Information literacy

25th August 2006 at 01:00
Can I draw your readers' attention to a project on information literacy, which focuses on the all-important link between secondary and tertiary education.

This grew out of a cross-sectoral project undertaken in 2003 with Drumchapel High in Glasgow which looked at the IT and information-seeking skills among the pupils there. The project showed that pupils' IT skills were not inferior to those in more affluent areas but, critically, drew attention to the lack of information literacy among the pupils.

Information literacy has many definitions and interpretations, which is a key problem in itself, and it is not to be confused with IT skills. It is defined by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals as "knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate it, use and communicate it in an ethical manner".

Comparative desk research showed the situation to be no better nationwide.

Both from a secondary and a tertiary education perspective, this is a serious matter. Information literacy is not just about finding information, evaluating its worth critically and using it for your own purposes in an ethical manner (being aware of plagiarism and copyright issues). It is also a key skill in the job and promotion markets.

Information literacy helps people to find work, carry out their duties in a more informed manner and find out about promotion opportunities.

Information literacy in itself enhances promotion prospects. This is true whether people go into work straight from school or via higher education.

For those of us in higher education there is an additional problem.

Increasingly, school pupils enter higher education with a repertoire of IT skills which HE can recognise and build on, but there can be no such expectations about information literacy. Subject librarians invariably have to start at a very basic training level.

Additionally, information literacy is increasingly seen as a skill which all citizens in democratic societies need to make informed judgments about the decisions of their political masters - a civil right in fact.

Since the project began, three new issues have emerged strongly - information literacy in the workplace, the role of information literacy in CPD and policy formulation for information literacy development at national level.

The work preliminary to the project emphasised the importance of information literacy in finding work, informing decision-making in the workplace and facilitating skill development to improve promotion.

It is intended that there will be further research on the workplace information literacy agenda when time permits. The need for advocacy to make the value of information literacy better understood has also led to the presentation of a petition to the Scottish Parliament.

The aim now is to develop a national overarching framework of notional levels of information literacy skills and competencies which all sectors of education can recognise and develop, or which can be applied to the world of work. This should be competed next spring and we hope to pilot it during the academic year 2007-08.

Dr John Crawford

Library Research Officer

Glasgow Caledonian University

Full details of the project are available on

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