Information Literacy and Communities of Practice

Today, I am going to dig into the concept of communities of practices and what that means for libraries within the context of the new framework for information literacy.

First, consider the following statements:

Information literacy is a social practice.

Information literacy is situational.

The perspective of literacy as a social practice is a way to explain multiple literacies. It also reflects the current understanding of literacy in general.

What does that mean for information literacy? It means that the way we value, interact and create information is driven by the accepted practices of the community in which we belong.

We belong to many communities, meaning that information literacy is also situational. Therefore, we practice information literacy in a lot of different ways — the way we practice it in informal communities (e.g. home environment) is different than the way we practice it in formal communities (e.g. school).

The new framework attempts to define the expectations (knowledge practices) of how information literacy should be practiced within scholarly communities, emphasis on the plural.

Okay, so what are communities of practice?

 “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger-Trayner, n.d.)

Examples of communities of practice at a university:

  • a Comp I class learning the practices of college writing
  • a forensics team honing its debate skills
  • a cohort of pre-service teachers
  • faculty with shared teaching or research interests

Those are just a few examples of the communities of practice found within higher education.

Under the new framework then, one goal of librarians will be to facilitate the development of information literacy knowledge practices within selected communities of practice (e.g. Comp I class). To some extent, this is already being done with current information literacy programs.

Another goal will be to help students transfer their information literacy knowledge practices across communities of practices throughout their academic careers. This is trickier because information literacy is situational, so it looks a bit different within each community (i.e. history vs. science vs. philosophy) even if its practices share common characteristics. This goal can be met through the library. Or more appropriately, the learning commons.

With the new framework, I see the library or learning commons serving as the web that supports the many communities of practice within an academic institution. The librarian’s job will become more important than ever. The library itself will become a sort of meta-community of practice (the mother ship, so to speak), nurturing the information literacy knowledge practices of all sorts of scholarly communities of practice within its physical and virtual walls.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

So, how can it be done? Here are a couple of strategies:

Cognitive apprenticeship for one, with the librarian as expert and student as novice. And embedded libraries (not just librarians). I’ve written about these ideas before:

4 CHARACTERISTICS OF REFERENCE SERVICES THAT MAKE IT MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

THE PEDAGOGY OF REFERENCE SERVICES

5 SOLUTIONS TO SIMPLIFY EMBEDDED LIBRARIANSHIP

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