Part C – Critical Synthesis about the role of the teacher librarian.

I enrolled in the ME.d. (TL) with limited ideas about what teacher librarianship involves. I knew I wanted to be engaged in literacy teaching in a new way — after ten years as a High School English teacher, it was time to renew my practice.

Before applying for the course I spoke to teacher librarians at the school where I work. There is a large team at the school as the student population is about 2200. They had some tasks in common, but each seemed to have something that they were particularly responsible for: author visits and events; the student literature club; learning technologies; databases and referencing; acquisitions; cataloguing; pathfinders and wikis; journal and periodical subscriptions; coordinating and rosters. What’s more, each one is ‘tagged’ to certain departments and student year levels. From these conversations I got a glimpse of the complexity of the role — and yet it was only a glimpse. Since then, I have learned a great deal about the different aspects of a teacher librarian’s professional repertoire. However, I am completing the ETL401 module aware that the knowledge I have gained is largely theoretical.

As I have journeyed through the ETL401 course I have deepened my understanding of the dimensions and possibilities of the teacher librarian role. I have grown more intrigued by the ways in which the role and the school library program are rapidly evolving in response to changes in technology. The transformation of my understanding has happened on several fronts: the instructional role of the TL; the place of learning technologies in a library program; the power of collaboration with teaching staff; and information literacy. I bring with me into MEd.TL studies a passion for literacy, and almost all my blog posts have been concerned with this topic in some way and what it means in the face of rapid change. I have been challenged to rethink what I mean by the term ‘literacy’ and arrive at a new synthesis for what it entails in the twenty first century. As a corollary to this, I have begun to view learning technologies more broadly now that I have begun to think about how they can be used to foster information literacy.

Early in my learning journal blog, in ETL401 Topic 2: Part 1: the Role of the Teacher Librarian, I discussed my insight into how little classroom teachers are aware of the instructional, information specialist and collaborative aspects of the teacher librarian role. Teacher librarians are an untapped resource. I identified obstacles to collaboration in my workplace setting – lack of understanding of the teacher librarian role; lack of shared planning time; and a view of the library and its offerings in terms of resources rather than in terms of learning and collaboration. In response to our readings of Haycock (2007) and Oberg (2006) I posted a comment on the Topic 2 Forum about the limited understanding among classroom staff of what teacher librarians have to offer. It was becoming clear to me, as I elaborated in a second forum posting on this topic, that a hidden aspect of the teacher librarian’s brief, is to promote and publicise the collaborative learning that the school library program can facilitate. This thinking has informed my resolve to be a teacher librarian who is able to communicate the collaborative aspects of my role to colleagues and to build working relationships across the library/classroom divide.

Further to this point, one of the things that struck me as I read Buffy Hamilton’s article, “What kind of teacher are you?”, and her blog posts on The Unquiet Library is that teacher librarians need to be proactive in seeking collaborative working relationships with classroom teachers. She has prompted my thinking and re-thinking about what is possible in a teacher librarianship role. She has inspired me to think about how I can integrate ICTs into the classroom in ways that engage students and support their learning. I have found myself exploring the software she writes about, and, although I struggle to make it work for me, I have a new purpose in educating myself about learning tools that could help my students. I have realised that technology has to be part of my professional ‘kit’ as a TL. Work such as Hamilton’s and that of Joyce Valenza in her video “What teacher librarians make” and her “Manifesto for 21st century school librarians” shows a vision of teacher librarianship that is vigorous and responsive to the new information landscape. They offer an idea of teacher librarianship that is far from the retiring and staid popular stereotype, but is engaged and involved in the learning community of the school. Reading is still at the forefront of what they do – but they integrate it with where students are using text, which is often online.

