Introduction to Information Literacy

   What is Information Literacy?

Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.

The beginning of the 21st century has been called the Information Age because of the explosion of information output and information sources. It has become increasingly clear that students cannot learn everything they need to know in their field of study in a few years of college. Information literacy equips them with the critical skills necessary to become independent lifelong learners.

Too often we assume that as students write research papers and read textbooks they are gaining sufficient IL skills. This is not so. IL skills may be introduced but what is needed is a parallel curriculum in IL forming a strong foundation of a college education.

As the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy (January 10, 1989, Washington, D.C.) says “Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.”

   Why is Information Literacy important?       back to top

Have you ever heard of Data Smog? A term coined by author David Shenk, it refers to the idea that too much information can create a barrier in our lives. This data smog is produced by the amount of information, the speed at which it comes to us from all directions, the need to make fast decisions, and the feeling of anxiety that we are making decisions without having ALL the information that is available or that we need.

Information literacy is the solution to Data Smog. It allows us to cope by giving us the skills to know when we need information and where to locate it effectively and efficiently. It includes the technological skills needed to use the modern library as a gateway to information. It enables us to analyze and evaluate the information we find, thus giving us confidence in using that information to make a decision or create a product.

   Who needs Information Literacy?       back to top

The concept of Information Literacy may seem too broad and overwhelming. Why should students learn all this? Because we want to remove the obstacles to creativity which are caused by lack of understanding of the research process. We only want to introduce students to those skills which will allow them to succeed in their future chosen paths.

This is not just for college students but all of us, as professionals, in the workplace and in our personal lives. Being information literate ultimately improves our quality of life as we make informed decisions when buying a house, choosing a school, hiring staff, making an investment, voting for our representatives, and so much more. Information Literacy is, in fact, the basis of a sound democracy.

As U.S. Representative Major R. Owens has said "Information literacy is needed to guarantee the survival of democratic institutions. All men are created equal but voters with information resources are in a position to make more intelligent decisions than citizens who are information illiterates." American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Washington, D.C.

   How do I learn more about Information Literacy?       back to top

This website is great place to start. In the "Resources & Ideas" area of the site, you can learn about curriculum development, ponder ideas about collaboration between faculty and librarians, find bibliographies on a wide range of subjects, and explore the many ways that other institutions have put information literacy into action.

Our "Standards & Guidelines" area will lead you step-by-step through the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, fleshing out each of the five standards with examples and sample outcomes. Here you will also find extensive ideas on implementing the standards in your own program.

In the "Professional Activity" area, librarians will find a wealth of resources for becoming active in information literacy, including electronic lists, information on grants, and the Information Literacy Immersion Program.

To obtain some historical perspective, you may find it helpful to review the following core readings:

For background and history on information literacy in library instruction, visit the ACRL Instruction Section's web site, and especially their page on How it All Began.