Sunday, 1 December 2013

7 Pillars - Through an Engineering Lens

I was delighted to be invited to speak at last Thursday's meeting of the University Science and Technology Librarians Group (USTLG) on the 7 Pillars of Information Literacy as they relate to Engineering students.  Readers will know that I have done some research on this model as it relates to students of English on first arriving at university.

Although I haven't yet done similar research at my new library (only there three months!) I have talked extensively to students and academics about the course, when/how information skills are applied and where the library could most usefully support with different types of information literacy support.  I decided the best approach would be to speak a bit about what I've learned about Engineering so far and how that compares with English, and then to invite participants to share their experiences of working with different elements of the 7 Pillars model with science and technology students. (For a write-up of the event itself, visit the USTLG blog).

What have I already discovered?
English students at Cambridge already have pretty good levels of information literacy when they first arrive at university, although there are areas for development.  For example, they are (unsurprisingly) more familiar with books than journal articles as a source of information and many benefit from support identifying the differences between book, article and chapter references on their reading lists in order to be able to locate the information they need early on in their courses.  The course then involves a large volume of 'supervision' essays through which the students develop their writing style and arguments. The first real opportunity to do some thorough research on a topic comes with the Part I dissertation which they submit in second year.

Engineering is very, very different.  I don't know yet what their information literacy levels are when they first arrive at university, but because of the structure of the course and types of assignment set the kinds of skills that are essential even for first year English students are actually less important until the Engineering students reach their third year and start writing essays and reports.  At this point many Engineering students appreciate sessions which will help them refresh their memory of how to structure an essay and how to reference, and the first longer-scale piece of research they conduct is their 4th year project.

What have others experienced?
Participants worked in groups of five or six to discuss a given pillar (Identify, Scope, Plan, Gather, Evaluate, Manage or Present) as it relates to their students.  The full descriptions of each pillar are available from SCONUL website, so I'll just include the comments I received here except where the comment is linked to a particular part of the pillar - apologies if I've misinterpreted anyone's handwriting!

I'd love more feedback so if you have any thoughts or questions to add please put them in the comments of this post.  I'd also love to see a lens for the model developed around this area - I don't have the time or headspace at the moment to do it but would love to hear from anyone who is interested and maybe work with someone on it in the future.

Identify (Group 1)

  • 'That new information and and data is constantly being produced and that there is always more to learn' - more explicit in sci-tech areas
  • 'That being information literate involves developing a learning habit so new information is being actively sought all the time' - "I've been to my library session"
  • 'That ideas and opportunities are created by investigating/seeking information' - Students understand this but don't relate it to library "It's all on Google"
 Is able to:
  • 'Identify a search topic/question and define it using simple terminology' - No!
  • 'Articulate current knowledge on a topic' - students find this hard (as UGs and PGs) - fail to see it in a wider context
  • 'Recognise a need for information and data to achieve a specific end and define limits to the information need' - can have difficulty defining limits
  • 'Use background information to underpin the search' - making connections - between modules - not always easy
  • 'Take personal responsibility for an information search' - They prefer not to!  Life/generic skills - not just IL skills - who is teaching those?
Identify (Group 2)
  • 'That being information literate involves developing a learning habit so new information is being actively sought all the time' - No, point of need requirement. Less able to transfer skills to work setting
  • 'That ideas and opportunities are created by investigating/seeking information' - Daily basis with lab work etc.
  • 'The scale of the world of published and unpublished information and data' - Yes searching Google - see scale of info world.
Scope (Group 1)
  • Early years are heavy users of textbooks
  • Don't understand that Google doesn't have everything - not aware that things are paid for, that there are sources other than Google
  • Need to teach evaluation
  • Hard for early years to understand research as they can't frame the question - no background in publishing literature, doing experiments
  • Students find keywords difficult
  • Where do librarians draw the line - e.g. approving keywords for good searching - is this students' decision?
Scope (Group 2)
  • Average undergraduate missing lots of these skills
  • Students can be spoon-fed so don't recognise information needs
  • Basic info skills taught in 1st year but not needed until final years
  • Departments need to set assignments that require information/research skills
  • Interested/engaged students will ask for library help - others will switch off
  • Assessments need to have info skills assessment built in
Plan (Group 1)
  • Computing - don't need resources much in first 2 years
  • Aware of algorithms and search engines but not necessarily library resources tools
Plan (Group 2)
  • Students select resources more by convenience than scope/appropriateness

