The role of public pedagogy, open education and information literacy in a rapidly changing world: CILIPS 2020 keynote

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of giving the closing keynote to this year’s CILIPS conference. Like all conferences this year, it changed from a face to face meeting to an online conference. The conference team at CILIPS did a great job moving everything online. I was lucky enough to be able to dip in and out of the conference over the 2 days it ran. It was both inspiring and humbling to see some of the work that delegates shared.

In my keynote I wanted to focus on the role of information and public pedagogy and the direct relationship they have on each other. In our increasingly confused world ensuring that everyone has the capacity and opportunities (both in digital and physical spaces) to find, share and critique information is increasingly important, if not urgent.

During her keynote, Dry Jenny Peachy (Senior Policy and Development Office, Carnegie Trust UK) mentioned a phrase that really struck me. She talked about the need for libraries to play a central role in ‘resetting the relationship between citizens and the state”. Now if there was ever a time to hit reset it is now! However that is quite a challenge particularly at a time when the state is imposing restrictions on everyday life, without a really well thought out communication strategy. What is happening with the UK government’s lockdown announcement for England. this weekend is a classic example of miscommunication, leading to the further erosion of trust between citizens and the state.

I can maybe draw some solace from living in Scotland where we have actually been in varying states of lockdown for quite some time. There maybe a little bit more trust here in the Scottish Government (even more so I suspect as people realise the benefit of allowing non essential shops and business to stay open). But the longer “all this COVID stuff” goes on, the more feed up, confused, angry, exasperated and exhausted we all get. And then we have the US election . . . which will impact us all eventually.

I know that I have in so many levels switched off, as I don’t actually feel that I have an agency in this situation. I don’t want to shout at politicians on the radio or tv so I limit the amount of news I watch/listen too. I do wonder how, when, and if we can actually hit reset.

In my talk I spent a bit of time talking about how we are negotiating our various states of “normal” just now. Any reset seems obsessed with resetting back to pre covide times. I don’t think that’s realistic. I think we are going to be in various states on restricted living throughout the rest of this year and next. So what we need to be doing is making more time, space and places to develop more shared understandings of the different contexts we are all living and working in now, the science, the data, and interpretations of COVID 19 and again how these are impacting our contexts. Approaches based in public and critical pedagogy are crucial to doing this. It also seems to me that libraries are natural spaces to support these approaches.

However, as funding forces difficult choices around what spaces and services (physical and digital) can and will survive, it is a challenge to carve out time for “service users” needs as active, engaged citizens, instead of desperate, unsure, challenged citizens trying to negotiate the complexities of digitally enabled state benefits.

Although I admit to switching off, I am so fortunate that I can switch myself on again and have the capabilities, platforms and opportunities to have conversations with others about what’s going on. Not everyone has that opportunity.

As I’m don’t work for an institution anymore, I can only have limited impact. That’s why speaking events such as the CILIPS conferences is so important to me. You can access my slides here and the recent paper on public pedagogy co-authored with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston from which much of the presentation was based here.

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