All posts by troyswanson

Growing Nerd Communities by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

This week my library held our annual Graphic Novel Symposium, which was a great program emphasizing diversity, creativity, and community . This event is essentially a mini con but is aimed at the curriculum. The conversations were thoughtful and engaging, and I thought that TTW readers may enjoy them. Here are the links:

Graphic Novels and Their Use as Tools of Tolerance and Diversity Eric Kallenborn, Ronell Whitaker, and Claire Overton
YouTube Link:

Generation Next: How to Keep Nerd Communities Growing
Carlye Frank, Dawn Xiana Moon, Michi Trota, and Ytasha Woman
YouTube Link:

From Pencils to Print: Small Press Comics and Publishing
David Gruba, Rene Castellano, Jacob Way, and Samantha Amborn
YouTube Link:

Building Comics: Constructing Visual Narratives
Adam Fotos
YouTube Link:


Troy Swanson

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Teaching Students About Information: A Reading List by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Since Heather Jagman and I co-edited our book Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Thing About Information, I have enjoyed several email exchanges with librarians around the country focusing on topics of the book. The larger theme of these conversations center on the larger concepts around information literacy beyond the mechanics of searching. It seems that our profession SwansonJagman300has long recognized that information literacy is more than using a library, and it is more than just searching Google. But, we are just now entering a time of broader discussion about the dispositions, modes of thinking, and levels of understanding that underlie information literacy.

During my conversations, several other books kept coming up as suggestions for further reading. I thought it might be fun to list out a few of these. I am sure that there are many titles out there, so feel free to add to this list in the comments below. I find these useful as starting points for many librarians (especially newer librarians) who may not have explored ideas of authority, credibility, epistemology, constructivism, and many related topics.  Most these are are written for popular audiences so they move faster and are enjoyable. (I have several as audio books.) There are scholarly treatises out there, but these books do the job.

True Enough: Learning to LIve in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracy — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

Second-Hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority by Patrick Wilson

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room by David Weinberger

The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson

The Information: A History, A Theory, a Flood by James Gleick


Troy Swanson

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Interview with Author José Ángel N. by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

For me, summer time is important prep time as we get ready for our fall programming. This year, our One Book, One College program is looking at the book Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant by José Ángel N. who is an alum. This book was suggested by several of our faculty .

To promote the programming for the academic year, a couple colleagues and I interviewed our One Book author. It was a fun and meaningful conversation. I thought it would be fun to share this with all of you Tame the Web readers. I love tinkering around with videos like this.

Interview with One Book Author José Ángel N.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Practicing Critical Information Literacy by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

This is an interview I did with Brian Mathews originally posted on  his blog The Ubiquitous Librarian which is part of the Chronicle Higher Education blog network.   His blog (which has been awesome for many years) will soon end as the Chronicle ends its blog network, so Brian gave me permission to also post the interview here. I am appreciative of the good and honest thinking Brian has provided our profession over the years.

BM: You have stated that librarians have long been champions of intellectual freedom and that you see critical information literacy as an extension of this value. Could you tell me more about that?

TS: I have always felt that the value of critical information literacy(applying critical pedagogy to information literacy) is as a lens through which to view the cycle of information production within society. Information products (whether online or in a physical container) are not apolitical. They are produced through systems that carry biases, barriers to access, and interest in maintaining existing power structures. A critical information literacy approach provides an opportunity to examine the power structures that underpin the information production process.

As you note, librarians have long been champions of intellectual freedom, and I see critical information literacy as an extension of this value. It is a way for us to consider what “freedom” means within the context of the information ecosystem. Some voices are privileged over others. In higher education, we often privilege some forms of publication over others. Sometimes we privilege the voice of the expert over that of the novice. In other cases, those with means have the ability to produces information where those without means do not. Critical information literacy can act as mechanism to hold conversations about this system and evaluate the reasons for this privilege.

BM: Can you provide an example of this in practice?

