Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Librarian's Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC) 2008

Keir Hopwood reports on three-day conference about current and future trends in the practice of information literacy teaching in Higher Education and beyond.

The LILAC 2008 has already received plenty of Web coverage, notably in Sheila Webber’s IL blog [1], where lots of other weblog posts on the event have been collected. I also produced an official blog [2] myself, as part of the conditions of my student award conference bursary. As a newcomer to the information and library profession, and a postgraduate masters student, I hope to offer a different perspective on this event, focussing on the highlights and my personal impressions.

In my submission for the LILAC student award panel I had noted some of the aspects of this discipline which struck a raw graduate like myself: that information literacy itself is a contested concept and so often has to be justified or at least explained; that it has emerged in isolated pockets but is now becoming a cross-sector activity; and that it’s an international issue. The terms of the conference award meant I had to create a weblog report of the event – this also allowed me to combine two major professional interests, “Web 2.0” and information literacy. I had obviously come to the right place!

Keynote Speakers

There were five keynote sessions this year, one up on 2006. The speakers represented a very diverse range of perspectives, considering both their professional involvements and their approaches to the subject of information literacy. We heard from researching librarians, a social anthropologist, a media studies professor, a science library director and an IL dignitary from the USA. The resulting mixture seemed to fit the bill given the controversial conference themes (including the “net generation”, information ethics and social justice), and made for a heady and slightly explosive brew of ideas which certainly kept me upright in my seat as much as the obligatory coffee and muffins.

Anja Timm

In her presentation “The library? Why would I go there?”, Anja Timm used a short documentary video filmed in India to introduce her research, giving us a very personalised anthropological introduction to the expectations of university level study and the scholarly writing process of international students from three countries (or continents) of origin. I found this a very apt and striking way to present her findings, which are directly relevant to how students use libraries (and in fact, how they experience university as a whole) but could so easily vanish in the anonymity of official reports and academic routine. When I sat next to an Indian student on the train home from the conference, and she recounted her friend’s experience of being hauled up before a plagiarism tribunal for an unwittingly unattributed quotation, I saw first-hand that this is a live issue!

Patricia Senn-Breivik

Dr. Breivik’s view seemed to be a totally integrated one: information literacy as a means to universal education, and librarians as activists. She had practical suggestions as to how to overcome the obstacles to getting it on the agenda at the highest levels. These were her three ‘P’s of information literacy: partnerships, planning and public relations. In these ways, librarians were to “go beyond the walls” of libraries and even academic institutions; so, for example, academic librarians should become advocates for school librarians. The esteemed educational administrator Ernest Boyer [3] was cited as saying that students should spend equal time in the library and the classroom; the library educator Patricia Knapp was invoked as an advocate of active learning. Every conference delegate received a copy of Dr. Breivik’s book Higher Education in the Internet Age: Libraries Creating a Strategic Edge [4].

Frances Norton

The head of the Wellcome Library also used the documentary film idiom - in this case a vox pop session on peoples’ views of ‘science’. This rather ‘unscientific’ (as she put it!) dip into popular opinion introduced a visual exploration of scientific communication. Frances led us through an eclectic selection of materials, from computer-generated geographic statistical representations, to a copy of an original sketch of DNA by Francis Crick. I was impressed by her definition of scientific literacy as a multifaceted sense for logic, risk, probability and numeracy. Her mention of a ‘strain in British culture of pushing science to one side’ resonated with my experience of studying Physics as an undergraduate, and seeing the contrast between the outlook of teachers like Richard Feynmann and the general impressions available in the mass media. She compared the importance of the discovery of DNA and the Human Genome Project to that of the invention of the Internet. If this is true, then I believe there is a long way to go in public understanding of science, given that the Internet is still so misunderstood.

Christine Irving and John Crawford

A refreshingly different approach was provided by the Scottish Information Literacy Project’s Information Literacy in the Workplace [5] research report. I attended the smaller workshop on this topic as well as the keynote speech, and I was happy to have done so, because this was the practical evidence-based review of IL in multiple sectors I had been eagerly anticipating. The research was qualitative and interview-based, and aimed at creating new theory to suggest further research questions. Several points seemed familiar from my background reading and experience: that there is a ‘complete disjunction’ between the library and information science and pedagogic theory literatures, and that in many cases, special libraries tend to be dissolved – and then re-constructed under another guise! The review’s conclusions seemed quite biased towards an academic interpretation, and maybe would suggest (at least to me) some sort of shift closer towards theories of knowledge management.

Tara Brabazon

The final keynote was also long-awaited: the presentation and one-woman theatrical performance by Professor Brabazon from the University of Brighton. She used music, the good old overhead projector, and a whole raft of popular culture references to develop a vision of the librarian as the real hub of information and knowledge exchange in the incumbent ‘conceptual age’. Mirroring Tim O’Reilly’s now ubiquitous Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 mapping [6], she portrayed the unique skills and qualities of information professionals as the next step in a natural progression, exemplified by the mappings ‘search engine > information professional’, and ‘infrastructure > social structure’. Despite some one-sided press responses, she did not unilaterally malign Google and Wikipedia (‘how can you argue with a platform?’) but did press for a more subtle approach to their application, taking into account the moral and social context of today’s information user.


The sheer pace of the schedule at LILAC surprised me. One needs a certain amount of information literacy just to keep track of the session locations, and the location changes during the three days; to say nothing of the sheer amounts of knowledge and information flowing freely.

Wikipedia: A Resource for Teaching and Learning?

