Event Report – Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: The Role of Libraries in Promoting Transition Skills

Isobel Ramsden reports on the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s first joint event with the CILIP Information Services Group (London & South East), “Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: The Role of Libraries in Promoting Transition Skills”. The event was held at CILIP on 30th November 2016.

The event started with a talk by Natasha Skeen, Community Liaison Librarian at The Hive, University of Worcester. Natasha’s talk focused on how she supports Key Stage 5 school students in their independent learning. The Hive is both a university and a public library. As such, the public benefit from longer opening hours and access to resources (including on-site access to electronic journals) that they might not have in other public libraries. Natasha said she starts by reminding students of the benefits of reading books. Then, to help them navigate, or ‘decode’, the kinds of book they’d be using for research, she explains some of the academic jargon (Latin terms, ‘peer review’, ‘abstract’) and how to use reference lists and indexes. Moving on to newspapers and social media, she cautions students to look for bias but also uses them as an example of how to write succinctly. Can you tweet the message you’re trying to give? Moreover, she shows students how to trace the sources of statistics so they can check them. When it comes to internet research, Natasha looks at evaluating sources and Google’s Advanced Search, including features such as being able to search by file type. She also recommends using university libraries’ subject guides for curated lists of websites. For access to online journals, Natasha points them to the Directory of Open Access Journals, Google Scholar (useful for citation searching, particularly if students are expected to use recent resources) and Access to Research (online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries). Finally, she also reminds students that librarians might also know the best resources for something or other means to get information (e.g. interlibrary loans) and can help with things like academic writing. She advised public librarians interested in schools outreach to get in touch with Heads of Sixth Form, EPQ Co-ordinators and teachers, especially Heads of History as there is more of an emphasis on independent research in the new history curriculum.

After the talk, David Haynes of City University of London asked if Natasha discusses online safety, e.g. with regard to privacy and social media, with school students. Natasha pointed out that online safety is usually already taught by schools and mentioned Internet Safety Day (7th February) as a useful opportunity for raising awareness. Natasha was also asked if she’d noticed that students are more stressed, to which she replied that this is something she’s noticed from the students (over 2000!) that she has taught information literacy skills to.

In the next session, Simon Finch and David Bowles, Librarians in the Information and Learning Team at Bexley and Bromley Shared Library Services, talked about their work with local 6th form EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) students. Some of the groups are quite large, which makes it difficult to give targeted advice to individual students, however they try and include ‘worked examples’ based on a list of students’ topics supplied beforehand by schools. In their talk, Simon and David emphasised the need to remind students about what public libraries hold and offer as many students had not used one recently. In their sessions, they stress the continuing value of books and demonstrate how to use the library catalogue to find books. They also talk students through the online resources available to them. Access to Research, for example, gives free online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries. The initial search for articles can be done anywhere but students must come to the library to read the full text. (And they must use a library computer to read the articles, although they can print them.) And yet, they also acknowledge that much material students might need could be in FE College Libraries to which they might not have access, suggesting a need for more liaison between 6th form heads and FE Colleges. Finally, Simon and David also talk students through how to assess resources and reference them. They summed up by saying that dialogue with teachers/librarians is important as what is required will vary, and that students showed interest during the sessions and said they were useful.

Next, Elizabeth Bentley gave a presentation on Teen Tech, a national STEM and innovation competition aimed at pupils from Y7-13. She focused on the Information Literacy Group’s work with Teen Tech to come up with the Research and Information Literacy Award. Students entering for the TeenTech Awards can also be entered (by their teacher or librarian) for the Research and Information Literacy Award, which rewards use of high quality information and a suitable bibliography amongst other things. The ILG provides freely available resource sheets for schools undertaking the award, including guidance on intellectual property, Google search strategies and evaluating information. The 2016 awards were the first complete cycle for the ILG award and the 45 entries showed relatively poor evidence of IL skills. However these are still early days. And certain barriers might be standing in the way of more entries from schools, such as school staff awareness and understanding. Furthermore, as one participant pointed out, unless teachers support the initiative it won’t go ahead. However, the prize of £1000 to the winning school should be a good incentive! Another participant asked whether the judges give feedback to entrants. Elizabeth said they are thinking about this. Finally, there was a discussion about the fact that the term ‘information literacy’ is not widely understood outside the library community – many teachers/senior leaders in schools haven’t heard about it. It was suggested that greater government endorsement could help rectify this.

In the discussion session, participants were invited to share experiences, tips and ideas. Katy Waters from Poole Libraries talked about her organisation’s recent acquisition of a 3D printer and floated the idea of linking up with Teen Tech. Another participant stressed the value of ILG’s resource sheets for the Teen Tech awards and the need to promote them.

Then, Amy Icke of The Girls Day School Trust (and formerly St Paul’s Girls’ School) and Linda Kelley of St Paul’s Girls’ School talked about how they support sixth formers undertaking Senior Scholarship (SPGS’s equivalent to the EPQ qualification). They said they start by giving a one-hour talk to students at the beginning of the Senior Scholarship programme. It can be difficult to differentiate for different subject areas in one hour. However, they ask girls to put their subjects on post-it notes and then can use these in examples and/or give specific advice in follow-up material. Amy and Linda started by showing us a mind map made using the app Bubbl. This showed the range of topics they needed to cover in one hour, which was quite large! They then showed us a list, which was made using Padlet, of different resources that can help students doing their projects. For example, it recommends EPQ guides created by the universities of Manchester and Birmingham and the Open University’s Being Digital activities. Amy also mentioned The Girls Day School Trust’s videos for students and parents on internet safety – Live My Digital.

Amy then talked more about her research into approaches to information literacy training. She described an apparent gap between teenagers’ knowledge of information literacy skills and application of them. Indeed, according to a recent Ofcom survey, teenagers’ information literacy skills tend to go down as they get older. Amy suggested that doing information literacy training with smaller groups would help. And at a conference she attended, the researchers talked about auditing skills before training to see if they had the right approach. Finally, Amy also talked about a placement she did at Queen Mary University London, where she learnt about ‘free writing’, a technique used by researchers before starting their research, in which they spend five minutes writing everything they want to find out without stopping. This could be a useful technique for students to try before embarking on independent research.

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