26 September 2007

Injecting Information

The ever-wise and excellent question-asker, Jeff Rutenbeck, brought up, what I think, is the essence of the the information literacy question: how can we inject information literacy into the daily lives of our students? How can we illustrate to them that information literacy is not just about school.

As always, Jeff makes my mind go a million miles a minute.

This is where most discussions about information literacy seem to go awry. What is information literacy? What are the skills that we are teaching students supposed to do for them in the long run? Let me set the stage with a question I was asked by a student the other day. They asked me why I advocate for them to use the databases when those databases won't be available to them once they leave college?

This is a good question.

My answer: I ask you to use databases in college because I want you to use the information that is most appopriate for your needs and situation. And in college, that means information from scholarly resources.

The first part of the answer is the important part here, though. Information literacy should not be another name for library instruction. It also should not be strictly understood as a research process. Information literacy is understanding what information you require given your situation and the purpose of that information's use. That is the true role of a librarian: to help a patron figure out those questions and then guide them to the best and most appropriate resource.

To return to the initial question, I am going to respond with how NOT to approach it. We are not going to successfully instill information literacy skills into our students lives by making it about databases or citations. The way to inject (good choice of words) that into students' daily lives is to make them see that the skills you apply to getting dressed to go to a party are much the same as you would use to select a website. What are they doing at this party? Who is going to be there? Is it dressy? Is it a pool party? Do I need to bring anything?

I'm purposely trying to sound a little hokey but my point is not hokey at all. We all use information literacy skills in our lives already. Shouldn't we be trying to make that clear to students? Shouldn't we be bringing it down to the daily level and then show them how at college, their daily level requires a certain kind of resource with a specific purpose?

I think Jeff's question and the questions surrounding information literacy echo another important issue that is often asked: what do librarians do? At times, I am not sure that librarians always know what we do. Information literacy is a perfect example of how librarians are trying to be many things to many people. We are trying to be teachers, to be educators, to be gatekeepers, to be technologists, to be generalists. What is it that we, as a profession, want to be first and foremost?

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