Category Archives: Conferences

image of a rainbow coloured umbrella

Umbrella 2013

Just a quick post to share my Umbrella 2013 presentation, ‘A critical approach to information literacy’, and to thank everyone who attended and got involved with it on twitter for being such a welcoming and interested audience. The presentation and ‘paper’ (which I turned into notes but didn’t stick to at all!) are here:

1. Introduction

This paper introduces the concept of critical information literacy; an approach to information literacy (IL) that embraces the political nature of education, and the necessity of a critical approach to pedagogy in order to empower citizens to meaningfully engage with democracy and challenge social injustice.

The library and information science (LIS) profession has a social responsibility to engage with issues of critical pedagogy, and although LIS often claims to serve democratic goals, it often falls short of its worthy claims. Several problems with IL practice are discussed, and the ways these can be overcome through engagement with critical pedagogical theory are explored. It is argued that IL has the strong potential to secure its place as a relevant democratic and educational tool in a learning society, provided that researchers and practitioners engage meaningfully in substantive issues of pedagogy, politics and professional jurisdiction. Some examples of the ways in which members of the profession are already engaging with critical pedagogy through critical information literacy in practice are identified.

The brevity of this paper does not allow for in-depth discussion of the concepts introduced, the complexity of critical pedagogy and the implications of critical approaches to information literacy, so further reading of sources referenced is strongly recommended.

2. Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is an educational movement which gives students the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and sense of responsibility necessary to engage in a culture of questioning. These abilities allow young people to challenge perceived inevitabilities of social injustice that they may have, and engage in meaningful participation and leadership (Giroux, 2010). Henry Giroux (2011, p.144) argues that civic education is the cornerstone of democracy, in which people must not only have the right to participate, but should also be educated in order to be able to participate. Giroux advocates for the necessity for critical pedagogy in education in order to “help students to develop a consciousness of freedom, recognise authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power, and learn how to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for agency, justice and democracy” (2012, p.116).

In order to enable people to possess the political agency advocated by critical theorists, education systems and educators, including librarians, must take a critical approach and challenge the frameworks and processes that prevent people from being able to see alternate perspectives and think critically. Although critical pedagogical theory has not yet widely been applied to LIS and very much remains on the margins of information literacy discourse (Cope, 2010, p.24), it has been recommended by a number of theorists within the discipline who believe it is an important area with which to actively engage, particularly with regard to information literacy provision (Elmborg, 2006; Eryaman, 2010; Gage, 2004; Kapitzke, 2003).

3. Information Literacy

Information literacy is an increasingly important area of work in LIS, often presented as the foundation of the profession’s educational jurisdiction (O’Connor, 2009, p.272). A number of frameworks for information literacy have emerged, including the SCONUL Seven Pillars Model, which is especially popular in UK higher education libraries, and the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards, which are commonly used in the United States. Frameworks offer a means by which practitioners can assess individuals’ levels of information literacy, offering a useful, standardised set of performance indicators which can then be tailored to meet individuals’ or institutions’ needs. The SCONUL framework for example, offers a ‘core’ vision which can then be added to with a series of ‘lenses’ which represent different learner groups (SCONUL, 2011). Information literacy can be seen as a ‘cognitive schema’ – a way of thinking – which can offer continuity and a means to obtain resources (Whitworth, 2013), which are beneficial features. However, information literacy is an evolving concept, with some problems that need to be addressed in order for it to properly fulfil the role it claims to perform. A number of criticisms have been made about the aspects of the development of IL, which will be discussed below.

3.1 Origins

IL has been criticised for the nature of its origins. For example, Foster (1993, p.346) claimed that IL is “an effort to deny the ancillary status of librarianship by inventing a social malady with which librarians as ‘information professionals’ are uniquely qualified to deal”. Tyner (1998) suggests that the lack of a simple definition of IL, may in part be due to the idea that the IL as a concept exists as the result of a need of the library profession to market their role to the educational community. He suggests that this occurred as a result of the LIS community strongly feeling that they had been excluded from educational policy, particularly the US report A Nation at Risk (1983). Similarly, O’Connor (2009b, p.493) suggests that IL was a concept developed out of a reaction to the threats faced by traditional access-oriented librarianship roles. She suggests that IL legitimated the profession in that it created a more flexible, educational jurisdiction for librarians (p.499). This in itself is not necessarily negative and does not negate the value and relevance of IL (p.506), but does become potentially problematic when librarians make claims to teaching roles (p.502). The majority of librarians in the United Kingdom do not have teaching qualifications and have not studied educational theory. It could be suggested that this may be a contributing factor to why IL has not yet fully engaged with substantive issues such as pedagogical theories and limit the ability of LIS to best meet the needs of learners through IL provision.

Criticisms of the origins of IL do not mean that it is not a valuable part of library and information provision, but does suggest that practitioners and those writing about IL need to be aware of the background and rationale behind it, in order to question the practices and activities we encourage and discourage. Reflection and understanding of the sometimes reactive and defensive origins of parts of the discipline can help us to meaningfully define and articulate the role of IL in the future.

3.2 Theoretical Grounding

IL has been criticised for a lack of theoretical depth. Buschman (2007, p.1492) criticises LIS for being simultaneously both under- and over-theorised in approach, arguing that “LIS cast as a science has flattened libraries and information systems/products into objective and neutral entities studied without reference to context or power”, while suggesting that at the same time there has been “an over-theorised notion of power and domination proliferates within areas of LIS theory adapted from postmodern sources”. Similarly, Cope (2009, p.11) suggests that “LIS commentators tend to shy away from more complicated discussions of social and political power”, and Day (2010, p.2) argues that LIS research has shaky conceptual foundations.