However, what is also clear is that in order to be able to create this kind of professional life, a teacher librarian needs administrators who are supportive of this renewed vision of the school library program. In my post on the forum for this topic, I discussed the need to target potential allies in the school executive, and get them excited about the prospects of an integrated application of technology, pedagogy and resources to improve student learning through the school library program. When students and administrators think information problems are solved by one large commercial search engine, teacher librarians have an enormous (but essential) task ahead of them making a case for what they offer. Reading Hartzell’s book Building influence for the school librarian (2003) was a valuable instruction manual on strategies to employ when advocating for the school library program. I noticed in my broader reading that an ongoing thread of librarian discussion is about evidence that qualified librarians increase student achievement and the necessity for restating this to decision-makers time and again. Moreover, the readings on Evidence Based Practice were salutary reminders that, as with classroom teachers, teacher librarians need to be able to document their impact on student learning.

Therefore, in my Reflection after Assignment 1, I examined how the subtext of so much of the course seemed to be that the teacher librarian’s role is surprisingly political. I had not thought of that before, but the theme touched on time and again was how teacher librarians have to promote their programs and the contribution they make to student achievement. It seems that libraries are constantly having to justify their existence. Later in the course I had a discussion with one the teacher librarians at my workplace that confirmed this suspicion. So I added “promoter”, “networker”, “marketer”, “evidence collector” and “strategic collaborator” to my list of attributes of the teacher librarian role.

Throughout the course I have been concerned with literacy and where it fits in this new ‘post-literate’ world. In ETL401 Topic 2: Part 1: the Role of the Teacher Librarian I noted that the qualifications required by the ALIA/ASLA to practice as a teacher librarian closely meshed with the Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. These qualities and standards revolve around the provision of both physical and “intellectual access” (Kuhlthau, 2004, p. xv). This means that for students to become information literate, they need more than just access to information – they need educators who can make it accessible, meaningful and part of the students’ learning. Ultimately, information literacy is not just about being able to recognise the need for information or even find it, but to be able to evaluate the credibility and relevance of sources, and apply new understandings. It involves skills in reading, comprehension and using technology – but it also needs to “transcend the format” (Bush). It requires the ability to synthesise information and create new ideas and outcomes from it. This came up in our study of the fascinating concept of transliteracy, and I blogged about these ideas in Reflections on definitions of information literacy part 1 and Musings on Transliteracy. Information literacy at its zenith is the creation of a personal mental construct of how we learn from information. Teacher librarians need to model this by becoming their own knowledge manager and a reflective practitioner.

Therefore, part of the role of the teacher librarian is to have a mental construct of what information literacy is to guide her practice. This definition will always be evolving as we encounter new information and technologies. However, the teacher librarian needs this to construct a sense of what outcomes she is working towards. Hence in a posting to the ETL401 forum, I offered a conclusion that information literacy was the theory and collaborative teaching and guided inquiry was the practice. Information literacy is a core, guiding construct for reflective practice.

Finally, my understanding of the teacher librarian role has been affected by current debates on whether or not school librarians should ‘leave the library’ and rebadge themselves in order to be effective. While concepts such as ‘the new model’ focussing on integrating learning technologies have some merit, in my view it risks abstracting just one strand of teacher librarian practice away from a holistic view of the profession. Rather, I see the teacher librarian as an “information activist” who extends her practice beyond the walls of the library, but who also fosters a sense of a special place for learning in the school. The discussion around the creation of “learning commons” has appealed to me and encapsulates a professional practice that is both situated and mobile. Most importantly, this idea of a learning commons with a qualified and collaborative teacher librarian at the helm provides opportunities for students to learn and to access information in context. Teaching librarians have an important role in facilitating access to literacy for people of diverse backgrounds and abilities – an important role for school and public library programs in fostering democracy.

References:

Australian Library and Information Association/Australian School Library Association (ALIA/ASLA) (2004) Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians.

Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.htm

Barak, Lauren. (2012). Full-time school librarians linked to higher student reading scores. School Library Journal, March 6. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/893803-312/full-time_school_librarians_linked_to.html.csp#.T2lfZsRZdDQ.netvibes

Braun, L. (2012). Next year’s model? Digital Shift (School Library Journal). April. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/04/k-12/next-years-model/

Bush, G. Information transliteracy in the 21st century classroom. (Video). National Louis University. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=n1JjcmGJb2A

Clark, I. (2010). We still need libraries in the digital age. The Guardian, 13 July.

Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/13/internet-age-still-need-libraries

Hamilton, B. J. (2011). The school librarian as teacher: What kind of teacher are you? Knowledge Quest, 39(5), 34-40. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/869883192?accountid=10344

http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/869883192/fulltextPDF?accountid=10344

Hamilton, B. (n.d.) The Unquiet Library (blog). http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/

Hartzell, G. (2003). Building influence for the school librarian: Tenets, targets, & tactics. (2nd ed.). Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Publishing.

Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25 – 35. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/217750011/136DEEF8C6246D89F49/16?accountid=10344

Johnson, D. (2002). The seven most critical challenges facing our profession. Teacher Librarian, 29(5), 21. Retrieved from http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/seven-most-critical-challenges-that-face-our-profession.html

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Westport, Connecticut, Libraries Unlimited.

Loertscher, D. (2008). Flip this library: School libraries need a revolution. School Library Journal, 54(11). Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6610496.html

Miller, R. (2012). Undercover librarian: Tech coordinator Sarah Ludwig. School Library Journal, April. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/893870312/undercover_librarian_tech_coordinator_sarah.html.csp

Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administrators. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13 – 18. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/224879111?accountid=10344

Todd, R. (2003). Irrefutable evidence: How to prove you boost student achievement. School Library Journal, 04/01/2003. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA287119.html

Transliteracy (n.d.). Retrieved from http://transliteracy.wikispaces.com/1+-+Introduction

Valenza, J. (2011). What librarians make. Or, why should I be more than a librarian? (video). Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/17247140

Valenza, J. (2010). Manifesto for 21st century school librarians. Voya. Retrieved from http://www.voya.com/2010/09/15/tag-team-tech-october-2010/

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Notes from a late formulator — thanks to Carol Kuhlthau

So, I am sitting here at the dining table, surrounded by the detritus of assignment writing. My son is being placated for 90 minutes with Pixar’s Cars. There are print-outs of academic journal articles on information literacy from here to next week. Post-It notes stick out at odd angles and my word-processor program is open to at least two documents as I try to marshall the quotes and key points and plan my approach.

The thing is this — I have discovered something about myself as a learner. Using Kuhlthau’s model of the Information Search Process (ISP) I can see that I am a ‘late formulator’. Kuhlthau noted that during research projects, students must arrive at a point where they have decided their focus — what they really think about the information they have encountered. I take a long time to reach this, it seems. I have read and read and read and taken copious notes.

On the plus side, I think I have actually come up with a clear idea of what I am taking away from this assignment writing process. Here are some the kernels I have synthesised thus far:

– That the chief value of information literacy is that it gives us a construct for how people learn from information.

– By using this construct, we can transfer knowledge about how we learn from situation to situation, hence developing higher levels of self-monitoring and self-evaluation and independent learning.

– That this central construct works as a theory for teacher-librarians. This theory informs our practice and all decisions made about collection management, pedagogy, collaboration, and engagement with the wider community.

– That information literacy is the theory; guided inquiry learning, with collaboration between the teacher librarian and the classroom teacher, is the practice.

– That, as a mental model of how we learn from information, it is something we inherently modify and update as we encounter new information and new technologies.

Thank-you Carol Kuhlthau!

Now, I just wish I had learned this about myself a little sooner…

Musings on Transliteracy

Image: Ocean Flynn, http://www.flickr.com/photos/oceanflynn/6638184545/

Transliteracy …

One of the concepts that we have touched on in the information literacy topic is this new term, ‘transliteracy’. According to Sue Thomas:

“Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

 

As a behavior, it is not new — indeed it reaches back to the very beginning of culture — but it has only been identified as a working concept since the Internet allowed humans to communicate in ways which seem to be entirely novel” (Thomas et al, 2009, 449). 

