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2000 Niki Kallenberger: Infocus- Linking people and information

1998 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy at grassroots.

1992 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy through IT: Teacher development project.

1991 Gwen Gawith: Information skills and school libraries.

1990 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-Librarianship and NZ: A short and personal account.

1990 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-librarianship and missing links.

1986 Gwen Gawith: School libraries: Bridges or barriers.

1986 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-librarianship: New Zealand's quantum leap.

1986 Gwen Gawith: A future information generation or a professional squabble?


information literacy:
school libraries and teacher-librarians

Information skills and school libraries

Longer version of article published in Reading Forum NZ no. 2, 1991, pp. 11-16

Gwen Gawith

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 didn't....

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.


In 1984 1 wrote (Gawith and Irving 1984) in an introduction to the Microelectronics Education Programme information skills teaching workshops:

"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 Studies follows)

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 them both!

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.


Gawith, G. and Irving, A. (Eds). (1984). Infomatters: Information skills workshop for advisers, teachers, librarians and their students. Loughborough: MEP.

Marland, M. (Ed.). (1981). Information skills in the secondary curriculum: Recommendations of a working group sponsored by the British Library and the Schools Council. London: Methuen Educational.