Getting LibSmart: information literacy help for students and staff

Brunel University LibSmart staff

Sarah Wolfenden introduces a digital and information literacy programme run by Brunel University London’s subject liaison librarians that aims to support an educated, critically informed and skilled student body and describes how it has ignited interest across the university.  

LIBSMART is a digital and information literacy programme co-ordinated by the team of subject liaison librarians (SLLs) at Brunel University London. It is designed to support students with the academic practice, information literacy, and employability skills they need to get the best out of their time at university and beyond. 

Additionally, it supports Brunel staff with getting the most out of the library’s resources for their own research and teaching, ­including: using social media, creating online reading lists, and keeping up to date. It encompasses the general support the librarians provide, such as drop-ins and ­enquiries (there is a LibSmart Help Desk in the Learning Commons within the library), as well as a wide variety of workshops on offer. 

Why LibSmart?

As a team of SLLs, we provide lots of embedded sessions for modules and these work well; however, it is not always possible to provide all the help that is needed within the modules due to time constraints. There is also some inconsistency regarding provision across the various departments and disciplines. Inspired by other programmes we have seen in action, such as Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy (SADL) at LSE and Get the Digital Edge at University of Westminster, we wanted to provide something that all students would have the opportunity to attend. It would also serve as a ‘shop window’ for academic staff to see what library professionals were capable of delivering. The idea of LibSmart began at the end of 2014 but it did not properly take off until later in 2015 when, after returning from a period of maternity leave, I was able to commit fully to setting up the programme as part of my functional role in the team comprising teaching and learning. 

How we put LibSmart together

We started by bringing together all the workshops we already delivered, matching them to the university’s strategic plans and then promoting them throughout the university. The workshops were split into several themes: 

  • Find it/Cite it – including any workshop which focused on locating resources or referencing them 
  • Employability – including topics such as Bloomberg Certification and how to research companies 
  • Social media – including topics such as managing your online reputation and using blogs and blogging 
  • Research Support – including systematic reviews and keeping up to date using Twitter 
  • Support for academic staff – including ­using copyright free images and using Twitter in your module.

Over time, we then matched them to the following information and digital literacy frameworks to ensure that we were not missing any key areas:  

  • Ancil
  • Sconul
  • Association of College and Research ­Libraries (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education 
  • Open University Digital Literacy Framework 

As a result of both the above and student enquiries we received, we added sessions on presentation skills and creating posters. All the sessions are activity-based and focus on experiential learning. All the workshop leaders have or are in the process of acquiring Associate or Fellow of the Higher Education Academy status. 

Spreading the word – with no budget

There have been numerous challenges to contend with since its inception. Numbers were very low at the beginning as students and staff were not familiar with the name and did not really understand what we had to offer. Getting the branding and the programme’s purpose out there proved to be somewhat difficult as we did not have a budget for promotional activities. So marketing involved many conversations with staff across the university, posters created in-house, and informing students at meetings and at the end of teaching sessions. By the start of Term 1 this year, all the promotion was finally in place and I think this made a real difference to attendance.

We now have the following in place: 

  • posters around campus 
  • links to workshops in the staff development training calendar 
  • links to workshops in the graduate school training calendar 
  • featured on digital screens around campus 
  • a tab in Blackboard with  upcoming events and booking links 
  • a LibSmartLibguide
  • a LibSmart Twitter account feed within the Libguide and the Blackboard tab 
  • workshops in the cross-University Masters Dissertation Week programme 
  • workshops in the cross-University ­Academic Skills Undergraduate Week programme 
  • a weekly mention in the Campus Communications newsletter to all staff and students at Brunel 
  • expanded workshops in the APEX programme which all new academics and researchers are encouraged to attend to get FHEA status with the Higher Education Academy 
  • a place in the university new staff induction day ‘Welcome to our World’ 

It is also the first year that we presented a workshop in the university’s annual Learning and Teaching Symposium, speaking about the importance of information and digital literacy and of embedding them into taught programmes. Ancil was promoted as a longer-term strategy of doing this with the inclusion of LibSmart workshops as a starting point. The Symposium presentation and department newsletters have proved to have the largest impact in terms of both numbers and requests for further sessions. Being associated with other departments and events has also greatly increased our numbers, for example, during Masters Dissertation Week the sessions were heavily oversubscribed with long waiting lists. 

Further challenges have included rooming issues due to building works and relocations, something which seems to happen on an annual basis, and losing the funding for a Graduate Trainee who previously had updated the posters and looked after the Twitter account. 

Statistics and growth

The programme has been steadily refocused over time so that we are now in the process of creating more online material to accompany the physical workshops. During the last academic year (October 2016-July 17) we provided 191 LibSmart workshops although 43 of these ultimately did not run due to students booking but then not attending. By comparison, at this time last academic year (15-16) we had provided 119 LibSmart workshops with 36 of these not running due to non-attendance. In 2015-16 we only had 158 attendees but this grew by 244 per cent to 544 attendees in 2016-17. 

Wider influence

We have been able to use the LibSmart workshops as a basis for including more content in a new Sociology undergrad­uate degree programme planned for 17-18. This took a lot of persuading people at the beginning but once academic staff could see that we were all aiming for the same end goal – an educated, critically informed and skilled student body – it was then  that their interest was ignited. 

We have been invited by departments to talk about our provision and demonstrate how we can work with academics to increase information and digital literacy amongst students. Additionally, we have been asked to amend some of the workshops, social media ones in particular, to embed within their staff development programmes to increase their own digital literacy levels.

What next for LibSmart?

Through LibSmart there is a visible example of the work Subject Liaison Librarians do to enhance information and digital literacy, as well as employability skills, amongst the university’s students. In a working environment where evidence of effort and impact is required on a regular basis this is very important. One of the downsides of the training at the University is that it takes place in many silos run by numerous teams and therefore runs the risk of duplication. A challenge will be to work with colleagues to ascertain what is being delivered and find ways of amalgamating or revising content. Ultimately, if the topic is being taught successfully and meeting the needs of staff and students then it does not matter who is doing the teaching.  

Practical help

There is also scope under the new directorate to bring together the librarians training with IT staff – students often ask for very practical help regarding software use for which there is currently little or no provision. Information and digital literacy remains a key factor in the new directorate’s three-year plan – the programme receives a specific mention so I suspect it will enjoy a significant presence for some time to come.

This article was originally published in CILIP Update Magazine, September 2017.

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