CILN Forum 2018

On Tuesday 19th June 2018, a group of Cambridge Information Literacy Network (CILN) librarians greeted information and digital literacy (IDL) representatives and stakeholders from across the UK & Ireland to discuss the implementation and operation of a number of national IDL projects.


Those assembled were greeted warmly, initially by CILN Project Team Member Libby Tilley, and then by Jess Gardner, the Cambridge University Librarian. Jess emphasised the importance of the need to collaborate on this scale with some fab soundbites such as:

“We are a partnership” – a reference to the institutions represented at the Forum, gathered from far and wide to discuss such an important topic.

“We are all works in progress” – a reference to information literacy (IL) affecting, not only our students through their career paths, but us through our own as well.

“Libraries matter” – a reference to librarian’s wealth of information experience.


First to step up was Maynooth University‘s Lorna Dodd who presented the Uni’s former information literacy framework and how they set about adapting to fit a new model. They needed one to cater for all and to align it with the new curriculum.


They compared the “7 pillars of information literacy”, settling on taking aspects of the ANCIL and ACRL frameworks before mapping it into their own curriculum’s core principles.

They needed an emphasis on skills for life and work, and quickly discovered that IL principles are intrinsically linked with entire education principles.

It became a massively reflective process on teaching and learning as they asked themselves “What competencies are missing?”

They developed a 12-week Critical Skills Programme included both on-arrival induction and post-arrival skills training which really opened up the framework. This particular snippet spoke volumes to me because of my own involvement with CILN and in particular the strand that deals with induction and orientation. Perhaps this is something we really could be adapting and mapping to our own framework.

Below is an example of one of their “Lesson Plans”:

CFP0 1 MU5 LessonPlans

As they move to the next phase of their project, user experience (UX) and assessment, they remain reflective; change is a constant. The need to regularly review and assess is essential to keep IL skills matched to current strategic framework.

“We really don’t need to be excellent subject specialists but we do need to be excellent librarians”.

At this point there was an excellent question from the floor: “How did you engage with academic staff?” Maynooth apparently set up a strategic taskforce and the library made sure they were involved in all discussions. This involved knocking on doors. “Go and talk to people!”, Lorna urged.

My big takeaway from this excellent, thought-provoking presentation was the fact that we really will need to stay adaptable and democratic, especially in our own CILN project due to the complex and constantly changing nature of the University’s curriculum and  teaching and learning strategists.


Next, Brunel University, London presented their LibSmart graduate IDL programme for perusal.

Initially, they discovered through user experience (UX) surveys that several students weren’t even sure where the library was! Where to start then?

Well, with a focus on Masters students (especially those with an Engineering bias), they set about embedding literacy skills into a series of workshops. They also developed the use of social media as a tool to help student online identity.

They made the decision to make these ‘LibSmart’ workshops regular events and attendance increased thanks to this familiarity – same time, same place. Note: This worked for Brunel, but Cambridge’s complex array of course structures would probably mean it would be a less successful tactic here.


The big takeaway for them was they learnt to constantly reassess and to implement malleable designs. The next almighty task is to embed their programme into the curriculum – I sense a growing theme here.


The parallel session I attended was by the Open University on delivering IDL skills to distance learners. It was hugely impressive. The OU completed their IDL (or, rather, DIL) framework in 2012, so have had several years to develop it.

CFP1C 3 OU DIL Framework

The librarians skill-mapped directly onto the OU’s strategic framework by dividing the DIL skills into:

  1. Assessed
  2. Taught
  3. Guidance provided
  4. Used

More recently, with the release of the OU’s new Employability Framework, the need for redesign was evident with an emphasis on making skills more-applicable post-University.

To assist in this process they developed a close relationship with their Careers Office and now regularly meet to discuss priorities.

CFP1C 2 OU DIL Mission Statement

They quickly learnt that job description mapping (i.e.; IL mapping to actual job descriptions) is hard and we saw that first-hand with the presenters setting us a series of example exercises.

The question we quickly began asking ourselves was “Is language a barrier here?”

