The business of information literacy

Case study


Module 1: Library Associations in Society


Topic 1: Professional associations, the role of libraries, and librarians


In recent years, there has been a focus on the role played by libraries to contribute to higher levels of information literacy in society as a whole. It is widely acknowledged that the contemporary environment of rapid individual, community and workplace change, a static body of knowledge cannot equip people with the capabilities to adapt, thrive or advance. This case study describes the work undertaken by business librarians at the New South Wales Business Chamber who saw the need to help their own corporate library community become more information literate.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. What areas of society are supported by libraries and librarians?
  2. How can librarians support the development of information literacy?
  3. How might librarians contribute to effective business practice?
  4. What role can a library association play support to their members in the area of information literacy?


The core values of IFLA embrace:

  • The belief that people, communities and organizations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being; and
  • The conviction that delivery of high quality library and information services helps guarantee that access

Information literacy is acknowledged to be one of the core values for library and information professionals. Research shows that information literacy is an especially significant value for librarians in regions where the information infrastructure is relatively less developed. However, information literacy is important in all societies and communities: it “empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations” (IFLA, 2005). Libraries therefore play a key social, educational and cultural role in society. The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA, 2006) has recognised that information literacy can contribute to many aspects of life, including:

  • Learning for life
  • The creation of new knowledge
  • Acquisition of skills
  • Personal, vocational, corporate and organisational empowerment
  • Social inclusion
  • Participative citizenship
  • Innovation and enterprise

ALIA states that, as a matter of priority, and at all levels, library and information services professionals should embrace the responsibility to promote and facilitate the development of the information literacy of their clients. Many people naturally think of information literacy activities taking place in school and public libraries, but they can be equally important in special libraries in the corporate and government sector.


The ‘stuff’ beyond Google

Information literacy is critical to success in today’s job market. As technology changes the way people work, special libraries and their staff become important resources for developing the information literacy skills required in the business world. Some interesting work was done in the New South Wales Business Chamber, formerly known as Australian Business Limited. The Chamber is a leading member-based business organisation providing businesses with the information, advice, products and services they need to grow and stay competitive. It has a membership of around 22,000 businesses, representing a broad cross section of Australian manufacturing and service industries. The Chamber also hosts a library that both staff and members can use to locate the business information they need.

The librarians at the NSW Business Chamber, Natalie and Peter, realised that many of the staff were not up to speed with the move from hard copy to online information sources. Some of the clients were doing quite well, but it was apparent that just about everyone could benefit from learning how to get the most from their Internet searching activities. Working with the IT training officer, Jodie, Natalie and Peter developed a short course on how to find ‘stuff’ on the Internet. Jodie’s input was invaluable as she had a good understanding of how the staff used the Internet. The course explained how the World Wide Web worked, provided an overview of the features and functionality of web browsers and search engines, and gave ideas about how to search effectively. Instructions were also given about how to access the library-based commercial databases. As a bonus, staff were reminded that, if they still had problems, to contact the library… “If you haven’t found it in 10 minutes… ask a Librarian!” Initially the program was called “Surfin’ the Net”, then the name was changed to “Beyond Google”.

Each class Natalie and Peter ran was highly customised: attendees were encouraged to bring along some topics they were working on so that the learning activities were directly relevant to their projects. It was particularly useful to be able to run searches across a number of search engines and resources to compare the results. The courses helped reinforce the message that the library staff really knew their business!

The feedback from the attendees was excellent. The Chamber staff appreciated that they had learnt to tackle the problems of information overload, understand the value of ‘good’ information, know when to stop searching and have the confidence to explore new resources that provided them with the accurate information they needed. However, efforts to run the course in the wider business community proved problematic: “Business didn’t want us to plug into their internet connection because we could steal their secrets; we didn’t have enough room to dedicate to a training area, so we would need to hire space; no-one could make a dozen lap-tops available, and we couldn’t afford to buy them; and business wanted to charge us for the hire lap-tops. As a consequence, to do what we wanted to do we would have to charge $350-$400 for a half-day course” (Keenan, 2010). As the course has since been re-developed as a self-directed training program on NSW Business Chamber intranet, more and more people are able to benefit from the program.


The ‘Beyond Google’ program has opened the eyes of many business people to the importance of searching for and making use of authoritative and reliable information. They may not have heard the term ‘information literacy’ before, but they appreciate the commercial imperative of making well-informed business decisions. Natalie and Peter saw the opportunities to help their own clients become more information literate. The Australian Library and Information Association (2003) adapted material published by the American Library Association (ALA, 2001) to develop a kit to help local librarians achieve positive information literacy outcomes in their own community, wherever that might be. Natalie and Peter drew on the guidance about the value of information literacy to employees.

Employees: Workers of all types
Key message: Information literacy is critical to success in today’s job market. What we want them to:
Think: I need information literacy skills to keep up in today’s job market.
Feel: Libraries and librarians are important resources for developing the information literacy skills I need.
Do: Take advantage of the wealth of opportunities available at all libraries.

The key message for the business community was that “Good decisions depend on good information. Information literacy is vital for a competitive workforce” (ALIA, 2003, p.6). Library and information professionals can provide leadership to educate their communities about the importance of information literacy and why librarians and libraries have an essential role to play in society. There are nevertheless challenges in convincing business organisations to really value information as a resource: “this battle is ongoing and sometimes we don’t succeed” (Macdonald, 2010).


  1. In what ways do you think these librarians have contributed to society?
  2. Do you think the example presented here could be carried over into other library sectors? Do you think there are opportunities to promote information literacy in other contexts?
  3. Do you believe that, through the kind of initiative presented here, the participants in the programs could become advocates for professional librarians? Is there a role that the library association could play to support this opportunity?
  4. How might the experience of these librarians and ALIA’s support relate to your own situation? Do you believe that there could be an opportunity to turn professional knowledge and skills into a new type of service? Would it be feasible to establish a directory listing the professional expertise of members that could be promoted to external organisations and companies?
  5. Discuss the importance of supporting businesses in your country or region. How could your association help improving information literacy in the business or government sectors? What do you think the challenges might be?
  6. Library associations are not always staffed by ‘information professionals’. Do you think there might be opportunities to help develop information literacy skills in your own association?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: Australia
Region: Oceania
Agency: Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), American Library Association (ALA)
Topic: The benefits librarians and libraries bring to society
Keywords: information literacy, libraries, librarians, benefits, value, society, community


American Library Association (ALA). (2001). A library advocate’s guide to building information literate communities. Library Advocacy Now! Action Pack 2001. Available online:

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2003). A library advocate’s guide to building information literate communities. Information Literacy Forum Advocacy Kit 2003. Available online:

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2006). Statement on information literacy for all Australians. Available online:

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). (2005). The Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning. Available online:

Keenan, P. (2010). Personal communication, June 15, 2010.

Keenan, P. & McDonald, N. (2009) The ‘stuff’ beyond Google: Information literacy in a corporate setting. Paper presented at Information Online 2009: ALIA 14th Exhibition and Conference, Sydney, 20-22 January 2009. Available online:

Macdonald, N. (2010). Personal communication, June 15, 2010.

Associations, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012