Gage (2004 p.73) accuses the library and information profession as having become a “hollowed out reification of consumer society” which systemically fails to problematize issues of importance. This lack of deep engagement with critical theory has led to an overemphasis on a positivist approach (Kapitzke 2003, p.11), which critics argue impedes the development of critical reasoning (Pankl and Coleman 2010, p.6).

Doherty and Ketchner (2005) question whether the library profession is aware of the structures of power and hierarchy that it has built around information literacy tuition. They argue that “information literacy is not as empowering as the library profession would like to think”, citing Kapitzke (2003) who argues that “[f]ar from contributing to equitable education outcomes, this [information literacy] framework for school library research masks an exclusionary ideology”.

3.3 Skills-Based Frameworks

The ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards (ALA, 2000) represent an approach to information literacy education that a number of theorists find problematic. Pankl and Coleman (2009, p.8) criticise the ACRL Standards for “hindering the transformation of…students and inhibiting their impact on the world”. Webber and Johnston (2000, p.384) identify a step-by-step process approach to information literacy, which they suggest “facilitates the mapping of information literacy onto current assignments and class curricula, focusing exclusively on skills”, which they argue “reduces the complexity of learning and knowledge to limited and isolated units”.

Whitworth (2013) also criticizes standardised competencies, particularly the ACRL definition of IL which implies that information literacy is a linear sequence in which the learner deliberately engages, which he says fails to account for other ways and forms of engaging with information and learning. He also believes that standardised competencies have become cognitive schema; ways of thinking to which people are expected to conform, which promotes one way of thinking over others without allowing for the ways in which learners develop their own criteria for establishing what information is important and relevant in their own contexts.

The skills-oriented approach has also been criticized for isolating information from its social, cultural, historical, and technological contexts (Jacobs and Berg, 2011, p.386). Špiranec and Zorica (2010, p.142-143) suggest that adopting a skills-oriented approach “is a limited perception of [information literacy] as a neutral process which is entirely unaffected by any kind of social, political or historical background”.

This approach to information literacy emerges from the idea that information literacy is a problem needing to be overcome (Jacobs and Berg, 2011, p.387). Librarians see the ACRL standards as a solution, based on the assumption that students are lacking information literacy skills. As a result, information literacy is treated as the learning of “survival skills” (p.387). This is problematic, because it means that the focus of information literacy practitioners is on practical survival skills and more pressing information needs (Kopp and Olson-Kopp 2009, p.58), and not on more abstract goals such as the development of critical consciousness and the critical aims of IL according to the Alexandria Proclamation, which emphasises the need for IL to extend “beyond current technologies to encompass learning, critical thinking and interpretative skills across professional boundaries and empowers individuals and communities.” (IFLA, 2006).

3.4 Critical Information Literacy

Critical information literacy takes the theories of critical pedagogy and critical literacy, and translates these into the practice of IL. Whitworth (2011) argues that it is important to have a clear idea of what IL is for and an awareness of the conflicting views about this because it raises political challenges for LIS. He connects the concept of noöpolitics, which is interested in control over informational resources (Whitworth, 2011, p.191), to a critical approach to IL, and argues that in order to challenge the transmission of cultural hegemony (manipulation of culture by those in control in order to present social, economic and political injustice as inevitable). LIS needs to be aware of noöpolitical issues and equip learners with the ability to critique and scrutinise information in order to challenge and question the messages to which they are exposed.

Elmborg (2006) argues that in order to align themselves with the democratic values they invoke, libraries must engage in critical literacy and focus on the links between educational processes and the politics of literacy (p.193). This includes the need for educators to be aware of the ways in which schools and curricula themselves present and protect traditional, authoritative knowledge, whilst failing to “respect students as people capable of agency and meaning- making in their own right” (p.194). Elmborg (2006, p.195) argues that literacy must be looked at in a pluralistic, non-judgemental way, which with respect to information literacy requires IL practitioners to help learners to present information that meets the standards expected of their learning environment, but also to help them understand systems of thought, information flows and to be able to “critically evaluate the system itself” (p.196).

Critical information literacy puts to work the democratic ideals of LIS, which are frequently recited but often ignored (Buschman, 2007). The following section briefly details some examples of LIS professionals engaging with critical information literacy, which indicates that critical pedagogy may be having some positive influence on IL practice.

3.5 Critical Information Literacy in Practice

Pankl and Coleman (2009, p.9) recommend the encouragement of sharing and dialogue between students, which can be achieved through creating a space where students are facing each other and are not behind computer monitors. They also advocate the fostering of “intellectual curiosity” in students, which can be achieved through promoting research that is “relevant to the students’ personal and academic lives”. Cope (2009, p.25) says that classroom practices of critical information literacy “would entail a move away from the demonstration of technical search processes and simplistic claims that some sources are “authoritative” because authorities have decided that they are”.

Torrell (2009, pp.89-103) describes her application of critical library instruction in her library workshops. She aims to create situations in which students are enabled to identify when they are being manipulated by outside forces such as newspapers, and learn to be less uncritically willing to accept the authority of the written word. Contact zone pedagogy techniques are used to maximise student agency and engagement.

4. Conclusions

Although IL has contributed to an understanding of the role of the library and information professional and provided a rubric by which we can chart the performance and abilities of learners, it is vital for the LIS profession to view IL as a more meaningful educational device. If we are to consider ourselves as educators, we must engage with educational and pedagogical issues. If we are to consider ourselves as supporters of democracy, we must engage with political issues. The nature of information, knowledge and education is inherently political, and librarians must be able to justify the decisions they make and consider the political implications of the practices they choose. The decisions we make about our approach to education must be explicit and transparent; neutrality is not an option (Elmborg, 2006, p.193).

