Information literacy makes all the wrong assumptions

| 1 Comment
Article numbah two in my Blogust series of favorite readings: "Information Literacy Makes All the Wrong Assumptions" by Stanley Wilder.

When this article was published in 2005, it raised a big stink in the library world.  You see, we don't criticize the sacred cows in our profession often.  And information literacy is one of the biggest sacred cows of them all.  As long as it's smart people fighting, I love a good fight, and this article is all about the fighting.  How can you not love statements like this:

"Information literacy does nothing to help libraries compete with the Internet, and it should be discarded."

Inflammatory statements aside, Wilder makes some astute observations in this article, including the idea that librarians should focus on reducing the complexity of information retrieval, rather than teaching the complexity itself.

Wilder's central tenet is that librarians should create interfaces that reduce (if not eliminate entirely) the need for instruction.  Here's my favorite quote from the article:

"Librarians need to use their expertise to make the library's online presence approach the simplicity and power of the Internet."

Amen to that.  I have yet to find another article that states this objective as clearly.  An article that angered so many provided a career eye-opener for me: An instruction librarian can reach and teach more students through effective interface design than through face to face instruction. 

Enjoy the article!  And please feel free to fight about it.  Nothing could make me happier.

1 Comment

I'm encountering all sorts of coincidences in my life this month. For example, I just read this article (or re-read, it's hard to keep track of what I read a few years ago!) on Monday. It was referenced in something else I was reading so I took a look. While Wilder makes some good points, I think he would have done well to remember that old line about getting more flies with honey than vinegar (though I'm not sure why you would want flies). The inflammatory comments got to me a bit. That being said, interface design can reach and teach a lot more people than what we can do in instruction sections. However, the problem becomes, how do you sell the interface? How do you drive people to use your search tools? How do you get people to actually use the help files? Admittedly, these are probably easier questions to answer than "how do you teach information literacy in 50 minutes while trying to accomplish course-related goals." More than all that though, my biggest problem with the article is that he seems to embrace the idea of "good enough" information instead of "good" information. I don't think I'll ever be convinced that "good enough" really is good enough. If college is an apprenticeship in reading and writing, as Wilder says, shouldn't they be working with the best information rather than the most convenient information? Sorry I'm rambling, but it really is a thought-provoking article. To wrap up, I think Wilder falls a *bit* into the logical fallacy of excluding the middle. I think we would do well to adopt his ideas about concentrating on better interface to reach more students, but I think this works better as a complement to information literacy instruction rather than a replacement for it.

Leave a comment

Recent Entries

Digital cameras / digital storytelling
I am participating in a grant, through the PA State Library, to help public librarians gain digital literacies. This $55K…
Up Against the Wall: Political Protest Art from the Thomas W. Benson Collection Exhibition
This has been an incredibly busy semester, and one of the many activities I've participated in includes my first experience…
Why Isn't Local News More Open?
Cole Camplese, a Bloomsburg, PA native (and Senior Director for Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State) raised…