The key characteristic of the post industrial 21st century is that it is information abundant and intensive. Information literacy is thus required because of the ongoing proliferation of information resources and the variable methods of access. Individuals are faced with diverse information choices - in their studies, in the workplace, and in their lives. Information is available through community resources, special interest organisations, manufacturers and service providers, media, libraries, and the internet.
Increasingly, information comes unfiltered. This raises questions about authenticity, validity, and reliability. In addition, information is available through multiple media, including graphical, aural, and textual. These pose special challenges in evaluating, understanding and using information in an ethical and legal manner. The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information also pose large challenges for society. Sheer abundance of information and technology will not in itself create more informed citizens without a complementary understanding and capacity to use information effectively.
Information literacy has been generally defined as an understanding and set of abilities enabling individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the capacity to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”.
In a broader context, information literate people have been described as those who “know when they need information, and are then able to identify, locate, evaluate, organise, and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related, or broader social issues and problems”.
Information literate people
- recognise a need for information
- determine the extent of information needed
- access information efficiently
- critically evaluate information and its sources
- classify, store, manipulate and redraft information collected or generated
- incorporate selected information into their knowledge base
- use information effectively to learn, create new knowledge, solve problems and make decisions
- understand economic, legal, social, political and cultural issues in the use of information
- access and use information ethically and legally
- use information and knowledge for participative citizenship and social responsibility
- experience information literacy as part of independent learning and lifelong learning.
Information literacy incorporates, and is broader than, fluency in the use of information and communications technology (ICT). With digitisation of scholarly publications and the growth in online delivery, fluency with information technology requires more than the learning of software and hardware associated with computer literacy. Information literacy is an intellectual framework for recognising the need for, understanding, finding, evaluating, and using information.
These are activities which may be supported in part by fluency with information technology, in part by sound investigative methods, but most importantly through critical discernment and reasoning. Information literacy initiates, sustains, and extends lifelong learning through abilities that may use technologies but are ultimately independent of them.
Lifelong learning is “all formal, nonformal and informal learning - whether intentional or unanticipated - which occurs at any time across the lifespan”. However, intentional lifelong learning, either formally or self managed, is regarded as necessary due to rapid technological, social, cultural and economic change. Information literacy is a “prerequisite” and “essential enabler” for lifelong learning.
The American Library Association states that information literate people
... know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organised, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information for any task or decision at hand.
Further, the American Library Association states that information literacy is “a means of personal empowerment. It allows people to verify or refute expert opinion and to become independent seekers of truth”. Information literacy can be seen as a subset of independent learning that in turn is a subset of lifelong learning.
In 1994, Candy, Crebert and O’Leary’s report Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education connected information literacy with lifelong learning. Its profile of the lifelong learner included the following information literacy qualities or characteristics
- knowledge of major current resources available in at least one field of study
- ability to frame researchable questions in at least one field of study
- ability to locate, evaluate, manage and use information in a range of contexts
- ability to retrieve information using a variety of media
- ability to decode information in a variety of forms: written, statistical, graphs, charts, diagrams and tables
- critical evaluation of information.
Information literacy is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to engage critically with content and extend their investigations, become more self directed, and assume greater control over their own learning.