Information literacy in the real world

Data, Information, Knowledge... by MichaelKreil via flickr CC

The more I read and think about the term ‘information literacy’ the more I find it a fairly meaningless, libraryland-jargon-type term.  I’ve been for a few job interviews lately and inevitably, there is the question (or some variation of the question) “can you tell us your understanding of information literacy”?  Well, no. Not really. Not in the 3 minutes you have allocated for my answer anyway.

Case study: students at MPOW.  Yes, these students are born digital, or digital natives or whatever current buzzword applies.  They are generally aged 18-21, live or die by their smartphones, use Google to get answers to just about every question relating to their daily lives and video Skype family back home.  Does this mean they are tech savvy? Absolutely.  Do they get the right answers? Probably.  Are they in fact, transliterate? They would appear to be. Are they transferring those skills to the academic setting? Absolutely not.

The much bigger question is – do they even need to transfer those skills to the academic setting? In my experience after a year working with them? No, they don’t. They can pass most of their subjects at undergraduate level by using the text book and occasionally a newspaper article or other text they may find on our (limited) library shelves. This makes it very difficult to generate much interest from students in learning more about searching for and evaluating information.

So, I despair.  The situation is vastly different for first year Bachelor of Business students than it is for advanced research students but I suspect we still make many of the same assumptions and mistakes about the information literacy of the individuals.  I think there is much to be gained by the concept of learning through play and wish I had more scope to implement some of these ideas here at MPOW.

Instinctively, I look for practical, easy, real world ways to describe concepts to our students, so when I read this post from The Green Librarian linking to an ACRL article by Anne Pemberton I was inspired.  Pemberton’s article talks about the similarities for students between certain familiar functions on Facebook and unfamiliar functions in database searching.  This I can use – my students know all about Facebook.  I’m putting this straight into the next search skills workshop I run.

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3 thoughts on “Information literacy in the real world

  1. Pingback: Overuse syndrome « Opinions from an OPL

  2. Well said! My experience is very similar with students at the community college level. However, I also occasionally get the sense from some students who are able to admit that they don’t know how to do research and don’t know how to use a research library that they genuinely want to know more. And once they get a taste and have an ‘ah-ha’ moment about what’s out there, I think they’re more open and enthusiastic about using the library in general.

    • I think that’s true. Word of mouth (perhaps about how much I was able to help with something) and then repeat business are the 2 things that bring my students through the door. They don’t know what they don’t know until they come in here and find out. They don’t HAVE to use the library, but they are slowly discovering that their journey through their course is easier if they do. Anything I can do to make that interface with the library more fun, engaging and non-threatening is good.

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