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“Only Connect…” A review

The team were lucky enough to be asked to review our first ‘un-book’  Only Connect … Discovery pathways, library explorations, and the information adventure a collection edited by Andrew Walsh (@andywalsh999) and Emma Coonan (@LibGoddess)

It’s available for you to read here.

Only connectOur role as (aspiring) Librarians or Information Professionals is to empower individuals with the tools to access high quality information, for themselves. In essence, it is our job to ensure that resources are accessible. Thus, it is worth highlighting that Walsh & Coonan have taken the decision to self-publish their book “Only Connect: Discovery pathways, library explorations, and the information adventure” across both electronic & print platforms. Walsh & Coonan have embraced the opportunity to experiment and this has resulted in a piece of work that not only discusses information discovery but also displays how the use of audio and visual technology can be blended with traditional print to create an interactive e-book experience.  I have to restrain myself from waxing lyrical about this decision, as I think as librarians, there is much discussion and signposting of areas where technology (in particular) can be used to enhance the user’s experience, yet it takes someone with vision and drive to turn theory and hypothesis and into reality. Structurally, “Only Connect” encourages discovery as its usefulness is not dependent on it being read cover to cover. Our review reflects this approach.

As a new professional, Information literacy is an area that I am constantly learning about. The topic was not taught on my MA course, despite its prevalence in the information sector, thus the introductory chapter of “Only Connect” caught my attention. Walsh & Coonan argue that information literacy cannot be bound by a definition or set of rules because the variables that qualify someone as “information literate” are contextual. “Only connect” challenges pre-conceptions  information professionals may hold with regards to what and whom constitute as being “information literate” and ask the reader to broaden their view, this is particularly evident in chapters such as Johnson & Walsh’s “Journeying without a map…” which discussed two forms of information retrieval; “Following the paths” and “exploring the landscape”. At the end of the chapter Johnson & Walsh state that they will be developing their research in this area, in order to understand how librarians can assist academics and students to develop their own style of effective research.

The chapter “An Educational Researcher’s Journey” invites us to join a researcher’s expedition, during the course of which we are provided with guidance on effective approaches to literature searching. Authors Mairi Ann Cullen and Jenny Delasalle’ take into consideration the techniques necessary before the search is conducted such as identifying what information you’re looking for and identifying concepts relating to that information. The guidance comes in the form of an A-Z of literature search principles and outlines practical steps such as the use of keywords and Boolean operators – steps that can be “taught”. Alongside this, the need to remain alert to what you intend to achieve from the search and without getting side-tracked is highlighted – important if you are to avoid “drowning in a sea of apparently endless relevant literature”. This recognition and understanding of the information need takes precedence over the advanced searching skills, but is harder to “apply” in practice, reminding us why rigid Information Literacy models are imperfect. The concluding comments reinforce the advice given in the early stage of the article and confirm that “literature searching is not linear but made of many circles, as the articles that you find suggest ways to define your topic or refine your search further”. I would definitely recommend this chapter to new IL practitioners; the questions the authors urge researchers to ask themselves before embarking on their journey reminds us that all search journeys are individual and rooted in a person-specific context – an essential starting point that would aid new professionals as they plan their support sessions.

Walsh and Coonan’s introduction anticipates that the reader will variously “enjoy/ [be] challenged by / annoyed by / delighted by” aspects of their first attempt at an “anarcho-narrative (un)book”. Indeed, another approach articulated by Lynda Tolly in the chapter “The Information Quest: Mapping the Information Adventure to ‘The Hero’s Journey’ of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth” potentially presents a challenge! Whilst it is a creative approach which adds conviviality to an area that many undergraduates regard as tedious, I find it hard to envisage personally rooting my sessions in such a thematic context in a UK higher education setting. Although this is not my cup of tea, the approach denotes just how individual a learning journey is – something that is communicated through each chapter of the book.

As we move from the perspective of the Mapmakers to that of the Travellers in the second section of the book, the chapters present personal reflections on information seeking behaviour and journeys. Here the emphasis is manifestly not on the application of Information Literacy frameworks, nor is there a rigid map or a directed course to adhere to. This fluidity and the idiosyncratic aspect of learning journeys is emphasised by the movement of some authors beyond text. Different chapters variously employ video, illustration and audio; this serves to underline just how far Information Literacy extends beyond the textual. “Memories: Information, Discovery, Documentary” by Georgina Dimmock, Will Hoon and Fiona MacLellan does exactly that, and takes the form of a video.

The project features reflections from those involved in a project undertaken by fashion and textiles students at the University of Northampton, students, tutors and library staff.  It communicates the rewards of collaborative partnerships and the dynamic ways student learning can be supported.

Walsh and Coonan speak of frustrations encountered with traditional competency standards, and indeed such shortcomings in this area are plainly exposed in the Travellers section of the book, and in the art and design context of Memories. Within the field of art and design librarianship, many have documented the distinct learning needs that exist within this discipline and the nuanced Information Literacy approaches that are subsequently required.  While the focus of most art and design courses is on developing the student as creative or cultural practioner, there remains significant emphasis on research and theory. This video chapter demonstrated that although the research project was far from “traditional”, there was a “discovery pathway” and a “library exploration” which supported the students’ creativity, and developed the students’ understanding of their practice from personal, historical and stylistic perspectives. The librarians involved distinguished Digital Literacy and the different ways students could engage with information and repurpose it for their own needs; ultimately Memories encouraged students to “consider research skills in new contexts”.  The creativity showcased in this video once more illuminates that Information Literacy defies the educator’s checklist, and cannot be straightforwardly quantified or measured.

Viewed collectively, the variety that is present both in terms of the different methods applied in Information Literacy education and the divergent paths taken by the Travellers,  makes plain that no approach is universally applicable; it is always dependent on person and context. A relational approach to Information Literacy therefore seems the most rewarding. This book encourages the reader to reconsider their understanding of Information Literacy and holds great potential to revitalise approaches to teaching. To conclude, the editors ask: “Has this book made you think? Edified you a little (or a lot)? Advanced the idea of information literacy at all?”  The answer to all three: a resounding “yes”.

Walsh, Andrew and Coonan, Emma (2013) Only Connect … Discovery pathways, library explorations, and the information adventure.

The e-version is free, or available for the minimum price possible on platforms such as Kindle. The editors and contributors really could not have done more to make the content accessible!

This is also available to purchase in print.


2 comments on ““Only Connect…” A review

  1. Pingback: Our first review! | Only Connect... The blog

  2. Pingback: Turkish delight of information literacy « Libraries, Information Literacy and E-learning

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2013 by in Discussions, Resources and tagged , , .

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