Our thanks to Helen Doyle, who kindly accepted to offer a review of the event “Information Literacy in the Workplace” organised by SLA Europe and the CILIP Information Literacy Group on 21 May in London. Helen obtained her undergraduate degree in Classics from Cambridge University in 2008 before working as a graduate trainee at Lincoln’s Inn. She then received an MA in Librarianship and Information Studies from UCL in September 2011, whilst undertaking Library Assistant work at Inner Temple. She joined the Library and Information Services team at Norton Rose Fulbright as an Information Officer in March 2013.
Information literacy is something I normally associate with school and school children – learning where to look for information, how to use the internet, how to decide which sources to trust and why. But it is becoming increasingly clear to me from my role as a librarian in a corporate law firm, that being “information literate” is a skill that everyone needs at all stages of their life.
It was therefore very interesting to attend the SLA/ILG event on Information Literacy as a skill in its own right, and one that needs more attention than it currently gets. The joint hosting of the event was apt, with SLA effectively representing the employers and CILIP Information Literacy Group representing the employees of the future.
The three speakers were knowledgeable and clearly passionate about their topic. Stéphane Goldstein began the evening with information on Informall, a forum that is striving to raise the profile of information literacy in the workplace. He spoke of the realisation that information literacy needs to be placed at the intersection between higher education and employment, if graduates are to be information literate when they leave their education and enter the workplace. He described the work that Informall are doing to raise the profile of information literacy as a recognised and valued skill, alongside more ‘established’ skills such as problem solving and communication skills.
Nancy Graham then gave the view from an HE perspective, as a librarian trying to equip students with the information and digital literacy skills they will need in the workplace. Finally Ian Hunter from Shearman & Sterling gave an employer’s perspective, speaking of how “information literacy” training manifests itself in his law firm.
All the speakers were engaging and interesting, and a couple of points jumped out at me:
We think of information and digital literacy in terms of teaching our users, be they students or professionals, how to use the various databases they need for their work. These databases, however, are very formalised and often rely on very particular commands and BOOLEAN logic. In other words, our users will have to learn how to use them, and so will (we hope) attend the training and pick up the skills. This is not a problem. The danger arises from Google. We know that our users will use Google; there’s no point denying it. Furthermore, they will use it despite our warnings and protestations. The worry is that when using Google, any critical or evaluative skills seem to vanish – the users are not transferring those skills across. You could therefore make a case that we should really be teaching our users how to use Google effectively and well.
I was very much against this idea at first but reflecting on it I think the speakers could have a point. I know my users will use Google – rather than seeing this as a major obstacle to fight against, I would rather they at least knew how to search, critique and evaluate the results properly. That’s really where information literacy is needed.
This tied in with Ian’s observation that case law and legislation, (what you may consider to be a lawyer’s bread-and-butter research) is not where the focus is now. Clients expect expert legal advice as a given and lawyers are generally familiar with the relevant case law and legislation for their areas. This is not where the research happens. There has instead been a huge rise in business development work – clients want lawyers who understand their industry. Although there are some formal resources used here (such as press alerts) a lot of this research is done, and is going to be done, via Google. This is where the danger is, in speculative Google searching. So the ability to use all the commands on, say, a legal database is less relevant now. The ability to find reliable, accurate, up-to-date industry sector information matters more.
This certainly ties in with my own experience, and it was interesting to hear that HE librarians are realising the importance of, and lack of appreciation for, information and digital literacy. I am now considering adding Google searching to our training programme, and it will be very interesting to see what the users make of it!
Thanks to SLA, CILIP ILG and University of Liverpool in London for organising and hosting the event.
Stéphane Goldstein: The value of Information Literacy to employers
Nancy Graham: Employability in HE libraries
Ian Hunter: Information Literacy in the workplace