This post is an edited and shortened version of a verbal interview with Anne Horn, University Librarian here at Sheffield. Thanks to Anne for agreeing to take part. Look out for next week’s post which offers a student perspective on the interview from our associates James and Sofia (pictured with Anne and Kate the interviewer).
Congratulations on being appointed to the position of President of IATUL. Please can you briefly explain what IATUL does and what your vision is for the coming years?
IATUL stands for the International Association of University Libraries. The organisation is very global and started fifty-five years ago. It focuses on university libraries and bringing their leaders across the world together. Membership is across sixty different countries. The intent is to build networks and learn from each other. We are committed to inclusiveness and a global view.
We support developing countries to be members and do activities in developing countries and collaborative projects. We have special interest groups involving our staff in coming together, such as activities in Cambodia and Nigeria to train leaders. There are also special interest groups on Information Literacy, Research Data and Metrics.
There are areas of challenge that we all share and we can each offer a different lens. We support developing countries, however we learn a lot from their experience as they are missing stages we have been through – for example Southern African nations have just gone to straight to mobile without building physical networks. There are also different challenges such as reliable electricity and their thinking is very innovative and can do. We aren’t just supporting and developing, we are also learning from each other so it’s an enriching experience.
How does IATUL support librarians involved in the teaching of Information and Digital Literacy ?
We have a special interest group in Information Literacy and it’s been a long standing group. Leaders nationally have been involved in this group. There are different frameworks in the USA and UK. Our special interest group brings together those who have to stand up and teach and we also have webinars on topical issues. We share materials – but how do you develop materials that are of use to everyone? Information Literacy is an interesting disciplinary journey that has been developing since the 1980s as an area of interest research as well as practitioner delivery throughout the world. Digital Literacy is a 1970s term and there are different lenses around what it means to different disciplines. There are also differences in terms of age such as the work Jackie March is doing researching pre-school digital literacy. There is lots of discussion around what we mean and it’s good to have a place to share these contrasting views.
We have heard that the IDL offer developed here in Sheffield is gathering international interest. Please can you tell us more about your conversations with librarians from Otago University Library in New Zealand?
This is interesting as they are not the only ones. Because we share as a profession others have become aware of our offer. It was clear we’d done a lot of deep thinking and had experts from across Sheffield and different universities involved. We had a framework that wasn’t prescribing what to do, but could assist academic teachers in how they wanted to use it. They are adopting it across the university and aren’t the only institution internationally who are doing this.
There is a lot of focus on skills in some frameworks. There is a lot of debate around being skills ready when you reach the workplace – how relevant are those skills? The skills I finished university with are no longer relevant. How do you prepare students for when they graduate and continuing to develop and be good digital citizens? A focus on skills alone has a finiteness to it. More of a focus on lifelong capabilities is needed and the framework reflects that.
What is your vision for the Information and Digital Literacy offer, here at the University of Sheffield?
It’s not just my vision as we do everything in collaboration. The aim is that we have something that will assist the university in progressing it’s objectives around Learning and Teaching. Some of those we are still forming – for example around what we mean in terms of digital learning and how this will develop. We always talk about thinking ahead in order to prepare the foundations for others to progress.
In our strategic plan it says that our aim is to develop information, digital and research literacies. This is for our students not just to be leaders in their field but also effective digital citizens – this is why we talk about literacies not skills.
As echoed both in our framework, and the CILIP (the library and information association) definition, Information and Digital Literacy is for everyone in society. What role does the University Library play in this open agenda?
You aren’t asking the big questions at all are you! What that agenda is, IS a big question!
You will know better than all of us about the pace of technology and the talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.There is so much we don’t know about how society is going to change and how we are going to respond.
One response is around developing critical thinking. For example fake news and understanding how that information is getting to us and the filters around that. Even to know whether to believe what you are reading is increasingly challenging. So if you are going to be effective you have to have enough understanding of what you are reading and where it is coming from. Then consider how you can be innovative, co-designing and co-producing to make new knowledge and use it in the way that you need to. There is a whole other side about rights and ownership and how you can use that information. It’s a very complex space.
The learning needs to start before you start university which is why we have been developing a pre-entry resource. Schools and colleges have been crying out for a resource for years. I can remember going into a classroom years ago and on the wall was how to cut and paste from a website – that is where we are starting from!
What we want is to approach an increasingly complex environment. Some of the challenges are going to be on how we assess quality – is being published in an academic way or in a journal of value? This however is changing with the publishing environment and openness gaining momentum – how are you going to assess something when you don’t even know that the source is academic? We have some challenges now but we will have more in the future. This fits with our idea of developing literacies, so you can adapt to however the environment is going to change.
One of the Sheffield Graduate Attributes is Information and Digital Literacy. What do you see as core to the development of this attribute? How can the library lead on embedding this?
Programme Level Approach is core. We don’t do this on our own, we are working with the faculties and departments. That’s how it will get embedded. We offer something not dissimilar to the approach at the university I was at previously.
How do we make it easier to support the academic programme? What are some of the questions and approaches students are having difficulty with? What saves time for an academic teacher?
An example may include looking at visual representations in assignments. What do you need to know if you are looking at images and how are you are going to reproduce them? We’ve had various occasions across the university where we wanted to promote student work but we couldn’t. This was due to this basic concept of copyright not being addressed at the beginning of the assessment process. So it’s making sure that doesn’t happen and having the key knowledge both as academic teachers and students .
You came to us from Deakin University in Australia – what are the similarities and differences in approaches to Information and Digital Literacy between the two countries?
Different parts of the world are at different stages and there have been situational drivers. Australia is highly digital, as they are at the other side of the world and supply chain, so they look at new technology quickly. There are conversations using different terms. There is quite a focus not only in Australia but also in Canada on development in terms of them being big countries and technology playing a big part in distance learning.
There is also quite a lot of interest around artificial intelligence and what it can do and we haven’t had that conversation in the UK yet. This is why you need to be global so you can learn about the dialogue and what’s going on. Digital fluency is also important and having to adapt to different environments going forward.
A lot of universities are quick adopters of the digital. For example digital assistants and personal learning journey. These digital assistants know what you are studying and if you don’t produce a piece of work that you are supposed to, it pops up and says do you need some help? Could you go to this course? This offers personal support through artificial intelligence. We can learn from all of this and our Vice Chancellor is very tuned into this space. It will be interesting to see what our developments are going to be.