Thursday, July 29, 2010

Information literacy in context

Today I'm considering what information literacy in context means and why it is important. I believe first and foremost that it's important because information is experienced in socio-cultural context and outside this information has no meaning. I work in an academic library which means the context of IL I'm dealing with is a tertiary education setting in which information literacy instruction is delivered in accordance with the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework with the aim of enabling individuals to know when information is needed and identify, locate, evaluate, organise and effectively use the information to help resolve personal, job related or broader social issues and problems (Bundy, 2004: 3). However, most of the time in academic libraries those wider contexts are forgotten and all that is addressed in instruction is the immediate context of formal education. By that I mean IL instruction that transfers generic skills and attributes such as how to find a book or use a database. Those skills are necessary in a formal educational setting but are they transferable to wider contexts? Possibly, however the context in which learning these skills occurs could dramatically influence the outcome. What I mean by that is the p word, 'pedegogy'. If academic libraries consider IL instruction in the context of everyday life information seeking rather than purely in the context of formal education then we have a real chance of achieving the goal of creating lifelong learners.

Web 2.0 has created a blurring of the lines between formalised learning and informal play. That means curriculum has changed and now learners are expected to be active content creators engaged in collaborative projects in both physical and digital space. Is our information literacy instruction supporting learners in this context? Does the framework apply? Traditionally, IL instruction would provide learners with the skills to find information relating to the content they need to create but I believe we have an opportunity to move beyond that and provide skills in how to create and share content collaboratively. Lee Rainie considers so called 'digital natives' to be networked learners who embrace new technology, mobile devices, gaming and social media as part of their information landscape. If we want to support learners in the 21stC we should take up the challenge and provide new IL programs supporting this changing information landscape.

Getting back to context. I believe IL instruction should be situated in an everyday life context so learners can apply their experiences to formal and informal educational settings. If learners can apply IL instruction to formal and informal learning environments we may be able to achieve the elusive goal of creating lifelong learners. For example, there is an abundance of literature about students prolific searching of google over library resources. Why not teach them to use google more effectively so they can evaluate results and find more scholarly resources? (In doing so they may better understand the weaknesses of google and the strengths of library databases.) This provides them with skills they can apply in formal and informal contexts in everyday life.

I also believe there is context within context. (Has anyone seen Inception?) Within an everyday life information seeking context there are socio-cultural contexts to consider when planning IL training. For example, an academic library IL program might be three tiered consisting of: generic skills, subject specific skills, assignment specific skills. When teaching subject or assignment specific skills is there a way to apply an everyday life lens so the experiences can be applied to formal and informal settings? I believe we can achieve this by understanding the needs of learners and the socio-cultural context of their learning.

Summing up. Learning occurs through formal and informal means knowingly and unknowingly throughout life. If we embed IL training in an everyday life context learners can apply these experiences to formal and informal settings and perhaps achieve the goal of lifelong learning.


  1. Great post! I absolutely agree with your points about situating info lit into the broader context of the learner. This would mean that info lit would then actually be relevant to learners and we would be helping to provide skills and knowledge that can be used across all stages of life/work.

    Of course, this raises questions about the skills and knowledge of the librarians who are going to be doing this super-powered, super-relevant info lit training...

  2. I quite like this three tiered approach! I often concentrate almost wholly on the assignment in question so they see the relevance. Also timing of any intervention is key. However the subject specific stuff is at the back, and should build as the student gains more knowledge. The generic skill part is the hardest because it can be the foundation upon which the rest lies. Librarians are going to argue about how much of this is part of their job. If they don't think it is any part of their job or don't see how it fits in, I think they won't have a job much longer! Thank you again for a great post.

  3. Rebecca WhiteheadAugust 5, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Hi Sophie, I have been reading your blog for awhile now and find it really interesting. I agree with ur comment about Google and teaching student's to use it better. I work in an academic Library and together with another new grad. Librarian we have developed a hands on Google session. We wrote about our experience in incite Jan/Feb edition, the article was called: So you think you can google? I thought u might be interested! I would love to hear how u go if u decide to pursue Google training...

  4. Hi Rebecca, Thanks for your comments! I read your article and I was so jealous I didn't come up with that name 'So you think you can google?' Awesome! We started teaching google classes early last year and they are sooooooooooo popular! We run Google skills 1 and Google skills 2. 1 is advanced google search tips, google scholar, google docs and google books. Google 2 is RSS, google reader and iGoogle. Much to get through in 1 hour but it's fun to teach. We have heaps of sessions per semester from beginning to end and they're usually booked out by undergrads, postgrads, researhers and academics! We're thinking about how we can extend this range of classes at the moment. Would love to hear more about your experiences.