Does information literacy mean anything after university? Is the concept recognised by careers advisers, professional and accreditation bodies, employers and others with an interest in know-how, skill and employability?
The evidence suggests that, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are no straightforward answers. Two new pieces of work (a report and an annotated bibliography) , looking at the attitudes and perceptions of a range of these players, confirms this.
'Information literacy' tends not to be recognised as a term
Information literacy generally tends not to be recognised as a term, nor as a distinct and overarching set of skills or attributes. But at the same time, there is among these players an understanding of the relevance, and in many cases the vital importance of know-how associated with the handling of information.
For some professions – economists and engineers among others – the ability to make sophisticated use of information and data is inherent to achieving professional competence and success; in such domains, there is an expectation that those starting their career will be equipped with the appropriate information skills and know-how.
And to reflect this, in the relevant disciplinary areas, particular components of information literacy, such as information retrieval and evaluation of information, are explicitly set out as a contribution to the attainment of professional standards or as part of the criteria used for accreditation.
But this is not always the case. Major surveys of employers relating to workforce skills, such as those run by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills cover a wide range of employment attributes, but none of these refer to information know-how. Such organisations indicate that employers themselves tend not to express a distinct need for this know-how.
Information literacy skills may receive implicit recognition
Inasmuch as elements of information literacy are recognised in many employment sectors, they tend to be scattered among attributes that are more obvious or familiar to the relevant stakeholders.
So sometimes information literacy may receive implicit recognition because it is integral to or subsumed in other competencies that are widely sought after, such as analytical and problem-solving abilities, and also to digital skills and the ability to handle large volumes of data.
These form part of the range of competences that employers come to expect when recruiting graduates; there could therefore be an assumption that information know-how forms part of what might be termed the employability deal, but without being acknowledged as such.
Are universities doing enough?
Is such an assumption well-founded? There are concerns about whether universities are really doing enough to equip graduates with the relevant information know-how.
Graduates are not always proficient in the critical analysis of information and in understanding the nature of information sources. They may even display a tendency to take information at face value, to be too trustful or unquestioning of sources that are superficial or not sufficiently evidence-based, to be insufficiently critical.
And even when they attain appropriate levels of proficiency, they may not necessarily transfer to the world of employment (and also to the challenge of job-seeking and career management) the sort of information savviness that they would have acquired in academic settings.
How can we help employers understand the value of information literacy?
It is reasonable to ask whether a more explicit understanding of information literacy might help stakeholders beyond higher education better understand how information-related know-how contributes to the viability and success of employing organisations. It may therefore be opportune to:
- explain what information literacy itself means, in order to set out clearly the skills, competences and capabilities that it relates to; and doing so where appropriate with reference to the distinct needs of different disciplines and sectors;
- demonstrate how the different attributes associated with information literacy contribute to generic concepts such as employability and ‘graduateness’.
This might provide a good basis for universities and employers to look at the respective and complementary roles that they must play in developing training to ensure that future and current employees have appropriate levels of information literacy.
What has your experience been? Do employers value information literacy skills? Should they? Let us know in the comments below