If schools are to successfully guide students through the modern information jungle, they should turn to the school librarian to help, says Anne Robinson
Every school should have one. In the 21st century we need professionals with multiple skills. We require our information managers to be: knowledgeable about the learning process; confident organising and exploiting multimedia resources; skilled in using the power of ICT; skilled in developing intranets and the internet; confident teaching students the skills to be information literate; and capable of collaborating with colleagues to ensure high-level competencies across the whole school.
The education and business sectors recognise that students and employees do not have the skills needed to handle information effectively. Lynn Barrett and Mal Danks from Dixons CTC state: "Young people need a foundation that is applied in all areas of the curriculum so that they can transfer the skills to FEHE or employment. Further training at these institutions could then focus on specific needs rather than tackling the basics."
(www.cilip.org.ukupdateissuesmay03 article3may.html) Professionals with these skills exist in schools throughout the world.
International research shows that the presence of experienced "information managers" coupled with factors such as access to extensive multi-media collections, information literacy programmes and collaborative working has a major impact on students' achievement.
Many schools in the UK employ information managers already and their cross-curricular role is recognised and valued. They are proactive, helping their school community to create information literacy programmes to teach the skills needed for research.
Asking students to undertake research tasks can lead to complex challenges.
Tasks should be framed to encourage thinking and to prevent copying, either from books or using "cut and paste". Plagiarism issues are becoming more serious. Many students now ignore books, if given the choice, and assume that everything can be found on the internet. Many also face difficulties when using the internet. Frequently, teachers assume that pupils already have the necessary skills, or indeed, that no skills at all are involved.
Cross-curricular information literacy is the key to these challenges.
Models of research or information skills have been around for decades, from Marland's Nine Steps to The Big Six (see right). Students need support in developing the thinking, planning, questioning, locating, using, organising, communicating and evaluating skills needed for effective research. Whichever model we use, a linear progression or a spiral of competencies, it should be owned by the school and applied throughout students' careers.
Examples of the work of information managers illustrate their value to schools. At Nicholas Chamberlaine technology college, students are encouraged to use research planners to define tasks before searching for information and employ a range of strategies to evaluate their work. In the IT Lab at Epsom College, Sarah Pavey shows students the range of resources available for particular subjects. Carol Williams at Fernwood school evaluates websites to try to prevent the "search and print without reading syndrome".
At Gedling school, Fiona Crawford made a presentation for colleagues showing how the internet can be used progressing from lists of evaluated links to full-blown online lessons or WebQuests. Teaching colleagues can also benefit from Inset provided by information managers - Liz Hurley at Newquay Tretherras school helps teachers to become more confident using the web and supports students by publishing hotlists on the school website.
So, every school should have one. In fact, many schools already do - information managers like these have been working in UK schools for decades. Walk in to your school library and you may be lucky enough to have one - say "hello" to your school librarian!
Anne Robinson is learning resources centre manager for Nicholas Chamberlaine technology college, Bedworth, Warwickshire
Marland's Nine Steps
1 What do I need to do?
2 Where could I go?
3 How do I get the information?
4 Which resources shall I use?
5 How shall I use the resources?
6 What should I make a record of?
7 Have I got the information I need?
8 How should I present it?
9 What have I achieved?
The Big Six (www.big6.com)
1 Task definition
2 Information seeking strategies
4 Location and access
5 Use of information
Models and resources
* ICT New Zealand Site http:ictnz.cominfolitmodels.htm
All of these links, plus sources of support, information literacy, web design and more are available from my website Strongest Links: www.strongest-links.co.uk