Wednesday, August 11, 2010

IFLA conference: Developing inclusive models of reference and instruction to create information literate communities

I will be doing a number of blog posts from the World Library and Information Congress: 76th IFLA General Conference and Assembly, held 10-15 August 2010, in Gothenburg, Sweden. The conference site is at A few thousand librarians from (literally) all over the world have gathered together for these few days.
I hope to be doing some liveblogging, but the wifi connection today was poor quality so instead I rattled in some notes and am posting them tonight. The conference session I attended today was organised by the Information Literacy Section and the Reference and Information Services section. With most of the sessions I blog, I already linked to the full papers in previous pre-view posts, but I will link again for your convenience.
The session was introduced by Amanda Duffy and she emphasised the value and relevance of information literacy. She also identified a number of challenges e.g. identifying: the required information skills for users, the role of the library website and the way in which we can educate the reference librarians of the future. Amanda stressed that librarians were no longer “tucked in the corner” but now needed to come forward and take the initiative.
The first paper was from Sheila Corrall (Head of my Department at the University of Sheffield): Developing inclusive models of reference and instruction to create information literate communities. The full paper is at
Additionally there is a very clear podcast of Sheila's talk here, recorded by Niels Damgaard (pictured) for his school libraries Ning, who I met as I was sitting next to him for this session!
Since it was a joint session Sheila thought it was a good opportunity to explore the connection between these two areas of practice: i.e. reference and information literacy (IL). She identified that they are both central to professional practice: however we are not always inclusive in the way we deal with them. There are some questions that come up e.g. Does reference include IL teaching? Does IL include informal approaches on the reference desk?
Sheila noted that there are different interpretations in different countries: e.g. with "reference" in the UK the focus is on services from the reference desk, whereas in the USA “reference” is usually taken to include IL elements. However, there is common ground in definitions of IL (e.g. CILIP, UNESCO and ALA).
In terms of trends and developments: technology has had the biggest impact in both reference and IL. Another factor has been growing awareness of pedagogical issues amongst librarians, and more stress on independent learning by educationalists. The formalisation of librarians' training roles is also significant.
There is recognition of the changing role, e.g. as represented in the conceptof the blended librarian. However there may be less acknowledgement of the expansion of the skillset of reference desk staff, including the skills of paraprofessionals.
Sheila referred to the model identified in the Fielden Report, which sees "learner support in the LIS context as embracing a grid of activities along two matrices, one relating to the support skills and competences needed (whether LIS or academic) and the other to the style of support (whether structured or unstructured)." She found this model useful to consider the spectrum of interventions that exist (for example, the "teachable moment" would be academic/ unstructured).
Sheila identified a number of questions, for example: a strategic issue is staffing: who should be involved in reference services and what skills do they need? What mix of competencies is required for current information teaching roles?
Also, how should libraries articulate their roles and goals: one issue is that theses statememnts tend to focus on formal (or "structured") interventions in learning, rather than informal (or "unstructured"). There is also the issue of responsibility for the lifelong learning of those people that librarians support.
Sheila identified some examples of successful practice: Firstly the Scottish Information Literacy project (often featured on this blog!), stressing how they have a comprehensive approach, from small children to the workplace, involving partners in different sectors
The second example was at Oxford University, where they explicitly include all staff in their impressive staff development programme. Finally, at Sheffield University she noted the identification of IL as a graduate attribute in the university's Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy. She also talked about the course in Inquiry Based Learning that the librarians took, and now a second innovative programme which includes the IT support and paraprofessionals in training about IL and learning, so that they can understand and support the students’ needs better.
Sheila concluded by identifying technical impact on reference service and IL education; noting that paraprofessionals are often involved in informal learning, but not often included in pedagogical development programmes; identifyng that policies tend to address formal rather than informal teaching strategies, and stating that there is a need to connect up across sectors.

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