Good Things Foundation at the European Conference of Information Literacy

23 Nov 2016 |Written by Sharon Wagg

I would never have imagined that just over a year after submitting my dissertation on information literacy as part of my MA in Librarianship, I would be presenting for Good Things Foundation (formerly Tinder Foundation) at the European Conference of Information Literacy (ECIL) in Prague.

The invite to present came about following Good Things Foundation’s research team’s collaboration with CILIP’s Information Literacy Group (ILG), and the acceptance of a joint conference abstract entitled “Information literacy and digital inclusion: from advocacy to action” which focussed on a Teachmeet event organised by Good Things Foundation and CILIP’s ILG held in February this year in London and Leeds. The findings of that event can be found here.

During my time at Good Things Foundation, I have continually emphasised to colleagues the importance of information literacy in relation to digital inclusion. It’s all very well supporting people to get online, but in a world of information overload, it’s also important to equip those people to become information literate - to enable them to critically evaluate online information they seek and read. James Richardson’s metaphor of learning how to drive is a useful comparison when trying to articulate the meaning of information literacy. Stephane Goldstein’s guest blog describes the concept of information literacy very well and the need for information literacy to be more widely recognised at policy level and beyond the library and information sciences world. 

I first became interested in information literacy whilst working as a school librarian. It was during this time that I became increasingly worried about students apparent lack of information literacy skills. In the library I would frequently hear students say “it’s on the internet, so it must be right” and observe them repeatedly use the first line of a list of internet search results when looking for information online, without thinking to challenge misinformation, bias, or indeed read more widely to gain a deeper understanding of a subject from various perspectives. This lack of critical thinking horrified me and drove me to want to find out more about information literacy and how it fosters social inclusivity and equips people to affirm their stake in society.

So it was great to have the opportunity to hear from world experts on information literacy at ECIL in the beautiful city of Prague. Under the patronage of IFLA and UNESCO (two organisations involved in the development and promotion of information literacy around the world), the conference theme of “information literacy in the inclusive society” closely aligns with our thinking at Good Things Foundation, and provided a great opportunity to showcase our work to an international audience and learn from others from around the world.

Attended by a mix of academics, library and information professionals and practitioners, almost 300 delegates travelled to the conference from 51 countries as far away as Japan, New Zealand, Botswana and the US. I believe Good Things Foundation was the only Third Sector organisation to attend. The conference included keynote speakers, paper sessions, workshops, examples of best practice and panel discussions. With a focus on "the inclusive society", the conference highlighted political challenges and social justice issues related to a number of themes including digital health literacy, digital inclusion, digital literacy, media literacy and lifelong learning.

The keynote speaker on day one, Professor Tara Brabazon from Flinders University, Australia (and author of numerous books including The University of Google), gave a powerful talk reminding us all that an inclusive society requires not only citizens who can search online but citizens who can critically select and analyse that information. Jan Van Dijk’s keynote speech on day two discussed digital and substantive skills for every citizen, worker and consumer in the 21st Century, setting out a hierarchy of skills, from basic digital competencies to high-level information literacy necessary to play a part in a world of rapidly evolving technological change. Invited speaker, Professor Annemaree Lloyd from Sweden, reminded us of the need and challenges faced by refugees whose lives have been fractured by difficult circumstances when integrating into new information landscapes. Emerging themes from her research included the complexity of information needs related to issues such as health, housing and connecting with people. Mobile technology and social media were seen of significant importance for those in transition. 

Together with Jane Secker, Chair of CILIP's ILG and Stephane Goldstein from Informall, we ran what turned into a rather engaging and thought-provoking panel session discussing issues related to how libraries can work collaboratively with a range of stakeholders in local communities in order to promote digital inclusion. Participants of the session were encouraged to share any digital inclusion initiatives they were involved in from around the world, and highlight any successes and challenges. There was much interest in Good Things Foundation’s research projects Library Digital Inclusion Fund and English My Way, and the work we do with our UK Online Centre network and the support they offer. Click here for the presentation slides. I also talked about how our network of public libraries uses our online learning platform Learn My Way(1). We are looking to develop learning tools related to information literacy so please get in touch with any thoughts.

In the closing remarks of the conference it was suggested that ECIL needed to open out to "players beyond academia and the library world", to enable a deeper understanding of information literacy in varying contexts such as in the workplace and in healthcare practice, with the view to inviting participants from a wider array of professions.  So as we continue to develop our thoughts related to information literacy maybe Good Things Foundation will look to attend ECIL 2017 and provide further insight into information literacy in a community setting.

(1)Learn My Way is Tinder Foundation’s free digital learning platform, which has supported more than 900,000 people across the world to get online. Learning content ranges from functional digital skills to the use of online health resources, public services, job-hunting and money management tools. MI data on learner activity is automatically recorded, allowing digital inclusion practitioners to easily monitor and report on the impact of their activities.