Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eastleigh Festival of Music 2012

Here is my annual post on the Eastleigh Festival of Music, which we attended last Thursday and Friday. It was held indoors again this year in The Point. It was a little strange to be seated for most of the acts, and we felt a little bit detached from the bands, but Treacherous Orchestra remedied this at the end. Overall it was a great time as usual.

 This is the kit are (I think) from Winchester. I really liked this band. Quite a traditional sound in some way. Amazing voice and I really enjoyed the banjo and the humor. Lot's of pauses for re-tuning which always amazes me as it takes me ages to tune a guitar. "Our job is to make the other bands look ultra professional, and we do this very well" was an example of the self depreciating humor.

Treetops Flyers were up next. I wasn't quite so keen on this set as I couldn't get over how similar it sounded to Kings of Leon - both vocally but also I thought in the way the songs were written and arranged. Overall a good performance though.

Lanterns on the Lake were last up on the Thursday. A much mellower sound to finish up with. Great performance especially as the singer was suffering from a heavy cold. Really beautiful ballads. I recommend checking them out on Soundcloud via their website.

The Moulettes were first up on the Friday evening. We both really enjoyed them - excellent vocal harmonies and really energetic - it set a really good tone to the second night.

Alasdair Roberts & Mairi Morrison were more traditional. Rendering folksongs, sometimes in Gaelic. I thought the reference to folklorists from the 50's was interesting - how some of this music would be lost if it had not been captured with early forms of recordable media.

Treacherous Orchestra were the last up. Absolutely brilliant - they got the crowd up and dancing in no time. What I thought was amazing was that they were able to connect with the audience straight away with just sheer energy! A really good end to this year's festival.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Supporting Academic Practice in a Digital Age

I attended this on Thursday (17th May) at University of Exeter. I won't go into too much detail on this as I've created a Storify which covers the important themes for me in a much easier way than re-writing the whole day as a blog entry.

I think I'll be making more use of Storify - I like to capture thoughts from conferences by tweeting and Storify makes it easy to capture these (and tweets from others) as well as adding links to anything else web-based.

Overall, I got a lot from the day. I think it challenged my views on what digital literacy is. There was much more emphasis on the concept of academic and digital practices rather than looking at specific digital tools - and I think this is a helpful approach. Rather than thinking (for example) "we've got to teach all students how to use Facebook properly" there seems to be an emerging approach on looking at students practices and facilitating use of tools that help them to engage in those practices.

I think the most important change in my mind was that the tools themselves aren't really the issue - the practices are. The best example for me came from a discussion on Twitter use for note taking in lectures. We came up with many good reasons to use Twitter (that you can tag items to organize thoughts, use it to summarize information and that it's social so notes can be shared) but actually it's these practices that are important. Any tool that enables a student to do these things is potentially useful and we should be facilitating student's abilities to find and evaluate these tools based on their current academic needs.

I think the other important theme to come from the day was around the potential of technology to shift the power dynamic in education. Online spaces tend to be more democratic and allow collaborative approaches rather than hierarchical or top-down education. A good example was the move from lecture halls where the "expert" is elevated by the physical space to online spaces that can be more democratic and enable everyone to have an equal voice. I like this idea of a more social and equitable construction of knowledge, but I can see that it's probably threatening to some. Another good example is around using digital tools. There is a tendency to think that, as the educators, we need to be expert in all digital tools used for learning. Actually, this is impossible and forces students into a prescribed practice that may or may not work for them.

Wouldn't it be better to facilitate their use so that they become the expert and use technology in a way that works? I thought a good term that was used was around developing "resilience" - that students can transfer and adapt their use of technology (which is maybe at odds with IT Skills frameworks such as ECDL). Another useful term was "repertoire" - that the students have a range of techniques and tools that can be flexed depending on the current need.

p.s. The picture is from the excellent followthethings.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

PTEG Mentor Training

The Karate Kid Trilogy
Easter weekend and the weather scuppered camping plans, so I'm bored! Time to catch up on my much neglected blog.

On 21st March I attended mentor training to register as a mentor for the CILIP Framework of Qualifications. The course I attended was at UWE, Bristol (Frenchay Campus) but you can find local courses on the CILIP training pages.

We didn't get to do any "wax-on, wax-off" but on the whole I found it a really useful day :-) The training included plenty of activities as well as some background information from the facilitators. The morning looked at defining mentoring, considering different learning styles, essential skills for mentoring and mentoring styles... the afternoon session was more about explaining the CILIP mentoring scheme e.g. processes for setting up a mentoring agreement.

I found the morning exercises around core skills like active listening, questioning, and giving feedback really useful - and I think it's also helpful to think in terms of these three skills. I'd certainly like to develop my questioning and feedback skills and I think these are at the core of mentoring. Rather than suggesting solutions it's about asking questions and suggesting points of view that enable the mentee to get to solutions. This is really difficult - if you think you can see the answer to a problem (as a mentor) it's really hard not to just jump in and blurt it out. Getting the mentee to the solution can be time consuming - and doesn't always get you to the answer you expected - but the mentee should be the one coming up with the solutions and learning from whether they worked or not.

In particular, chartership candidates are reaching a level of professionalism where they are moving from roles where you are given tasks to complete (e.g. as a library assistant or in an operational role) to being given more strategic objectives (e.g. in a 1st professional role) where the expectation is that you'll be working in a much more independent way, and may need to influence or motivate others into action. That's really the difference for me. Nobody knows all the answers straight away, but though talking through challenges and barriers (especially with people with a very different perspective) the mentee can come to their own solution.

There was a bit on learning styles and mentoring styles (based on Honey and Mumford and Clutterbuck respectively). I think what's interesting here is that you may go through different learning styles at different times or for different tasks. Also, regarding mentoring styles, it may be necessary to go through a number of different styles in the course of a mentoring relationship but I guess the aim is to move from directive to non-directive styles to get to independent learning.

The stuff in the afternoon on the actual processes was also useful and the handouts were really good and something I'm sure I'll be referring back to often!

I'd recommend this course to anyone considering mentoring for CILIP or also possibly for anyone interested in taking on mentoring roles within their work situation.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Students at the Heart of the System

I've been at The Publishers Association's Academic and Professional Division's 2011 conference on "Students at the Heart of the System" today.

The morning was kicked-off by a keynote from Ian Diamond (VC at University of Aberdeen) with a talk on "Some considerations in the future of HE". He discussed changes to the HE funding model, increases to the number and diversity of students, and outlined what he sees as some of the priorities for meeting these challenges. The keynote was very research focused - addressing concerns about the publication of research and the importance of Open Access in publishing academic research quickly whilst maintaining academic standards. Interesting stats on the UK being "top of the pops" for citations per researcher BUT our research outputs are not increasing - they have flatlined compared to emerging forces like China.

Ian asked the question as to whether we still need libraries and answered with a definite YES - placing the professional skills of librarians, as experts in their subject specialisms, managing data and digital media, at the center of liaison between academics and publishers.

The next part of the morning was extremely interesting - a student forum consisting of a panel of international and UK students who answered questions on their experiences and expectations of published information. The responses where fascinating (there's more detail in the twitter stream). The most interesting for me was when the panel were asked if they (as students) had ever been asked about which books they had used or found useful). The answer was almost unanimously "NO!"... It occurs that there is a role for the library here in evaluating students experience with reading materials and liaising with academics to improve reading lists.

Tools like Talis Aspire and possibly social media tools spring to mind here. The final point was that if students are paying more to be at University, they expect to be consulted on what materials are chosen and also expect them to be available in the library. My favourite bit of the day was hearing the students recognizing the library as a tool for evaluating the quality of information!

