Information literacy: an endangered species?

Information literacyI heard on NPR recently that CNN is losing market share in the US because viewers prefer the “more opinionated” coverage of Fox News and MSNBC. That’s sad. I say that not as a fan of CNN–I don’t regularly watch any of those networks. I say it’s sad because people who prefer to hear only what conforms to their own viewpoint have essentially decided not to be informed citizens. They have consciously and deliberately turned their back on information literacy.

The term “information literacy” seems to have originated in the mid 1970s, but the need it expresses is much older. Back in the dark ages, before the Internet even existed, teachers warned students over and over that just because they found something in print somewhere didn’t mean the information was either true or useful.

What is information literacy?

Information literacy encompasses certain knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The knowledge includes

  • knowing when you need information
  • knowing where to look for the information you need
  • knowing how to identify the information you need when you find it
  • knowing how to tell good and useful information from bad and useless
  • knowing how to use the good information to suit your need for it

The skills include

  • sufficient reading and writing ability
  • social skills necessary to use a library
  • computer skills necessary to use search engines and databases
  • critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate information
  • self-critical skills necessary to evaluate how successfully you have identified a problem and found and used information to solve it

The attitude basically boils down to humility. We seem to be losing the willingness to look at various viewpoints and evaluate them seriously. It’s much easier to form opinions and gather information only from sources that share those viewpoints. That way, we never have to question our own thinking.

The slow death of humility in our national discourse presents dangers to us both as a society and as individuals. There has been enough handwringing over the loss of civility in our political and social discourse in recent decades that I see no need to add to it here.
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The danger of our predicament

I would like to suggest that if we go along with some crowd or another, we endanger our own intellectual well being. We risk becoming information illiterate. Why?

If I think I know it all so much that different viewpoints must obviously be wrong, I cease to take them seriously. I’m tempted to demonize people that hold them. Therefore, I cut myself off from any information that comes from those wicked viewpoints that differ from mine.

Look back at the bullet points above. Here are some that cannot survive in my life if I throw over humility the way so many of us seem to be doing. I cannot develop

  • knowing when I need information (after all, I think I know it all)
  • knowing where to look for the information I need (because I have ruled out sources that will challenge my thinking)
  • knowing how to identify the information I need when I find it (because I have programmed myself to reject different viewpoints)
  • knowing how to tell good and useful information from bad and useless
  • critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate information
  • self-critical skills necessary to evaluate how successfully you have identified a problem and found and used information to solve it

Basically, if that’s the way I think, I lose my ability to pass the CRAP test. That condition leaves skills that I can still develop. I can still think I have information literacy, but I don’t. I can think I’m intellectually alive, but I’m not.

It’s sad when individuals fall into that ultimately pseudo-intellectual or even anti-intellectual trap. It’s a national disaster if it ever reaches a tipping point.
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Information literacy: an endangered species? — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Information literacy: an endangered species? | Reading, Writing, Research | nchardz Information Literacy Skills Training

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