Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Research Article From Project Info Literacy: “What Information Competencies Matter in Today’s Workplace?*

“Here’s a new full text article by Project Information Literacy researchers.

It appears in the latest issue (Vol 37, No 114 (2013)) of Library and Information Research.


What information competencies matter in today’s workplace?


Alison J. Head
Director of Project Information Literacy (PIL,
Fellow at the Harvard University‟s Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Affiliate Associate Professor, University of Washington
Michele Van Hoeck
PIL researcher and the Instruction Coordinator at California Maritime Academy Library
Jordan Eschler
PIL ResearcherDoctoral Student, U. of Washington Information School
Sean Fullerton
PIL ResearcherDoctoral Student, U. of Washington Information School


This is a qualitative study about the information competencies that employers seek in university graduates and the skills which graduates demonstrate when they enter the workplace. Included are findings from interviews with 23 US employers and focus groups with a total of 33 recent graduates from four US colleges and universities. Employers said they recruited graduates for their online searching skills but once graduates joined the workplace they rarely used the traditional, low-tech research competencies that their employers also needed. Graduates said that they used skills from university for evaluating and managing published content; yet most graduates still needed to develop adaptive strategies to save time and work more efficiently. A preliminary model compares information problems in the university with those of the workplace. Opportunities are identified for preparing students to succeed beyond the academy in the workplaces of today and tomorrow.

The article lists the following opportunities for Academic Librarians to assist students with Information Literacy Skills:

1. Reconfigure team-based assignments. Teamwork has become more prevalent in course assignments in recent decades, but according to employers recent graduates are not comfortable conducting collaborative research. A possible explanation may lie in the fact that undergraduate project groups are made up of a set number of student peers, while workplace teams include more experienced colleagues, even supervisors. Furthermore, in the workplace one must often identify and seek out an expert as a new information-need arises. Research assignments could include more „team-oriented scaffolding‟, such as small group brainstorming or discussion questions. Students could be encouraged to meet in groups with seasoned advisors, such as subject-specialist librarians.


2. Revise library reference services. The emerging consultation model of reference may be a better approximation of the workplace research environment. Traditional library reference service could be viewed as encouraging students to use people as sources. Yet, the drop-in reference desk, staffed by an information arbiter and generalist, is not found in most workplaces. In a scheduled consultation, by contrast, academic librarians can address higher-level competencies such as refining research questions and iterative, contextual exploration of sources. In this way, they can function as informal and occasional members of a student‟s research team.


3. Work with academic staff to develop research assignments that include the use of people as sources. To fill the competency gaps identified by this study, instruction librarians could focus additional effort on those ACRL learning outcomes that emphasize the social components of research.3 For example, instruction librarians can teach undergraduates how to identify a needed expertise and locate potential experts.


 4. Incorporate social media into research assignments. Instructors can set up online social spaces for project teams to brainstorm, plan, share sources, and synthesize work. There is no shortage of free tools for collaborative research work: Zotero, Mendeley, Google Docs, and Diigo are popular and robust. These tools make the iterative nature of research more explicit and transparent. Annotated bibliographies posted on the Zotero cloud show the contributions of each team member; peer review of paper drafts can be submitted via Google Docs.


5. Go beyond coursework. One final solution emerged from the graduate focus groups, in which a participant described the value of managing a performing group on campus, which included a variety of challenging research tasks. Increased participation in such extracurricular activities may expose „near graduates‟ to the multifaceted challenges that they can expect to find in the workplace. Academic librarians could explore outreach to extracurricular groups to strengthen the information literacy learning opportunities already present in these activities.


Direct Link to Full Text Article (31 pages; PDF)