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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Information Literacy Empowers

(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?")
Several months ago, my doctor informed me that I’d need surgery. Since I was in good health and circumstances weren’t dire, I was shocked to hear that it’d take six weeks for my body to heal and that I’d not be allowed to work during this time.

I was given a brochure explaining the procedure, but it left me with many unanswered questions ranging from the vain--How will the scar look?—to the dire—What are the risks?—to the practical—How will I lift myself out of bed? I soon learned to fire off a list of questions whenever my doctor would pause long enough to talk. In between these regularly-scheduled visits, I learned what I could in order to make the most of these rapid-fire exchanges.

I chose to use tools like Medline Plus which takes information from the largest medical library in the world, the National Library of Medicine, and explains medical terms and conditions in ways average people can understand. I also evaluated posts from online discussion forums and blogs for relevance and credibility so that I might learn from people’s personal experiences. When I wanted the latest medical research, I searched in PubMed since it has over 21 million citations taken from scholarly biomedical literature. And when full-text wasn’t freely available on the Web, I didn’t let that stop me. Knowing my options as a member of this University, I used Citation Finder to search the University’s collections, and have used interlibrary loan when I needed full-text from other libraries.

As an information literate, I empower myself by learning what I need to ask, where to find information, and how to leverage resources to get answers to my questions.

--Paige Mann, Visiting Assistant Librarian

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Information Literacy = A Human Right, A Civic Duty, Something Like That

(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?")

The concept of being information literate is at the center of my work as a librarian/educator in higher education, but it is also central to my life as a citizen, parent, consumer, scholar, patient, advocate, and fellow human being. The shorthand definition on which most information literacy instruction efforts in academic institutions are based is represented by the “information literate student” who knows how to find, evaluate, and use information and who understands the ways in which information is created, disseminated, and organized in our society.

I find that my own perspective in relation to definitions of “information literacy” is aligned with UNESCO’s conception of Media & Information Literacy (MIL)as empowering to the individual and the collective. MIL “lies at the core of freedom of expression and information - since it empowers citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, to critically evaluate their content, and to make informed decisions as users and producer of information and media content.” This definition resonates with those articulated by my colleagues. It means one knows how to discriminate, that one has choices, and that one has the knowledge and the tools to learn how to learn.

To be information literate in our information-saturated culture is to question how that information operates in our lives and others, to be critically aware of multiple and variant perspectives, to know where to search for and how to sift through all that richness of data/information/knowledge, and communicate, contribute, and produce your own understandings.

--Shana Higgins, Armacost Library Instructional Services/Reference Librarian

Monday, October 17, 2011

So much to learn, so little time

(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?")

Information literacy is really not about libraries. It is not information management, library use, research – NO -- none of these.  It is about learning, it is about teaching yourself what you need to know. Information literacy means developing the ability to learn how to learn, and how to keep on learning.

It is about learning your options so that you know how to solve a problem or make a decision based on information. How to know what information is valid and which is best for the purposes you have in mind and how to present your thoughts based on this reliable information and the knowledge gained from it.

In a world that changes constantly and where so much information is everywhere, being information literate means you can find, judge, and analyze, critique, use information to know what you need to know, to feel secure that you have exhausted the possibilities and will make an informed decision, that you have the information to move towards a solution to a problem: buying a car, choosing a college, identifying a symptom, diagnosing an illness, investing money, starting a business, writing a report, planning a trip... Wherever your path takes you -- have what it takes to know!

Become information literate and continue to learn so that you will know!

-- Gabriela Sonntag, Armacost Library Director

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Choose Your Own...

(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?")

Agency. In a word, that's what information literacy means to me. Before information retrieval skills, before the ability to critically evaluate information sources, before the competence to use information accurately and ethically, an information seeker must be aware of herself as an actor, someone who has the ability to choose and the freedom to act.

The knowledge that one has the ability to choose and the free will to exercise that choice is a very basic, fundamental concept. It is so beyond obvious that many feel it's not worth examining or even mentioning. But without this hyper level of self-awareness, we can't take the step to examine our own positions and the reasons for our actions, much else the positions of others who make efforts to convince us to agree (or go along) with their points of view.

From this sense of self-awareness springs the knowledge and ability to choose. In a big way, the agency I write about here is more a disposition or habit of mind than a skill, strategy, or tool. I'm talking about the mental framework that enables a person to choose and understand her choices.

This hyper-awareness is, I believe, part of what makes information literacy so exhausting. Underneath the hounding down of facts using different tools and resources and developing the skills to discern which sources will work for which information problem, an information seeker needs to know that there's a need for information in the first place and that she can do something about it.

Research and information seeking, when done well, takes time, persistence, and care. In a way, information seeking is very much like embarking on a big adventure. And like most journeys worth the effort, preparation can mean the difference between success and failure, life and death. Exercising one's self-reflective capacities, one's inclination towards and discernment of varying courses of action, is very much like the equipment check before the trip.

Be sure to choose wisely.

-- Melissa Cardenas-Dow, Armacost Library Outreach/Reference Librarian

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Discovering Reality

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

Information literacy is exhausting for someone who cares about reality.

But reality is worth it! I believe everything in the universe is knowable—and all knowledge is worth having. Everything we humans know, we know by gathering data, finding patterns, making predictions, and testing those predictions.

I love learning about what’s been discovered, proven, calculated, disproven, and what’s still unknown. And since human understanding and knowledge is always changing, it can all be difficult to keep track of. That’s where information literacy comes in.

“Information literacy” refers to the skills needed to discriminate between good information, bad information, and everything in between. Since I care about reality, I care about facts. If you’re like me, you know tracking down facts can be hard. It can also be expensive.

Opinions are easier to come by than facts. Opinions informed by facts are more useful, but you have to sort through a pile of opinions to find one. Then you have to go through those to find the opinions formed by a careful evaluation of a variety of facts. Luckily, once you find a trustworthy source such as a journalist, scientist, or publisher, you can safely rely on them—but even then you have to be careful of overreliance on authority.

You could evaluate the facts yourself. Again, finding a reliable source can be difficult and costly. If the source is free, can you figure out why it’s free and adjust your evaluation accordingly? If the source isn’t free, can you afford to access it? Perhaps more importantly: have you looked at your local library’s resources to see what’s already been paid for? News articles are always being published about the latest corporately-funded research; have you checked scientific and scholarly resources to compare findings?

Reality isn’t always easy to come by, but it is a joy. Luckily, libraries have the discovery tools ready for you.

-- Emily Croft, Armacost Library Acquisitions Assistant

Banned Books Week: hype or not?

With Banned Books Week 2011 over, that's it for censorship and book challenges, right? No. If anything, it's the time for us to think more deeply about the act of challenging information and excluding materials.

This is why Armacost Library decided to extend the conversation wall question till this Friday, October 15. And to ask the question we did--is Banned Books Week hype or not? 

Early in September 2011, columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote an opinion piece that stated that various reasons why he thinks Banned Books Week is hype. What's more, he politicizes the concern over book challenges, censorship and intellectual freedom as something championed by "the American left" and is therefore "propaganda." Goldberg does bring up some significant points, such as the differences between challenging books for age appropriateness and outright banning books from schools and libraries.

A response from Elaine Magliaro, school teacher and librarian, came not too long after. Then, Jonah Goldberg's rebuttal after that.

As we march on to October, and celebrate Information Literacy Awareness month, Armacost Library invites the University of Redlands community to continue to think, write and speak about the issues raised by Banned Books Week--limitations placed on access to information and our collective intellectual and academic freedoms.