Next up was John Lanham (partnerships lead at UWE, Bristol) talking about partnership with Hewlett Packard. John described UWE as producing "professional" graduates (not vocational!). UWE  have moved beyond having HP as their provider of technology to having a programme with placement etc. UWE bring the educational practice to take it beyond "training" but use HPs experience in online materials. There was an interesting question at the end about providing partners with access to the Uni's e-resources. The response was that HP staff are taken on as associate lecturers to grant access to the institution's resources.

This was followed by a case study on an online community for medical students to share their resources. Meducation includes student's notes and teaching materials they have developed as part of their course as well as some content from publishers (they are looking to expand this "premium" content). The use of the social networking element to crowd-source content that includes MCQs and question banks as well as learning resources seems to have been successful and a large number of med students have signed up to the site. It was interesting (as a librarian interloping on a publishers conference) to hear concerns expressed in the questions about the quality of information on the site (how do you quality control crowd-sourced material?) and copyright concerns  (what happens if someone posts publisher-owned content). The point was made that recommendations can act as a quality control mechanism - and also that there is a take down policy for owned content - the idea being that the risk of copyright being infringed shouldn't be a barrier to people adding the content that they have developed or own the rights to.

Next was a talk by Jonathon Crowe and Cathy Kennedy about BioscienceHorizons, an OA journal that publishes the research of UG students. The point was made that UG students often carry out a "real" research project that finds out something new and BioscienceHorizons gives an outlet for that. It was interesting to hear how they have been trying to raise the discoverability  of the journal articles by talking to Web of Science about getting listed. Another point of interest was that to be (truely) peer reviewed, Bioscience Horizons should be reviewed by undergraduates. This would require some more pedagogy to be developed in order to train UG students to be reviewers.

Finally, Linden Harris presented on the development of The State Papers Online. This is an online archive of 16th and 17th century British and European papers - born from digital preservation and access issues. Interesting as it gets over the fragmentation of these physical documents (i.e. some in BL some at National Archives).

Finally, finally - Jane Powell did an impromptu presentation on research on how the White Paper is changing perceptions. You can access the research via Shift Learning's twitter stream.

For me the most valuable part of the day was the student forum. Some key points from the student responses were:

*Students want to be consulted on the content of their reading lists;
*If they are paying higher fees, students expect their institution to provide access to the materials  (rather than buying their own copies);
*Financially, students will feel less able to buy their own copy whe they are going into debt to study;
*Students want content that they can download to mobile devices and readers;
*Students value the library and librarians as a quality control mechanism for evaluating information.

It seems that librarians are key to the future business of publishers. All of the indications from today are that publishers need to move from a model where they sell direct to students to institutions providing content to their students. Librarians can and should be the locus between students, academics and publishers to ensure that the institutional content is academically appropriate but learner centered...

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Eastleigh Festival of Music 2011

It's one of my favorite weekends of the year. We're really lucky that Eastleigh lays on a music festival. I know it's not Glastonbury or anything but it's nice to be able to hear live music within a few minutes walk from our home. It's been a bit different this year as the main acts have been indoors in The Point. The sound quality's been alot better but I must admit I miss the outdoor atmosphere (and the beer tent!). Sadly, the attendance hasn't been massive - I find it amazing that more people don't come out to support this - c'mon folks of Eastleigh! Live music! On your doorstep!

Here's a few of the bands we've seen this year:

Flight Brigade

Flight Brigade at the Eastleigh Festival

First up on the Friday evening, Flight Brigade are a Hampshire band. If you look up the Facebook page, the second track in the player, "When The Water Whispers", was the one that really stood out for me with its haunting violin arpeggio.

Dry the River

Dry The River at the Eastleigh Festival

Harder edge to this London band (although the bassist is from Southampton ... never mind). Apparently they were suffering a bit from an after party the night before with Plan B but they still delivered with plenty of energy. I thought I could hear alot of Editors in there, which is no bad thing.

