Information Literacy: More than just a set of skills
ETL401 OLJ Blog Task 2
Literacy has increasingly become a buzzword in the rhetoric around education. We often hear in the media the need for a focus on literacy, and people commentators frequently bemoan the need to get “back to basics” in literacy education.
What is missing from these discussions, though, is a clear understanding of what “literacy” is. In education today, literacy is about more than just phonics and grammar. The literacy spectrum that we are dealing with in education covers a wide spectrum of literacies, embracing myriad skills and requiring multiple levels of understanding and application of knowledge. Schools deal with often competing demands to teach multiple literacies, and students are required to negotiate these complex skills across a wide range of subject areas. It’s not just about conjunctions!
Information literacy is really, as I see it, one of the core competencies that all students need to be fluent in, and all teachers should be addressing in their teaching and learning. It’s also one of the primary responsibilities of the TL, as we lead our schools into the brave new world of the 21st century information landscape. So what is information literacy then?
Information literacy is a broad concept. Fundamentally, it is about the ability of an individual to access information from a wide range of sources, analyse and synthesise what they find, and then use and present that information in ways that are appropriate to their purpose. This covers a wide range of individual literacies, from visual literacy to traditional grammatical literacy to computer literacy and more. ASLA defines information literacy as “an information process where students can access, use, organise, create, present and evaluate information” (2009). This is a core skill required by all students in all stages of education, and is really, in my opinion, the “basics” that we should be getting back to – or, more accurately, moving forward to!
Information literacy is not just about the ability to succeed at school, however. Its impact is far broader than that. As we face a rapidly changing technological and information landscape, the skills that people need in everyday life are also changing, and the ability to critically evaluate and engage with new forms of information is a vital skills for all learners (Eisenberg, 2008, p.43). Bundy cites ALIA in referring to information literacy as an essential skill for lifelong learning, with impacts on social inclusion, knowledge creation, participative citizenship and empowerment on personal, corporate and organizational levels (2004, p4).
The role of the teacher librarian in ensuring that our students are information literate is paramount. In our positions in the information heart of the school, we have the ability to influence the learning culture that our students are immersed in by providing rich and meaningful information literacy experiences. Working collaboratively with classroom teachers to support the implementation of curriculum in meaningful ways allows us the opportunity to ensure that information literacy is an embedded way of thinking, not simply something that is learned for the exam and is then forgotten. This requires, in some cases, significant change in the learning culture of a school, as staff all need to support the idea that information literacy and curriculum are inextricably linked (Herring, 2011, p34). By ensuring that learning is meaningful and related to real world contexts, we ensure that our students become thoughtful participants in their world, able to engage and interact with the complex information processes that will surround them. What an exciting role to play!
Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)/Australian School Library Association (ASLA). (2009)
Bundy, A. (Ed.) (2004). Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework: principles, standards and practice. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) and Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).
Eisenberg, M.B. (2008). Information literacy: essential skills for the information age. DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47.
Herring, J. (2011). Assumptions, information literacy and transfer in high schools. Teacher Librarian, 38(3), 32-36.