Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reinventing information literacy

Two things happened this week relating to information literacy that made me go 'efgweifbbfmmmeh' (loosely interpreted that's the noise in my head when I have too many things to say at once). One was @flexnib asking on twitter "librarians, what are ur thoughts on info lit in the 21st century? scrap the concept, start again? broaden it? swap it (eg dig lit)? #lazyweb

The other thing was a meeting of my pod/vodcasting community where one of the academics asked me, "do you think the library will exist in the future or just be virtual"? I actually laughed in his face! I know that might seem harsh and some of you would probably say he asked a valid question but seriously... (so many responses were forming that I heard that noise in my head again and had a hard time answering him)! Immediate thoughts: assumptions, change, social, personal, skills, multi modal...

Before I start to rant I'll try to sum up all my thoughts in one pithy sentence, here goes: Information literacy is dead, long live information literacy.

We make so many assumptions about so called digital natives but just because they want geospatial tagging and they want it now doesn't mean they know how to find academic resources for their assignments!!!!!!! Information overload = librarians needed more than ever! At best these 'digital natives' can do a basic google search, use the first few results that look OK and wonder why they're asked to resubmit an assignment (to grossly generalise). That's when the light bulb goes on and they think 'maybe I should go to the library and ask a librarian'? I see this all the time on the reference desk and it's amazing to see their faces light up when you show them a few tips and tricks to easily finding what they need. One girl I helped was so impressed, when the lecturer asked in class how she found her sources, she replied 'I asked the librarian' and they all went 'oooooooh'.

I think the way we define and teach information literacy needs to change to reflect client needs. I know this is the most obvious statement in the world but this should be a constantly evolving process, why does it seem to stop/start sporadically?  Curriculum is changing and drawing on new ways of communicating through the use of blogs, wikis, multimedia and user created content. This means a whole new set of skills is needed to find this kind of information and then know how to create your own. Information is no longer just in books, journals or printed form. We need to understand the multi modal approach learners are facing and equip them with skills to understand, find, use and create all forms of information. In addition we need to take a multi modal approach to our teaching. This is already the case with online and face-to-face information literacy programs but more can and must be done.

The library plays a vital social role in our university community. It's a place to see and be seen. As more and more of our lives are spent online, physical social spaces to gather, share and engage are very important. Personally, I can't imagine a future where social engagement disappears and we all work/study from home sitting at our desks alone all day/night. BORING! We need libraries and other cultural institutions to gather, work together, share experiences and feel a part of a community. Related to this is the importance of personal face-to-face help. We can provide dozens of virtual reference options but for some people actually talking to a person is really important. And I must say I find it a very satisfying part of my job.

No matter what you call it, what's currently known as information literacy needs to change but continue to exist. That's my rant for now. Much more to come on this throughout the week.

p.s. the photo above is of Bronte pool yesterday during a brief break in Sydney's ongoing bleak weather.


  1. Thanks Soph. Good post. I heard senior uni managers talking about creating a "sticky campus" on Friday. I think the UTS Library is already "sticky". A lot of students already congregate there for many different reasons. When we move to a more central position in our campus it will only become more sticky if we meet most our current aims. I think we are learning how to blend our physical and virtual services, so by the time we get there most of the challenges you've outlined will be met - by us!

  2. Great post Sophie. I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to meeting you IRL at Access. I hope to make it to your info lit presentation (tho it's on when I'll likely be facilitating a workshop) or at least read your paper on it.

  3. great post - agree on so many levels! I think our library's approach to info lit is still stuck in the 20th century. #dangwhatdoIblogaboutnow? :P :P

  4. Well said! Working for a library that has more people through the door every week (and through the virtual door), I couldn't agree more. Yes we need to keep aligned with people's needs, but are libraries needed? Too right they are!

  5. Hi MissSophie,
    I agree on the constantly evolving, and I think your attitude reflects why your students come and ask you for advice.
    I'm interested in the stop/start cycle we have in libraries. I'm wondering how the profession can better integrate trialling new things, keep it more as a vibrant, recognised component of our role.
    You've got me thinking. Thanks!

  6. I enjoyed reading your post - well said.
    imho: Marketing dollars - basically most libraries have no money, libraries are competing for attention and it is difficult to sell our product, libraries tend to have bands of dedicated followers spreading the good word.

  7. Thanks for all the comments! I didn't realise how much I had to say or how much this would stir people up! I'll continue this stream of thought this week as I try to write my ALIA access paper!