TS: One of the best examples that I have been part of was an examination of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in a modern world history class. The history instructor and I had students conduct research utilizing news coverage from the time and contrasting with the interpretations of historians. The students worked to layout the course of events, while also looking at what was actually reported as the horrific events unfolded. We asked the students to try to understand why there were significant holes in the reporting and why the Western world (especially the US) did not act.  The students came to very complex understandings that moved beyond pointing fingers and toward reflection on the goals of the players involved.

The goal was not to say that the media was bad or that the US should have taken specific actions, but to recognize the power relations, worldviews, and political factors that enabled or prevented action. In terms of information literacy, the students recognized the ways that historians worked to outline events, they examined the choices made by media at the time when it came to reporting, they examined the remarks made by world leaders, and they reflected on their own values in terms of the US acting in the world.

This example follows a critical perspective, because the instructor and I did not impose our worldviews in the process. We set up the direction, but we did not offer judgment. We allowed our students to define the relationships and create their own understandings. Obviously, critical pedagogy is not the only way to create assignments like this, but this was the avenue we used.

BM: You wrote one of the early articles about critical theory and library instruction. Any thoughts on that effort ten years later? How have your thoughts about the topic evolved? And do you see momentum around the ideas now?

TS: I am very excited by the energy around critical information literacy. There’s a new generation of librarians really exploring the topic and giving it new life. The ways that it has been extended to connect with feminist pedagogy and other areas of learning theory have great promise. I have participated in some of the #CritLib chats on Twitter. They are amazing, and I can’t help but think back to 2002 and 2003 when there were only a handful of folks thinking about critical pedagogy and information literacy.

BM: Do you have any concerns about the direction of critical information literacy?

TS: One fear or concern that I have with some adaptations of critical pedagogy to information literacy is this can become an opportunity to jump up on a political soapbox. Clearly, the examination of the power structures at work within information systems is an inherently political act. But if we are not careful, this can sometimes take on a very judgmental tone. This can be judgmental of students and of colleagues. I worry that students who enter our institutions with different beliefs will not engage in true dialog. I have written about some of these concerns in the Accardi, Drabinski, andKumbier book on critical information literacy.

BM: You recently co-edited a new collection with Heather Jagman(DePaul University) called Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information. Tell me about the book? How does this relate to critical information literacy?  

TS: This book is not specifically focused on critical pedagogy, although some contributors do utilize the approach. I have been very interested in how we teach students about information literacy. This was one of my interests that brought me to critical pedagogy, but I have also been interested in cognitive authority in a broader sense.

  • Why do we trust some sources over others?
  • How do our beliefs, values, and worldviews inform our information sources?
  • How do we get students to reflect on the impact that their own beliefs have on their interactions with sources?

I definitely did not have the answers to these questions, so I asked Heather Jagman to help me find some people who did (or at least people who were trying to work toward answers). The contributors are fantastic, and the chapters range from very theoretical to very practical.

BM: Anything you want to share about the ACRL Information Literacy Framework?

TS: I was very honored to be part of the ACRL Task Force. We really worked to make the writing process open and as responsive as possible. It is great to see how the Framework is moving forward as more librarians and educators take it and apply it to their local settings. In terms of critical pedagogy, some librarians have criticized the Framework because it is institutional in nature, and therefore, part of a larger power structure. This disqualifies the Framework right away for some practitioners because they say it is too removed from critical practice in a living world.  On the other hand, I hear from others who say that the Framework is too loose and fails by not setting firm standards that everyone can follow.

Troy SwansonThe intention of the Task Force was to offer something that moved away from standards. The Framework is intended to be applied locally and calls from local campuses to write their own learning outcomes while still offering a big picture (framework) that connected the diversity of higher education institutions. The Framework is more inline with critical practice than most other definitions of information literacy.

Generally, I think that the Framework’s real contribution is that it moves away from the purely mechanical aspects of information literacy toward a more conceptual approach. The previousInformation Literacy Standards had many conceptual aspects to them and the Framework takes a further step. Time will tell how the concepts need to evolve and grow.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

What’s the big idea?! Incorporating Threshold Concepts Keynote (post by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson)

Amy Hofer, Sylvia Lu, and Lori Townsend’s keynote at the 2015 Information Literacy Summit (Illinois). They discuss their research and thinking about information literacy threshold concepts, which underlie ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education. The IL Summit is a partnership between the Moraine Valley Community College Library and the DePaul University Libraries.

