Making Knowledge Work

November 27, 2011

Pillars of Strength in the Workplace

Filed under: Information Literacy, Knowledge and Information Management, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 9:24 pm

I’ve been feeling very fortunate lately. My day job’s with an extraordinary organisation, where I witness my colleagues work daily wonders: helping others to help themselves and others.  Their willingness to share and build our collective knowledge makes my role a pleasure to fulfil.  And my involvement with LIKE  gives me the chance to learn from my brilliant Information Profession colleagues about  ways of working and thinking.

LIKE 31 on Thursday evening focused on Information Literacy. Dr Susie Andretta was in the Chair, and kicked the panel discussion off by   explaining that “Information Literate people are those who’ve learned how to learn”.  Then we heard from three LIKE members whose jobs include imparting literacy.

Adjoa Boateng
  illustrated information literacy issues facing students in higher education with a problem that was fresh in her mind: she’d prepared her talk and uploaded it to her dropbox, ready for the evening.  Unfortunately she’d neglected to download the PowerPoint application to her Samsung reader.  So although her presentation was ready to use, she couldn’t access it!  Her point was well made – the learning society we have now is hyper-complex, and you have to navigate many different mediums before reaching the information you require.  Students need to deal with many platforms and pathways –and  the Librarians who support them have a responsibility to assist with overcoming those hurdles as well as helping develop the critical skills students require to analyse the information they retrieve.

Spcialist databases,impentrable jargon and fast-changing technology are all barriers to information literacy.  So Adjoa feels her role must include the teaching of digital literacy as well as supporting students’ information requirements: going beyond the original seven pillars model for information literacy.

Adjoa also pointed out that information literacy is not free – the databases and eBooks her institution needs to acquire are expensive, and the decisions she (and people in similar roles) makes determine how information literate students will be.  And that’s a crucial ethical decision, as it directly impacts the quality of skills available to the professions those students move into.

Rachel Adams deals with some of those graduates.  She’s  worked in the legal information sector for five or more years.  Rachel said that, like many other businesses – such as accountancy firms and consultancies – law firms  trade off their knowledge.  Information literacy is, therefore, vital as it informs the quality “product” sold to clients.
A colleague told her that information literacy matters because it saves time, money and stress.  For example if fee-earners direct their research effectively: frame their research query well, know what resource to use and are able to interpret the result,  they work more cost-effectively.  Information overload is as common in law firms as anywhere else, so being able to understand the process of research and present results in a timely manner makes life better for everyone.

But how to sell information literacy to busy colleagues who don’t necessarily ‘get it’ ?  Rachel’s found he best way is to call it training in research skills, refresher sessions etc.  However, the training needs to be relevant – ‘just-in-time’, at the point of need.  Most of the firms she’s worked with focus only on induction sessions for trainees  at the beginning of their time with the organisation.  By the time they come to need the knowledge she’s imparted, they’ve almost certainly forgotten it.   So Rachel’s learned to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.  In October she was running three information literacy sessions a week.  The reason: in order to continue practicing as a solicitor, fee-earners need to record a certain amount of CPD each year.  Some of this can come from training on legal resources.  As the deadline loomed, lots of her lawyer colleagues phoned to book a session – and Rachel used the time with them to increase their information literacy.

Medical Librarians, Caroline De Brún  told us, have slightly different challenges to deal with. Health Information Literacy isn’t a common phrase in Medicine, they’ve tended to use the term “Evidence based Medicine” – meaning decisions should be based on best research evidence and clinical expertise.  Health Professionals need information literacy skills to fulfil this, but there are a number of barriers to this.  Time is one – GPs have few spare minutes between patient appointments to devote to research, and in emergency wards they have little opportunity to stop what they’re doing to search for information.  Resources are another barrier: Caroline is now based in a medical school library and has some great resources.  But she used to be a Librarian for GP services, and the variation in access and resources across the practices she visited was very wide: some had great tools and excellent internet access, others had dial-up.

Even if the resources are there, the skills may not be.  Some GPs don’t know what search terms to use,  or what databases to choose.  So then, as now in her new role, the solutions to these problems include outreach.  Caroline works with clinical teams to support their needs, giving them training and providing research skills when they need it.  She takes the teaching to their desktop and offers “ten minute” training sessions, adapting her approach to their needs and available resources.

As Susie widened the debate to include those who’d been listening it was clear that most LIKE members in the room, dealing with similar issues, were working hard to find practical ways to help colleagues improve their information literacy skills.  Some were daunted by the scale of the challenge, but  nobody was willing to “give in to Google”!

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