Stornoway with The North Sea Radio Orchestra

Stornoway at the Eastleigh Festival

This was a lovely set but also educational, with beautifully crafted indie-folk interspersed with anecdotes about bizarre extreme sports like chessboxing and zorbing. Really lucky to see this as it's one of only two gigs supported by The North Sea Radio Orchestra, which for me just took the music to another level. There's a wit and melancholy to the vocals which made me think of Belle and Sebastian.

Ellen and the Escapades

Ellen and The Escapades at Eastleigh Festival

The Saturday night kicked off with local band Doyle and the Fourfathers (who included a song about the age of austerity that gave libraries a mention!). They were followed by Ellen and the Escapades who delivered an acoustic set as their drummer couldn't be with them. Amazing vocals - Ellen has a great country voice. We their EP at the end because we wanted to hear what they sound like with drums and have to say it was well worth it.

The Travelling Band

The Travelling Band at Eastleigh Festival

It must have felt a bit weird for The Travelling band. A few weeks ago playing to thousands of people at Glastonbury and this week playing to at The Point to about a hundred people. But they gave a good performance. Again, it's a real shame the numbers aren't better - especially when you consider all the work that goes into organizing it and that all of the bands give it their all. I had a bit of a moment during this set when they did an acoustic arrangement of the Roses' Waterfall - which they dedicated to the ghost of Ian Brown :-)

The Leisure Society

The Leisure Society at Eastleigh Festival

The last act of the Saturday were The Leisure Society. The guy next to me had come all the way from Bedfordshire to see them and I don't think he was disappointed. You can just about see a lovely hollow bodied Gretsch in this picture (complete with Bigsby vibrato). One of my favourite guitars and you could hear the clean, crisp sound coming through.

At the end of the set the band came into the audience to do an encore. Which was lovely and just goes to show what a good opportunity this festival is - yes it's small but it gives you a chance to get close to the music that you don't get anywhere else. It's tough times and I guess councils all over are going to be cutting arts and culture - I really hope Eastleigh survives!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Research evaluation - is it our business?

On Wednesday I attended and event laid on by the JIBS user group (users of bibliographic software). Somewhat provocative title but the aim of the day was to look at librarians role in research evaluation. There were some interesting presentations, ranging from evaluation of using Google Scholar for bibliometric data to implementing research information systems like PURE or Symplectic.

The event was introduced by Fiona Bowtell (chair of JIBS) and the day was chaired by Kara Jones. Here's my notes on some of the presentations:

Andria McGrath - King's College London - Keynote

Andria made the point that research evaluation is a "brave new world" and I guess that this is an emerging specialism for librarians. In the past research support was likely to be done by subject librarians but it was interesting to see quite a high number of specialist Research Support Librarians at this event. Andria went on to discuss the decreased importance that the REF 2014(?) places on bibliometric data and that impact (in terms of the REF) is a more general concept. Demonstrating some societal change is (quite rightly in my opinion) more important than citations. But there are areas where bibliometrics will inform panels. Andria described some initiatives that should make getting at bibliometric data easier - in particular the CERIF data model, which is a European standard for CRIS (Common European Research Information Format). This is an xml-based model that goes beyond metadata - allowing deeper description of the information needed to manage research. A CERIF4REF schema has been produced for ePrints that will allow easy porting of data in repositories for REF submissions.

Andria was the first of many speakers to mention that librarians are not always involved by their institutions and that we need to push ourselves forwards. She mentioned a RIN report "Value of libraries for research and researchers" that looks useful.

So CRIS, CERIF, new ways of using bibliometric citation APIs, discovering other systems (like grants) and bibliometrics products and principles are all new areas for librarians. Some institutions have engaged with this and there was discussion in the room of an institution (Surrey?) that have employed a bibliometrician in the library staff. There is some evidence that academics are starting to get interested in bibliometrics (I've certainly seen some interest around generating H index numbers!) and that some are using advanced techniques like using Essential Science Indicators or InCites to normalize results.

