Thursday, May 4, 2017

School libraries, political information and information literacy provision: findings from a Scottish study.

Next discussion: Thursday 11th May at 8pm UK time (3pm EST).
Article: School libraries, political information and information literacy provision: findings from a Scottish study. Smith, L.N. Journal of Information Literacy, 2016, 10(2), pp.3-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.11645/10.2.2097

Thank you to Lauren for her article and for writing this kick-off post for our discussion.

Bio: Lauren Smith is a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde. Her research interests include the role of information in supporting the development of agency, including political participation.

About the paper: This paper presents the findings of research which explored Scottish school libraries’ information provision and information literacy (IL) support in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum (SIR) and the 2015 General UK Parliamentary Election (GE). I was keen to identify what kinds of activities might have been taking place in and through school libraries, what kinds of information were being provided, and where this wasn’t happening, what the issues might be. School libraries in the UK are not statutory, so there is a limited amount of standard setting as well as resource provision and funding. Additionally, there is very limited research into how libraries contribute to students’ lives, in terms of academic performance as well as the development of skills for life as an engaged and knowledgeable citizen, and limited work around how school libraries connect to the wider school environment. I think it is important to conduct research into what’s happening in school libraries, what impact they have in supporting young people’s development in various ways, and what practical and political/philosophical/ethical issues need to be explored in order to do the best work possible. In my doctoral research I found that students have a wide range of political information needs and identified ways in which school libraries could support this - in this study I wanted to identify where things may already be happening and what problems or barriers librarians might be encountering.

In conducting this research I aimed to explore the role of school libraries in supporting political knowledge and participation. To do this, I set up an online survey, asking what political information seeking secondary school students engaged in through school libraries, what information provision and IL support was available to students relating to political issues and events, and what barriers school libraries faced in providing these aspects of political education. I also wanted to find out (within the limited study) what kinds of questions students were asking librarians about political participation.

To encourage participation I sent emails directly to school librarians and posted the link to the survey on various mailing lists and on social media, and sought help from library managers, the Scottish Library and Information Council and CILIPS, who kindly promoted the survey and encouraged school librarians to complete it. I think all of these things contributed to the high response rate.

The respondents to the survey gave a wide range of examples of the work going on in Scottish school libraries, and I think this work should be celebrated. I also think we need to work out how to share what’s going on more, because this could empower school librarians who want to do things but don’t know how or if they could or should to learn from people already doing it. Some of the barriers identified by the respondents are quite significant, but I don’t think all of them are insurmountable.

In terms of further research, I was keen to find out more about librarians’ perceptions about political information provision in schools, and their opinions about whether libraries have a role to play in this. A colleague and I conducted and analysed follow-up interviews, drawing out some of the key themes that had emerged from the survey data. One of the main problems librarians identified when it came to engaging with political information provision was the ‘neutrality’ of libraries, and I am in the process of writing a paper discussing this theme in more depth. The perception of libraries as neutral spaces seems to be used as a reason not to provide political information, and there are lots of issues around this that I think are worth exploring in more depth, in order to be able to develop guidelines for school libraries, better understand the role of the librarian within schools and wider society, and for librarians themselves to take control of their work.

For our blog conversation, the following questions might be relevant starting points:
  •  Do you think school libraries have any role in providing political information and support with applying information literacy in political contexts?
  • Do the barriers to engagement ring true in your experience? If so, how have you tackled these?
  • Do you have any examples of best practice that you would like to share?
  • How could you use these examples to demonstrate the impact of school libraries?
  • Do the recommendations from the paper sound realistic? If not, what are the issues or barriers?
  • What could be the next steps for school librarians who want to support students’ political learning and participation?


69 comments:

  1. Welcome to today's discussion, which will be kicking off in 17 minutes! As you arrive, please introduce yourselves by replying directly to this comment.

    My intro: I'm David, I manage the Learning Centre at Cornwall College Newquay and am one of the organisers of this discussion group.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi everyone, I'm Niamh, I support STEM Libraries in Cambridge.