Description: When introduced to threshold concepts, librarians usually ask “How do I use them?” Yet this question hopscotches another: “Do I understand threshold concepts and how they relate to information literacy?” Threshold concepts are themselves a threshold concept. They are transformative, integrative, irreversible, bounded, troublesome, and – importantly – they take time to traverse. With ACRL’s shift toward more conceptual teaching in the new Framework for Information Literacy, our profession needs to take time to deeply understand what this kind of teaching and learning is all about. We’ll talk about the theory of threshold concepts and making incremental moves towards conceptual teaching and assessment, including how to incorporate the work that instruction librarians already do in this arena and why traditional bibliographic instruction still has a place in our teaching repertoire.

What’s the big idea?! Incorporating Threshold Concepts into Your Teaching Practice

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Not Just Where to Click by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I am very excited to announce the publication of Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information from ACRL. I co-edited this collection with Heather Jagman.


From the ALA Website: Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information explores how librarians and faculty work together to teach students about the nature of expertise, authority, and credibility. It provides practical approaches for motivating students to explore their beliefs, biases, and ways of interpreting the world.

This book also includes chapters that bridge the gap between the epistemological stances and threshold concepts held by librarians and faculty, and those held by students, focusing on pedagogies that challenge students to evaluate authority, connect to prior knowledge and construct new knowledge in a world of information abundance. Authors draw from a deep pool of perspectives including social psychology, critical theory, and various philosophical traditions.

Contributors to the nineteen chapters in this volume offer a balance of theoretical and applied approaches to teaching information literacy, supplying readers with accessible and innovative ideas ready to be put into practice.


Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

The Relationship Model: What Journalism Can Teach Us by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I have been keeping tabs on the state of journalism over the last decade. I do this because it is part of my job as someone who helps build information literacy skills in students, but I also do this because the disruptive forces ripping apart journalism are related to forces impacting libraries. Journalism is at the epicenter of the earthquake, and we’re a bit more removed (so far at least). As media companies implode, merge, vanish, and reappear in new forms, I think it would do libraries well to sit up and take some notes.

One of these opportunities caught my ear when I heard Jeff Jarvis interviewed on WNYC’s On the Media. The interview entitled “Geeks Bearing Gifts”
(same title as his new book) challenges journalists to rethink what it means to cover the news. He discussed “the relationship model” of journalism. I was struck by this approach. It connected so directly to discussions about libraries and community that if I would go through the transcripts of the interview and replace the word “journalism” with “librarianship,” I could probably get it published in the library literature. In the least, I could probably pass it off as something David Lankes, Justin Hoenke, or Michael Stephens might have said.

Jarvis notes, “We have to stop thinking of journalism as a content factory, and we have to rethink it as a service.” He says that in the relationship model of journalism the press becomes a platform for community information. Jarvis uses the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as an example. During this tragic event reporters covered the flooding, damage and drama, but the people on the ground needed actionable information. They needed to find wi-fi to contact loved ones. They needed to know how to get necessities. They needed to know what streets were closed and where to get gas. News outlets repeated stories and warned people of the danger, but they did not act as avenues for the public to share information. They reported things that everyone on the ground already knew. They didn’t report information that people on the ground actually needed.

“What we’re used to doing in journalism is deciding what’s important and then writing about it. I think the process of journalism doesn’t start with the story,” Jarvis states. “The process of journalism necessarily starts with listening to the public and only then finding the best mechanisms to help the public meet their needs. If all we do is keep churning out four hundred pieces of content a day, the same to everyone, then, that’s not a great service. And, I think we have to reinvent other ways to help communities to come together to share what they know.”

In summary, he says, “We may end up looking more like community organizers, and that’s a different, perhaps heretical, way to look at journalism.”

As we consider ways that libraries will evolve in the future, Jarvis’s thinking feels familiar. The “library as platform” is not a new concept, but it remains a concept not fully realized in most places. It is easier to imagine than it is to implement. I believe that the pressures on journalism are more dire than those pressing libraries, but clearly, librarians should continue to take them seriously. Digital disruption (disintermediation) is impacting not only journalism, but also music, television, film, and many segments of the economy. The forces they face and the obstacles they must overcome are not identical to those libraries will face, so we will have to come up with our own unique answers. But, we can still learn from their trials.

