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  • Adopting the Educator’s Mindset: Charting New Paths in Curriculum and Assessment Mapping

    April 22, 2015

    In the Library with the Lead Pipe welcomes Bethany Messersmith to our Editorial Board!  In honor of Throwback Thursday, we’re highlighting Bethany’s recent piece on curriculum and assessment mapping.


    In Brief:

    The greatest challenge that I faced in my role as Information Literacy Librarian occurred as a result of a Higher Learning Commission (HLC) initiative at my institution, requiring all academic programs/departments to create/review/revise program-level student learning outcomes  (PLSLOs), curriculum maps, and assessment maps. This initiative served as a catalyst for the information literacy program, prompting  me to seek advice from faculty in the Education Department at Southwest Baptist University (SBU), who were more familiar with educational theory and curriculum/assessment mapping methods. In an effort to accurately reflect the University Libraries’ impact on student learning inside and outside of the classroom, I looked for ways to display this visually. The resulting assessment map included classes the faculty and I could readily assess, as well as an evaluation of statistics on library services and resources that also impact student learning, such as data from LibGuide and database usage, reference transactions, interlibrary loans, course reserves, annual gate count trends, the biennial student library survey, and website usability testing.

    Embarking on a Career in Information Literacy

    Like most academic librarians there was little focus on instruction in my graduate school curriculum. My only experience with classroom instruction occurred over a semester-long internship, during which I taught less than a handful of information literacy sessions. Although I attended  ACRL’s Immersion-Teacher Track Conference as a new librarian, I was at a loss as to how I should strategically apply the instruction and assessment best practices gleaned during that experience to the environment in which I found myself.

    When I embraced the role of Information Literacy Librarian at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) Libraries in 2011, I joined a faculty of six other librarians. The year I started, the University Libraries transitioned to a liaison model, with six of the seven librarians, excluding the Library Dean, providing instruction for each of the academic colleges represented at the University. Prior to this point, one librarian provided the majority of instruction across all academic disciplines. As the Information Literacy Librarian, I was given the challenge of directing all instruction and assessment efforts on behalf of the University Libraries. Although my predecessor developed an information literacy plan, the Library Dean asked me to create a plan that spanned the curriculum.

    Charting A New Course  

    The greatest challenge that I faced in my role as Information Literacy Librarian occurred as a result of a Higher Learning Commission (HLC) initiative at my institution, requiring all academic programs/departments to create/review/revise program-level student learning outcomes  (PLSLOs), curriculum maps, and assessment maps. I found assessment mapping particularly nebulous, since the librarians at my institution do not teach semester long classes. In lieu of this, I looked for new ways to document and assess the University Libraries’ impact on student learning not only inside, but outside of the classroom setting. The resulting assessment map included classes faculty and I could readily assess, as well as an evaluation of statistics on library services and resources that also impact student learning, such as data from LibGuide and database usage, reference transactions, interlibrary loans, course reserves, annual gate count trends, the biennial student library survey, and website usability testing.

    As is the case when discovering all uncharted territories, taking a new approach required me to seek counsel from Communities of Practice at my institution, defined as “staff bound together by common interests and a passion for a cause, and who continually interact. Communities are sometimes formed within the one organisation, and sometimes across many organisations. They are often informal, with fluctuating membership and people can belong to more than one community at a time” (Mitchell 5). At SBU, I forged a Community of Practice with faculty in the Education Department, with whom I could meet, as needed, to discuss how the University Libraries could most effectively represent its impact on student learning.

    Learning Theory: A Framework for Information Literacy, Instruction, & Assessment

    Within the library literature educational and instructional design theorists are frequently cited. Instructional theorists have significantly shaped my pedagogy over the past three and a half years. In their book, Understanding by Design, educators  Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe point out the importance of developing a cohesive plan that serves as a compass for learning initiatives. They write: “Teachers are designers. An essential act of our profession is the crafting of curriculum and learning experiences to meet specified purposes. We are also designers of assessments to diagnose student needs to guide our teaching and to enable us, our students, and others (parents and administrators) to determine whether we have achieved our goals” (13).  They propose that curriculum designers embrace the following strategic sequence in order to achieve successful learning experiences – 1. “Identify desired results,” 2. “Determine acceptable evidence,” and 3. “Plan learning experiences and instruction” (Wiggins and McTighe 18).

    As librarians, we are not only interested in our students’ ability to utilize traditional information literacy skill sets, but we also have a vested interest in scaffolding “critical information literacy,” skills which “differs from standard definitions of information literacy (ex: the ability to find, use, and analyze information) in that it takes into consideration the social, political, economic, and corporate systems that have power and influence over information production, dissemination, access, and consumption” (Gregory and Higgins 4). The time that we spend with students is limited, since many information literacy librarians do not teach semester-long classes nor do we meet each student who steps foot on our campuses. However, as McCook and Phenix point out, awakening critical literacy skills is essential to “the survival of the human spirit” (qtd. in Gregory and Higgins 2). Therefore, librarians must look for ways to invest in cultivating students’ literacy beyond the traditional four walls of the classroom.

    Librarians and other teaching faculty recognize that “Students need the ability to think out of the box, to find innovative solutions to looming problems…” (Levine 165). In his book, Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student, Arthur Levine notes that the opportunity academics have to cultivate students’ intellect is greatest during the undergraduate years. While some of them may choose to pursue graduate-level degrees later on, at this point their primary objective will be to obtain ‘just in time education’ at the point of need (165). It is this fact that continues to inspire an urgency in our approaches to information literacy education.

    One of the most challenging aspects of pedagogy is that it is messy. While educators are planners, learning and assessment is by no means something that can be wrapped up and decked out with a beautiful bow. Education requires us to give of ourselves, assess what does and does not work for our students and then make modifications as a result. According to educator Rick Reiss, while students are adept at accessing information via the internet, “Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge present the core challenges of higher learning” (n. pag.). Acquiring new knowledge requires us to grapple with preconceived notions and to realize that not everything is black and white. Despite the messy process in which I found myself immersed, knowledge gleaned from educational and instructional theorists began to bring order to the curriculum and assessment mapping process.

