Sunday, 31 May 2020

Barriers to staff development in an academic library


The continuous advancement of information and communication technology (ICT) has created an environment of rapid change for libraries, and in particular, academic libraries. In order to succeed and fulfil their mission in supporting the teaching, learning and research needs of their parent institution, academic libraries have had to innovate and adapt their service models to remain relevant; and, under pressure from their stakeholders, have had to respond to increasing demands for accountability and demonstrate their value in institutional terms, such as student outcomes and student success. Changes in areas such as scholarly communication, data management, and higher education pedagogy have also required the role of academic librarianship to adapt and evolve to meet these new challenges in user expectations (Saunders, 2015, p. 285). The academic library is at the heart of the University, so to be successful and meet the challenges of a constantly changing environment, it is important to ensure that the Library has the right people in the right job (Barthorpe, 2012). In this context, the University Librarian has requested a report that investigates the barriers to staff development in information agencies generally, and to the Library, in particular. This report provides solutions to some of these barriers and includes recommendations for consideration by the Executive.

Part A: Barriers to staff development

The importance of workforce planning

Academic libraries are customer-focused organisations that provide services to ensure that library customers are provided with the right information in the right format at the right time (Jain, 2015, p. 3). Similarly, the function of human resource management (HRM), is to ensure ‘the right number of people with the right skills, experiences and competencies, in the right jobs, at the right time’ (Hallam, 2007, p. 3). Workforce planning is integrated into the management role of strategic planning, in that it requires the development and implementation of strategies to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, so that it can be better prepared to meet the needs of the future in an ever changing environment (Bryson, 2016, p. 36). HRM tasks include recruitment, selection, training, evaluation, compensation and development of employees (Moran et al, 2018, p. 219). The first step in workforce planning is to ‘determine what type of new skills, knowledge, competencies, attitudes, talents and mindsets are currently required or likely to be needed in the future’ to meet ongoing needs (Bryson, 2016, p. 36). This also helps to provide an understanding of the environment the library is operating in and some of the key external and internal issues that need to be considered (Hallam, 2007, p. 3).

Ageing workforce

A major concern for HRM in academic libraries is the “greying” of the workforce (Warren, 2011). Researching the diversity of the Australian GLAMR sector, ALIA (2019, p. 7) found that 53% of librarians were aged 50-69 years, compared with 29% of the total labour force. And of those in the 60-69 age group, between 2006 and 2016, the proportion jumped from 9% to 19%, respectively, suggesting a delay in retirement plans. Conversely, librarians in the 20-39 age group declined from 24% to 21%, respectively, for the same period.
These demographic trends present a number of barriers for staff development, especially in regard to recruitment and retention. With the increased number of staff pushing back retirement there is less opportunity for younger workers to progress their careers. This is problematic because Millennials are less likely to remain in a single career, let alone stay with an organisation for an enduring period of time, particularly if there is a lack of recognition or reward for their efforts (Bryson, 2016, p. 130). Due to the ongoing pressures and challenges with academic library budgets (Tillack, 2014), organisations have been forced to restructure their workforce, which has often removed middle management positions. This impacts younger workers who aspire to leadership positions, so may leave the profession if unable to advance their careers (Franks, 2012, p. 106).
In an academic library, there may be up to four generations of staff working together at any one time; for example, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials (Bryson, 2016, p. 127). This has implications for management due to the associated stereotypes, and how each envisions the 21st century academic library. In particular, each generation has a different attitude to technology, which may impact how change resistance is managed in the organisation as it develops new innovative services and moves away from traditional service models and roles as it seeks to remain relevant to the needs of their communities.

New service models

Due to the changes that have occurred in terms of digitisation and access to information through technology, academic libraries have had to adapt their service models to meet the needs of its users (Barthorpe, 2012). With more information being available to users electronically, there has been a continual decline in print usage, which has caused academic libraries to shift their collection development policies to e-preferred (Schmidt, 2016, p. 192). This has provided an opportunity for libraries to reclaim space and redesign the library as a learning commons to support the changes in pedagogy that encourage a more social and collaborative approach to learning, and integrate educational support services and technology to be more user-centric (LaMagna et al, 2016, p. 54).
Many learning commons are designed with a single service desk where students receive assistance and referrals to other services and resources through a triage reference model; for example, referencing and IT support. Implementing the use of a single service desk has given rise to staffing models that employ student workers and support staff as the primary point of contact for library patrons (Thompson & Sonntag, 2008). This creates a potential barrier to staff development because those who work in the library commons may be non-librarians, so need to be trained to identify when a referral to another service is needed so they can triage a patron’s request. Furthermore, due to relying on student workers there is frequent turnover of staff, which adds additional challenges to staffing and training (Mitchell & Soini, 2014).


The creation of makerspaces in academic libraries has also been enabled through strategic space reclamation efforts. Makerspaces can support a broad range of activities including: arts and crafts, for example, painting; technology, for example, 3D printing, laser cutting, music studios and computer programming; or a combination of arts and technology. Makerspaces pose new barriers for staff development because training for maker learning is hard to obtain with staff often turning to other peers in the field or online resources, such as YouTube videos (Moorefield-Lang, 2015, p. 107). It also can’t be assumed that librarians will automatically possess the requisite skillset for making, hacking, inventing, crafting, or 3d printing.

Low use of online resources - eBooks

The e-preferred collection development policies of academic libraries have meant that there has been a surge in the acquisition of ebooks. However, as a disruptive technology, ebooks present challenges to end users, and the academic libraries that manage them (for example, metadata for discovery, user experience) (Frederick, 2015). Over the last ten years, there have been numerous studies into the perception and use of ebooks in academic libraries, which have pointed to a lack of familiarity among users regarding the features of the format, and a lack of awareness of the various collections held by libraries. Therefore, it is critical for librarians to promote ebooks to all potential users to increase usage and return on investment on these resources (Blummer & Kenton, 2020, p. 79). This presents a potential barrier to staff development with the need for marketing skills and the development of library promotion practices (Patil, 2014).

Demand for new skills

Driven by the impact of digital technologies and changes in the research environment, the role of academic librarianship has gone through significant change, which has demanded new skills from librarians. This can be seen in the creation of discipline or research librarian roles, which have evolved from traditional liaison functions that required skills around collection development, reference services and information literacy to now demanding a different skillset including consultancy, partnering, data management, advocacy around scholarly communications including open access and open data, and research support (Toohey, 2016, p. 1). In other words, there is the need for ‘the librarian with more’ – traditional librarian skills supplemented with additional knowledge of working with and manipulating data (Kennan, 2016, p.7). However, whilst the roles and competencies required for this new breed of librarian align with the existing liaison librarians’ roles, there are skills and knowledge gaps, which are constraining and pose further barriers for staff development (Cox et al, 2015, p. 451).