 

What has changed is not the activities – making connections, seeking information effectively, using information creatively and critically – these skills and attributes have not changed. However, what has changed is the amount of information at our disposal, the way in which is a stored and presented, and the ways we use and interact with it. Technology has changed the information landscape.

Transliteracy is a concept that allows us to discuss and analyse the learning needs of students who are growing up in this information environment. It is also a way of framing the pedagogies and approaches that educators need to develop to help students develop the skills and attributes implied in this model of information literacy.

Convergent technologies and Web 2.0 mean that students expect to be able to hop from one format to another and to contribute and ‘speak back’ to texts through their own creations.

The convergence of print, visual, sound and interactive media also means that students need the presence of mind to synthesise diverse information and perspectives and to critically evaluate sources. Once upon a time (as in, when I was a school student) the format demarcations were used as de facto demarcations between authoritative and relevant material suitable for a school research assignment. A an encyclopaedia or reference book was clearly favoured over more ephemeral material. Now, however, relevant, authoritative information sits alongside trivial, biased, and spurious material– on the web, in apparently the same format, in response to search queries typed into search engines. Students need more than ever to be taught to distinguish what they need and what they can filter out in this new information landscape. They can also be more creative in the way they interact with information.

Constructivist learning approaches and inquiry learning help educators meet the challenges of ‘emergent’ or ‘trans’ literacies by emphasising the student is at the centre of the learning process and must construct their own expertise on a topic.

According to Warlick, young people are “remixing content”, which means that they are “taking information raw materials and assembling them into something that is personally pleasing.” That is fine as far as it goes – but as educators, we want them to be able to be reflective about the content and to create meaningful as well as “pleasing” products. They need to develop their own mental constructs of their learning and a clear, reflective understanding of how they learn. These are essential skills for the 21st century.

However, the concepts I am coming across in the literature on information literacy and transliteracy are familiar to me from a different context – back when I was learning critical theory we read the work of a fellow called Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin came up with a concept called “the dialogic”. He argued that all language was, in our current argot, a “remix”. Julia Kristeva, in turn, turned Bakhtin to account in critical and feminist poetics: “Every text take shape as a mosaic of citations, every text is the absorption and transformation of other texts” (Kristeva in Freedman, 1992, 82.) So there is a certain element of ‘old wine in new bottles’ here.

What is new is the range and breadth of media which students use and interact with as they conduct information tasks. On the Transliteracy wiki (http://transliteracy.wikispaces.com/1+-+Introduction) Dr Gail Bush from the National Louis University Library states that there is still the need to think critically about information, especially now that we have so much of it. The learning process has in some sense become ‘hyperlinked’ as access to information has disseminated and networked to such an astonishing degree. And yet learning and literacy still retain core skills such as the ability to verify the source, detect perspective and bias, and to change one’s mind in light of new information. The key quote for me from Dr Bush’s reflection is that literacy now “transcends the format”.

For the teacher librarian, this means that they need to be able to teach students to use “remixed” content ethically and with a focus on creating meaningful as well as “personally pleasing” products. It is not just about collecting bits of information or just about using technology. It is about making sense of the information. It is also about scaffolding students into creating a personalised approach to managing their own learning, which can use technology and social contacts to create a Personal Learning Network or a Personal Learning Environment. McElvaney and Berge define the PLE [Personal Learning Environment] as “the sum of websites and technologies that an individual makes use of to learn.” In other words, convergent technologies, by their nature, can help students organise and synthesise their learning on the path from information to knowledge.

