Evaluation of the role of Information Literacy skills in combating social exclusion.


Judith Broady-Preston and Barbara Hull


The project

By exploring the role of information literacy skills as a function of social class, the project hopes to provide empirical evidence on the opportunities and threats for lifelong learning, telework, social inclusion, community relationships, equal opportunities, and the consequential impacts in resource use.

Information literacy skills are a core requirement of the knowledge driven economy. As stated in the OECD Report Scoreboard 2001: towards a knowledge based economy (2001) it is the countries with knowledge intensive activities who will be the winners in terms of future wealth creation. Similarly, the recent CILIP Report CILIP in the knowledge economy: a leadership strategy (2002) asserted that information sat at the core of knowledge economy, and thus there is, and will continue to be, ‘a fundamental need for information skills’.

This is moreover, an issue of global concern. Webber outlines developments in information literacy in Australia universities, where such skills are viewed as a graduate attribute of some importance (2003).

Definitions of information literacy abound, but all incorporate similar ideas. One classic definition is that of the American Library Association; to be information literate, a person must be able to:

recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information (ALA, 1989,1)

SCONUL has proposed a seven pillar model for information literacy (1999) and the Council of Australian University Librarians recently published a set of information literacy standards (2001), many of which have been implemented in Australian universities. It is arguable also that such skills are of especial importance to students from non-traditional social backgrounds, where exposure to information, either electronic or print-based, is less likely to be the norm. Similarly, students of information studies are the information skills trainers of the future, and the pedagogy of information skills is the topic of a current AHRB funded research project (cf Webber and Johnson, 2002)

The project is a partnership between the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and the University of Teesside. The general aim of the project is to create and test a toolkit to assess both the depth and durability of learning by students, following a programme of information literacy skills.

Teesside has an established reputation as a university committed to widening access to higher education amongst the lower socio-economic groupings, being one of the two leading universities in terms of recruitment from such social groupings (Today Programme, 5 December 2002). Information Literacy Skills training, delivered by Library and Information Services (LIS), plays an increasingly important role as an element of Key Skills. The Library and Information Commission-funded project, examining barriers discouraging access to libraries was undertaken at Teesside by one of the applicants, Barbara Hull. (Hull, 2000).

Aberystwyth is one of the leading departments in Information Studies and one of the foremost providers of Distance Learning education in the discipline. Courses offered cover most aspects of information studies, including Archives Administration, Records Management, Information and Library Studies, Health Information Management and a CPD programme for middle managers. With 700 students registered on its distance learning schemes, Aberystwyth is arguably the largest educator of future information literacy skills trainers.

The evaluative toolkit is being trialled on:

  • information studies students at Aberystwyth, who need such skills as students, but who may ultimately be the deliverers of information skills training in their future professional lives
  • undergraduate students from Teesside

This is a collaborative partnership project, with a practical outcome, which should be transferable to other populations.


American Library Association (1989) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: final report. Chicago: ALA.

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2002) CILIP in the Knowledge Economy: a Leadership Strategy. The Report of the Competitiveness and the Knowledge Based Economy Executive Advisory Group to CILIP. London: CILIP. Also available online: http://www.cilip.org.uk/advocacy/eags/keagreport.html. Accessed: 21 January 2003

Council of Australian University Librarians (2001) Information Literacy Standards. Canberra: Council of Australian University Librarians. Also available online: http://www.caul.edu.au/caul-doc/InfoLitStandards2001.doc Accessed: 21 January 2003.

Hull, B. (2000) Barriers Discouraging Access to Libraries as Agents to Lifelong Learning. Report no.31. London: Library and Information Commission. Also available online: http://www.tees.ac.uk/lis/whoweare/research/research.htm Accessed 21 January 2003.

OECD (2001) Scoreboard 2001: Towards a Knowledge Based Economy. London: OECD.

SCONUL (1999) Information Skills in Higher Education: A SCONUL Position Paper. London: SCONUL.

Today Programme. Transmitted BBC Radio 4, 5 December 2002.

Webber, S. (2003) Taking Information Literacy Seriously. Library and Information Update 2 (1) 44-45.

Webber, S. and Johnson, B. (2002) AHRB award to study UK academics’ conceptions of information literacy. Online. http://dis.shef.ac.uk/literacy/ahrb.htm Accessed: 21 January 2003.