Is reading for fun teaching information literacy? Reflections on the Cambridge EcoFiction Bookgroup

Written by Marian Via Rivera

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The idea: Last year we decided to try out something new in the MMLL library: running a bookgroup. As we expand our library teaching provision, we look for new ways to embed skills instruction into our activities. The main question was whether we needed to focus on our Faculty’s teaching, or whether we wanted to develop a lifelong learning activity available to everyone within the local community.

 The theme: One member of our team had trained as an eco-educator, so we settled on ecofiction. The idea was to integrate eco-literacy into our Information Literacy teaching. We anticipated working with two of the core competencies of the CILN framework, critical assessment and creating and communicating. We did this, but also, unexpected interactions between teaching, wellbeing, and community-making happened! We approached the English Faculty Library for help, as the books we planned to read would fit better in their collection. Generously, they agreed, and also became involved in helping to run some of the events, eventually curating an Ecofiction Library Exhibition of their own featuring the books.

Developing the project: The more we worked on the project, they more it became apparent how well placed librarians and other information specialist professionals are when it comes to facilitating discussions that help develop eco-literacy understanding. The skill sets which librarians deploy on a daily basis as communicators, educators, knowledge-making creation partners and unbiased mediators of information, positions the library as a safe space as well as a pedagogical one, perfect to help engage users in what at times may be a difficult or challenging conversation.

Why fiction in particular? Communicating climate change is no longer simply a question of transmitting scientific data, which can at times be difficult to interpret, but about developing an ecological sensibility. The various activities organised by the group—readings, film screenings, and an ecofiction writing workshop—became a kind of ‘creative intervention’ or ‘creative activism’. This allowed us to engage with this all-encompassing issue and experience it, emotionally, intellectually, imaginatively. Fiction can help prepare us to transform society: its ability to help us imagine alternative scenarios, challenge our ideological biases, and allow us to grasp large interconnected networks of ideas makes it an ideal vehicle to portray the complexity and extent of the climate emergency, a multi-layered issue with a social justice and humanistic aspect, not simply a scientific or technological problem.

What did we achieve? We developed the readings, film screenings, and discussions as information literacy sessions, with aims and outcomes. Albeit not getting things right 100% of the time, our efforts were rewarded with a Green Impact Excellence Project Award. On reflection, the gains can be summarised as follows:

  • Fostering conversations, facilitating dialogue.
  • Creating trust.
  • Generating opportunities for creating eco-knowledge.
  • Developing wellbeing, and enhancing a sense of community.
  • Developing climate literacy and an awareness of climate change.
  • Fostering literacy and critical thinking skills.
  • Fostering communication skills.
  • Fostering creativity, and embedding a creative approach to the CILN framework into our practice.

Where is the project going now? We are delighted to have extended it to the Centre of African Studies Library, the Scott Polar Research Institute Library, as well as continuing our collaboration with the English Faculty Library. We are also in the process of approaching venues outside of the University, creating a further bridge with the wider local community. The sessions were attended by staff, students, and some local residents, who found navigating the Raised Faculty Building a little challenging….

How can you help/get involved? Be in touch! (mv251@cam.ac.uk). Or you can follow us on twitter (@CamEcoFic), write for our blog (cambridgeecofiction.org), or run your own activity. We are happy to help!

With thanks to Libby Tilley, Hélène Fernandes, Caitlin Carr, Simon Halliday, Jenni Skinner, Peter Lund, and Frankie Marsh for their support of the project.

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