Part B: Solutions to staff development barriers

Whilst academic libraries are challenged by some or all of the issues mentioned above, in preparing for this case study, the following barriers to staff development were identified in relation to the Library. These include: a declining budget with most of the operating expenditure taken up in staffing and essential operations, an ageing staff profile; a new makerspace; a triage model of reference in the learning commons; a lack of data management awareness; and an overall lack of understanding in the wider community concerning the value of an information agency and its services. Solutions to some of these problem will be presented below, and in the final section, a set of recommendations will be provided.

Organisational analysis and review

The first step in overcoming any barriers to staff development requires an organisational analysis. As libraries change and embrace new technologies this is a critical aspect of planning which helps to determine the capabilities needed to meet the strategic goals of the Library and the necessary staff development to ensure that the right people are in the right job (Boyd, 2008, p. 235). Having understood what types of new skills, knowledge, and other abilities, or mindsets, are currently required or likely to be needed in the future, a gap analysis can be undertaken to compare the projected requirements (needs) with the existing pool of capabilities (availability) to highlight if there is ‘a match, excess or deficit of personnel and skills’ (Bryson, 2016, p. 36). In this way, a gap analysis will reveal any disparities between new skills and expertise and traditional skills as identified in Part A.
The structure of the organisation can also influence how staff are deployed and should be part of the strategic planning process (Bryson, 2016, p. 36). For example, academic librarianship has been moving away from traditional tasks such as collection development, which is being outsourced to vendors with the time freed up being allocated to more strategically-oriented tasks around research support. This potentially signals the need for an organisational review that examines whether the structure of the organisation is the best fit for the new services and roles being demanded to meet the ongoing needs of the community.
A skills inventory is also an important aspect of staff development. Information such as details of employees’ qualifications, experience, cultural background, specific knowledge, skills, personality type, etc can be used to ‘assist in the identification of employees for promotion, transfer, specific project and or/training’ (Bryson, 2016, p. 37). For example, Cox et al (2015, p. 451) found that librarians with “technique-oriented” personality types may find it easier to transition into new data management roles. Finally, due to budget restrictions, the Library may be unable to afford the creation of new positions, so it important that current staff, including older staff, are change-ready and upskilled with the necessary skills and experience.


According to Sputore (2016, p. 5), developing effective forms of collaboration ‘has become essential for organisations dealing with the challenges of complex, dynamic environments.’ Academic libraries are the perfect collaborator as they offer a broad range of services that extend across both the academic and business aspects of the University (Gieseke, 2012). In particular, the changes occurring in digital scholarship, and the challenges associated with research data management, provide opportunities for the library to become more user-centric as research collaborators (Corrall, 2013). For example, as a trusted partner, the Library can leverage its reputation for innovation and the existing relationships that have been developed through faculty liaison work to better support researchers (Sputore et al, 2016, p. 5). In order to be successful collaborators, as well as developing the technical skills around research data management, librarians in these roles will also need to develop interpersonal skills with a knowledge of advocacy and outreach practices in order to market their services (Kennan, 2016). Alternatively, the Library may also need to consider relaxing the requirement for LIS qualifications so that it can benefit from other professionals who already possess the requisite skill sets. Ultimately, successful collaboration through building meaning partnerships will help to ensure that the Library’s value is further reinforced in the minds of its users (Sputore, 2016).

Digital dexterity

To meet the challenges of a constantly changing environment, and for the organisation to be successful, the Library will need staff that are digitally dexterous. The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL), identifies digital dexterity as ‘a fundamental aspect of the mission of university libraries, now and for the foreseeable future’ (CAUL, 2019). Digital dexterity is more than digital literacy and encompasses the ‘cognitive ability and social practice needed to leverage and employ various types of media, information and technology for advantage in unique and highly innovative ways that optimise personal and business value’ (Gartner 2015, p.3). CAUL (2019) further extends this definition to include ‘active participation in all aspects of work and life in a digital world, so that people develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to help them live, learn and work in a digital society.’
However, if academic librarians are to be successful in supporting students in developing these skills and capabilities, library staff will also need to develop these specialist attitudes, knowledge and capabilities (CAUL, 2020). Developing digital dexterity may also help to cultivate the skills required by academic librarians for data management and also overcome the challenges of supporting a makerspace. Therefore, the Library should adopt CAUL’s Digital dexterity framework for library professionals and become an active participant in the community of practice.


1.     An organisational review to ensure that the Library is aligned with the strategic direction of the University and that staff development supports the Library’s strategic goals.
2.     A gap analysis to identify the pool of current skills and capabilities mapped against projected needs to meet the Library’s strategic goals.
3.     Adopt policies that encourage older workers to upskill and provide succession planning that considers the transfer of knowledge in preparation for older workers retiring.
4.     Leverage existing liaison networks with the research community to increase awareness of data management services and practices.
5.     Adopt CAUL’s Digital dexterity framework for library professionals. Assign digidex champions to lead projects and engage with the wider community of practice.


This report has provided a discussion of barriers to staff development facing information agencies generally, and the Library, in particular. Due to the rapid advancement of ICT, academic libraries have been forced to innovate and adapt their service models to survive in a constantly changing environment. To remain relevant to their users and the academic community at large, academic libraries require a workforce that is flexible with staff who have the requisite knowledge and experience to meet the strategic goals of the Library. The impact of digital technologies and changes in the research environment demand new skills and a new breed of academic librarian, which will present challenges for older workers, who will be required to upskill to remain relevant in the workforce. In order to overcome barriers to staff development, the Library will need to go through a review process, become more collaborative, and support digital dexterity programs. These efforts will ensure that the Library has the right people in the right job now and into the future.