    Eureka Moments in Higher Education: Seeing Through a New Lens for the First Time

    Eureka moments are integral to the world of education and often consist of a revelation or intellectual discovery. This concept is best depicted in the story of a Greek by the name of Archimedes. Archimedes was tasked  by the king of his time with determining whether or not some local tradesmen had crafted a crown out of pure gold or substituted some of the precious metal with a less valuable material like silver to make a surplus on the project at hand (Perkins 6). As water began flowing out of the tub, legend has it that “In a flash, Archimedes discovered his answer: His body displaced an equal volume of water. Likewise, by immersing the crown in water, Archimedes could determine its volume and compare that with the volume of an equal weight of gold” (Perkins 7). He quickly emerged from the tub naked and ran across town announcing his discovery. Although we have all experienced Eureka moments to some extent or another, not all of them are as dramatically apparent as Archimedes’s discovery.

    In his book entitled Archimedes’ Bathtub: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking, David Perkins uses the the phrase “cognitive snap,” to illustrate a breakthrough that comes suddenly, much like Archimedes’s Eureka moment (10).  Although the gestational period before my cognitive snap was almost three and a half years in the making, when I finally  began to grasp and apply learning theory to the development of PLSLOs, curriculum, and assessment maps, I knew that it was the dawning of a new Eureka era for me.

    Librarians play a fundamental role in facilitating cognitive snaps among the  non-library faculty that they partner with in the classroom. Professors of education, history, computer science, etc. enlighten their students to subject-specific knowledge, while librarians have conveyed the value of incorporating information literacy components into the curriculum via the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) – Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Now, through the more recently modified Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, librarians are establishing their own subject-specific approach to information literacy that brings “cognitive snaps” related to the research process into the same realm as disciplinary knowledge (“Information Literacy Competency Standards”; “Framework for Information Literacy”).

    Like most universities, each academic college at SBU is comprised of multiple departments, with each consisting of a department chair. The University Libraries is somewhat unique within this framework, in that it is not classified as an academic college, nor does it consist of multiple departments. In 2013, the Library Dean asked me to assume the role of department chair for the University Libraries, because he wanted me to attend the Department Chair Workshops led by the Assessment Academy Team (comprised of the Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning and designated faculty across the curriculum) at SBU. These workshops took place from January 2013 through August 2014. All Department Chairs were invited to participate in four workshops geared towards helping faculty across the University review, revise, and /or create PLSLOs, curriculum, and assessment maps. While my review of educational theory and best practices certainly laid a framework for the evolving information literacy program at SBU, it was during this period that I began charting a new course, as I applied the concepts gleaned during these workshops to the curriculum and assessment maps that I designed for the University Libraries.

    What I Learned About the Relationship Between Curriculum & Assessment Mapping

    In conversations with Assessment Academy Team members currently serving in the Education Department, I slowly adopted an educator’s lens through which to view these processes. Prior to this point, my knowledge of PLSLOs and curriculum mapping came from the library and education literature that I read. Dialogues with practitioners in the Education Department at my campus slowly enabled me to address teaching and assessment from a pedagogical standpoint, employing educational best practices.

    Educator Heidi Hayes-Jacobs believes that mapping is key to the education process. She writes: “Success in a mapping program is defined by two specific outcomes: measurable improvement in student performance in the targeted areas and the institutionalization of mapping as a process for ongoing curriculum and assessment review” (Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping 2). While Hayes-Jacobs’s expertise is in curriculum mapping within the K-12 school system, the principles that she advances apply to higher education, as well as information literacy. She writes about the gaps that often exist as a result of teachers residing in different buildings or teaching students at different levels of the educational spectrum, for example the elementary, middle school, or high school levels (Mapping the Big Picture 3). The mapping process establishes greater transparency and awareness of what is taught across the curriculum and establishes accountability, in spite of the fact that teachers, professors, or librarians might not interact on a daily or monthly basis. It provides a structure for assessment mapping because all of these groups must not only evaluate what they are teaching, but whether or not students are grasping PLSLOs.

    Curriculum Maps Are Just a Stepping Stone: Assessment Mapping for the Faint of Heart

    When I assumed the role of Information Literacy Librarian at SBU, I knew nothing about assessment. Sure, I knew how to define it and I was familiar with being on the receiving end as a student,  but frankly as a new librarian it scared me. Perhaps that is because I saw it as a solo effort that would most likely not provide a good return on my investment. I quickly realized, however, that facilitating assessment opportunities was critical because I wanted to cultivate Eureka moments for my students. In the event that  students do not understand something, it is my job to look for strategies to address the gap in their knowledge and scaffold the learning process.

    Assessment mapping is the next logical step in the mapping process. While curriculum maps give us the opportunity to display the PLSLOs integrated across the curriculum, assessment maps document the tools and assignments that we will utilize to determine whether or not our students have grasped designated learning outcomes. Curriculum and assessment maps do not require input from one person, but rather collaboration among faculty. According Dr. Debra Gilchrist, Vice President for Learning and Student Success at Pierce College, “Assessment is a thoughtful and intentional process by which faculty and administrators collectively, as a community of learners, derive meaning and take action to improve. It is driven by the intrinsic motivation to improve as teachers, and we have learned that, just like the students in our classes, we get better at this process the more we actively engage it” (72). Assessment is not about the data, but strategically getting better at what we do (Gilchrist 76).

