Information literacy/information skills teaching will eat your library service, if you are not careful by Matt Holland

Does your focus on information literacy teaching effect your service delivery to the detriment users? Here are some possibly heretical thoughts to keep in mind when trying to deliver big library information skills teaching through a small (health) library and knowledge service.

If information skills teaching is the answer. What is the question?

Well, the question is, how do you deliver information skills training to large groups of students who need the same input at the same time? This question has taxed academic/university librarians for years. The answer is information skills teaching. This is about reaching to a mass audience, not effectiveness. Better to have an hours involuntary contact with your librarian than nothing at all. Too harsh? Perhaps. Years delivering information skills teaching to a reluctant audience have made me cynical.

Why do it this way in any case? Well, that’s a bit like asking a cave person why they made their first tools out of flint? “Ugg uggedy ugg …” Sorry, I will translate that. “Because it was there.” Why do you use lecture theatres with excellent overhead projection and sound systems to deliver your information skills teaching and well equipped computer labs for small group follow up? Because they are there. How were you able to corral hundreds of students into the same place at the same time? Because there is an entire university administrative function designed to do that one thing. Why do students participate so willingly (but to so little effect)? Because that’s what they have been trained to do.

The point is that a difficult choice in an academic context has become an accepted practice applied to all libraries, whatever their size or resources. Doing information literacy teaching has become unquestionably a good thing. But just think, does your investment in information literacy teaching fit the resources of your service? Hold that thought.

Does this style of delivery really suit your users?

If you work in a small specialist library your users are probably working full or part time, studying part time, studying at a distance from their host institution, with a demanding and responsible job. That job as well as the university study may give them cause to use the resources of the library & knowledge service. Is it worth their time to come and sit with you for an hour to learn how to do simple searches? Think about the cost of their time. What about the effort it takes to secure that hour in a busy schedule and the distance travelled from outlying locations.

Think a little as well about the services your users might expect. The process to them may not be as important as outcome. They manage people and resources to achieve results. In the end it’s their LKS and they just want the stuff, now please. Could your time, for and with that user, be better spent? Hold that thought too.

Does it suit the style of service you want to deliver?

Your time, your users time and your resources are pretty much all you have to work with. In the current and possibly bleak future climate the cake may stay the same size but it won’t get any bigger. The service you want to offer might be personalised, specialised and going to the places your users are (Outreach). Its about effectiveness and getting results for your users who deal in the end with real life and real patients. What message does the inevitably simplified presentation give your users. They, Librarians, can do it well, but they want me to do it badly? That’s not a good message to send.

Is there a better way?

Possibly, balance in everything is a good thing. Over reliance on one technique is a bad thing, in my view. So here are the things you need to get right first before you book that lecture theatre or your IT lab.

  • Point of use help. Can your users get the help they need from your website at the point of use, or very near it. After all your resources are available 24 / 7 if they are delivered online, help should be too.
  • Do you build in consistent messages in your communication to your users about how to get help from you (and your team). Who to phone, who to eMail and where to go.
  • Do you work in partnership with colleagues higher education. In addition, do you support students and encourage them to make use of available resources in higher education.
  • Do you have educational resources online that can support your users to learn for themselves in their own time.
  • Do you make good use of educational resources that are made available by publishers and sellers and those that are created by other libraries.

Get a new box

Do we need to think out of the box about information skills, or do we just need a new box altogether. If information skills were a flat pack, this is what would be in it:

  • Strategy. We are all strategists now, and if you are not your are just not trying hard enough with LQAF. Have an information skills component to your strategy and identify the contributing parts that contribute to it as a whole plan.
  • eLearning really is the answer. HEE are thinking about it. Universities are doing it. You can enrol on any number of MOOCs and do it in your own time. We should plan it into our own offerings too.
  • Partnership working. It’s not just what you do, it’s what you cause to be done and how you weave a narrative around what is available to your users. In other words what is your information skills story?
  • Investment. To plan to succeed you do need to invest time, money and energy in information skills resources.

Ok now you have finished reading go ahead, book the Lecture Theatre/IT Lab.

Matt Holland, Librarian, NWAS NHS Trust
Mobile: 07747456736,
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