List of references

Barthorpe, G. (2012, June 4-7). Are we there yet? Do we have the staff we need to meet the needs of new generation learners? [Paper]. 2012 IATUL Conference, Singapore.
Blummer, B. & Kenton, M. (2020). A systematic review of e-books in academic libraries: access, advantages, and usage. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 26(1), 79-109.
Boyd, R. (2008). Staffing the commons: job analysis in the context of an information commons. Library Hi Tech, 26(2), 232-243.
Bryson, J. (2016). Managing information services: an innovative approach (4th ed.). Routledge.
CAUL. (2019). Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) position statement on digital dexterity.
CAUL. (2020). Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) digital dexterity framework for library professionals.
Corrall, S. (2013, June 26-29). Designing libraries for research collaboration in the networked world [Paper]. LIBER 42nd Annual Conference, Munich, Germany.
Cox, A., Searle, S., Wolski, M., Simons, N., & Richardson, J. (2015). Librarians as partners in research data service development at Griffith University. Program: electronic library and information systems, 49(4), 440-460.
Franks, R. (2012). Grey matter: The ageing librarian workforce, with a focus on public and academic libraries in Australia and the United States. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 25(3), 104.
Frederick, D. E. (2015). Managing ebook metadata in academic libraries: Taming the tiger. Elsevier Science & Technology.
Gartner. (2015). Defining digital dexterity – the core workforce resource for the digital business.
Giesecke, J. (2012). The value of partnerships: building new partnerships for success. Journal of Library Administration, 52, 36-52.
Hallam, G. (2007). Our future – as the 21st century library and information workforce – is intrinsically linked to our ability to innovate, initiate and inspire. Can workforce planning help us get there? In Schmidt, G. (Ed.) Proceedings of the ALIA National Library and Information Technicians Conference 2007. ALIA, Melbourne, pp. 1-15.
Jain, P. (2015, August 15-21). Knowledge Management, Leadership and Decision Making: A Case of Academic Libraries. IFLA WLIC 2015 Conference, Cape Town, South Africa.
Kennan, M. A. (2016, August 13-19). Data Management: Knowledge and skills required in research, scientific and technical organisations [Paper]. IFLA WLIC 2016 Conference, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.
LaMagna, M., Hartman-Caverly, S., & Marchetti, L. (2016). Redefining roles and responsibilities: Implementing a triage reference model at a single service point. Journal of Access Services, 13(2), 53-65.
Mitchell, J., & Soini, N. (2014). Student involvement for student success: Student staff in the learning commons. College & Research Libraries, 75(4), 590–609.
Moorefield-Lang, H. (2015). Change in the making: Makerspaces and the ever-changing landscape of libraries. TechTrends, 59(3), 107-112.
Moran, B. B., Morner, C. J., & Stueart, R. D. (2018). Library and Information Center Management (9th ed.). California Libraries Unlimited.
Patil, S. K. (2014). Library promotion practices and marketing library services: a role of library professionals. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 133(2014), 249-254.
Saunders, L. (2015). Academic libraries' strategic plans: Top trends and under-recognized areas. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(3), 285-291.
Schmidt, J. (2016). Developing a library collection today: Revisiting “collection evaluation, the conspectus and chimeras in library cooperation”, Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 47(4), 190-195.
Sputore, A., Humphries, P. & Steiner, N. (2015, August 15-21). Sustainable academic libraries in Australia: Exploring ‘radical collaborations’ and implications for reference services. IFLA WLIC 2015 Conference, Cape Town, South Africa.
Thompson, S., & Sonntag, G. (2008). Building for learning: Synergy of space, technology and collaboration. In B. Schader (Ed.), Learning commons: Evolution and collaboration essentials (pp. 117–200). Chandos.
Tillack, T. J. (2014). Pressures, opportunities and costs facing research library acquisition budgets: an Australian perspective. The Australian Library Journal, 63(3), 206-219.
Toohey, J. and Poulton, K. (2016, August 29 – September 2). New directions and changing perceptions: academic librarians as collaborators, mentors and influencers [Paper]. ALIA National 2016 Conference, Adelaide, Australia.
Warren, V. (2011). Using workforce structures to enable staff retention and development: An academic library case study. New Library World, 112(1/2), 8-18. DOI

Friday, 8 May 2020

Essay: Transforming the world through open science: the role of libraries in progressing sustainable development goals - an academic library perspective


The open science movement is motivated by the idea that ‘scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as it is practical in the research process’ (Mayer, 2020, p. 134). The adoption of open science practices and policies has the potential to provide solutions to the challenges facing society, such as disease, hunger, migration and climate change. This is because sharing of knowledge by providing access to information has the capacity to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), which is necessary in advancing the contemporary information society to the more advanced state of a knowledge society. As providers of information, it is the raison d’ĂȘtre of libraries to champion the need for access to information, which is a fundamental human right. In 2014, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) was pivotal in advocating for the inclusion of the importance of access to information, and positioned libraries as having a crucial role, in achieving the SDGs set forth in the UN’s 2030 agenda (UN, 2015). This is because ‘increasing access to information and knowledge across society, assisted by the availability of information and communication technologies (ICTs), supports sustainable development and improves people’s lives’ (IFLA, 2014). 
This essay will respond to the question: “how can information practitioners/professionals contribute to the progress of sustainable development goals in the contemporary information society?” This will be achieved by discussing the role of libraries and librarians in supporting the open science movement from an academic library perspective. Academic libraries play a significant role in the research process through mediating the cycle of knowledge production, sharing and dissemination (Tapfuma & Hoskins, 2019, p. 406). Ultimately, the role of academic librarians will need to transform to take advantage of the opportunities and meet the challenges presented by open science, which has the potential to achieve the objectives of the SDGs.


Transforming science through openness

Open science is an international movement that ‘helps to improve the accessibility and reusability of research practices and outputs’ (Chigwada, 2020, p. 101). It has the aim of ‘transforming science through digital tools and networks, to make research more open, global, collaborative, creative and closer to society’ (European Commission, 2019). As an umbrella term, open science is concerned with the practices and policies across a number of key dimensions including ‘open access to publications, open research data and methods, open source software, open infrastructures, open educational resources, open evaluation, and citizen science’ (Mayer, 2020, p. 134). Open science is also characterised by the principals and practices that makes research data FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) (Barbour and Borchert, 2020). According to Chigwada (2020, p. 99), open science has been ‘affecting how research is done and how knowledge is produced, shared, circulated, reused and preserved in all disciplines’ – not just science.

