Thought for Food Blog

Interview with Academic Librarians at the University of Reading

The University of Reading is ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world and enjoys a world-class reputation for teaching, research and enterprise.

The University was established in 1892, received its Royal Charter in 1926, and has developed into a leading force in British and international higher education.

The University continues to evolve, reflecting an ever-changing world, which drives the development of our areas of research excellence and strength. We are leading the way in multidisciplinary work in biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, housed in a new £17 million centre, for example.

University of Reading | IFIS Publishing

The purpose of the library, as with other academic institutions, is to support teaching, learning and research in the University, by developing and promoting access to information resources; and also to contribute to the wider world of scholarship, and to the transfer of knowledge, by collaborating and co-operating with other organisations.

Two of the university's Academic Librarians reflect on information literacy, the evolution of the library space and the impact of the Internet...

In your opinion, what have been the most significant developments in information literacy in recent times? Be that curation, dissemination, access..? Is this also tied to the evolution of the library space, i.e. a move from simply providing space for books and resources to providing a ‘space’ in the broadest terms?

Part of our role as academic librarians at the moment is to guide our users through the search and authentication barriers, but with the adoption of discovery services, proxies and wayfless URLs there is less of a need to make mini-librarians out of our users. Instead we can focus on teaching more advanced information literacy skills, such as sifting information and evaluating sources.

The online library needs to be as simple as possible to use to rival the primacy of Google and ensure that students make use of the resources we provide (and that they pay for indirectly). The fact that so much information is available online makes it difficult for students to differentiate between reputable sources of information and those with no academic credibility.

One of the challenges for Librarians is to establish teaching links with academics so that we have the opportunity to teach the more advanced skills and set them in the context of academic work, independent learning, critical thinking and supporting arguments with good evidence from the literature - which they will find via their access to quality databases and academic ejournals. Team teaching and strong liaison with academic colleagues is important here.

Transitions and employability are key issues in Higher Education and Librarians also have a role to play in developing information literacy skills over a student's time at university and supporting the confidence needed to articulate them. Knowledge and selection of resources - be they books, journals or databases - is still a key skill for a Librarian as is maintaining access to them.

Providing a range of study space is equally important - from silent areas to areas for collaborative working with appropriate furniture and facilities. The academic library is much less a warehouse to store materials, but more a space for students to interact with one another, and the printed and online materials the library provides. Group work has become far more important and the library has to provide space for students to work together. Students want to study in the library in preference to any other space provided, but they also see it as a social space to meet one another.

By and large, public libraries have always been early adopters of both ideas and technologies in terms of reaching out and connecting with their communities. Do academic libraries need to adopt similar principles?

Academic libraries have a more clearly defined community to serve and to a certain extent can expect their users to seek out their information and help. However, there is a risk of becoming sidelined as students use other tools (such as Google) and get by on what they find without realizing that the library offers a wealth of information for them. Finding out how academic library users want to interact with the library services is a key part of deciding on adoption of such technologies.

We are of course judged in the National Student Survey and other surveys and in an increasingly competitive environment need to constantly improve resources, facilities and services - so yes reaching out via a range of technologies is important, not forgetting that not all our students are connected via social media. Not only is there a proliferation of information, but of the modes of communication. I like to think of them as arrows in a quiver of methods to reach our students and staff - with no one being more important than the other. It's the archer's skill that counts.

We also need to think about who these communities are. Students, both undergraduate and postgraduate and academics of course, but also Study Support, Careers, Research and Enterprise, Student Union Officers and staff. Staff training and development units all contribute to the University community and student experience and Library staff can work in partnership with these and others to develop a holistic approach to student and staff development at whatever level.

The Internet collects, collates and houses so much information – is it therefore arguable that there is too much data out there? Or does this situation simply highlight the importance of robust information literacy skills?

We aren’t going to change the nature of the Internet, so the only options are to improve the search engines to find the information required more accurately, or to teach people how search more intelligently and to sift the information they find.

There are students who are overwhelmed by the number of items on their reading lists too. They need to be equipped with academic as well as information literacy skills (as well as time management) to be selective and evaluative.

EBSCO offers FSTA – Food Science and Technology Abstracts on EBSCOhost and EBSCO Discovery Service™. They, along with Research Information, recently sponsored the webinar, “Seven Key Questions to Evaluate Your Food Science and Nutrition Information.” Watch free on demand.

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