Engagement with critical approaches to information literacy would not only help librarians to justify the existence as a profession and demonstrate their values to the institutions in which they work and the learners they serve, but also contribute to the strengthening of democracy through providing citizens with the abilities to become active agents in society, motivated and able to participate through a sense that the information they are able to access, critique and understand can be used by them to effect real social change.

Taking a critical approach to information literacy is a complex task, which requires much reflection on the part of those involved. We must be conscious of the need to work within ethical constraints and to avoid interfering in the political lives of others, at the same time as working to ensure that we do not shy away from political issues concerning our educational values and wider ideals for society. Developing an overall policy for critical information literacy instruction and would allow the LIS profession to lay the groundwork for specific tuition based on the needs of learners within each learning environment.

3.7 References

  • Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) (2000) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. American Library Association, Chicago, IL. [Online] Available from: <http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/standards/standards.pdf&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • Cope, J. (2009) Information Literacy and Social Power. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, eds. M.T. Accardi, E. Drabinski and A. Kumbier, pp.13-28. Library Juice Press, Duluth, MN.
  • Cornelius, I. (2002) Theorizing information science in: B. Cronin (Ed.) Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST), Vol. 36, Information Today, pp. 393–425.
  • Day, R. E. (2010) “The Self-Imposed Limits of Library and Information Science: Remarks On the Discipline, On the Profession, On the University, and On the State of “Information” in the U.S. at Large Today”. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 6(2).
  • Doherty, J.J. and Ketchner, K. (2005) Empowering the Intentional Learner: A Critical Theory for Information Literacy Instruction. Library Philosophy and Practice, 8(1), pp. 1–10.
  • Elmborg, J. (2006) Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), pp. 192-199.
  • Eryaman, M.Y. (2010) The Public Library as a Space for Democratic Empowerment: Henry Giroux, Radical Democracy, and Border Pedagogy. Critical Theory for Library and Information Science, eds. G.K. Leckie et al., pp. 131-142. Libraries Unlimited, Oxford,
  • Foster, S. (1993) Information Literacy: Some Misgivings. American Libraries, 24(4), pp.344–346.
  • Gage, R. A. (2004) “Henry Giroux’s “Abandoned Generation” & Critical Librarianship”, Progressive Librarian, 23(Spring 2004), pp. 64-74.
  • Giroux, H. (2012) Education and the Crisis of Public Values. Peter Laing, New York.
  • Giroux, H. (2011) On Critical Pedagogy. Continuum, New York.
  • Giroux, H. (2010) Lessons to be learned from Paulo Freire as education is being taken over by the mega rich. Truthout [Online] Available from: <http://archive.truthout.org/lessons-be-learned-from-paulo-freire-education-is-being-taken-over-mega-rich65363&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • IFLA (2006) Beacons of the Information Society: The Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning [Online] Available from: <http://www.ifla.org/publications/beacons-of-the-information-society-the-alexandria-proclamation-on-information-literacy&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • Jacobs, H.L.L.M. and Berg, S. 2011. Reconnecting Information Literacy Policy with the Core Values of Librarianship. Library Trends 60(2), pp. 383-394.
  • Kapitzke, C. (2003) (In)formation literacy: A positivist epistemology and a politics of (out)formation. Educational Theory 53(1), pp.37-53.
  • Keer, G. (2009) Critical Pedagogy and Information Literacy in Community Colleges. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, eds. M.T. Accardi, E. Drabinski and A. Kumbier, pp.149-160. Library Juice Press, Duluth, MN.
  • Kopp, B.M. and Olson-Kopp, K. (2009) Depositories of Knowledge: Library Instruction and the Development of Critical Consciousness. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, eds. M.T. Accardi, E. Drabinski and A. Kumbier, pp.55-68. Library Juice Press, Duluth, MN.
  • The National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. [Online] Available from: <http://datacenter.spps.org/uploads/sotw_a_nation_at_risk_1983.pdf&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • O’Connor, L. (2009) Information literacy as professional legitimation: The quest for professional jurisdiction. Library Review 58(4), pp. 272-289.
  • Pankl, E. and Coleman, J. (2009) “There’s nothing on my topic!” Using the theories of Oscar Wilde and Henry Giroux to develop critical pedagogy for library instruction. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, eds. M.T. Accardi, E. Drabinski and A. Kumbier, pp.3-12. Library Juice Press, Duluth, MN.
  • Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) (2011) The SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy: Core Model for Higher Education [Online] Available from: <http://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/coremodel.pdf&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • Špiranec, S., & Zorica, M. B. (2010) Information Literacy 2.0: hype or discourse refinement? Journal of Documentation, 66(1), pp.140-153.
  • Torrell, M.R. (2009) Negotiating Virtual Contact Zones: Revolutions in the role of the research workshop. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, eds. M.T. Accardi, E. Drabinski and A. Kumbier, pp.89-104. Library Juice Press, Duluth, MN.
  • Whitworth (2013) The politically and socially empowering dimensions of information literacy. Chat Literacy Blog [Online] Available from: <http://community.eldis.org/.5b8e33ea&gt; [Accessed 13 May 2013].
  • Whitworth (2011) Information literacy and noöpolitics. Information Literacy: Infiltrating the agenda, challenging minds, eds. G. Walton and A. Pope, pp.187-218. Chandos Publishing, London.