Open science and sustainable development

There has been a struggle to define the concept of sustainable development, which has suffered from a plethora of definitions, interpretations and variations of the term as it has been applied in practice (Jennifer, 2012, p. 16). The universally cited definition, and perhaps also the most succinct, defines sustainable development as a development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED, 1987, p. 43). There are three popular models of sustainable development, and whilst each is different in the organisation and relationship of the parts, each of the models agrees on the three constitutive areas; these include: economy, society and environment, with some more recently suggesting the need for cultural diversity as a fourth domain (Jennifer, 2012, p. 21).
The transformative potential for open science and sustainable development for the contemporary information society is evident in the mission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which is ‘to build knowledge societies by fostering universal access to information and knowledge through [ICTs]’ (Unesco, 2012). In order to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals, open science will be necessary for success, because 10 out of the 17 goals requires scientific input (Unesco, 2017). Importantly, in mapping each of the 17 goals to the contribution that open access can make, Mamtora and Pandey (2018) demonstrate that open access has the potential to provide contributions to all of the SDGs. 
According to Smith and Velds (2015), open data initiatives through open science also help drive sustainable development, therefore, achieving the UN’s goals will only be possible if ‘research and data are open and democratised so that all can have equal access.’ The role of education in underpinning sustainable development is highlighted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2017), which critically notes that failure to achieve SDG 4, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote” – ‘puts at risk the achievements of the 17 SDGs as a whole. Jhangiani (2018) suggests, open education resources are a powerful tool that can help meet the objectives of SDG4. OER are teaching and learning resources that are published with an open license; for example, these can include textbooks, instructional videos, interactive simulations, lesson plans, plus more. Braddlee and VanScoy (2019), provide an exhaustive range of suggestions as to how academic librarians can support OER; for example: adoption, advocacy, curation, preservation and repositories, content development, metadata and discovery, funding, information literacy and, licensing and copyright. Furthermore, they highlight how academic librarians have historically been  important collaborators with faculty, which provides opportunities in supporting OER initiatives. 

Defining the information society

There has been much debate over the last fifty years in attempting to define the concept of information society – ‘a concept with no single agreed definition’ (Bawden & Robinson, 2012, p. 256). Looking at the history of the concept, the idea of the information society first appeared in the early 1960s and was closely related to the notion of the ‘information industry’ (Duff, 2000, p. 2). Another interpretation, which came earlier in 1959, suggested the closely related term ‘post-industrial society’, which described a society that had ‘passed from a goods producing stage to a service society’ (Zelazny, 2015, p. 8). From an economic perspective, Zelazny (2015, p. 13), posits that the information society is a step towards the progressive goals of a knowledge economy, whereby, through a transitional process information is translated into knowledge (Zelazny, 2015, p. 13). In this way, when new knowledge is produced through the implementation of innovation, the information society can fully develop into its ultimate state of a knowledge society. This form of society is characterised by the key role of knowledge sharing and is ‘the most advanced stage of a social and economic development’ (Zelazny, 2015, p. 15). 
Nath (2017, p. 20) suggests that the information society should be interpreted as ‘an organising principle’ to describe and analyse the rapid changes that took place in the last fifty years of the twentieth century and of the future in the twenty-first century.’ These developments are related to the rapid deployment of (ICTs), which have ‘transformed societies in both developed and developing countries’ and have expanded into all areas of daily life (Nath, 2017, p. 20). In this regard, ICT can be regarded as ‘a set of technologies gathering, processing and transmitting information in electronic form’ (Zelazny, 2015, p. 10). It is the hardware and software, which performs ‘the various functions of information creation, storing, processing, preservation, and delivery, in a growing set of ways’ (Ziemba, 2015, p. 117). 
Through the enabling influences of ICT, the information society ‘is at the core of growth, human progress, and well-being, along with sustainable development’ (Ziemba, 2019, p. 116). However, whilst offering many benefits, the proliferation of ICTs has also introduced problems and divides within the information society; for example, information poverty and digital divide. According to Bawden & Robinson (2012, p. 244), this divide is often expressed as that between the ‘information rich and the information poor’ – and may be economic (rich versus poor); national (developed world versus developing world); or regional (city versus regional). The digital divide refers to the gap that exists between individuals with ready access to the tools of ICTs, and the knowledge that they provide access to, and those without such access or skills (Cullen, 2001). However, in its adoption of ICTs, open science has the potential to help bridge the digital divide, so that developing countries can catch up to the rest of the developed world.

The role of libraries and access to information

In the Lyon Declaration of 2014, IFLA urged the member states of the UN to acknowledge that ‘increasing access to information and knowledge across society, assisted by the availability of [ICTs], supports sustainable development and improves people’s lives’ (IFLA, 2014). Furthermore, it argued that ‘increased access to information and knowledge, underpinned by universal literacy, is an essential pillar of sustainable development’ (IFLA, 2014). According to Mamtora and Pandey (2018, p. 2), having access to the right information makes ‘an enormous difference as to whether a particular goal is successfully realised or not.’ Therefore, libraries can be regarded as enablers in progressing sustainable development goals. 
Following the release of the UN’s agenda, IFLA (2015) produced the report Access and Opportunity for All: How Libraries Contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda. In particular, it noted that when communities have access to ‘timely and relevant information’ they are ‘better positioned to eradicate poverty and inequality, improve agriculture, provide quality education, and support people’s health, culture, research, and innovation’ (IFLA, 2015). Perhaps most importantly, the report provided a pathway to practical solutions for the sustainable development goals by mapping the many ways that libraries and access to information can positively contribute to the UN’s agenda (IFLA, 2015). Locally, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), produced a SDG toolkit with a call to action to its community, including a range of resources that encourage information practitioners and professionals to be part of the SDGs movement (ALIA, 2020).

Libraries as enablers of open science

Libraries are important stakeholders of open science, so can play an important role in achieving the SDGs. In its report, Making Open Science a Reality, the OECD (2015) specifically cites libraries, repositories and data centres as ‘key actors for and fundamental enablers of open science.’ In particular, it notes how libraries have adapted their roles to support the preservation, curation, publication and dissemination of digital scientific materials, and in providing the physical infrastructure that allows researchers to share and reuse their work, libraries ‘have been essential in the creation of the open science movement’ (OECD, 2015). 
According to Bueno de la Fuente (2016), there are a number of ways that academic libraries can fulfil their roles as enablers of open science; these include: advocating and raising awareness (for example, open access policies, OER adoption); providing support through infrastructures (for example, institutional repositories); contributing to the development of research data management policies and strategies; and by training and supporting researchers to adopt the practices of open science. However, supporting researchers and open science in this way demands new skills and requires the role of academic librarianship to evolve from the traditional liaison librarian role to a more strategically-aligned research support librarian role (Sewell and Kinglsey, 2016). In order to fulfil the skills gap for this new breed of academic librarian, there will also need to be a shift away from the requirement of LIS qualifications to make academic libraries ‘multi-professional working communities’, so that other professionals who already have the necessary data-related skillsets can join the organisation and contribute to progressing the benefits of open science (Silvennionen-Kuikka, 2018). 