You can listen to Jeff Jarvis on On the Media here:

Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Librarian Stockholm Syndrome & the Meaning of Free: Lanier vs Anderson by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

In 2013, ALA Annual was in Chicago, and all of librarianship celebrated the greatness of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a special time, and it was at this conference where I attended LITA’s Top Tech Trends panel. This panel was made up of smart folks all of whom I greatly respect (Gary Price, Aimee Fifarek, Sarah Houghton, Clifford Lynch, Char Booth and Brewster Kahle moderated by Loran Dempsey). The conversation covered many topics that have faded in my memory, but there was a part of it that has remained. Several panelists held up the benefits of free content and the need to break down pricing models. MOOCs, open access, and other forms of free content were glorified as an unstoppable force of empowerment. Panelists called on libraries to set content free. Techno-lust was in the air, and librarians were encouraged to join the disruption. Free was the new thing.

As former Wired editor and author of the book Free: the Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson puts it, “the Web has become the biggest store in history and everything is 100 percent off” (238). (Anderson was not part of the LITA panel, but he would very much support the discussion.)

Interestingly enough, the day before the LITA panel there was another talk by computer scientist turned philosopher Jaron Lanier, who offered a markedly different view. Lanier challenged us to think about the dehumanizing nature of technology and the ways that it is restructuring the economy. For example, social media is playing a big role in destabilizing media outlets. Small and medium news outlets that employed hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been destroyed by Craigslist which employees 100 people and Twitter which employees just over 3000. (An ovely simplified example of a larger trend.) Are we moving toward an economy where 1% of the people run the economy and the other 99% are disposable? Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future asks what happens if the internet destroys more jobs than it creates? What if we live in an economy where a select few profit from the free content created by the rest of us?

Over the last few years, we have been in the midst of a showdown over the meaning of “free”, and most of us haven’t even known it. When I think back to the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, I often think about the the contrasting conversations of the LITA panel and Lanier’s talk, because the contrast presents a challenge to our professional values. On the one hand, we support authors’ (and other creators’) right to make money from their creations, and on the other, we support open access and free information. These competing values have been with us for many decades, but their implications may be more acute. For instance, libraries offering OverDrive to patrons, and then OverDrive making patron data available to Amazon and/or Adobe would be the exact kind of problem Lanier would find disconcerting. The community building, creativity, and learning that occurs within our libraries could be reduced into a mass of data given away to companies in the name of better marketing. At the same time, Chris Anderson would argue that this is how “free” works in the new economy. We trade data for access. No biggie.

Libraries are stuck somewhere between Lanier and Anderson. In his book You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier discusses “journalistic Stockholm syndrome” where newspapers promote the very free services that are destroying news media. I wonder if there is a librarian Stockholm syndrome where libraries are promoting free services that are destroying communities? But at the same time, how can we not?

Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.


Kickstarter for Circulating Ideas Podcast: Recirculated for Transcripts (by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson)

I am a big fan of the Circulating Ideas podcast. Steve does a great job of enriching the discussions within our profession. Thus, I wanted to share info about his Kickstarter. Help out if you can!

Circulating Ideas began as a podcast to share the innovative ideas and projects that librarians are creating to keep libraries vibrant and relevant in the 21st century. The show has spanned more than 60 hours of content with more than 100 librarians and library supporters and now I’d love to do more to make the show’s content more accessible and searchable. This Kickstarter campaign will allow for the transcription of the show’s content which will be made available for free on the website and as a DRM-free ebook.

Recirculated : Circulating Ideas Transcripts

The IL Standards and IL Framework Cannot Co-Exist by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

The ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force has completed a final draft of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This draft is working its way through the infrastructure of ACRL.

(I have previously posted about the Framework on this blog: The New Information Literacy Framework and James Madison, Information as a Human Right: A Missing Threshold Concept?, and Using the New IL Framework to Set a Research Agenda. I should note that I am a member of the Task Force but that I do not officially speak officially for the Task Force in this post.)

