Unpacking information literacy in the Academy… Mary Delaney

Presented at the CONUL Conference, July 2015, Athlone, Ireland by Mary Delaney (Institute of Technology Carlow)

Information Literacy is a multi-layered, complex and nuanced phenomenon. It is understood in different ways by different people. This presentation will outline findings from Doctoral research demonstrating how the concept, ownership and impact of IL is understood by a variety of stakeholders including (1) students (2) library staff (3) academic staff (4) support services (5) key informants i.e. people who write about IL widely in the literature.
Throughout this research the democratization of information was widely acknowledged as having a critical impact in teaching, learning and research. All stakeholders acknowledge that engaging with information is central for meaningful and ethical teaching, learning and research. In this way IL emerges as a powerful learning force.
However, despite these statements findings clearly indicate a lack of shared understanding of how to approach the democratization of information and also how to place IL more centrally in teaching, learning and research. IL emerged as a mis- understood concept. Staff and students articulate a clear sense of being lost as they navigate changing educational landscapes in a digital age. Furthermore, IL continues to be confused with other literacies and skill-sets.
In practice the academy is challenged by the lack of a shared understanding and approach to IL. Stark differences relating to IL behaviours emerged between students and staff. Staff simply expects students to be able to engage with IL because this is what the academy expects yet students are at pains to explain that they do not have the skills to find, manage and evaluate information properly because they simply have not been taught how to do so. Moreover, students further justified their need to have familiarity with IL as they understood the impact a lack of IL has on their academic performance.
Findings presented will demonstrate that Key Informants are most familiar with the complexity of IL. Librarians understand IL in a more applied way. Students, Academics and Student Support Staff have a more limited knowledge of the concept itself and its terminology. This research suggests that this lack of a shared understanding in general means that IL is struggling to be recognized as a distinct subject area in its own right and challenges the potential for IL to be centrally position in teaching, learning and research with Higher Education.