  • Feel confident using Google - think they can use everything else
  • Do they know what journal articles are?
  • Don't know about free vs paid for e.g. Google Scholar settings.  Academics too!
This group added (I think as something to add to the model) 'Identify quality resources' at the end of the 'Is able to' section

  • This is an area that students need help with - both in terms of knowing that they need to evaluate and how to evaluate.
  • Academic involvement/requirement often sparks student questions/need.
This group focused on who provides the support for developing presenting knowledge.

  • Usually not librarians - academic writing or academic staff
  • 'Understands' - very high level when mostly teaching @ UG level
  • 'The difference between summarising and synthesising' - very hard - Academic writing
  • 'That different forms of writing/presentation style can be used to present information to difference communities' - some libs but often not
  • 'That data can be presented in different ways' - course
  • 'Their personal responsibility to disseminate information and knowledge' - X
  • 'How their work will be evaluated' - X [Couldn't read the comment that was beside this one, sorry!]
  • 'The processes of publication' - X
  • The concept of attribution' - Referencing
Some specific universities were mentioned
  • Teeside / Lincoln: Much done as part of course, not library
  • Middlesex: Learner Development Unit
  • [Something I can't read]: Academic writing and course

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy at the Transition to University

This time last year I was busily trying to finish off my dissertation while preparing to return to work after my maternity leave.  By the time I submitted, although still interested in the topic, I was only delighted never to have to look at that dissertation again. I've now looked again at the finished product, and it's better than I thought at the time! Now that I've officially passed and graduated I've decided to follow the advice of the Faculty Librarian at English and post a summary of my findings along with a link to the dissertation itself.

My original intention was to develop a 'Transition to University' lens for the SCONUL 7 Pillars of Information Literacy but I quickly realised that I wasn't going to be able to put together something that would apply for students across all subject areas and different types of course.  I therefore narrowed my scope to the information skills of new students of English within the university for which I work.

38% of the students starting at English in 2011 completed my diagnostic questionnaire - thank you all so much! The results suggested that students of English at this university have relatively high levels of information literacy in comparison with students surveyed in previous studies. Students are less familiar with sources such as journal articles, for example, and a significant minority have difficulty distinguishing between different types of sources listed on their reading lists.  These findings confirm our anecdotal experiences and are important because they have implications for how easily students can locate the items they are expected to read in their studies.

Future research: finish developing this 'Transition to University' lens! If anyone else is interested in working on developing this I'd love to hear from you!  Think I'll need a little while before I'll actually have time to work on it again though - on Monday I start as Librarian at Cambridge University Engineering Department, so it will be interesting to see just how big a difference there is both in terms of the types of information skills students have on arrival at university and the skills required for academic work in these very different subject areas. 

My full acknowledgements are included in the full dissertation, but huge thanks go to the students who participated, library colleagues from Cambridge and further afield who commented on my initial ideas and on my questionnaire, librarians at Loughborough and the Open University for permission to use their questionnaires as a starting point for my own, my fantastic supervisor (Juanita Foster-Jones at Aberystwyth University) and of course the English Faculty Librarian, Elizabeth Tilley.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Umbrella - the rest of the conference

