The OWHL is a “teaching library,” and our teaching mission is to empower our students to create knowledge. Knowledge is created in conversation, through inquiry. As the time draws closer for the Class of 2015 (and for me!) to graduate from the Academy, I have been thinking a lot about how well we have equipped this year’s graduating class for the next challenges they will face.
All the librarians at the OWHL spend a great deal of time helping students find and evaluate sources. Despite the ubiquity of information, “finding” the right sources is often as complicated for our students as deciding which sources they can trust. Too much information, particularly when “bad” information is mixed with “good” information, produces confusion, inefficiency, and less-than-optimal results.
Our students know the OWHL librarians have “information superpowers,” and they have come to count on us for help in navigating the universe of scholarly information. We teach them that finding “the right stuff” involves a process of decisions made within a complex and contextualized set of information that contains both biased and contradictory data. We emphasize that this process is a transferable skill. They may practice the process in the context of a history research paper, but they also will need to use it as they navigate the information overload they encounter everyday.
Sometimes I wonder whether, as an academic community, we place sufficient emphasis on the fact that only a fraction of the information our students encounter on a regular basis is scholarly. Don’t they need to be “information literate” with respect to all forms of discourse? Because our future is in their hands, we need to be certain that our students leave here knowing how to read the newspaper carefully, question what sources were used to support an argument they might come across on a political website, and be aware of bias wherever they find it, whether in a YouTube video, a radio program, written discourse, or their own minds. This is information literacy in action, and the OWHL librarians work hard to support our students in the acquisition of these skills and habits of mind with respect to all the information they encounter as they go about their lives.
As I think about the Class of 2015, I am impressed with how far they have come in four years. And I am proud of the role the OWHL team has played in equipping them to go forth and use information effectively, creatively, and ethically throughout a lifetime of learning.