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Several conceptions and definitions of information literacy have become prevalent. One conception defines information literacy in terms of a set of competencies that an informed citizen of an information society ought to possess to participate intelligently and actively in that society, for example (from [1]),

The American Library Association's (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Final Report states that, "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (1989).

Jeremy Shapiro & Shelley Hughes (1996) define information literacy as "A new liberal art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself its technical infrastructure and its social, cultural, and philosophical context and impact."

Related terms are bibliographic instruction, library use instruction or library instruction

Information literacy is becoming a more important part of K-12 education. In our information-centric world, students must develop skills early on so they are prepared for post-secondary opportunities whether that be the workplace or in pursuit of education.

Specific aspects of Information literacy

  • Tool literacy, or the ability to understand and use the practical and conceptual tools of current information technology relevant to education and the areas of work and professional life that the individual expects to inhabit.
  • Resource literacy, or the ability to understand the form, format, location and access methods of information resources, especially daily expanding networked information resources.
  • Social-structural literacy, or knowing that and how information is socially situated and produced.
  • Research literacy, or the ability to understand and use the IT-based tools relevant to the work of today's researcher and scholar.
  • Publishing literacy, or the ability to format and publish research and ideas electronically, in textual and multimedia forms (including via World Wide Web, electronic mail and distribution lists, and CD-ROMs).
  • Emerging technology literacy, or the ability to ongoingly adapt to, understand, evaluate and make use of the continually emerging innovations in information technology so as not to be a prisoner of prior tools and resources, and to make intelligent decisions about the adoption of new ones.
  • Critical literacy, or the ability to evaluate critically the intellectual, human and social strengths and weaknesses, potentials and limits, benefits and costs of information technologies.

History of the concept

A seminal event in the development of the concept of information literacy was the establishment of the American Library Association's Presidential Committee on Information Literacy whose final report outlined the importance of the concept. The concept of information literacy built upon and expanded the decades-long efforts of librarians to help their users learn about and how to utilize research tools (e.g., periodical indexes) and materials in their own libraries. Librarians wanted users to be able to transfer and apply this knowledge to new environments and to research tools that were new to them. Information literacy expands this effort beyond libraries and librarians, and focuses on the learner, rather than the teacher (Grassian, 2004; Grassian and Kaplowitz, 2001, pp.14-20).

Other important events include:

  • 1974: The related term ‘Information Skills’ was first introduced in 1974 by Zurkowski to refer to people who are able to solve their information problems by using relevant information sources and applying relevant technology (Zurkowski, 1974).
  • 1983: A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform
    • shows that we are "raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate."
  • 1986: Educating Students to Think: The Role of the School Library Media Program
    • outlines the roles of the library and the information resources in K-12 education
  • 1987: Information Skills for an Information Society: A Review of Research
    • includes library skills and computer skills in the definition of information literacy
  • 1988: Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs
  • 1989: National Forum on Information Literacy (NFIL), a coalition of more than 65 national organizations, has its first meeting
  • 1998: Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning
    • Emphasizes that the mission of the school library media program is "to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information."

Educational schemata

One View of the Components of Information Literacy[How to reference and link to summary or text]

  1. The first step in the Information Literacy strategy is to clarify and understand the requirements of the problem or task for which information is sought.Basic questions asked at this stage:
    1. What is known about the topic?
    2. What information is needed?
    3. Where can the information be found?
  2. Locating: The second step is to identify sources of information and to find those resources. Depending upon the task, sources that will be helpful may vary. Sources may include: books; encyclopedias; maps; almanacs; etc. Sources may be in electronic, print, social bookmarking tools, or other formats.
  3. Selecting/analyzing: Step three involves examining the resources that were found. The information must be determined to be useful or not useful in solving the problem. The useful resources are selected and the inappropriate resources are rejected.
  4. Organizing/synthesizing: It is in the fourth step that information which has been selected is organized and processed so that knowledge and solutions are developed. Examples of basic steps in this stage are:
    1. Discriminating between fact and opinion
    2. Basing comparisons on similar characteristics
    3. Noticing various interpretations of data
    4. Finding more information if needed
    5. Organizing ideas and information logically
  5. Creating/presenting: In step five the information or solution is presented to the appropriate audience in an appropriate format. A paper is written. A presentation is made. Drawings, illustrations, and graphs are presented.
  6. Evaluating: The final step in the Information Literacy strategy involves the critical evaluation of the completion of the task or the new understanding of the concept. Was the problem solved? Was new knowledge found? What could have been done differently? What was done well?