    Utilizing the Educator’s Lens to Develop Meaningful Curriculum & Assessment Maps

    Over the last three and a half years I have learned a great deal about applying the educator’s lens to information literacy. It has made a difference not only in the way I teach and plan, but in the collaboration that I facilitate among the library faculty at my institution who also visit the classroom regularly. Perhaps what scared me the most about assessment initially was my desire to achieve perfection in the classroom, a concept that is completely uncharacteristic of education. I combated this looming fear by immersing myself in pedagogy and asking faculty in the Education Department at SBU endless questions about their own experiences with assessment. The more I read and conversed on the topic, the more I realized that assessment is always evolving. It does not matter how many semesters a professor has taught a class, there is always room for improvement. It was then that I could boldly embrace assessment, knowing that it was messy, but was important to making improvements in the way my colleagues and I conveyed PLSLOs and scaffolded student learning moving forward. In their article “Guiding Questions for Assessing Information Literacy in Higher Education,” Megan Oakleaf and Neal Kaske write: “Practicing continuous assessment allows librarians to ‘get started’ with assessment rather than waiting to ‘get it perfect.’ Each repetition of the assessment cycle allows librarians to adjust learning goals and outcomes, vary instructional strategies, experiment with different assessment of methods, and improve over time” (283).

    The biggest challenge for librarians interested in implementing curriculum and assessment maps at their institutions stems from the fact that we often do not have the opportunity to interact with students like the average professor, who meets with a class for nearly four consecutive months a semester and provides feedback through regular assessments and grades. The majority of librarians teach one-shot information literacy sessions. So, what is the most practical way to visually represent librarians’ influence over student learning? I would like to advocate for a new approach, which may be unpopular among some in my field and readily embraced by others. It is a customized approach to curriculum and assessment mapping, which was suggested by faculty in the Education Department at my institution.

    A typical curriculum map contains  PLSLOs for designated programs, along with course numbers/titles, and boxes where you can designate whether a skill set was introduced (i), reinforced (r), or mastered (m) (“Create a Curriculum Map”). For traditional academic departments, there is an opportunity to build on skill sets through a series of required courses. For academic libraries, however, it is difficult to subscribe to the standard  curriculum mapping schema because librarians do not always have the opportunity to impact student learning beyond general education classes and a few major-specific courses. This leads to an uneven representation of information literacy across the curriculum.  As a result, it is often more efficient to use an “x” instead to denote a program-level student learning outcome for which the library is responsible, rather than utilizing three progressive symbols.

    One of the reasons why curriculum and assessment mapping at my academic library is becoming increasingly valuable, is largely due to the fact that administrators at my institution are interested in fostering a greater deal of accountability in the learning process, namely because of an upcoming HLC visit. In her article entitled, “Assessing Your Program-Level Assessment Plan,” Susan Hatfield, Professor of Communication Studies at Winona State University writes: “Assessment needs to be actively supported at the top levels of administration. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult (if not impossible) to get an assessment initiative off the ground. Faculty listen carefully to what administrators say – and don’t say. Even with some staff support, assessment is unlikely to be taken seriously until administrators get on board” (2). In his chapter entitled “Rhetoric Versus Reality: A Faculty Perspective on Information Literacy Instruction,” Arthur Sterngold embraces the view that “For [information literacy (IL)] to be effective…it must be firmly embedded in an institution’s academic curriculum and…the faculty should assume the lead responsibility for developing and delivering IL instruction (85). He believes that librarians should “serve more as consultants to the faculty than as direct providers of IL instruction” (Sterngold 85).

    To some extent, I acknowledge the value of  Hatfield’s and Sterngold’s views on the importance of administration-driven and faculty led assessment initiatives in the realm of assessment.  Campus-wide discussions and initiatives centered around this subject stimulate collaboration among interdisciplinary faculty who would not otherwise meet outside of an established structure. As a librarian and member of the faculty at my institution, their stance on assessment creates some internal tension. While it is ideal for our administrations to care about the issues that are closest to their faculty’s hearts, many times they are driven to lead assessment efforts as a result of an impending accreditation visit (Gilchrist 71; Hatfield 5). While I would love to say that information literacy matters to my administration just as much as it does to me, this is an unrealistic viewpoint. The development, assessment, and day-to-day oversight of information literacy is an uphill battle that requires me to take the lead. My library faculty and I must establish value for our information literacy program among the faculty that we partner with on a daily basis. So, how do we as librarians assess the University Libraries’ impact on student learning when information literacy sessions are unevenly represented across the curriculum? In a conversation with a colleague in the Education Department, I was encouraged to determine and assess all forms of learning that the library facilitates by nature of its multidisciplinary role. In Brenda H. Manning and Beverly D. Payne’s article “A Vygotskian-Based Theory of Teacher Cognition: Toward the Acquisition of Mental Reflection and Self-Regulation,” they write:

    Because of the spiral restructuring of knowledge, based on the history of each individual as he or she remembers it, a sociohistorical/cultural orientation may be very appropriate to the unique growth and development of each teaching professional. Such a theory in Vygotsky’s sociohistorical explanation for the development of the mind. In other words, the life history of preservice teachers is an important predictor of how they will interpret what it is that we are providing in teacher preparation programs (362).

    My colleague in the Education Department challenged me to think about the multiple points of contact that students have with the library, outside of the one-shot information literacy session and include those in our assessment.

    As a result, I developed curriculum and assessment maps that not only contained a list of courses in which specific PLSLOs were advanced, but also began including assessment of data from LibGuides, gate count, interlibrary loan, course reserve, biennial library survey, and website usability testing on the maps as well. All of these statistics can be tied to student-centered learning. Assessment of them enables my library faculty and I to make changes in the way that we market services and resources to constituents.

    The maps illustrated in Table 1 and Table 2 below are intentionally simplistic. They  provide the library liaisons and faculty in their liaison areas with a visual overview of the  information literacy PLSLOs taught and assessed. When the University Libraries moved to the liaison model in 2011, the librarian teaching education majors was not necessarily familiar with the PLSLOs advanced  by the library liaison to the Language & Literature Department. Mapping current library involvement in the curriculum created a shared knowledge of PLSLOs among the library faculty. I also asked each librarian to create a lesson plan, which we published on the University Libraries’ website. Since we utilize the letter “x” to denote PLSLOs covered, rather than letters that display the  depth of coverage – introduction, reinforcement, mastery, lesson plans provide the librarians and their faculty with a detailed outline of how the PLSLO is developed in the classroom.