This essay has provided a discussion on how information practitioners/professionals contribute to the progress of sustainable development goals in the contemporary information society. Due to the transformational potential between libraries and open science for the contemporary information society, academic librarians have an important role in enabling practices and policies that are critical for progressing sustainable development goals. However, if academic libraries are to fulfil their roles as enablers of open science, the profession must look internally at the skills required to provide these new services; and also look externally by providing opportunities for non-LIS professionals to join the organisation. Finally, libraries around the world, and the information practitioners and professionals that work in them, play a key role in ensuring that all individuals in the contemporary information society have access to information, which is a human right, and indisputably necessary for the global community to achieve the UN’s goals, and ultimately, transform the world so that no one is left behind.


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Tapfuma, M. M. & Hoskins, R. G. (2019). Open science disrupting the status quo in academic libraries: a perspective of Zimbabwe. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 45(4), 406-412.

UN. (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. United Nations.

Unesco. (2012). Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of open access.

Unesco. (2017). Open access to scientific information.

WCED. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our common future. Brundtland Commission. Oxford University Press.

Zelazny, R. (2015). Information society and knowledge economy – essence and key relationships. Journal of Economics and Management, 20(2), 5-22.

Ziemba, E. (2019). The contribution of ICT adoption to the sustainable information society. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 59(2), 116-126.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The role of the manager in organisational culture and change management: an academic library perspective


The continuous advancement of information and communication technology (ICT) has created an environment of rapid change for libraries and information organisations, and the professionals who work in them. As well as providing opportunities for innovation, an environment of fast-paced change presents challenges to information agencies as they attempt to adjust to new demands for service delivery from their users, remain relevant to their stakeholders, and fulfil their strategic goals and missions. The advancement of ICT has underpinned the most significant changes in the library sector in modern times and will continue to do so well into the 21st century and beyond (Gunapala, 2017, p. 40). Therefore, adapting to change and overcoming its challenges is necessary for the survival of information organisations in the 21st century. Critically, the way an organisation deals with change will ultimately determine the success or failure of the organisation.
This paper will examine how the role of the manager can shape or influence organisational culture as an integral part of both corporate strategies and organisational change measures to enhance performance and innovation in an academic library setting. Examples will be provided from USQ Library, which has been undergoing significant change in the last five years across a number of change programs, including a large organisational restructure and new technology implementations. The change experience of the Library will be analysed through the functions of management, which are planning, organising, staffing, leading and controlling. When executed properly, these functions are important because they can ‘lead to organisational efficiency and effectiveness’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). Ultimately, it will be argued that the role of the manager as a change leader is critical to the success of any change program, and through fostering an organisational culture of change readiness, including an open knowledge-sharing culture, and through effectively working with others, the manager can enable the organisation to be innovative and successful in achieving its goals.


The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) is a regional university in Australia. The USQ Library operates on three campuses with approximately 68 library staff members serving a population of just over 14,000 EFTSL or 27,500 enrolments, and around 700 academic staff (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2018; CAUL, 2020). The structure at USQ Library is very narrow with a three-person executive, including the Director, Library Services, who has overall responsibility for the library and provides leadership and strategic direction (USQ Library, 2020). At the organisational level of the university, the Library sits within the Education portfolio. In an academic library, the executive management team are responsible for shaping ‘the strategic direction and future of the organisation and build the organisation’s capacity to embrace change’ (Bryson, 2016, p. 10). The Library is structured around three functional areas, which include: Library Experience, Content, and Learning and Research. According to Bryson (2016, p. 170), work teams, or functional teams, are important for achieving organisational and business outcomes (Bryson, 2016, p. 170).
In an academic library, the Library Director refers to the CEO of the library where the director is responsible for defining the library’s strategic direction and articulating its vision. The role is important for the success of the organisation, and due to the complex change environment, the library director ‘must ensure that the library is continually realigning strategies, innovating new products and services, and that it is sensitive to changes in client behaviours and expectations’ (Harland et al, 2017, p. 397).
Management can be described as ‘using organisational resources to achieve defined goals’ with the role of the manager being to ‘make decisions that enable the organisation to achieve its objectives’ by working with others to ‘reach these objectives effectively and efficiency’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 9). This contrasts with leadership, which is ‘the capacity to get things done through others by changing people’s mindset and energising them to action’ (Tichy and Cohen as cited in Bradigan and Hartel, 2013, p. 13). In the library context, Olson and Singer (2004, p. xiii) describe leadership as
the capacity to develop ourselves and our organisations, partner with our stakeholders, and serve our constituents in ways that promote positive relationships, create meaningful work environments, foster new leaders, and deliver high-quality, innovative programs and services that are true to our mission.

Functions of management

A useful way for understanding the role of the manager is to examine the functions of management. These are a ‘set of common processes or functions that, when properly carried out, lead to organisational efficiency and effectiveness’, and include planning, organising, staffing, leading and controlling (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11).


The function of planning ‘allows managers to determine where the organisation wants to be in the future’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). In particular, strategic planning can be ‘used to involve staff in developing a course of action that aligns with the vision’ (Bradigan and Hartel, 2013, p. 15). Planning can be seen in the example of the Vision 2022 initiative at USQ Library – a “sweeping change”, which resulted in an organisational restructure that affected all staff at all levels of the library (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 291).
In 2014, the USQ Library embarked on an organisational change process to better understand the future needs of the university. The result of this process was the Vision 2022 initiative, which was developed to be forward focused, and designed to be creative and inclusive (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 288). The initiative began with an external review and a consultant’s report, and an internal strategic visioning exercise, which included an environmental scan process that involved the participation of every library staff member (Howlett and Thorpe, 2018, p. 9; O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 288).
According to Bell (2018), ‘environmental scanning, identifying trends, and planning for the future are all part of change readiness.’ Engaging with staff is also critical because a leader needs to ‘ensure that employees are a part of the processes of strategic development, planning and decision making’ as this inclusion helps to create ‘an open culture of knowledge sharing where employees can see the changes coming and be prepared for them’ (Yi, 2019, p. 597). Fostering a culture of knowledge sharing is critical for innovation and a vital component in achieving the organisation’s mission, goals and objectives, because it is essential for adapting to change (Yi, 2019, p. 598).


The function of organising establishes ‘the formal structure of authority through which work is divided among the employees’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). This is where the manager matches individuals and their skill sets to the functions and structures to achieve the organisation’s objectives, and importantly, establishes the channels of communication among the work units (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). For example, at USQ Library, due to the narrow structure of the executive group, a broader leadership team, which included 16% of the total staff, was established to enable ‘broader participation in decision making, and a more free flow of information’ (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 289). Shared leadership is important for achieving an organisation’s vision and goals as it helps grow the leadership capacity of all staff, so that everyone leads, and ‘promotes the full engagement of each staff member’s talents and energy in developing innovative services and solutions’ (Bradigan and Hartel, 2013, p. 13).


