Friday, March 23, 2007

Eadie and Criticism of Library Instruction

In 1990, Tom Eadie wrote an article in Library Journal titled Immodest proposals - User instruction for students does not work. It was a shocking piece at the time, almost a heresy. This was long before people like Stanely Wilder ever started criticizing information literacy and other user education programs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Probably the foremost critic of academic library instruction in the 1990s was Tom Eadie. Originally in favor of library instruction, he concluded that it was largely a waste of time. Eadie (1990) wrote that gathering students into a classroom and teaching them about the library would fail in educating students. Since students had yet to ask the question that the librarian was teaching about answering, the student would probably not remember the answer. The student would still need assistance later when they think to ask the question (usually when the paper is being written) and come to the reference desk. Since Eadie questioned the effectiveness of library instruction, he recommended that the money and effort used for it be used on reference services instead.

Eadie wrote, “I think user education is a special service of questionable value that arose not because users asked for it, but because librarians thought it would be good for them.”

Although I believe in library instruction in general, I admit it has some flaws. Eadie does indeed have a point here. Think about it this way. The vast majority of services that a library provides such as books, journals, help at the desk, study rooms, computers with net access, open hours, etc. have patron support. Try stopping or restricting any of them and see the uproar that results. Now, stop your formal library instruction program. Other than a few faculty members, are your patrons in an uproar and demanding a resumption of library instruction sessions?

Eadie was on to something here. Library instruction may be good for patrons but they are not demanding it. I guess this is why librarians work so hard to sell library instruction programs to faculty.

1 comment:

stevenb said...

Good post - it is helpful to occasionally remind librarians about Eadie's article. I include it as a reading from my academic librarianship course students.

I think I'd still disagree with Eadie. Even if you just consider the advantage of teaching a class how to research an assignment instead of dealing with them as individuals - there's greater efficiency there.

Yes, if we stopped doing IL no students would probably complain -at until they had an assignment and then wanted to know why we weren't holding a class to teach them how to get it done. But it should be the faculty who would miss it if library education ceased. That should be our goal. If the faculty couldn't care less, than we are probably doing something wrong.