The role of academic librarians is changing. The information landscape has become entirely too complex to expect that students will learn enough in a one-hour library session to competently use information to complete academic, job, and life tasks. The definition of information literacy since 2000 was the ability to find, evaluate, and use information; but that definition undermined librarians by giving false impressions about our instruction. For it is much easier to teach students to find information than to evaluate it and much easier to show them how to cite information than it is to teach them to think critically about how and why that information might have been produced. But a one sentence definition misses the nuance, putting the most challenging taxonomy on the same level as the least. The new ACRL framework for information literacy comes closer to addressing the crucial role that librarians play in the intellectual lives of our students by recognizing its close ties to critical thinking (Baer 2015) and by acknowledging that information and information creation cannot be divorced from its political, cultural, and rhetorical contexts (ACRL 2015).
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education states that information literacy skills should be developed in a college setting to ensure lifelong learning. Development in a formal setting is important because students very often overestimate their information literacy skills and knowledge (2003). In fact, ETS found that only 13% of test takers preparing to enter four year universities were information literate (Foster 2006). Our students, given the opportunity to internalize the processes and skills of information literacy will perform better across the curriculum and be better prepared for jobs in the digital and information economy.
But this is not merely academic. While many in the business world are not familiar with the term “information literacy,” they value the skills that it encompasses (Conley and Gil 2011), such as recognizing the need for information beyond what one already knows, seeking it from authoritative sources, comparing it with previously held knowledge to make critical evaluations, and using it ethically to satisfy a task. When given an important task and confronted by the barrage of available information, business decision-makers recognize the importance of the knowledge-building framework provided by information literacy, and of having workers who can get them the best information efficiently (Matarazzo and Pearlstein 2014). Likewise, employers expect employees to be “confident and competent” in interacting with information (Cheuk 2008).Students may or may not yet recognize the importance of information literacy, but the ideas and skills taught here will provide them an invaluable framework for thinking about the information they encounter each day, regardless of whether they are encountering it in an academic, professional, or personal sphere.
Each module provides a theoretical grounding in information literacy while also giving practical guidelines for research tasks. Though they need not be completed sequentially or in toto, students will benefit from reading the chapters and answering the critical thinking questions either before or concurrent to their research. Students in a three hour course will benefit from reading the text; students in a one hour course may only have time to work on the research skills portions of each module. It is up to each individual instructor to decide what should and should not be included in her class. In any case, materials from this site may be freely distributed as long as attribution is given to www.lis101.com.
My name is Todd Heldt, and I am a community college librarian in Chicago. My ideas do not reflect the thinking of my employer. I earned the MLIS from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2003 and have worked in many library capacities since then. I am an anarco-syndicalist at heart, skeptical of both governments and corporations, and I admire Howard Zinn’s explanation to his students that it is impossible to be neutral on a moving train (60). Yet, I also have a professional obligation to strive for objectivity. I tell you this not to editorialize but to make you aware of my own predispositions. Consumers of information should get in the habit of thinking about the producers of information and how their biases may present themselves.