Guest blog post: public libraries and information literacy

Today’s guest blog post is by Ruth Molloy. Ruth has just finished her MA at MMU, has a keen interest in Information Literacy and loves public libraries.

Public libraries have been part of our communities for over 150 years. In the current economic climate and with the government planning big cuts to public spending the future of this British institution in uncertain. The world has changed a lot in the 150 years that libraries have been around, although the skills to be able to search print stock are still vital, technology has over taken print and become more important than ever in the everyday lives of the general population; from checking train times on your phone to doing your weekly shop online, technology has changed the way that we live. The need to be able to use this technology correctly and to the best of its ability is becoming a vital skill to have. This is why I believe that information literacy is so important to everyone and that public libraries can be at the heart of teaching people the skills they are going to need. Becoming information literate gives people the knowledge to find, use and evaluate different types of information properly. Whether that is the truth about political situations in a newspaper to self diagnosis on the internet, without the skills to discern correct information from wrong then it could have terrible consequences.

Public libraries have always been a place for ‘ordinary people’ to learn and they have often been referred to as the ‘poor man’s university’. Because of their ability to appeal to the general public I think that public libraries are the perfect place for people to learn these vital skills. They are unthreatening places where everyone is welcome and they cater for all learning abilities. Public libraries need to remain a place where anyone can go to learn, maintaining a balance between old and new whilst keeping up to date with all the latest technological advancements.

I have recently undertaken some research into this area for my Masters dissertation and found out some interesting things about what goes on in public libraries with regards to information literacy. I found that out of the 12 respondents to the questionnaire I sent out, 5 said that they ran no course that aided information literacy growth. Whilst this question was open to interpretation about what is considered to be information literacy it is surprising that in the age we live in that some public libraries are still not engaging with information literacy. On the other side of this question the seven respondents who say their libraries do have courses which aid information literacy do it at full throttle running varied courses for all types of people, some examples are;  “subject based research skills (IL) training sessions”, “reference-wide catalogue skills session”, “user education programme for primary age children”, “range of basic IT courses, courses are targeted to need and demand and some are targeted to specific groups”, “safe internet shopping, finding authoritative information on the web”, “Ancestry courses”, “health and well-being collections”. As we can see this is a wide range of course options and that they are aimed at all age and ability levels.

I also found that the libraries which work in partnership with outside agencies, 7 out of the 12, were able to provide more courses and offered a wider variety. This is why I feel that partnership working needs to be more widely used in public libraries; by having a range of services available, many different sectors of the community can be targeted and helped to gain information literacy skills. In a time of financial uncertainty where the government are looking to cut services and public spending it is vital that libraries are seen as a valued service among their communities. By working in partnership with a variety of different sources and making the library the hub of the community, governments will find it hard to find a reason to close them.

I believe that there is a prosperous future for public libraries. They will however need support from their communities, their local government an ultimately parliament in order to keep providing the services they do. This may have to be fought for but I hope that by doing so public libraries will not disappear from our culture. They have been part of our society for over 150 years and if we lost them now nothing could replace what has been built up over the years.

I also feel that public libraries need to diversify and expand in order to be able to compete with other sectors, other public services and to keep engaging with their local communities. Information literacy skills are just one of the ways to do this.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

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