Angela Newton and Katy Sidwell

My first workshop was fully booked, but as the official blog reporter I was able to secure a place. Angela Newton and Katy Sidwell aptly presented their experience of using Wikipedia for university teaching in the context of an interactive workshop. We were led through the interesting social structures that underlie Wikipedia and the more credential-focussed alternative, Citizendium, and looked at ways to understand and challenge students’ and academics’ perceptions of both, making the interactive encyclopaedia come alive.

Out-genning the Net Generation: Second Life as a Learning Environment

Sheila Webber, Vicki Cormie & Lyn Parker

Another interactive class, this time on the (to me) frankly bizarre but obviously hugely successful Second Life virtual world. They pulled off the impressive feat of getting a roomful of librarians, some of whom (like me!) were rather sceptical of the whole concept, signed up and romping round the University of Sheffield “island”. If that was all we achieved, it was no mean feat.

The Academic Librarian as a Supervisor: Intervening in the Student’s Research Process

Maria-Carme Torras i Calvo

Dr. Torras i Calvo put forward her theories of librarians’ interventions in the research process in this workshop, by which point, I must confess, I was somewhat conference-weary! The ideas that managed to penetrate my somnolent mind were impressively new: there is value in seeing learning as a continuous process involving the whole social context of the student. This situates the students in a triadic network of peers, academics and librarians. It entails new practices, such as an ‘apprenticeship’ in research and group supervisions. These ideas all tend towards ‘making the graduate curriculum explicit’ [7] so they are not totally new, but involving librarians to this extent certainly is. A pilot study is underway and should be eagerly awaited.

Moodle at LSE Library: Bringing Information Literacy to the Students’ Desktop

Rowena Macrae-Gibson & Maria Bell

The London School of Economics’ (LSE) training portal uses RSS feeds [8] to draw together details of workshops and short courses from across the University, in all skill areas from library induction, through academic writing to IT and standard software packages. The courses are administered the various training providers and then fed into the RSS system through various filters to put the data into standardised metadata fields. The feed is then directed into Moodle, the LSE’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) [9] and displayed on plasma screens around the campus. This initiative has had interesting results – for example, a widespread perception that the courses are only IT-related. The link with information literacy is that this activity fits into JISC’s i-Skills agenda [10], under the heading of communication.

Power to the People: Exploring the Development of the Informs Software Tool through Community Engagement

Diana Massam & Lisa Charnock

I wasn’t able to follow much of the Informs session, except to find out that the very existence of this excellent website user tutorial creation platform was recently saved by the advocacy of its online user community [11] – surely a case in point of information literacy promoters putting our own tools to good use.

Academic Liaison Saves the World?

Alice Crawford

Having newly entered the library profession, I was immediately inundated with professional literature signalling the profession’s impending snark-like vanishment. This workshop presented the experience of two academic liaison librarians, a particularly unimaginable sub-species of this genus, and their Herculean struggles to reintroduce liaison librarianship into the institutional ecology of the University of St. Andrews. Despite their key skills in teaching, communication and influencing, and their academic library knowledge, they are pitted against a laundry list job specification, approximately 10-15 liaison subject responsibilities, and the fact that the organisation appears to have forgotten where they fit in (and closed the gap). In their final slide, they raised (for me) the essential question: What’s our role now that ‘we are all librarians now’?


While I may not have attended all the sessions I meant to, and perhaps could well have paid more complete attention at the sessions I did attend [12] I learned an awful lot and was left with some useful questions for my own dissertation, which hopefully will focus on information literacy in an academic context.

I feel that a career in academic libraries could be a real possibility for me, now that I’ve met some of the people who, until last month, were mere journal citations for me.

Given that LILAC has only been running since 2005, although IL has been a current term for longer, I feel there is still a long way to go towards uniting all these disparate strands of theory and practice. Some delegates and speakers espoused an apparently common view that ‘it’s practice that counts’ but I am still holding out for a Grand Unified Theory of Information Literacy! Especially if the conference themes are taken seriously: Information Literacy is such a key component of everyone’s rights to education, there seems to be a desperate need for some way to articulate this - at the academic, political and plain language levels. Maybe someone could work on this idea for next year’s LILAC.


  1. Information Literacy Weblog http://information-literacy.blogspot.com/
  2. Official LILAC 2008 Weblog http://lilac2008.wordpress.com/
  3. Altbach, P. (1996), “Ernest Boyer: An Appreciation”, http://bc.edu/bc_org/avp/soe/cihe/newsletter/News04/text4.html
  4. Brown, W. (2006), “Higher Education in the Internet Age: Libraries Creating a Strategic Edge”. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eqm06413.pdf
  5. Information Literacy in the Workplace project website: http://www.caledonian.ac.uk/ils/workplace.html
  6. O’Reilly, T. (2005) “What is Web 2.0?” http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html
  7. Sullivan, T. (1991)Making the Graduate Curriculum Explicit, Teaching Sociology, Vol. 19, No. 3, Graduate Education (Jul., 1991), pp. 408-413
  8. http://training.lse.ac.uk/docs/
  9. http://moodle.lse.ac.uk/
  10. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/publications/pub_sissdocs/pub_sissdocs_investing.aspx
  11. http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/archives/informs-users.html
  12. A variation on Bilbo’s “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”? Tolkien, J. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Chapter 1). Available from: http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/hm051/88195987.html

Author Details

Keir Hopwood
Postgraduate Student
University of the West of England

Email: keir.hopwood@live.uwe.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/

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