Information Literacy

The topic for this week is information literacy. I was excited about the opportunity to explore readings about information literacy in public libraries. Though Kristin does a great job of making 643 a well balanced class of most library specializations, I occasionally fall into the bad habit of waiting around for “the good part” of class when public libraries are discussed or looking for those parts in the readings. Though I learn a lot from discussions about other forms of libraries and librarianship, I was very excited to explore information literacy specifically in the context of public libraries. I’m looking forward to the class discussion on these readings and to finding out if there are  any areas of overlap or disconnect in different specializations regarding information literacy.

The first article I read for this week is titled, “Public Praxis: A Vision for Critical Information Literacy in Public Libraries.” (Hall, 2010). The article provided a good analysis of what information literacy is; which was defined as “‘the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information;’ (ACRL n.d.)” (Hall, 164).  I found it interesting that Hall critiqued the fact that  “‘information literacy’ is often mad  interchangeable with ‘lifelong learning; and ‘user education’  in the public library literature, even though she argues that these three concepts are inherently distinct, although related,” since we talked about this in class.  Hall critiques the use of “information literacy” as a buzz word with little concentration on what it actually means. Hall seemed to have a rather radical approach to information literacy, and suggests that older forms of library service are outdated. Hall states that

‘Ready to Read’ is a major PLA advocacy issue. In their community outreach programs, many public libraries emphasize book clubs, story time, summer reading programs, and remedies to cure ‘reluctant readers.’ While I applaud the PLA’s efforts to stimulate book-based literacy, this may be interfering with public libraries’ willingness to embrace information literacy.

Hall seems to portray and view information literacy as an all or nothing policy, incapable of coexisting with more traditional forms of library services like book clubs and reading programs. Information literacy is a very important skill, especially for individuals looking for informal replacements for continuing education, but isn’t it possible for libraries to have more than one goal or initiative?

“Information literacy, learning, and the public library: A study of Danish high school students” (Nielson and Borlund, 2011),  focused on public library’s role in informal learning. I was immediately intrigued during my reading that the authors took the time to emphasize the importance of collaboration between public libraries and formal learning institutions, especially school librarians and teachers in order to create the best learning experience for students. In regard to information literacy, Nielson and Borlund reference a much more detailed definition of information literacy with ten parts:

1. recognize the need for information;
2. recognize that accurate and complete information is basis for intelligent decision making;
3. formulate questions based on information needs;
4. identify potential sources of information;
5. develop successful search strategies;
6. access sources of information including computer-based and other technologies;
7. evaluate information;
8. organize information for practical application;
9. integrate new information into an existing body of knowledge; and
10. use information in critical thinking and problem solving.

Though this article is published only one year after Hall’s, the paper expands the definition of information literacy from Hall’s presentation of a four part definition to a much more specific ten fold definition. However, the authors still present the lack of knowledge or study of information literacy initiatives in public libraries. Though it is primarily school and academic libraries that are concerned with teaching information literacy, it should be a concern for public libraries as well. Public libraries should provide the opportunity for patrons to learn those skills, especially if they have been denied the opportunity through exclusion from the aforementioned institutions.

The third article that I read in preparation for this weeks class and discussion was focused on media literacy in youth, focusing on the learner as opposed to the medium (school library, public library, classroom, home, etc.) “Digital Youth, Libraries, and New Media Literacy,” (Tripp, 2011) discusses a case study that presents three ways that youth can learn digital or media literacy skills: “Hanging out, messing around, or geeking out..” Each category represents a specific intention that is paired with the activity, and progress towards a more serious and critical understanding of digital or media literacy (the most serious of the three delightfully labeled as “geeking out”). Though the paper discusses the program’s goal as teaching young learners media literacy, Trip states that the end goal is to teach “young people [what they] need to know about media so as to use them in responsible,ethical, thoughtful, and empowered ways” (337). During my reading, I was frequently asking myself how media literacy was distinguishable from information literacy. I am still not sure if this is from my own lack of understanding, the author’s oversight in distinguishing between the two, or  both. Or perhaps information literacy should just be the main title with media and digital literacy as subtitles among many other categories of this constantly growing topic. I saw in the other readings how the definition of information literacy expanded within one year. How much will our understanding of information literacy change within ten years?

I think the biggest take away from this week’s readings and my reflections is the need to break out of the silo’s of our own professional interests and specializations. Though I often struggle to do this in my class work, it appears to be an obvious solution to supporting information literacy in a diverse amount of library communities. As I discussed previously, public libraries seem to behind the game in regards to supporting information literacy. One way to catch up is to reach out to academic, school, or special libraries to work collaboratively.

Rachel Hall (2010): Public Praxis: A Vision for Critical Information Literacy in Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, 29:2, 162-175

Bo Gerner Nielsen and Pia Borlund (2011): Information literacy, learning, and the public library: A study of Danish high school students Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 2011 43: 106

Lisa Tripp (2011): Digital Youth, Libraries, and New Media Literacy, The Reference Librarian, 52:4, 329-341