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Sunday, October 9, 2011

What is Information Literacy?

If you ask someone “What is information literacy?” they will respond with simple description of finding and using information.

Despite the many research papers that identify information literacy as the driving force behind enhanced student learning (Langford 1998, Grafstein 2002), there still seems to be no agreed definition of information literacy in schools (Herring 2011, Buschman 2009).  Often information literacy is misunderstood or substituted for concepts such as “information technology literacy, computer literacy, library literacy, information skills and learning to learn” (Bruce 1997 p21).

It is important for a teacher librarian to have a clear definition of information literacy as often the teaching and learning of these skills form the foundation of many learning tasks. Eisenberg (2008) makes the point that “every person in every possible setting” uses information and the skill in being able to filter out inaccurate information means that IL is an important life skill to develop.

Langford’s (1998) description of information literacy as being “literate in the field of information” is often interpreted as the information skills that Bruce (1997) talks about. Ryan & Wall (2010), p32 have defined information literacy in familiar terms, “students can access, use, organise, create, present and evaluate information”, which is supportive of the descriptors given by both ALIA (2006) and ALA (1989). ALIA’s (2003) descriptor includes efficiently as a key term in regards to how the information is used. Tessmer’s (1985) descriptor includes the word effectiveness and identifies that information is used for a specific or given need. This is supportive of Badke’s (2010) descriptor that identifies that the reason why we would seek information is to solve a problem. Wolf (2007) identifies information literacy  as “the ability to access, evaluate, and use information efficiently and effectively”. The introduction of the words efficiently and effectiveness implies that higher order thinking skills are part of the attributes of an information literate student.

Behrens (1994) identifies that a definition of information literacy has expanded to “accommodate the growing requirements for the effective handling of information”. Pariser (2011) makes an important point that developments in technology may impact unknowingly on the quality of information. A definition of information literacy must acknowledge that information literacy skills are more than just a “way of thinking and reasoning about a subject”; they need to be both contextual and must be adaptable (Grafstein 2002).

Both Bruce (1997) and Eisenberg’s (2008)’s descriptors resonate with me as they both identify that IL does not stand on it’s own. Bruce talks about the multiple literacies within the school environment that influence how information literacy skills are developed and similarly Eisenberg talks about information literacy as a process that needs to be seen within the context of learning. Kuhlthau and Maniotes (2007) identifies that IL is just one of several literacies that occur during the inquiry learning process.


ALIA (2003), Information Literacy Forum Advocacy Kit 2003,

ALIA (2006), Statement on information literacy for all Australian’s,

Badke, W. (2010). Information Overload? Maybe Not. Online, September 1, 52-54. (accessed September 8, 2011).

Behrens, Shirley J.  (1994)A conceptual analysis and historical overview of information literacy [electronic resource] CSU - Reserve

Bruce, C. (1997). Descriptions of information literacy. In “The seven faces of information literacy” (pp. 20-41). Adelaide : Auslib Press.

Eisenberg, MB. (2008). 'Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age', DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 28, 2, pp. 39-47, Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 September 2011.

Grafstein, A. (2002). A disciplined approach to Information Literacy. The Journal of Academic Librarianship: Jul 2002,. Vol. 28, Number 4, p. 197-204. EBSCO

Langford, L. (1998). Information literacy: a clarification,, accessed on 23rd August 2011.

Kuhlthau, C., and L. Maniotes. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, January 1, 18-21. (accessed October 8, 2011).

Pariser, E (March 2011). “ Beware online "filter bubbles" | Video on, viewed 30 September 2011.

Ryan, S. & Wall, J. (2010). Digital Literacy: A Resource for Learning in Resourcing for Curriculum Innovation: Learning in a changing world. Pg 33, ch 5. Australian School Library Association.

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