LILAC15: day 1

[warning: these blog posts from LILAC are extremely long, but I prefer to write just one post from each day instead of blogging from each session. I think it is easier to see connections between subjects and to reflect on the conference when the sessions are in one post.]

Bridges in Newcastle

Bridges in Newcastle

Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference, or LILAC as it is more commonly known, has been my preferred conference since my first encounter with it in Glasgow in 2012. I remember being struck by the wealth of choices of sessions, the quality of the presentations and the lovely atmosphere of the conference. I had a great time last year in Sheffield, too, and this year I went to Newcastle – eager to soak up great ideas and having great discussions with fellow delegates. I was not disappointed. What a great set of people there are at LILAC!

Theories and practice

My first session on my first day was an example of what makes LILAC so special: a panel on the relevance of Information Literacy (IL) theories on practice. (The focus is always on the practical issues of teaching, infused with the theoretical knowledge that exists out there.) Jane Secker, chair of CILIP, led the discussion. She had rounded up a selection of librarians who, in different ways, have worked with theoretical frameworks. Merinda Hensley told us about how the group had worked on the new ACRL framework. A particularly important discussion that they had was about threshold concepts (TC). TC is about how students go from novice to expert within a discipline. Students must understand the research processes before they can understand how they find information. The theory influences the practice and vice versa, said Hensley. Emma Coonan asked how one could use TC in information literacy. “Is IL a discipline in itself, or simply an aspect of other disciplines?” Coonan asked. Secker asked whether teaching librarians should rely most on theoretical knowledge or try their own ways as they go. Almost none of the audience had formal pedagogic training before they started teaching, so for the majority the road to teaching had gone through trying (and failing;) combined with reading up on theory. Hensley said that the way to becoming a reflective teacher is to choose to focus on one small thing for a lesson, performing it and then evaluate it – focussing on how to improve it before the next session. Coonan emphasised the need for collaborating well with teachers, and that we need to align our teaching goals with the overall learning goals/outcomes that the teachers have designed. (This makes me think of Biggs` (1999) “constructive alignment”.) Keynote: Ray Land from Durham University gave the opening keynote. He talked about Threshold Concepts (TC) and “troublesome knowledge”. Land explained that to learn something, we have to step into the unknown, and to let go of old ideas, knowledge and skills. Sometimes we even have to strip away old conceptions before we are ready for new ones. This can be very unsettling and difficult. We do not like to let go of knowledge, Land said, and yet – this is very important to be able to understand new knowledge. Troublesome knowledge is a GOOD thing for us. We should and must get out of our “comfort zone”, because it is outside that zone that we can learn. Shulman (2005) called it “Pedagogy of uncertainty”. If we do not dare to move out of our “comfort zone” our learning will be limited, Land said. There must be something at stake. Thresholds are about this change in perception. It is right on the threshold that learning happens, but it is also where students get stuck. It is our jobs as tutors and teachers to help them make that step up on the threshold and through to the next stage. Why do some students get “stuck”? They haven`t been taught how to cope with failure, Land said, and I remember talking to Alison Head about the same thing at last years LILAC. “Liminality” is a term used to describe the state where everything is hazy and messy for the students. The constant rocking back and forth between “I understood that” to “No, I must have misunderstood” and back again (sometimes also called “oscillation”), is the process where students are most receptive for learning. Most of the time when students cross the threshold, it is not felt as a ”Eureka moment”, Land explained. Most of the time the knowledge is integrated little by little. The new ACRL framework describes six different thresholds. Most of the thresholds are about how information creation is a process, how information has value, that information is contextual and about research as conversation.

Collaborate to innovate

Bethany Logan and Antony Groves from the University of Essex talked about how the library had joined forces with the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) center to create a series of events promoting the use of mobile technologies – called “Mobile technology week”. Previously to this the departments (Library, TEL, IT and careers& employability) had just co-existed without much collaboration, and even after introducing the joint “Skills hub”, a single-entry to the support pages online, the departments carried on as before. “Mobile technology week” changed this. The first run was not successful; very low turnout and technology challenges. They tried a different approach, asking themselves questions like: Do students, staff and researchers struggle with the same issues, and if so what are the common problems? Who are we here to support? How can we meet these needs? Where is this support to be given? Logan and Groves told us about how they had included more people from the departments, and asked them about skills they already had and interests. From this basis they put together a new program, and tried to give the sessions something that would appeal to students and staff, e.g. “App swap breakfast” where people talked about their favourite apps in teaching and learning. The organizers also worked on marketing, using websites, social media, short promo videos, physical signposts and getting teachers to promote the sessions in class. The collaboration was a success, and the event led a new set of users to the library. Logan and Groves gave the following tips for organizing similar events: • Find a theme that works and stick to it • Who has ownership to each part of the program? • Identify who the users are (informal, easy questions to identify their needs) • What expectations do we have? Talking about this makes it easier to have realistic expectations, and it can be useful as a motivator • Keep in touch with other departments/people who can help (e.g. marketing department) • Experiment and play with ideas throughout the week and at other times, too • Don`t give up after the first run. It`s important to evaluate, make changes and try again.

sculpture art installation

Beautiful art installations at campus

Find the gap

Alcock and Rose from Newfoundland University Library talked about how they had analysed syllabi in history and chemistry to see where it would be natural to integrate information literacy skills. Alcock and Rose used Boss and Drabinski`s (2013) study on syllabus analysis as foundation for their own study, and added questions like “Is the library mentioned in the course plan?”, “Are library training sessions scheduled?”, “Do instructors teach information skills themselves?”. Findings from the study are described in the slides used, and I`ll have a closer look at them later to remind myself of the details, but I remember that the history students had much more integrated library skills training and much higher use of library resources and were required to do more independent research than the chemistry students etc. I also found it very interesting to learn more about the methodology itself, and I hope to be able to do something similar here soon. Phuh! These LILAC days are long and action-packed, but what an inspiration! I unfortunately had to give the networking event a miss as I had to go clothes shopping after the airline lost my suitcase.. The missing suitcase became a great conversation starter, though, so I cannot be too mad about it☺


Biggs, J. (1999) What the student does: teaching for enhanced learning. I: Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1), s. 57-75.

Boss, K. og E. Drabinski (2013) Looking for Information Literacy: Syllabus Analysis for Data-Driven Curriculum Integration. I, Worldwide Commonalities and Challenges in Information Literacy Research and Practice: Springer, s. 352-358.

Shulman, L. S. (2005) Pedagogies. I: Liberal Education, 91(2), s. 18-25.

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