UoL Library Blog

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Eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. -Hans Hofmann

Posted by sarahw9 on 20 July, 2012

I’ve got to admit I was surprised to arrive at Information Literacy & Summon, Sheffield Hallam University, and find there were so many people attending.  There was a real buzz and engagement from the audience and the presenters.  The day was dedicated case studies and discussions about how the implementation of Summon (a discovery system that enables search across library electronic and print holdings, ranging from bibliographic database content to the library catalogue, using one intuitive interface) has changed how they teach information literacy.  At Leicester we have had Summon since the summer of 2011, you can see it in action on the University of Leicester library website

 The big message of the day was that discovery systems allow us to give up teaching complicated and arcane interfaces and focus on the higher level information literacy skills such as selection, evaluation, context, appropriateness, and synthesis.

Many libraries use their discovery search and subject pages as their twin tools.  Some are abandoning their library catalogues completely (for example the University of the West of England) and at many others they are much less prominent.  No one is teaching ‘the catalogue’. 

I’ve reported the things that stood out to me the most.  The first section of the day was dedicated to presenters from Sheffield Hallam: 

  • Rod Aitken amused me with his comparison of Google (ideal search interface with clean screen) with the typical library website (completely cluttered). 
  • Alison Lahlafi emphasised how her teaching has shifted in focus from ‘the tools’ to ‘the process’. 
  • Sandy Buchanan pointed out that these higher level skills are in fact the more usefully transferable and generic skills, and how he focuses enabling building students confidence using academic resources.
  • Matt Borg pointed out that discovery systems are in line with the focus on the student experience and how they facilitated learning simply by making things easier. 

 The presenters from Huddersfield: 

  • Andrew Walsh amused us with the giving us an example of the information literacy lesson from hell, which included telling students that they will go blind and develop hairy palms if they dared to use Google.  He contrasted to how he can teach now, which is focus on the thinking about, context and application of information.  The students can teach themselves the basics of the interface, and he can facilitate to make sure they don’t miss anything. 
  • Bryony Ramsden raised some interesting questions about the dilemma that many health librarians have about whether to teach this as well as or instead of NHS Evidence (we do both here at Leicester). 
  • Alison Sharman pointed out that students often don’t find the facets (or tools to refine by subject / year / publication type) for themselves.  She had also devised an effective method for reaching students quickly at the relevant time in their course by getting 10 minutes slots in lectures and simply talking through the discovery search and relevant points.  She doesn’t prepare but gets the students to suggest the topics and works with what they give her at the time.  This is a quick way to reach students and incorporates an endorsement from the lecturer too.    

Finally Dave Pattern, also from Huddersfield, reminded us that the ideal interface is one you don’t have to teach.  If we insist on making it difficult for students they will simply go elsewhere. 

I realised I could be doing more with Summon than I do currently (which is to use it at induction level before moving onto the other resources in more detailed teaching sessions), and I’m going to investigate the possibilities of those 10 minute lecture slots.

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