Charlie Inskip and Sophia Donaldson talk about the On the Move event at UCL, which set out to explore how information literacy translates from the academic world into the workplace, with examples ranging from the nursing to insurance worlds.
Librarians, information professionals and researchers have examined the information needs, behaviours and literacies of students at all levels closely over the years, and we think we know quite a lot about how students use information effectively, from various viewpoints. What we know less about is what they do with information when they graduate from the academic world and enter the workplace.
Workplace information literacy
While pockets of research can be identified over the years exploring information practices and literacies in work, recently there has been an increase in awareness of the importance of this area. There are some excellent examples of research. Project Information Literacy (projectinfolit.org) provides a good overview of American students’ transition into work; the ground-breaking work of Anne Maree Lloyd (anniemlloyd.com) examined the information landscapes of firefighters; and Bonnie Cheuk (bonniecheuk.blogspot.co.uk) has investigated knowledge workers.
Piecing the research together has led to a recognition that workplace information literacy is a different beast to academic information literacy – the special context of “the workplace’” means there are different motivations (notably profit, but in public services the saving of lives is paramount) and differing practices including peer exchange, tight deadlines and shortcuts.
Transitioning information skills
In our recent On The Move: transitioning information skills into the workplace event at UCL, we set out to explore some of the important issues around workplace information literacy as the culminating event of a CILIP Information Literacy Group-funded project.
Along with an audience of around 75 librarians and careers consultants, chaired and annotated by Department of Information Studies colleague Alison Hicks, we heard presentations by academic librarians (Marc Forster, Megan Wiley), and careers consultants (Laura Brammar and Rosalind Kemp) about their perspectives, and had the opportunity to present the findings of our research project.
Being a nurse
Marc Forster from University of West London spoke about his recent PhD research into the experience of nurses. He gave a very clear explanation of a complex methodology, phenomenography, which is a popular approach in workplace information literacy research, and demonstrated how this could help to identify skills, contexts and behaviours that are meaningful and applicable to nurses in practice.
His research questions focused on how nurses collectively identify different ways of information being part of “being a nurse”, in the hope that this would enable librarians to offer better services by identifying impact, providing detail for relevant collection management, and supporting realistic and meaningful information literacy education.
Marc’s important work identified a number of themes which are then combined into categories or personas which help us to understand more about how nurses experience information literacy in the workplace. These six personas are of an ever-increasing complexity, starting with the passive minimalist (who scavenges for information), moving via the focused, competent and evolving individual (who recognises a need for continual self-development) to the leader, philosopher and strategist (being a leader and strategic thinker). People may exhibit multiple personas depending on context. Forster’s approach strongly informed our work on insurance workers and we were delighted that he had the time to contribute to the session (battling the ‘flu successfully!).
Megan Wiley, Head of Library Services at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (Coleg Brenhinol Cerdd a Drama Cymru), spoke about her work on how information professionals can support the development of employability skills. This emerging area is becoming important in terms of service provision, and indeed some readers will be working in library services alongside careers consultants on a daily basis. As the employability agenda becomes stronger in Higher Education, the role of the information professional in supporting graduate employability has started to become more evident.
The value of Megan’s work here was in highlighting how prevalent this change is becoming across the HE sector, and in providing some great examples of professionals reacting positively to this additional responsibility in their role in supporting users. While some may be helping students recognise how their academic information literacies map to the skills and behaviours in their targeted vocation, or develop super-charged job hunting and business awareness, this transition support is becoming increasingly recognised as an additional string to the librarian’s bow. Working collaboratively with careers consultants, and getting involved in local and national skills awards are strategies that are being used to great effect in this area.
Bridging the gap
The voice of the careers consultants was integral to meeting, so we were very pleased that Laura Brammar and Rosalind Kemp, from The Careers Group, University of London, were able to contribute. Laura and Rosalind have been speaking to a niche group of experts, Careers Service Information Professionals (CSIPs) about their professional identity. It was fascinating to hear more about the role of the CSIP, whose information work within careers services involves providing information to students, updating and producing new materials and data, and using social media for marketing as well as sometimes performing administrative support and organising appointments.
Clearly the CSIP could provide an important bridge between university library services and the careers office in terms of identifying links and gaps between academic and workplace information skills, and we’d recommend interested readers tracking them down in their institutions and taking them out for coffee and cake – or attending their upcoming AGCAS information specialists’ conference in London on 1 May.
To close the event, we presented our work on information literacy in the workplace, which focused on an insurance firm in the City of London. We used Forster’s aforementioned themes to identify a variety of ways of experiencing what we called “effective information use” (aka information literacy) in our interviews with 18 staff in a firm which generously gave us access. We took a phenomenographic approach and then used term frequencies to help us identify key words in the vocabulary of the participants. This word counting exercise helped us to really focus in on their language use when telling us their stories about using information effectively.
Language of the employer
Knowing something about their favoured terminology then allowed us to make comparisons with the students we also interviewed, and to build a set of terms for them in their context. This meant that we could see if there were links between student and insurance workers and we could also consider how to bridge any “semantic gaps”. We were pleased to find that using Forster’s framework showed that the insurance workers talk about information literacy centred on his seven themes: self-development; relationships; best practice; evidence-based practice; information gathering skills; information gathering concepts; and information conceptions.
We were interested to find that the students did this too, although differently. We could then build this into a bridge which showed the student and insurance worker descriptions alongside one another, in the hope that students planning to apply for jobs in this sector could use this to adopt the language of the employer in their applications, and similarly insurance workers could use this to progress up the hierarchy of personas (or, in our graphic, change from being a parrot to an anemone, or from a tadpole into an octopus) for their CPD.