Week 3: Argue a Point – "Reference" should include information literacy skills?

Home Forums Student forums Robynne Week 3: Argue a Point – "Reference" should include information literacy skills?

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    • #875

      There is a clear tension between what reference work once was and what it should, or could, be in the age of digital information.

      As a student again, after many years away from research, I have found that, not only am I learning about library and information studies, I am also on a steep information literacy learning curve. Frankly, I need help and QUT library’s reference service has been my first port of call.

      But, should QUT’s librarians be helping me as part of their reference work?

      The practical reality is that libraries are growing and changing rapidly to meet the enormous growth in access to information brought about by the advent of the internet, digital collections and social media. Ranganathan’s fifth law of library science, that a library is a growing organism, has never been more true. As Keren Barner puts it the idea of libraries as growing organisms “contributes to innovativeness and self-recreation as a survival reaction to the changing environment.”

      How this innovation is impacting reference work is interesting.

      In the definition by the Reference and User Services Association “reference work” is heavily dependant on reference transactions, where library staff help others to meet their information needs. Information literacy, has been defined as “an understanding and a set of abilities enabling individuals to … have the capacity to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” The two are interconnected but the difference in emphasis is clear – in reference work, the librarian helps to satisfy the user’s need and, in information literacy, the librarian is helping the user to help themselves. There was an interesting comparison in the Twitter chat on Monday with the old adage that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime and surely this is desirable.

      [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="691"]www.sightflyfishing.com http://www.sightflyfishing.com[/caption%5D

      Students like me simply know that they need help in learning how to navigate the mass of information available. Reference services seem ideally placed to become facilitators of access to information. I would argue that to limit reference work to tasks involving librarians accessing information for library users is an inadequate response to the changing information environment and needs of users.

      In Henrietta Verma’s article, concern about the current over-reliance of students on Wikipedia in their research is critically discussed. Enlarging the role of librarians, to become information literacy experts, is proposed as a means of meeting this problem. Effectively, the proposal is a world where librarians empower students to access a wider range of information themselves. Frank Menchaca argues that librarians can become facilitate higher-order thinking skills by becoming:

      “information guides, specialists who help students to sort and analyze and interpret, essentially to create ideas“.

      This example indicates that libraries, and in particular reference librarians, can reinvent themselves as facilitators of access to information, empowering users to develop their own skills in accessing and applying information in their own lives.

      Likening this process to the Darwinian evolutionary process, as Barner does, is telling – evolve or face extinction. And that would be a horrible loss for students like me everywhere.


      [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="787"] http://www.cochin.org.uk[/caption%5D

    • #964
      Christopher Brander

      Hi Robynne. That’s an interesting post. Reference work versus information literacy has come up a few times in this subject including the readings, twitter chats, and class discussions. Ideally, teaching someone to fish is the better option but I think in reality there are limitations eg reference librarians might not have the time to really teach one on one information literacy skills. I mentioned in the twitter chats that I think library classes are a better format to teach information literacy but someone rightly responded that there is a challenge in getting students to attend these classes. Information literacy is an important skill for everyone to learn but I think we still have a long way to go in working out how to pass this on to students and the wider community. I think raising awareness of the services that libraries can provide is a good start.

    • #995

      Thanks for your comments Chris and I’m sorry I didn’t note your comments on the Twitter chat – it was a pretty wild and wooly ride trying to keep up with everyone! My post is simply a cry from the heart – as a student after many years away I just know I need help and the reference desk is always my first port of call when I get stuck and can’t unstick myself. I’d be so happy to attend classes in research skills at the library if I knew when and where they were available as an alternative to badgering the reference librarians. Maybe you’re right and that raising awareness of the existing services is all that is required. All I know is that I need librarians!

    • #1003
      Ruth McConchie

      Thanks for your post Robynne. I agree that reference work should include some information literacy skills. I would extend your argument that information literacy skills are best taught face-to-face, but most reference work is easier online. I work in an academic library and the example that comes to mind is the question I get asked once a week: What is a call number? There are students that wander up and down the stacks because they have no idea how to find books in the catalogue. I wish at some point before they reached university they had badgered a reference librarian to teach them how to fish. This question is actually quite awkward to answer online, you can send them a link to Wikipedia about the Dewey decimal system and hope that they work it out from there. In person, it is much easier. You can show them how to find it. Helping students access a journal article they can’t find is easier online, because you can send them the steps (websites) you used to get there and they can follow in real time. It isn’t as easy in person because they have to repeat your steps later. I agree with Chris that library classes would help, but if people don’t know that they have the capabilities to fish, and they aren’t hungry because the fish keeps being given to them, how can you teach them to fish?

      • #1055

        Thanks Ruth, it’s great to have the perspective of working librarians.

        As you might have guessed I don’t have a library background and this piece was written as a “point of view” – that is, my own point of view as a student who hasn’t studied for a long time. Maybe it’s to do with being a mature aged student but I find I lean heavily on reference librarians. I do recall though being an undergraduate and wandering through the stacks hoping to magically “discover” the correct answer lurking in the shadows 🙂 Thankfully things have changed, and with the help of librarians! As I mentioned in the Twitter chat, I would love to have a librarian spend some time with each of my classes right at the beginning of semester to provide some guidance. Since classes at the beginning often elicit higher attendance rates one would have a better chance of reaching more students.