    Apart from the general visual appeal, these maps also enable us to recognize holes in our information literacy program. For example, there are several departments that are not listed on the curriculum map because we do not currently provide instruction in these classes. Many of the classes that we visit with are freshman and sophomore level. It helps us to identify areas that we need to target moving forward, such as juniors through graduate students.

    Table 1-Adapted Curriculum Map

    Table 1-Adapted Curriculum Map – Click to enlarge

    Table 2 reveals a limited number of courses we hope to assess in the upcoming year. In discussions with library faculty, I quickly discovered that it was more important to start assessing, rather than assess every class we are involved in at present. We can continue to build in formal assessments over time, but for now the important thing is to begin the process of evaluating the learning process, so that we can make modifications to more effectively impact student learning (Oakleaf & Kaske 283).

    The University Libraries is a unique entity in comparison to the other academic units represented across campus. This is largely because information literacy is not a core curriculum requirement. As a result, some of the PLSLOs reflected on the assessment map include data collected outside of the traditional classroom that is specific to the services, resources, and educational opportunities that we facilitate. This is best demonstrated by PLSLOs two and five. For example, we know that students outside of our sessions are using the LibGuides and databases, which are integral to PLSLO two – “The student will be able to use sources in research.” For PLSLO five – “The student will be able to identify the library as a place in the learning process” we are not predominantly interested in whether or not students are using our electronic classrooms during an information literacy session. We are interested in students’ awareness and use of the physical and virtual library as a whole, so we are assessing student learning by whether or not students can find what they need on the University Libraries’ website or whether they utilize the University Libraries’ physical space in general.

    Table 2 - Adapted Assessment Map (First Half)

    Table 2-Adapted Assessment Map (First Half) – Click to enlarge

    Table 2 - Adapted Assessment Map (Second Half)

    Table 2-Adapted Assessment Map (Second Half) – Click to enlarge

    Transparency in the Assessment Process

    Curriculum and assessment maps provide librarians and educators alike with the opportunity to be transparent about the learning that is or is not happening inside and outside of the classroom. I am grateful for the information I have gleaned from the Education Department at SBU along the way because it has inspired a newfound commitment and dedication to the students that we serve.

    Although curriculum and assessment mapping is not widespread in the academic library world, some information literacy practitioners have readily embraced this concept. For example, in Brian Matthews and Char Booth’s invited paper, presented at the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference (CARL), Booth discusses her use of the concept mapping software, Mindomo, to help library and departmental faculty visualize current curriculum requirements, as well as opportunities for library involvement in the education process (6). Some sample concept maps that are especially interesting include one geared towards first-year students and another customized to the Environmental Analysis program at Claremont Colleges (Booth & Matthews 8-9). The concept maps then link to rubrics that are specific to the programs highlighted. Booth takes a very visual and interactive approach to curriculum mapping.

    In their invited paper, “A More Perfect Union: Campus Collaborations for Curriculum Mapping Information Literacy Outcomes,” Moser et al. discuss the mapping project they undertook at the Oxford College of Emory University. After revising their PLSLOs, the librarians met with departmental faculty to discuss where the library’s PLSLOs were currently introduced and reinforced in the subject areas. All mapping was then done in Weave (Moser et al. 333). While the software Emory University utilizes is a subscription service, Moser et al. provide a template of the curriculum mapping model they employed (337).

    So, which of the mapping systems discussed is the best fit for your institution? This is something that you will want to determine based on the academic environment in which you find yourself. For example, does your institution subscribe to mapping software like Emory University or will you need to utilize free software to construct concept maps like Claremont Colleges? Another factor to keep in mind is what model will make the most sense to your librarians and the subject faculty they partner with in the classroom. As long as the maps created are clear to the audiences that they serve, the format they take is irrelevant. In Janet Hale’s book, A Guide to Curriculum Mapping: Planning, Implementing, and Sustaining the Process, she discusses several different kinds of maps for the K-12 setting. While each map outlined contains benefits, she argues that the “Final selection should be based on considering the whole mapping system’s capabilities” (Hale 228).

    The curriculum and assessment mapping models I have used for the information literacy competency program at SBU reflect the basic structure laid out by the Assessment Academy Team at my institution. I have customized the maps to reflect the ways the University Libraries facilitates and desires to impact student  learning inside and outside of the classroom. In an effort to foster collaboration and create more visibility for the Information Literacy Competency Program, I have created two LibGuides that are publicly available to our faculty, students, and the general public. The first one, which is entitled  Information Literacy Competency Program, consists of PLSLOs, our curriculum and assessment maps, outlines of all sessions taught, etc. The Academic Program Review LibGuide provides an overview of the different ways that we are assessing student learning – including website usability testing feedback, annual information literacy reports and biennial student survey reports. Due to confidentiality, all reports are accessible via the University’s intranet.

    Acknowledging the Imperfections of Curriculum and Assessment Mapping

    Curriculum and assessment mapping is not an exact science. I wish I could bottle it up and distribute a finished product to all of  the information literacy librarians out there who grapple with the imprecision of our profession. While it would eliminate our daily struggle, it would also lead to the discontinuation of  Eureka moments that we all experience as we grow with and challenge the academic cultures in which we find ourselves.

    So, what have I learned as a result of the mapping process? It requires collaboration on the part of library and non-library faculty. When I began curriculum and assessment mapping, I learned pretty quickly that without the involvement of each liaison librarian and the departmental faculty, mapping would be in vain. Map structures must be based on the pre-existing partnerships librarians have, but will identify gaps or areas of growth throughout the curriculum. I would love to report that our curriculum maps encompass the entire curriculum at SBU, but that would be a lie. Initially, I did a content analysis of the curriculum and reviewed syllabi for months in an effort to develop well-rounded maps. I learned all too quickly, however, that mapping requires us to work with what we already have and set goals for the future. So, while the University Libraries’ maps are by no means complete, I have challenged each liaison librarian to identify PLSLOs they can advance in the classroom now, while looking for new ways to impact student learning moving forward.