Library Politics and Agenda-Setting

I don’t want to alarm anyone…but there’s an elephant in the room.

Elephant in the room

It’s a very political elephant, which is a touchy subject in libraryland, especially in the UK. So I’m mentioning the elephant. I’m going to state, that I have…and I know it might come as a surprise…some views about libraries. I believe that librarians have a crucial role to play in effecting social change, in all sectors. I think they have a role as educators in critical information literacy. I think that public libraries are vital public spaces that need to see people as citizens, not consumers. I think libraries should be accessible. These are political positions. Lots of people, I’m sure, share these views, but there isn’t much substantive debate or discussion about these issues and the barriers we face, and I think in part that’s due to the political naïvety of the library and information profession.

This naïvety is, in many ways, responsible for the giant mess we’re in. Agendas have been set and we haven’t acknowledged how political in nature they are. Librarians and information professionals don’t control the discourse around library and information issues. We haven’t made it clear what values we’re espousing, because a lot of the time we aren’t savvy enough to know. We’ve courted private companies and governments whose values directly undermine the values of librarianship, like free expression of thought, privacy, and equity of access. Many aspects of LIS seek to establish and maintain certain boundaries and espouse certain political values without consciously or explicitly acknowledging that this is what they’re doing.

Playing the Game (Badly)

The political elephant is being ignored across the board, and this is causing serious problems. Attempts have been made to measure value and express it in ways that politicians and purse-holders will understand. Different methods, such as contingent valuation and cost benefit analysis are used to try to demonstrate that services make economic sense1. Library school curricula are influenced by hegemonic forces. Professional bodies are driven by the need for paying members and are directed by the power of corporate influence from stakeholders. They are limited  by their status as charities and are therefore prevented from taking political positions, even when it’s in the interests of their members and the public they serve, to do so. Library services adopt corporate language to appeal to councils and adopt marketing techniques to mimic bookshops. It all seems fairly innocuous and after all, its aim is to protect and promote libraries, so it’s for a good cause.

But playing the game is dangerous. The way librarians refer to the value of the services they provide influences how we’re perceived by society. The values libraries promote in the way they are run and what they do can and do rub off on library users. Power dynamics and the way staff relate to users (and how we refer to people who use library services – customer? patron?) do influence people’s relationships with public services. The way councils value or fail to value public space does send a message to citizens about what’s worth paying taxes for and what’s not. The language used by local and national government to discuss public spending in the popular press does determine the set of beliefs and values that become the dominant thoughts being expressed by the media, by politicians and members of the public.

Sad game piece

The Library Profession

For a long time, there’s been a fight to establish and maintain the professional status librarianship and information work. The promise of “prestige, higher salaries, and an elite employment niche” was a compelling reason for librarianship to fight for recognition as a profession2, but professional bodies are now having a difficult time articulating their policy positions on the replacement of paid staff with volunteers (although the Society of Chief Librarians has now clearly stated that it accepts direct substitution of paid members of staff by volunteers3), and it seems like a lot of the problem stems from hazy distinctions between professional and paraprofessional staff and what counts as professional practice4. Chartership is very much centred around recruitment, becoming “more employable” and “transfer[ring] up through the ranks”5, without much thought about the politics and ethics of librarianship and information work or a clear sense of what it means to be a professional librarian. It feels as if it’s just another professional development box to tick post-qualification. This is a problem because it becomes difficult to articulate why paid, professional staff are a necessity and beneficial to democratic society, and doesn’t help to safeguard the public interest. Not all library workers are members of unions, and unions themselves are focusing on keeping libraries open, and the pay and conditions of workers. Few with loud voices are expressing the issues about the standard of service being lost and the ways this detrimentally affects our society.

Higher Education and Library School Curricula

Failure to engage with social and political issues is also evident in higher education and within departments providing Library and Information Science (LIS) education. Students find themselves under an “economic model of subservience”6, which prevents engagement with social issues:

“there is no future for young people, there is no time to talk about advancing social justice, addressing social problems, promoting critical thinking, cultivating social responsibility, or engaging non-commodified values that might challenge the neoliberal world view.”

Defining the library and information discipline as scientific is positivistic and confers non-political and value-free status upon it, which is both impossible and counter-productive. The LIS curriculum tends to shy away from social issues, leaving graduates ignorant about key political issues. Christine Pawley writes:

“…the deepening division of society between information haves and have-nots is widely discussed in the general press. Does the LIS curriculum participate in this debate, or does it rather contribute to the information apparatus’s aim of avoiding social criticism?

Where are the courses on information politics? On the production and distribution of information? On the ownership of information? On the stratification of information? Such courses do exist in some schools, but, for the most part, curricular consideration of these questions lurks in what are sometimes stigmatized as “airhead” or “philosophical” (that is, nontechnical) areas: courses in LIS foundations service to or aimed at low-status populations such as children or the elderly or taught from a feminist or multicultural perspective.

