ECIL 2015: Estonian immersion in information literacy

A report by Jane Secker, Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group, on the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL), which took place on 19-22 October, 2015, in Tallinn, Estonia.

Two weeks ago, I attended the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL), the third I have been fortunate enough to attend. ECIL 2015 was held in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, which is a beautiful medieval city on the Baltic coast. I didn’t know what to expect culture or food wise, and was surprised with the unusual mixture of Scandinavian, middle European with a touch of German and Russian influences. ECIL is turning into a global network for information literacy – there were over 50 countries represented this year, with many from outside Europe. The number of delegates was over 350, from as far afield as Mexico, South Africa and Australia, and around 20 of us from the UK.

Information literacy in the Green Society

The theme of the conference was “Information literacy in the Green Society” and, when this was first announced last year, I was a little unsure what it meant. In fact, few papers I attended addressed green issues directly, but what I took away was that information literacy is central to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and IL is all part of building sustainable, democratic societies, where people have access to information and the critical abilities to know what to do with it.  The conference also focused on ideas around “smart lifestyle” (healthy lifestyle, employability, educational innovation, open organization and governance of society), green practices and sustainability of the society.

There were less discussions this year about terminology and what information literacy means, which signifies to me that the discipline is maturing. I was pleased to see attempts being made made to link up the digital and media literacy communities through running ECIL in parallel with the COST Action Network (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). However, I was a little surprised that the new ACRL framework and the idea of threshold concepts didn’t feature as much as it had earlier in the year at the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC), but perhaps that was a reflection of the European focus of the conference? One of the big themes I took away from ECIL this year was how information literacy is a political issue. John Crawford, Bill Johnson and Lauren Smith led an excellent symposium on this topic, largely based around their work in Scotland on how people found information about the Scottish referendum, and on Bill’s current work focusing on older people’s information literacy needs.

Sharing data and good practice

I had a busy schedule, presenting three papers at the conference. The first was about the Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), now in its third year; the focus of the paper was on sustainability and the impact of this programme on our undergraduate students, following the extensive evaluation we carried out in the summer of 2015. I co-authored this paper with my colleague from LSE, Maria Bell, and the slides are available on SlideShare.

My second paper was inspired by attending a series of papers at last year’s ECIL on European research into the copyright literacy knowledge of library and related professionals. Following this, I got involved in the second phase of a multi-national study of copyright literacy, coordinating the UK version of the survey with Chris Morrison from the University of Kent. We presented our findings from over 600 UK librarians in an interactive, ‘Play your Cards Right’-style session that enabled us to compare the data with other countries. We also focused on some of the qualitative data we collected about copyright education – and considered issues such as how best to address the anxieties librarians feel about copyright through games and learning. Further details about our research are available from the new website we’ve launched as part of our Copyright Literacy campaign. I was also interested to learn of a related multi-national study to compare students’ preferences for print versus electronic texts. What struck me was that working together enables the IL community not only to obtain interesting comparative data, but also to share good practice and arguably have a greater impact.

My final paper focused on the recent work of the CILIP Information Literacy Group (ILG), and was delivered with fellow ILG Committee member, Geoff Walton, from Northumbria University. UK Information Literacy advocacy: reaching out beyond the tower, explored the advocacy work ILG have embarked on in the last year to build up links with organisations outside the library sector and to promote information literacy to groups such as trade unions, businesses, schools and public libraries. We highlighted the work we’ve been doing with TeenTech in schools in the UK, as well as the three recent projects funded by our Research Bursaries scheme: tackling the digital divide in Newcastle public libraries; exploring workplace information literacy; and investigating the role of school libraries in developing political participation in young people. It was also a great opportunity to launch the call for papers for LILAC 2016 in Dublin and to share some tips for advocacy outside higher education and the library sector.

Four windows for critically evaluating information

This year’s keynotes covered some big issues: Sonia Livingstone from LSE spoke about digital literacies of children across Europe, drawing on the EU kids online project she has led; Susan Danby from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) shared insights into young children’s internet searching; Carol Kuhlthau from Rutgers University asked us if we should be rethinking information literacy for the 21st Century.

I particularly enjoyed the final keynote from Mandy Lupton, also from QUT in Australia, whose research with Christine Bruce has always impressed me. She spoke about the four “windows” (generic, situated, transformative, expressive) for critically evaluating information. Sheila Webber has done a write up of this keynote on her blog. Sheila was also live blogging a lot of the conference, and led the final conference wrap-up session. There were some great pecha kucha sessions, and I also attended several sessions on using games in learning, and a workshop on apps for information literacy. Of course, some of the most fun was had at the social events and between sessions when talking to colleagues from around the world. At the conference dinner at the Estonian National Concert Hall, we were treated to a hand-bell orchestra.

Inspired and energised

I was really excited to learn that the conference will be in Prague next year and do hope I can make it four out of four! Congratulations to Sonja Špiranec and Serap Kurbanoğlu, the founders of ECIL, for another fantastic conference and for making me feel part of a global network of information literacy. I returned inspired and energised and would urge others from the UK to try to get to this conference next year, not least because it will be in Prague!

Find out more about the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL)

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