26 February 2006

Information Literacy - What is it?

"Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start!" What is information literacy? Information literacy has been defined as many things, with it commonly being placed under a 'lifelong learning' umbrella. What is it really? CAUL Standards are defined as:
  1. Awareness of information needs
    The information literate person recognises the need for information and determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  2. Search strategies for information
    The information literate person accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  3. Evaluation of information and its sources
    The information literate person evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into their knowledge base and value system.
  4. Storage and retrieval of information
    The information literate person classifies, stores, manipulates and redrafts information collected or generated.
  5. Use of information
    The information literate person expands, reframes or creates new knowledge by integrating prior knowledge and new understanding individually or as a member of a group.
  6. Socio-cultural, ethical and legal information practice
    The information literate person understands cultural, economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and access, and uses information ethically, legally and respectfully.
  7. Lifelong learning context of information literacy practice
    The information literate person recognises that lifelong learning and participative citizenship requires information literacy.
These standards have learning outcomes attached to them. So, are you information literate? Who will ever be completely literally information literate?
Although information literacy programs are seen to be a cost effective way of assisting clients, they can also be extremely resource intensive. It takes time to plan, deliver, and assess the outcomes of an information literacy program, and time = money. In the academic library environment, huge amounts of time are spent planning, delivering and evaluating information literacy programs, but not much 'assessing' seems to happen. How does the evaluation process become useful or effective if the 'learners' are not assessed on the learning outcomes? This is a trend in majority of 'online tutorials' to 'Teach what we practice, but not practice what we Teach.'

I personally think that we can learn a lot from Teacher librarians who are at the forefront of teaching information literacy to potentially future Uni students. What we need is for this phenomenon of information literacy to start at the beginning [preschool] as a continuum and flow through to High school, so that first year students are starting University with similar 'literacy' levels. This sounds good in theory, but putting it in place is another thing entirely. But, still, "let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start." Advocates of a generic University level information literacy course might actually have hit the nail on the head, as this would be a good universal way to 'teach' information literacy to ALL students, not just those that are 'lucky' enough to have lecturers that support information literacy, librarians who have 'struck it lucky' with 'structured' programs and opportunities to embed information literacy into subject specific courses. Wouldn't the time & effort involved in establishing a core 'infolit' course in which every student enrols be better than the 'hit & miss" approach? After all, when a student leaves University, those fancy flash databases may not be available to them, then where will they go, if they haven't learnt to find the tools for themselves? "Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start."