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Reading between the lines: Information literacy in engineering education standards

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at the annual LILAC conference about some work I’ve done as part of my PhD literature review, comparing the UK accreditation standards for engineering degree courses (the Engineering Council’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes, or AHEP) with the SCONUL and ACRL standards/frameworks for information literacy.

The abstract of my talk is on the LILAC conference website, and you can view my slides below.

I found the exercise of examining the AHEP documents for mentions, explicit or implied, of information literacy incredibly illuminating. It was the first time I’d looked at these standards in detail – I would highly recommend other subject librarians do the same, for any subjects you support. I’m planning to use the results of my analysis to start conversations with academics in the department about the implicit expectations on students for their information skills, and how we can better support students to develop these.

See my slides for more detail, but my main takeaway from this exercise is that information literacy is seen within this discipline as something that “just happens”, rather than something that needs explicit support and scaffolded development. Interestingly, after giving this talk I came across this 2016 paper (Bury, 2016) which makes a similar point, finding that academics in STEM fields considered information searching/finding as a “lower order” skill which they did not prioritise, but still lamented students’ lack of skills in this area. I have certainly come across similarly conflicting views among academics!

Another point which came up in the discussion after my talk was, what can we as librarians do about this? AHEP used to include information retrieval as an explicit learning outcome for students on engineering courses, but this wording was removed for the publication of the most recent edition. Is there an opportunity for librarians or information professionals to be involved with any future revisions of AHEP, to ensure that information literacy doesn’t get forgotten about? We know from research into the professional practice of engineers (e.g. Leiss & Ludwig, 2018; Robinson, 2010; Waters et al., 2012) that efficiently seeking, filtering, and evaluating information are key professional competencies. So shouldn’t engineering courses in higher education place higher value on these skills?

One member of the audience mentioned that in the US, the equivalent accreditation standard for business schools has been under revision, and the professional organisation for business librarians is involved with this process. I think that sounds amazing, and I would love to see similar efforts within the UK! Unfortunately I’m not sure how we would go about this, as there isn’t a professional body specifically for engineering/STEM librarians in the UK. There is USTLG, but this is really a networking group rather than a professional body. Perhaps we need to start our own organisation? Or perhaps there is a role for CILIP here?


(you know you’re a PhD student when you start to include reference lists in your blog posts…)

Bury, S. (2016). Learning from faculty voices on information literacy. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 237-252. https://doi.org/10.1108/rsr-11-2015-0047

Leiss, C., & Ludwig, P. (2018). Engineering graduates at work: Reality check for information literacy. IATUL Annual Conference Proceedings, 1-10. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/iatul/2018/infolit/3/

Robinson, M. A. (2010). An empirical analysis of engineers’ information behaviors. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(4), 640-658. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.21290

Waters, N., Kasuto, E., & McNaughton, F. (2012). Partnership between engineering libraries: identifying information literacy skills for a successful transition from student to professional. Science & Technology Libraries, 31(1), 124-132. https://doi.org/10.1080/0194262x.2012.648104


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