Information Literacy, then and now

A digression deleted from my post on Hack Library School about information literacy. Go read that post, and come back here where it says to.

Old standards:

  1. Determine the extent of information needed
  2. Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  3. Evaluate information and its sources critically
  4. Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  5. Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  6. Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Then: Information was “limited”–if the library didn’t have a resource, the student–at least the undergraduate student–wasn’t likely to request something through inter-library loan. (Stereotypical student writing paper at the last moment? No time to get something through ILL.) It was easier for a student to reach a point where it was apparent that additional research wasn’t going to yield benefits.** Accessing information from journals was difficult without the assistance of a librarian; from my personal experience, I would guess that students avoided journals when not required by a professor’s guidelines for an assignment. (Wow could I have done a better job on research in college!) There’s always been crap research out there (I assume), but when publication required substantial expense, I’d suggest that there was less crap out there. And I won’t go so far as to say that plagiarism was more difficult (my dad is a professor, and he would come home with tales of the plagiarism committed by his students) but it did require more effort. My conclusion from this: some of the old info lit standards were imposed externally rather than needing to be taught and actively understood by students.

Now: Information is seemingly limitless, so there is a greater need for understanding what and how much is needed for a given project. (Don’t just google “Mark Twain” if you’re writing a paper about Huckleberry Finn, please.) Students can skim abstracts before downloading journal articles rather than the multi-step process involved in finding journal articles in print–but this means there also is a greater chance of being overloaded by minimally relevant articles. With any fool being able to post her writing on the Internet (yes, I’m talking about myself here), there’s a greater need to evaluate information critically, and less involvement of librarians to help with this. And a quick ctrl-c, ctrl-v gets you a plagiarized paper. You don’t even have to re-type! Conclusion: education in the old standards is still needed. VERY needed.

And now about the threshold concepts. They sound good. “Scholarship is a conversation”! I love this. It reminds that our conclusions become jumping off points for future scholars rather than having some sort of finality. For an undergraduate, it may be an explanation for conflicting articles. But I wonder if this concept, along with the framework’s consideration of student-as-information-creator, encourages a student to think that any/all research is valuable regardless of quality.

I’m not sure what the practical difference is between “research as inquiry” and “searching as exploration.” Or what they have to do with information literacy. They seem to me to be more about intellectual curiosity. Plus, how do you teach these concepts? What guidance do these give the budding researcher, other than encouraging following shiny things tangents instead of remaining focused?

Now, “Authority is contextual and constructed” sounds all post-modernish, but may actually be a good way to frame the need to evaluate information. So I’ll give this element an A.

“Format as process.” I haven’t a clue. The expanded description doesn’t help:

Format is the way tangible knowledge is disseminated. The essential characteristic of format is the underlying process of information creation, production, and dissemination, rather than how the content is delivered or experienced.

And finally, “information has value.” Yes, yes it does. But what value does this concept have in establishing or assessing information literacy?

All this leads me to conclude that the old standards–even if not perfect–are more useful for today’s college students.


**This and all subsequent claims are based on personal reflection and experience, rather than research. Ironic much?

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