Posts Tagged 'information literacy'

Faculty liaison: a mist-stick revelation

A thought-provoking post over at The Social Justice Librarian, which raises the issue that has most concerned this liaison librarian for the past months. Not exactly “Will they like me?” but a generalized anxiety about my ability to break through to the profs at the Faculty of Pharmacy. It’s been a hard year of snakes and ladders. I’ve had to be someone who, as Dryden wrote, “outweeps an hermit and outprays a saint” (Annus Mirabilis, 261).

guns&rosesWhile I’m fizzing with ideas about fast-forwarding the Information Literacy Revolution and infiltrating the Pharmacy curriculum, I’m sanguine enough to know that my colleagues across the street do not wake up each morning wondering what they can do for a librarian. Nor do they join the IL cadres in the square at dawn for vigorous calisthenics, roaring out the slogan of the day: “Recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Can’t you just see that inscribed for the masses in jagged characters on some monstrous red billboard?

Good liaison work requires disciplined effort. Look at the busy-as-bees Bolsheviks, who were always issuing directives like “the lower organs of the party must make even greater efforts to penetrate the backward parts of the proletariat.” How, short of forced exile to the Googlag, do I get my faculty colleagues to believe in information literacy and insert it into the curriculum?

At this year’s Canadian Health Libraries Association conference in Winnipeg ideas were spewed out in great wodges on the subject of getting librarians out of the library and into the classroom. The Latin root of “liaison” is ambivalent: it means a binding together, but it can also denote a ligature that ties off understanding between sides. How to get it right? The debate was stimulating, although at times during the exchanges I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s criticism of John Dryden: that he was more delighted with the fertility of his invention than mortified by the prostitution of his judgement.

As a librarian in one institution who has a second job as a teacher in another (“I am the faculty we complain about”), our Social Justice blogger provides a valuable perspective. As she sees it, the liaison waters are troubled, full of whirling whys and wherefores and awkward whences and whereuntos. She voices her divided sympathies about the need for a librarian in the lecture hall, confessing that if as a teacher she is left to seek out a librarian on her own, it may never happen – for reasons of time, priority setting, and a vague unpersuadedness. Here is how the post ends:

If this is how I feel, when I really look at myself critically, I am quite concerned about what faculty who haven’t been through library school think about the value of bringing a librarian into their classes.

If we can’t even convince me, and I’m one of us, how the heck are we going to convince other faculty members of the value of working with librarians?


The following is not meant to sound like a pep talk, but to do that kind of convincing successfully, I believe, is more than printing business cards, sending a few tepid emails, and affirming ourselves in the mirror each morning. It’s not that we’re good enough, smart enough, and, doggone it, not responsible for the destruction of the library of Alexandria. How did St. Patrick convert the Irish, St. Augustine the Angles, St. Cyril the Slavs? Miracles. They excelled at what a cynic would call conjuring tricks. (Sadly, these are not included in the curricula of today’s infosci faculties.) Behind their smoke and mirrors these great saints must also have been whiplash smart, good public speakers, and savvy manipulators.

St-Pat-driving-snakesWe need some of that magic. Besides dotting our evidence-based i’s and crossing our core competency t’s, we must perform a little prestidigitization with our academic colleagues. We have to blow them away with the keenness of our skills, the depth of our knowledge, the sparkle of our eloquence, and our absolute conviction. We need good marketing and brand recognition, while taking care to translate our concepts into language faculty can relate to. Let’s not forget how an advertising campaign can go horribly wrong. Years ago Clairol introduced a new curling iron to the German market as the “Mist Stick,” not realizing that in the German language Mist means “manure” and sticken means “to embroider.” The product, it need scarcely be mentioned, had little subliminal mystical appeal in the land of the Teutons. (An old Irish Catholic joke: Definition of mysticism: seventy per cent mist – the foggy dew type – and thirty per cent schism.)

It wasn’t mystical powers that earned me some acceptance in my faculty, but my persistent marketing campaign appears to have been effective. I have no magical crozier to swing, but I can search, surf, cite, retrieve, compute, social mediate and PowerPoint better than they can. I was able to convince them that I was someone who could stick it to information illiteracy. The result? A small miracle. There are no snakes slithering through the faculty halls.

Threading the web

Persian manuscript, ca. 1400-1500The word I have chosen as the title of this blog possesses an unusual etymology: Latin gossypium, cotton, and Swahili boma, an enclosure. The word gossypiboma denotes a mass of cotton (or any foreign body) that is retained in the body following surgery. There is an interesting literature on the medical outcomes of this rare example of surgical oversight.

Information literacy is the essential competency of our time, but one of the least recognized. What is it about human beings that most of us are quite willing to admit that we haven’t yet achieved physical perfection or absolute knowledge but blunder happily about the web with two fingers and a one-or-two-word Google search strategy? Health librarians like me work very hard to convince people that learning how to complain about their boss or their bunions on Facebook does not make them information literate. Often our interventions are met with the IDHTFT (I Don’t Have Time For This) brush-off or the IAOTI (It’s All On The Internet) dismissal.

Just because we know how to sew on a button doesn’t mean we’re ready to close in surgery. We might even have left behind a gossypiboma. When it comes to information, most of us are amateurs, and even proud to be acknowledged as such. Fortunately for the health care system, real gossypibomas are quite rare. But think of the consequences of real information illiteracy: the countless lost stitches of the googled web, the hopeless weaving in every digital direction, the impacted wads of fruitless investigation, the wasted time. This blog is dedicated to threading the web more intelligently, getting our work done efficiently with the right resources, and knowing how to close. Our motto: no twine left behind.


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