In May 1959 CP Snow used the Rede Lecture in Cambridge to explore the notion that British society, its education system and its intellectual life were characterised by a split between two cultures, the humanities and the sciences. Today the divide that matters is that between those who can count in binary and those who can’t, between the culture of the technologists and coders and that of the users. The division is similar to, but not the same as, that identified by Snow in part because most scientists are, thanks to the technological basis of their research, computer-literate, while many of those in the arts, humanities and politics will be wondering what happened to the other eight cultures referred to in the title.
Writer and journalist Bill Thompson took the Diploma in Computer Science at Cambridge University in 1983 and now describes himself as a ‘technology critic’, straddling the two worlds in his work for the BBC, Arts Council England and others. In his talk he will consider whether Snow’s Two Cultures have become 10, and ask whether the solution lies in teaching everyone to code, or teaching them computational literacy, and what role information professionals might play.
Alison J. Head
Today, more students in the U.S. are attending university than ever before. An unprecedented number of these students were born digital—meaning digital technologies have been a constant feature in their lives. For them, information literacy competencies are always being formed, practiced, and learned. Finding and using information is exponentially more complex than it was a generation ago, especially since the information landscape has shifted from one of scarcity of resources to abundance and overload. These combinations of factors make today’s students an important and unique cohort to study, given their unprecedented abundance in enrollment numbers, their learning styles, their needs as information seekers, users, and creators, and their professional destinies.
Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a series of research studies in the U.S. that investigates what it is like to be a university student in the digital age. Since 2008, we have surveyed and interviewed more than 11,000 university students at nearly 60 U.S. higher education institutions, making PIL the largest study of information literacy ever conducted. We seek to understand how students find information and conduct research—in their words and through their experiences—for coursework and use in their everyday lives. Few studies have explored what finding, using, and creating means to students, while giving insights into how high school skills may transfer to university and how higher education information practices may subsequently transfer to the workplace. Even fewer studies by library and information scientists have systematically investigated how students who were born digital conceptualize and operationalize research practices for learning in school, at work, in their everyday lives, and as lifelong learners.
In PIL’s ongoing research, we have found students’ information competencies are put to the test in the vast information landscape they inhabit during their university years. Our findings indicate a large majority of students still want to learn, but many are lost in a thicket of information overload. Nearly all students use strategies driven by efficiency and predictability in order to manage and control a staggering amount of information available to them in university settings. They struggle with managing the IT devices that permeate their lives and endlessly distract them. Most students turn to professors, friends, family members—or no one at all—for help with research, rather than asking librarians. No matter where they are enrolled and no matter what they are studying, most students adopt a risk-averse approach to their information-seeking research. Once they enter the workplace, graduates leverage competencies from university for evaluating and managing published content, but the skills only get them so far. Most graduates find they need to develop social skills for conducting iterative research with team members in their new workplace settings. What’s a librarian to do?
In this keynote, an information-seeking typology for understanding students’ strategies and difficulties with research is introduced, key research takeaways are presented from seven PIL studies, and a discussion is included of implications for teaching, learning, work, and librarianship in the 21st century.
This keynote will explore what roles and key skills information professionals use in championing health, information and digital literacy. How do we articulate the value and benefits of these roles and skills, ensuring these resonate with key audiences? There is a lot to learn from other sectors on best practice in advocacy and showing value, notably business and legal libraries. The recently published SLA/Financial Times research survey, The Evolving Value of Information Management and Five Essential Attributes of the Modern Information Professional, provides an insight into the attributes and skills information professionals need to developing and using to ensure success and sustainability.