From a class perspective, this failure of LIS education to confront societal questions is itself a sign of the power of the dominant class to exercise hegemony. Traditionally, LIS studies both the institution of libraries and the broad phenomenon of information largely through pluralist and managerial lenses as questions of service delivery, technical efficiency, and managerial effectiveness. One result is a politically naive profession.” 6

Library Conferences and Events

Conferences and events organised by professional organisations and other groups often instil certain values in those who attend them, especially if they don’t think critically about their experiences and the information they’re exposed to, and aren’t conscious of the impact and influence aspects of the middle-class professional agenda:

“For example, when professional people attend conferences and publish scholarly papers, they are taking part in this ongoing process of establishing and maintaining the boundaries of middle-class conduct and values.” 7

Events such as LibraryCamp say that they aim to provide a “politically neutral arena for debate”8, but take inevitably political stances on censorship and make political choices about corporate sponsors, who have their own agendas when it comes to influencing policies and services9. It’s simply contradictory to claim to be non-political but explicitly state that an event aims to save libraries and return them to mass public use. Access to and use of public libraries is political. Wanting to keep them is political. Making a conscious effort to make the event accessible for people with disabilities is a political choice. These aims are valuable, and it’s more than just important, it’s imperative, that the inherent, unavoidable, political values being promoted are acknowledged. These are good things and we shouldn’t be scared to talk about them. We need a vocabulary to discuss the substantive issues, through the language of public discourse10. We don’t currently have it and we desperately need to develop it.

Doing this, however, makes it difficult to be seen as legitimate by those in power – you immediately face being branded as a troublemaker, a tub-thumper, or at the very least, someone who challenges the status quo and oughtn’t be listened to. It places some kind of social responsibility on you as an individual to seek to effect change, and think about the impact of the decisions you make and the messages you send through the actions you take and the things you say, and that’s hard work. Although sold as an arena to facilitate debate, it’s questionable how authentic that debate can be when most of the attendees all know each other on twitter, and the majority of them are qualified or soon to be qualified, and female. Even if there was a more mixed group of attendees, there’s the spiral of silence to contend with11, especially when there’s the strong chance that corporate sponsors (who as far as I’m concerned have had their thoughts heard quite enough, through the various avenues they already have open to them, thanks) will be running sessions, immediately creating an environment where discussion becomes led, rather than shared, by the members who have more experience in selling and influencing. When you start thinking about all that, it stops being a nice day out with friends and tea and cake. Which is all it’s meant to be, I’m sure, and that’s fine in and of itself. I do think events like this have some value, and I respect anyone who’s gone to the hard work of organising something. I don’t want to be a cake-smashing party pooper.

Smashed cake

But, we need to be conscious of the language we use and the messages we send to attendees, the library profession, and the outside world. I haven’t got a shovel big enough to clear up the mess that our elephant’s making. I don’t have a solution to get people to acknowledge it’s there or work out how to deal with it. I just know that we have to acknowledge it, and not pretend it isn’t there and that isn’t causing an almighty great stink.

———————————————————————————————–

1) Walker, C., Halpin, E., Rankin, C., and Chapman, E. (2011) “Measuring the Value of Public Libraries: The fallacy of footfall and issues as measures of the value of Public Libraries - Summary Report”. Available from: http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.199926!/file/Measuringthevalueofpubliclibraries.pdf

2) O’Connor, L. (2009) “Information literacy as professional legitimation: The quest for professional jurisdiction”. Library Review, 58 (4), pp.272-289. Available from: <http://www.emeraldinsight.com/10.1108/00242530910952828>

3) http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/2012/08/the-scl-spells-it-out.html

4) Pawley, C. (1998) “Hegemony’s Handmaid? The Library and Information Studies Curriculum from a Class Perspective”. The Library Quarterly, 68 (2), pp.123-144. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309200

5) http://www.cilip.org.uk/jobs-careers/qualifications/accreditation/pages/default.aspx

6) Giroux, H. (2011) “The Politics of Ignorance: Casino Capitalism and Higher Education”. Counterpunch. Available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/31/casino-capitalism-and-higher-education/

7) Pawley, C. (1998) p.132

8) Pawley, C. (1998) p.129

9) http://libcamp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-co-operative-bank-grant-application.html

10) http://www.libcamp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/librarycamp-session-proposal-15.html

11) Giroux, H. (2011)

11) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence

Images:

The elephant in the room CC licensed John Mallon Iphoneography on Flickr
Lost CC licensed by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr
Cake Aftermath CC licensed by jasonsisk on Flickr

LIS DREaM Workshop 2: London (and Library Day in the Life Day One)

Note: This is Day One of my Library Day in the Life (#libday8) activities – I’m unlikely to blog the rest in such detail, but we’ll see!

On 30th January I attended the second workshop in a series of three in the LIS DREaM Project (my blog post about the first is here).

The format was similar to the first, with a combination of presentations about different innovative and unusual research methods people might want to explore, short delegate presentations about their own research projects, and a research ‘practicality’ – this time, about research and policy (which is particularly relevant to the aims of my own research!)

Again, I don’t want to duplicate content that will be provided on the LIS Research site itself, so I’ll just cover the sessions and information that I found the most useful and pertinent to my own work, which now that I’m three weeks back into being a student, I feel far more able to absorb and apply in a meaningful way than I did back in October.

I think first it’s important to mention what is quite possibly the greatest librarian t-shirt I’ve ever seen. Nice work Michael.

Anyway. Onto Conference Report Proper…

The first thing that really struck a chord with me was the minute-long presentation given by research student Ella Taylor-Smith as part of the Unconference Half Hour. Her topic is e-participation. She’s conducting case studies using ethnography and discourse analysis and applying resource mobilisation theory to develop hypotheses about social movements,  which she’ll then use to build technology pilots to test the ideas she’s developed, to see if they’re pointing in the right direction. (Phew, that’s a lot of concepts I’d never come across before…I hope I made them make sense…!)

