Thing 4: Managing Information

Part A: Theory and Concepts

Understanding the scholarly practices within their discipline, learners engage with relevant information, related workflows and develop strategies for handling information of all kinds. They demonstrate the ability to identify, gather and synthesise perspectives relevant to a research topic. Information has value and, as creators and users of information, learners will understand their rights and responsibilities (ethics) when participating in a community of scholarship. Information use requires learners to provide appropriate attribution and citation to sources they use and to develop practical skills to manage the range and variety of information sources they employ.

CILN Framework

We encounter and produce information all the time. Information is delivered to us, and by us, in various ways, formats and for different purposes. We’re consistently making decisions about the information we handle and engage with, and the practices which relate to these decisions tend to fall under the heading of ‘managing information’.

The practices associated with managing information are interwoven, interlinked, and a means to an end, rather than the end in itself. We rarely manage information for the sake of it, but to make something easier, more straightforward, more meaningful, either for ourselves or for others. They’re not one-off actions, but part of a workflow. And we manage information to make sense of it, and because we recognise that it has value. The more information we deal with, the more complex it is, the more important it is that we have effective and robust workflows and strategies in place.

Let’s think for a moment about a student writing references. It’s probably fair to say that most students reference because they have to. Attributing sources and producing accurate citations is expected – it’s part and parcel of participating in their community of scholarship. That community sanctions and rewards certain information behaviours. But referencing as a practice is not just about the technical ability to format a citation properly. It requires that students have good notes, from good sources, with page numbers and bibliographical information; it requires that they have not lost these notes; it requires that they know what to reference, how, which style to use, how to reproduce it.

So a complete, accurate citation is an end-product of a fairly complex process of managing information. It’s a process which, ideally, began early on in assignment research and production. And this process will be informed by many things: past experience, advice of peers or teachers, even a sense of responsibility to avoid plagiarism or, at least, not lose marks for it. Miss any of those steps – miss a page reference, fail to save a draft properly – and that complete, accurate citation becomes harder to achieve. The process is both quite involved, and quite delicately balanced.

As library staff we probably don’t have to reference that much. But we too have to make sense of information. Let’s take a really small, everyday example. Imagine you attend a meeting and you’re given some action points. What do you do with those? How do you manage information to make sure that you complete them? Write them down, highlight them in your notebook, email them to yourself, add them straight to a ‘to do’ list. Fail to do this and, unless you have an exceptional memory, completing that task is going to become harder to achieve.

The process you’ve gone through to make that information more meaningful, to ensure you complete the action points, is managing information. It’s not necessarily grand; it can be incredibly simple and still really effective.

Here are some other examples:

  • You deal with loads of book suppliers and you keep bookmarks on your browser as a reminder or shortcut
  • You file invoices and insurance documents so you can retrieve them more easily
  • You name drafts of the report you’re writing in such a way that you can find your latest draft quickly
  • You organise your inbox into folders so you don’t miss key communication
  • You write your shopping list in a certain order, like keeping fruit and veg together, to make your supermarket trip more efficient
  • You use tags when you save the photographs you take to help you make sense of them later

Making this more complex is the fact that we’re not managing information in the same way every time, but according to context; nor are we managing information in a vacuum. We talked earlier about how students are influenced by scholarly practices, their discipline, level of study. The same goes for us too, but we’re influenced by workplace practices. Depending on your role, some workflows and strategies will be considered more appropriate and necessary than others, and we learn this through interaction with our community. However, there are at least three workplace considerations which affect all of us:

  1. Professionalism: we manage information to maintain professional standards, and ensure we get through those action points. Even if you get on brilliantly with your manager, there are likely to be raised eyebrows if you save the report they asked you to write as ‘THIS IS STUPID.doc’. How we manage information has to be professional in itself, but also effective, facilitating our professionalism in other areas.
  2. Collaboration: our workflows can have an impact on others. If we save the template for our library’s reservation slip as ‘Doc1library 2017-final.doc’ we can’t exactly complain when our colleagues can’t find it. How we manage shared information has to be transparent and straightforward and – in most cases – easily understandable.
  3. Ethics and privacy: we have a duty to ensure that we’re handling information ethically, protecting our users’ privacy, particularly around the storage and disposal of information, and how to do either safely. Can I tear up this bit of paper with a student’s university identifier on it, or should I shred it? Do I need to store this self-certificate sickness form and, if so, where can I safely put it? How long should I keep, and where should I put, this consent form? How we manage information has to be ethical and we are accountable to it.

Managing information is rarely exciting (unless you are that kind of person), but it is vital. Our workflows and strategies are developed, and performed, in complex ways – from what is sanctioned in the workplace through to experience of what has worked before, or knowledge of ourselves and what works for us and what doesn’t. At the very heart of all these practices, whatever they are, is our understanding that information has value, and our recognition of the privileged position we hold in having so much access to it.

Part A: Reading

Bota, H., Bennett, P. N., Awadallah, A. H., & Dumais, S. T. (2017). Self-Es: The Role of Emails-to-Self in Personal Information Management. Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Conference Human Information Interaction and Retrieval, 205–214. https://doi.org/10.1145/3020165.3020189

This conference paper is about the role of email in our keeping on top of the things that we need to do. It’s about how we might use emails to ourselves as a personal information management tool. It has lots of data and graphs in it – if this isn’t your thing, don’t worry about them!

(Optional) extra reading

Hartel, J. (2010). Managing documents at home for serious leisure: A case study of the hobby of gourmet cooking. Journal of Documentation, 66(6), 847–874. http://dx.doi.org.ezp.lib.cam.ac.uk/10.1108/00220411011087841

This article – which is long, so feel free to skim read – recounts a study of American people with a serious interest in gourmet cooking, and identifies how they manage culinary information at home. The author finds that serious gourmet cooks often have a wide range of complex cooking-related resources and that they develop structures at home to manage their various recipes, cookbooks and other media.

Part A: Task

At the start of this blog post is the description of Managing Information given in the information literacy framework. Your task is to summarise this in no more than 40-50 words. Try to ensure that you’re capturing everything given in the fuller description.


Part B: Practical Applications

Having read through and considered the theory and concepts behind managing information, try to identify two case-studies or stories about how you have managed information. One should be from a personal context, and one from a professional context. In both instances, write a paragraph outlining what you did, what the processes and workflows were, how successful they were, and the end result.

Once you’ve written your two stories, consider what themes emerge in both of them, and if and how they overlap. Do you feel more confident professionally or personally? How do the three workplace considerations (professionalism, collaboration, ethics and privacy) outlined in Part A affect how you operate?

Next steps…

Blog about what you have written, or submit your work using the dedicated Thing 4 form.

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