I've already blogged about the presentation I gave with Jo Alcock on CPD23 and the PKSB, so here's a little bit about the other things I went to!  This was my first opportunity to go to Umbrella and I attended a wide range of talks over the two days:
  • Roly Keating on the origins and development of the British Library, with some discussion of the restructuring of the organisation and some of the ways they are engaging with their community (crowd-sourced geo-referencing for maps, bringing BL services to public libraries, the development of their Business and Intellectual Property Centre;
  • Debate session: Where does the internet end and the library begin?
    Speakers included Shay Morandi on gamification in libraries as a way to modify student behaviour, Ben Lewis on his film ‘Google and the World Brain’ and Rebecca Bartlett on the Library of Birmingham as a library without walls;
  • Bill Johnston and Sheila Webber on helping citizens develop their own information literacy curriculum for lifelong learning.  I particularly liked the idea that we need to think about our own information literacy needs instead of only focusing on others, and of considering the information implications of new situations in our lives, example mapped out on p.9 of
  • Andrew Whitworth on visualisation sessions using Ketso, a hands on non-digital concept-mapping tool
  • Victoria Treadway and Girendra Sadera on embedded librarianship in a critical care unit – not very relevant to English but an inspiring presentation.  Video on their work at
  • Janice Lachance, CEO of the Special Libraries Association gave an overview of her career (a lawyer who has never practised law but uses skills in wide range of roles and encourages LIS professionals to think more broadly about what they can do)
  • Ruth Carlyle on the use of information prescriptions in for patients with cancer (self-prescription or by professionals)
  • Debate session on community-managed libraries – not much of a debate, all came from the angle that some element is required because of finances but with professional support. 
  •  Geoff White, Channel 4 News, gave an insight into the decision-making process for TV programming, drew interesting parallels between producers and information professionals.
  • Leadership in the profession: Brian Gambles, Karen McFarlane, Maxine Melling and David Stewart on their experiences of leadership.
Things I would like to think about further:
  • Geoff White: Find the problem nobody has solved, solve it and people will come to you. Two ways to win: expertise/context and trust (not the first time I’ve heard these ideas, but it’s worth thinking about).
  • Brian Gambles: create opportunities for people at all levels to lead. Invisible leadership: sweeping aside difficulties to give others an opportunity, give credit where it’s due.
  • Karen McFarlane: importance of having trusted peers near but outside the profession.
Things that could work in Cambridge:
  • Lemon Tree library game from Running in the Halls: interacts with library management system, students grow their lemon tree by using various library services, includes personal analytics so they can reflect on their library usage and social aspects so students can see what their peers are borrowing etc. This would need to be implemented at university level, but can be integrated with Facebook and could help to build connections between students from different colleges, while also providing anonymised statistics on how library services are being used
  • Crowd-sourcing to add metadata: this idea might work well with the rare books collections, students researching the author/book/edition as part of a user education class and that information then being added to the library catalogue (possibly working with James Harriman-Smith’s digitisation project as well).
  • The idea of information prescriptions for students, i.e. supervisors recommending specific support from the library.  This could involve the library putting together a list of training/support options and students enrolling on particular sessions based on supervisor recommendation.
  • Self-awareness of information literacy needs –concept mapping demonstrated by Sheila Webber in the context of lifelong learning, but equally applicable to students identifying and taking ownership of their own development.
  • Using Ketso ideas for strategic planning and workshops – I don’t think it’s necessary to use the official kit, the same effect can be achieved with paper shapes, but the website has a lot of suggestions for running workshops.
  • The library as trusted friend that helps with research but isn’t involved with assessment (based on Geoff White’s talk)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

CPD23 and the PKSB at #ub13

What a lot of acronyms!

I'm currently at CILIP's Umbrella Conference (#ub13) in Manchester. I intend to blog about some of the inspiring and exciting presentations I've attended later, but for now I really want to thank a number of people.

Jo Alcock, with whom I have a presentation about 23 Things for Professional Development (CPD23) and CILIP's new Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB).  Jo is a truly inspiring professional, a talented presenter and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Liz Jolly: I was delighted to see that Liz would be chairing our session - we met in January at the Libraries at Cambridge Conference. She looked after us all so well, checking that we had water, making sure we were relaxed, organising us, chairing the session and putting a beautiful order to the Q&A.

Sheila Webber, who kindly live-blogged the session and linked to our presentation:

Everyone who came: we expected about 20 but reckon there were nearer 100 in the room! Thank you all for coming to our session and for all the interested and encouraging comments since then.

CILIP Umbrella team: for organising an excellent conference, and especially for giving speakers free attendance on the day of their talk (wouldn't it be great if all conferences did that?)

My work, for making it possible for me to attend!

Edit: Updated to include links and the presentation.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Leadership and Libraries

All images in this post are from Stephen's slides
I had the great honour of organising a talk by Stephen Abram on Leaderhip Strategies for Librarians in Cambridge last Monday.*

I was really pleased with the turn-out and found the talk truly inspiring. I didn't feel the time go!

