Information literacy (IL) is a broad term covering a broad range of areas. There is an enormous amount of literature regarding the development and implementation of information literacy. It fills conferences and entire books, yet despite all this it seems clear that information literacy is subject to a range of different thought processes, interpretations and definitions (Langford, 1998). Langford (1998) also points out that there is not even agreement on whether it is a concept, a process or perhaps something else altogether. What we can say, in a very broad sense, is that IL is the set of skills and knowledge that allows for the finding, evaluation and use of information (Eisenberg, 2008).
As teachers we well know that education is fundamentally information based in that all aspects of learning and teaching require the gathering, processing and communication of information (Eisenberg, 2008). This is a process both students and teachers alike will be very familiar with as they go about completing their respective duties each day (…and night!).
Keeping with the school theme, the term “information literacy” has come to be used more in place of the term “information skills’, the reason being that school librarians and teachers aim to develop students who are “information literate” (Herring and Tarter, 2007). In a deeper sense, this definition of IL means developing students whose skills include the ability to identify the purpose of the information they are seeking; identify relevant sources to find it; evaluate this information; use it to produce relevant work; and to reflect on, then transfer the use of these skills to a range of other school and non-school related environments (Herring and Tarter, 2007).
However, let’s put the slightly more extended workings of IL to the side again and come back to the definition of IL in its simpler form. The one I mentioned earlier from Eisenberg (2008) as IL being the “finding, evaluation and use of information”. This definition provides the clearest evidence that, regardless of the setting, IL is nothing new. People have been developing and using these skills from the beginning of time. The name for it and its specific purposes may have varied, but the idea of IL and its process is a very well worn path. We could say that in one form or another the workings of IL transcend both time and place. At a most basic level how could we affectively live and learn without finding, evaluating and using the information around us?
When I begin to think of IL in this way I do see it as more than simply “a set of skills”. It is that, no doubt, but it is so much more as IL underpins all areas of life. IL is powerful stuff!
It is also inspiring and I believe Abilock (2004) captures this angle when referring to IL as a “transformational process”. A transformational process where the learner must use information in various forms for personal, social or global purposes (Abilock, 2004). It is hard to argue against this point.
Whether it is a process, a concept or something else, it would seem to be selling something as empowering, transformational and as far reaching as IL short to suggest it was nothing more than a set of skills.
Langford, L. (1998). Information literacy: a clarification, School Libraries Worldwide. vol. 4, no. 1, 1998, pp. 59-72
Eisenberg, M. B. (2008). Information literacy: Essential skills for the Information Age. Journal of Library & Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47.
Herring, J. and Tarter, A. (2007).Progress in developing information literacy in a secondary school using the PLUS model. School Libraries in View, 23, 23-27.
Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: an overview of design, process and outcomes. Accessed on 15/9/12 from: http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/1over/infolit1.html