Thursday, 10 July 2008

Can you play the saxophone? I don't know, I've never tried.

A few months ago the report Information behaviour of the researcher of the future looked at the information skills of young people - the so called Google generation. A recent report looks at these skills in an older generation. Mind the Skills Gap: Information-handling Training for Researchers was commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN). It points out that the last decade has brought fundamental change in how researchers discover and gain access to information resources relevant to their research. Many researchers have become highly-skilled in exploiting the opportunities that new technologies and services provide but others lack the understanding and skills to make full use of the new technologies; and a widespread view – at least among library and information specialists – is that even those researchers who regard themselves as competent often show alarming deficits in their skills. Training of academic staff is therefore very important and many HE libraries are offering this, but the report points out that this is hampered by a lack of co-ordination and strategic management of information training provision, both at UK and at institutional levels. Most HEIs in practice adopt a piecemeal approach to information skills and competencies. The role that institutions expect libraries and their staff to play in research training is particularly unclear, as are the strategies and expectations about libraries’ roles in the support of research more generally. Most HEI central training teams seem to share the view that developing information skills for researchers is a matter largely of training in information seeking. A small but noteworthy group of HEIs are moving towards a more integrated approach covering not only information seeking, but other areas such as management of research information, critical appraisal of research findings, and even report writing. In terms of delivery, they involve joint planning (by central training teams, independent trainers, faculty staff, other specialists such as ICT and library staff); joint design and preparation of e-learning materials; and joint assessment of outcomes.

This raises challenges for library staff. The role of subject and liaison librarians has changed significantly in recent years, and some lack the confidence to provide intensive support to researchers. Libraries need to ensure that they have the capability and capacity to offer high quality training for researchers, including knowledge and understanding of the research process. Such moves would in many cases require “a step-change in provision and skills enhancement for library staff”, and perhaps redeployment of library staff into research settings rather than the library building. It is interesting to note that some librarians, had to point out that that “enhancing of staff skills runs counter to the recent tendency towards de-skilling of staff”.

The failure of HEIs to recognise the importance of information skills and the contribution of librarians to this is mirrored by the comments I reported in my last post about Doncaster Public Libraries “What is the point in buying new books? Tescos sell them cheaply and everything you need to know is on the Internet.” There is a level of ignorance so profound that you don't know you are ignorant. Until you learn something about the skills needed to play a saxophone then you don't know that you can't do it. Researchers may not know enough about information skills to know what they lack. Senior managers of Universities or Local Authorities may not know enough about libraries and information to realise how much there is to understand. And whose fault is this? Librarians need to sell the benefits of information and information skills and we have ourselves to blame if we fail to do this.

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