The information literacy plot thickens…

We talked again about information literacy and the discrepancies between what it is and what some librarians say it is. “Information literacy”, as well as “transliteracy” and “digital literacy”, are buzzwords right now, so everyone wants to use them. However, there aren’t really clear-cut definitions and so things get labeled as these things even if they aren’t. The class example: teaching patrons how to use databases. This is a part of information literacy, but is it what patrons need to know? Not always.

Sometimes, we as librarians want to show off what we know instead of teaching what our users need or want to know how to do. Maybe someone doesn’t want to use a database since it’s not useful to them. Instead of teaching this skills, we should try to encourage what Joyce Valenza calls information fluency, which is more about knowing how to find information regardless of the tool needed. It’s less about technical skills and more about a mindset. Information fluency has kind of faded from the conversation, and inquiry is coming to the forefront. I think they fall in together in more of the broader ideas of finding information instead of just the resource-specific skills. Things like knowing the right way to use Google or how to tell if an article is credible are great, but sometimes someone just needs to be able to figure out what they need to know. This, to me , is where inquiry can help – it’s more holistic than other information literacy measures. Both Carol Kuhlthau and Barb Stripling look at this inquiry process in different but compatible ways. According to Kuhlthau, research is a process that will make you go through a variety of emotions. Stripling’s model doesn’t include the emotion piece but goes a little beyond research and explains the whole process of inquiry.

I’m learning that the most important thing is to do what will best serve library users. For me, the best practice is teaching inquiry. It can be done with any age group and in any library. It will take plenty of thought to figure out how to teach it, and it will take lots of practice to figure out how best to do it. But what’s best for our patrons is giving them skills that can take them beyond a single database, library catalog, or web site. Inquiry instruction will give people the mindset they need to find just about any information anywhere, and when and where to turn for help if they can’t find it.



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