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On Teaching Information as Obligation

May 18, 2018

Dispositions outlined under the ACRL Framework suggest several ways students should gather, analyze, synthesize, create, and ultimately disseminate information. Too often these performative practices are limited by the language and parameters of the framework to purely academic contexts, however. While following the new framework, librarians typically guide students to interact with information as students only, thus limiting discussion of their eventual responsibilities as professionals, academic or otherwise. Outside departments of journalism, or those disciplines incorporating pedagogical coursework, students rarely learn how to curate information once they pivot toward a professional setting.

One field librarians overlook in this sense is healthcare. While medical and allied health departments often include communication coursework aimed specifically at preparing students to speak and interact with patients in their care, librarians are given little explicit direction in the framework for supplementing this instruction.

We are told learners who recognize that information has value should “see themselves as contributors to the information marketplace rather than only consumers of it” and “are inclined to examine their own information privilege.”[1] These respectable outcomes, however, tell us little about the ways newly-minted nurses, physical and occupational therapists, or athletic trainers, can transfer information and impart at least a fundamental level of information literacy to their patients. I fear we are doing too little to acknowledge, let alone instructionally address, the fact that these students will soon transition from seeking, vetting, and consuming information for themselves to serving a public eager to do the same for themselves.

We know that patients, caregivers, and others routinely seek supplemental healthcare information during times of sickness or injury. We also know that an abundance of misinformation is easy to find and often even impossible to avoid. As authorities in their field, healthcare professionals should feel comfortable providing valid information to patients. They should also recognize that patients are more and more likely to seek second opinions, alternative treatments, and all the knowledge they can possibly obtain.

It seems to me that librarians may provide a significant service by teaching healthcare students (and those in other disciplines as well) that they have an obligation to pass on to others both knowledge and the basic skills to discern, access, and acquire it. There is no frame entitled “Information as Obligation,” but in reality it will come with the job for many of the students we teach. Are we currently doing enough to prepare them for it?

[1] ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, 2015,

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