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Understanding Information Literacy - September 1999

What Is Information Literacy?

The term information literacy, sometimes referred to as information competency, is generally defined as the ability to access, evaluate, organize, and use information from a variety of sources. Being information literate requires knowing how to clearly define a subject or area of investigation; select the appropriate terminology that expresses the concept or subject under investigation; formulate a search strategy that takes into consideration different sources of information and the variable ways that information is organized; analyze the data collected for value, relevancy, quality, and suitability; and subsequently turn information into knowledge (ALA 1989). This involves a deeper understanding of how and where to find information, the ability to judge whether that information is meaningful, and ultimately, how best that information can be incorporated to address the problem or issue at hand.

Information literacy is not the same as computer literacy (which requires a technological know-how to manipulate computer hardware and software) or library literacy (which requires the ability to use a library's collection and its services), although there is a strong relationship among all these concepts. Each of these literacies requires some level of critical thinking. But compared with computer literacy, information literacy goes beyond merely having access to and knowledge of how to use the technology--because technology alone does not guarantee quality learning experiences. And compared with library literacy, information literacy is more than searching through an online catalog or other reference materials because information literacy is not a technique, but a goal for learners (Gilton 1994).

Information literacy requires an awareness of the way in which information systems work, of the dynamic link between a particular information need and the sources and channels required to satisfy that need (Darch et al. 1997).


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