    During the mapping process, I was overwhelmed by the fact that the University Libraries was unable to represent student learning in the same way the other academic departments across campus did. I liked the thought of creating maps identifying the introduction, reinforcement, and mastery of certain skill sets throughout students’ academic tenure with us. However, I quickly realized that this was impractical because it does not take into account the variables that librarians encounter, such as one-shot sessions, uneven representation in each section of a given class, transfer students, and learning scenarios that happen outside of the classroom itself. Using the “x” to define areas where our PLSLOs are currently impacting student learning was much less daunting and far more practical.

    It is important to anticipate pushback in the mapping process (Moser et al. 333-334; Sterngold 86-88). When I began attending the Department Chair Workshops in 2013, I quickly discovered that not all of the other departmental faculty were amenable to my presence. One individual asked why I was attending, while another questioned my boss about my expertise in higher education. In the assessment mapping process, faculty in my library liaison area were initially  reluctant to collaborate with me on assessing student work. Despite some faculty’s resistance, I was determined to persevere. As a result of the workshops, I established a Community of Practice with faculty in the Education Department and grew more confident in my role as an educator.

    I know that there are gaps in the maps, but I have come to terms with the healthy tension that this knowledge creates. While I have a lot more to learn about information literacy, learning theory, curriculum and assessment mapping, etc., I no longer feel under-qualified. As an academic, I continue to glean knowledge from my fellow librarians and the Education Department, looking for opportunities to make modifications as necessary. I have reconciled with the fact that this is a continual process of recognizing gaps in my professional practice and identifying opportunities for change. After all, that is what education is all about, right?

    Many thanks to Annie Pho, Ellie Collier, and Carrie Donovan for their tireless editorial advice. I would like to extend a special thank you to my Library Dean, Dr. Ed Walton for believing in my ability to lead information literacy efforts at Southwest Baptist University Libraries back in 2011 when I was fresh out of library school. Last, but certainly not least, my gratitude overflows to the educators at my present institution who helped me to wrap my head around curriculum and assessment mapping. Assessment is no longer a scary thing because I now have a plan!

    Works Cited

    Booth, Char, and Brian Matthews. “Understanding the Learner Experience: Threshold Concepts & Curriculum Mapping.” California Academic & Research Libraries Conference.
    San Diego, CARL: 7 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

    “Create a Curriculum Map: Aligning Curriculum with Student Learning Outcomes.” Office of Assessment. Santa Clara University, 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

    “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” 2015. Association of College and Research Libraries. 11 Mar. 2015.

    Gilchrist, Debra. “A Twenty Year Path: Learning About Assessment; Learning from Assessment.” Communications in Information Literacy 3.2 (2009): 70-79. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

    Gregory, Lua, and Shana Higgins. Introduction. Information Literacy and Social Justice: Radical Professional Praxis. Ed. Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins. Sacramento: Library Juice. 1-11. Library Juice Press. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

    Hale, Janet A. A Guide to Curriculum Mapping: Planning, Implementing, and Sustaining the Process. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2008. Print.

    Hatfield, Susan. “Assessing Your Program-Level Assessment Plan.” IDEA Paper. 45 (2009): 1-9. IDEA Center. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

    Hayes-Jacobs, Heidi. Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004. eBook Academic Collection. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

    —. Mapping the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum & Assessment K-12. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1997. Print.

    “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” 2000. Association of College & Research Libraries. 11 Mar. 2015.

    Levine, Arthur. Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. Print.

    Manning, Brenda H., and Beverly D. Payne. “A Vygotskian-Based Theory of Teacher Cognition: Toward the Acquisition of Mental Reflection and Self-Regulation.” Teaching and Teacher Education 9.4 (1993): 361-372. Web. 25 May 2012.

    Mitchell, John. The Potential for Communities of Practice to Underpin the National Training Framework. Melbourne: Australian National Training Authority. 2002. John Mitchell & Associates. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

    Moser, Mary, Andrea Heisel, Nitya Jacob, and Kitty McNeill. “A More Perfect Union: Campus Collaborations for Curriculum Mapping Information Literacy Outcomes.” Association of College and Research Libraries Conference. Philadelphia, ACRL: Mar.-Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

    Oakleaf, Megan, and Neal Kaske. “Guiding Questions for Assessing Information Literacy in Higher Education.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 9.2 (2009): 273-286. Web. 21 Dec. 2011.

    Perkins, David. Archimedes’ Bathtub: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Print.

    Reiss, Rick. “Before and After Students ‘Get It': Threshold Concepts.” Tomorrow’s Professor Newsletter 22.4 (2014): n. pag. Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

    Sterngold, Arthur H. “Rhetoric Versus Reality: A Faculty Perspective on Information Literacy Instruction.” Defining Relevancy: Managing the New Academic Library. Ed. Janet McNeil Hurlbert. West Port: Libraries Unlimited, 2008. 85-95. Google Book Search. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

    Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. ebrary. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

  • Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship

    June 3, 2015

    Library books in black and white
    Image by Flickr user tweng (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    In Brief:

    Despite the growing body of research on our professional demographics and multi-year diversity initiatives, librarianship in the United States remains overwhelmingly white. I suggest the interview process is a series of repetitive gestures designed to mimic and reinforce white middle class values, which ultimately influence the hiring decisions—and relative lack of diversity—of librarianship as a whole. I consider how the whiteness of librarianship may manifest long before the hiring process. By identifying and interrogating the body of white, middle class values inherent to both librarianship and professional job searching, I offer suggestions to encourage an authentically diverse pool of applicants.

