Saturday, November 25, 2006

From "Information Literacy Makes All the Wrong Assumptions" by Stanley Wilder (Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 51, Issue 18, 1/7/2005, p. B-13):

"Information literacy is also harmful because it encourages librarians to teach ways to deal with the complexity of information retrieval, rather than to try to reduce that complexity. . . . Almost any student could suggest a better alternative: that the library create systems that eliminate the need for instruction.

"How might the model of reading and writing work in practice at the reference desk? A librarian would first try to find out what kind of writing assignment a student needs help with and where he is in the writing process. For example, a librarian helping an undergraduate on a term paper in art history might help him [sic] pick or narrow his topic, point him to standard reference works like the 34-volume Dictionary of Art for background reading, and offer suggestions on how to follow the citations in those works to other material. The librarian might show him relevant databases or print collections for supporting evidence, and provide help in preparing a bibliography.

"Each interview at the reference desk does not need to include a complete review of the writing process, but the writing process should provide the framework for the librarian's response to the student's request for help. The library's educational function would be to make students better writers, according to the standards of the discipline [emphasis added]. Librarians would not be teaching students to become librarians, but to absorb and add to their disciplines in ways that make them more like their professors.

"The library must also do a better job of reaching more students, more often. Librarians need to use their expertise to make the library's online presence approach the simplicity and power of the Internet.

"By pairing instruction with smart information-technology systems, we can create educational programs that reach everyone on our campuses, every time they turn to us. No educational model that focuses exclusively on instruction can say as much."


While I appreciate much of what Wilder has to say here, I have to take issue with a few of his assumptions.

  1. As a writing teacher, I certainly take issue with his assertion that the librarian's job is to teach writing. First of all, this assumes that writing can be taught by anyone who can write. Librarians are experts in their discipline, but they are not trained to teach writing.
  2. I think Wilder's understanding of the terms "information literacy," at least as presented in this admittedly brief piece, is a bit essentializing. He says, "The premise of information literacy is that the supply of information has become overwhelming, and that students need a rigorous program of instruction in research or library-use skills, provided wholly or in part by librarians." However, he continues, "information literacy remains the wrong solution to the wrong problem facing librarianship. It mistakes the nature of the Internet threat, and it offers a response at odds with higher education's traditional mission. Information literacy does nothing to help libraries compete with the Internet, and it should be discarded." It's this "either/or" fallacy that I think is the problem with Wilder's assertions--and with many of the approaches to fostering information literacy in a digital age that I have seen. The library is, after all, online. It's not about using the library OR using the Internet anymore....

LILAC is dedicated to finding a way to assist students (and others) to locate, evaluate, and synthesize information--whether that information is online or in print (or in some other medium)--by helping them to know

  • when information is needed,
  • what kind of information is needed,
  • where to go to locate that information,
  • how to evaluate what they find,
  • how to integrate the information they discover with their own ideas,
  • and finally, how to adequately cite information, ideas, words, pictures, and other borrowings.

Using a just-in-time learning model can help integrate the teaching (and learning) of these essential information literacy skills into the reading-and-writing model Wilder argues for.

1 comment:

  1. As Georgia Southern's new Collection Development & Assessment Librarian, I'm excited to find this blog! Thanks for promoting the discussion of information literacy at GSU. I'd love to join up with LILAC.--Jonathan Harwell,