The concept of transliteracy prompts teacher librarians to reflect that the model of literacy they have in mind will inform their practice. So a TL needs to have a model of literacy that responds to the students’ use of technology. However, this has to go beyond “the kids are digital, so you should be, too.” Teacher librarians need to collaborate with teachers to design learning experiences and intervene in student learning to move them towards constructing their knowledge in meaningful ways. No matter what the technology, students need to develop mental constructs of how they learn that can be carried from task to task and into future learning situations.

 

References:

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (ed.). Austin and London: University Press Texas.

Freedman, Diane P. (1992). An Alchemy of Genres: Cross-Genre Writing by American Feminist Poet-Critics. Charlottesville and London: Virginia UP.

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning: a process approach to library and information services (2nd ed.). Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

McElvaney, J. and Berge, Z. (2009). Weaving a personal web: Using online technologies to create customized, connected, and dynamic learning environments. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 35 (2). http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/524/257

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Perril, S., & Pullinger, K. (2009). Transliteracy as a Unifying Perspective. In S. Hatzipanagos, & S. Warburton (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies (pp. 448-465). Hershey, PA.

Transliteracy wiki: http://transliteracy.wikispaces.com/1+-+Introduction

Warlick, D. (2007). Literacy in the new information landscape. Library Media Connection. August/September, 20-21.

Reality Bites – wandering in the ‘exploration’ phase of the ISP

This phase of the research process for Assignment 2 sometimes feels like wandering through an unknown terrain, looking for answers … Using the ISP model, I would have to say that I am at the ‘Exploration’ stage, moving towards forming a clear ‘Focus’ or ‘Formulation’ of what I want to write. The information is a forest, a river, that I must navigate.

Source: Nicholas T: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicholas_t/1431313272/

 

Having been immersed in the reading on Information Literacy for some weeks now, I am feeling quite overwhelmed by the permutations of the professional debates among teacher librarians and information professionals about what information literacy actually is.

 

Just when I think I have a grasp of the concept, it slips away – or I read some other article and feel anew the vastness of the topic. I keep looking at the requirements for Assignment 2 for ETL401 and feel despair creeping up on me. Will I ever be able to master the information, synthesise the different points of view and factors to take into consideration? And will I be able to do that in time??

 

At least my reading of Kuhlthau’s work on the Information Search Process (ISP) has me prepared. She argues that in the ‘Exploration’ phase of a research project, it is quite normal to feel uncertain and overwhelmed by contradictory or complex information.

 

To make matters worse, since I have started my TL studies, I am actually in our school library less than in previous years. I am so busy as a classroom teacher in a big, results-orientated independent school that I scamper from one lesson to the next, stopping at my desk just to dump lesson materials for one class and pick up the equipment for the next. Time for reflection? Yeah, right. We are implementing a whole new curriculum at year 8 for English and we have so far this year been allocated a total of two hours team planning time – and half of that has been during lunchtimes. Time to talk to the librarians? Get real. And don’t ask me how my marking is going! As I am reading the material on collaboration between TLs and classroom teachers for Guided Inquiry the obstacles to implementing this method of teaching information literacy are glaringly obvious.

 

I am more than a topic behind now and use all my spare time reading and taking notes for the course – and yet it all feels theoretical, as I am removed from the rock-face of TL work.

 

My four-year-old son was recently interviewed by his kindergarten teacher about me for Mother’s Day. The teacher wrote his answers to the questions in a card which they gave to me on Thursday. One question was, “What is your Mum’s favourite thing to do?” His answer? “Going to work and marking.” (!!)

 

Fortunately, I was allotted an emergency lesson this week – in the library! I was introduced to borrowing and return procedures and because it was unusually quiet the TL on duty showed me her wonderful resources wiki and Refworks, which the school has just licensed. I really liked being treated as an apprentice TL. I then went upstairs to the reading room and helped an English department colleague with recommending wider reading titles to her Year 8s.