Another conception of information literacy

This conception, used primarily in the library and information studies field, and rooted in the concepts of library instruction and bibliographic instruction, is the ability "to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information" (Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. 1989, p. 1). In this view, information literacy is the basis for life-long learning, and an information literate person is one who:

  • recognizes that accurate and complete information is the basis for intelligent decision making
  • recognizes the need for information
  • knows how to locate needed information
  • formulates questions based on information needs
  • identifies potential sources of information
  • develops successful search strategies
  • accesses sources of information including computer-based and other technologies
  • evaluates information no matter what the source
  • organizes information for practical application
  • integrates new information into an existing body of knowledge
  • uses information in critical thinking and problem solving (Doyle, 1992)
  • uses information ethically and legally

Since information may be presented in a number of formats, the term information applies to more than just the printed word. Other literacies such as visual, media, computer, network, and basic literacies are implicit in information literacy.

Evolution of the economy

The change from an economy based on labor and capital to one based on information requires information literate workers who will know how to interpret information.

Barner's (1996) study of the new workplace indicates significant changes will take place in the future:

  • The work force will become more decentralized
  • The work force will become more diverse
  • The economy will become more global
  • The use of temporary workers will increase

These changes will require that workers possess information literacy skills. The SCANS (1991) report identifies the skills necessary for the workplace of the future. Rather than report to a hierarchical management structure, workers of the future will be required to actively participate in the management of the company and contribute to its success. To survive in this information society, workers will need to possess skills beyond those of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Effect on education

Because information literacy skills are vital to future success:

  • Information literacy skills must be taught in the context of the overall process.
  • Instruction in information literacy skills must be integrated into the curriculum and reinforced both within and outside of the educational setting.

Education in the USA


With the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1994), subject matter organizations were able to obtain funding to develop standards in their respective subject areas. Information literacy skills are implicit in the National Education Goals and national content standards documents.

Three of the eight National Education Goals demonstrate the critical nature of information literacy to an information society:

  • Goal 1: School Readiness
  • Goal 3: Student Achievement and Citizenship
  • Goal 6: Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning

An analysis of national content standards documents reveals that they all focus on lifelong learning, the ability to think critically, and on the use of new and existing information for problem solving.

Individual states are creating initiatives to ensure that students attain information literacy skills by the time they graduate from high school. Kentucky (1995), Utah (1996), and California (1994) are but three examples of states that have publications depicting these initiatives.

National content standards, state standards, and information literacy skills terminology may vary, but all have common components relating to information literacy.

K-12 education restructuring

Educational reform and restructuring make information literacy skills a necessity as students seek to construct their own knowledge and create their own understandings.

Educators are selecting various forms of resource-based learning (authentic learning, problem-based learning and work-based learning) to help students focus on the process and to help students learn from the content. Information literacy skills are necessary components of each.

The process approach to education is requiring new forms of student assessment. Students demonstrate their skills, assess their own learning, and evaluate the processes by which this learning has been achieved by preparing portfolios, learning and research logs, and using rubrics.

Efforts in K-12 education

Information literacy efforts are underway on individual, local, and regional bases.

Imaginative Web based information literacy tutorials are being created and integrated with curriculum areas, or being used for staff development purposes.

Library media programs are fostering information literacy by integrating the presentation of information literacy skills with curriculum at all grade levels.

Information literacy efforts are not being limited to the library field, but are also being employed by regional educational consortia.

Parents are encouraging their children to develop information literacy skills at home by contacting KidsConnect, the Internet help and referral service for K-12 students. Parents are also helping students work through the information problem solving process as they assist their children with their homework.

Efforts in higher education

The inclusion of information competencies as a graduation requirement is the key that will fully integrate information literacy into the curricula of academic institutions.

Information literacy instruction in higher education can take a variety of forms: stand-alone courses or classes, online tutorials, workbooks, course-related instruction, or course-integrated instruction.

State-wide university systems and individual colleges and universities are undertaking strategic planning to determine information competencies, to incorporate instruction in information competence throughout the curriculum and to add information competence as a graduation requirement for students. Librarians often are required to teach the concepts of information literacy during "one shot" classroom lectures. There are also credit courses offered by academic librarians to prepare college students to become information literate.