The function of staffing, also called human resources, includes all the activities around hiring, training, compensating, and retaining the right people (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). At USQ Library, this function is evident in the organisational restructure, which was one of the outcomes of the Vision 2022 initiative. In the new structure, employees would be provided with ‘clearer career paths, and enhanced opportunities for specialisation and leadership’ (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 291). Furthermore, the successful outcomes of this function can be seen in how USQ Library became an employer of choice attracting talent from within academia and other libraries who might not have otherwise considered working for the library. According to the director, there were two reasons for this: firstly, several of the staff had specifically expressed an interest to work at the library due to the leadership; and secondly, at the time of the restructure, the director re-wrote every position description, which included an element of evidence-based practice and a focus on excellence (O’Sullivan, personal communication, April 17, 2020). Staffing, therefore, is important for an organisation’s success, because when employees ‘share the same values, they also share the same vision, exhibit trust and collaboratively strengthen the competitive edge of the organization as both an employer of choice and leader in the field’ (Bryson, 2016, p. 135).


The function of leadership ‘involves creating a shared culture and values within an organisation, communicating goals to its employees, and motivating people at all levels’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 12). There are many definitions of organisational culture, however, the most cited definition is ‘the way we do things around here’ (Bradigan and Hartel, 2013, p. 8). In the library context, it is a ‘system of shared values, norms, rules, beliefs, behaviours, ways and assumptions that unite information professionals to provide high quality services and resources for clients’ (Bawden and Robinson, 2012, p. 257)
As a core function of management, leadership is an essential role of the manager. According to Bryson, 2016, p. 123), leadership and organisational culture are inextricably linked in ‘their influence on the dynamism and sustainability of the organisation.’ This is because the leader ‘plays a key role in shaping a group’s dynamics to reach its goals’ (Bartlett, 2014, p. 2). This can be seen in the following quote from the director at USQ Library, which clearly articulates the intent of the organisational culture: ‘we are compassionate, flexible, supportive, but also very unapologetic about striving for excellence…we are unashamed about seeking to be the best we can be, and to lead the way when we can’ (O’Sullivan, personal communication, April 17, 2020).
In an environment of  constant change, ‘leaders need to do more than manage change, they need to create a change-ready culture’ through change leadership (Bell, 2018). This can be achieved by demonstrating strong leadership skills, whereby the manager can encourage a change ready mindset that supports and actively encourages people to think differently and bring their creative talents and ideas to work. Furthermore, this objective can be achieved through a shared vision, where good managers ‘exhibit leadership and build total commitment, enabling everyone to identify personally with and own the vision, working as a team to achieve it’ (Bryson, 2016, p. 5).
For example, at USQ Library, through the Vision 2022 initiative, the leadership team engaged staff at all levels using a variety of methods, including workshops, research and writing projects, and professional development opportunities, which allowed staff to ‘fully understand and participate in the change process’ (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 288). These engagement efforts successfully resulted in positive buy-in from staff to the process of change, and reduced resistance to change, which can be a destabilising force in any change initiative. Indeed, Moran et al (2018, p. 72), note that when staff have the opportunity to engage and participate in the change process in an ongoing manner, not only will it reduce resistance to change, but it ‘will produce significant increases in motivation, satisfaction and performance.’


Finally, the function of controlling, involves ‘monitoring an organisation’s activities to be sure it is on the right path to meet its goals’ and ‘requires analysing the organisation’s operations and then using that information to inform the planning process’ (Moran et al, 2018, p. 11). This function can be clearly seen at USQ Library in the adoption of evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) as a way of working. EBLIP is ‘a structured process of articulating questions or problems, collecting, interpreting and applying valid and reliable evidence to support decision making and continuous service improvement in professional practice’ (Howlett and Thorpe, 2018, p. 3). In the Vision 2022 initiative, focusing on EBLIP methods, library staff ‘were able to proactively identify future directions for USQ Library, rather than have new ideas and changes imposed upon them’ (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 288). Importantly, taking an evidence-based approach where staff were engaged and an active part of the process ‘enabled staff to move toward a state of self-confidence and self-efficacy and enabled them to push the process in directions they identified as important for USQ’ (O’Sullivan and Partridge, 2016, p. 288). In relation to the library system project, EBLIP, which had become part of the organisation’s language and way of working, by becoming an ingrained part of the organisational culture, fostering this mindset enabled the library to “question how we’d always done things”. This resulted in the implementation of innovative changes that other universities hadn’t necessarily tried (O’Sullivan, personal communication, April 17, 2020).


This essay has provided a discussion on how the role of the manager can shape or influence organisational culture as an integral part of both corporate strategies and organisational change measures to enhance performance and innovation in an academic library setting. This was achieved by analysing the functions of management, which were applied to examples from the  USQ Library’s change experience over the last five years. These examples demonstrated how through influencing organisational culture, and fostering a mindset of change readiness, in performing the functions of management, the library director can have a profound impact on organisational performance and the capacity to innovate (Jantz, 2012). Finally, it can be argued that the role of the manager is critical to the success and performance of the organisation, because as has been shown, when the functions of management are executed properly the organisation can harness its potential to identify opportunities for innovation, and in being a state of change readiness, quickly adapt and overcome the challenges of a constantly changing environment.

List of references

Bartlett, J. A. (2014). “That’s how we do things around here:” Organizational culture in libraries. Library Leadership and Management, 28(3), 1-6.
Bawden, D. & Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to Information Science. Facet Publishing.
Bell, S. (2018). From change management to change-ready leadership. Library Journal.
Bradigan, P. S. & Hartel, L. J. (2013). Organizational culture and leadership: exploring perceptions and relationships. In. K. Blessinger & P. Hrycaj (Eds.), Workplace Culture in Academic Libraries: The Early 21st Century (pp. 7-19). Elsevier Science & Technology.
Bryson, J. (2016). Managing information services: An innovative approach (4th ed.). NY: Routledge.
CAUL. (2020). Institutional data. Council of Australian University Librarians.
Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2018). Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2018 Staff data.
Gunapala, M. A. (2017). The complexities of change, leadership and technology in Australian university libraries (Doctoral thesis, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia).
Howlett, A. & Thorpe, C. (2018). ‘It’s what we do here’: Embedding evidence-based practice at USQ Library. Asia-Pacific Library and Information Conference 2018, 1-24.
Jantz, R. C. (2012). Innovation in academic libraries: An analysis of university librarians' perspectives. Library & Information Science Research, 34(1), 3-12.
Moran, B. B., Morner, C. J., & Stueart, R. D. (2018). Library and Information Center Management, 9th Edition. California Libraries Unlimited.
O’Sullivan, C. & Partridge, H. (2016). Organizational change and renewal: Can strategic communication methods ease the pain? A case study from the University of Southern Queensland. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 22(2-3), 282-293.
Olson, C. A. & Singer, P. M. (2004). Winning with library leadership: enhancing services though with connection, contribution, and collaboration. American Library Association.
USQ Library. (2020). About USQ Library.
Yi, Z. (2019). A leader’s approaches to fostering a culture of knowledge sharing in an information organization. Library Management, 40(8/9), 593-600.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Misinformation and disinformation in the time of a global pandemic