 

Last week, I had a conversation with one of our school’s TLs with whom I have had a bit of contact before. She books author visits and coordinates the journals collection, as well as helping with reading sessions in the library. I commented on the reading I was doing on guided inquiry and teacher-TL collaboration and how it seemed we did not really get to do that in our school. She sighed rather heavily and said that the school had recently over-ruled their managers’ recommendations. Their hours for planning and resourcing the curriculum have been cut and they have been given more time on the loans desk and on the floor. In other words, qualified TLs are being given more technical, clerical tasks and less time for what they specifically have to offer. It really brought home to me that even in a well-resourced school, the pressure is on librarians to argue for their ‘learning offer’ and to be properly supported in collaborating with teachers closely so they can have the greatest impact on student learning.

Reflections on definitions of information literacy – Part 1

Photo: Ewa Rozkosz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erozkosz/6002995238/

It seems that information literacy has been all the rage in library studies for the past 20 or so years, and yet there seems to be only a little consensus as to what it actually entails.

 

Information Power: guidelines for school library media programs (ALA/AASL/AECT 1988) announces a focus on information literacy. This statement was designed, at the time, to respond to the burgeoning ICTs that were shaping up to make the impact on education that, since then, they most certainly have. In its mission statement AASL spells out an information literacy focus without actually naming it as such:

 

“The mission of the library media program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information”  (ALA/AASL/AECT 1988, 1)

 

This is a start. What does it mean to be an ‘effective user’ of information? And where do ‘ideas’ fit in here? And how about coming up with ideas, too? Teachers know that students sometimes struggle with this and that journey from information to knowledge to creative, new ideas and applications for knowledge is often long and arduous.

 

Every educator has had the experience of the student who seems unable to make decisions about how to use the information available. They are a bit like the person standing in front of the bursting-full wardrobe saying plaintively that they have, ‘Nothing to wear!’

 

Perhaps it is easier to think about what constitutes ineffective information use. Here are some of the symptoms I consider to signal problems with information literacy:

 

  • ignoring the need to find information;
  • not knowing where to start to find information;
  • lack of search-and-find skills;
  • not being able to sort out relevant and reliable information from the extraneous and/or spurious;
  • copying vast swathes of information verbatim, without the intervention of thought, or interpretation, or standards of ethical use;
  • a ‘cut-and-paste’ culture;
  • using only the top few hits of a search engine;
  • not thinking flexibly about the range of sources that might be helpful – print, electronic, non-text;
  • being unable to extract the main points or ideas from articles;
  • inability to summarise, précis, synthesise, or make connections;
  • being confounded by complex or contradictory information that demands sifting and careful interpretation.

 

Anyone who has taught students in an information-rich environment knows that it is no longer information scarcity that is the problem – but teaching students to use information nimbly, judiciously, ethically, critically and imaginatively.

 

More recently, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) put out an updated Standards for the 21st Century Learner (2007). Interestingly, the document puts old-fashioned, linear reading at the top of their list of skills needed for the 21st century:

 

“Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment. The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g., picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life. As a lifelong learning skill, reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and development of new understandings” (AASL, 2007).

 

I find this intriguing, because in the current climate of ‘media boosters’ and the changes wrought by fast-evolving ICTs, many are discussing old-style literacy as if it is a skill we can hop-scotch over as an unnecessary stage on the way to using digital texts. Information literacy begs the question of what we mean by literacy. The ALA seems to think that ‘understanding’ and ‘interpretation’ are still key – both cognitive activities that demand deep engagement with the material.

 

This goes beyond being able to decode letters into words. Taking a society-wide view, participation in higher education, which is the portal to professional life for most people, still depends on a certain fluency in ‘old-style’, bibliographic literacy, as well as new, digital literacies.

 

In an article, “Libraries for a post-literate society” (2010) library and information science academic Doug Johnson argues that we live in a ‘post-literate’ society wherein “multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read written words, is no longer necessary” (Johnson borrows from Wikipedia’s definition). He states that the ‘post-literate’ is someone who can read, but who chooses to “meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming.” In this way of life, traditional print is “relegated to brief personal messages, short informational needs, and other functional, highly pragmatic uses such as instructions, signage and time-management device entries”.

