Information Literacy

A. Vellaichamy (2017)

1.1 Preamble:

Information has become so important for decision making in today’s world. In the present world Air, Water, Food, Shelter is the four basic needs of human beings and now information is added as the fifth need. The technology world depends upon the information for social, economic, scientific, technological and industrial development. The problem of information used to be a scarcity of information but in the present century, it has become an abundance of information. Information literacy is the surest way of helping solve the problem of choosing the right information from the abundance of information from various media. In the recent, decades have been termed as the “information age,” and the early twenty-first century has given rise to the “knowledge age” with the awareness that information in itself cannot solve problems; it is the effective use of information that promises solutions, therefore people need to be information literate (Farmer and Henri, 2008).Information Literacy

Information literacy can play a vital role in educating the users of libraries on various information and documentary resources, where to start searching for information, what, where and how to access them and compare retrieved information and how to communicate their information. Information literacy is important particularly in this age because 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 (ACRL, 2000). Information literacy skills assessment helps to reflect upon the teaching-learning process; provides input for revision and development of the curriculum, and helps to measure and monitor students’ performance.

1.2 Information Literacy:

The term Information literacy was first used by the president of US information Literacy Associations – Prof. Paul G. Zurkowski in 1974. Information literacy is the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically and share that information. IL is the only way to enable people to make efficient, effective, creative, legal, ethical and strategic use of information for achieving their goals.

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information (Association of College and Research Libraries [ACRL], 2000). Information is available through libraries, community resources, special interest organization, media, and the internet and increasingly, information comes to individuals in an unfiltered format, raising questions about its authenticity, validity, and reliability. Information literacy forms the basis of lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education.

Information is available from many sources and in many formats, such as printed text, television, videos, websites, library databases, etc. To be information literate, one needs to know why, when, and how to use all these tools and think critically about the information they provide. IL is concerned with teaching and learning about the whole range of information sources and formats. Information literacy is two words “Information- and -Literacy”. Information is organized data and literacy is the ability to read, write and understand. Literacy is a basic tool to participate in information literacy activities. So, traditionally information literacy is the ability to read, write and understand information. But, in computer and network environment, information literacy is related to the ability to access, process and use information effectively. The information literacy is the ability to recognise the need of information and locate access, use, compare and evaluate information so as to take quick and take right decision and thereby progressing towards knowledge society.

1.2.1 Definitions of Information Literacy:

Paul Zurkowski first defined information literacy in (1974) as ‘people trained in the application of information sources to their work can be called literates.’ The UNESCO-sponsored Meeting of Experts on Information literacy in Prague defines that,

“Information literacy” encompasses knowledge of one’s information concerns and needs, and the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, organize and effectively create, use and communicate information to address issues or problems at hand; it is a prerequisite for participating effectively in the information society, and is part of the basic human right of lifelong learning (US National Commission on Library and Information Science, 2003).

While Sheila Webber, who was instrumental in developing the Council for Information Literacy Implementation Program (UK) (CILIP) definition, had also developed an earlier definition:

According to Webber “information literacy” is the adoption of appropriate information behavior to obtain, through whatever channel or medium, information well one’s to information needs, together with a critical awareness of the importance of wise and ethical use of information in society (Webber & Johnston, 2008). Information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.

1.2.2 Objectives of Information Literacy:

Within the frame work of the United Nations Literacy Decades (2003-2012), the new Information Literacy Program of UNESCO was launched during 2004-2005. The general objectives are;

  1. To foster the development of information literate citizen with the technical and critical thinking skills and abilities needed to identify, acquire, manage and use the information to enrich all aspects of their work and personal lives.
  2. To identify and encourage effective practices in information literacy around the world.
  3. To promote information literacy through regional approaches and to facilitate exchanges.
  4. To propose innovative curricula about information literacy.
  5. To improve co-operation between government officials, researchers, educators, librarians, and media practitioners.

1.2.3 Special Aspects of Information Literacy:

Information literacy consists of the following aspects,

  • Tool literacy or the ability to understand and use the practical and conceptual tools of current information technology relevant to education and the areas of work and professional life that the individual expects to inhabit.
  • Resource literacy or the ability to understand the form, format, location and access methods of information resources, especially daily expanding networked information resources.
  • Social-structural literacy or knowing how information is socially situated and produced.
  • Research literacy or the ability to understand and use the IT-based tools relevant to the work of today’s researcher and scholar.
  • Publishing literacy, or the ability to format and publish research and ideas electronically, in textual and multimedia forms (including via World Wide Web, electronic mail and distribution lists, and CDROMs).
  • Emerging technology literacy, or the ability to adapt to, understand, evaluate and make use of the continually emerging innovations in information technology so as not to be a prisoner of prior tools and resources, and to make intelligent decisions about the adoption of new ones.
  • Critical literacy or the ability to evaluate critically the intellectual, human and social strengths and weaknesses, potentials and limits, benefits and costs of information technologies.

