Dr Alison Hicks, the newly-appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Information Literacy and CILIP ILG Library & Information Schools Representative reports on the new bilateral agreement between CILIP and the African Library and Information Association (AfLIA) and an overview of IL research in Africa.
The 30th January marked the signing of a new bilateral memorandum of agreement between CILIP and the African Library and Information Association (AfLIA). The memorandum promises an exciting new platform for the exchange of ideas as well as the establishment of partnerships targeting the development of shared research and practice. The important role that information literacy plays in both the UK and Africa means this agreement also provides a unique opportunity for teaching librarians and researchers to work more closely with AfLIA members as well as to think critically about the shape that these relationships could take.
African involvement in information literacy stretches back to the establishment of the first UNESCO texts; delegates from Africa played a key role in setting up IFLA’s information literacy section in 1990 (Kokonnen, Koskiala, Oker-Blom & Tolonen, 2012) as well as in formulating the Prague Declaration (UNESCO, 2003) – work that continues today through the Pan-African Alliance on Media and Information Literacy (PAMIL). Since then, a slow but steady trickle of research articles has made its way into journals published in the Global North, with a far greater number made available through the African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science, the Nigerian School Library Journal, and the South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, among other outlets.
A quick examination of this literature suggests a couple of angles for collaboration. One of the first possibilities for cooperation is the sharing of instructional strategies and approaches; British and African teaching librarians face a number of similar concerns. Articles that explore information literacy teaching in higher education, for example, illustrate that African teaching librarians have to deal with a parallel lack of awareness about the need for instruction as well as comparable struggles embedding teaching into the curriculum (e.g. Chipeta, Jacobs & Mostert, 2009; Dadzie, 2009; Lwehabura & Stilwell, 2008). Along the same lines, an article that explores workplace information literacy demonstrates how, just as in the UK, African information professionals are charged with the challenge of designing training for busy, high-pressure environments (e.g. Lawal, Stilwell, Kuhn & Underwood, 2014).
School librarianship is not exempt either with librarians indicating that they face similar challenges advocating for full time library staff as well as working with restrictive educational curricula (e.g. Onyebuchi & Ngwuchukwu, 2013). There are also opportunities to co-shape emerging areas of research; the recognition that many African students are also first-generation college attendees (Raju & Raju, 2017) demonstrates how collaboration could facilitate a far more critical interrogation of the role that information literacy plays within transitional processes. At the same time, the need to develop culturally sensitive models of education means that this memorandum provides an opportunity for British librarians to critically interrogate their own assumptions and practices. Continued economic, political and environmental upheaval means that it is likely that UK-based health, public, school and academic librarians will be working with migrant, refugee and internationally mobile populations who have very different understandings of and experiences with information.
In a thought-provoking piece, Jinadu and Kaur (2014, p.61) draw on an understanding of African indigenous knowledge systems to critique Western definitions of information literacy; as they point out, this work often fails to resonate in cultures where “a person could be a ‘database’ or ‘oral archive’ through which information needs could be satisfied.” An understanding of the complex ways in which different cultures engage with, evaluate, trust and approach information would help UK librarians looking to design culturally sustaining information literacy pedagogy that explores the boundaries between different ways of knowing rather than attempting to erase them. What other ideas for collaboration exist? How can information literacy form a shared language through which teaching librarians from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and contexts interact, share and design? Most importantly, given the historic colonial ties that unite the UK and Africa, how do we build relationships of solidarity that simultaneously interrogate and dismantle the broader structures of political-economic domination that continue to shape knowledge and information work today? (Hudson, 2016). We look forward to exploring these ideas and more through the start of new friendships and professional relations with AfLIA!
ACRL. UNESCO (2003). The Prague Declaration. UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/PragueDeclaration.pdf
Chipeta, G., Jacobs, D., & Mostert, J. (2009). Teaching and learning of information literacy in some selected institutions of higher learning in KwaZulu-Natal and Malawi. South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, 75(1), 46-57.
Dadzie, P. S. (2009). Information Literacy in Higher Education: Overview of Initiatives at Two Ghanaian Universities. African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science, 19(2).
Hudson, D. J. (2016). On Dark continents and digital divides: Information inequality and the reproduction of racial otherness in Library and Information Studies. Journal of Information Ethics, 25(1), 62-80.
Jinadu, I., & Kaur, K. (2014). Information literacy at the workplace: A suggested model for a developing country. Libri, 64(1), 61-74.
Kokonnen, O., Koskiala, S., Oker-Blom, T., & Tolonen, E. (2012). The long road of the information literacy section, 1990-1996. IFLA. Retrieved from https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/information-literacy/publications/IL-history1990-96.pdf
Lawal, V., Stilwell, C., Kuhn, R., & Underwood, P. G. (2014). Information literacy-related practices in the legal workplace: The applicability of Kuhlthau’s model to the legal profession. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 46(4), 326-346.
Lwehabura, M. J., & Stilwell, C. (2008). Information literacy in Tanzanian universities: Challenges and potential opportunities. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40(3), 179-191.
Onyebuchi, G. U., & Ngwuchukwu, M. N. (2013). Information literacy delivery in Nigerian primary schools: A case study of Enugu State, Nigeria. African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science, 23(2).
Raju, R. & Raju, J. (2017). Chapter H. Global perspectives on information literacy: Fostering a dialogue for international understanding (pp. 77-86).
African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/index/browse/category?categoryId=20
Nigerian School Library Journal: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/nslj
South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science: https://sajlis.journals.ac.za/pub
PAMIL: Pan-African Alliance on Media and Information Literacy.