Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Information Literacy and the Future of Work: Sheila liveblogs from #ecil2017

Stéphane Goldstein started the second day of the European Conference on Information Literacy with his invited talk on Information Literacy and the Future of Work. He said that he would concentrate in looking at the future of work and the implications for information literacy. He started by talking about speculative fiction, such as 1984, which tended to project dystopian views of the future. Goldstein contrastred this with the "current future of work" with Uber, Taskrabbit and so forth.
He identified some long time trends such as flatter organisational structures, less "routine" types of work, and increase in project work (apparently increased "40 fold over 20 years"). Goldstein drew on a framework of digital literacy (from Helen Beetham) to pose some future characteristics of work e.g. less secure, more fragmented, automated, "dislocated from traditional workplaces". This was complemented by a quotation from a UK skills report which emphasised workforce resilience, teamworking, self-management etc. It also fitted in with what Goldstein characterised as a "rosy" view" of the workforce as ageless (meaning, you can work as long as you like without discrimination), mindful, collaborative and intuitive. There was also the idea of the workplace as a "lattice" rather than a "ladder", which implies information sharing, awareness of information, information resilience to find your zigzag way in progressing your career.
However, this did seem to leave the people with service roles, like cleaners, security employees, catering staff, who might not be able to progress through the lattice. Goldstein asked whether they would also be part of an organisation's information culture, and who attended to their information needs and information literacy.He felt that looking at exclusion in workplace settings was a task for information literacy research.
There was also the issue of "flexibility" in working (part-time, temporary, ad-hoc jobs), which may be presented as offering choice, but can also provide pressures, loss of benefits and exclusion. Goldstein noted the "rise of the human cloud" with online platforms that enable people wanting services to be matched with those providing them. This could be seen as global entrepreneurial freedom, or a way of mass exploitation those with less power. From this: what are the information needs of these people, and how can the idea of collaborative information use and sharing be squared with this more precarious and isolated way of working.
Goldstein noted the actions brought be workers and trade unions against operators of these kinds of services (e.g. Deliveroo, Uber). How might information literacy contribute to industrial relations and workers rights in this context? On the same theme, since a growing number of people work from home, or as part of this casualised economy, the "workplace" is no longer necessarily the old stable workplace.
This workplace was also becoming increasingly one where employees are monitored (e.g. through quantified self, for example) and not just output, but also behaviour and attitude are monitored and measured. This raised a whole raft of ethical concerns, which could or should become the focus of information literacy.
Touching on the rise of automation, for example, there could was now automatic extraction of material from a larger text which provided acceptable summaries aimed at different audiences (I remembered that Sheila McNeil blogged about one of these apps here). One then had to ask what activities and tasks were left for human beings (this could be creativity, personal interaction, networking...)
Goldstein finally asked how infolit could address both the threats and the opportunities of the future of work. He stressed that it was important to look at both, and not just the opportunities. There was a research agenda for information literacy, and also implications for information literacy practice.
Some interesting points were raised afterwards, including: the issue of modern slavery (people fruit picking, cleaning etc.) and information literacy.

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