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Information literacy is for life, not just for a good degree.

June 16, 2014

As a member of the CILIP Information Literacy Policy Board I have been working recently on a blog and literature review of texts relating to information literacy in the workplace. This will be published by CILIP on their website, available to all for download, on Monday 16th June via this link: [ http://www.cilip.org.uk/information-literacy-is-for-life ].

The text of the blog follows:

Information literacy is for life, not just for a good degree.

Arguably, librarians and information professionals have been involved in developing the information skills and competences of their users since the beginning of libraries. Until recently this was known as bibliographic instruction (to insiders) and library skills (to everyone else). Now we call this type of intervention information literacy, and have expanded our definition to include various aspects of research such as critical evaluation, data managing and presentation of findings. Everyone else now just calls this digital skills. The concept and practice of information literacy has been widely discussed in library and information professional literature in recent years. In the main, these discussions have focussed on practice in Higher Education (HE), specifically on how librarians may be involved in developing the skills of students to enable them to maximise the use of academic resources, predominantly library-based, in order to meet the requirements of learning outcomes of their courses.

More recently this focus has widened to examine transition from school and Further Education (FE) into University, recognizing universities’ increasingly high expectations of new undergraduates information literacies. This widening of focus is also starting to bring workplace information literacy under the spotlight. It’s an exciting time for this area of research, as theory and practice can be seen to start to reflect the Alexandria Proclamation assertion that “Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals.”

Over the last few months I’ve been drawing together literature relating to this topic in order to provide a view of this particular information landscape. I’ve found academic theoretical and practice-based research and official reports from stakeholders including government, professional associations and industry and commerce and drawn them together in order to provide an overview of the main issues around workplace information literacy.

Employability and Transition

Despite the very term ‘information literacy’ originating in 1974 in a text relating to the workplace it is only in recent years that attempts have been made to extend the lifelong learning element of this literacy from Higher Education to the workplace. This is a difficult transition. What were initially thought of as being generic skills and competences do not successfully transition from education to the workplace, and do not sufficiently enhance job seekers’ employability. Research into auditors, businesses and law firms indicates the information literacies taught in school, FE and HE do not always meet the expectations of employers and the requirements of the workplace setting. The research suggests that the key differences in the workplace such as a need to look through physical documents, for example (as opposed to electronic databases), and the accepted practice of seeking advice from networks of colleagues (as opposed to solitary research practice in the university) should be addressed more explicitly in preparing students for the workforce.

Context

Interestingly, differences are sometimes perceived rather than real, being caused by different terminology – environmental scanning or current awareness, for example. Once this semantic gap has been successfully bridged, it is much easier to get employer buy-in to the process. If we are to bridge that gap then we need to know about the context in which the workplace information practices take place. And the best way to do this is to do research in the real world, using theoretical models drawn from, for example, the already extensive work by library theorists on user information needs and behaviour. The complexity of the workplace cannot be successfully addressed by a one-size-fits-all information literacy programme, the approach needs to be sensitive to the context – and to the sociocultural practices of the communities that are a part of that context.

Practice

Evidence based practice should be used to develop this area. The UK National Health Service (NHS), in the drive for reduced administrative costs and better practice, have made important inroads by embedding information literacy into the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of the workforce. Australian research into the practices of firefighters and ambulance officers has been extremely influential in development of theory. Research into legal practice in the UK has also been influential, being recognized at professional association and government level. Linking work-based practices to theoretical principles through robust research does have impact.

Policy

Factoring the monetary value of days lost through searching the web is a perhaps more headline-busting approach. Using both (robust research, monetisation of lost time and wasted opportunities) in tandem encourages policy makers to pay attention. The current UK initiatives around the digital divide and digital inclusion recognise the value inherent in a lifelong learning approach to information literacy to address problems around employability and the skills of small business owners – usually without referring to it by name. The fact that government is now recognizing a need for the recently launched digital inclusion strategy is an extremely significant opportunity for library and information professionals to continue in their efforts in promoting this area.

 

Just in case you missed it at the beginning, many thanks to CILIP: “The blog was originally published on the CILIP website: http://www.cilip.org.uk/information-literacy-is-for-life

For the full literature review please see the CILIP blog link.

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