As some of you in this class may or may not know, I am the Information Literacy Librarian at the University of Montevallo. That is, in addition to all of the “normal” librarian things I do, I spend a lot of time thinking about this concept called information literacy. What is it, how can we define it, and how do we cultivate it in the classes we learn? Furthermore, in the context of an online, digital environment, how does the surplus of content that is created each day add to the challenges of finding, assessing, and using information effectively?
These are questions I want us all to think about this week, so I’m going to include in this post a plethora of information: links, videos, articles, and statements on information literacy. And then we’ll talk about some of these questions when we get to class tomorrow.
First, some definitions. What is information literacy? Our own university has defined it as “the ability to obtain, evaluate, and effectively use information to become responsible, informed scholars and citizens.” Right now, Montevallo is in the middle of a major curricular accreditation process, and we are looking to infuse information literacy learning outcomes into every part of the curriculum. You’ve probably heard people talking about information literacy in your classes already. Notice that this definition implies several expectations about students that I’ve taken to be true all semester in this class. As students, we have a responsibility to obtain information on a broad range of subjects, and we need to do this as thoroughly and as efficiently as possible, given the limits on our time and the boundaries we need to establish in our lives. Second, we have a responsibility as citizens, as participants in a society, to know what is happening so we can shape the course of that society. So, it could be more accurate to say that information literacy isn’t something that one studies, but rather it is an ethic, an attitude toward studying, learning, and living. This is, I believe, why curation is such an important skill to learn; it enables and implies many of the things suggested by Montevallo’s definition of information literacy.
What are other definitions of information literacy? There are a few well-known examples. The Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) suggests that information literacy is “a set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.’” The ACRL infamously outlines this as a process. Information literate people can:
- Determine the extent of information needed
- Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
- Evaluate information and its sources critically
- Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally
Other definitions resist this lockstep organization but are similar in content. See, for instance, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) focuses on the various parts of the phrase and helps us to realize that much of what information literacy means depends on what we mean by “information” and “literacy.” It also never hurts to look at the Wikipedia article for information literacy!
Clearly, one of the important aspects of information literacy is the ability to decipher good and bad information. This has been Howard Rheingold’s focus for a while, and as he explains in this video, one of the most important literacies to develop online is the art of crap detection.
Another important voice is (obviously) Barack Obama’s proclamation on Information Literacy. This is a brilliant document that re-inaugurates information literacy as a concept for the digital age. See also his remarks at a commencement speech at Hampton University in 2010:
So having seen, listened to, or read these links, what do you think? What is the definition of information literacy? What are the challenges we face? Do you consider yourself to be information literate? Why or why not? How do you perceive yourself finding and using information in your specific field? Weigh in on the comments or write more about it on your own.