Information Literacy within our Institution: Thoughts from LILAC
Posted by katiefraser on 15 April, 2010
Just before Easter I attended the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference, held this year in Limerick, Ireland. It was my first chance to step back and think about my new role as an Information Librarian at the university, so great timing for me.
I attended a range of different talks on areas relevant to my own personal development (on librarians’ roles as teachers, and case studies of online tool use), but in this post I’m focusing on talks which I felt had institutional significance in terms of what we’re doing with information literacy, how we’re doing it, and what else we can do.
What are we doing?
The amount and kind of information literacy teaching inevitably varies within as well as between institutions: different courses and different disciplines have different needs. However, when responsibilities for information literacy are split between different departments and services across a university there are obvious benefits from tracking who does what: to make sure students acquire key skills, and to identify opportunities for collaboration. I believe librarians, as specialists in the area, have the responsibility to make sure these skills are developed, even if we are not always responsible for delivering them ourselves.
Gillian Fielding’s presentation on The Information Literacy Audit at the University of Salford described an institutional audit as one way of doing this. The team at Salford took a checklist of key information skills to programme leaders across the university to determine what training was provided, how it was provided, at which level (pre-entry, induction, year 1, 2, or 3, or at Masters or PhD) and by which department / service. Despite difficulties with timing of the audit 70% of undergraduate course leaders participated, and it seemed like a really good way of opening up dialogues between central services and departments about what needs covering and how it can be offered. It certainly sounded like information I’d find useful, although they did have large number of subject specialists to carry out the audit compared to us!
How are we doing it?
One of the big themes of the conference for me was about how the library collaborates with others in the university. In fact, the workshop I was at the conference to lead (focusing on central services’ roles in supporting research student communities of practice) was looking explicitly at the library’s role in the wider university community. Sophie Bury from York University in Canada covered a similar theme in her presentation on academics’ views of information literacy.
The academics she surveyed pretty universally agreed that information literacy skills (as defined by the ACRL standards) were important. Furthermore, the majority thought librarians and academics should be working together to deliver sessions, a finding that she noted was echoed in some previous studies, with others suggesting that librarians should be handling this area. However, she also found a fairly even split between academics believing that sesssions should take place outside or within class time. This is an ongoing issue: sessions which take places outside of class time are not as well attended, but it’s easy to understand why academics are reluctant to jettison discipline-specific content for more general skills. How we fit information literacy into the student experience AND the student timetable is something I’ll be thinking about more over the summer as I look at my teaching for next year.
What else can we do?
Finally, as well as more ‘traditional’ information literacy, the conference also got me thinking about ways in which information literacy teaching can impact on a broader range of skills (see also Selina’s previous post about Critical Appraisal). Stephanie Rosenblatt from California State University gave a talk entitled They can find it, but they don’t know what to do with it looking at students’ use of academic literature and found that students were already competent enough at finding scholarly literature (the main focus of her teaching) but that they didn’t know how to use the academic materials. Should librarians be developing a more rounded approach to teaching information literacy? Aoife Geraghty and her colleagues from the Writing Centre at the University of Limerick discussed a way in which centralised student services could work together to support such activities.
Lastly, Andy Jackson from the University of Dundee ran a workshop on generic graduate attributes, challenging us to develop attributes such as ‘cultural and social and ethics’ into teaching Endnote and Refworks use. This was immense fun (once we’d worked out that attribution and intellectual property could be seen as cultural and social ethical issues!) and made me think about all the different angles and educational opportunities that even the most basic software training workshops offer.
The conference ended with a Keynote from Dr Ralph Catts talking about developing our research methods and evaluation (in time for the conference next year!). The appeal for librarians to involve educational researchers in their planning and evaluation was a little misplaced for me (I have a background in educational research, and was rankled by the implication that librarians universally lacked the ability to evaluate, rather than the resources to do so). However, I think his message about the importance of evidence in instigating, developing and evaluating our practices was sound. I definitely hope to use the research I learnt about at LILAC in the next few months, and I hope to do more reflection and evaluation as I settle in to the post.