To answer this question they developed an Activity Bank in their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which allowed the staff to monitor the student’s interaction with the software. Effectively, UX was being carried out remotely. Great idea!

The library staff also created a ‘Libopoly’ game that set players the task of matching IL module skills to the equivalents of Old Kent Road (low-value) or Mayfair (high-value), for example.

They were an early-adopter of live online teaching via Adobe Connect / VLE. Effectively, students can access a live session (either self-taught sessions with a tutor or self-written sessions by librarians). It allows the staff to live-chat to answer questions. The sessions can be with anywhere between 3 to 300 students and on any subject!

The OU also now has standard live modules, e.g. “Introduction to Library Services” or “Smarter Searching”. Usually these sessions are up to 30 minutes because UX shows that drop-outs occur after half-an-hour. Research showed that 72% of all live DIL modules were engaged with!

The librarians also actively use Facebook Live and also present on the OU’s Student Hub Live.

The pay-off (a truly exciting discovery) is that, potentially, all this hard work and community collaboration has, in it’s first year, produced students achieving a 7% higher mark than in the previous year. Obviously, they will need to dig a little deeper to verify the impact.


My next parallel session took me to hear University of Liverpool’s take on IL via Emma Thompson’s presentation on “Information literacy for all”.

CFP2A 2 LIV Curriculum

In ‘KnowHow’ the team had developed “workshops designed to help you succeed”. Their programme of IL skills was deliberately displayed as a LibGuide, and they cleverly got their students to endorse it. They also used their close relationship with their Counselling Service team to create new counselling/IL dual purpose workshops enabling both to extend their reach even further.

At this point, Emma turned the tables on us, which allowed us to apply a similar approach to our own projects. She asked us to question the theme of terminology. Also, to consider the problems that come with “silo-thinking” – a negative way of working that we could dissolve by communicating and sharing to establish new best practice.

She suggested that we could consider “difference as a positive” with particular reference to Cambridge being a complex multi-site operation. How could we embrace that difference?

Post-it notes to the fore then(!) as we tackled the task in groups using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) method:



Next up: A parallel presentation from University of Sheffield Library.

With their new Vice-Chancellor for Education pushing for a fully-realised 5-year IDL strategy, the University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) along with the Faculty and Departmental Libraries (FDL) began engaging with stakeholders to develop a more flexible approach. The library staff were able to use their CTL and FDL connections to ensure they were involved at all levels of discussion.

Eventually, the decision to use a bottom-up approach to change led to them being tasked with developing the strategy of implementing this framework.

During an IDL away day, the team focused on four main areas:

  • Discipline-based knowledge
  • Scholarship
  • Application of knowledge
  • Development

What emerged was the decision to implement a blended approach to learning, with the result being a series of tutorials.

CFP3A 3 SU Tutorials

They invited expert advisers from other universities to get advice and full endorsement and quickly received a surprising amount of interest from local schools and businesses with STEM their biggest fan!

They encouraged input from others…

CFP3A 2 SU Students

…and quickly produced a pre-entry offer to showcase their materials.

CFP3A 4 SU Pre-Entry


To finish the day, I attended a thoroughly-fascinating panel session on the subjects of transition and participation.

It was posited that outreach can hugely impact on 11-18 year-olds with digital literacy being especially important to 13-15 year-old early career researchers. At this point career options are already being considered with the impending transition from school to university. “If I do this, how will it impact my career?” Should our own University not be engaging at an earlier age and considering pushing any IDL materials we develop out beyond our own immediate community. Note: the interest from University of Sheffield’s local schools is a clear indicator that the desire is there.

We do need to start considering linking infolit to achievement – a massively empowering concept. Students often lack the ability to obtain information or critique effectively. With a strong pre-arrival process, we have the opportunity to personalise infolit.

Finally, we must remember that throughout all the hard work we do on infolit, we must ensure that infolit stays ‘information-centred‘ and doesn’t become ‘library-centred‘.

Hear, hear.

All in all, a thoroughly informative day with much to ponder on.


Useful references:

  1. A New Curriculum for Information Literacy (ANCIL) –
  2. ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education –



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