There were a few points about leadership that I particularly liked:

Leaders see an improvement that needs to be made - a desirable future state, sometimes before others, and actively seek to achieve those improvements.

This is a great definition, incorporating a sense of vision and the willingness to act and to make a difference.  The critical point about this definition is that it's not tied to being in the management role - as Stephen points out anyone can do this at any stage of their career.

Lies we tell ourselves

Librarians come with all sorts of excuses not to lead, from the idea that it's someone else's responsibility to make the changes, to the idea that they don't need to highlight their good work because it will be noticed anyway, to the problem of criticising the status quo without making constructive suggestions about how the situation can be resolved.

Leaders as followers

All leaders need to also be followers, no matter how senior they are, so we need also to consider what makes a good follower.

Real professionals have names and reputations
Why do so many libraries have just a generic email address and no information about who works there and what their specialities are? This is something I feel quite strongly about - I hate sending emails to unnamed people and feel it's a barrier to building relationships with our users - but something I think we address quite well at English.

Research into Library Leadership
Stephen briefly mentioned research by Mary-Jo Romaniuk, Cheryl Sandstrom, Donna Brockmeyer and Ken Haycock - must look them up to see what their topics were.  Findings on what 'Makes a Difference' and 'What doesn't help or work' can be found on slides 9 and 10 of the presentation.

Other things to follow up:
  • A mention of the user-centred design and persona development that's happening in Canadian libraries (their research found a 2% overlap between user behaviour and librarian behaviour!)
  • Stephen mentioned a number of leadership initiatives in Canada and the US, including the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute, Crucial Conversations (Google seems to think this is based on this book - possible addition to #llrg reading list?), ALA Emerging Leaders and Tall Texans.  I know about the Clore Leadership Programme (have been eyeing it wistfully for years) - are there other leadership initiatives in the UK and Ireland?
  • There were more - adding "Go through the presentation thoroughly" to my to do list!
*Huge thanks to Andy Priestner for taking the time out of his own conference planning to let us know Stephen was coming and putting us in touch with him!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Thinking about staff development

January was a hectic month - we completely revised how we present materials on our VLE and introduced a very simple method for Faculty to provide content for it (a tray in the photocopier room) with the result that the content coming in for it seems to have multiplied. This has meant writing a detailed procedure so more of the work of managing and uploading the material could be passed on to colleagues, and we've scheduled some proper training on all of it for the Easter vacation. It's been a lot of fun as well as a lot of work! The next step with this is to have a look at the VLE stats to see if these changes have resulted in greater use by the students themselves.

Meanwhile I've been plugging away at my Chartership, using Jo's method of using a Google form to reflect on each thing.  I've also set up a list of things I want to reflect on, not all of which will actually make it into my Chartership portfolio.  I'm finding this really useful, because every so often I just take a few minutes to put down my thoughts on another of the items on my list and I feel like I'm making some progress.  I still have quite a bit of work to do in transforming these snippets into documents that can actually be included in the portfolio and I haven't attempted the evaluative statement at all yet.  I've done quite a bit of work on my extended CV - it's so reaffirming to see all that I've been doing coming together like that. It's only when I look at things in that format that I realise just how much I've been doing both in work and in voluntary positions.

The Chartership process has also really highlighted for me how much I'm interested in staff development in general.  In hindsight it's obvious through my involvement in organising TeachMeet and 23 Things for Professional Development but I suppose I never really thought about it in that way before.  I also have staff training responsibility in work, but that often entails looking at training at point of need (new staff, recognition that refresher training is needed, introduction of new procedures and technologies, watching out for training that meets needs expressed during annual appraisals staff development and review meetings...)

I'd like to look more comprehensively at staff development in libraries, all the different areas of training that are needed, what's needed to progress from one level to the next and where this kind of training can be acquired.  I had a really interesting meeting with Jenny Cefai about all they do in this area at Anglia Ruskin University and she suggested that I look into the courses available through the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.  Another one to add to my wishlist.

PS Jo Alcock and I will be giving a presentation at Umbrella, looking at where the 23 Things for Professional Development overlap with CILIP's new Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (or whatever they're calling it these days).  Looking forward to planning it all out when Jo visits Cambridge in a week and a half!