1.2.4 Abilities of Information Literate:

An information literate individual is one who is able to

  • Determine the extent of information needed.
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically.
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base.
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Understand the economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information ethically and legally.

1.2.5 Development of the Concept:

A seminal event in the development of the concept of information literacy was the establishment of the American Library Association’s Presidential Committee on Information Literacy whose final report outlined the importance of the concept. The concept of information literacy built upon and expanded the decades-long efforts of librarians to help their users learn about and utilize research tools (e.g., periodical indexes) and materials in their own libraries. Librarians wanted users to be able to transfer and apply this knowledge to new environments and to research tools that were new to them. Information literacy expands this effort beyond libraries and librarians, and focuses on the learner, rather than the teacher (Grassian, 2004; Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2001, pp.14-20).

The timeline of origin and growth of the Concept of ‘IL’:

• 1974: The related term ‘Information Skills’ was first introduced by Zurkowski to refer to people’s ability to solve their information problems by using relevant information sources and applying relevant technology (Zurkowski, 1974).

• 1983: ‘A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform’ shows that Americans are “rising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate.”

• 1986: ‘Educating Students to Think: The Role of the School Library Media Program’ outlines the roles of the library and the information resources in school education.

• 1987: ‘Information Skills for an Information Society: A Review of Research’ includes library skills and computer skills in the definition of information literacy.

• 1988: Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs.

• 1989: National Forum on Information Literacy (NFIL), a coalition of more than 65 national organizations, had its first meeting.

• 1998: ‘Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning’ emphasizes that the mission of the school library media program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.

1.2.6 Assessment of Information Literacy:

Assessment of IL is complicated by the broad variation in how IL is conceptualized and understood by individuals. Foster (1993), argues, however, that it is this fluidity in the semantic meaning of the term that ultimately renders it unworkable in a practical sense; in particular, he observes that it is impossible to recognize a person who is “information illiterate”, when there has been no consensus as to what constitutes a person who is recognized as “information literate-: -Since ultimately ‘information literate people are those who have learned how to learn’ (Foster, 1993).

Despite semantic disagreements that have beset the IL movement, there have been consistent attempts to develop a concrete pedagogical structure for IL and to facilitate the development of IL programs from a practical perspective. The high-profile ACRL “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education” (ACRL, 2000) represent a comprehensive attempt to offer a legitimate framework for assessing IL at post-secondary level, by providing educators with a pre-determined list of desirable IL standards, and including a range of indicative “performance indicators” and learning outcomes in order to enable the construction of valid assessment tools in multiple subject contexts.

1.3 Need for Information Literacy:

The purpose of the library is to collect information and make the information available, but the ultimate goal is to ensure that library users gain ready to access the information they need in a timely manner. So, the information is not only collected but use appropriately. Information is the main aspect of every human’s life, education, and business activities etc. The need for information literacy may be essential due to the following reasons:

1. Locate and access: Information literacy entails the ability to search, locate, evaluate and use this information or facts to create useful knowledge.

2. Selpmotivated learners: Information literacy creates greater responsibility towards their own learning, which is turn would help them become self-motivated learners and thinkers who are creative, analytical and effective.

3. Effective communication: The information disseminated correctly and accurately and effective and scholarly communication of information handling.

4. Recognize information: Information is available through community resources, special internet organizations, manufacturers and service providers, media, libraries, and the internet. Information is available and retrieved for various sources and services. But the information seekers should be selecting the best information as per need.

5. Develop and implementation: The indispensable nature of IL led to the development and implementation of IL standards and guidelines for the integration of information related skills in the academic curriculum, where such competencies can be imparted more effectively to information seekers.

6. Use for ICT for IL: Information technology skills enable an individual to use computers, software applications, databases and apply related technologies to achieve a wide variety of academic, work-related, and personal goals. Among these, information literacy is to focus on content, communication, analysis, information searching, and evaluation; whereas information technology fluency focuses on a deep understanding of technology and graduated increasingly skilled use of it.

