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Entries in Public Libraries (15)


Erasmus+ study visit to Bergen: public libraries and their roles and work in inclusion and learning

In May this year, I was really pleased to join an Erasmus+ study visit to Bergen, Norway. It was organised by the Norwegian government agency, Diku, with the aim of exploring “the roles and work of public libraries relating to inclusion and learning”. It drew together participants from 16 European countries, and I was one of two from Scotland representing the UK.



As an information literacy librarian from a Scottish further education college (not a public library), being able to take part in this was something of a surprise. I’m a big fan of all things Nordic, so you can imagine my delight at going! My interest in the visit stemmed from work I’ve been doing in my college for the last couple of years. I have been mentoring ESOL and supported learning students taking part in library-based work experience. Through this student contact I’ve been both learning and thinking a lot about inclusivity in its various forms, which is why this study visit really caught my attention.

In Norway, the 2014 Libraries Act directed libraries to become arenas for conversation and debate. It is a country well known for its generous social funding, and through the Libraries Act, money was made available to help with upgrading technology, adapting and furnishing meeting spaces in libraries and upskilling staff.

The conversation element of what the Libraries Act stipulated (largely interpreted as community conversations within libraries) was evident in both the Bergen and Voss libraries we visited, and in the presentations from other Norwegian municipal libraries. For example, the libraries in Voss and Bergen both have training and meeting rooms open to public booking, spaces for lectures, talks and music events, and other smaller areas which can be adapted for different uses (such as storytelling, literature and poetry readings).

Most of the Norwegian participants admitted that the debate element of the Act posed more difficulty and risk. Are there some voices and views that shouldn’t be given a forum, especially in the field of politics (recalling the 2011 Oslo and Utøya attacks)? What role do librarians have in deciding whether a controversial debate should take place, or in policing what is discussed when they are hosting or facilitating a debate? This area is still a work in progress.

I was very struck by the role that help in person played. Libraries aren’t simply hubs for books or tech, but places where people come together, talk, learn, and make connections and friendships.

Norway has welcomed a large number of new citizens and takes their integration into Norwegian society seriously. The Red Cross is very present in libraries when delivering language support, and many libraries offer activities focussed on bringing different groups together for reciprocal learning. There are many examples of language clubs where native and new citizens meet and exchange cultural information on cooking, crafts, folk songs etc.

Tackling the risk of isolation was another theme, with some libraries liaising with high school students to provide tech and digital help aimed at older adults who may lack family support, or feel adrift when technology has moved on too fast. 

In between library visits and presentations, we discussed in small groups the range of practical help and workshops that public libraries in our home nations offer library users: assisting access to government information (sometimes also completing forms and applications); teaching digital skills; homework clubs (open to all, but used most often by refugee families); and training adults with low literacy and numeracy skills levels, to help them in to employment. There were a few explicit mentions of information literacy, and as you can tell from the above, information literacy was an undercurrent in discussions and our library visits.

I learned a lot from this short visit, and as I summed it up in my post:

“The message from Norwegian librarians – and others - is clear. To bring people into libraries, be flexible, facilitate and adapt. Provide an adaptable physical space if you want people to connect and talk and reduce isolation. Skilling librarians for this new environment means providing support and training in being a presenter, organiser, communicator and a good listener – and learning about the technologies to enhance these roles.”

You can take a look at the blog post I wrote for EPALE here. (“EPALE is a European, multilingual, open membership community of adult learning professionals, including adult educators and trainers, guidance and support staff, researchers and academics, and policymakers”).

Claire Roberts, Information Literacy Librarian, City of Glasgow College



Information Literacy and Welfare Reform: challenges and opportunities


Welfare Reform ChallengesInformation Literacy and Welfare Reform was the title of the fifth presentation at the IL Symposium. Gregory Colgan, Head of Corporate Debt and Welfare Reform, Corporate Services Department, Dundee City Council certainly presented a picture of what he called challenges and opportunities around welfare reform. Connected to that is the digital world we live in and the necessary skills people need.

According to Gregory, we are digital by default. Dundee City Council stopped advertising jobs in newspapers, they are all now advertised online. For many other employers the situation will be the same.  

Gregory presented some demographic figures relating to Dundee citizens and benefit claimants, lower income, deprived areas compared to the Scottish averages (see slide 2 for specifics - a link to the presentation is at the end of the posting).

He then went on to list the welfare reform challenges as:

  • Universal Credit
  • Universal Support Delivered Locally
  • Claimant Committment - Day 1 Conditionality
  • Universal Job Match
  • Job Searches / Activities
  • Digital Access / Skills 
  • Literacy / Numeracy
  • Local access to Services
  • Budgeting
  • Banking
  • In work Benefits

To tackle these challenges Dundee City Council has set up strategic partnerships within and outwith the council that relate or need to respond to Welfare Reform. Included is: Employability and Learning; Supportive Initiatives; Scottish Welfare Fund: Housing Services; DLA to PIP; Universial Credit.

