Snapshot: Laura Saunders
By Katharine Dunn, Dean's Editorial Fellow
This May, Laura Saunders ’01LS will become the first Ph.D. student to graduate from GSLIS. Before starting the doctoral program in 2004, Saunders worked at Simmons’ Career Resource and Beatley libraries. Over the last six years, she’s also taught reference, evaluation, user instruction, and academic libraries as an adjunct professor. Teaching, she says, “is just fascinating. It’s like being on the reference desk except better because you get to spend more time with the students.” In January, Saunders won the Jean Tague-Sutcliffe Award at the 2010 Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) conference for her poster, “Information Literacy as a Student Learning Outcome,” which was based on her dissertation.
Q : How did you get into the topic of information literacy?
I had started a master of arts in
teaching before coming to GSLIS. I thought I might teach high school English, but I decided to do library science instead. When I was taking my research methods class [in the doctoral program], I wrote my paper on information literacy. I talked about reviewing college websites and
said something about accreditation standards. To me it was just a throwaway
sentence. Peter Hernon [my advisor] picked up on it right away and said, this is what it’s all about. This is your dissertation.
Do college accreditation bodies require information literacy?
The way it gets interpreted, there’s a lot of leeway. But they all to a greater or lesser extent say that students should be information literate when they
Almost any faculty member who assigns a research paper is dealing with information literacy in one way or another.
You visited several campuses for your research. Did you find there were big differences of opinion between faculty, deans, and librarians in terms of information literacy?
The places that are most successful seem to have support from the top, from deans and provosts. On one campus I visited, the president got involved, but that’s unusual. It would be interesting to look at the circumstances that would lead people in those positions to start to look at it. When I talked to librarians,
and to some extent the deans, they said that having the external pressure of accreditation was a good thing and that unless somebody told them they had to do it, it may never happen. The faculty seemed to feel more like, we know this is important, we know we have to be doing it, so it doesn’t matter [whether or not it is required].
Did faculty think they should be in charge of it, or librarians?
I talked to one faculty member who had developed an information literacy course for students in her major, East Asian studies. She really felt as if it was important that faculty do it because they have more knowledge of the content and sources specific to that topic. But most of the time it seemed as if faculty
were on the fence. They’d say it was important but wondered, do I really have time to address this in my class?
Do you think faculty are already doing information literacy in their classrooms without knowing it?
It depends on the course. Almost any faculty member who assigns a research paper is dealing with information literacy in one way or another. Not scientific research, but research that asks for literature reviews, library searching, citing sources, evaluating information. Almost all faculty talk about it at some point, it’s just that they’re not thinking of that as information literacy. It’s not being addressed as a separate outcome.
Was there anything particularly surprising that you found in your research?
Most of what I assumed about where we were with information literacy was confirmed. But one thing that was surprising was that there’s very little assessment being done in general. And people are mixing up assessment and evaluation. A lot of places say they’re doing assessment, but what they’re really doing are surveys or class evaluations and not really getting at measuring the learning itself.
Is there something that librarians could be doing that they’re not?
Librarians seem to understand there are different cultures within the institution, that the English faculty might be different as a group from the biology faculty. But when they do outreach, it often seems they’re doing broad-based outreach and not necessarily trying to target it to what faculty
are doing in their classrooms and their disciplines.
What are you doing now that you’re finished your Ph.D.?
I’m actually starting a book [based on my dissertation], with support from Peter Hernon and Bob Dugan. It’s for librarians, library directors, people in accreditation, or anyone interested in assessment or accreditation policy. I’ve always wanted to write a book, so it feels exciting.
What do you like to do when you’re not at GSLIS?
I’ve done a little bit of traveling and I’d like to do some more this summer, hopefully to Italy. My father’s family is from Italy, and he still owns a house there in a little town about an hour away from Rome. He lived there until he was 12. My grandparents wanted to move to the U.S., so they took the three youngest kids, and they moved here. After about a year, my grandfather decided he didn’t like it, so he went home. My father decided to stay. He was only 13.
I’ve always been interested in Italy, but I never learned to speak Italian. I didn’t learn until I went to college [at Boston University]. Initially I took one or two semesters, and then I ended up minoring in Italian. I can get by, and have a decent conversation with people.
Interviews by Katharine Dunn