 

I am willing to admit that this is probably an accurate picture of how print and alphabetic text is used by a majority of young and not-so-young people – but the whole picture it provides gives me pause. Is this the sum total of what we really mean by ‘literacy’ and even ‘information literacy’? And is this what we want for everyone? There are still situations in which at least some of us need to be able to sustain attention while reading a longer piece of writing and the ability to construct a longer piece of writing or speech.

 

What about the use of language that is not purely ‘pragmatic’ – such as imaginative literature? The ‘post-literate’ world is one that most of us, to different degrees, inhabit – and yet, the older forms of literacy evolved to accomplish all those feats of scientific advancement, rational debate and inquiry, sustained reflection and knowledge management that gave rise to the Renaissance vision of the human and the liberal-democratic civilisation that it birthed.

 

Perhaps it is more useful to discuss “literacies” that encompass traditional reading, but also feed into the range of skills needed to use and interact with new media. Embedded in any discussion of literacy, too, is an assumption about what we mean by thinking and learning.

 

The purely pragmatic, short-burst texts described by Johnson may make up a large part of our use of written languages, but they are not the full extent of what we mean by learning, thinking and communicating – otherwise, we would hardly have need for the higher-order dimensions of reflection, debate, weighing up and evaluating evidence, constructing an argument, or drawing conclusions from evidence that still make up a large part of professional discourse. We hope they also comprise political and corporate decision-making. The vision of the human mind indicated by purely ‘post-literate’ and ‘pragmatic’ fare is of a data processing device – we are simply nodes in the information and communications network, blurting out signals and passing them on. This is “thinking as data processing” (Jackson, 2009, 83). What does the individual add to the data they ‘process’ – where is the human in all this?

 

By starting with a digression, I am trying to wend my way closer to inspecting the various definitions of ‘information literacy’ I have encountered in my reading for this part of my teacher librarianship studies. I have decided that the ‘post-literate’ sounds too facile – there is too little place for reflection, analysis, and the kinds of intellectual accomplishment that long-form reading and writing have evolved to support and express. While there is certainly a place for the kinds of ‘pragmatic’ literacy Johnson describes, a student who graduated from high school only able to engage in these kinds of interactions with texts would still be considered poorly equipped to deal with many of the demands of modern adult life. They don’t have to read War and Peace – but just reading tweets?

 

To return to the Standards for the 21st Century Learner, the document deconstructs information literacy under four main headings, each of which are then allocated about seventeen or so indicators under the headings “skills”, “dispositions in action”, “responsibilities”, and “self-assessment strategies”. The four headings are:

 

  1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
  2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.
  3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

Broadly speaking, these “skills, resources and tools” map closely along the lines of the information literacy definitions and models I have been studying for the past two weeks. They foreground what the learner is doing to find, gather, organise, interpret and present information. Verbs like “think critically” and “draw conclusions” show that this is an active process that demands higher-level thinking skills from the learner.

 

Linda Langford (1998) in her article “Information literacy: a clarification”, goes over the history of debate over the meaning of the term. Some working definitions she gathers together are:

 

“…the ideas and practices of developing in … students an independence in defining and solving their information problems.”

 

“the ability to access, evaluate, and use information from a variety of resources, to recognise when information is needed, and to know how to learn.”

 

“inherent in this concept is the attainment of skills, which relies on a process; that is, information literacy is an applied concept that takes on many approaches depending on what part of the curriculum is in focus.”

 

Some of these definitions highlight skills, others capacities, and others still the process. All imply a certain amount of self-awareness in the learner when identifying information needs, finding and evaluating information, and monitoring the research process. Hence, some of the information literacy debate is about processes that are hard to detect because they are thinking strategies used by the student and often done so intuitively.

