Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The interactions, impact and practice of information literacy (IL) and what it means for the workplace

I’m at the #i3rgu i3 http://www.i3conference.org.uk/ conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, and am aiming to liveblog. Unfortunately I had problems connecting to blogger (hopefully sorted now!). The conference started this afternoon. After the welcome from Professor Dorothy Williams (Robert Gordon University), the conference chair, there was a keynote talk from Annemaree Lloyd (Charles Sturt University): Lost in translation? The interactions, impact and practice of information literacy (IL) and what it means for the workplace. I have mentioned work by Annemaree before e.g. Lloyd (2009).
She began by identifying that there has been some increasing recognition of IL in the “academy” but comparatively little recognition in the wider workplace. She saw IL as a practice that builds capacity and resilience. Annemaree mentioned IL as a natural extension of literacy and a prerequisite for lifelong learning, e.g. as reflected in statements such as the Prague Declaration, and in the frameworks developed by librarians. However, there was a lot to probe in IL’s wider relevance, and to learn about the place of IL in knowledge construction and how to support students in transition into the workplace.
Therefore IL was not making as much impact as it should in the social agenda of governments. She posed the questions: Is IL relevant to the workplace? How does IL make difference? Annemaree started by identifying that one issue was that there had been a tendency to conflate IL with information seeking, whilst others saw it as an umbrella term for information seeking and use, and others still that viewed it as a “practice composed of activities and skills”. There was also a problem where IL was rebadged and renamed with different terms, causing some identity confusion and ambiguity. She thought we should stop this renaming for a while and concentrate on the core IL concept: the confusion of people within the “IL field” can make the translation into the workplace even harder.
Her own questions about the nature of IL include: what social conditions enable IL? how is IL enabled or constrained? how does the fundamental concept of IL support the “segments” (more specific literacies)? Annemaree definitely did not see IL as a concept that was outdated, since there was still much to discover about the nature of IL; more to research and more to digest from existing research.
Questions about the theoretical perspective on IL included: how can IL research contribute to the information research field; how can it contribute to theory; what is its position epistemologically? She questioned how people outside the field interpret IL, and how we create discourses about IL accessible to other researchers.
Annemaree talked about her own journey: her research into firefighters leading her to the contextual perspective on IL. In the workplace IL was present as enacted and embodied practice, or performance. This has led to reflections on the nature of appropriate methods for IL and evidence for IL; for her, they have to be grounded in the reality of activity in the workplace. She now spends more time observing people in their day to day practice.
Annemaree gave three vignettes from her own research. The first was from her study of ambulance workers, illustrating how a worker uses all her senses and her experience when she is approaching a new patient in situ. The second was about firefighters creating narratives about fire fighting situations. The third was about a renal nurse, with her own body’s senses and the patient’s body as important diagnostic tools.
The lessons she has learnt include that IL is holistic, with social and corporeal aspects, that need to be acknowledged in education for IL in these places. Workplaces represent information landscapes; IL can act as a catalyst for engaging with these landscapes. Annemaree identified a “people in practice” approach to IL, and “practice is composed of activities and skills that enable knowing about the landscape.” Within this framework, it is important that people learn how they are able to advance in their work, or “go on”.
She now is convinced that context creates difference. Annemaree also learnt that that information needs are not always identified or evaluated by the worker (I will throw in here the observation that research into business information has been coming up with this since the 1980s or even 1970s). Finally she felt that knowledge is a collective possession in the workplace, or in some other everyday life situations, to develop a collective knowledge base.
Some surveys of employers had shown that they valued critical information literacies more than digital literacies. Annemaree felt that the notion of labour needed to be readjusted to make skills concerning IL practice, critical thinking etc. more prominent.

Reference: Lloyd, A. (2009) “Informing practice: information experiences of ambulance officers in training and on-road practice.” Journal of Documentation, 65 (3), 396-419.

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