Andria also listed some of the things people want from this area: they do want a Research Information System, they do want a dashboard or simple interface that has all the information they need for grant bids; they want to capture data easily (pulling in bid data from databases and only entering data ONCE!); and they want integrated bibliometrics. All of these are things that the library can help with!

Jeremy Upton - St Andrews - Librarians involvement with CRIS

Jeremy made it clear from the outset that his involvement with CRIS has been positive and that it may not match everyone's experience. One of his first slides was about how CRIS represents the convergence of a number of areas that libraries support: OA; Impact; Research profile; and digital communication. An important point (I think) was that although Jeremy is positive about these things, developments have been from genuine desire from the academic community (rather than evangelising: it is based on dialog and recognition of a need). St Andrews was one of the first institutions to use the publications database as the front end for getting data into the repository (talking to people over lunch and coffee this now seems to be what alot of folks are working towards). I think the main point Andrew was making though was that partnerships are very important. Previous involvement with the research community at St Andrews (e.g. on digital thesis) meant that they came to him when they realised that they needed support implementing a CRIS, and as a result of the work, library staff have been transferred to the research office to support the REF (as they realise that librarians have skills that are needed). Along these lines academic liaison staff are seen as an important part of the process of rolling out and supporting these systems with academics - one of the hooks for this is by showing the academics stats of how their material has been accessed via the system - the thought of increased citations is a powerful motivator.

There followed some brief demos:

Sue Cumberpatch - York - PURE

This is not quite live at York but has been released to academics, who are currently adding publications. Academic liaison librarians are currently supporting academics asked to put material on at very short notice. PURE includes publications, media outputs like radio programmes, students supervised, etc. It's been populated by the repository and web of science (they bought the InCites API to support this), and has also brought together many sources (e.g. academics records) as York didn't have publications database before this. Librarians are also supporting inputting data from reference manamgnent software (e.g. endnote). Sue had a slide showing the whole system and identifying the areas where librarians have contributed and supported. A very useful slide! Unfortunately there are not many databases that can populate PURE (just Arxive, WoS, and pubmed) and social sciences are not well covered by these. PURE can import RIS files although the import filters can be a bit tricksy.

Andria McGrath - InCites demo

Nadine demoed Thomson Reuters InCites product that extends what you can do with the citation data in WoS. You can create your own data sets within InCites. King's have set one up based on author affiliation in WoS but also a more bespoke one based on documents in their CRIS. This uses the UT number of the record in the CRIS to link to the citation data. They've found that the tool acts as a real incentive for people to get their work into the CRIS (because they can then instantly access the citation data). It's useful for the REF as you can create subject area schemes that provide data for specific UoAs for the REF but it's also useful in other ways. You can compare your outputs to other institutions for example, which can be useful in future bids.

Nadine Edwards - Greenwich - e-resources and repository manager - survey on librarians and research.

Nadine presented the results of a JIBS survey. There were no responses from repository managers - which indicates that this is often tacked on to other roles (e.g. subject librarian). Responses showed that librarians had been consulted in less than 50% of CRIS acquisitions.

Half of the librarians surveyed support bibliometrics. Most popular form is 1:1 support with academics. Majority of people don't have InCites. I later found this surprising as it emerged that InCites can be used to normalise bibliometric data. Without a product like InCites it is very difficult to do this and, as bibliometric data varies greatly between fields and even from year to year it is meaningless without putting it into context by normalizing.

Kate Bradbury - Cardiff - Research support

Kate listed some drivers for research evaluation: external ones like: REF2014; impact/ value for money; performance/ league tables; grant applications/ awards, and internal factors like: promotion/ pay progression; evaluating initiatives; departmental performance; funding allocations. (I'd also add recruitment to this list). Helping to find evidence of impact might involve searches for researchers; verifying outputs for the REF; liaison; training; and advocacy. As a skillset it helps to have: knowledge of the research landscape (e.g. keeping on top of the many HEFCE REF reports!). Kate made the point that it is hard to provide normalized bibliometrics without a product like InCites.