At the time of writing, the world is gripped in the throes of a global pandemic due to the ongoing spread of the coranavirus known as COVID-19 with the number of known infected cases eclipsing more than 1.5 million, the number of deaths at close to 90,000, and those numbers continue to accelerate daily (Worldometer, 2020). Just as concerning as the rampant spread of the disease is the viral propagation and infection of misinformation and disinformation, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled an "infodemic"; that is, ‘an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable information when they need it’ (WHO, 2020a).
This essay will respond to the question: “how can information professionals help society identify and avoid various kinds of disinformation and misinformation”. Firstly, this will be achieved by untangling the definition problem and interrogating the relationship between the various concepts including information, misinformation and disinformation. Next through the lens of the ‘fake news’ problem, a discussion will be provided that highlights how misinformation and disinformation is a serious concern for society, and how technology companies pose a socio-technical problem and are challenged in stemming the tide of harmful and misleading information. In an effort to overcome the technical limitations of technology platforms, this paper will ultimately argue that through adopting a critical information literacy stance, information professionals have an important role in helping society identify and avoid disinformation and misinformation.

The definition problem

Attempts to define information, disinformation and misinformation have been problematic. Brock and Dhillon (2001, p. 46), provide an exhaustive review of the literature on the definition problem of information and conclude that it means ‘almost everything and anything’ and compare it to the “ether” of the middle ages. Efforts to define and understand misinformation and disinformation are understudied and have also suffered from a definition problem due to the interdisciplinary nature of LIS research, which uses terms that are also used in other disciplines; for example, psychology, philosophy and computer science (Karlova and Lee, 2011, para. 6). So, while information may surround us and be part of our daily lives, there has been a struggle to define what information means, and disinformation and misinformation have been understudied by information scientists in attempts to understand the nature of information (Karlova and Fisher, 2013, Extending information section, para. 1).
Fox’s (1983) work on information and misinformation examines the relationship between these two terms and suggests that misinformation is information that is false, such that misinformation is a species of information. Examples of misinformation include honest mistakes, negligence, unconscious bias, or intentional deception, and it is this latter, that is also called disinformation (Fallis, 2014, p. 621). According to Fallis (2016, p. 333), disinformation is a ‘species of misinformation that is intended to mislead people.' This relationship can be seen further in Floridi’s (2011, p. 260) work, where he suggests that misinformation is ‘well-formed and meaningful data (i.e. semantic content) that is false’. ‘Disinformation is simply misinformation purposefully conveyed to mislead the receiver into believing that it is information.’ Examples include forged documents, doctored photographs, deceptive advertising, deliberately falsified maps, and government propaganda, and relevant to this paper, “fake news”.
Buckland (1991) examines the informativeness of information, which he posits as situational, whereby different situations can imbue different meanings on the thing being communicated and meanings may be dependent on the knowledge of the receiver. This further highlights the definition problem, because ‘what is misinformation in one situation might not be in another because the meanings might be different’, which also makes it hard to identify (Karlova and Fisher, 2013).

The fake news problem

The advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has enabled information to be spread faster than any other time in history. Inundated with such massive volumes of information, individuals are challenged with information overload, and a rapid pace of news production and dissemination (Khan and Idris, 2019, p. 1196). In this environment, misinformation can thrive because through simply clicking, forwarding, or resharing, information can be spread at the speed of thought, and individuals either don’t have the time to fact check or lack the skills to distinguish false or inaccurate information from accurate information, so can more easily be misled.
In recent times, “fake news”, which is defined as ‘news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers’, has emerged as a critical issue for information quality and poses a challenge for individuals and society (Allcott and Gentzkow, 2017, p. 213). This is because, increasingly, more people are getting their news from online platforms, particularly social media (Tandoc et al, 2018, p. 138). According to the Global Digital Report (2019), 45% of the global population are social media users (We Are Social, 2019). Statistics in the Digital News Report: Australia 2019, show that out of 38 countries that were surveyed, 54% of news consumers used social media as a general source of news. Concerningly, the same report showed that when it came to fact-checking, Australians are more likely to share a dubious story without checking it, and even if they suspect they’ve encountered fake news, are less likely to check the veracity of a story by cross-checking it with other sources (University of Canberra, 2019).
The proliferation of fake news poses real threats to society as it has the potential to spread misinformation with serious consequences; for example, economic (stock price fluctuations), political (US election, Brexit), and public health crises (Ebola, COVID-19 pandemic). In relation to the latter, some are describing the current COVID-19 pandemic as ‘the first major pandemic of the social media age’ (Ko, 2020). As governments force their populations into nation-wide quarantines, or adopt social distancing measures, and people are trapped in their homes to avoid contracting or spreading the virus, social media has become more important than ever, not just for connecting socially, but in fulfilling the information needs of individuals with demands on timely and local information (Donovan, 2020).
Unfortunately, with more people online than ever before, seeking information on the same thing, lacking clear authoritative sources, and not fact-checking, these conditions have created a perfect storm for misinformation (Breland, 2020). Fake news about COVID-19 is spreading faster and more easily than the virus, and much of the disinformation is being spread through social media bots (algorithmic software programs) with the malicious intent of spreading fear and fake news (Ko, 2020). Concerningly, misinformation around COVID-19 is out of control and spreading so quickly that the WHO has said that it is not just fighting an epidemic, but also an “infodemic” (WHO, 2020b).