    Defining Whiteness

    Whiteness is a shifting status bestowed by those in power, intertwined with class relationships and the production of structural inequalities. See the transformation of Italian, German, Irish, and Polish people from white ethnics to white over the 20th century in the United States. “The Italian comes in at the bottom, and in the generation that came over the sea he stays there. In the slums he is welcomed as a tenant who ‘makes less trouble’ than the contentious Irishman or the order-loving German.” (Riis, 1890)

    For the sake of brevity, whiteness in this essay means: white, heterosexual, capitalist, and middle class. Whiteness is “ideology based on beliefs, values behaviors, habits and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege.” (http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness) Beliefs, values behaviors, habits, and attitudes become gestures, enactments, and unconsciously repetitive acts which reinforce hegemony.

    Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias

    Librarianship is paralyzed by whiteness. This will continue unabated without interrogating structures that benefit white librarians, including the performative nature of recruitment and hiring. The interview and academic job talk conceal institutional bias under the guise of “organizational fit” or a candidate’s “acceptability”, while the act of recruiting presents an aspirational version of the library to candidates.

    The standing-room-only presentation at Association of College & Research Libraries 2015 on the experience of academic librarians of color suggests librarianship is at least aware of its demographics. Some libraries are attempting to recruit broader pools of applicants, with a few offering ever-popular diversity residencies and fellowships. The fellowship model is mutually beneficial and offers chances to experiment with otherwise risky initiatives. However, fellowships mask precarity under the illusion of faculty status and support, when librarians accepting these positions may have neither (Salo, 2013).

    While recruiting initiatives and fellowships are reasonable starting points, they become meaningless gestures for institutions which screen on performing whiteness. These actions are further undermined by framing diversity as a problem to be solved rather than engaging in reflective work to dismantle institutional bias. Framing diversity as the problem implicitly suggests a final outcome, locating responsibility and discomfort away from white librarians while marginalizing colleagues who do not perform whiteness to the satisfaction of gatekeepers.

    Finally, when librarians who are not white and middle class arrive, they are alienated as “the diversity hire”, erasing their skills, talents, and expertise (Sendula, 2015). Librarians with visible minority status are assigned more work, as many marginalized librarians are appointed to diversity and hiring committees by default. This strands non-white and middle class librarians in a “murky place between gratitude and anger” (Bennett, 2015) as their visibility changes to suit the needs of the organization. That librarianship remains overwhelmingly white suggests marginalized librarians are seen when the institution finds it convenient, but rarely heard during critical stages of the hiring process.

    The current librarian job market solicits performance and creates barriers to entry in three ways: cultural negotiation, conspicuous leisure, and access to wealth.


    Image by Flickr user wolframburner (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Barriers to Entry


    The whiteness of librarianship begins long before the job application process, as traditionally underrepresented students come to university systems with varying experiences in libraries. Conclusions on this subject vary: libraries can be a source of anxiety for marginalized students (Haras, Lopez & Ferry, 2008); the university library can feel overwhelming compared to underfunded or nonexistent K-12 libraries (Adkins and Hussey, 2006); or the library as a site of abundance and discovery. Nearly all scholarship on the subject agrees the library is a site where information seeking and cultural hegemony are negotiated (Long, 2011; Sadler and Bourg, 2015). For marginalized students, an academic library may be the largest they’ve ever encountered. “For students from a nondominant culture, knowing how to use library resources is not merely about finding information but also about navigating culture.” (Adkins and Hussey, 2006)

    White Savior narratives are found throughout librarianship, where white librarians are framed as benevolent actors toward people of color, who “lack the agency necessary to enact positive changes in their own lives. The underlying assumption is that people of color, on their own, fail to enact resilience,resistance, and success…Any achievements in these areas seem to result from the initiatives of the white savior.” (Cammarota, 2011)

    Rather than disarm the “structural, systemic, oppressive conditions disproportionately affecting the most economically disadvantaged people”(Groski, 2008) the middle class White Savior perpetuates myths about poverty. Marginalized patrons in libraries become the saved and lifted, without necessarily seeing themselves in the space of the library.

    Students not reflected in the culture of the library are unlikely to see librarianship as a possibility (Williams and Van Arnhem, 2015). Marginalized students employed outside the university system face additional barriers as their work typically does not cultivate the development of a white collar professional identity. The hospitality industry, food service work, call centers, and other low income employment offers prescriptive identities, removing most agency from the employee. Marginalized students in graduate programs arrive after enduring lifetimes of institutionalized oppression surrounding their origins, with a painful awareness the they of “professional language” refers to themselves (Overall, 1995; Johnson Black, 1995; Bennett, 2014).

    Moving from a prescriptive work environment to a professional one requires a certain amount of socialization into white culture. I don’t think of myself as an ex-hotel night clerk, but will always be a librarian even if my job title doesn’t reflect this. Librarianship is not simply what we do at work but a component of how we identify as people (Gonzalez-Smith, Swanson & Tanaka, 2014). This creates a dissonant sense of self and belonging in the profession, when our identity does not conform to professional expectations, “worldviews, or emotional orientations” (Costello, 2005).

    Librarians themselves manufacture the culture of whiteness, with its ever-shifting criteria and continuous trading in surfaces (Ewen, 1988). Our policies embrace the fiction of neutrality, while our spaces, practices, and culture are not neutral entities (Sadler and Bourg, 2015). The idea of library-as-neutral is seductive because of its usefulness and minimal intellectual effort required from white librarians: neutrality is the safest position for libraries because it situates whiteness not only as default, but rewards and promotes white cultural values.

    Whiteness-as-default allowed the conversation about 2015’s Banned Books Week poster to incorrectly assume no Muslim women were part of the image’s construction, effectively acknowledging librarianship’s tendency to reproduce inequalities and in many cases manufacture them in our systems and practices. From organizational structures and descriptions, to images and policy, librarians engage numerous fictions upholding cultural hegemony (Drabinski, 2013).