Ella and I had a chat during lunch and she was kind enough to tweet me some recommended reading afterwards:

I gave a short presentation about my research topic too:

You can watch the video of the session below:

Another session I found really interesting and potentially relevant to my research topic was Professor Mike Thelwall’s Introduction to Webometrics. It covered a few different techniques and he explained how they could be applied to LIS, including using altmetrics instead of/as well as traditional citation index searching, for a number of reasons, including the fact that results can be up to two years more up to date. Initially I didn’t quite understand why this kind of search would be useful, and tweeted that I wondered if it was a more in-depth equivalent of googling yourself, but Professor Hazel Hall explained that this it’s a way of discovering how much impact your work is having, which is important if you’re under pressure to demonstrate your impact for funding or promotion, for example.

Mike also talked about the uses of sentiment analysis and how computational linguistics can be used to explore aspects of online communication. This was really interesting and far more complex than I can do justice, so I’d recommend having a look at the presentation and exploring it for yourself if you’re interested! I think I’ll dig a bit deeper into it in case my methodology does involve analysing online political discussion, but one problem with the method that Mike raised was that exchanges and discussions of a political nature can be problematic to effectively analyse because computers aren’t great at picking up on sarcasm!

The final session of the day was Professor Nick Moore’s presentation Making the Bullets for Others to Fire, which looked at how research can inform policy. He gave a really thorough account of his experiences within the Policy Studies Institute, and great advice about how to understand information policy, not getting too positive too early on, responding to comments and criticism, and planning what you want your research to achieve from the start. It was reassuring to find that the way Nick presented his Information Policy Matrix and described how information is socially important (to understand policies, how to vote and participate) fit in with the way my reading is taking me at the moment. I need to go away and explore the potential ‘gap in the matrix’ in the ‘information and society’ / ‘legislative and regulatory’ box.

Nick raised some really important issues for planning research, including the importance of seeking to inform future policy rather than looking back at policies of the past, and being aware of political agendas in research projects that have been set up by other people/organisations. He also provided a perfect, but difficult to achieve, sign of success:

Express your research aim in one, clear, unambiguous sentence.

Challenge accepted! I might be some time…

The general lessons were these:

  • Critical comment is really important and researchers mustn’t be afraid to do it. There’s no point doing the work if you don’t express your views and provide critical comment. This can be a scary prospect, but in Britain we’re lucky because we have a big enough mass to enable critical comment to be heard. We’re not as huge as the US, for example, so aren’t invisible. We’re also big enough, however, to not damage our entire career by being openly critical in our research findings and publicising them.
  • Interest and passion are essential, especially if you want to inform policy. You have to be able to keep going, because it’s not a short term thing and takes time! You need the motivation to keep powering on.
  • You need to be able to try to work out what is the next big issue and what will be important in 2, 5, 10 years time. Consider what small issues haven’t yet been addressed.
  • However, it’s important that you don’t get too far ahead of the curve and find that nobody’s ready to look at the work you’re doing.
  • It’s important to consider role of universities – you need to be in a department that has a reputation and is geared up to informing policy if you want to do that yourself.
  • You need to be able to retain your independence in order to be listened to.
Nick’s key tips were:
  • Focus and specialise - pick your area of specialism and become a real expert
  • Carry others with you – make use of professional and academic networks
  • Pick your allies and find ways of working with them
  • Don’t look too far ahead – elected politicians seldom look beyond the next election
A very informative day with lots to take in. So, in the style of true library and information scientists, we hit the pub.
I left early to sneak in a cup of tea with a friend based in Oxford who’d been lecturing at Middlesex University and then to go for dinner with some London friends. If you like Mexican food, have a go on Wahaca – awesome! I’m going to get hold of the cookbook so I can try it out at home.

A Bit of Reflection

I’ve already written about some of what I got up to at Umbrella, but the most valuable aspect of attending the conference was the opportunity to talk to CILIP members and other attendees about what we’ve all been up to, how we think things are going with libraries and CILIP, and what the future might hold. Consider this a practical application of Thing 5, as well as a bit of an announcement…

Over the past year I’ve done a lot of work in public library advocacy, which has been an incredible insight into how the media works. Doing the work I’ve been doing (public speaking, writing articles, giving media interviews, attending conferences and events as a representative of Voices for the Library, helping local campaigns get up and running) – especially during a period of unprecedented threats to libraries – has made me realise even more that libraries of all kinds are important – fundamental to a successful society, in fact – and more relevant than ever before. We need to keep advocating and campaigning, wherever possible, to as many people as possible. We need to raise the profile of libraries, which I believe Voices for the Library has and continues to do successfully, to the public, policy-makers and stakeholders.

As a profession, we’ve got a lot more work to do. Every so often I hear or read someone say that it’s not just public libraries under threat. And they’re right. But public libraries are the first to face the cuts and challenges. Public library staff are the first facing redundancy, cuts to pay and working hours, changes to their employment rights and working conditions. Public library users are the first to face having to fight for their access to vital information and cultural services. The whole profession has a lot to learn from the work that’s already underway and the issues that have already been raised, and all libraries have a lot to learn from each other, the skills of their staff and the needs of their users.

With the benefit of being a sprightly young thing, I’ve been able to devote a lot of energy to the cause. I’d love more newcomers to the profession to consider what they can do in a way that fits with their lifestyles, skills and personalities, find out how they can get involved and play an active role in protecting and developing library and information services. I’ve been involved at a level that I certainly didn’t expect to be able to be a part of at so early a stage in my career. I hope this sends the message that it’s possible, valuable and of a significant degree of impact to get out there and do something, anything, to advocate for and promote the profession and the services we provide.