7. Changing the library environment: The changing library environment requires the libraries to play a more important role through information literacy programmes. The abundance of information available through the internet inpublic domain is in the form of subject gateways, e-books, e-journals, subject and subject concept, web pages, etc.

1.3.1 Medium of Information Literacy:

  1. Computer Literacy: Computer is a tool that facilitates and extends our abilities to learn and process information. Computer literacy is generally thought of as familiarity with the personal computer and the ability to create and manipulate documents and data via word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and other software tools (ACRL, 2000). As technology changes by leaps and bounds, existing skills become antiquated and there is no migration path to new skills.
  2. Network Literacy: It is a closely related term to computer literacy, but is still evolving. Network literacy is the ability to locate, access, and use information in a networked environment such as the World Wide Web (ACRL, 2000).
  3. Digital Literacy: Digital literacy is the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it presented via computers. Digital literacy enables to critically examine the wide range of resources that are accessible through online (ACRL, 2000). Digital literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyze and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process.
  4. Visual Literacy: Visual literacy is defined as the ability to understand and use images, including the ability to think, learn and express oneself in terms of images (ACRL, 2000). It is divided into three constructs – visual learning, visual thinking, and visual communication. Visual learning refers to the acquisition and constructionof knowledge as a result of interaction with visual phenomenon. Visual thinking involves the ability to organize mental images around shapes, lines, colours, textures and compositions. Visual communication is defined as using visual symbols to express ideas and convey meaning. Visual thinking and visual learning may come more easily than visual communication.
  5. Media Literacy: Media literacy is the ability of a citizen to access, analyse and produce information for specific outcomes (ACRL, 2000). Those who advocate media literacy recognize the influence television, motion pictures, radio, recorded music, news papers and magazines have on us daily. Both fictional and non fictional media provide information, help organize information and ideas, help create, reinforce and modify values and attitudes, help shape expectations and provide models for action. By developing lessons organized around these five assumptions, teachers can help students to be critical viewers and listeners who realize that all media are constructions that contain implicit messages.

1.3.2 Information Literacy and Higher Education:

Why is information literacy important to higher education? Studies have shown that students are entering college and university environments without fundamental research and information competence skills (for example, the ability to formulate a research question, then efficiently and effectively find, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information pertaining to that question).

Students may have picked up the skills to send electronic mail, chat, and download music, but many have not learned how to effectively locate information; evaluate, synthesize, and integrate ideas; use information in original work or give proper credit for information used. Moreover, faculty want to see an improvement in the quality of student work, and students want to become more confident in their ability to complete assignments, carry out research projects, and become active, independent learners. In addition, information literacy is required by accredited organizations, expected by employers in the workplace for organizational success, and desired by society, which needs an informed citizenry that is capable of making well-reasoned and well-founded decisions.

Incorporating information literacy across curricula, in all programs and services, and throughout the administrative life of the university, requires the collaborative efforts of faculty, librarians, and administrators. Through lectures and by leading discussions, faculties establish the context for learning. Faculty also inspire students to explore the unknown, offer guidance on how best to fulfill information needs, and monitor students’ progress. Academic librarians coordinate the evaluation and selection of intellectual resources for programs and services; organize, and maintain collections and many points of access to information; and provide instruction to students and faculty who seek information. Administrators create opportunities for collaboration and staff development among faculty, librarians, and other professionals who initiate information literacy programs, lead in planning and budgeting for those programs and provide ongoing resources to sustain them.

1.3.3 Information Literacy is a lifelong learning:

Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:

  • Determine the extent of information needed.
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically.
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base.
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose and
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally.

1.4. Information Literacy Standards for teacher education:

The information Literacy standards for Teacher Education were approved by ACRL board of directors on May 11, 2011. The main purposes of the Information Literacy Standards for Teacher Education are to:

  • Guide teacher education faculty and instruction librarians in developing information literacy instruction for teacher education students.
  • Enable the evaluation and assessment of such instruction and curricula through benchmarking outcomes.

The Standards also aim to lead teacher education students to consider how they might integrate information literacy into their future curriculum, instruction, and assessment activities once they become members of the teaching profession.

