The “Creativity Crisis” and Library Instruction

I noticed a bit of Twitter buzz this week about a recent article on “The Creativity Crisis” in Newsweek. As so often happens, the article pulls you in with a scary research finding: “research shows that American creativity is declining”. (!!!) If that’s true, of course it’s unsettling, though one must always regard such research results with a critical eye. But what is more interesting to me about this article is what some educators are doing to nurture creativity. And, as I read the creativity-fostering examples in the article, I began to think about how library instructors, whether in K-12 schools or universities, might do the same.

For example, the European Union has apparently been trying to institute “problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults”. That phrase “real-world inquiry” particularly caught my eye. I realized such inquiry is as important to consider in library instruction (whether “formal” or at the reference desk) as it is anywhere else. It seems to me that our job as reference/library instructors is to guide patrons and/or students as they try to solve their “real-world inquiries”. And when a patron has a question they are personally invested in finding out the answer to, something that is really relevant to them, they are going to go to more lengths to find out the answer—and they might be open to creative ways of doing so. Therefore, it behooves us to connect our library instruction sessions to students’/patrons’ assignments or “real-world inquiries”—or at least as close as we can get to their “real-world inquiries”. Basically, this article reminded me of the importance of embedding library instruction in the school or university setting. Show the relevance of the research and information gathering process at the point of need and give students the tools, guidance, and skills they need to get creative in answering their research question or solving their problem. Yes, the research process can be quite creative! Perhaps we librarians should be sure to point that out and talk about the ways we’ve gotten creative in finding information for our own lines of inquiry.

I encourage you to read the article. Once you get past the fear-of-creativity-decline stuff, pay attention to those “real-world inquiry” curricula I mentioned earlier. I particularly loved the story about the “National Inventors Hall of Fame School” in Akron, OH. Notice that the first creative activity the fifth graders engage in is what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger calls “fact-finding”—sound familiar? It seems to me there might be a role for librarians in helping nuture creativity at all levels of the research process.


2 thoughts on “The “Creativity Crisis” and Library Instruction

  1. An interesting post Lisa, I think we’re encountering similar problems in the UK – for us, I think, a relentless focus on educational targets has stifled creativity.

    Incidentally, today I was reading about this amazing professor, Sugatra Mitra and his experiments with putting a networked computer in a ‘hole in the wall’ of his office which overlooked a slum in India. Children basically came over and played with it and taught themselves all manner of things. He replicated the experiment elsewhere and now has developed a new concept of SOLE – self-organised learning environments. Check out the article here:

  2. I also read the article. I was taken aback by the comments Chinese educators made. They were shocked that the U.S. was re-creating the very system the Chinese were in the process of abandoning: rote learning and standardized testing.

    That being said, I still feel that there is room in the educational system for both facts and project-based inquiry. Students need grounding in geography, names, dates, multiplication facts, etc. I am sometimes underwhelmed by lesson plans that are totally student-guided — do the kids have the “dirt” needed to grow their projects?

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