Tag Archives: information literacy

More than just fiction? It’s unbelievable!

Thank you to John Dolan for sending us the following guest post.


I recoil when people say libraries are “more than just books” but let’s paraphrase that; libraries are also more than just fiction. Around a third of books borrowed are non-fiction. Many meet familiar needs in gardening or cookery; even more on all conceivable themes, history – local and everything else – politics, philosophy, science, travel, arts, health, life, the world ………

Children’s reading shifts as they grow. Little ones love stories; that’s a given. Later there is more of a mix. Research by Birmingham Libraries showed that children reached the tipping point around 8-9 years when hobbies and homework drew them closer to non-fiction. Young people urgently need info’- not just study but for their diverse and pressured personal and social lives.

Libraries are where you read newspapers – today’s local, back copies, foreign papers, national dailies, e-papers. Why should people only read one paper? They’re all political; only in a good library can you test one view against another … and in several languages and from different countries.

Free internet drew new audiences; not passive, watching “audiences” but people finding out, fascinated by facts, ideas and opinion; people wanting to disagree. Teachers would be less worried about Wikipedia if we were raised as critical readers – learners – not taught that someone else is always right, so “just cut and paste”.

The library is often cited as a community (village, city centre, whatever) meeting place. Activities in libraries bring alive the knowledge and ideas that are on the pages of the non-fiction book or the internet screen; from health to local history; from childcare to costume. At Birmingham some of our best events were with authors like Robert Winston, Betty Boothroyd, Tony Benn, Kate Adie, Ranulph Fiennes, Melvyn Bragg, Brian Keenan and, of course, Terry Deary ….

Marx and Engels studied and, surely, shared their thinking in the (open to the public) library of Manchester’s Chethams Music School http://tgr.ph/kfshR. In Birmingham, George Dawson, opening the 1879 Central Library, said the “a great library contains the diary of the human race” (Long live biography!).

The web, online reference works and e-books anticipate reflect the library of today. Now amazing stuff can be had virtually as well as in every walk-in library. As ever, the library seeks and provides. E-resources are too unaffordable for most; a library’s info service is without compare; knowledge collections critical and free computers crucial. There’s nowhere else!

So what do we need now? Four thoughts to begin:

  • More promotion of the information and learning roles of all libraries
  • Accreditation mechanism for learning in libraries
  • Acknowledgement of the librarian’s skills in information research
  • Advocate-leaders in learning, education, health, science, arts, politics, business


John Dolan OBE

10 November 2011

I am here for the learning revolution

I am here for the learning revolution (c) Bill Moseley

The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library.

‘The learning engines of our society’: guest blog from Rónán O’Beirne

Today’s guest blog comes from Rónán O’Beirne, Director of Libraries, Learning and Research at Bradford College. His book From Lending to Learning- the development and extension of public libraries (November 2010) makes the case for public libraries to extend their remit beyond  lending books to embrace informal learning, information literacy and digital citizenship.

My local library, Keighley in West Yorkshire, was, in 1904, the first Carnegie library to be built in England; imagine the excitement! A local champion of adult education, Swire Smith, received the offer from Carnegie and immediately put pen to paper to urge his Mayor to accept the offer. This is what he wrote, on 8th August 1899:

Dear Mayor,
I cannot express to you the delight which I feel in handing you the enclosed letter from my friend Mr Andrew Carnegie, which he has authorised me to submit to you.
No nobler gift has ever been offered to Keighley; for a Free Library is the one great thing needed, and so long desired, to complete the educational equipment of our growing town. And when we consider that this magnificent offer has come unsolicited, and that we have no claims on Mr Carnegie’s generosity, I am sure that you and the Town Council, as representing the people of Keighley, will accept it with unbounded enthusiasm, and with gratitude only equalled by the kindness of heart that has prompted Mr Carnegie to confer such a blessing upon our town.
Believe me, Dear Mr Mayor,
yours sincerely
Swire Smith1

When a country’s public libraries are threatened with closure in order to pay for the excesses of the moneylenders a fundamental shift in the values of that society are exposed for all to see. The motives of greed and profit have eclipsed the principles of education, access to information and social justice upon which the public library was founded.

The urgent debate about public libraries should not just concern itself with the cost-effectiveness of lending books or of keeping dilapidated buildings open. No, it is of far greater importance. It cuts to the core choice for the people of this democracy; whether they want a society based on individuals as consumers or whether the social glue of community and culture, supported by a network of libraries, offers a brighter future.

Much of this debate so far has centred on book lending. I believe that public libraries have a more fundamental role to play, and that is to support informal learning. The twenty years I spent working in public libraries, in different departments and at all levels, provided me with valuable insight. As a library assistant I shared young people’s thirst for knowledge, and witnessed new families joining their local library, full of excitement. I saw children sitting still, enthralled by a storyteller. I saw at first hand the light in the eyes of the old or lonely whose trip to the library was a social lifeline; the unemployed embarking on learning new skills and finding direction; redundant workers rebuilding their lives; the retired making new beginnings, embarking on a new hobby, and of course all of those learners, so many, chasing their goals, immersing themselves in the vast body of knowledge represented by the public library.

At a senior leadership level I witnessed the pettiness of local politics, of bureaucrats unable to take decisions, the utter lack of direction given locally by elected members and the frustrating paucity of ideas in national policy.

