Not Trying to be Authoritative, Just Sayin’

Posted on 24 August 2017 Thursday


I’m always working on something! One of my current projects involves working with my department members on updating our instructional programming. I look to the new ACRL information literacy framework for my guidance on this. For librarians transitioning from the old standards or even from bibliography instruction this can be a challenge. Our conversation yesterday skirted around the frame that authority is contextual as we talked about finding sources. As we lead students on a search for sources in an academic setting it typically becomes a search for ‘scholarly articles’ and I always question when students really need ‘scholarly articles’ and why. (I’m not at a Yale grad school, y’all.) After yesterday’s meeting concluded I began to ponder when students need to consider the authority of the person who created the piece perhaps a bit more than the authority of the source.

Sources aren’t only journals. They’re wikis, blogs, Tweets (my goodness are they Tweets), videos, sound bites and images. I think sources are also organizations, places and locations. Authority is contextualized in each of these settings and each setting, each organization, maintains its authority based up the people it attracts and the work it produces.

ALA, for instance has authority in libraries because of its members and the work they do for the organization. This includes its divisions, ethnic caucuses and the work they do and yes, I’m getting at ALSC and my friend, Angie Manfredi. I don’t know that I can say much publicly on this because I’m currently serving on a selection committee. I knew going in that I could not review or discuss current books for 12-18 year olds. I had to think about that because so few blogs do what I do. The restrictions have proven to be greater than that, I’m sure you’ve noticed I am not listing current releases or reviewing MG titles either. Social media really complicates what is and isn’t ethical for committee members to do, particularly in a profession that values free speech. There have been times I’ve bitten my tongue to not say something, to not share that book I’ve just loved or hated but … authority here comes from being seen as ethical and that authority extends to my committee and the work I do. This is how I make my decisions. Angie has been completely transparent throughout this process. I think that’s one reason why she’s so loved: because she is so open. I have absolutely no reason to judge her.

I will have more to say on this come February, do come back! Oh, no revelations about intense conversations, bribery or extortion. Just a few things that I think anyone can see even now and would call to question.

Some places that provide information have more authority than others. How we view source authority depends on how we’ll use that information. Academics have a very difficult time transitioning from scholarly, peer reviewed articles as a gold standard, even though these sources still merit evaluation! Would Dr. Gabrielle Halko’s listserv posts really be less authoritative than her professional journal articles? Why does the source still matter so heavily? Her posts are critiqued (not reviewed) in real time and in the open. Yes, this is a very simplistic take on digital scholarship, but the conversation needs a start.

We’re losing another listserv; Child_lit is calling it quits. While there has been much speculation about the cause of its termination, I do know others have fallen away claiming people are turning to Facebook and Twitter for discussion. But, these networking sites aren’t quite the same. While blogs and microblogs are changing scholarly communication in so many ways and are important outlets to professionals, listservs are the places that uniquely bring together people in the same field with a variety of perspectives and in real time. We need places where we can expand, explore, excite and examine authority.

And, I still need to plan a workshop.

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Posted in: Me Being Me