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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Monday, February 13, 2006

    Information literacy is dead? Long live Information Literacy

    In his recent article in Educause Review 41 (1) Changing a Cultural Icon: The Academic Library as a Virtual Destination, Jerry Campbell wrote:

    Teaching Information Literacy

    Information literacy is a subcategory of the reference function, but it is sufficiently important to deserve separate consideration. For decades, the librarian stood between academicians and the chaos they would otherwise encounter in the world of knowledge. Librarians applied discretion not only in building, organizing, and managing collections but also in explaining them to students and scholars. Since reference services did not scale, librarians adopted the principal methodology of the academy and taught classes. In earlier days, the classes were called bibliographic instruction. With the addition of digital resources to print and multimedia, the knowledge environment became considerably more complicated and the need more urgent for expanding this kind of instructional service.

    Thus, in the digital age this service has come to be referred to as information literacy, and it has had a challenging agenda. Not only have academic library users had to negotiate a multiformat environment, but even after the introduction of the Web, the digital environment has continued to be rife with Web-based proprietary systems (especially for copyrighted information) and plagued by failure across the publishing community to adopt common standards. So complex have things become that the subject of information literacy has gained the attention of major regional accrediting agencies as they wrestle with the question of the place of libraries in gauging the effectiveness of colleges and universities in the twenty-first century.

    Not surprisingly, academic librarians have focused much attention on this issue. The National Forum on Information Literacy (http://www.infolit.org) was established in 1989, and a number of organizations, including the Association of College and Research Libraries, have developed information literacy competency standards. These efforts notwithstanding, it is still unclear whether the continued migration of information to the Web will result in a less-complicated environment with a reduced need for information literacy or whether placing everything together in one environment will make the need greater. Will marketing directly to readers become sufficiently refined as to eliminate the need for providing information literacy? Will the maturation of the Web as a source of knowledge and as a knowledge-retrieval mechanism decrease the need for teaching information literacy? And if the need for information literacy persists, will that need be large enough to provide a reason for keeping a library?

    By chance, even before I read his sentences, “Will marketing directly to readers become sufficiently refined as to eliminate the need for providing information literacy? Will the maturation of the Web as a source of knowledge and as a knowledge-retrieval mechanism decrease the need for teaching information literacy?” I was drafting the following:

    Library 2.0 – too many riches in too small a room

    Adding e-resources to further and higher education library catalogues so that they are accessible via the OPACs seems an appropriate and sensible strategy, just as the Library 2.0 philosophy will place resources in users’ hands when they need them, wherever they are. However, a direct consequence is an environment in which students (users) expect resources to be delivered to them. I have heard anecdotal evidence which suggests that students expect to be told about the information resources they need to use and even complained formally when this was not done and they were left to search for them without help. Virtual Learning Environments may also take from students the need to take control of their own learning - to understand information, as VLEs have a tendency to spoon-feed their users.

    I am concerned that Library 2.0 and Web 2.0 ‘maturation’ (to borrow a term) may have an insidious power to rob users of a need to question and a desire to learn, and learn how to learn. Users – and perhaps particularly students – should know when and why they need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner (from the UK definition of information literacy). They need to know these things more when information comes to them so easily. Social information management may promise much; advances in information retrieval and delivery bring much to many; let it do so in a socially-responsible way and never seek to suggest that literacy is unnecessary.

    Jerry ends his article, “Considering the extraordinary pace with which knowledge is moving to the Web, it is equally difficult to imagine what an academic library will be and do in another decade.” I see at least one enduring need: the need to teach information literacy.

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