Week 3: Information literacy

So for this week, we were tasked with finding three articles on information literacy/transliteracy/information fluency in our field of specialization. Because I want to be a young adult librarian, I focused my articles on teens and information literacy and was pleasantly surprised to find more than I thought I would.

“Teens, Virtual Environments and Information Literacy” deals with “digital natives,” or people born after 1989. While this generation is constantly “plugged in” through things like texting, email, Facebook, and Twitter, the report discusses that many in that generation lack information literacy (in short, we text 3000 times a month and use Facebook like breathing, but God help us if we have to look up information for school). The problems cited in information literacy are issues with deciding what’s a good source and what’s not (i.e., is it a reputable source and is it the correct information the student is looking for), and exactly how to search (i.e., what search terms are appropriate). This article calls many digital natives “information illiterate.” The article’s solution to this information illiteracy is to create a VRLibrary. The basis for this is VEs (or Virtual Environments, which the article defines as a “computer-generated experience obtained by and through an interface that engages one or more of the user’s senses and almost always includes visual sense” (Behesti 56)).(A common example of a VE is World of Warcraft, for some reference.) Researchers have found that VEs are motivational to students by appealing to the “interactive [and] stimulating […] environment” that things like video games and computer games provide. Researchers have actually built a VRLibrary for a study on teens; it was designed as a physical library (because studies have found students are still familiar with libraries) and the user can “walk” around from shelf to shelf and pick-up “books” (which in actuality are websites) that they can get information from. After the study was complete, the researchers found that the students had almost no problems in selecting the right kind of sources for a project on Canadian history. The researchers also found that students would like an “avatar” librarian to intercede when they need help. I think this is an interesting idea. It engages the “digital natives” (I guess I’m one of them) in an environment that appeals to them. It’s certainly one of the more unique solutions to information illiteracy that I’ve heard, but I think I’d have to see more to really make a determination on its usefulness. It seems as though it would be expensive to buy and upkeep, and it had a lot of unanswered questions (like the VRLibrary used had information on Canadian history, but who selected the sources already there? And if no one does, aren’t we running into the same problems with selection as before?). I definitely think it’s an intriguing idea, though, and the students involved in the study were enthusiastic about it. I think one of the interesting things the article did was basically say: “how is it that teens are so immersed in technology but have a really hard time using it?” I’ve always found that really interesting myself.

“Information Literacy as a Department Store” focuses on how teen librarians in public libraries can help in increasing information literacy in teens by working with the schools in the area. The author of this article emphasizes that instruction in information literacy  in public libraries should be a supplement to what’s done in schools, and that teamwork between school and public libraries is key. She cites a school and local library in Denmark in which the teen librarian spent 27 hours a week in information literacy at the high school. This is great, but problematic, especially when considering only 33% of public libraries in the U.S. have a teen librarian (thanks 647 for that statistic!). The author suggests doing information literacy instruction (on the part of public librarians) on a “limited, but consistent, basis,” by keeping in contact with teachers about upcoming assignments (for example, by putting books needed on hold and creating reference interviews that center around the assignment) and by visiting public schools so that students know all the options public libraries can provide. She also suggests students visiting the public library to get the same effect. However, the author warns that teen librarians should only do information literacy instruction “within the context of their own history, purposes, and environments” (Gilton 42). I think most people that know me know that I love the idea of school and public libraries working together to help students to get a more well-rounded library experience. We don’t want to duplicate what the school libraries are teaching, but rather supplement it. I’m a huge proponent in visits to libraries (both to the public and to the school) and anytime students know they have a variety of resources in multiple places is a positive thing. This article was interesting because it discussed what, exactly, is information literacy. The author says that many define it as “the teaching of information searching skills” (Gilton 40), but she thinks that oversimplifies it. She instead pictures information literacy as a department store: the basement and first floor are tours and library orientations; the windows and doors are the books, pathfinders, and web sites; the second and third floors are the advanced instruction in information literacy (usually done in academic libraries or schools), and the fourth and fifth floors are the administration that observes and evaluates everything else. In public libraries, many don’t get past the first/second floor, but that’s okay, because you can’t make it to the fourth or fifth floor (which students might encounter in college, for example), without going through the first or second floor. I think the department store analogy is a little strange, but I like what the author is getting at. She’s saying that information literacy isn’t simple; it’s a journey, so to speak (I guess I’ll get in on the metaphors), and that public and school libraries all play a part in that journey. Public libraries can help lay the base, which school libraries and academic libraries can build off of. I appreciate that Gilton recognizes the complexities of information literacy, because I often think people try to oversimplify it, when it is, in fact, a complicated subject.

