Reconnecting Information Literacy with Lifelong Learning

Somewhere along the line, information literacy became a set of academic, information problem solving skills, and its connection to lifelong learning got lost.

Way back in 1974, Paul Zurkowski coined the term ‘information literacy’ when he observed that “people trained in the application of information resources to their work can be called information literates. They have learned techniques and skills for utilizing the wide range of information tools as well as primary sources in molding information solutions to their problems.”

At about the same time, the term ‘lifelong learning’ was coming into into vogue, and the two ideas became indelibly intertwined. Information literacy was seen as the basis of lifelong learning (Weiner, 2011).

What happened?

Lifelong learning is certainly something we talk about when we discuss information literacy, but lifelong learning is not really the end goal in today’s classrooms. I think there are two reasons for this. First of all, the traditions of bibliographic instruction are still deeply rooted in information literacy instruction. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is an academic thing, which doesn’t necessarily translate into lifelong learning. Secondly, information literacy is really a set of multiple literacies. The information literacy of the freshman comp course differs from the information literacy of the discipline-specific course, which differs from the on-the-job requirements of information literacy. They share some elements in common, but each is also unique and situational.

I think this is also a larger institutional problem. Many institutions are so vocationally focused that they forget that education is about more than receiving a diploma. It’s also about molding students into thinkers and independent learners.

So how do we reconnect information literacy with lifelong learning?


Isn’t that what libraries are really all about?

To reconnect information literacy with lifelong learning through curiosity, you have to think outside the library and classroom. School and academic libraries have a whole campus of opportunities to foster curiosity and make students interested in learning (which leads to independent learning, which leads to lifelong learning).

It’s not a difficult task. It just takes creative thinking.

Consider these ideas:

  • QR codes across campus. Get them out of the stacks! Curiosity drives a person to scan a QR code to find out more information about something. And there are so many opportunities around campus where you can place QR codes and pique students’ desire to learn more. Put QR codes in the cafeteria to connect students to information about nutrition, or odd food facts, or cookbooks in the library. Put QR Codes next to the study abroad posters to connect students to databases and/or books about the country and culture. Put QR codes in the Career Center to connect students to library resources on careers, interviewing, or resumes. Put QR codes in the Financial Aid office to connect students to library resources on grants and scholarships. The ideas are endless…
  • Maker activities. Creativity and curiosity go hand in hand.  Join the maker movement and offer maker activities for students to get creative. And these activities can run the gamut from digital storytelling to game design to code-a-thons, and more. They don’t even have to be technology-based (they could be craft-based such as bookmaking).
  • Microlibraries. Place microlibraries around campus. This is a great way to foster both reading and curiosity. To get started, you can use books that have been donated to the library or to your Friends group.
  • Campus partnerships. There’s more to campus life than academics. Create partnerships with campus groups such as the Career Center, Financial Aid, or Student Life. Partnerships such as these give you the opportunity to make the library’s (and librarians’) presence known beyond being a place to study or do academic research.
  • Community partnerships. Partner with local businesses, organizations or the public library. By extending the library’s reach beyond the campus, you are showing students (and the community) that the library is a place of learning, not just studying or doing research. This is especially important for commuter campuses.

7 thoughts on “Reconnecting Information Literacy with Lifelong Learning

  1. Great write up! I’m a new MLIS student and I absolutely adore your blog. I also just recently visited a conference where cultural anthropologist, Mimi Ito discussed very similar themes in her work as it pertains to young people and online environments. She mentioned that if you spark their interests, those interests can foster skills that translate into real-world success. That disconnect is apparent in the K-12 classrooms and on college campuses. The library is in a unique position, as you’ve stated, to facilitate those actions. If one can present information literacy into an individual’s specific context, they are much more likely to transfer those skills into other ones. I’m rambling. But, do check out Dr. Ito’s extensive blog on connected learning. I think it’s a great resource for librarians and wanna be instructional design librarians like myself.

    • Thanks Juanita!

      I’ve come across a bit of Mimi Ito’s work in a course on game-based learning that I took. And I just delved into her Connected Learning site that you mentioned – fascinating stuff! The whole DML field is an area of great interest to me, from the literacy perspective.

      Good luck with your studies! We need more librarians with your interests in the field!

  2. Another good use of QR codes to link students with an “Ask a Librarian”-type service. When I was a graduate assistant in an academic library, we had great success with posting QR codes to this service across the library and nearby buildings.

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