11 Jul 2013

Creating and Maintaining an Information Literacy Instruction Program in the Twenty-First Century - Nancy W. Noe (Review)

The area of information literacy has provided relatively fertile ground for publishers and authors over the past couple of years. Nancy W. Noe's book focuses on many of the bigger-picture issues involved in programme design and delivery that can sometimes slip through the net with the day-to-day business of teaching, such as planning, goal-setting and quality assurance.

Throughout the text, Noe expands on and extends many of the ideas contained in the ACRL's Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices (2012), and places them very much in a practical context. The first question she raises is an obvious but often overlooked one: do you really have an information literacy programme? To some it may seem like a rhetorical question, but her checklist of 20 questions may prompt a much-needed reality check, for example: How often do faculty and librarians meet after sessions to reflect on and inform future instruction? Do librarians include learning assessments in every session? Are instructional support materials based on specific information literacy outcomes rather than being just general guides? It serves as a useful and quick self-assessment tool that forces the reader to consider their information literacy instruction in a much more strategic and connected way, rather than simply viewing it as a process of fitting classes into a timetable.

In terms of nomenclature, Noe briefly discusses the need for commonality in the profession, something I agree with in theory. However, I am not so sure that "information literacy" is necessarily the right word as she suggests, if there can ever  be a single, 'right' word of course. Whilst it seems to have barged its way to the top of the queue, if we are to future-proof our strategic objectives, should we be looking at broader digital, media and information literacies instead? Who is to say libraries will not be moving into this space in the future? Moreover, outside of LIS, IL is often a confusing and even meaningless term, and branding our programmes in this way may result in head-scratching by our users, unaware that we mean "library skills". It's a tough call: do we need to sell IL more clearly as a concept to our users and stakeholders, or move into a terminology space that they are more familiar with?

Throughout the book, Noe makes good reference to the existing literature to supplement her ideas. However, her practical advice and experience also resonates. For instance, when confronted with a faculty member who wants all IL learning outcomes to relate solely to a specific literature topic or database rather than broader skills and behaviours, Noe describes how she explains that libraries are not just in the business of training future academics, but rather graduates equipped for the workplace and their everyday lives. And indeed, if this goal becomes an intrinsic part of our library's IL mission, it must ultimately also inform and shape our instructional delivery at the coalface. 

Noe also suggests some useful planning tools. Whilst environmental scans may be common enough, how many of us have recently undertaken a SWOT assessment of our instructional context? The reality is however, delivering instruction can soak up up a lot of librarians' time, particularly at peak points of the year. As Noe acknowledges, we are in some ways the victims of our own success in this respect: by demonstrating the value of our IL instruction, the more requests for classes we can expect to get, but ultimately our resources are finite. However, by strategically focusing on those aspects that are achievable and can have the greatest impact, we can help ensure our programmes deliver results in the most efficient and effective way.

Noe offers a caveat of course: even with examples of best practice, one size does not fit all. It's about re-scaling, adapting and re-using guidelines and standards in a way that works best for your library, users and institutional needs. 

The text is perhaps a little slim for the price point at 133 pages, excluding the 80 or so pages of appendices, and some aspects, particularly the chapter on outreach and marketing, feel overly brief. That said, Noe includes some useful references for further reading, and after all, this is not designed to be a book specifically about pedagogy or marketing, but rather how these aspects fit into the planning and design of an overall programme. Most importantly, this is a book that forces you to ask yourself some fundamental, but often neglected, questions about your IL strategy, including how it is designed, what you can do better, and what it might look like in the future. The value of this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.

Creating and Maintaining an Information Literacy Instruction Program in the Twenty-First Century by Nancy W. Noe is published by Chandos, June 2013, €55


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