Posts Tagged ‘information literacy’

Researching students’ “information literacy” (Part I)


[This is a translation of a blog post on the UBiT2010 blog. The report referred to is in Norwegian.]

“Den som søker finner” [Seek and you shall find] is the title of a report from Sentio Research Norway; it describes a survey carried out in February/March 2010 at the request of Project UBiT2010. The report is open and available from NTNU Library.

The report is a qualitative analysis of how students and researchers find information and literature on the Net.
We note among other things that students who are beginning their career rely on obligatory course readings and often begin with references and concrete suggestions when they search using Google. BIBSYS (OPAC for the Norwegian collaborative LibMS) is too complicated in use and produces a lot of noise; at the same time, students see the library as standing for quality and “safe” information. Google has a “cleaner” interface. The way that Google/Google Scholar and library resources are connected together is seen as a valuable asset.

As students progress and gain more scholarly proficiency, they become more at ease in their search for information; they use technology more consciously and have more entry points to information and a greater repertoire. Google and Google Scholar are still preferred over reference and scholarly databases.

Students use the library’s books to a greater extent than PhD students and researchers, who often choose to buy key works. Use of journals follows the reverse trend. If users do not fint the full text articles they want in the library’s portfolio, they use their professional network to get the information in another way. Ordering articles takes time, and paying for them is seen as unacceptable.

The library is not the preferred place to start searching for information or a relevant portal for scholarly resources.

These are a selection of the results from the report. Read it yourself and find out more!


Information literacy: it’s over and out


“Information literacy” was a phenomenon of the late 1990s end early 2000s and it is officially dead. Looking at the numbers, you can see that the level of interest globally in information literacy is rapidly approaching zero. Take a look at the Google-trending data for this:

Trending data for searches for term "information literacy"

Google trending data for searches for term "information literacy"

What is “information literacy”? In libraryland, it’s a specific thing (I’ll translate the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority’s definition):

Information literacy is a collection of skills that make a person able to identify when information is necessary, and which make them able to locate, evaluate and use – in an effective way – this information.[1]

This sounds reasonable, however it isn’t, it’s silly: are there any plausible instances where people who are trying to achieve something don’t know when they need information? I hope not. Note that Plinius [Norwegian] has commented (so well in fact that I translated it) that “information literacy” is not really a valid thing in the traditional library sense; an interpretation of information literacy, however, that is viable is one where it is a facet of subject-related competence.

The idea that it is possible to teach localization, evaluation and use of information without reference to a subject-specific set of skill is ridiculous; let me explain: within certain formal disciplines, intuition is a valid way of gathering data, while within others it is really not. Knowing your subject-specific ethics will help you evaluate the content you are looking at. Knowing which sources to look at will also depend heavily on the subject-specific approach you’re taking: if you’re researching language, you might be interested in grammars, but you might equally be interested in literature from medicine and neuroscience. Using information effectively is where the ABM-definition really hits ground: how can you use information effectively without understanding it?

The library really doesn’t have very much to offer in terms of subject-specific skills: yes, an academic library may have subject librarians, but “subject specific” really equates to “individual”, and the extent to which a librarian will know the individual researcher’s needs is based on a dialogue with that individual, not on an understanding of the concept “information literacy”, and whatever they impart of useful information is likely to be based on the local systems in use at that particular library.

It isn’t the case, however, that the library doesn’t have anything to offer; we have a lot of resources that are likely yet to be discovered by researchers, and a number of tips and tricks that will make the researchers’ lives a lot easier. But creating heavyweight courses in CQL and search strategy isn’t going to cut it; it’s about marketing and one-on-one contact.

The death of monolithic library teaching should be nigh, and I hope that it is.

[1] Informasjonskompetanse — ABM-utvikling – Statens senter for arkiv, bibliotek og museum. (n.d.). . Retrieved January 18, 2010, from

[edited for grammar and imprecise formulation 2010-01-26]

Creating a resource for information literacy


At NTNU, we have a great group of people who work with VIKO — NTNU’s online information literacy resource. The work that these people do includes the planning and execution of an extensive array of resources for students at lower levels (VIKO) and students at higher levels (subjectVIKO [mostly in Norwegian, but “Engelsk” is in English]).

The lower-level course focusses on general information literacy, providing information that helps students learn the skills needed when producing term papers / course work. You can disagree with the basic concept of “generalized information literacy” — and I often do — but you certainly can’t deny the value of VIKO as regards providing an understandable introduction to concepts that are essential when producing student work at university.

The higher-level course is under development, and is a collaboration between the subject librarians and the project group. As a subject librarian I have been a bit slow to respond to this task — part of the problem of not being at work as subject librarian for 50% of the time, however I have finally got my backside into gear and done something about this situation. The finalized version of the subjectVIKO for English Studies is ready, and the subjectVIKOs for Linguistics and Religion are under development.

The structure of the VIKO modules are standardized, which simplifies the process of creating VIKOs, and aids recognition of what the different modules provide (most students should be looking at the VIKO modules for different subjects because most courses of study are interdisciplinary). The information presented comes from different sources, and will need to be tweaked somewhat — especially as regards the description of the databases. An aside here is that the VIKOs for different languages (English, French, German) have been produced in the specific language, which I think is a nice idea that brings the VIKOs nearer the subjects they serve.