The work we’ve done so far has been time-consuming, complex and, to be honest, at times gut-wrenching. But I love it. I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone I meet that I love it with a (healthy!) passion. I very much intend to continue to be involved, and when I start my PhD in January I’ll be able to do so in a more flexible way. I’d also like to be more involved in CILIP. I could do this by getting involved with a new branch or getting more involved with the groups I’m already part of, but I wouldn’t be able to carry on being vocal at a national level and the impact of my involvement would be limited.

So. With all that in mind, I’ve decided what I’m going to do about it.

I’m going to stand for election as the Vice-President of CILIP.

The nominations will open at the beginning of September and close at the beginning of October. Ballot papers will be sent out on 13th October and the voting ends on 30th November. If I were to be successful, I’d be Vice-President for 2012 and President for 2013. I want to be able to represent members at a national level, so even though it’s a few months away I thought I’d write about it now because in the next few months I’ll be doing a lot of talking and thinking about my position on things in order to write a nomination statement. The discussion starts here! Let me know your thoughts.

Umbrellas, Windows and Voices

I was given the opportunity to go to a day of the Umbrella conference thanks to sponsorship from Credo Reference for Voices for the Library. I had a fantastic time and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, catching up with people, making new acquaintances and finally meeting people I really should have met in person before now! I found some sessions particularly valuable, most notably Christine Rooney-Browne’s talk on measuring the value of libraries (there are some really useful links that she shared on the Voices site). Some of the themes that emerged from discussions in John Pateman and John Vincent’s session about the Big Society, social justice and public libraries were thought-provoking, such as the concept of ‘empowerment’ from above, accountability, accessibility and engaging core, passive and non-users. My focus was inevitably on public libraries, with my Voices hat on, but I also found the talk by David Hunter, the Strategy and Performance Manager at the National Library of Scotland very interesting too. He discussed the bibliometric evaluation method that the NLS has been experimenting with, to try and discern the ways in which library users benefit from the library’s resources. There’s much work to be done, but I’m excited about its potential.

So much of what Gerald Leitner, EBLIDA President and Secretary General of the Austrian Library Association, the keynote speaker on Tuesday morning, had to say about the need for library and information professionals to take control of emerging digital copyright issues and negotiate with publishers made a lot of sense. I agree with his assertion that now is the time for LIS professionals to work together, cross-sector and internationally, to develop a unified library policy. Libraries provide access to culture, resources for lifelong learning and methods to counteract the most demoralising aspects of current economic and social crises. Gerald pointed out that the problem of legislators not understanding the value of library and information services and their lack of understanding about the difference between print and electronic copyright issues is not just a UK issue, it’s Europe-(if not world)wide. This needs to be addressed and it’s important for librarians to set it high on policymakers’ agendas. An issue he raised that was particularly relevant to my research interests was that a high proportion of children and young people in Europe are illiterate, which means that they can no longer be reached with written information. They are therefore more likely to become (or continue to be) marginalised and unengaged and vulnerable to radicalisation. This is something that libraries are in a key position to tackle.

The focus of the conference this year was on six themes, (skills and professionalism, promotion and advocacy, technologies and access, libraries in the Big Society, digital inclusion and social change, tools and techniques) the majority of which are relevant to the advocacy, campaigning and media work that I do. Tomorrow at the Windows on the World event at the West Yorkshire Playhouse I’ll be talking about the risk to UK public libraries, current legal challenges, what councils are doing in order to implement the cuts imposed on them and the implications these changes have in relation to access, universality, digital inclusion, education and social change.

It was lovely to meet so many people at the conference who knew about Voices for the Library, what we’re doing and why it’s not just important for the public library sector, but for the whole profession. I’m so grateful for the support that we have from so many people within the profession as well as members of the public, authors and other campaign groups. As Ian’s mentioned, we’d really like to get some more contributions from people, whether they’re working in libraries or just using them, to spread the message about the great work that public libraries do. It’s always been one of our key aims, but with all the campaigning against things that needs doing it’s hard to keep up the advocacy message for things. Please write to us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk with anything you’d like to share.

Edinburgh Has The Edge (2010): Day One

I don’t want to write too much about The Edge 2010 conference, because I’m going to be submitting a piece to the Public Library Journal, but I do want to get a bit down about it, because it really was a brilliant two days. Here are a few highlights.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle, the conference venue

Susan Benton is the President and CEO of American Urban Libraries Committee and gave a fantastic keynote speech about the value of the work of public libraries. She emphasised the need for leadership, partnerships and publicity to send this message loudly and clearly to local authorities, national governments and communities. As well as the need for leadership in terms of promoting and advocating our services, public libraries could act as physical examples of sustainability in the community; working out of green buildings and being actively involved in recycling, etc. as well as offering involvement opportunities for local businesses and educational establishments would enable libraries to take the lead in an increasingly important area. Susan also expressed the thought that public libraries are trusted by communities and are often the first place people go to for information, advice and support. This is something that libraries need to be aware of and use to their benefit in serving their communities.

Nicky Parker and Councillor Mike Amesbury from Manchester City Council presented the plans and developments for Manchester Library and Information Services, which are considered an important political priority in the area. The libraries were given a poor report six years ago, which prompted action to improve their services drastically with an investment of £255 million, being spent on, amongst other things, 2 new buildings, widespread renovation and a virtual library. The challenge in Manchester was to decide which buildings to rebuid and which to adapt; this has been met innovatively with the decision to never build a standalone library again, instead to co-locate with other services such as adult learning centres. Strategically locating libraries in the heart of communities alongside other public services, near transport links, schools and homes, will hopefully make the library service more a part of the community.

