So, what exactly is information literacy anyway?

When I tell people that I’m doing a PhD in information literacy, they stare at me with their heads tipped to the side and their eyebrows scrunched – the universal sign for “huh?

Let me explain. Information literacy (IL) has several different definitions, which makes things a little confusing at times. The definition in my job announcement was “IL encompasses the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to be able to make expedient and appropriate use of information sources in order to answer questions, solve problems and learn.”

So, what kind of skills and knowledge are we actually talking about here? In higher education, we librarians  try to teach our students  how to search for and find reliable sources of information, and to use these sources in the correct way when they write. An information literate person, in other words, has the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use information.

Locating information doesn’t mean just Googling everything. We teach our students to search in quality-controlled databases, but if you don’t have access to those, try Google Scholar – there you’ll find more reliable sources than in regular Google.

Evaluating information is important, especially now, when it can be hard to see the difference between what’s  real and what’s fake. Look for sources that are based on sound research. There are lots of guides explaining how to critically evaluate sources, like this one from UC Santa Cruz. Think critically, and don’t believe everything you read, or everything that your friends link to on FaceBook. (And don’t share dubious FaceBook-posts – fake stories spread much faster than the truth!)

Using sources correctly when writing is also an important skill. Students who forget to cite their sources can be accused of plagiarism. We teach students how to cite sources in the text and how to write reference lists in their papers. It’s a good rule for everyone – if you quote someone, or use someone’s ideas, photos, music, etc., give them credit for it!

So, I’m going to do research which can inform our teaching of IL in order to ensure the best possible learning outcomes. More to follow…

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