Digital vs. Information Literacy

Have you ever wondered just what the difference is between digital and information literacy? Or how they are connected to each other? Those are important questions because for librarians, the conversation is almost always about information literacy, and digital literacy sometimes takes a backseat to that. In this post, I’m going to talk about the integral relationship between the two and how we can’t even think of teaching information literacy without also recognizing digital literacy (along with all the other ‘literacies of information’).

First, I think it helps to understand the concept of literacy in general. Digital and information literacy (and all the other literacies) are rooted in the sociocultural view of literacy as a set of social practices. If you want to learn more about that, I recommend reading The New London Group’s A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures, an article that appeared in the Harvard Educational Review in Spring 1996.

Back to digital literacy. What exactly does it encompass? Bawden (2008) identified a set of specific skills that define digital literacy. I took this list directly from Lankshear and Knobel’s Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices:

• “knowledge assembly,” building a “reliable information hoard” from
diverse sources
• retrieval skills, plus “critical thinking” for making informed judgements
about retrieved information, with wariness about the validity
and completeness of internet sources
• reading and understanding non-sequential and dynamic material
• awareness of the value of traditional tools in conjunction with networked
• awareness of “people networks” as sources of advice and help
• using filters and agents to manage incoming information
• being comfortable with publishing and communicating information,
as well as accessing it (Bawden, Chapter 1, Sec. 1:20)

You might notice that just about every skill mentioned above is something that also describes information literacy.

Now, take a look at the graphic below. It describes digital literacy, but could just as easily describe information literacy.

Essentially, when we teach information literacy in the context of a digital environment, we are also teaching digital literacy. The overlap is so great that the two are inseparable. Thus, digital and information literacy are both ‘literacies of information.’ So are media literacy, ICT literacy, technology literacy, etc…

Bottom line, it’s too difficult to tease out the differences between digital and information literacy, or any of the other ‘literacies of information.’ Even more importantly, we shouldn’t be thinking of these literacies in isolation when we teach them. That’s why I’m glad to see information literacy being redefined within the context of multiple literacies. Though, I do think it would behoove the LIS discipline to explore and integrate the new literacies studies into the research on information literacy.