      Delete
    2. Hi, I teach and research in the Information school, University of Sheffield

      Delete
    3. Hi all, I'm Lauren, a researcher at the University of Strathclyde. You'll be talking about a paper of mine today!

      Delete
  2. Hello Niamh and Sheila, we are just waiting for Lauren to arrive and introduce herself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi David, sorry - was having some cookie issues!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lauren. Welcome. It has just gone 8. glad you made it and now we can start. Hope you enjoyed the cookies.

      Delete
    2. lol I was going to make a cookie joke too

      Delete
    3. They were blocking comments flavour not anything tasty! D:

      Delete
  4. does anyone have any questions for Lauren?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think the whole "How political" (can you/ do you want to be) thing is very interesting

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well Lauren when we organised this conversation there was no clue that we would be doing so as we drew near to a general election. in my institution the learning centres have been provided with election resources to promote debate and encourage participation. So we do seem to have a role. Was this borne out in you study?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a very good point - and I wonder what libraries are up to in the limited time they've had with the snap GE.

      What struck me with this particular piece of research was that a lot of participants said the same thing - they'd been told by the Scottish Government, through guidance that had been sent to every local authority, that they must absolutely not be partisan and should be extremely careful about what they did and that there would be serious repercussions for not doing so in the run up to the Independence Referendum up here. This seemed to have instilled some fear in schools, and librarians particularly - risking it was literally more than their jobs were worth, especially in the current uncertain climate.

      In discussions with school (and FE) librarians in Scotland since I finished the research, I get the impression that there is a real lack of resources to promote debate and encourage participation. I know Universities UK are doing something at the moment to drive participation and that's great, but to some extent this isn't relevant to schools for GE because school students can't vote. Whereas they could for indyref.

      Delete
    2. That is a good point, but one point I recall from your paper was about the influence young people could have on the adults in their family once they had been informed by material librarians provided.

      Delete
    3. Could informing young people have an effect on adults, do you think? Or are our views too set to change?

      Delete
    4. I would have thought after Brexit, where in some families older people were shocked at how upset and angry younger people were about the way they voted - after that you'd HOPE there might be more conversation

      Delete
    5. that is very true, but if anything there seems to be less.

      Delete
    6. That's something very close to home, and sometimes those conversations aren't easy to have at all. I've been wondering about what kinds of forms of communication are the most effective in changing minds, looking at different forms of cognitive bias...I really don't know yet. It would be nice to think a young person could do some research, find some information, communicate it to their parents and for it to change their minds, but authority is one of many issues that may act as a barrier...

      I wonder if resources aimed at young people might actually be useful for everyone though, because I think a lot of the time we don't like to show our own ignorance. One of the students in my PhD research talked about how they like to watch Newsround even though it might be a bit young for them because it explains things really well, and other adults have said the same thing since I started sharing that story!

      Delete
    7. I must say I have been a coward in the past - particularly with my mother who had very strong views and who got very upset by arguments. It's easy to say but difficult to do sometimes. Is it being a coward or being human?

      Delete
    8. Self-preservation on my part! Also there are some battles you'll never ever win. I've read some stuff about how important it is to do if you can though - from black women following the US election - because these are our members of communities acting in ways that contribute to making other people's lives worse - and it's our responsibility to do what we can to change that. But it's definitely very hard and I personally don't feel very good at it, so I'm trying to learn (with siblings, and maybe grandparents, not parents...)

      Delete
  7. I certainly sympathise with the neutral view many librarian espoused, how could this barrier be addressed?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do too, I can see how some might feel that it's not their role, but the importance of critical appraisal in all of this should be such an obvious hook to use. I'd be interested in whether teachers feel the same hesitancy, or whether the majority of that teaching would be by teachers already used to teaching political education.