Employability and learning includes upskilling individuals. Equipping locla people with employability skills. Partenrship is seen as key: DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), Libraries and Voluntary Sector. Gregory saw an opportunity for library and voluntary sectors. 

Examples of activities taking place include:

Opportunities Room - This project operates within the Central Library in Dundee, where they have created a space which is around IT, learning and Development. The project also recruits volunteers who train individuals on IT skills.

IT4 Work. This project is funded from the DWP local flexible fund and provides IT support in local community centres to those who are looking to enhance there IT skills to assist them in entering the job market. It is a 6-8 weeks course with Adult Learning Tutors that results in a certificate. Gregory said there was a 'clear referal path from the library to the project'. Some of the quotes on the slide/s showed that it was helping people for example

Browsing from home, I saw a job and applied for it as I now know how to do it. 

I was also interested in the following quote "I go regulalry to Douglas Library, I didn't have the confidence before". Confidence building was an outcome / benefit that John Crawford and I found in a library employability course study. People attedning these course often have had a bad or poor experience of mainstream education resulting in poor confidence.

Another aspect that interested me was using visual digital resources e.g. videos for those who are illiterate. The resources are create by Dundee College with captions for the deaf. I have heard of and seen visual resources created by Dundee College in the form of graphic novels. 

The key message from the presentation was 

Universal credit will be a bit of a challenge to us with information and digital literacy problems. The only way we will make a difference is is we work in partnerships.

I would certainly reiterate and endorse that last sentence. I know from experience the difference partnership working makes. 

Gregory's presentation slides are available on slideshare so please have a look at them.  

For those working in public libraries, they are already seeing some of these challenges particulalry in the present economic climate with the loss of staff and in some places library servcies. I couldn't help but think that for those working in Public Libraries it may seem like a dam is about to burst on them. I not sure if the rest of us are aware of the challenges: I think we are obilvious to the impact the welfare reform will have on libraries. However hopefully Gregory's presentation highlighted some opportunities and strategies that public libraries can take advantage of. 


ECIL Conference Dubrovnik 20-23rd October 2014

The second European conference on information literacy took place in Dubrovnik this year. Bill Johnston was the rapporteur for the conference this year and with his permission I enclose his summary of all 175 abstracts from the conference. It is an excellent summary of the conference content.

John Crawford

ECIL 2014

Commentary on the Abstracts

Bill Johnston, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Strathclyde, Scotland, UK 

The following impressions are based on my reading of the abstracts for papers, posters, pecha kucha sessions, workshops and panels accepted for ECIL 2014. 

During the conference I will be accessing a variety of sessions in order to present my further impressions and conclusions in the closing session of the conference.  I look forward to meeting colleagues and hearing their views on the current status of information literacy and the directions for future research, practice and advocacy.  

Introduction – What are we talking about in 2014?

The elements which constitute information literacy, as described in the abstracts, are mainly based on long-standing accounts of information literacy, such as those entailed in the ACRL Standards, Big6 model and other professional contributions. Consequently ‘assessing’ ‘searching’ ’ managing’ ‘evaluating’ ‘applying’ etc. are recurring key terms used to express the concept of information literacy.  Additional terms in use include:

  • digital literacy;
  • health literacy;
  • visual literacy;
  • infographics;
  • media and information literacy;
  • information behaviour;
  • trans-literacy;
  • post-literacy.  

This range of terms suggests an opportunity for a focused debate on the nature and scope of information literacy at this point in time. 

A frequently used framing strategy in the writing of the abstracts is to position the significance of information literacy in relation to broader notions of: 

  • information society;
  • digital society;
  • multimedia society;
  • knowledge economy;
  • the 21st century.  

These entities may suggest a relatively homogeneous perspective, with connotations of a particular kind of socio-technological formation and political economy.  However complementary and alternative conceptions of information literacy are represented in the abstracts, which should serve to extend the discussion. For example:  

  • indigenous perspectives;
  • post-colonial experiences; 
  • critical information literacy;
  • socio-cultural  interpretations of information literacy;
  • radical information literacy;
  • Green perspective.

Again an opportunity to discuss where and how information literacy connects to wider social and economic formulations and movements.  

In essence we have the opportunity to talk about not only the micro levels of information literacy experiences, individual’s searching for example, but also the broader social, cultural and historical contexts that encompass them. 

Methodological Features

A number of studies are founded on research, with a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods in use.   Research approaches and designs include:  

  • correlations between a chosen population’s perceptions and capacities, and an established professional/governmental framework for information literacy;
  • comparative evaluations of specific technologies and course designs;
  • phenomenography;
  • ethnography;
  • action research;
  • grounded theory;
  • bibliometric analysis and systematic literature reviews 

Equally a number of the studies offer detailed accounts of projects, new service designs and collaborative initiatives aimed at improving practice and raising the profile of information literacy in particular institutions. 


