Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Article Note: On Information Literacy as a Sociopolitical Skill

Citation for the article:

Andersen, Jack. "The Public Sphere and Discursive Activities: Information Literacy as Sociopolitical Skills." Journal of Documentation 62.2 (2006): 213-228.

Read via ABI/Inform


The article provides a theoretical look at the concept of information literacy, drawing on the work of Habermas as well as looking at some composition scholars like Bizzell. What I found myself thinking about as I read it is how some of the ideas of public space might be applicable to social software and the spaces created in such online settings.

Some notes from the article:

  • "We cannot proceed and claiming to be devising information literacy frameworks if we do not have adequate analytical understandings of information literacy. Analytical understandings provide the means to reflection and seeing and interpreting information literacy issues in light of cultural, historical, political, and social perspectives" (215).
  • Standards only go so far: "Becoming an information literate person is not a matter of following a standard or to be evaluated by one but to be able to discursively act upon a society configured and mediated by discourse" (215). It's not just the basic outline of knowing you have an information need, knowing how to set up the search, finding the right tool and using it, and then evaluating the information and using it ethically. You have to be able to use your information literacy skills to participate broadly in society and its discussions. This is something that is sorely missing these days.
  • Definition of genre knowledge: ". . .knowledge about how to communicate strategically within a discourse community. That is, what the norms are concerning vocabulary, writing style, epistemology, ideology, text composition, etc., and what legitimize these norms" (218). This is leading to application of information literacy. Made sense to me. I've always speculated on how close composition and rhetoric theory could be to information literacy as we define it in our profession.
  • This may be part of the reason why good instruction librarians tailor their lessons to specific classes: "This [referring to Habermas's theory of the public] implies that knowledge about information sources and seeking and using them is predetermined by an insight into how knowledge is socially organized in society" (218).
  • "Consequently, the theory of public sphere can also be looked upon as a theory of the social organization of documents and knowledge in society" (219). Now, what if we looked at 2.0 spaces as a public sphere with its social organizations, genres, etc.? I am sure this has been explained better, or explored better by others such as Stutzman and boyd.
  • "This public sphere is constituted by private persons and characterized by different means and modes of public communication, this in particular being the press, periodicals, literature, coffee houses, reading societies, and the clubs" (220). Today this would be blogs, Facebook, and similar things.
  • Danger of removing context or teaching information literacy as something isolated: "Treating informational genres as mainly technical devices with no history, no context or no authorship stands in danger of removing attention away from technology as a human construction and from the kinds of labour put into informational genres (Warner, 2002)" (qtd. in 221).
  • Significance: "Information seeking in this respect is therefore involved in the discursive struggles taking place in society because of its social and ideological organization. This turns the information seeking activity into a sociopolitical activity as to search for information is to search in various spheres that are made up of a variety of historical origins, each giving birth to the way spheres are discursively constituted. Hence, information literacy covers the degree to which an information seeker is able to look through who produces and tries to naturalize and make transparent information and documents in society and for what purpose and with what means" (222). There is the key, in the last part of that line: asking when it comes to information for what purpose and with what means.
  • Solution: "The solution to these is not primarily databases with better user interfaces and the like. Information seeking skills are not solely a technical matter. Basically, information literacy must be grounded in an understanding of how the documents stored in the information system one uses are produced as a result of some generic communicative activities in society" (225).

2 comments:

Mark said...

Thanks for this, Angel. I really appreciate the emphasis on epistemology, discourse histories, and purpose(s) of information dissemination and use.

One of the things that has and does bug me about much of the literature and talk on info lit is this lack, and the emphasis on it as a technical skill. It most certainly is NOT a technical skill.

Yes, like many things in life there are technical skills that enable one to do/participate but all the technical skills in the world will not make one info literate.

If one knows that there are various and assorted conversations/discourse communities and that they have histories and purposes then one is much better able to learn [and appreciate] the need for the technical skills.

Again, thanks. And I do agree it ought to be applied to social software and spaces, and that Stutzman and boyd are probably good folks to look at for just that.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Thanks for stopping by Mark. Glad you found the article interesting. Teaching the students about the conversations has been something I have striven for both as a teacher and as a librarian.

Best, and keep on blogging.