Afternoon session

Jenny Delasale - Warwick - Supporting bibliometrics

Jenny explained her organisational context and made an interesting point about how their support for the publications database had been communicated to academics i.e. that they were introducing a publications service to support academics with the university's publications database. Very clever marketing.

Jenny made the point that there are lots of routes to researchers and recommended Web of Knowledge bibliometrics sessions through Mimas to develop skills in this area. There was a useful slide on how librarians can support the publication process. The bit I found really valuable about this presentation was Jenny's explanation of the h index and in particular the assertation that context is everything! Basically, bibliometrics depend so much on context that you often can't provide a yes or no answer to academics questions. The example given was is it better to have 1 paper cited 100 times or 10 papers cited 10 times? All depends on context.

Isobel Stark and Michael Whitton - Southampton - Google Scholar: Can it be used for bibliometrics?

This was an interesting talk. First was a discussion on the pro's and cons of using Google for bibliometrics:

Easy to use and free. Wide range of articles e.g. book chapters and conference proceedings so it's especially useful for law, humanities, social sciences. Metrics tend to be a higher number because more material is indexed but also there is some duplication.
Data can be poor quality and it is not transparent where the data comes from; there's a lack of de-dupe; there are big gaps in subject coverage; the indexing (esp. subject indexing) is naff and this makes it difficult to narrow to a particular authors work; citation matching can be flaky (relies on algorithms to do this).

Isobel listed some services that are good with scholar: Quadsearch; Scholar H-index calculator (FF add-on); Scholarometer. Publisher or perish.

There was also some useful references to the literature on the subject:
Bar-Illan (2008) - Israeli highly cited researchers - differences between Wos and scopus.
Jasco (2008) - problems with the data, issues around transparency.
Franceshet (2009) - computer science metrics higher as computer scientists publish in conference proceedings.
Lee (2009) - neurosurgery - Google scholar and scopus very close.
Mingers (2010) - Business and management - google metrics higher.

Isobel made the point that you need to know the work well as Scholar doesn't deduplicate and doesn't have institutional affiliation.

Southampton bibliometrics guides are open access - interestingly the Google Scholar guide has been accessed far more than others!

The discussion on whether to use Google Scholar was useful. I thought it was an interesting point that if someone asks for a H index without specifying where it's come from then they probably don't understand what they are asking for - is it then fair game to give them the highest figure?

As an interesting aside the Thompson Reuters rep in the room disclosed that they are releasing a book chapter citation database in November.

All in all an interesting day and I learned alot- but my brain was a bit frazzled by the end :-)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The 7 (new) Pillars of Information Literacy

(SCONUL 2011)

I'm just taking a look at SCONUL's new model for The 7 Pillars of Information Literacy. The new model is clearly based on the original 7 pillars from 1999's "Information skills in higher education" briefing paper (SCONUL) but I wanted to have a look at how this has been brought up-to-date.

I need to show evidence based practice in response to my discipline for my PG Cert portfolio so I thought critiquing the new model and mapping it to areas of practice might be a good way to do this (and this explains why I'm spending my Sunday afternoon thinking about information literacy rather than any number of things I'd rather be doing!)...

Pillar: Identify - able to identify a personal need for information

Prob'ly being a bit librarianish and picky here but this is a bit different from the original pillar of "The ability to recognise a need for information". Small difference but I wonder what the addition of the word "personal" adds? I guess my point here is relating to my subject discipline (health and social care) in that our students sometimes need to identify information needs in others. I'm thinking here of patient information. I think it is fairly common that our students will need to recognise information needs in others and cater for that - especially in public health or health promotion roles. (I think we have a course on e-consultancy - this would be a prime example).