As this process has moved forward, I have been excited to see the conversations and debates unfold about how we think about Information Literacy, can better infuse information literacy within curriculum development, think about our role in teaching it, and can stake a claim to this arena of scholarship. Since the initial draft of the Framework was released, one of the oft debated questions has been, “What is the future of the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education ?” I wanted to address this, because, to me, the answer is clear. The Framework and the Standards cannot co-exist. The existence of Standards undermines the purpose of the Framework. (By the way, the Task Force has recommended the sunsetting of the Standards since the June draft of the Framework.)

The Mythology of the Standards
Anyone who has spent time in the classroom knows the problem with the Standards in terms of assessment and in terms of curriculum development. Either the assessment feels inauthentic producing data that is marginally useful in making changes, or the instruction must be adapted in inauthentic ways to meet the demands of the Standards.

In my career, especially as a new librarian, I have found the Standards quite useful as a place to go to generate ideas. They have been useful when a faculty member and I needed definitions and mental models for learning. When I have worked with faculty at a department level, it has always been a strain to shoehorn the Standards into the needs of the curriculum. They felt too broad for a course but overly defined for programmatic assessment. They never quite fit.

The times I found the Standards most useful were when I used them as a framework. I used them to outline skills, expectations, and outcomes. Most of the time when I used the Standards, the first step was to revise, simplify and focus the Standards. The top level definition of each standard was the most useful. The performance indicators could be useful with some revision. The outcomes never quite worked. In other words, the Standards always made a nice framework.

Authenticity and Curriculum Development
For me, the Framework has the potential to be a more authentic and useful statement on information literacy and learning. The Framework by design recognizes the diversity within American higher education by not trying to write monolithic outcomes for all institutions. Additionally, the Framework has the potential to better connect to real student learning outcomes in the classroom. The Framework presents definitions, knowledge practices and dispositions that can spur conversations at various levels of the curriculum. The Framework can be the overarching definition (a role played by the Standards) that guides the development of undergraduate general education outcomes, programmatic outcomes, course outcomes, unit outcomes, and lesson outcomes. The Framework engages institutions at a national level in discussions and evaluations of information literacy, but it does not pretend that these institutions will share outcomes in a broad standard. Additionally, it doesn’t pretend that a single outcome can be written to meet the diverse needs of our curriculum. The Framework can enable us to get to real student learning because it can be adapted to align with your goals as a teacher.

The Problems with Standards-Based Education
Critics of the Framework say that our country is moving towards standards-based education and that the Framework moves information literacy outside of that trend. This criticism misses the mark in several ways. First, we shouldn’t pretend that there’s consensus around standards-based education. The growing backlash against Common Core is evidence enough this debate is hardly settled. This is especially true when standards-based education equates to curricula built around standardized assessments. Second, if we believe that information literacy matters in the lives of our students and see information literacy as a form of empowerment for our students, the idea that we should write standards because that’s what everyone else is doing feels hollow. We should create the tool that helps us best accomplish our job. And finally, our profession has the opportunity to take the lead in moving away from the mechanistic bureaucracy of standards-based education. I do not know many faculty members who honestly think that more standards and more standardization will improve teaching and learning.

Let’s Get to Work
To me, the whole point of the Framework is that ACRL cannot write outcomes for my campus. They never could. We may have pretended, but it never happened. The Standards and the Framework cannot co-exist. The point of the Framework is that librarians should write outcomes for their own campuses (as they have always done), in partnership with faculty, administrators, and (maybe even) students. To create the Framework and then retain (or even edit) the Standards is like telling a child learning to ride a bike that we are going to remove one training wheel and keep one training wheel on. One training  wheel doesn’t cut it. At some point, the training wheels have to come off. Now is the time.

P.S. This post is not an effort to denigrate the value that the Standards have had to the development of our profession. I greatly admire the leadership of the people who wrote the Standards in the late 1990s. I admired their work as a library school student, and I admire them today. As our thinking evolves in teaching and learning, so should the direction of our professional organization.

Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.