Authority + Format = … Crossing the Threshold: Workshop #2

Librarians from Ryerson, York, and all three campuses of the University of Toronto came together on July 8th in the second of a series of workshops exploring the ACRL’s threshold concepts for information literacy. The workshop was led by John Bolan of the Bora Laskin Law Library at U of T, and Silvia Vong of the John M. Kelly Library at St. Michael’s College at U of T. Both librarians are currently seconded to the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) at U of T, and have been working extensively with the threshold concepts since the draft framework was released. Like most of our cross-institutional events, there was a lot of collaboration and practical ideas generated from the discussions.

The workshop covered the third and fourth threshold concepts: “Authority is Contextual and Constructed” and “Format as a Process.” In groups of 4-6, we began the workshop by working through what each threshold concept meant to us, and the challenges that each presents in developing and delivering information literacy programming.

A number of themes emerged from these discussions. There were concerns that authority is constructed, but not contextual. That is to say, perceptions of authority are constructed, and often do not change. For example, authority in peer-reviewed publications should not equate with authority in social media and blogging, but often does. Similarly, our group agreed that for faculty members and students, the concept of authority in academia is often an all or nothing perception – you are either authoritative in your discipline, or you are not, regardless of context.

Our group then moved on to discuss how the concepts of authority and format are intertwined and difficult to consider separately. There are also tensions between the two. In one instance, we claim that authority is contextual and can change. Then we claim that the format (arguably the context) should not dictate our evaluation of the content. Since information creators use formats to express themselves (and by extension, become authoritative), these two threshold concepts are in direct contradiction of each other. We grappled with these issues knowing well that others will interpret these threshold concepts and their relationships to each other, differently.

There were a couple of group exercises to help us work through some of our discussion points. In the first activity, we assumed the role of students in an information literacy class. We were faced with a number of different formats to evaluate for a particular purpose, and tasked with choosing the most appropriate source. Each group had book chapters, journal articles, news articles, primary sources, and more, but each had a different assignment. Ours was to select the best source to support our academic research paper, so we chose the book chapter that was closest to our assigned topic.

After some debriefing, we moved on to a second activity where we applied the two threshold concepts to a teaching scenario. One of our group members works in an academic departmental unit, rather than a library, so we chose to apply the threshold concepts to one of her upcoming sessions for faculty members.

As always, the session was productive and helped us work through some of our concerns about the draft framework. I’m looking forward to another great session to explore the remaining two threshold concepts!

Courtney Lundrigan, MA, MLIS
Instructional and Reader Services Librarian
John W. Graham Library
Trinity College in the University of Toronto

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