    “Libraries and professional organizations have put together documents and policies on information ethics and intellectual freedom in an attempt to broaden the professional perspective. While these are important policies and procedures, they still reinforce cultural hegemony as they are primarily written in the language of those in power. For example, statements on professional ethics are put together by professional organizations, the overwhelming majority of whose members are white. Intellectual freedom is influenced by the discursive formations of those who write and enforce these policies. It is those in power who decide what level of intellectual freedom the library will support.” (Adkins and Hussey, 2006)

    While librarians may fill social media with images of what librarians look like, our professional organizations and policy language articulate further what successful librarians look like: how they organize, what voices are heard, how they construct strategy, which crisis are acceptable to address and which should be suppressed under tone arguments or claims of unprofessional behavior.

    The fiction of neutrality became apparent to me as a circulation desk clerk in a large public library system. Over winter break I visited an affluent suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where my partner’s family lives. We toured the public library and I was impressed with the college and career prep resources available. At my home branch I asked if I could make a similar display. I was told “Our kids aren’t really the college type,” and reluctantly allowed to maintain a small collection in the young adult section. This same system employed several librarians who insisted on business wear for work in a casual dress environment, explaining “Children in this neighborhood need a model for what a professional is, because they don’t have contact with any.” Many public library systems continue to address poverty from a deficit theory framework, ignoring the connection between treating poor people as inherently flawed and the profession’s inability to recruit marginalized workers.

    A question posted to Librarian Wardrobe suggests one applicant’s struggle to be comfortable, yet professional during interviews. “I tend towards a ‘soft butch’ style and a very broke budget, but I have a major interview coming up. Any suggestions for an outfit that gets across my personal identity, my willingness to crawl around looking for a book, but also my professionalism?” This poster reveals their gender performance during an interview is necessary to maintain the comfort of others, not to present the ‘authentic self’ search committees claim to want. Their question, like so many others I found during my research, is about this maintenance.

    • How can I be butch, but not too butch?
    • Should I buy a plain band for my left hand if I am unmarried?
    • Should I dye my hair or have it relaxed?
    • How provocative is a suit that isn’t gray, black, or navy?
    • Where can I buy a button down shirt that will not gape at my chest?
    • Will not wearing makeup cost me a job?
    • If transcripts are required, how will I explain a differently gendered name?

    Each question reflects problems about how to address the cultural expectations of whiteness in the context of othered bodies. Librarians who wear natural hair, whose shape/stature make it difficult to find professional dress, or librarians with disabilities have found their bodies as they exist to be deemed unprofessional. Rather than assign this failure to designers’ inability to account for variations in bodies, this is passed on to applicants. Few blame manufacturers for ill-fitting suits. We blame bodies for not conforming to them.

    Such anxieties are pervasive, even when acknowledged. In 2014, I sat on a panel discussing gender, agency, and resistance where one presenter–a scholar from India–expressed concern in the context of her research how wearing a sari during her talk would mean risking objectification and dismissal in a room full of feminist folklorists. The academic job talk is similarly concerning, as the growing tendency to record and make available such talks transforms the interview process into a mediated performance. An intellectual understanding of bias isn’t enough, it must be interrogated to dismantle the mechanisms which produce bias.

    Conspicuous Leisure and Wealth

    In flooded job markets, barriers to entry can include requiring prior library service for any library job. While MLIS students benefit from on the job experience, such screening policies would exclude promising applicants unable to enroll in face-to-face programs: rural students, students with nonstandard work schedules, students with family obligations, students transitioning careers, and other MLIS-holders outside the fictions of “ideal worker” (Davies, 2014).

    Hiring Librarians has documented responses from hiring managers claiming students in online programs cannot work in teams or learn effectively, when many students choose online programs for the exact opposite reasons. As with myths about poverty which overshadow the well-established resourcefulness of poor students, online MLIS students are dismissed as asocial and not “team players”. Bias against online MLIS students is especially harmful to rural and underfunded libraries, in light of the geography of MLIS-holders (Sin, 2011).

    The reality of post-MLIS education includes thousands of webinars, MOOCs, chats, listservs, virtual meetings, systems work, and other collaborative technologies. Suggesting online programs lack rigor or cannot result in “real” learning is harmful, technophobic, and helps maintain the whiteness of academic libraries. This attitude favors applicants with the wealth and time to enroll in face to face programs, even though very little of their development as librarians occurs in lecture style, classroom settings. “Candidates must prove that they want it enough, prove that they are ‘the best’, where ‘the best’ sometimes just means the most willing and able to work for free” (Hudson, 2014).

    Conspicuous leisure manifests in the time lost learning to perform whiteness and the wealth required to do so effectively. Unpack for a moment what the notion of being “put together” professionally involves: hairstyles, makeup, becoming comfortable in costuming which may or may not be designed for our bodies, voice coaching to eliminate accents and modify tone, time for exercise to appear “healthy”, orthopedics to address poor posture, orthodontics and teeth whitening, eye contacts if our lenses distort our appearance, concealing body modifications, and the countless ways marginalized librarians modify gesture, develop behavioral scripts, and otherwise conceal their authentic selves in the interest of survival.

    Favoring applications with access to time and wealth is a larger manifestation of problems in hiring for libraries: we choose people like us because it is easy, rather than advocating for different views by picking “unfamiliar” candidates who might interrogate the processes. This manifests in micro (but no less harmful) aggressions if librarians who aren’t white and middle class manage to get hired and do not perform to “model minority” standards or otherwise refuse to sit quietly. “Our reviews are full of words like ‘shrill’, ‘abrasive’, ‘hard to work with’, ‘not a team player’, and ‘difficult’. We’re encouraged to be nicer and less intimidating and more helpful. Action items and measurable metrics are nowhere to be found.” (tableflip.club)

    For marginalized librarians, the successful performance of whiteness may include integrating aspects of the self which allow White Saviors to feel good: I am resilient; I overcome; I have transcended my station. Such gestures convey applicants understand the rules of whiteness and hidden curriculum of the academy. Strategically revealed narratives of working nonstandard hours, surviving “bad” neighborhoods, single parents, holding multiple jobs while attending school, and similar stories can become currency in white culture (Cecire, 2015).

