Information Literacy in New Zealand Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Early in 2001 the information literacy subgroup of the Lianza public libraries special interest group surveyed the nature and extent of information literacy practices in public libraries in New Zealand. While awareness of information literacy issues is high, there is room for considerable improvement in planning and practices. Government recognition of the role of libraries as a crucial element in the knowledge/information society, and improvements in staff awareness, attitudes, and skills, were identified as important to helping libraries to make progress with information literacy education. Edited version of an article published in `New Zealand libraries' 49(5) September 2001, and reproduced with permission of the editor. Graphs and tables in the original article have not been included

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The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotorea (Lianza) believes that information literacy is a key enabler for New Zealand society as a whole. Information literacy provides the foundation for

* effective participation in democracy

* achievement in all areas and levels of formal education and life long learning

* the development of an innovative, knowledge based economy and the production of new knowledge

* social and cultural inclusion

* community and individual empowerment

* individual capability to manage the challenges of information complexity and information overload. (1)

What is the current state of information literacy education in public libraries in New Zealand? We know that

* much has been written and said about the definition of information literacy (IL), with no single definition being used by public libraries in New Zealand

* there has been much talk, with general agreement, that IL education is a `good thing' but that public libraries cannot work alone in developing IL programs and should be developing partnerships

* most public libraries have been delivering aspects of IL education in an informal way as part of their daily business using the `teachable moment'

* some interesting and successful formal programs have been developed by a small number of libraries

* on the broader scene the Lianza taskforce on information literacy has been working to document current practice within libraries and to provide Lianza with options about its role in promoting IL education in New Zealand. A paper `User education and information literacy in New Zealand: a country paper' (2) prepared by the Lianza taskforce on information literacy, was presented at the Comla seminar 2000: User education for user empowerment in Christchurch. This paper provides an overview of the activities in this area, and outlines significant events since 1993.

The Lianza public libraries group has convened a working group to concentrate on encouraging and promoting the development of IL education within public libraries in New Zealand. To assist the group to produce guidelines for IL education, a survey was compiled to provide a snapshot of the current state of IL education. This snapshot complements, and provides quantitative data for, the current practices outlined in the Lianza taskforce paper.

Methodology

Definition of information literary

For the purposes of this survey IL education was defined in the broad context of lifelong learning and the ongoing acquisition of information skills. Such a broad scope enabled libraries to include programs that might not necessarily be considered to fit strictly within the criteria of `locating, evaluating, managing, and using information (effectively) from a range of sources for problem solving, decision making and research'. Programs such as books for babies or book groups were included within the broader definition of lifelong learning.

Questionnaire development

The survey was intended to obtain information in three main areas

* the extent and range of formal and informal programs provided by public libraries

* the extent to which IL education programs are formalised in planning and policies

* what public libraries consider they need to develop IL education further

It did not ask about successful applications of IL education or examples of best practice. …