        Whichever way this goes, I’m all in favour of reference librarians!

      • #1057

        Ruth, I just thought I should add – in hindsight, I can see where my post could be interpreted as arguing for reference librarians to ONLY teach people to fish but that was absolutely not my intention. I was really trying to argue that the two things are complementary. And, as Chris rightlly argued, there is certainly a place for classes in “fishing” for the more determined fishermen among us, where teaching could be done in a more intensive and focussed manner than in the reference environment.


    • #1053
      Deborah Fuller

      Hi Robynne. An interesting and insightful post. I strongly identify where you are coming from, as someone who has also been away fro studying for many years. when I talk to friends in my age group they can’t believe I am being assessed on blog writing and Twitter, but I have learnt so much in this learning environment. It is good to know that during this steep learning curve we are going through, particularly with technology we have the support and understanding of our peers, lecturers and librarians.

      • #1056

        Great to have your understanding Debbie! I think that’s right – students like us just know that we need help, especially in the beginning, and I don’t think that mature age students are alone in this. Frank Menchaca mentions this idea specifically in Harriet Verma’s article and his comment was the starting point for my reflection. It hit a nerve with me and I immediately knew that I wanted to write a point of view reflection about how lost students can feel in this age of information overload. Having librarians on hand who can help seems so important, and reference librarians are the first port of call for many of us. I also want to feel that I have learned something about finding information for myself, as well as having an answer found for me – perhaps not everyone feels that way. With reference work expanding in nature however I think the comment that librarians need to find ways of working smarter rather than harder rings true.

    • #1063
      Peldon P

      My dear friend how interestingly you write..enjoyed reading. I’m still not sure about referencing on blog, I feel like doing it the APA style, like Debbie has done. I still need to learn more of that.

      • #1106

        We coud get together during the wek and I can show you Peldon. Text or call me on 0428 880577 and we can make a time that suits you.

        It’s easy to do, don’t worry 🙂


      • #1429
        Peldon P

        That’d be great Robynne, apparently there’s so many things I can learn from you. I’m following you on Twitter, I’ll tweet you, thanks 🙂

    • #1100
      Stacey Larner

      I don’t think your POV has been unpopular :D. Then again, I was an old-time forum user where flame wars were a weekly occurrence (I realise I sound like the retired old soldier right now… it’s true though!) I agree that reference librarians should, where they can, be helping students improve their ability to help themselves. Showing them where to access tools and guides, or how to engage with assessment, so their skills improve and they become more confident. I think there is an important distinction between information literacy and reference services which was mentioned in the readings, but yes, the aim is to help the student extend their learning.

    • #1107

      Thank you for your feedback Stacey! Yes, there is a clear difference between the two and I fully appreciate that it is adding to the burden of reference librarians who are already juggling many, many jobs. To me though, as a student needing help, it’s the reference librarian I would look to to get help researching and would very much appreciate any lessons I could learn in the process. Hence the two things seem to me to be complementary. I think extra lessons would be lovely too! Hey, I just want it all!! Thanks again for getting back to me.

    • #1303
      Caitlin .

      Hi Robynne,

      I enjoyed you post and am definitely in agreement although I am not so sure the two ideas of reference services and the provision of skills to facilitate information literacy are as separate as some suggest I took both Verdesca and Verma’s articles as suggesting the facilitating of information literacy was a key component of reference services. While face to face tutorials can help to provide such services I don’t believe they would always need to be limited to such delivery and could utilise modern technology to conduct online classes similar to discussions in this very unit. While another demand on the time of reference librarians the provision of such skills helps to give reference services continued relevance as now more than ever we need to be smart in the way we navigate the amounts of information we are bombarded with.


      • #1349

        Couldn’t agree more, thanks Caitlin. Working smarter rather than longer or harder must be the option for reference librarians today, particularly in public libraries where the variety of patron needs are expanding. Some librarians apparently refuse to deal with technology questions, for exmple, but I think this is short sighted and in the Twitter chat last night it was clear there was an expectation that some level of responsiveness on this issue was considered necessary. I can’t see this trend going backwards, so librarians, who can’t be expected to know everything after all, need to have some expertise in technology issues available elsewhere in the library or online to help. Libraries are so much more than places to find books now and funding that’s appropriate to the kinds of services they are now expected to deliver will be crucial to their success in future.

    • #2291
      Chris Sonneveld

      Hi Robynne

      Thanks for the post. I agree with a lot of the comments above that we should provide help with basic searches and skills for our patrons to go beyond these basic searches. We should create a culture of learning more than the basic information literacy skills and as Chris B mentioned, provide classes for our patron’s to develop and hone their skills. I think that by encouraging people to push above these basic search skills this will also help us to develop our own skills as we are not always going over the introductory level information literacy skills.

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