CILIP Debate The role of the Librarian should be that of Teacher

Cilip debate

Information Literacy Group – 10 Feb 2015 Birmingham


Jane Secker – Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor at LSE

For the Motion

Emma Coonan – Research Skills and Development Librarian, Cambridge University Library

Geoff Walton – Lecturer in Information Sciences, University of Northumbria at Newcastle *

Against the Motion

Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert – PhD student Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Darren Smart – Lead Manager, Libraries, West Sussex County Council

Arguments for the motion

Curating is not enough as knowledge is not static nor contained solely in printed texts.

Access to information is just the start… Knowledge comes from ‘poking at information’. Librarians need to work with enquirers rather than ‘deliver information on a plate’ to them.

Teaching is not a monologue but rather is about supporting the learner as knowledge is sought from information.

Librarians are information experts who, in the right intellectual space and with the right tools, can be the ‘travel guide’ to seekers of knowledge through using information.

Duncan Grey – author of Getting the Buggers to Learn – was quoted approvingly: learning is a skill and information literacy is essential.

Arguments against the motion

Librarians have a pivotal role as curators. It is enough to provide a public sphere in which the old and the new ‘texts’ can co-exist with librarians addressing enquirers as ‘thinking individuals’ who seek advice and guidance

Librarians have to deliver what the ‘customer’ wants: that is answers! Google is successful because it delivers answers. The public aren’t interested in the varying quality of the answers so it is up to the Librarian to be a mentor at the ‘level’ of each enquirer…

The key is to support the learning process not be teachers. Librarians should be free to help those with an interest rather than be expected to find those who want to be taught.


In the Q&A session following the speakers, the differences in approach and expectation of users from different sectors – HE, special, and public – were highlighted. Contributors noted that users benefitted from resources to help them learn if that requirement was core to their use of the library concerned.

In the end, the debate turned on the meanings of the words ‘teacher’ and ‘mentor’, and on the needs of the user being addressed in an appropriate way.

The motion was carried by 19 votes to 8 with 1 abstention…

* Geoff’s advocacy for the motion was supported by slides from his research:

Walton, G. & Hepworth, M. (2011).  A longitudinal study of changes in learners’ cognitive states during and following an information literacy teaching intervention.  Journal of Documentation 67 (3), pp449-479.

Report by Peter Chapman


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