Friday, July 09, 2010

Some random thoughts on engaged information literacy

I know I have read about this before, the issue of students who do not look at their research sources with a critical eye. I can't quite recall one particular piece I have in mind, but here are some places where I have pondered the idea: back in June 2006, again in December 2006, and more recently March 2009. Here is the deal: when we talk about information literacy, we usually refer to the definition saying that an information literate person is one who recognizes their information need, evaluates it, and then makes use of what he finds in an effective and ethical manner. I may be simplifying a bit as I put it in my own words, but I am sure that is the gist of it. If my two readers prefer, here is the link to the actual ACRL statement so they can compare. What I don't see much is the part of interpreting the information and critically making the best use of it. Most of the emphasis I have seen when it comes to information literacy, as an instruction librarian dealing with others in the same work and in a good amount of the literature, goes mostly into the finding part of the equation. But the question is how do you read that information? How do you interpret it? How do you recognize obvious as well as subtle biases? Better yet, why should the students care about something like bias in their sources? And shouldn't the professors deal with that anyhow? As an information literacy librarian, those are some of the questions I find interesting and force me to reflect on what I do.

I will say that librarians are in a much better position to "deal" with it at the point of need. We help the students find the information. We answer their questions from teaching how to find sources to what makes a good source. We have the requisite knowledge to analyze that information and point out any issues with it. Thus we can teach students how to be critical and skeptical information users and thinkers.

Maybe I am being a bit idealistic. After all, I happen to like that quote about democracy and educated citizens. It's the one from the Boston Public Library that says ""The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty."We are experts at finding information and answers; we are also experts at evaluating that information and deciding what sources are best and what sources are best left in the scrap pile. Yes, we do make such decisions. This is where we distinguish ourselves and where we bring value to our communities be they academic or public. It's what makes us professionals, even at a time when some of my own professional brethren keep insisting on belittling what we do or questioning said professionalism on some mere technicality. We should be able to tell a student, "if you use this source, keep in mind it has X or Y bias or issue with it." And if they ask how do we know, we show them exactly how we know so they learn. No, if they all learned, it would not put me out of work. Information and how it is organized as well as its nuances constantly changes, and I am the one who gets to keep up and teach others. I will always have work, and it will be meaningful work. Well, I think working to have a better educated citizenry is pretty meaningful.

* * *

Citation to the article that brought this about:

Emmons, Mark, Wanda Martin,, "Engaging Sources: Information Literacy and the Freshman Research Paper (Part I)." LOEX Quarterly 36.4 (Winter 2010): 8-9.

This is subscription based, and my library happens to subscribe. Use ILL if you want it.

A sample passage from the article I highlighted:

  • "While Joseph describes the program accurately and understood the study's evaluative purpose, he misrepresents its conclusion and fails to note that the article was written by two people who work for the California Dairy Council, the advocacy group for the California dairy industry that developed Nutrition Pathfinders in the first place" (8). This is an example of using studies sponsored by a specific industry with a financial stake on an issue.


The.Effing.Librarian said...

how to find is all that matters, not how to evaluate. because then we need to judge. information literacy as a means for using tools is not judgemental or biased. but if I say you lack critical thinking or evaluative skills, well, who am I to make that determination?

or worse, what instructor wants his students questioning his teaching methods or even his biases?

critical thinking leads to individualism.. and holy crap, didn't that idea go out with Woodstock and hippies? (we don't need more individuals; we have our leaders so now we just need willing followers.)

personal note: did you ever have Colombian empanadas? with meat and potatoes fried in a corn shell? with hot salsa and lime? they are awesome...

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Effing: I am hoping for the sake of the good cause that there is an /s tag in there someplace.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

I never joke about food, but everything else is fair game... so, yes, winking emoticons apply to the first 3 paragraphs, ;)