Cambridge libraries have had information literacy on the agenda for a while now, and I’ve been part of the groups working on this area for some time. Last year, I was part of a small teaching and learning task and finish group, working on making preliminary recommendations to the University regarding information literacy policy and guidance. This preliminary work fed into a much larger network of Cambridge library staff — of which I am also a part — called CILN (Cambridge Information Literacy Network). CILN has been working hard on all things information literacy: mapping key dates for students across subjects and years, mapping competencies and training provision, and much more. CILN has also been hard at work planning an information literacy forum, with speakers invited from other universities, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
As always with my conference/workshop write-ups, I am not going to attempt to provide a word-for-word paraphrase of every single thing that was said at the CILN Forum. Rather, I will pull out a few key themes which I felt were the main takeaways from the event. (However, if you want a live summary of events as they unfolded, the conference hashtag on Twitter might be worth checking out.)
The main theme of the forum for me was terminology. Almost every speaker mentioned a degree of discomfort with the term ‘information literacy’, stressed the need for a clear definition, and noted that it was important to translate terms into language that reflected the activities and priorities of the intended audience. For example, Susan Halfpenny, of the University of York, explained that her library’s information literacy framework deliberately mapped to learning outcomes and assessment criteria of university courses, so that the framework (and the training and other support her library provided) was contextualised within courses and academics, students and university administrators could see how it connected with their own goals. Likewise, Alison Little of the University of Sheffield noted that her framework was embedded within a wider university teaching and learning strategy.
I was particularly impressed with the choices in terminology used by library staff at Brunel University London, as outlined by Sam Piker and Shazia Arif, which to my mind reflected the actual learning activities undertaken by students. (You can see the names of some of the library courses offered at Brunel here.)
What we should be aiming for in creating information literacy frameworks (and planning training and other services to support it) is a clear use of terminology that is understandable to its audience (whether that be university administration, academics, or students). We want colleagues and library users to understand what we do, and make use of services that they themselves need, and we need to use language that will help in these aims.
The other main theme of the forum was something I come back to again and again: institutional support. Where did information literacy support fit within overall teaching and learning undertaken by students at any given university? Was it integrated into academic coursework, or was it treated as an optional extra and positioned as a wholly library-led endeavour? Lorna Dodd of Maynooth University stressed that the information literacy framework at Maynooth was contextualised within the curriculum aims and graduate attributes of the university, tacitly acknowledging that the library does not take sole responsibility for information literacy. Rather, it is embedded within curricula, and indeed much information literacy teaching, while being held in library teaching spaces, is not delivered by library staff. The result was a redesigned array of services that was much more integrated into students’ coursework, and a better reflection of what they and their lecturers actually needed.
How and where information literacy support is positioned means virtual positioning as well. It’s essential the information about support and services is located in online spaces where students can find it easily. We cannot rely on them finding LibGuides buried in the depths of a library website — or even finding the library website itself. Where do students go to find information or support to help with their studies? They are more likely to look in places like their VLE, or perhaps a tab marked ‘current students’ on the homepage of their university’s website. Information literacy support (whatever terminology is used to describe it) needs to be prominently linked in these kinds of locations, and indeed many speakers at the forum noted that they had battled to get such content embedded in exactly these places. When library support for information literacy is not only face-to-face teaching, the possibilities for positioning it within curricula and in online spaces where students are likely to access it are even greater; staff at Sheffield designed their information literacy teaching explicitly with that in mind.
The CILN team is clearly intending to proceed having taken on board the experiences of peers at other institutions, and I very much hope that the strong recommendations regarding terminology and positioning of information literacy content and support are followed at Cambridge. For my part, what I learnt at the CILN Forum will inform several changes regarding my teaching that I’ve been contemplating for a while: overhauling the naming of courses I offer (based on user feedback if possible), and working more actively to forge connections with course coordinators and other academic staff in order to ensure my training is meeting the needs of students, and is well integrated into the rest of the teaching they receive throughout their courses.