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New Perspectives on Information Literacy

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As BookMarks continues to explore the influence technology brings to bear on literacy, information literacy has proven a recurring theme. As a librarian, I find the pursuit, assessment, and use of information to be important professional skills and fascinating topics of study. A number of new research and book releases offer perspectives on how young people seek information and what they do with what they find.

A new report from Project Information Literacy—based on research conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society—has gathered qualitative evidence on young adults' information-seeking behavior from interviews with recent college graduates and their employers. My colleague Jason Tomassini has an extensive post on the findings over at Marketplace K-12. Justin Reich, EdWeek opinion blogger and Berkman Center colleague of study author Alison J. Head, has posted his reaction at EdTech Researcher, relating the report's conclusions to lessons for teacher professional development.

Information literacy is a thread connecting learning principles across subject matter in the common standards for English/Language Arts, which require that:

    Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

The ability to seek out and evaluate quality information sources, and to parse what makes for good information, underlie the standards' emphasis on non-fiction readings and digital media literacy.

Understanding, accommodating, and even teaching information-seeking behavior have long been cornerstones of training for librarians. The American Library Association's Core Competencies for Librarianship list "information literacy/information competence techniques and methods, numerical literacy, and statistical literacy" as necessary skills for success in reference and user services. The American Association of School Librarians maintains its own set of standards, which require school librarians to model and promote "efficient and ethical information-seeking behavior." Information and digital literacies are also jointly referred to as "transliteracy," or the ability to navigate between platforms and media, a skill as important for today's librarians as for the 21st century learners they help teach.

Several recent releases offer guidance for teachers and librarians teaching information literacy, whether in connection with or independently of the common standards.

On the lighter side, librarians have taken to non-traditional media to spread the gospel of information literacy. A 2010 paper by two Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis librarians uses The Big Lebowski as a vehicle for exploring several modes of information seeking behavior, from compulsive curiosity to purposeful ignorance. And, as Library Journal reported last March, librarians at McPherson College transformed library orientation lessons into graphic novel form with a project called Library of the Living Dead. Teachers and librarians in K-12 will increasingly need to meet students on their own terms when it comes to information literacy instruction, helping them develop research skills through experience in an ever-widening range of digital and print media.

For more on information literacy and the Common Core, visit our just-published special report, "Reading in the Common-Core Era."

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