The bulk of contributions is from higher education institutions and mainly constituted by examples from university library practice. They illuminate multiple aspects of academic practice including:

  • adoption of educational theory and concepts as a basis for pedagogical decision making;
  • introduction of relatively new constructs, such as ‘Threshold Concepts’;
  • expanding/evaluating the range of technologies, particularly mobile devices, entailed by blended learning;
  • gameification of instructional design and teaching practice;
  • emphasis on active, collaborative, inquiry-based pedagogy to engender independent learning, critical thinking and a wider range of academic and professional skill;
  • acknowledgment of the importance of systematic course design as a key element of academic practice;
  • focus on assessment of learning;
  • specific initiatives for postgraduates and post doctoral students;
  • discipline specific examples, including LIS education programmes;
  • dealing with plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

Dissatisfaction with ‘one-shot’ teaching sessions is evident and linked to moves to develop longer sequences of integrated activities, with a much greater engagement with disciplinary and professional curricula and university-wide values and strategic objectives.  Consequently there is attention to larger units of analysis and action such as Freshman/First Year Experience initiatives, and institution/department-wide reform and re-design of curricula.

It seems clear that many university librarians are determined to make their universities more information literate, and to do this by moving their teaching and instructional services forward as part of educational development in their organisations. 

Primary and Secondary Schools 

A significant number of contributions focus on this sector and include:

  • implementation of national curricula;
  • teacher/librarian collaboration;
  • inclusion of parents and families in supporting pupils;
  • online ‘risks’ and ‘safety’;
  • entailing information and other literacies in curricula and school practice;
  • measures to improve pupil information literacy; 

Public Libraries

Whilst there are a small number of contributions, there is a strong sense of ‘mission’ to provide information rich environments for the widest range of patrons to meet their varied purposes, and to foster the skilled use of information technologies in the service of that mission.  There is an equally strong sense of combating inequality and helping marginalised sections of the community.   Given the capacity of public libraries to impact large and varied populations, the number of contributions should not be taken as a potential weakness for the conference.

National Studies

A variety of studies are provided including: 

  • information literacy in citizen development;
  • public libraries contribution to socioeconomic inclusion;
  • sectoral and cross-sectoral overviews of information literacy policy and practice;
  • whole age group studies;
  • specialist groups studies;
  • historical accounts of information literacy;
  • development of a professional community of practice for information literacy;
  • database development;
  • implications of copyright legislation.

The range of national origins of these contributions goes beyond the formal borders of Europe and underlines the strong international character of the conference.


The themes I identified are diverse; some are discussed singly in their own right, whilst others are entailed in particular contexts.  Themes include:

  • nature and definition of information literacy;
  • relations between research and practice;
  • nature and meaning of ‘reading’ in understanding information literacy;
  • implications of changes in copyright arrangements in digital publishing;
  • generational approaches, seniors as well as younger age groups;
  • media socialisation.

Conclusion – Where are we going in 2014?

It is difficult to sum up the riches promised by the abstracts, however my short formulation of the direction of travel is – creating information literacy and lifelong learning for digital citizenship in the 21st century.


Bill Johnston



Exploring child information poverty, looking at children’s access (or lack of) to information, in particular children living in poverty.

Just reading the latest posting from 23 (more) librarians Frances - doctoral researcher about 'Exploring child information poverty, looking at children’s access (or lack of) to information, in particular children living in poverty' a doctoral research by Frances Breslin (University of Strathclyde). 

Frances post really interested me form several points. Firstly that it is information literacy orientated and secondly it is research focused and like me has become a PhD student.

Frances is at the early stages.

I am currently undertaking my literature review in which I justify my research, set parameters and seek information to assist my research.  This stage feels like a personal treasure hunt, I am looking to know more about certain topics and have to navigate a sea of information to track down what is pertinent. 

I look forward to hearing more about Frances research / PhD and are now following her on Twitter @FBreslinDavda  

if you haven't heard of the 23 librarians blog and 23 (more) librarians then I would recommend it 


'Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital inclusion' LIR Special issue: public libraries

Looking forward to reading Community of Practice (CoP) member Lindsay McKrell's report on 'Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital inclusion' in the latest issue of Library and Information Research on public libraries. The special issue was edited by John Crawford another CoP member.
Library and Information Research
Vol 38, No 117 (2014): Special issue: public libraries
Table of Contents

Editorial (1-4)
        John Crawford

Refereed Research Articles
"You don’t come to the library to look at porn and stuff like that":
Filtering software in public libraries (5-19)
        Louise Cooke,   Rachel Spacey,  Claire Creaser, Adrienne Muir

Public libraries in the "age of austerity": income generation and public
library ethos (20-36)
        Hartwig Pautz,  Alan Poulter

"The love in the room": Evaluating the National Year of Reading in an
Australian public library (37-53)
        Sue Reynolds,   Bernadette Welch

Using social media to create a participatory library service: an Australian
study (54-76)
        Kathleen Smeaton,       Kate Davis

Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital
inclusion (77-84)
        Lindsay McKrell

The Ever-Changing World of Libraries: Six Years of “Treffpunkt
Bibliothek” (“Meeting Point Library”) (85-88)

        Maiken Hagemeister,     Guido Jansen