Transferability of information literacy beyond academia
Information and data literacy is critical in academic settings, but it is also fundamentally important as a transferable set of skills beyond higher education. In a knowledge-based economy, where the gathering, interpreting and deployment of evidence are a crucial components, such skills are not superfluous. There are arguably many employment sectors where the sort of information know-how associated with scholarly endeavour can or should form a vital part of professional development. This prompted InformAll to undertake a study on how the acquisition of such know-how might be promoted, particularly for individuals moving from the academic to the non-academic realms.
In September 2014 InformAll issued its report from this study, Transferring information know-how: information literacy at the interface between higher education and employment, which examines the relevance of information literacy as a transferable attribute for individuals to take with them as they move from the realm of higher education to the world of professional employment. This presents and analyses the views and perceptions from a selection of players at the interface between higher education and employment, notably careers services, professional and accreditation bodies, employers and representative or specialist bodies relating to employment and skills.
The findings of the report suggest that:
- Information literacy is often regarded as an implicit component of more obvious attributes: not recognised as such, but inherent in or closely related to other competencies that are more widely sought after, such as analytical and problem-solving skills.
- For some professions, the ability to make sophisticated use of information and data is necessary for achieving professional competence and success; in such domains, there is a strong expectation that those entering the profession will be equipped with the appropriate information skills and know-how.
- Some disciplinary areas require considerable familiarity with the manipulation of information; and particular components of information literacy may additionally be explicitly set out as a contribution to the attainment of professional standards.
- Notwithstanding this, graduates often find it difficult to apply either to professional environments or to their own career development the sort of information know-how that they will have acquired in the course of higher education.
- The difficulties experienced by such individuals are a cause for concern; consequently, universities and employers should jointly reflect on how both sets of players might address the fostering of information know-how.
A greater recognition of information literacy as a set of interrelated attributes could benefit from an unpackaging of terminology, in two senses:
- Explaining what information literacy itself means, in order to set out clearly the skills, competences and capabilities that it relates to; and doing so where appropriate with reference to the distinct needs of different disciplines and sectors.
- From another perspective, demonstrating how the different attributes associated with IL contribute to generic concepts such as employability and graduateness.
A clarification might also provide a good basis for universities and employers to look at the respective and complementary roles that they must necessarily play in developing training, and thereby to reach a view of what each of the two sets of players can do best to ensure that future and current employees have appropriate levels of information literacy. There may even be a case for greater collaboration in this sphere between universities and employers in the devising and design of training content.
InformAll has sought to promote the ideas underlying the study, for instance through:
- a blog piece for the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), January 2014
- a poster for LILAC2015 (the Librarians’ Information Literacy Conference), March 2014
- a blog piece for CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), September 2014, and a further one for NCUB, October 2014, both summarising key findings from the report.
- a roundtable event on workplace information competences, organised jointly with CILIP.