With the prominence accorded to them in the new draft National
Curriculum information skills have come of age in New Zealand...
at last! Or have they?
When I came to Godzone in 1979 and talked about 'information
skills' people looked at me patronisingly and said "Oh, you mean
library skills." No, I didn't, but there was no point in pressing
the point! When I returned to Godzone in 1984 after three months
spent editing a pack of information technology workshops for the
UK Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP) I raved about the
work done to integrate information skills and information technology
across the curriculum, in classrooms, anywhere that learning happened.
"Oh," they said, "you mean computer awareness?" No I certainly
Now that the Ministry has taken a tentative but wonderfully enlightened
step forward in supporting information studies courses which extend
the opportunity to classroom teachers to learn about integrating
information and information skills into their curriculum programmes,
I receive calls and letters daily asking about the 'school library'
course, or even the librarianship course. Preserve us! It's NOT,
it's NOT, it's NOT, it's NOT!!!!!
It might be timely to unpack the relationship between information
skills and school libraries. Anyone who knows me and my work would
understand that, as a librarian, I think school libraries are
a vital link in the education chain. But it's manifest NONSENSE
to treat them as a synonym for information skills. Why?
Information is pervasive. It is all around us. It is in your
head, your home, your community. Information skills are the skills
needed to make effective use of information however and wherever
it is found, however and wherever it is stored, in whichever medium
- print, person, electronic.
Research shows that a very small proportion of managers' decisions
(fewer than IO%) are based on print information. In work and in
life, People remain the most significant source of information.
So what? So teaching students to use a library, while it is an
important dimension of information literacy, is NOT synonymous
with getting them to learn to use information.
Simply, not all information lives in libraries! LEARNING TO USE
INFORMATION AND LEARNING TO USE LIBRARIES ARE DISCRETE, IF RELATED
AND COMPLEMENTARY, SETS OF SKILLS.
In 1984 1 wrote (Gawith and Irving 1984) in an introduction to
the Microelectronics Education Programme information skills teaching
"If Information Skills could be defined simply as the skills
needed to make efficient and effective use of information, there
would be few teachers who would query the need to leach these
skills to every student at every age and in every area of the
curriculum. It is when one comes to define the precise nature
of these skills so that they can be translated into teachable
concepts and techniques that a simple question like this raises
more questions than it answers. . . an understanding of what information
is, how it is created, structured and stored, must precede any
discussion of the skills, systems and technologies whereby it
is exploited. The information horse should be placed firmly in
front of the technological cart, so that the information pulls
the technology. Too often skills, systems and technologies are
taught in isolation, quite apart from the information. This makes
no sense. Without the information there would be no need for the
skills, systems and technologies. What t they have in common is
that they are all tools - useful, but only if there is material
to work on and a clear sense of purpose."
Information skills are largely cognitive, conceptual, thinking
skills. They include problem solving, planning self management
and communication skills. Learning to use information analytically
and imaginatively involves being able to analyse, synthesise (as
in concept mapping or webbing, clustering, categorising, labelling,
developing questions), to plan, interpret and communicate, using
strategies identified variously as metacognitive or self-reflective.
It involves being able to think holistically and laterally, see
the whole in terms of the parts and vice versa, visualise a process,
self-monitor, self evaluate, etc. It is a challenging and fascinating
complex of skills, competencies and strategies.
Students need to start learning information skills at JI and
carry on through and beyond secondary school. The essence of information
skills is that they are the same at J1 and F7. What changes is
the increasing sophistication of the contexts in which they are
applied and the level of complexity and depth of application.
Library skills, or the skills needed to Iearn to use a library
are far easier, less complex, and less cognitively demanding -
although they also become more sophisticated in larger libraries
with more complex systems and technologies. We can teach most
students to use a school library in less than an hour. It takes
a lifetime to develop those same students into confident and independent
users of information.
Simply, you can learn to use information without a library and
you can learn to use a library without learning to use information.
Learning to use a library will not teach you to use information.
However, a lousy library can make it extraordinarily hard for
learners to find and use information. A poor library can be a
major barrier in the acquisition of information skills.
Another term that causes confusion is 'Resource-based learning'.
Many teachers interpret resource-based learning as sending students
to the library to 'look it up'. This is not Resource-Based Learning.
