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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Accidental information professionals: Pathways to selecting our courses
Gaby Haddow

 Why do people choose to become information professionals? This question is important to educators and to the profession more widely. For educators, it relates to how we attract students and, for the profession, it is associated with perceptions of information professionals and the value afforded to our role by parent organisations and the community. 

One of the biggest information studies schools in the United Kingdom set out to discover the career history and motivations behind their students’ enrolment in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. They found that many students described the pathway to information studies as circuitous and often related to prior experience. A love of books is still important as is the desire to work in a ‘helping’ profession. 

Using focus groups to gather their information, Simon and Taylor (2011) used qualitative methods to report their results. According to the researchers, many students had ended up enrolled in information studies ‘accidentally’.  Returning to the workforce after having a family or finding previous jobs unfulfilling were cited as reasons for turning to information studies. But importantly, this decision was influenced strongly by their experience working in an information service; a feature common to students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  Some students felt they were “born librarians”. Although the surveyed students recognised that they needed to be “multi-functioning” in an information environment steeped in ICT, many still reported a love of books led them to information work. This motivation was connected to a more general notion about the profession: that the work involves helping others to research and learn.

When the students were asked why they had decided to enrol in their degree, the students (particularly those who had been working in an information service for some time) described a feeling that their studies contributed to gaining confidence and enhancing their self-worth. For example, one student is quoted as saying “I want to do it for myself … I feel I’m capable of more than I’m currently doing”. In addition and connected, was the belief that they would advance their careers on completion of the degree and that the perceptions of their role in the workplace would improve with the professional status gained by a degree.

Some of the conclusions from the Aberystwyth study are supported by a recent Australian report Re-conceptualising and Re-positioning Australian Library and Information Science Education for the Twenty-first Century. Combes and others discussed the report’s findings for information studies students and new graduates in their paper at the 2011 International Association of School Libraries conference. They note that 50% of current students are already working in the library and information sector and one of their reasons for enrolling in a degree was to get the piece of paper that would qualify them for a library job. Encouragingly, there was a sense of optimism about the future of the profession.

How can the profession and educators use these research findings to attract students to information studies courses? ‘Accidentally’ arriving at a decision to become an information professional doesn’t suggest many strategies for marketing and ‘working with e-books’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it (if we were to be honest about the nature of materials that our profession now manages). However, motivations relating to helping people could provide a direction for promotion and the fact that many students had previous experience in information services indicates that publicity about degree courses may be useful in those workplaces.

Simon, Anoush and Marianne Taylor. 2011. “Career History and Motivations for Choosing LIS: A Case Study at Aberystwyth University.” Library Review 60: 803-815.

Combes, Barbara, Jo Hanisch, Mary Carroll, Hilary Hughes and Aliese Millington. 2011. “Are We There Yet? Students Have Their Say about Library and Information Science Education in Australia and Twenty-first Century Learning.” Paper presented at the International Association of School Libraries 40th Annual Conference, Kingston, Jamaica, August 7-11. [This paper is drawn from the findings of the Re-conceptualising and Re-positioning Australian Library and Information Science Education for the Twenty-first Century report]

This article first appeared in the InCite, April 2013

Gaby Haddow is Chair of the ALIA Research Committee, Dept. of Information Studies, Curtin University

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Persuasive Technology

Suzana Sukovic

Earlier this week Sydney was a gathering place for participants in the 8th International Conference on Persuasive Technology. I saw their announcement on a mailing list and decided to send a last minute one day registration. Since the organisers were CSIRO and NICTA, I expected highly technological talk, but hoped that the focus on behaviour and persuasion, in combination with announced multidisciplinarity, would make the proceedings less opaque to the unitiated. What did I know? As promised in announcements, the conference was truly multidisciplinary with lots of attention given to human behaviour, choice-making and the meaning of the word “persuasion”. Unlike other similar gatherings, no one even whispered the F word (“fluff”).  Papers presented a rich tapestry of ideas and perspectives from discussions about ethics of persuasion, possibilities to use lingering feelings after confronting computer games to promote reflection to considerations of factors influencing health-related decisions, to name some. The official part of the program on the day finished with a panel discussion about games and gamification. Proceedings of this interesting conference are available from Springer. Workshop proceedings are also online.

Attending events in other disciplines or areas outside one’s immediate professional circle is always invigorating, not only as a source of new ideas and perspectives, but also as an opportunity to gather some observations about group behaviours and topics of interest. I left the Persuasive Technology conference with two observations I’d like to share.

The first is that new fields arising from creative applications of technology inevitably deal with issues of naming. How do we call what we are doing? What is the implication of words we are using? How do we define our area in relation to neighbouring disciplines? These are the persuasive questions for those who work in the field of persuasive technology – exactly the same questions we hear at other gatherings where people define a new area of interest arising from application of computers in existing fields such as the digital humanities, computer art, and library and information studies.

The second observation is more a reminder how refreshing it is to step out of the confines of own discipline and culture. After attending a number of discipline-specific, predominantly monocultural conferences with a clear academia-profession divide, it was a breath of fresh air to be at a small gathering representing a variety of professional and academic backgrounds where people spoke English in different accents and occasionally chatted in other languages. Diversity not only makes it more interesting but, in my mind, also adds considerably to the credibility. When a topic is discussed by people representing a variety of perspectives, there is a better chance that relevant issues are covered and major biases avoided. I am not aware of anyone at the conference representing a LIS point of view, but I am sure that with our knowledge of how to present information and design electronic environments, we would have something to say about persuasive technology.

Dr Suzana Sukovic has positions in a high school and university. She usually enjoys when birds of different feathers flock together.