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Information literacy

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Introduction

"…the learning agenda, the students’ learning experience and achievement, needs to be absolutely at the forefront of librarians’ thinking. If you accept this, then it radically changes the understanding of what it is to be a librarian".
From an interview with Professor Philippa Levy, University of Sheffield.

A student doing a liberal arts degree 30 years ago could expect to have a list of "recommended reading", most of which were books, all of which were print, and available in a well-stocked library. Because these titles had been recommended by the relevant lecturer, the quality was assured.

Today’s student has a vastly more extensive possibility of sources in different media, both print and electronic. Information is probably more extensive and more freely available than ever before. Finding information is easy – finding the right sort of timely, accurate and quality information is not, and academics and librarians alike complain that many students see information seeking as simply searching Google.

Developing the ability to find the right sort of information is a major concern for higher education, and indeed the world beyond and outside academe. Kinengyere (2006) cites the folowing examples:

  • In the UK, the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), convened an Information Skills Taskforce in 1998, which developed the Seven Pillars model of information literacy.
  • In the USA, the American Library Association (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy (1989) defined four components of information literacy.
  • In Australia they are one of the five key elements in the profile of a lifelong learner.
  • UNESCO sees information literacy as essential for lifelong learning.
  • Wu and Kendall (2006) quote Drucker’s contention that the world was held together by information, as well as the IDC’s opportunity cost estimate of $6 million a year of not finding relevant information.
  • A survey conducted among library users in Uganda on the effect of information literacy programmes showed that information literate researchers were actually taking less time on research as they were better able to conduct relevant literature searches.

Information literacy, defined by the ALA (1989) as the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information", is one of the main current concerns of librarians, who bring to the situation their ability to find quality – as opposed to instant – knowledge. Recent surveys of the librarianship profession in the UK show that many librarians spend around a third of their time, in some cases more, teaching. It is hardly surprising therefore that this is one of the most popular subjects in librarianship literature, and a number of Emerald articles provide useful literature reviews, most notably Johnson et al. (2006).

Drawing on the most recent articles, we look at the main frameworks for information literacy, before exploring the ways in which the subject is taught.