Posted by on April 25, 2018 at 1:50 pm


The 2018 CILIP Definition of Information Literacy was launched during LILAC (the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference) at the University of Liverpool earlier this month.
Here, Jess Haigh (Education Subject Librarian), who is part of the LILAC Conference Committee, explains the context of the new definition, and why it matters to education researchers.


What is Information Literacy?

Information Literacy is a concept that has been developed since the 1970s, and there are many theories and models of how it can be expressed, measured and taught. Librarians, as information professionals, have a vested interest in the subject, and their teaching is often informed by the skills it includes: when you ask your librarian to do a session on finding, evaluating and referencing resources you are asking them to do a session that includes aspects of what is commonly understood by librarians to be information literacy, and their practice will usually involve learning outcomes that follow certain competencies, wider than those of being able to search individual databases.
Information Literacy GroupThe Information Literacy Group (ILG), which is a Special Interest Group of CILIP (the UK’s library and information membership association), launched their new definition at the recent Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference. The new definition includes a high level definition, followed by a secondary statement which gives supporting evidence to explain what information literacy is, and how it works in various contexts such as in the workplace or within education. The full definition can be found on the ILG website, but at the highest level:

Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to develop informed views and to engage fully with society.”


What is the context of this new definition?

The new definition follows from the definition devised by the ILG in 2004:

“Information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.”

As theories of information use and creation developed, this definition began to look a little thin, determining skillsets (I can find something and I can use what I take from it effectively according to my current need), but not critically appraising how our access to and use of information shapes who we are and where we sit in society.
Information literacy cartoonThe changing power of the Internet, social media, and how people communicate with each other in the Western privileged context in which many UK librarian’s praxis sits has meant that we need to go beyond showing people how an advanced search works: it is our duty to make sure that our students, and indeed our colleagues, have the capabilities to critically evaluate every source they encounter, from academic journals to memes shared on Facebook.
We should also be more aware of the nature of the tools we use to search for information, as they are not neutral. An awareness of the problematic nature of source discovery leads to a more critical approach to the use of information, a change to who we are as people and the decisions we make as consumers and citizens. As librarians adopt more critical practices in their teaching, including the use of a more critical pedagogy, the definition that defines and underlines our work needed updating.
Over the past two years, the ILG has run consultations both with its own members internally, and delegates of LILAC 2017, to develop a definition that clearly states the importance of information literacy both generally, and in specific contexts.

Why does this matter to education research?

In the context of education, the definition explores how being information literate enriches the learning experience in every stage of both formal and informal learning. Through the discovery of variant and diverse ways of thinking and knowing, students are able to become independent and lifelong learners.
Information literacy therefore is not just the remit of Higher Education. Early Years professionals could be working with librarians and information professionals to embed these critical skills into how they work with young children and their parents in exploring information, how they utilise video sharing networks such as YouTube, for example. Much more research is needed on how information literacy can be embedded in the early years, and the affect this would have on children’s use of sources later in schools and in their wider lives.

It is my theory that a baseline of critical thinking about information that starts in the early years would allow for students to later move on to higher-level thinking skills much quicker in all subject areas, and enable a smoother transition to further and higher education.

As education researchers, it is important to reflect on our findings through a lens of information literacy, as our research subjects are citizens of the information society, and their experiences of information will inform their ability to function within it. Collaborating with information professionals such as librarians, and embedding information literacy as defined by the ILG would lead to better informed and more critical educational practice.

If we want to create better learning experiences that lead to more critically aware, smarter, and informed lifelong learners then this starts with information literacy.
The new definition gives us the foundation for including this theory within our work.


For more information on the work of the Information Literacy Group, please see its website. Its partner publication, the Journal of Information Literacy, is Open Access and includes research from all sectors. LILAC is an annual conference and welcomes papers from educational researchers.


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