 

Abilock (2004) offers a different interpretation of information literacy:

 

“Information literacy is a transformational process in which the learner needs to find, understand, evaluate, and use information in various forms to create for personal, social or global purposes.”

 

I am a little uncertain what ‘global purposes’ are, but I do like the idea that information literacy is a “transformational process”. Unlike purely functional or skills-based explanations of information literacy, Abilock’s definition looks at the alchemy that happens when thinking, and concentration, and creativity are applied to information – it becomes transformed from the dross of “information” into the gold of knowledge. This puts the student at the centre as an active, interpreting, thinking human being who is using critical judgement at every stage of the process. It also suggests that in the process something new is made.

 

James Herring (2007) takes a more process-oriented approach. He also describes information literacy in relation to what an information literate student is capable of doing, and in this he comes close to defining it as a mixture of skills, dispositions, capacities, and behaviours in a learning process. In another article, Herring (2011) defines information literacy as “a critical and reflective ability to exploit the current information environment, and to adapt to new information environments; and as a practice.”

 

Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) has caught my imagination the most of all. I think this is because she looks at the experience of being engaged in an information research task and the emotional dimensions of the process. By looking at the patterns of students’ feelings, she has mapped the ways in which we feel at the outset of the process, during the middle, and then how we move to a resolution. Her ISP also, to my mind, foregrounds the processes of revisiting questions and initial understandings the most, and the processes of thinking through an information process. Although none of the dominant information literacy models insist on a linear process, stating that their process is “iterative”, Kuhlthau gives the strongest permission to take a while to come up with an ‘answer’ and the keep revisiting and refining the initial understandings as information is encountered and interpreted.

The MEd. (teacher librarianship) lecturers have posed the question of how information literacy is more than a set of skills. Clearly it entails skills, but it also more than that: it encompasses a series of strategies, a process, an applied concept, and a practice. Overall, my sense is that the metacognitive dimension is key – that information literacy is a way of helping students develop a mental construct of how they learn and how this can be transposed to a range of learning situations. This is perhaps what distinguishes the more able, successful students from those who struggle. Herring’s research (2011) suggests that it is this aspect of the more able student – being able to think about what they are doing and how they can use a repertoire of information strategies to address an information problem, that makes them more apt at school-based tasks.

When I think of the people I know who have experienced success at school and then in adult, professional life, the aptitudes Herring, Kuhlthau and Eisenberg write about are there – making connections between apparently discrete learning tasks and situations; applying prior learning to new problems; knowing how to go about formulating a question or focus and sourcing the information they need; being resourceful and persisting in the face of difficulties; being able to interpret, understand and synthesise information; turning information into new products or ideas; tolerance for ambiguity and working through complexity; looking back and reflecting on the process and what has been learned.

 

References:

 

Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: an overview of design, process and outcomes. Available at: http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/1over/infolit1.html

 

American Association of School Librarians; Association for Educational Communications and Technology; American Library Association (1988). Information power: guidelines for school library media programs. ALA/AECT: Chicago, IL.

 

American Association of School Librarians/American Library Association. (2007). Standards for the 21st century learner. http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards

 

Herring, James. (2007). Progress in developing information literacy in a secondary school using the PLUS model. School Libraries in View, 23, 23 – 27.

 

Herring, James. (2011). Year seven students, concept mapping and the issues of transfer. School Libraries Worldwide. 17(1), 11-23.

 

Jackson, Maggie. (2009). Distracted: the erosion of attention and the coming dark age. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

 

Johnson, Doug. (2010). Libraries for a post-literate society. Connections 72.  Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS)/Curriculum Corporation: Carlton South. www.curriculm.edu.au/scis

 

Kulhthau, C. (2012) The Information Search Process (ISP). http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/information_search_process.htm

 

Langford, Linda. (1998). Information literacy: a clarification. First appeared in School Libraries Worldwide (4), 1, 59 – 72. Available from http://www.fno.org/sept98/clarify.html