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INFORMATION LITERACY:
THE QUINTESSENTIAL LIBERAL ART

by Lynda Byrd Logan, Dean, Learning Resources

Every discipline has its buzzwords and librarianship has more than most. The problem with buzzwords is that only those closely associated with the discipline have a clue what those buzzwords mean. Information Literacy is a prime example. The dilemma for the librarian is how to help an old established educational system rethink its curricula offerings for instruction in the information age.

We begin by defining what it means to be information literate. Condorcet, in Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, maintains that "the acquisition of knowledge through the improvement of and democratization of education would contribute directly to political freedom and human happiness." He goes on to assert that ". . . nature has joined together indissolubly the progress of knowledge and that of liberty, virtue, and respect for the natural rights of man, leading inevitably to humanity’s perfection and happiness." Our own Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution link knowledge to liberty and happiness.

The academic librarian then has the daunting task of putting this broad concept in operational terms. How do we as gate keepers for information and all its technologies make the world understand what it means to be information literate? One must not only use the information technologies effectively, one must also be able to think critically about the information itself and what it means to be a free person living, working, and producing in the information age? How do we as instructors make sure that the information or data is given top priority in the minds of our students, faculty, and administrators rather than the technical methods for delivery of that information? How do we expand the notion of information literacy from the narrow computer, Internet view to a broader, more fundamental tool of human existence?

We begin by defining information literacy as not a technical art but a liberal art. In this context, curricula would change to include the following elements:

  1. Tool Literacy that would teach our students to use the information technologies such as the computer, the Internet, multimedia, etc.
  2. Resource Literacy that would help our students to understand how to locate, retrieve, use, and interpret information.
  3. Social-structure Literacy that teaches students how information is socially situated and produced.
  4. Research Literacy that enables our students to use the IT-based tools relevant to the work of today’s researchers and scholars.
  5. Publishing Literacy that enables our students to publish ideas electronically and in text and multimedia formats.
  6. Emerging Technology Literacy that will give our students a thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives enabling them to keep up with changes and innovations in the information technology arena.
  7. Critical Literacy that teaches our students to evaluate critically the intellectual, human and social strengths and weaknesses, potentials and limits, benefits and costs of information, and information technologies. (Shapiro, 1996)

We as librarians have bought into the notion that a knowledgeable citizenry underpins a free and humane society. We are certain that the teaching faculty embraces this idea as well. Our job now is to work closely with the college community to design and implement comprehensive, multi-dimensional information literacy curricula. Prince George’s Community College will not only send forth students who will be model teachers, health care professionals, social workers, psychologists, writers, entrepreneurs, and the like, we will also send forth truly learned scholars who have moral conviction, ethical principles, and a love for mankind.

In the near future, the Prince George’s Community College faculty librarians will be conducting workshops to help interested teaching faculty incorporate Information Literacy into their courses. It is imperative that the partnerships between the library and teaching faculties be strengthened and that we work together on a daily basis to develop the information literacy program. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities and partnerships so that we help students, who matriculate at this institution, to leave us highly information literate and prepared to live a transformed life in a small technologically charged world.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 3

Spring 2003