The Information Literacy Movement

The information-literacy movement has evolved from precursors such as library instruction, bibliographic instruction and user/reader education. The history of the development of library user education is well documented and several analysis and bibliographies have been written for various time periods. Although the majority of information literacy initiatives and programmes have been initiated in the last decade, academic librarians have been involved in user education for many years.

It is generally agreed that user education in libraries evolved at the end of the nineteenth century, but there is evidence that library instruction was given at German universities already in the 17th century in the form of lectures about reference books, study techniques, and how to use the library. However, it is believed that Melvil Dewey was the first who urged librarians in 1876 to become educators in his article published in the American Library Journal (Virkus, 2003)..

During the 1970s and 1980s, many academic libraries in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia started fairly ambitious programmes of user education, bibliographic instruction, or reader education (Virkus, 2003).

User education has been provided in the form of one or more of the following:
  • short orientation courses in the use of the library, its information resources and catalogues for new students, and
  • courses in information literacy for undergraduate and/or for postgraduate students (Fjällbrant, 2000).

Although traditional user education can be counted as a part of information literacy, there is a general agreement that information literacy is a wider and more comprehensive concept than ‘user education'. User education has grown visibly during recent years and information literacy has become an issue in many academic libraries.

The information literacy movement in the United States is quite extensively analyzed and discussed and there have been significant initiatives in these countries. The concept of information literacy has also permeated strategic thinking in Australia and has been highlighted in several influential reports produced by the higher education sector and by the government.

Example 1: Information literacy movement in the United States

In the United States:

  • the National Forum on Information Literacy was established in 1989,
  • the Institute for Information Literacy was established in 1998,
  • two sets of information literacy standards were developed for the school sector and the higher education sector,
  • The United States Department of Education included information literacy in its national education technology plan as one of five goals in December 2000,
  • The importance of students being able to access and evaluate information is also highlighted in several other strategic documents.








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

Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009