  • The information literate teacher education student defines and articulates the need for information and selects strategies and tools to find that information.
  • The information literate teacher education student locates and selects information based on its appropriateness to the specific information need and the developmental needs of the student.
  • The information literate teacher education student organizes and analyzes the information in the context of specific information needs and the developmental appropriateness for the audience.
  • The information literate teacher education student synthesizes, processes, and presents the information in a way that is appropriate for the purpose for which information is needed.
  • The information literate teacher education student knows how to ethically use and disseminate information.

Though the standards are used as a guide to assessment, it has been found that use of these standards on the college campuses has not been absolute- rather pieces have been used as a framework for discussion and components have been adopted to reflect the need of constituencies. Cain (2002) has been critical of the standards as an assessment tool. She claimed that assessment tools assume that there is discernible evidence or proof of what is being measured.” Without a concrete understanding of what is meant by information and with thought processes and the like being difficult to measure exactly, applying standards may well result in the measurement of existing knowledge rather than the development of knowledge.

The importance of these information literacy standards for higher education lies in the fact that it provides frameworks for teaching information literacy as well as assessing the information literacy level of individuals (Senlson & Stillwell, 2001). The standards can be used to develop information literacy programs and will ensure that information literacy training efforts will be unified and will contribute towards the clarification of desired outcomes (O’Connor, Radcliff, & Gedeon, 2001).

1.5 Information Literacy Standards:

Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, 2000), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), released the ‘Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education’. There are five standards, which are directly linked to a host of performance indicators. These standards and performance indicators are often considered the best practices against which institutions of higher education can implement and assess information literacy programs. The standards are:

  • Standard One: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  • Standard Two: The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Standard Three: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  • Standard Four: The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Standard Five: The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

These standards are meant to span from the simple to more complicated, or in terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, from the “lower order” to the “higher order”. Lower order skills would involve for instance being able to use an online catalogue to find a book in an academic library. Higher order skills would involve critically evaluating and synthesizing information from multiple sources into a coherent interpretation or argument.

There are five standards and twenty two performance indicators for assessing information literacy competency. The standards focus upon the needs of the students in higher education at all levels of education. The standards also list a range of outcomes for assessing students’ progress towards information literacy. These outcomes serve as guidelines for faculty, librarians and others in developing local methods for measuring students learning in the context of an institution’s unique mission.

1.6 Why Information Literacy?

One can understand the importance of information literacy by just analyzing the following Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for life”. The implication of the proverb is that the customers have to be empowered for life with transferable skills. The advantages of information literacy are;

a) Saving of time by information skills

b) Effective deployment of information service staff

c) Best use of information resources

d) To add value to the profession as a whole

e) Effective use of stock

f) Abundant information choices

g) Caution on unfiltered information raising questions of validity, reliability, and authenticity.

1.6.1 Information literacy model:

Different models have been developed and propagated by authors, theorists, and academicians.

Information Search process (Kuhlthau C. C., 1993): Information Search process model based on the constructivist approach was developed by Kuhlthau. The model has seven stages which include initiation, selection, pre-focus exploration, formulation, collection, presentation, and assessment. This model demonstrates the users’ approach to the research process and how users’ confidence increases.

Seven Pillars of Information Literacy (Society of College, 1999): SCONUL Advisory Committee on Information Literacy developed Seven Pillars of Information Literacy model in 1999. The model has seven competence levels which include the ability to recognise a need for information, the ability to distinguish way in which the information gap may be addressed, the ability to construct strategies for locating information, the ability to locate and access information, the ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources, the ability to organise, apply and communicate information to others in ways appropriate to the situation and the ability to synthesise and build upon existing information, contributing to the creation of new knowledge.

The Big 6 Skills (Eisenberg & Berkowitz, 1990): This is a process model developed to solve an information problem. It has 6 stages of the information problem-solving process that students apply in their information problem-solving process, namely task definition, information seeking strategies, location, and access, use of information synthesis and evaluation.

Research Process Model (Stripling & Pitts, 1988) is used by students as a guide through the stages of creating a research paper. It has ten steps starting from choosing a research topic and ending with the presentation of the final topic.

Pathways to Knowledge (Pappas & Tepe, 2002): The Information Inquiry model by Pappas and Tepe includes pathways to knowledge and is meant to encourage students to continuously explore and re-assess as they go about with their information process. The model has six steps namely appreciation and enjoyment, pre-search, search, interpretation, communication, and evaluation.

Original Reference Article:

  • Vellaichamy, A. (2013). Information literacy skills in the use of electronic resources among the faculty members of mother Teresa Womens University and its affiliated colleges_ An analytical study. Retrieved from:


Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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