Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is Information Literacy Worth the Effort?

(Note: For the rest of October 2011, National Information Literacy Awareness Month, Armacost Library blog will showcase guest and regular writers. They were all asked to respond to the question "What does information literacy mean to me?")

Like my colleagues who have written already, I think of information literacy as a set of attitudes and skills. The premise of information literacy is that information influences our choices in every area of our lives. If we understand our priorities and recognize the information need within a given situation, then we can make good decisions and feel confident in our ability to get things done.

But why do we have to stop to consider our information needs? Is too much information really a problem? What’s the danger in deciding based on the “wrong” information? Certainly it makes a difference in some situations, such as a job seeker trying to negotiate her salary, or a society trying to decide whether to go to war. But surely there's much less at stake with a student paper. What's the harm in letting Google do the work and picking the first source that seems good enough?

Lately I've been thinking about cooking as a metaphor for developing information literacy. Faster and easier alternatives to home-cooked meals exist, but many people consider the extra time and effort worthwhile when compared against the health risks and environmental costs of mass-produced fast food. Subcultures such as the slow food movement have arisen to celebrate the creation of wholesome meals from local, trustworthy ingredients, savored deliberately in the company of friends. Cooking is a communal hobby, involving recipe-sharing and informal mentoring from those with more experience. I'd argue all these factors are also implicit in information literacy.

Ultimately, I would say that information literacy is worthwhile because the subjects we are studying, like the other choices we make in everyday life, are important enough to merit our full attention and our best thinking, informed by the most relevant sources we can bring to bear on the problem at hand. An idealistic notion, perhaps, but then ideals such a love of learning or a desire for personal empowerment are part of what drew many of us to higher education, and something our society needs to remain vital.

Sanjeet Mann
Electronic Resources Librarian

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