Is Information Literacy the New Buzzword?

Posted by Duncan Whitmire on 2/15/17 8:05 PM

Current Events, Information Literacy, Uncategorized

ahiw4nnyuu-nemichandra-hombannavarOne of the more heartening things to come of the past few months is that information literacy (along with media and digital literacy) has really come into its own as a mainstream topic. While talk of it used to reside mostly in niche library listservs, websites, and conferences, now it’s everywhere. Fake news may be responsible for many things, but its proliferation also seems to have spiked an interest in information literacy.  

Look, here it is gracing the pages of Esquire, Forbes, and The Seattle Times! Information literacy appears to be on the verge of “buzzword” status.

Of course, with any rapid rise in attention, a backlash is inevitable. The good folks at Snapchat evidently started a magazine called Real Life, and a popular piece making the rounds last month was, “All I Know Is What’s on the Internet.” In this article the author rails against information literacy as a solution to fake news—and anything, really. While the author includes a few salient barbs for higher education in general, he unfortunately hasn’t managed to grasp what information literacy is, or how it’s taught.

Articles like this are understandable, in that many outside of academia were unfamiliar with the term prior to last fall. But they also shine a spotlight on the fact that information literacy is still an evolving concept, at least in how we talk about it. Remember when it was defined by the 1989 Presidential Committee on Information Literacy as the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”? And then there were Standards and Frameworks, and then just Frameworks?

One of the hallmarks of a lasting buzzword is that people have to know what you’re talking about with a minimum of explanation. In other words, the elevator pitch for something like the ACRL Frameworks has to assume a shorter lift ride than, say, all 58 stories of Trump Tower.

Hopefully the rise of fake news and alternative facts will be countered by a greater prioritization of information literacy instruction at all levels of education. Hopefully, people ten years from now will wonder how so many of us were ever duped by shady websites and social media memes. And hopefully the backlash to information literacy is quickly and summarily recognized as misguided and reactionary.


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