That aside, I think that the criteria (what students should understand and be able to do in this field) are fairly sound. I especially like that they are scalable - making the point that information changes and there is always more to learn. Getting students to think more explicitly about their information needs is not always easy. I think students are sometimes taken aback when I start lit. search sessions with a paper (or whiteboard) exercise to define key concepts and search terms. I think knowing what you need to find out about is fundamental though.

I think this pillar is fairly persistent in that most of the skills around knowing your information needs don't really change. It is interesting that being able to manage time effectively to complete a search is mentioned though. I guess this is more of an issue today than it was when the original pillars were published.

Pillar: Scope - can assess current knowledge and identify gaps

This pillar is around assessing what information is available and I guess it's about making judgement on different criteria. The updated pillar is a lot more explicit around issues like format (explicitly mentioning digital formats and how these might affect the information sources). Thinking about currency of information is an interesting one. Does our definition of current change in an age of Facebook and Twitter? Format can have a massive effect on this - really common now that articles are pre-published on the web before being available in print. Even between e-resources there can be a massive difference in currency - we often find that articles are available from publisher's links long before they make it into full text databases. For my students, accessibility is incredibly important and again it comes down to format: being able to use ebooks opens a whole new world to them when they are on a work placement with limited access to print collections.

Our students don't come to us with an understanding that some resources are in print, some in e and some in both so this is something we address in taught sessions. It's also deeply embedded in our resource discovery strategy. Putting all types and formats into a single discovery service means that, if our students use our discovery service, they will be exposed to all of the available information from day one and should develop skills in choosing the most appropriate information for their situation.

Pillar: Plan - can construct strategies for locating information and data

Again planning a search strategy is not something that comes naturally. I think maybe the awareness has changed since 1999 in that most people are now used to finding alot of the information they need in their lives really easily on Google. Does this make it more difficult to get across the message that when searching for academic information you need to be a bit more systematic and strategic?

It's good to see that an "understanding of the construction and generation of databases" is no longer a criteria for this pillar - I think that reflects how far the tools have moved on in terms of usability. It's right that the focus for this is on planing search techniques and tools. I also like that the criteria include understanding the need to "revise keywords and adapt search strategies". I constantly make this point to students - that they need to look for new search terms in their search results and feed these back into the search.

In my practice, what order you use the tools in has become important recently. I always advice our MSc. students to use our subject guides to make a list of the databases they want to search. Search the discovery service first and tick off all of the databases that it searches, only then is it necessary to go into individual databases that are not indexed in the discovery service.

A point for developing my practice here as the SCONUL criteria include understanding and using controlled vocabularies and taxonomies. I have to admit I really struggle to get these ideas across to my students! Maybe Google has brainwashed everyone into keyword searching but in my experience, the concept that people like librarians assign subject descriptors to information and that you can use those to search semantically seems to be completely alien!

Pillar: Gather - can locate and access the information and data they need

Again, digital information is made more explicit in the new model. I was particularly interested to see "how digital technologies are providing collaborative tools to create and share information". For me this only covers half the story i.e. using social media to find information and being aware of some of the problems that might be inherent in this, but I'll go back to that point later...

In the main this is about actually accessing the information. This is a massive part of what we do: from teaching students where they might find different sources (e.g. books, journals etc.) to supporting them through our authentication systems (it's interesting that one of the criteria is understanding "the difference between free and paid for resources").

The big one for my students seems to be the ability to access full text information. There is an expectation that everything is available in full text, online. Now we all know this is far from reality so part of the work is about adjusting this expectation, highlighting the difference between an abstract and full text, giving students the tools to filter information based on what is available and being able to navigate their way through our authentication systems. For a student in the NHS (with multiple athens accounts, firewalls, limited access to computers) this can be a nightmare!

