Castle Librarian

Where Information Literacy Went Wrong

In Librarianship on January 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Over the ages, librarians have taught people how to find information. Until recently, this amounted to teaching people how to find information within the confines of the library. How to use the card catalog to find the location of the needed book on the shelves. How to find magazine and journal articles by subject without paging through each publication. As technology changed, librarians also had to teach people how to use that technology – microfilm, microfiche, audiocassettes, etc. These things were usually taught beginning in elementary school and continuing through to college.

The transition from print to computer resulted in a steep learning curve for everyone. Finding information now required more complex strategies and critical thinking skills. Librarians were on the front lines with the students who were prepared for a card catalog, but facing an Online Public Access Catalog. In trying to help them use the new library to find information, librarians began to see the need for formal instruction and the building of new skills. They dubbed these skills “information literacy.”

Meanwhile, teachers were faced with the learning curve of new technologies, too. As with any group of people, there were early adopters who get on board with new things right away and expend the effort to learn and apply the new tech. Then came the majority who adopt new tech after it has been tested and promoted by the early adopters. These are followed by the laggards who are the last to learn to use the new. Eventually, teachers would have started teaching the new needed skills, but front line librarians didn’t want to wait for the trickle down and let’s face it, computer technology does not wait for people to catch up. Therefore, librarians decided it was their job to teach students these new skills. Now, nearly every librarian job advertisement includes teaching information literacy skills.

There was a crossroads at which librarians had to choose what to do about the student’s need for new skills. What were the options? 1. Help the students at point of need as best as possible. 2. Create a library instruction program to help students work toward the skills in groups. 3. Collaborate with teachers to integrate the skills into K-12-Post-secondary education. 4. Teach the teachers and provide them with the skills that can then be passed on to the students. For the most part, the profession chose Option 2. Option 3 (collaboration) proved too hard because too many teachers were resistent. Too many teachers were put off by the computer technology learning curve. Too many teachers were put off by librarians horning into their business.

It is unfortunate that we didn’t opt for Option 4. We should have aimed our sights at the current teaching staff by offering professional development opportunities and at teacher education programs incorporating information literacy skills in the next generation of teachers. After 20 years of information literacy instruction delivered to students by librarians, we still have students AND teachers who lack those crucial skills. We missed the mark.

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