You might have heard a lot of “literacy” expressions lately…. “Computer literacy,” “Financial literacy,” “emotional literacy.” Well, what does it mean to have “information literacy?” Are you “information literate?”
Information literacy is the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” – so says the American Association of College and Research Libraries. In short, you can think of information literacy as being a smart and responsible information user and producer.
What are some signs that you are information literate? Let’s say your class is having a debate about the possibility of life on other planets. As an information literate person, what do you do?
- You know when you need information and the kind of information you need. You may have very firm ideas about whether or not there is extraterrestrial life, but given that this is a debate for class, you realize you can’t just rely on your personal opinion, stories of your uncle’s friend’s alien abduction, or any old information you find on the Web to convince your audience. You know you need to review the requirements of the assignment, then find high quality sources of information, including facts and expert analysis to make your point if you’re going to win the debate and get a good grade. You know what types of information are available and where to find them. For example, you know you can not only get books and videos at the library, but you can also access ebooks and scholarly journal articles through the library’s website.
- You are able to access the information you need effectively and efficiently. Knowing how to use Google to look for basic information is a start, but the web is often not the best source for scholarly research. Do you know how to locate a book in the library catalog, then find it on the shelf, request it from another library, or access an e-book? Do you know how to use information databases, such as those in GALILEO, to find scientific articles on your topic? When your search for “aliens” doesn’t come up with information on your subject, do you use your results to find alternative search terms like, “life on other planets” and “extraterrestrial beings?” When you have a book in hand, do you use the table of contents and index to quickly locate the information you need inside the book?
- You are able to evaluate information sources for quality. When selecting information sources, do you choose the article, “Superstar Alien Babies” in a supermarket tabloid or an article analyzing the biology of other planets written by a well-respected scientist? Which do you trust more, an article in People magazine or an article in Scientific American? Do you look to see if the article was published recently and if it cites recent scientific studies? If you know the answers to these questions, you’re evaluating information sources for quality!
- You are able to incorporate what you’ve learned with what you already know and work with the ideas. When I think of extraterrestrials, I first think of famous space creatures from the movies, like ET and Yoda. But what about plants or microorganisms? Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, you realize you need to anticipate the arguments of the other side and be prepared to counter them. You might even come up with a new theory!
- You are able to use the information to effectively make your point. What’s going to convince the audience that you’re right? A) You state your point repeatedly and loudly. B) You insult the intelligence of your opponent, pointing out that he looks suspiciously like a space creature himself. C) You make inflammatory statements like, “If you don’t prepare for the alien invasion, then you and your children will be the first ones abducted!” D) You cite facts from reputable sources and quote experts on the topic to support your points.
- You use information responsibly. You give credit to others for their ideas and words. You attend to the copyright limitations of any images or videos you use. You do not reveal private information about others, such as the identity of your uncle’s friend whose medical history you discuss in your talk. You respect the rights of others to state their beliefs, no matter how wrong you think they are.
- You know where to go for help. Librarians are information literacy experts. You can ask for expert advice about how to find, use, and cite information in person, on the phone, or through Ask a Librarian chat, text, or email. Librarians have also designed ways you can improve your information literacy skills without directly contacting a librarian: You can use library research guides, video tutorials, or instructions on the GPC Libraries website to learn to be a better researcher and to cite your sources.
Now that you are aware of the aspects of information literacy, try using these tips and aspects in your every day life!
~Mary Ann Cullen