There were a couple of comments in the Module PowerPoints this week in my library course on Reference that really hit home for me in relation to information literacy. The first was in Alison Johnson’s piece where she talked about standards. I’m completely on her side about the value despite a lot of boredom around the idea of rules about practice. In the case of information literacy, what I’ve heard from corporations is that students are not only not trained in standards when they come into the professional world, but they don’t appreciate their value. The truth is that we are a global society, now, particularly in areas related to science, engineering and technology. Librarians have a powerful opportunity when it comes to collecting and disseminating standards in the learning process in the higher education environment. And information literacy is another place where standards are not only valuable but integral to the progression of innovation and entrepreneurship. The skill to not only navigate but interpret and evaluate information is the difference between drowning in the massive amounts of information and data and leveraging this wonderful knowledge to solve problems and make progress.
The other aha moment was in the Kristin Patrick’s commentary about the term “information literacy” and the debate around its value. I share this conflict. On the one hand, it’s lost its power in the midst of so many other “literacies.” There is “data literacy,” “financial literacy…” – I’ve even heard “relationship literacy.” Yuck! Having said that, we have been using this term for so long (research is founded on this term) I do think we need to stick with it. But as libraries, I think we need to own it. We are the literacy people! We need to take it back from the fringes.
As a development professional and philanthropy scholar, I read the ACRL framework on Information Literacy and thought, “this is amazing stuff – but who is going to push this through?” Teaching our users about authority, skepticism, and an understanding of how knowledge is created (these are real people writing this stuff with all their biases and misunderstandings – not gods) is more important than ever in a time where information proliferates likes a virus and much of it is rather like a virus… My reaction is, “who is the leader who can take this skill and passion to the masses?” While we all develop skills and knowledge on how to do what needs to be done to mitigate ignorance, complacency and questionable agendas, who connects what we do to the people who need our expertise?
I’ve worked in many library environments, and as I’ve said before – librarians are my favorite people. I respect their skills but also their passion and their utter commitment to their user. But leaders have to step up to sit at the table with the powers-that-be and make the case for this service. I’ve had countless conversations with information specialists who bemoan the fact that they aren’t getting reference questions anymore or users don’t seem to care about the sources they are leveraging for knowledge or stakeholders don’t understand the value of libraries. As much as I want to knock heads together sometimes, this is not the role of the librarian. It is not their natural state. Librarians, in my mind, are the highest level of philanthropists. And as one of my favorite library scholars, Michael Stephens, writes about in his scholarship – librarianship is one of the highest expressions of love. (Sorry I know that word freaks Midwesterners out, sometimes, but I’m from Mississippi where we talk about love all the time!)
Libraries and organizations like ALA and ACRL have done an excellent job of creating standards and educating and empowering information professionals to have a passion for information literacy. What has to happen, however, is for library leaders to give librarians a platform to make it happen. I know, myself, that donors who love higher education, corporations who need information literate workers (did you know that the Department of Labor predicts that by 2020, 60% of jobs in the US will require a secondary education credential?) and foundations who want to solve the grand challenges in our world all love information literacy. The big step in my mind as a philanthropy scholar who is leveraging information IL-literacy as a major component to some of the greatest challenges we face as a society and culture, is to bridge what we do with what our users and our world need.
So that was a bit more of a rant than a discussion (I love information literacy, folks!), but my reading of these amazing documents that are so well thought out and thorough in their application is that our gift to students and the world is this skill. No one can do this but librarians, and people need to know what we do. Unfortunately, they don’t. I meet with philanthropists all the time who are blown away when they learn about the difference we are making everyday in schools, with students and faculty and business. Not only do we need to get comfortable with shouting this from the rooftops, but we need to take responsibility for ensuring that our users understand the need and engage with the process of learning – and in the world we live in – that requires being information literate.