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Seeing the meaning

12 March 2011 No Comment

‘Visual Literacy, Student Employability and the Role of Librarians’ by George Payne and Kate Littlemore

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In the UK we live in

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a society that tacitly equates information with the written word. Clues to the precedence accorded to text-based data over visual information surround us. In the UK there is a legal deposit requirement placed upon publishers to submit a free copy of every book or journal published to the British Library. Nothing similar yet exists for films or images. Within libraries, most information literacy programmes focus almost exclusively on locating and evaluating text-based data, using checklists that require the evaluator to hunt down textual clues about authority and provenance. Recent reports, such as The Digital Britain Report (BIS, 2009, 175), the Higher Education Academy Employability paper (HEA, 2007) and the Ofsted Drawing Together report (Ofsted, 2009) all acknowledge the high economic value of creative education to support the burgeoning creative industries, but only recognise these skills as applicable within the domain of specialist Art and Design education. There is little dialogue about the need for “visual literacy” skills – the ability to consciously decode and encode visual data – outside of Arts education, yet we exist in a media saturated social climate where more information is conveyed visually than is conveyed through text. By neglecting visual information skills, we run the risk of sending our students into the job market, and into society, ill-equipped to consciously decode the images streaming towards them, and conversely, unable to create and encode visual data to communicate and illustrate ideas. This does not mean academics are not addressing visual skills through the way they teach their various disciplines. In their Review of the concept of Visual Literacy, Avgerinou & Ericson (1997) document how visual literacy can be incorporated across a plethora of subject disciplines, but with each subject discipline emphasising a differing skill set, meaning that certain core visual skills may go unaddressed if they are not central to a specific subject discipline

Visual Information Skills Development with Information Services

Since 2004, Information Services at the University of Northampton has run a successful undergraduate Information Management module, which is available to all first years and has an annual cohort of around 80 students. The module is core for most Business, HRM and Marketing students. In 2007, a strand dedicated to visual information skills – the ability to consciously decode and encode visual data – was developed by the University’s Arts library team and added to the module programme. From the favourable student response, the content awakened something within the students, and proved stimulating and timely. We now have a growing research interest in opening up dialogues about the importance of embedding visual information skills across subjects, understanding the role librarians have to play in supporting academics to deliver visual information skills and its impact on student employability. This year we have added to our visual information skills provision, and have been working alongside Design academics to run primary resource workshops for all second year Graphics and Illustration students, examining materials from the University’s Special Collection in terms of the cultural, technological and stylistic information encoded in each artefact.

Avgerinou, M & J. Ericson (1997) A Review of the concept of Visual Literacy. British Journal of Educational Technology. 28 (4), 280-291.

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