Definitions of Information Literacy

There are different views about information literacy:

  • There are those who say that information literacy is just a natural progression in the evolution of the field. To these professionals, information literacy subsumes all previous concepts and adds additional nuances of meaning.
  • Others resolutely state that information literacy is just a new name for what we have always done. To these people, the only advantages of information literacy is that it capitalizes on current societal and educational trends, and is perhaps more readily understood by those outside our field.
  • Finally, there are those who firmly believe information literacy is a new concept and that it represents a new way of thinking about professional goals and responsibilities of librarians (Rockman, 2004).
Although some may feel the debate is just an exercise in semantics, defining what we mean by ‘information literacy' is crucial to develop information-related competencies. If we don't know exactly what ‘information literacy' is, then how do we develop or facilitate it and even more importantly how do we know if we have succeeded.

The term ‘information literacy' was first coined by Paul G. Zurkowski in 1974. An information literacy individual, according to Zurkowski, is anyone who had learned to use a wide range of information sources in order to solve problems at work and in his or her daily life. Zurkowski's definition continues to have validity over 30 years later.

But whether IL is an entirely new concept or just the most current favoured phrase, information literacy seems to have gained legitimacy as the term to use in place of user education, bibliographic instruction, library skills instruction, and other previously coined descriptions (Rockman, 2004).

Professional organizations, such as:

  • American Library Association,
  • Association of School Librarians and
  • Association for Educational Communications and Technology have all produced documents describing this concept.

It seems that although the term information literacy seems to be accepted, the meaning of the term varies widely. Even more than its predecessors, the term information literacy seem difficult to pin down.

Patrica S. Breivik In 1985 Patrica S. Breivik describes information literacy as an integrated set of skills and the knowledge of tools and resources.

Information literacy is developed through persistence, an attention to detail, and a critical, evaluative view of the material found. Breivik also views information literacy as a form of problem solving activity.

The American Library Association's (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Final Report published in 1989 describes the information literate individual as someone who has the ability to recognize an information need, and can locate, evaluate, and use information effectively. The emphasis here is on preparing people for lifelong learning.






Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License

Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009