      Delete
    2. It's a different issue, but it's something I think about teaching university students e.g. we have a lot of Chinese students - I don't want to push my Western values at them, at the same time I want to discuss issues to do with freedome of speech etc

      Delete
    3. Having spent some time working in an Education department, one thing that really struck me was that a lot of students, even ones teaching social science subjects, don't feel confident about politics, political participation, and teaching their students about it. I don't think teachers feel especially empowered to be engaging with it. In my PhD research I found similar - only a few were comfortable talking about it to their students and others didn't want to risk the wrath of parents or management.

      I definitely think critical appraisal is a hook, and framing it around media literacy might be a good way in. But I don't think it can be meaningful if teachers and librarians don't feel they can also give context to the content - "this is what this party says because they believe that x is a good thing and y is a bad thing" - I think it's a cross-curricular issue and there are certainly no easy answers. I'd like all students to get a full menu of politics, sociology, philosophy and media education, but our curriculums are very full...!

      Delete
    4. You certainly can't lob it into a one-shot-slot

      Delete
    5. Has the growth of conversations about fake news and the power of social media to affect opinion had any bearing on this topic?

      Delete
    6. As a political event, it's one of the things making it weirder for me, but from an educational point of view it gives lots of hooks to talk about big issues

      Delete
    7. Definitely not something for one shots! Scotland looks to be working on a school library strategy that centres the role of librarians so this is really hopeful.

      I don't know where I sit on fake news...and I don't know what schools are doing in response. But, I feel like to some extent it provides lots of contemporary examples to use - I think we also need to call it what it is though - misinformation, propaganda - teach people these words and the power of the behaviour, illustrate how it's far from harmless etc.

      Delete
    8. Is social and political education part of the curriculum in Scotland at all? It is in Ireland: https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/Curriculum-and-Syllabus/Junior-Cycle-/Syllabuses-Guidelines/jc_cspe_guide.pdf (I examined it a lifetime ago, before I became a librarian!)

      Delete
    9. a school library strategy is very hopeful. in England there appears to be no strategy. I have just finished a learning object that includes a US google based LO called information fallout that deals with propaganda etc.

      Delete
    10. It is, it's part of Modern Studies. There are different opinions about how informative and educational the political participation elements of it are, I think sometimes it gets swept over quite briefly.

      Delete
    11. Thanks Lauren, I'll look into that.

      Delete
    12. I get the impression that citizenship is there and the school has to do something to tick the box but unless the head teacher or something is very supportive and keen, you can't exploit the full potential? Because i think some librarians have been able to do really interesting things under citizenship with infolit

      Delete
    13. That's the impression I get too Sheila. Getting senior management onboard seems to be key. Which connects to how well-resourced libraries are, if librarians are respected within schools, if they're able to communicate their value to the school - all the barriers I mentioned in the paper I think. Where librarians have been able to do interesting and powerful things the impact is so great, and the students get a lot out of it, so it would be wonderful to be able to strengthen the role of school librarians more consistently.

      Delete
    14. That is very true Lauren. Senior management support is key.

      Delete
    15. From my school librarian friends I get the impression senior management can make or break you.

      Delete
  8. Somehow also the atmosphere seems even stranger than normal for a general election, i wonder wheteher young people will have even more questions about it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it's a very confusing time for them. I've been trying to keep an ear out for the kinds of questions young people are asking about GE, and what issues they might be facing when making decisions about how to participate.

      I was in the process of putting a tool together to show students where their vote was more powerful based on open govt data - but someone beat me to it! (Which is good - saves work!) ge2017.com/student

      One thing that continues to confuse young people (well, lots of us) is how FPTP works, and what constitutes a marginal seat, what it all means - so I'm working with another academic to pull together students to help us write posts to explain the situations in student-heavy marginal constituencies, as an online resource. We need to get cracking!

      Delete
    2. From conversations I've heard even between primary school, I think they're far more politically aware than I would have been at that age. Not that they understand it all, but they know names and will have conversations about which ones are good/bad with some great logic that can only have originated in the playground. They miss nothing and will try to make sense of what they're hearing all around them, so it's important to start giving them the tools to deal with it all.