Academic library programs are preparing faculty to facilitate their students' mastery of information literacy skills so that the faculty can in turn provide information literacy learning experiences for the students enrolled in their classes.


Information Technology is the great enabler. It provides, for those who have access to it, an extension of their powers of perception, comprehension, analysis, thought, concentration, and articulation through a range of activities that include: writing, visual images, mathematics, music, physical movement, sensing the environment, simulation, and communication (Carpenter, 1989, p. 2).

Technology, in all of its various forms, offers users the tools to access, manipulate, transform, evaluate, use, and present information.

Technology in schools includes computers, televisions, video cameras, video editing equipment, and TV studios.

Two approaches to technology in K-12 schools are technology as the object of instruction approach, and technology as the tool of instruction approach.

Schools are starting to incorporate technology skills instruction in the context of information literacy skills. This is called technology information literacy

Technology is changing the way higher education institutions are offering instruction. The use of the Internet is being taught in the contexts of subject area curricula and the overall information literacy process.

There is some empirical indication that students who use technology as a tool may become better at managing information, communicating, and presenting ideas.

Distance education

Now that information literacy has become a part of the core curriculum at many post-secondary institutions, it is incumbent upon the library community to be able to provide information literacy instruction in a variety of formats, including online learning and distance education. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) addresses this need in its Guidelines for Distance Education Services (2000):

“Library resources and services in institutions of higher education must meet the needs of all their faculty, students, and academic support staff, wherever these individuals are located, whether on a main campus, off campus, in distance education or extended campus programs -- or in the absence of a campus at all, in courses taken for credit or non-credit; in continuing education programs; in courses attended in person or by means of electronic transmission; or any other means of distance education.”

Within the e-learning and distance education worlds, providing effective information literacy programs brings together the challenges of both distance librarianship and instruction. With the prevalence of course management systems such as WebCT and Blackboard, library staff are embedding infomration literacy training within academic programs and within individual classes themselves (Presti, 2002).

See also article on library instruction, considered by some a more general topic.


American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1988). Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs. Chicago: Author. (ED 315 028)

American Library Association and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1998). Information power: Building partnerships for learning. Chicago: Author.

American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. (1989). Final report. Chicago: Author. (ED 315 028)

Barner, R. (1996, March/April). Seven changes that will challenge managers-and workers. The Futurist, 30(2), 14-18.

Breivik. P. S. & Senn, J. A. (1998). Information literacy: Educating children for the 21st century. (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Carpenter, J. P. (1989). Using the new technologies to create links between schools throughout the world: Colloquy on computerized school links. (Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom, 17-20 Oct. 1988).

Doyle, C.S. (1992). Outcome Measures for Information Literacy Within the National Education Goals of 1990. Final Report to National Forum on Information Literacy. Summary of Findings.

Grassian, E. (2004) Information Literacy: Building on Bibliographic Instruction. American Libraries, 35(9), 51-53.

Grassian, E.S. and Kaplowitz, J.R. (2001). Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Hashim, E. (1986). Educating students to think: The role of the school library media program, an introduction. In Information literacy: Learning how to learn. A collection of articles from School Library Media Quarterly, (15)1, 17-18.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1987). Information skills for an information society: A review of research. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. (ED 297 740)

Lorenzen. M. (2001). The Land of Confusion? High School Students and Their Use of the Web for Research. Research Strategies 18(2): 151-163.

National Commission of Excellence in Education. (1983). A Nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (ED 226 006)

Presti, P. (2002). Incorporating information literacy and distance learning within a course management system: a case study. Ypsilanti, MI: Loex News, (29)2-3, 3-12-13. Retrieved February 3, 2004 from

Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. (1991). What work requires of schools: A SCANS report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (ED 332 054)

Shapiro, J. and Hughes, S (1996). Information Literacy as a Liberal Art: Enlightenment proposals for a new curriculum. Educom Review (

Koechlin, C., & Zwaan, S. (2003). Build your own information literate school. Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.

Ryan, J., & Capra, S. (2001). Information literacy toolkit. Chicago: American Library Association.

See also

  • Sewcom: The Sewcom Method: Learning Information Literacy using the Concept Maps

External links

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