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library (CC by harshilshah100 at Flickr)

Mancester Library and Information Services are also investing in new technology such as RFID, automated storage and retrieval, self service and return and book vending machines. I hope that the introduction of these will make the service more widely used and not discourage people from using the Central and City libraries. Although the automated storage system is meant to make access to books easier and because of the current layout of the Central Library does not reduce the amount of open shelving, I am concerned that in public libraries, automated storage may not be as suited as it is in the British Library. Much of the book lending in public libraries seems to take place after time spent browsing the shelves and coming across something they were not deliberately seeking – I worry that taking this away will reduce the chances of someone serendipitously borrowing something wonderful and unexpected. A benefit of the self service borrowing system, though, is the ability to borrow books anonymously – this may have the opposite effect and encourage more people to borrow the items they want or need but are too embarrassed to take to the counter. I would be interested to see the results of any studies conducted!

I particularly enjoyed the speech from The Leader of Newcastle Council, Councillor John Shipley. His conviction that public libraries with their add-on services have become an essential public service that people should pay taxes for other people to borrow books and use libraries was inspiring. Libraries are cheap for the services they provide, efficient and effective – and if they are accused of being high cost – they should be proud, because it means that a valuable service is being provided. Bravo! There’s more about what he had to say on Ewan McIntosh’s blog. As he says, it truly was profound.

Edinburgh’s new virtual library, Your Library, was introduced by Liz McGettigan, Head of Edinburgh Libraries & Information Service and Jim Thompson, Quality Development Manager. Although 97% of Edinburgh’s population live within walking distance of a library, 97% of the population choose not to visit a library. The new Virtual Library is not designed to replace physical libraries, but to work alongside it and serve those who cannot or do not want to make the trip down the road, offering a Talis OPAC, image database, e-newsletter, community organisations database, full text ebooks and audiobooks. Citizens will be able to become members of the library online, and the website features Browsealoud support for the visually impaired, making the service more accessible.

This is by no means everything I found interesting, but I have too much uni work to be doing to be able to write a longer post, and as I say, I’ll be writing a big thing later.

We Come from the Land of the Ice and Snow

Just as it looked like maybe, just maybe, the snow was gone…

I’m off to Edge 2010 in Edinburgh tomorrow, which I’m very excited about, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be an easy trip up there – severe weather warnings and bad snow are forecast! If I get there and back alive I’ll blog about it, it’s going to be really interesting.

It’s dissertation preparation time, which I’ve been looking forward to at the same time as being a bit scared of for a while. It’s my first research project, really, and with all that new territory has to come a certain amount of trepidation, I suppose. I’ve known what I want to research for a while – how public libraries are, to put it simply, very important, and play a valuable role in community engagement and, as a result, democratic engagement. Which is fascinating, to me. Researching it and then demonstrating the findings, however…well, it’s a bit of a minefield. Of course there has to be a whole heap of qualitative research, but translating that into something that will say something important loudly and clearly in a language that the people I’d (in dreamland) like to read it, is difficult. It’s widely known that it’s difficult, I’m not saying anything new here.

So, I’ve been banging my head against a wall for a couple of weeks, trying to work out just what methods to use and how to use them well. I think I’m getting there. I want to do something a bit different, based on recommendations in the literature by people who know their stuff, avoiding reinventing the methodological wheel.

Hopefully, this book will come in handy: Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library Science by Barbara M. Wildemuth. If it doesn’t, I just wasted £43! (I know, I know, bad librarian, buying a book, but it was published last year and isn’t easily available. Plus, it’s had such good reviews that I have a feeling it’s a keeper.)

Oh yes, (hopefully) this blog now comes with added RSS feed. I have to be honest, I’m not an expert at blogs and haven’t actually got my head around RSS feeds yet. If I’ve done it wrong, please let me know.

Proving Our Worth

Yesterday I spent the afternoon ambushing my friend’s birthday, drinking tea, playing with her ridiculously beautiful Norwegian Forest cats, oh yeah, and writing a proposal for the CILIP Career Development Group’s New Professionals Conference, which Ned Potter of the wikiman has handily written about today! We want to present a paper about the value of graduate traineeships and how they can help future professionals ‘prove their worth in challenging times’, which we’re in a good position to do – both being ex-graduate trainees and current LIS students. Fingers crossed the board find it interesting!

A bit of pretty good news – I’ve been offered the prison library job that was snatched from my excited little paws a few months ago, because the funding that was taken away, has been given back. Hurray! I should start fairly soon, after I’ve been investigated and whatnot.

Perhaps the return of the funding is a good sign for public libraries – there’s also been a £30 million government investment in UK online centres. Or maybe it’s just something to do with the E word…not wanting to be cynical, of course.

Edge 2010

I am very very fortunate to have been offered  a complimentary place at Edge 2010, a conference taking place on 25th & 26th February at Edinburgh Castle. I’m very excited about it because it’s going to be invaluable to my studies and generally really interesting. There will be all sorts of speakers talking about various aspects of digital inclusion, learning and e-government.

I will be writing up the event, so if anyone has any recommendations as to journals or publications that might be interested in receiving it, please let me know!

Libraries vs. Recession

A while ago I went to a cracking SINTO seminar about what public libraries can do during These Economic Times to support their patrons/customers/clients/service users/human beings (delete as appropriate to whatever your LA has decided to call them) and what they can do to keep themselves afloat (which is going to get even more difficult by the looks of things) through partnerships and/or communication with less-explored avenues such as The Media and businesses.

Anyhow. I wrote it up for the Public Library Journal and it was published a week or so ago. It’s possibly going to be put online, but until it does, you can read it here.