Evaluate: Can review the research process and compare and evaluate information and data

Has this changed over the past 12 years? Well I think good evidence is good evidence whether its in print or online. There's nothing explicit in the criteria for this pillar that mentions evaluating online information, which seemed odd to me, but then it twigged - this is about thinking critically about the content - it's really got nothing to do with the medium. Or has it? The example that comes to mind here is advising students that if they can't identify an author or date of publication for a website then they should consider whether it is appropriate or not. I think I need to generalise my practice here a bit though. It's just occurred that just because something has been published as a book doesn't mean it's any good - especially with more and more vanity publishing...

So no, I don't think this aspect of information literacy has changed since the original pillars.

Pillar: Manage - Can organise information professionally and ethically

This is quite a biggie for my subject discipline. Some of the criteria (honesty in information handling, appropriate data handling, keeping systematic records, ethical storing and sharing of information) I think have a new emphasis. I'm thinking of issues around patient data, data protection and disclosure. I think maybe this (and the next pillar on dissemination) need to be made a bit more explicit around responsible use of social media. E.g. talking about patients or colleagues on Facebook is really not an information literate way to behave. I think partly this is around developing an understanding of the reach of social media (i.e. that it's a public space), the persistence of information created (i.e. that your drunken night out photos will be there in 5 years time for future employers to see) and potential risks and consequences of actions in this space. It's an emerging area but I think one that we have to develop support for...

Along more traditional terms it's interesting that the use of bibliographic management software is made explicit. It is qualified with "if appropriate" but I wonder if a less specific criteria might work better e.g. student is able to develop an appropriate strategy for managing bibliographic data. Just a thought. We do support endnote web use so this is an area of practice that we engage with but I guess I'm undecided on how far we should encourage students to use reference management software, especially if they have already developed their own way of managing references.

Pillar: Present - can apply the knowledge gained: presenting the results of their research, synthesising new and old information and data to create new knowledge and disseminating it in a variety of ways

It's interesting that new media such as blogs and wikis are explicitly mentioned here alongside traditional forms of publishing. There also seems to be a stronger emphasis on the importance of social networks/ communities of practice in disseminating information. Also the idea that you might present the same information in different ways for different communities. I think this pillar has come along quite a bit - especially if you look at the research lens (the pillars adapted for researchers) which include understanding the importance of open access to research.

I guess this makes sense as one of the areas that information has changed because of technology is that there are a far greater variety of tools and methods available for disseminating information. Publishing is an area of massive change - and I think with increasing open access the impact of this change is likely to accelerate over the next few years.

Definition of information literacy as an umbrella term

It's interesting to see information literacy used as an umbrella term for a range of literacies (digital, media, visual etc.). This is an area where I was unsure (for example if digital literacy is a different thing to information literacy) but I think I agree that information literacy covers all of these terms in a general way but that the more specific definitions of literacies are useful for defining different aspects of IL.

Lost a bit on embedding these in the curriculum from the original position paper

One thing that occurred, especially thinking about how difficult it can be to find opportunities to deliver learning in these areas, was that the original position paper mentioned the importance of embedding information literacy in curricula. Specifically it mentions embedding it in the subject that the student is learning. For me this would mean ensuring that subject units have information literacy outcomes built in to the assessment strategy. This is one area where I need to develop my practice - where possible to influence curriculum development to embed these important outcomes. I think this is particularly important as health and social care professions now place an increasing emphasis on evidence-based practice. For me, information literacy is a vital ingredient for developing evidence based practice.

Lenses useful for linking these to more specific disciplines - development of a health informatics lens?

I like the idea of having different lenses (discipline based adaptations of the pillars). The only one developed so far is the research lens. So, I'd like to pose a question to end this (rather mammoth) post. Does health information deserve its own lens? I think, given the distinct nature of health information, health professions and specific issues such as patient confidentiality (discussed above) that there would be some good arguments in favour of this.


SCONUL, 1999. Information skills in higher education. London: SCONUL. Available: [Accessed 22 May 2011].