Users cannot operate within networked environments without some basic skills. Literacy is the first of these, for without the ability to read an issue noted in Chapter 2 in relation to the public library's role no one can participate meaningfully in the information society. But literacy must go well beyond the simple ability to read. As Balsamo (1998) puts it:
The construction of meaning is a complex behavior that is dependent on the embodied knowledge of individuals in short, embodied literacy.... Literacy is the ability to make significant connections, to form interpretations, to evaluate situations, and to provide context.
It is now generally accepted that literacy must go well beyond basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. 'Functional literacy' refers to the ability to function in an advanced society the OECD has used a threefold definition (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1995):
• Prose literacy the knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts including editorials, news stories, poems and fiction
• Document literacy the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and graphics
• Quantitative literacy the knowledge and skills required to apply arithmetic operations, either alone or sequentially, to numbers embedded in printed materials, such as balancing a chequebook, figuring out a tip, completing an order form or determining the amount of interest on a loan from an advertisement.
The second of these sets of skills, termed 'document literacy' by the OECD, comes closest to the information literacy that many observers have suggested needs to be a focus of attention in the information age, although a considerably wider definition would be required to be able to function fully in the ICT intensive world of developed countries today. Such literacy underpins the ability to participate in many activities, not least in lifelong learning.
Libraries have long had a role in helping their users to acquire skills, often under the title of 'user education' a term that, incidentally, reveals a somewhat objectivist and teacher centred view of learning. Academic libraries have traditionally provided a conducted tour for new students, usually at the start of the academic year, and then followed up with more targeted instruction (the term is chosen deliberately) later in the year. While attempts have been made to target students' particular interests, not least by ensuring that subject librarians have opportunities to demonstrate information resources to those within the departments for which they are responsible, such sessions have usually been attended by a minority. The reasons for this are not hard to find and centre round the issue of immediate relevance. Students are motivated in many ways, but principally by their assessments. If user education programmes are seen to provide worthwhile assistance in completing assignments they will be attended. Even better, if completion of this training leads to a grade that counts towards the final award, students will be even more highly motivated.
Burge and Snow (2000) point to the problem that librarians have in making the connection with users:
When some adult learners know that they lack information literacy skills, or even don't know such skills exist but know they have some kind of information problem, they feel reluctant to approach a librarian (especially one behind a big desk), and admit their need for help. After all, their sense of adulthood is bound up with feeling and being seen to be competent. It takes courage to ask for help from a stranger, and it takes time to develop confidence and skills as a learner. Why not instead go the convenience route?: ask the teacher or a nearby classmate, then get whatever is printable from an online database, and failing all those, a librarian.
These issues have led to a debate about 'embedding' such teaching within the curriculum. The 1997 Dearing Review of higher education in the UK reviewed the 'key skills' that graduates should possess and came down in favour of embedding rather than separating out key skills teaching. Recently, Levy (2000) concluded that 'the proportion of academic departments which include information skills training as an integral element of their programmes has increased recently in many institutions, especially in relation to postgraduate and distance learning courses'.
But just what are 'information skills'? Clearly they need to be defined much more broadly than IT skills. In an educational context, for example, Williams and Zald (1997) suggest that the essence of librarians' concerns should be to ensure that students:
• know when they need information;
• identify what information will address a particular problem.,
• find the needed information;
• evaluate the information;
• organise the information;
• use the information effectively in addressing the problem.
The UK Standing Conference of National and University Libraries (SCONUL) recently produced its own definition of information skills, drawing attention to the need to distinguish between skills required by students to enable them to study effectively sometimes called 'study skills' and those required to enable them to function effectively in the real world where information itself is increasingly the dominant resource in other words skills related to a high level of functional literacy (Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, 1999). For this latter set of skills the term 'information literacy' is perhaps more appropriate. SCONUL argues that to a large extent the difference between study skills and information literacy is one of degree. For example, while basic IT skills are essential for study, advanced IT skills contribute to information literacy and both are 'information skills'.
Seven 'headline' information skills were identified, as follows:
1. The ability to recognise a need for information.
2. The ability to distinguish ways in which the information 'gap' maybe addressed. 0 Knowledge of appropriate kinds of resources, both print and non print. . .
- Selection of resources with 'best fit' for task at hand.
- The ability to understand the issues affecting accessibility of sources.
3. The ability to construct strategies for locating information.
- To articulate information need to match against resources.
- To develop a systematic method appropriate for the need.
- To understand the principles of construction and generation of databases.
4. The ability to locate and access information.
- To develop appropriate searching techniques (e.g. use of Boolean searching).
- To use communication and information technologies, including international academic networks.
- To use abstracting and indexing services, citation indexes and databases.
- To use current awareness methods to keep up to date.
5. The ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources.
- Awareness of bias and authority issues.
- Awareness of the peer review process of scholarly publishing.
- Appropriate extraction of information matching the information need.
6. The ability to organise, apply and communicate information to others in ways appropriate to the situation.
- To cite bibliographic references in project reports and theses.
- To construct a personal bibliographic system.
- To apply information to the problem at hand.
- To communicate effectively using the appropriate medium.
- To understand issues of copyright and plagiarism.
- The ability to synthesise and build upon existing information, contributing to the creation of new knowledge.
It will be seen that the need to assist users to develop skills that will make them effective within the information society provides a major challenge, especially as changes in technology and applications will almost certainly mean that skills will have to be updated regularly. Libraries, which will have to develop a high level of expertise simply to design and deliver information services in the future, should be well placed to provide the learning opportunities that their users will need if they are to develop such skills.
Consideration of the user universe leads rapidly from purely technical considerations concerned with authentication and authorization and the development of factual intelligence about users to broader consideration of information usage and learning itself Those, such as libraries, who make services available as intermediaries, need to be concerned to a much greater degree than hitherto with the processes of information usage in its many contexts. The knowledge of and expertise in the information universe that librarians must develop must also be accompanied by equal efforts to develo