Review: British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015

Lynsey Blandford, Canterbury Christ Church University

British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015 is the second instalment of J. H. Bowman’s project to continue the series. The first volume was published in 1928 and offered a review of international literature rather than an account of events. From 1976-1980 onwards, the focus narrowed to a British outlook on trends and developments, and continued until the publication of the 1986-1990 volume. Up until this point, the series was published by the Library Association; and after two volumes published by Ashgate, Bowman took over the responsibility, with the conviction that these surveys were of value to future historians.

Bowman has gathered an impressive list of contributors who explore diverse topics in twenty-eight chapters, which include public libraries, university libraries, corporate information work and prison libraries, to name just a few. The writers are familiar names to anyone working within the different sectors of library or information work. It is certain that there will be a chapter of interest to most professionals.

Following this observation, I’ve taken the approach of selecting a chapter of interest to me and of greatest relevance to my area of librarianship, which is Charles Inskip’s exploration of information literacy. A brief overview of this chapter will illustrate the nature and depth of other chapters within the volume. The scope of the chapter is to cover activities by practitioners and researchers related to information literacy over the period of 2011-2015.

By way of an introduction, Inskip immediately focuses on the main player within this field, CILIP’s Information Literacy Group, by highlighting their events, annual conference, online presence and peer-reviewed Journal of Information Literacy (JiL). He paints a scene of developing awareness and debate concerning the definition of information literacy, as well as the widening context of its application clearly advanced by developments in government policy.   It was a period of heightened activity, dominated by training sessions, teachmeets, conferences and online sharing of practice.   The influence of the health and education professions also led to analysis of these activities through reflection and evidence-based practice. Inskip notes how this period has shown an attempt by UK practitioners to catch up with their US counterparts who are expected to publish research. JiL and the LILAC conference acted as a forum and platform for this output. Alternative sources of information literacy research included academic publishing, the annual European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL), as well as research by information schools such as Sheffield and Northumbria. Beyond this overview of the field, Inskip analyses three key aspects in further detail.

Inskip’s section on policy charts the impact of the recognition that information literacy is a driver of the economy. He describes the approaches of the British government, including the actions of the Scottish and Welsh governments, to enhance digital life skills in society, which led to the recognition of the importance of public libraries within this agenda. In terms of education, JISC’s ‘Developing digital literacies’ programme drew together experts from universities, colleges and professional associations to examine institutional digital literacies. It produced case studies of good practice and led to the development of the seven elements model of digital literacy. The newer six elements model, where information, data and media literacy sat together, was adopted by the Higher Education Quality Assurance Agency.

Inskip’s next focus is on the practitioner level, in particular the development, delivery and evaluation of information literacy interventions. He charts the proliferation of information literacy models during the period that move from a skills training focus to one based on learning and teaching pedagogy. These include Secker and Coonan’s ANCIL, ACRL’s framework for Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, and SCONUL’s Seven Pillars of Information Literacy, which became a popular tool to explain the value of information literacy to stakeholders. The inclusion of a ‘Research lens’ to the Seven Pillars and its flexible nature heightened its relevance in academic circles and beyond the library. There was an emphasis on embedding information literacy within university programmes and a move towards online or blended learning, while transition from school to university became a main focus.

The third area under consideration within the chapter refers to research. Inskip highlights the trends in doctoral research during the period, which focused on young people and nursing students or practitioners. He charts a clear development in attitudes to information literacy, from considering instruction in information seeking and retrieval, to discussing issues of learning and pedagogy. The influence of information schools introducing information literacy components to their professional courses also contributed to an output of Master’s dissertations exploring information literacy. In terms of book publication, Inskip points to significant contributions towards the role of information literacy in the workplace. There were also publications on pedagogy, including for example practical tips for teaching.

In conclusion, the chapter presents a thorough overview of information literacy over the years 2011-2015; and Inskip’s observations highlight aspects and developments which I had previously overlooked or not related to the wider context. British Librarianship and information work 2011-2015 is a great survey of the work in our profession, and acts as an effective summary for students and new professionals, as well as those working within a particular sector. The extensive references at the end of each chapter identify key resources which are especially valuable for those studying or embarking on a project within their workplace. After reading my selected chapter, the connections revealed between our diverse sectors within library and information work illustrated the value of exploring beyond what we see as our particular professional sphere. By considering trends and developments within British librarianship and information work, the volume can widen our understanding of what we have in common with fellow professionals, and highlight potential areas for future collaboration.

 British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015.

H. Bowman (ed.),

Price: £35.00

Available from

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017