    White culture embraces stories of overcoming intense odds while learning to perform whiteness, in the same way it creates and consumes stories of poverty tourism and role play for self-promotion: food stamp challenges, homeless awareness “sleep outs”, and the ever-expanding White Savior industrial complex. Recently, these stories have migrated away from individual librarians to libraries as institutions: media coverage of uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, and others center the library as a character in resiliency narratives. While the institution benefits in the short term from increased attention and support, this reinforces an ongoing messaging problem: libraries are most visible in the context of state sponsored violence. Libraries cannot simply possess inherent value, they must be framed as populist defenders or as sanctuary. Above all else they must struggle.

    By contrast, librarianship assumes access to wealth or tolerance for debt to afford tuition, professional membership, and service opportunities. If I activate my American Library Association membership for all divisions and sections applicable for my job, the annual fee would come to $223 USD. This does not include conference registration fees, travel costs, a safe place to rest, or food. Activity in local and regional groups varies in cost, depending on the organization’s philosophy.

    Competitiveness in the current job market requires at minimum a well-placed practicum experience conducting librarian level work, but only students with access to money can afford to take an unpaid internship. Galleries, libraries, archives, and museums throughout the United States continue exploiting unpaid labor, insuring the pool of well-qualified academic librarians skews white and middle class.

    In the application process, asking for salary history is careless and further privileges a particular kind of applicant. For marginalized hires, salary history is another instance in a lifetime of humiliating scrutiny and surveillance on behalf of the state: the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA), housing vouchers, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), charity organizations, free or reduced cost student lunches, and invasive discussions with intervention professionals. FAFSA and SNAP programs are specific to the United States, but surveillance apparatus can be found wherever the “dole” exists.

    Librarianship as a profession suffers when practitioners conflate sacrifice with worth, as though receiving comparatively lower salaries were justified due to our status as workers with a “calling”. Marginalized librarians–especially women–are taught to avoid negotiation and highlighting their accomplishments, to say nothing of diminished opportunities to build a livable salary history. This is culturally reinforced, as women pay measurable social costs for promoting themselves (Bowles, 2007). Marginalized librarians find themselves trapped in a rigged process: provide salary history and be underpaid, demand more and be rejected, all with the knowledge that salary will provide access to professional development opportunities.

    For marginalized librarians, functioning at work requires navigating white cultural norms, conforming to professional orientations potentially at odds with their identity, taking on the additional work of speaking for an entire group of people (Gonzalez-Smith, Swanson & Tanaka, 2014) and for women, engaging in emotional labor to “be nicer” rather than producing tangible results. Librarianship can claim to recruit a diverse workforce, but without interrogating whiteness, the only winning move for marginalized librarians is not to play. The responsibility of fostering an inclusive workforce must fall to white librarians in power.


    Interrogating Whiteness

    How can we interrogate the process? As I watch other marginalized librarians go through their job searches, a few ideas come to mind:

    • In the absence of paid internships, offer professional development: pay for a conference or workshop attendance fees. If this is not possible, integrate opportunities for networking and mimicking the gestures of professional socialization.
    • Offer hands-on, project driven assignments, and create opportunities to showcase critical thinking and data-driven decision making to interns. Weeding books for three weeks and journaling the experience in a blog is not a solid project, yet I’ve seen this offered as one a half dozen times. Practicum requirements in library and information science graduate programs are meant to be process assignments; a conversation about meaningful, engaging work is part of that process.
    • Offer flexible times for internships. Requiring specific availability is the prerogative of the library, but understand this limits the diversity of your applicant pool. Partial or fully virtual internships offer tremendous opportunities for the library to expand as a truly 24-hour entity.
    • Update boilerplate job descriptions to remove salary history requirements. Given the profession’s reliance on unpaid labor and part-time work, salary history does not reflect individual worth or ability.
    • Screen interview notes for biased language.
    • “Doesn’t seem professional” as criticism without articulating why is a problem.
    • When someone says “I just like them better,” find out why.
    • If search committees consistently defer to one member, find out why.
    • Decide what you are attempting to measure with interview questions. Open-ended questions have answers that feel correct–there’s nothing wrong with behavioral interviews but hiding bias in a “correct” answer or “gut feeling” is a problem.
    • Avoid using White Savior narratives when dealing with communities and patrons in poverty.
    • When seeking marginalized employees to serve on diversity, hiring, or outreach committees, consider if this is the only kind of service work they’re asked to do.  Consistently asking the same people to perform emotional labor causes burnout and suggests the organization is not listening to marginalized staff.
    • Remember diversity is not always visible, and people should not have to disclose their lived experience to be heard by the organization. Provide anonymous options for employee feedback.
    • Give people the power to do their jobs. Actionably curious librarians without basic agency required to explore reskilling and shifting responsibilities causes breathtaking harm to our profession. Research suggests a number of librarians are bypassing this conversation altogether to avoid paternal IT policy, hostile administration, and often both (Yelton, 2015). Librarians in environments with agency and trust consistently build wonderful things.


    Librarianship in the United States lacks diversity because the existing workforce functions within oppressive structures, while the culture of whiteness in libraries maintains them. Recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is the responsibility of all librarians, but this process will move faster with individual voices in power interrogating bias in their practices. While these suggestions are not exhaustive nor universal in their application, I hope they can function as starting points for difficult but necessary discussions.

    Thanks to Cecily Walker, Jessica Olin, and Annie Pho for asking hard questions and wading through my rusty prose. Cecily in particular tolerated many stream-of-consciousness Twitter DMs. This essay would not exist without Stephanie Sendaula, Brit Bennett, and many other librarians and writers whose work shaped my thoughts. I am grateful for the library and information science job seekers who shared their anxieties, their victories, and infectious tenacity.

    Works Cited

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