On reflection, I have come to the conclusion that public libraries fulfil the role of learning support agencies by providing space, materials and dedicated staff for the individual to explore and to learn. In particular, libraries’ support and advocacy for informal learning, which can be deeply personal, goes far beyond what is acknowledged by funding regimes.

One of my favourite quotations, and one I have used many times in presentations to library staff, illustrates the essence of informal learning that takes place in libraries up and down the country on a daily basis:

“I can sit there and it’s like a wonderful bag of goodies. I’m trying to read all the old Derbyshire newspapers from 1785, and it’s superb – I know things the experts don’t! When you’re studying for qualifications you go in straight lines – now I wander.”
(Chesterfield library user) 2
This ‘learning’ dimension of the public library is too often understated by campaigners, and yet when the case against closures of libraries on the Wirral was made successfully, just over a year ago, the main thrust of the argument did not rest on book lending statistics but rather on the support those eleven threatened libraries provided for learners; schoolchildren, workers and the unemployed.

Part of the tragedy for the public library lies in the almost obsessive ‘managerialism’ which has in recent decades sought to reduce the complexities of a highly-valued community service to the miserly economics of a market stall. Despite the sheen of marketing, or the apparently highly innovative introduction of coffee shops, the point about libraries is that they are the focus within their communities. For those who have ‘measured out their libraries in coffee spoons’, all of their so called ‘knowledge has just brought us closer to ignorance’.

Recently I wrote that libraries should not be in decline but should in fact be the learning engines of our society; fuelled by the information explosion, tended by the information professional and stoked by an aggressive agenda of social inclusion and citizenship to bridge the digital divide.

To this agenda I would also add information literacy. Speaking in 2009, President Barak Obama said:

“In addition to the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is equally important that our students are given the tools required to take advantage of the information available to them. The ability to seek, find, and decipher information can be applied to countless life decisions, whether financial, medical, educational, or technical.”3
The abilities to which President Obama refers form the basis of information literacy. There is a job here for public libraries, to embrace the challenge of empowering all citizens to become information literate and to provide them with the tools and skills through which we can ensure a more equitable society.

The battles fought in every neighbourhood to save libraries are clearly not simply about saving books or subsidising the reading habits of the middle classes. They represent the heart-felt cries of ordinary people fighting for their right to information, learning and culture. Nor can the closure of public libraries just be seen as a threat to reading, for it represents ultimately a threat to one of the few remaining assets of a neighbourhood, part of the ripping asunder of the fragile fabric of so many communities. Ultimately, and more ominously, it symbolises an attack on the freedom of individuals.

1.      Letter from Swire Smith from the Keighley Library archive available from the K100 website http://www.bradlibs.com/k100/about/index.htm accessed 14 Jan 2011

2.      Proctor, R. and Bartle, C. (2002) ‘Low achievers: lifelong learners: an investigation into the impact of the public library on educational disadvantage’, Library and Information Commission Research Report 117, CEPLIS, Sheffield.

3.      Obama, B. (2009) ‘National Information Literacy Awareness Month – a proclamation’, The    White House; available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-proclamation-national-information-literacy-awareness-month accessed 14 Jan 2011

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

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.

Guest blog: Information literacy, supporting research every day and every way

Today’s guest blogger is Karen M Storms, BA MSc, Study Skills Co-ordinator at West Herts College, Watford, Hertfordshire

The seven pillars of information literacy [pdf] allow everyone to process the copious amount of information received each day. These pillars are underpinned by the tasks faced when using any type of resources hub, from a public library to the college learning centre to the most popular internet search engine. As information professionals, we get the chance to support users along this process and embed the pillars of information literacy into one’s own thinking.

Pillar 1 requires the ability to recognise a need for information. This is straightforward if you are a student working on an assignment, but what about when we are faced with a query from an insurance company asking for more information about a claim? Or when we receive a letter from our child’s school requesting health information? The skills supporting Pillar 1 allow us to understand the request and pull out the specific information requested.

Pillar 2 allows us to accept the different types of suitable resources, from newspapers to personal conversations with experts to websites to requesting records, and move towards using the best one to resolve the information gap. This can be the first step towards using the library, and when our work as information professionals is crucial. Pillar 3 is where users construct strategies for locating information and where our expertise is accessed.

The information search gets moving in Pillar 4, as the ability to locate and access information is taking place. This is where some searches end up on the internet, and when information professionals help by ensuring users know what are “good” (authoritative) hits, and how to cultivate successful search terms. This is also when we see our customers with their initial reference question, book request, or periodical request.

Pillar 5 requires critical thinking and the expertise of information professionals to support ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources. This is where we get to the reality of biased sources, such as tabloid press coverage versus the broadsheets, using Wikipedia as a stepping stone to authoritative sources, the criteria for finding a book for your needs, and the difference between fee-based subscription electronic resources and the free ones. This is also where we can help users decide if Google’s new “instant search” contains the required search terms and the best hits.

Pillar 6, the ability to organise, apply and communicate information to others in ways appropriate for the purpose of the search. This quickly leads to Pillar 7. This is the place where if these steps are embedded in our research process, every time we seek information. This is the ability to synthesise and build upon existing information, giving ourselves the opportunity to contribute to the creation of new knowledge.

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