Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is right and wrong with information literacy?

One of our discussion board questions this week was, “What is right and wrong with library education?” which lead me to consider a similar question, “What is right and wrong with information literacy?” According to Rubin (2004), “The purpose of the new professional (librarian) is not to control knowledge or prescribe what the client must do, but to teach the client to become more and more self-sufficient,” (p. 471). Part of teaching our clients (and/or students) to become self-sufficient is to empower them with information literacy skills.
In the fall of 2007, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) revised their national standards from 1998 to include information literacy skills. It is called Standards for the 21st Century Learner. This update was a huge step forward on their part to establish what skills are necessary in order for learners to be successful in today's world. Now that these standards outline a framework for school librarians (and others who teach information literacy), it is imperative for school librarians across the nation to ensure that they are using these standards to guide their teaching. It is not uncommon to hear high school teachers complain about elementary and middle school libraries not preparing students with the skills they need to complete research at the high school level. Similarly, it is just as common to hear university professors and instructors blame high schools for not preparing students for college research skills. If school librarians commit to following these established standards, we should start to hear fewer of these complaints.
Many, if not all, students can conduct a basic Google search (let's face it, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to plug in a couple of words and hit the “search” button). But, what not all students know is how to tailor their searches to their specific needs or how to evaluate the information results. According to The Research Skills Killer (2008), “Indeed, digital medias ease of use hides some very worrying trends. For example, the speed at which young people conduct web searches means they spend little time evaluating information for accuracy or authority. They also appear to have little understanding of their information needs and so find it difficult to develop what information professionals would see as effective search strategies,” (p. 4). This just goes to show that information skills are needed now more than ever, and “such skills need to be ingrained during childhood.” (The Research Skills Killer, 2008, p. 4).
A recent study conducted by Dorothy Williams, a professor and research-coordinator, and Caroline Wavell, a research assistant, examined secondary school teachers' perceptions of student information literacy. Throughout the study, the researchers began to realize that the teachers often made “assumptions about students' understanding of, and abilities to use, information sources,” (Williams & Wavell, 2007, p. 206). Not only is this problematic, but it probably happens more often than we think. In addition to teaching information literacy skills to students, librarians must also advocate and “sell” the importance of information literacy skills to teachers.
“As discussions progressed, all participating teachers began to appreciate the complexity of information literacy and its inter-relationship with other aspects of the learning experience and teaching context,” (Williams & Wavell, 2007, p. 208). It was reassuring to see that the secondary teachers in this study came to this conclusion because in my studies to become a school librarian, I have read time and time again that the most effective way for students to acquire information literacy skills is to teach these skills in context. For example, the best time to teach students how to write citations is when they are currently working on a research project in which they need to cite sources. When students can immediately apply the skills they are taught to what they are learning, it is more likely that they will retain the skills. If citations are taught in isolation from an actual project, students will not make meaningful connections, and therefore will not remember the skills as easily in the future. Furthermore, this understanding strengthens the support for librarian-teacher collaboration, which I plan to focus on in my next blog entry.
To conclude, information literacy is more important now than ever. Part of the reason that I want to become a school librarian is to advocate information literacy and to ensure that my students are well-equipped for the hundreds, if not thousands, of information problems they will encounter in their lifetimes. My goal is to provide excellence in literacy and information skills.

Rubin, R. E. (2004). Foundations of library and information science (2nd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.

Williams, D. A., & Wavell, C. (2007, December). Secondary school teachers' conceptions of student information literacy. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 39(4),199-212.

The research skills killer. (2008, Feb). Information World Review, 243, 4.

No comments: