell as many people as we can what we’ve found. Doing so will make us better in our classrooms, which is the important part, but it’ll also reveal to our institutions whether the Framework deserves the legitimacy to replace the Standards.
In all of this, though, I’m hoping that the work of implementing the Framework will carry with it the same energy I saw on display in Portland. Whether people support the document or have reservations, they at least care about what they’re doing, and that can’t be a bad thing. What I’m more concerned about is the possibility that we’ll claim we’ve incorporated these “big ideas” and improved our pedagogy, but in practice continue falling into the same tropes of one-shot sessions about “why scholarly sources are the best” or “what search skills are going to prepare you for the real world.” There needs to be a concerted effort to move our institutions forward, and that can only happen if we move our practice forward as well.