The socio-technical problem

In times of confusion and crisis, ‘social media platforms continue to be a dangerous socio-technical vulnerability’, because, paradoxically, the same social media platforms, which profit off the unrelenting spread of information, and are perpetuating the spread of misinformation, are the same platforms that are being used to fight against the pandemic (Donovan, 2020). The types of misinformation circulating through these platforms include conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, harmful advice about false treatments, and unreliable reports of vaccines (Gold, 2020).
To fight back against this infodemic, technology companies have been taking steps to help limit the spread of misinformation and disinformation on their platforms. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have committed to moderate their sites by removing misleading information and are working with the WHO and other authoritative sources to ensure that individuals are directed to accurate information, and some are also providing the WHO free advertising space (Kassam, 2020). However, as technology companies struggle to take down misleading information using their existing tools, misinformation and disinformation is being spread through grass-roots channels, such as text and email, which poses a significant technical problem, because services such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp are effectively ‘locked boxes for content moderators’ (Kassam, 2020). Although these technology platforms are taking measures to limit the spread of misleading information, there is an absence of fact-checking standards, which is allowing misinformation to still slip through (Chakravorti, 2020).

A critical information literacy solution

Clearly, at times of crisis, and in normal everyday information seeking, technology companies can’t be relied on to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation, therefore, to inoculate against this information contagion, individuals need to be equipped with the necessary skills to be able to discern false or inaccurate information from accurate information. In this environment, there is the dire need for information literacy, which has been a core service of libraries, and a core competency of information professionals, with standards and practices adopted by information organisations worldwide. In Australia, information literacy is a core competency for information professionals (ALIA, 2015).
Information literacy is defined as being ‘able to recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information’ (ALA cited in Garner, 2006, p. 56). It combines elements from a number of other literacies, including media literacy, digital literacy, news literacy, and critical thinking’. When combined, information literacy becomes
an integrated set of skills, knowledge and practices, and dispositions that prepares [individuals] to discover, interpret, and create information ethically while gaining a critical understanding of how information systems interact to produce and circulate news, information, and knowledge (Head et al, 2020).
In the context of helping society to identify and avoid misinformation and disinformation, information professionals have an important role in developing information literate users so they can evaluate information critically, question its validity, and assess the quality and credibility of messages before sharing (Khan and Idris, 2019, p. 1199).
However, whilst information literacy has been a core practice of information professionals since the 1970s, there is a growing body of discourse that has criticised it for a lack of research, with some arguing that, ‘[i]nformation literacy thus far has been more of a practical and strategic concept used by librarians and information professionals rather than the focus of empirical research’ (Tuominem et al, 2005, p. 330). This is further emphasised by the work of Downey (2016), which found that research into the effectiveness of information literacy has shown poor results from efforts made by information organisations in achieving the standards, as it has been overly simplified and mechanistic in the teaching of skills. In recognition of these failures, a new subset of information literacy has been called for; that is, critical information literacy (Downey, 2106, p. 18). According to Brisola and Doyle (2019, p. 282), critical information literacy
transforms information literacy from something mechanical into something more human…it is about raising consciousness to the fact that information is socially constructed; that people do not acquire skills, but learn to have the habit of questioning the origins, interests and contexts of information production.
Critical information literacy is also in harmony with UNESCO’s (2019) efforts to aggregate the various literacies into a unified concept, which it calls Media and Information Literacy (MIL). As a composite concept, MIL
recognises the primary role of information and media in our everyday lives. It lies at the core of freedom of expression and information - since it empowers citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, to critically evaluate their content, and to make informed decisions as users and producers of information and media content.
Finally, critical information literacy can be understood as a ‘state of alertness, always vigilant in dealing with information’; it is a state of continuous questioning of the information that we consume and choose to share (Brisola and Doyle, 2019, p. 283). As a set of vital competencies, critical information literacy has the potential to empower individuals with the necessary skills to be able to successful navigate the complex digital media environment, identify, and avoid the pitfalls of sharing misinformation, which is harmful to individuals and has serious consequences for society at large.


This essay has provided a discussion on how information professionals can help individuals identify and avoid misinformation and disinformation, which is ultimately harmful to society with serious consequences, including public health, as demonstrated through the current information crisis regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world is brought to the brink of economic disaster and public health calamity, now is the most dangerous time to be ill-informed. Now, more than ever, we need a polity that is critically informed and equipped with the necessary skills to be able to navigate the torrents of information being shared, read and viewed across many media including, social media, news, newspapers, messaging apps, etc. At a time of life or death, the choice of media to consume could be deadly not only for oneself, but for society as a whole. While technology companies battle to try and stop the information contagion, information professionals also have an important role to play in fighting against this information crisis. Therefore, there is an urgent need for critical information literacy to help individuals recognise misinformation and verify its veracity before sharing. Finally, post-pandemic, there will be a need for further research to assess the efficacy of current information literacy practices, and identify gaps of opportunity for redefining standards and policies, so that citizens are better prepared not just for future information crises, but for information seeking in everyday life.

List of references

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Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-36.
Breland, A. (2020). Why coronavirus misinformation is out of control. Mother Jones.
Brisola, A. C., & Doyle, A. (2019). Critical information literacy as a path to resist “fake news”: understanding disinformation as the root problem. Open Information Science, 3(1), 274-286.
Brock, F. J., & Dhillon, G. S. (2001). Managerial information, the basics. Journal of International Information Management, 10(2), 45-59.
Buckland, M. K. (1991). Information as thing. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 351-360.<351::aid-asi5>3.0.CO;2-3
Chakravorti, B. (2020). Social media companies are taking steps to tamp down coronavirus misinformation – but they can do more. The Conversation (Australian Edition).
Donovan, J. (2020). Here’s how social media can combat the coronavirus ‘infodemic’. MIT Technology Review.
Downey, A. (2016). Critical Information Literacy: foundations, inspiration, and ideas. Library Juice Press.
Fallis, D. (2014). A functional analysis of disinformation. iConference 2014 Proceedings, 621-627.
Fallis, D. (Ed.). (2016). The Routledge handbook of philosophy of information. Routledge.
Floridi, L. (Ed.). (2011). The philosophy of information. Oxford University Press.
Fox, C. J. (1983). Information and misinformation: an investigation of the notions of information, misinformation, informing, and misinforming. Greenwood.
Garner, S. D. (2006). High-Level Colloquium on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.
Gold, H. (2020). Inside the WHO's fight to stop false information about coronavirus from spreading. CNN Business.
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Kassam, N. (2020). Disinformation and coronavirus. The Interpreter.
Ko, R. (2020). Meet ‘Sara’, ‘Sharon’ and ‘Mel’: why people spreading coronavirus anxiety on Twitter might actually be bots. The Conversation (Australian Edition).
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Tuominen, K., Savolainen, R., & Talja, S. (2005). Information literacy as a sociotechnical practice. The Library Quarterly, 75(3), 329-345.
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