Information Literacy by Any Other Name…Is Still Information Literacy

Digital literacy, 21st century literacy, visual literacy, and media literacy all have one thing in common: information literacy. All these different terms are tossed around to describe skills that are rooted in information literacy. Many librarians still use the term information literacy, as does the ALA. Is this a problem? Maybe, and I’ll tell you why. The term information literacy seems to be almost exclusively used by librarians (and in some circles of higher education). But while educators are increasingly recognizing it as important for student success, they more frequently refer to it as digital literacy, media literacy or 21st century literacy. When communicating with educators, whether they are college faculty or K-12 teachers, we need to be speaking the same lingo. By speaking the same lingo, we communicate better. By communicating better, we make more progress with integrating these skills into the classroom.

As librarians, the most important thing to realize is that information literacy is gaining a lot of research interest outside of the library and information science field. In fact, it is one of the greatest things that educational technology and library science have in common. But, the terms do vary, and until one is officially settled upon, it is essential to speak the lingo of those outside your field so they understand what you are talking about.

If you are interested in reading the educational technology perspective on the topic, I recommend TechTrends (available through SpringerLink), Educational Technology Research & Development (available through SpringerLink), Educational Technology (ironically, not available FT online, but can be searched using Google Scholar) and the publications available through EdITLib. Educause is also a good source, but I have noticed that many of the articles on information literacy are written from a librarian perspective.

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One thought on “Information Literacy by Any Other Name…Is Still Information Literacy

  1. I still remember attending APA National Conference a few years back and was hugely excited to see an “Information Literacy” session on the program. It was a faculty member speaking very excitedly on a widely attended panel about how he incorporated Information Literacy as this cutting edge component of his course. (All he really did was require to use students to use Delicious indiscriminately, without any particular guidance on source quality.) There was no librarian collaboration or improvement of research skills. But everyone in the room seemed to be like: “Ooh shiny; that’s amazing.”

    Information Literacy is probably primarily a librarian phrase because we’ve actually bothered to break it down into a scaffolded skillset. In other scholarly arenas, it’s known as “Information Search Theory” (APA Division 21) or Information Foraging Theory or Bibliometrics Behavior. There are actually 1,000 different names – we just look at it pedagogically and from an Accreditation obligation when we say “Information Literacy.”

    It’s pretty easy to make the translation over and over, as long as you’ve established IL as a Curriculum-wide learning outcome at your university. I do like how bold University of Phoenix is about the phrase in their annual report: http://www.phoenix.edu/about_us/publications/academic-annual-report/2010.html

    It also helps to translate IL into your domain language: E.g. “Evidence based practice” to a business or a healthcare audience. You might also like this article that shows how “the business community increasingly recognizes information literacy as central to its work”: http://bcq.sagepub.com/content/73/2/135.short

    – Erika

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