Information Literacy in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Information literacy has been a subject of interest for academic librarians for nearly thirty years, however special librarians have written comparatively little on the topic of information literacy in the workplace. It is an important issue as it provides an opportunity for special librarians to enhance their role in their organisation. This paper discusses the need for training in information literacy in the workplace and highlights the latest research and studies being undertaken in the field.


THE AUSTRALIAN LIBRARY AND INFORMATION ASSOCIATION HAS DEFINED INFORMATION literacy 'as the ability to recognise the need for information and to identify, locate, access, evaluate and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related, or broader social issues and problems' (Bundy 2004). Bruce (1998, 1999) states that information literacy is 'about people's ability to operate effectively in an information society'. It involves an appreciation of the need for information, to attain skills to locate, organise, evaluate information, and of effective use of information to solve problems, make decisions, create new knowledge and to supply information to others. Information literacy goes beyond simply acquiring the skills to use information tools and to find information resources. It includes lifelong learning and professional development, and the ability to interact in the information society.

For nearly thirty years, information literacy has been a subject of considerable interest in the literature of the profession (Bruce 2000; Lloyd 2004; Marcum 2002; Rader 2002). Within the literature, the focus has primarily been in academic and school libraries (Candy 1998; Rader 2002) and, more recently, in public libraries (Marcum 2002). However, there is comparatively little written on information literacy in the workplace and the role of special libraries (Bruce 2000; Candy 1998; Oman 2001).

Information literacy in the workplace

Is there a need for information literacy in the workplace? (O'Sullivan 2002). The answer must be 'yes', since an information literate workforce that can locate, evaluate and effectively use information is the key to the success of many organisations (Lloyd 2003; Oman 2001; O'Sullivan 2002). In companies and organisations where information and new knowledge is seen as providing a competitive edge in business or in service provision, information management or the processes involved in handling information are essential to productivity and performance for both the company and its customers (Jones 1998; St. Clair 2001; TFPL Ltd 1999).

Outside the library profession the term 'information literacy' is almost unknown and certainly not well understood (Cheuk 2002; Jones 1998). The term 'knowledge management' is often used and has similar characteristics to information literacy (Cheuk 2002; Henczel 2004; O'Sullivan 2002). Balcombe (1999) defines knowledge management as capturing, sharing, using and creating knowledge to add value to the organisation. O'Sullivan (2002) has identified terms such as time management, information management, networking, teamwork, data mining, analysis, online searching skills and computer skills (for creating, storing and presenting information), managing resources and budgets as desired skills for organisations. These terms, which feature in job descriptions, selection criteria, performance appraisals and professional development programs, can also be found in definitions of either knowledge management or information literacy.

With the exponential increase in information, its management and use have become an important issue in the workplace, yet knowledge management or information literacy is not adequately addressed by most organisations or professions (Abell 2000; Candy 1998; O'Sullivan 2002; Winterman, Skelton and Abell 2003). A report by TFPL Ltd (1991) however did find that chief executives valued knowledge management second only to globalisation as essential for their organisations. …