      Delete
    3. That sounds like very interesting and valuable work Lauren, looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

      Delete
    4. Making sense of what they are hearing is a step beyond providing the information and moves into the arena of developing critical appraisal.

      Delete
    5. I, too, am interested in what responses you and your students come up with.

      Delete
    6. They don't miss a thing. I keep thinking about what might have been a trend for the last generation - or wondering if it was just my family - we never ever spoke about politics, to the extent that it was deemed rude to even mention it, let alone discuss who you might consider voting for. If that's typical for a lot of people then there's a big chunk of people without easy access to a vocabulary for the whole area.

      Delete
    7. It was not just true for your family.

      Delete
    8. Except that they're still at the point of believing anything they read/see/hear so it makes the very definite statements of (sometimes) polar opposite views hard for them to explain. I think the nudge to think critically would be good now while they're still programmed for listening and trying to understand.

      Delete
    9. Sorry, that was in response to a comment from David further up this thread.

      Delete
    10. So we need to address the blanket acceptance of statements to give people the tools to be critical.

      Delete
  9. Can school libraries have any impact on political participation? What did your paper find?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I wasn't seeking to measure impact based on a particular intervention, so I don't think I can draw any solid conclusions, but a lot of theory around political agency talks about how important it is for young people to be able to understand political information, critique it, discuss it, have debates with each other about their views - and there are lots of opportunities for school libraries to play a role in how schools create the conditions for this to happen. (I'm finishing up a paper on this at the moment!)

      Delete
    2. I will be interested in reading this paper. I agree that being able to discuss critically and debate topics is a vital skill in today's society. School libraries certainly offer a location for this debate to happen in a non-threatening and supportive environment.

      Delete
    3. and I could certainly imagine a library which became a exciting and safe space where you could share ideas and questions and information about the election. Well, I suppose that's obvious....

      Delete
    4. Lots of schools seem to have debating societies and other groups that are happy to discuss political issues (LGBT socs and things) so it would seem a natural extension of what's already going on.

      If I get time I might try to knock together a pamphlet (or a zine!) with some ideas about things school libraries might want to try.

      Delete
    5. Those ideas might help libraries to show their relevance to education and not become a place to close when the money gets tight. Again if librarians can tap into issues that are supported by senior management then they can do some quite transformative things. Some of your ideas might help here.

      Delete
    6. Going to need to find someone who can help me make things look pretty because my strength does not lie in design work!

      Delete
    7. I enjoy design. i did a media course in the noughties!

      Delete
  10. Please do keep the discussion going, but as it's nearing 9pm I'd like to thank you all once again for joining the discussion, and especially thank Lauren for taking the time to share her research and work with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks David, for the invitation and facilitating, and everyone for the chat!

      Delete
    2. Yes, thank you Lauren, I've really enjoyed the discussion.

      Delete
    3. Thanks Lauren. Food for thought here.

      Delete
  11. Not the topic of your research, do you have a view on whether academic libraries should be providing access to information about elections etc, or whether student societies/newspapers/debates etc have it adequately covered?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The more the merrier I reckon - some uni library accounts have been tweeting information about registration, postal and proxy voting, links to tools to help students decide on where to vote. I think I think about it in terms of creating a social feeling that political participation is the 'right' thing to do - regardless of personal affiliation (although...hmm) for strengthening democracy, and some studies I've been reading seem to suggest that this 'social expectation' of participation is more powerful than reasoning and arguments about why you should.

      Delete
    2. That makes sense, thanks for the thoughts Lauren, something to consider!

      Delete
    3. Yes indeed. It is more important to do something than nothing. Democracy needs all the support it can get.

      Delete
  12. I need to go now but thanks Lauren! People do come by and read the comments and sometimes add their own thoughts afterwards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sheila, bye! I'll check in every so often and respond to comments where I can.

      Delete