As I was writing the text for the VIKO modules, I wanted to provide a few services for finding books on the shelves at Dragvoll library. Ideally, I wanted to specify ranges of DDCs and use the mapping system we link to from our OPAC. The benefit of this is that it is a familiar visual representation, and the mapping system is updated centrally when the shelves are moved (something that admittedly happens on an irregular basis). I’m in the process of finding out whether or not this is actually possible; there are alternatives to this, so we’ll see.

Anyway, I think that the centralized approach to information literacy in many ways replaces the old subject web pages, effectivizing the work done by the library staff, and producing unified and uniform resources that students can use and recognize easily. A big step forward to my mind.

Search isn’t relevant, info management is


I had a thought a while back about what librarians teach and how they teach it. For the most part it’s “searching”, and typically includes lots of information about how to refine your hits and get better results. This is probably standard practice for most people who teach library courses — myself included. The only problem with this approach is that I find myself increasingly not refining searches, and actually wanting the noise caused by this.

If I were looking for all of the English studies masters theses in our library system, I could provide the command-line instructions to retrieve these, I could do the same in our OPAC with CQL. The thing is that this kind of specialist knowledge is not the kind of thing that there is any real point to trying to teach; if people need to do this kind of thing — and let’s face it: who does? — then ask a librarian. In the specific instance I’ve chosen, the search would involve restricting the search to the local database and searching for a local classification number with a wildcard. This sounds nice and easy, but getting to this solution involves a lot of presupposed knowledge, namely that you know that local classification for masters theses are delimited by subject and are serialized. It also assumes that you’re smart enough to remember that searching for local classification only works when a locale is set. Does a user really need to know any of this?

The user approach would be to set the locale to the local database, search for masters theses (an option in the OPAC) with the keyword “English”. This would return enough hits; actually it would return too many hits. The user approach would be to skim through the hits to find what they were after. Sure, if there are a few hundred hits, then the user might give up — if the information is important enough they will persevere. They might find exactly what they want, or they might find something that is more interesting. Telling the user how to trick the OPAC into showing 1000 hits at a time instead of ten or a hundred is probably a good idea at this juncture.

This kind of reality is where I find myself; I trawl through masses of information every day; not because I’m too lazy to learn how to search properly, but because I find that my ability to skim and evaluate large quantities of data are more effective tools than clumsy boolean searching. I think that this is the case for many young people; search isn’t relevant. The point is that users are getting more and more used to filtering, they’re getting more and more used to being presented quasi rubbish with their search results.

The difference is that I don’t do the searches manually, I’m fed the data and I use tools to help me get to the core of the matter before I even start filtering stuff out. The tools I use, like Bloglines, I use in association with feed searches, technorati,, etc., and these I simply skim every day. Users need to know about these tools and how to make their work more effective — they have the key skills, but they don’t necessarily know about the tools.

The big idea is that information management is where the game is at; I see this everywhere, I see publishers publishing catalogues, but not RSS feeds for new literature, and thus not getting customers. The publishers do provide email alerts, but this isn’t exactly going to ring the bell of anyone who is under forty. If the data isn’t easily transformable into a format where it can be compressed and viewed in the way the user wants it presented, it gets forgotten. I rarely visit the sites I’m interested in, I read most stuff syndicated. I appreciate the work done by recommenders and stream-of-news sites (bibliobabl in Norway), and this saves me having to set up custom searches for this kind of information. I look forward to being able to work with a proper implementation of APML.

All of this isn’t to say that searching is irrelevant, but most of the hardcore stuff will remain — as it always has been — well within the domain of the librarian. This isn’t a bad thing, and it affirms the usefulness of a much-maligned profession. Actually, one notable exception to the “search-for-nothing” paradigm springs to mind, and that is source code. Working with source code requires search skills, and these need to be honed. The fact that tools like Google’s Codesearch implement (albeit rudimentary) support for regular expressions is testament to this. On the other hand, this is again special interest stuff that appeals only to the hardcore user (librarian); for the average mortal there’s the information management concept.

Information literacy mythology


The Norwegian blogger Plinius wrote an interesting piece on information literacy the other day, much of what is said here, I really agree with. I’ll translate a bit of it for non-Norwegian readers:

I’m deeply skeptical towards the concept “information literacy” as it is commonly used. (more…)

Library 2.0: user-centered approach?


I wonder if most people get that Library 2.0 doesn’t just mean that the library bends and moulds itself to the requirements of the users, but also means that the library needs to work actively to promote new kinds of service with which the users may not be familiar.

It’s important to remember that users need to be information literate to function in the library; at a university library, it is important to help students become information literate so that they can do their work, and be attractive players in the work market afterwards.

Creating a library that “just works” and requires nothing of the user — which I absolutely doubt is possible — isn’t desirable either, because it doesn’t factor in the role of the librarian. What do I mean by this? Ranganathan quote: “Every reader should feel the presence of the radiant personality of the librarian. Krishna-like, the librarian should now and again be by the side of every reader” (Ranganathan, Shiyali Ramamrita. (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science. London: Edward Goldston.)

“Google Generation” failing?


In Norway (and the World in general), there’s currently a lot of buzz about the “Google generation”, and how libraries are failing to meet the challenge this new, up-and-coming generation presents. Funnily though, research and anecdotal evidence indicates that the “Google generation” aren’t particularly good at Googling, nor are they, in truth, an up-and-coming generation.


Information literacy teaching


Cardiff University Information Services has produced a handbook for information literacy (HILT), which has been released under a Creative Commons license, and is available for free download.

You can also take a look at the project page that describes the licensing and provides the .doc files for download.

Good work!