Wednesday, June 24, 2009

i3 reports: Information literacies beyond rhetoric

At the i3 conference that is taking place at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, Louise Limberg is today's keynote speaker. Her title was Information literacies beyond rhetoric: developing research and practice at the intersection between information seeking seeking and learning. Louise is Professor at the University of Boras, and co-director (with Roger Säljö) of the Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society.
Her central theme seemed to me to be contrasting two perspectives on information literacy: a political/professionalised one, and that which is based on theory and research. She then talked about some examples from her own research group. Apologies for this rather long post, but I thought she presented an interesting perspective.
At the start of her talk, Professor Limberg identified shifts in control and authority e.g. from professional expertise to empowered uses, from control of information to control of information behaviour, from physical space to virtual space. She went on to probe the two underlying concepts of literacy (which has been associated with reading, writing & arithmetic, connected with texts) and information (which was seen in the 90s as a thing, as a process and as knowledge, taking Michael Buckland's analysis). However the 21st century UNESCO definition of literacy is broader (see, being defined in terms of capability for citizens' empowerment and development.
Professor Limberg identified stakeholders in information literacy as being: librarians, the library and information research community, education communities, and political actors/ agents. The political types tend to focus on other types of literacy, such as digital and media literacy. She noted the breadth of the Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and compared this with the narrower and more traditional concept of information literacy identified in the UNESCO publication which proposes indicators for information literacy. She compared also a (Limberg and Folkesson) definition which emphasises the context-specific and varying experience of information literacy. She added socio-cultural perpectives from Sundin "IL is learning (appropriating) to communicate within a specific acitivity in order to be able to act in those practices that constitute the activity" and quoted AnneMaree Lloyd.
So, to summarise she compared the rhetorical view of IL (that IL is transferable, generic, measurable, cognitive, individual and normative (i.e. that you can say IL practices are right or wrong) and the view that emerges from research (IL as situated, varying according to situation and context, social and embedded in different practices and relative (i.e. there isn't a definite right/wrong for all situations).
Thus (she went on to argue) there are diverging interests: a professional, political and embracing view of information literacy (from the rhetorical and - I would say - more traditional library perspective) versus a critical, questioning and distanced view of information literacy. Obviously there is also common ground: e.g. that IL is an "interesting and possibly important concept", that related to learning, new media, LIS activities, librarians' expertise.
I found the above a useful summary which highlights the tensions you sometimes get in discussions about information literacy: with disagreement about what is important for this important subject.Professor Limberg went to talk further about her own perspective and that of her research community: they see information seeking IS) and learning as closely intertwined. She sees 5 relationships between the two things (learning and IS):
1. Information seeking for learning purposes
2. Learning information seeking
3. Teaching information seeking
4. Learning from information
5. Development of information technologies
She sees information literacy as a "hub" for making connections between information seeking and learning.
She finished by giving some examples of research projects. I must confess that at ths point I was getting a bit distracted, thinking about my own talk which was in the next session, so these are particularly brief notes. She stressed the sociocultural perspective they took to research, in the tradition of Vygotsky: this manifests as a focus on investigation of collective activities and tools & activities within communities. A couple of references related to this research are given below. I noted down that she emphasised the need to recognise that there are critical choices or assumptions in the ways systems are used, as well as in selecting of manipulating of data "recognising critical competencies that may emerge in the interaction between user and system" She briefly mentioned a current project EXpertise, Authority and Control on the InterneT (EXACT): A study of the formation of source credibility in Web 2.0 environments for learning, looking at what preconceptions and experiences teachers and schoolchildren have when approaching wikipedia and blogs. Librarian and teachers are viewed as authorities. Wikipedia is used as a background; books tend to be seen as more reliable than wikipedia. Louise felt it was not good to have these blanket views about media, as it did not encourage critical thinking. She saw this area of credibility and authority as an increasingly impotrtant part of practice."Physical and intellectual tools mediate world views and shape information and learning activities."
Sundin, O., Limberg, L. & Lundh, A. (2008). Constructing librarians' information literacy expertise in the domain of nursing. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40(1), 21-30.
Sundin, O. (2008). Negotiations on information seeking expertise: a study of web-based tutorials for information literacy. Journal of Documentation, 64(1), 24-44.

Photos by Sheila Webber: Display of winners of a design-a-mousemat competition and view of Department building as the mist rolls in... june 2009, Aberdeen

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