Current Issues Coffee Club: Do We Have IL Wrong?

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I just sped through this was a lot more engaging than I was expecting.  (In my initial scan I saw mention of Habermas and that instantly brought up a red flag and with it fears that this article might be a dense theoretical slog).  Instead it proves to be a provocative read that  really gets you thinking about libraries' approaches to Information Literacy.

I was especially intrigued by their assertion that libraries have a tendency to look at information literacy as synonymous with "User Education" which they define as

An emphasis on teaching about the structures and facilities already created by librarians for their users, with a concentration on using the OPAC, how to search in databases, and how to find books in the library seldom set out to promote a vision that was bigger than creating 'good' library users. (196)


And that's not all--here's their take on on the 1989 ALA definition of Information Literacy:

This is a rather dated and a typically narrow 'librarianship' definition, differing very little from the ways in which User Education was defined, although it will continue to be quoted because of the authority of the organization from which it comes. (197)

The authors instead advocate from shifting the foundational paradigm of Information Literacy that "start with a concept of information access as a human right, that leads us into the broad area of literacies and the programmes that support them." (199)  They believe that this new foundation will result in

The conclusion...that individuals need a broad and self-selected set of skills across the range of formats and media to support their human right to information. (200).

Question:  What do you think of their criticism of the library profession's definition and practice of Information Literacy?  Is it way off base or are there hints of accuracy?  What can we take away from this "outsider" perspective on the profession?  


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I think there's some truth to the criticism, but I also don't think that libraries have necessarily been resistant to embracing a holistic set of literacies. The fact that some of our practices are rooted in our history doesn't mean we're not also moving forward on new fronts.

The model the authors are suggesting seems like it would not just require the libraries to rethink their roles in instruction, but also for universities to rethink the institutional roles of libraries. I can envision a lot of collaboration across departments, which is exciting. I'm really interested to hear some concrete examples of what this model would look like in action.

Sniff, sniff, sniff . . . yup, that man smells like straw. But seriously, I totally agree that all of the critical literacies the authors list are crucially important. If linking them to human rights protocols actually helps promote such critical literacies (I remain to be convinced), go for it.

However, for better or worse, a part of infolit that libraries are best equipped to help with is teaching how to critically evaluate and navigate the diversity of proprietary and non-proprietary databases and search engines to access needed information. Its snarky and misleading to refer to this as the creation of "'good' library users." This is not like wagging fingers and shushing users or telling them to take their food and drink outside. Search skills are a crucial part of critical literacies!

I fully agree that search skills, while necessary, are not sufficient. However, library resources alone are also not sufficient for making much of a dent in addressing the broader need for critical literacies. This is especially true in light of the countless millions of dollars that are spent every year promoting information illiteracies (e.g. advertising, political campaigning, talk radio, fox "news"). Where are the places that the libraries can leverage their unique strengths?

I haven't yet read it, but I do want to know how one becomes a "Professor Extraordinary."
- The Chemistry Librarian Extraordinaire

When I read it I felt like the authors were critical of library instruction that focused only on the mechanics of searching within library resources. So when they were saying "good library users" --they meant we were preparing students to be able to access information while they were here with access to this particular library.

At the expense of addressing more general or theoretical ideas about analyzing information.

I guess I felt like that hit a little close to home for me personally because there have definitely been times when I've taught a session that dealt almost solely with how to use this database and that database. But when you've only got 50 minutes in 4 years and you know students need to know how to use these databases--it's hard not to. And as much as I'd like to impart theoretical foundations in information evaluation the students DO need to know how to use these specific library resources for their assignment.

This article made me wonder if there's a bit of a vicious circle effect going on here...I teach the tools because I think that's what the faculty and students want to hear about and they think I teach these tools because I'm trying to protect my "turf".

But then again I don't know if we can extrapolate too much from what basically boils down to an opinion piece written by two scholars.

I did think the perspective was thought-provoking if nothing else.

Thanks for responding to the post. I hope you all can come to the in-person discussion tomorrow. I think it should be a good discussion.

Unfortunately they don't really address that in article. :(

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Jeffryes published on March 21, 2011 9:07 PM.

Millennium Development Goals and Information Literacy was the previous entry in this blog.

Coffee Club discussion: from the theoretical to the practical is the next entry in this blog.

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