Saturday, September 09, 2017
Information Literacy in the Workplace: Who cares?
The ability to identify the need for information, to access, to effectively use and present information - from an individual or a group perspective - is critical for any knowledge worker to be effective in the workplace. Business executives strongly support the idea that knowledge workers need to continue to develop themselves, to further understand external customers' (or internal customers') needs, to draw on information and personal/collective experience to make decisions and present ideas. Information literacy enables employees to effectively undertake these activities and fulfil business goals.
However, if information literacy (IL) is so important, why do we commonly hear only of the need to upgrade employees' leadership, communication, time management, project management, team management, lean/six sigma or digital skills, but rarely hear of employees being encouraged to attend "information literacy" professional development course?
Does that mean information literacy is unimportant? Or do business leaders assume that all employees are equipped with information literacy skills from the education system? Do business leaders expect their employees to acquire information literacy skills on the job? Outside the library and information science community, does IL mean anything?
Having worked in numerous global companies and working with senior executives establishing information/knowledge management strategy to become knowledge-driven companies, I concluded that the phrase Information Literacy does not mean anything to knowledge workers / business executives; IL are disguised within different functional labels, and business processes which are specific to the business context.
In fact, the embeddedness of information in the business context makes it impossible to talk about "information" or "information literacy" out of context. This make the promotion of information literacy in the workplace extremely difficult (but not impossible)!
Why has information literacy not gained much traction in the workplace context. If information professionals are aware of the challenges, we are in a better position to make a difference. Consider these 3 angles:
1. Think about knowledge workers working in these functions: R&D, innovation, sales, marketing, client services, IT support, product management, business analysis, they have to interact with information to carry out their work. Information literacy is obviously needed. IL is "hidden" in their respective function labels.
2. Knowledge workers face different demands at work at different times - ranging from the need to "drive efficiency/reduce costs" vs "increase effectiveness" vs "innovate" vs "handle crisis situation" - and in different context, information is defined and handled in different ways. There is no one-size-fit-all information literacy process/tools that work under all business scenarios.
3. The level of information literacy exhibited in a workplace is highly influenced by the company culture. Whilst organisations with open, networked culture value information literacy, those with hierarchical, command-and-control culture would not value information literacy as much.
I am going to be a keynote speaker for the European Conference on Information Literacy ECIL 2017 and I look forward to explore these topics in more depth with the conference delegates. My presentation is based on a book chapter titled "The hidden value of information literacy in the workplace context: how to unlock and create business value" in the "Information Literacy in the Workplace, edited by Marc Forster, published by Facet Publishing in Apr 2017.