Why We Need Information Literacy

Last week in, “Modern Reference = Information Literacy,” Information Literacy was defined and introduced in the context of a reference transaction.  However, why we need Information Literacy was not addressed.  That’s my plan for this week.

The Association of College and Research Library’s (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards go further than just defining Information Literacy.  They also explain why Information Literacy is needed.  Here’s what the Standards read in this regard:

Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:

  • 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

The Standards, every textbook and article I read, and many other sources have pointed out that in today’s world there is too much information from too many sources to view everything.  For example, the Internet is filled with ideas, but can a search be conducted that limits irrelevant and/or untrusted sources?  How to determine that is part of what Information Literacy teaches.  For example, “who authored the source and do they have bias?” is a good question to ask when looking at a source.  Another is to see the domain name.  If it is a .edu or .gov, it is more likely to be trustworthy because an institution backs it.  However, there could still be bias.  Or one might choose to not search the Internet, but a database to further limit to sources more likely to be trustworthy.  This fits with the Standards goals of accessing and evaluating the information.

“Determining the extent of information needed” depends on what a person needs “to accomplish a specific purpose.”  Obviously, more information is needed to write a research paper or a book over just verifying facts.  However, what about for a speech or PowerPoint?  Here using Information Literacy skills could come into play by ensuring one has enough information to complete the picture.  A good question to ask would be “have I left something important out?”  Another might be “does it seem like there is a hole or gap in my information?”  If there is a gap, it must be filled.  Also, since there is always more than one side to a story, it never hurts to research more than one angle to paint a whole picture.

While all reliable information can be incorporated into “one’s knowledge base,” one must also be sure to give credit where credit is due.  If one quotes from another, provide a citation.  If this is not done, an act of plagiarism has been committed.  Plagiarism is wrong both ethically and legally.  Thus, another major point in teaching Information Literacy skills is to promote this fact.  However, assistance at the reference desk and one-shot instruction classes might not be where is goal is primarily taught; it is usually by the teacher or professor in the classroom.  That said, we can still remind them to record the citation information and include it in their work and help if they ask for citation assistance.

With the ALA-themed highlights and summaries of the need for the skills covered, there is another important goal of Information Literacy:  independence.  Once one learns the skills and practices their application, they not only learn but also remove barriers between themselves and information.  With these barriers removed, they no longer have to rely on another to provide them with information.  They seek it themselves.  They are freer to question the world because they can seek information sources for answers (hopefully using Information Literacy skills!).  For example, with the upcoming presidential election season the TV commercials and radio ads are all biased towards the candidate or political party that issues them.  Frequently, they can seem like an outright attack on a rival.  If one wants to know if these advertisements are true, they can search for answers.  This can be done by comparing the advertisements to both candidates’ websites and to trustworthy third-party sources (think .gov sources or locating primary sources, like speech recordings or transcripts and interviews).  See what facts are the same and see what facts differ, and further research what differs. For an alternate example, what if a movie or TV show mentions an event that piques your interest?  Information Literacy skills for locating information can be used to locate books or articles on the subject so one can learn more.  No longer does one have to rely exclusively on a librarian, teacher, or other source.  Think of it like learning to read for the first time!  Before you completely relied on others for information, but after learning the skill you gained the independence to seek information yourself!



4 thoughts on “Why We Need Information Literacy

  1. A majority of people in today’s society, especially the younger generations, have become so dependent upon others providing the answers for them, that they do not know how to find it for themselves. They want everything so quickly that they forget the wonderfully triumphant feeling and immense satisfaction they will receive if they take the time to discover it on their own. Great post. ~Andi

    • Andi, I agree about the younger generations! When I worked as a graduate assistant at the reference desk, it always seemed that the younger students (usually freshman) wanted us to do everything for them. And it’s important they learn information literacy skills so they can seek their own information because if they can’t, it will only harm them later when employers expect them to know what they are doing or they need to make informed decisions.

      And thank you for your comment!

  2. Pingback: Humans Can Be Finding Aids Too « Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

  3. Pingback: Information Literacy and Archives | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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