Resource-Based Learning (RBL) is the planned and systematic learning
that happens when students are GUIDED towards the independent,
confident use of resources. These resources include people, experiences,
print, media, etc.
'The model I developed to introduce resource-based learning in
1984 is called ACTION LEARNING. It is based on the work
of British educators Ann Irving and Michael Marland who produced
a nine-stage model (Marland, 1981). It is now one of many possible
models of the information process. However nearly a decade later,
it remains the model of the information process which puts more
emphasis than any other on providing a framework for LEARNERS
to plan and monitor their own resource-based learning.
For TEACHERS the same model provides a framework for guiding
and monitoring students' resource-based learning continuously,
allowing for formative (collaborative) stage-by-stage evaluation
through conferencing, as well as summative (collaborative) evaluation.
However useful and powerful, the AL model for RBL, is not a synonym
for all information skills or for information literacy.
In learning to use AL students learn to use some information
skills in a powerful process context. They need other contexts
for other information skills learning.
The AL process works wherever learning happens. You don't need
a library to use a library. It provides, for example, scaffolding
for guiding students to interview 'human' information sources.
However, implementing the AL model without a well stocked and
well organised school library is of dubious benefit.
While there are many resources beyond the school library, and
many resources other than print, like people, it is the quantity
and quality (relevance, level, currency) of the multi-media resources
to which STUDENTS have access that will determine how well they
are able to implement Resource-Based Learning. As many of these
resources are/ should be in the school library it follows that
the quality of the library's systems and services (how well resources
are organised to facilitate access) will influence the quality
of resource-based learning just as much as the quantity and quality
of the resources themselves.
So what is being done to ensure that teachers understand and
interpret all these terms - information skills library skills,
resource-based learning, Action Learning, etc - in ways that benefit
the quality of their teaching and the quality of student learning?
(Discussion of the courses offered by the Centre for Information
I hope this has given you some indication that while many people
are now writing and talking about the importance of information
skills, initiatives giving teachers theoretical and practical
experience in introducing them across the school and curriculum
are still recent, limited and fragile, poorly staffed and poorly
funded. The need is there. The resources are not!
While I stick to my guns in maintaining that we should see school
libraries and information skills as separate but related, I am
not confident that New Zealand school libraries are in a sufficiently
healthy state to support the widespread development of the resource-based
learning and information skills approaches that students need
to become independent learners.
Whatever the current rhetoric being espoused, access to information
technology is not the same as access to books and information.
Telling schools without an adequate or adequately organised book
and periodical stock in their libraries that they can use online
computer, CD Rom and fiche databases to find out what they haven't
got and what no one will interloan for them is equivalent to 'if
they ain't got bread, let them eat cake'.
I'm passionately interested in Information Technology. I'm passionately
interested in seeing New Zealand students equipped with the skills
they need to use information and information technologies effectively.
But I'm passionately concerned about the abysmal state of bookstock
services and systems in our school libraries and their consequent
ability to sustain the development of information skills, resource-based
leaning and Action Learning programmes for our students. We are
doing our best, within our minuscule resources, to do something
about information skills.
Who is going to do something about school libraries in terms
of providing a solid breadline rather than an all-icing online
service? For as long as I've been in New Zealand Australia has
been developing good support services for its school libraries,
for example trained Teacher-Librarians in most schools, ASCIS
- a card, fiche, online or magnetic tape catalogue records service,
ACIN - an online curriculum information database, recommendations
and assistance in implementing school library automation systems,
eg Oasis in New South Wales, Dynix in Victoria, AUSTROM - a CD
Rom service containing 14 databases including ASCIS and ACIN,
etc etc etc. Sure, recent cuts in Australia are taking their toll...
But what have we done here in New Zealand, and why are we so complacent
about something so vital to student learning?
Infoskills and school libraries are a bit like love and marriage.
You can have one without the other, but so much better to have
NOTE Since this article was written, the National Library's programme
has ensured that many schools have evaluated and upgraded their
school library provisions, and hundreds of teachers and many whole
school staffs have completed the 175 hr Infolink course, developed
by Gwen Gawith using her 6-stage AL model, which was in its first
year when this article was written.