Information Literacy: Education for the Future
Well, it was 15 years ago. Last week I was reading an issue of a higher education journal from 1992 about “Information Literacy”. In the days leading up to the internet’s launch into mainstream life, these writers were discussing the future of the library and the librarian in post-secondary education.
Information literacy is about equipping students to research in the era of electronic information. Students whose whole education is based on lectures and textbooks are woefully unprepared for careers where they will have to obtain information, evaluate it’s accuracy and reliability, and transform it into something useful. Teacher’s can help by assigning work that requires broad research and analysis. But once they do, the students have to wade into the dangerous sea of information online.
This is where librarians come in. Once they were the stewards of the printed word, organized in huge warehouses of knowledge. But those days are passing. With the ubiquity of the internet and portability of computers, there seems little need for conventional library science – except to remember those books Google hasn’t scanned yet, and help people like me, who just like paper.
Advocates were pushing even then for librarians to become familiar with the currents of quality information available in said sea and develop methods for teaching students how to navigate them.
Their message has made it to the mainstream.
Today the New York Times ran a story about a modern librarian named Stephanie Rosalia. She feels that the necessity of librarians is being downplayed in public education, and evidence is easy to come by. “More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, according to federal statistics, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.” But that’s based on an outdated understanding of what a librarian does. To demonstrate the importance of her work, Rosalia prefers to be called an “information literacy teacher.”
At her New York elementary school she uses pages with intentionally false information to help students learn the danger of just believing what they read online. Then she teaches students how to evaluate information, even whole websites, for reliability.
This is the kind of education that will create students, and future contributors to society, who are able to think, and learn, on their own. Hopefully more schools will replicate this type of program, and those schools who have cut their librarians’ hours will see their importance.