“Children + Young Adults + Information Literacy = Cooperation between public and school libraries” discusses  the importance of the link between public and school libraries when it comes to instruction in information literacy. This article brought up some challenges in maintaining the link between public and school libraries, including lack of staff and money, and what the author calls the “insularity” of librarians (which is that librarians don’t realize what other librarians are doing, i.e., school librarians don’t really realize all that public librarians do and vice versa). I found this interesting because it’s…well, true, I think in many instances. Before I took 638 (School Library Media Management), I really didn’t have a clue of all that school librarians do. This article is written about libraries in Spain, but American libraries have the same problems: most especially, the lack of young adult (and in some cases, children’s) librarians in public libraries to maintain these sorts of relationships between public and school libraries. In Spain, a study was done that showed that students often migrate to public libraries because their school libraries are underfunded and understaffed (a familiar situation here, unfortunately). Because of this, students are having a difficult time participating in the “Information Society” and lack basic knowledge when they get to universities. The author suggests the solution to be a concentration in school libraries (because in Spain, like in the US, education is compulsory, so everyone is guaranteed some sort of information literacy education) with public libraries complementing the instruction. Both the school library and public library have unique advantages that work together to give a student a well-rounded education in information literacy. The author cites an example called “Bibloteca-Escuela” that has a problem called “Publicar en la web es…”, which is an information literacy course lasting a semester, in which the teacher brings the students to the library to complete a project in which students are taught how to select and analyze appropriate sources by building their own webpage about the topic of their choice. For example, 3 weeks are spent on basic reference materials like encyclopedias, yearbooks, dictionaries, and a few weeks are spent on online sources and the library’s catalog. After gathering the information with the help of the librarian and teacher, the student then builds the webpage with their information. So far, it seems to be a success, but it hasn’t had widespread use in many different environments. I really like this model because it engages the students in a topic that interests them and has both the librarian and teacher as support systems in their research. Not only is it teaching information literacy, but it’s showing how the public and school libraries can work together. The articles cites that “One of the most important institutional relationships for a public library is that with the local schools and the education system in the service area” (Serantes 1) and that is basically my library bread and butter in one sentence.

Overall, the articles presented some interesting points, but the overarching theme was this: promoting information literacy in young adults is hard, and so both the school and public libraries need to work together to ensure that students are getting the best education in information literacy they can so that the transition to university won’t be so difficult.

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3 thoughts on “Week 3: Information literacy

  1. I haven’t really thought about information literacy in a school context– if I never set foot in a high school or middle school again it will be too soon!– but the idea that school libraries and public libraries need to work together to engender information literacy is interesting, and, I think, extremely valid. The more places students have trying to TEACH them these skills, the better off they will be in the long run. I was lucky, in grade school– I had teachers that insisted we learn, in at least a basic sense, what a credible source was. We were not allowed to even LOOK at a wiki– so the UMSI thought that it’s even a good starting point was a shock to me, at first. I know that many, many students do not have that advantage– and they’re cast on the academic world of colleges and universities completely unprepared to deal with the atmosphere that there is a difference between “credible” and “non-credible” sources. Having school and public libraries work together might be a good step in the right direction to change that.

  2. I think that the library “game” you described sounds fascinating. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around why such a thing is any better than *actually* going to the library, haha. I feel like it is like having a game where you go to the supermarket and pick out produce! But clearly the students enjoyed it, thought it was fun, learned a lot, so I can see the value it has. It’s just a super weird concept to me! Although now that I think about it, that Farmville game was really popular for a while, and that’s just planting stuff, so maybe a simple game like that would be beneficial (secretly! you could plant it as a fun new game to get people addicted to it on Facebook!) for information literacy skills. Fascinating! But you’re right, a game like WoW would take an immense amount of maintenance and money, time and upkeep! I can’t imagine it really getting made. Neat readings!

  3. I really enjoyed your description of the ‘Teens, Virtual Environments and Information Literacy’ article. I have certainly never considered the fact that digital natives are information illiterate, but it completely makes sense. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve observed teens or even my own fellow classmates in undergrad, who selected poor information sources, but could tweet up a storm. Certainly makes you wonder if the internet is providing a crutch/distraction to those who don’t care enough to put in genuine work.

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