If you’ve been in academia for a while, or hang out with a librarian or two (we’re everywhere), you have probably heard the term information literacy. But, pinning down an exact definition is difficult, even for academic librarians. Critical thinking, inquiry based learning, media literacy, evaluation of information, citing, ethical use and re-use of information, the research process, are all contained in the conceptual sphere of information literacy. Navigating and using the information sources that are increasingly available in varied formats is an ongoing journey. Having a dexterity with the location, use and re-use of information responsibly, is a highly valued competency in graduate schools and private sector careers across the disciplines. It is what many employers expect of our graduates.

Over the years libraries have transformed from being repositories of mostly physical resources to curating and constructing sources of information. Librarians work diligently to help users navigate the growing landscape, evaluate information, and use it responsibly. For the foreseeable future there will be a need for resource professionals to help students and professionals learn the skills to be successful in pursuing personal and professional projects that require information in all its myriad forms: data, images, reports, transcriptions, books, statistics, reviews, research articles, news articles, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Recently, the Association of College and Research Libraries gathered leaders in the field in order to examine how librarians were describing information literacy and to recommend new ways to define the term. In doing so, ACRL moved away from a prescribed list of skills to a focus on concepts. ACRL’s new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education defines IL as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” [See ACRL’s Information Literacy Resources]

At Johns Hopkins University, President Ronald J. Daniels’ Ten by Twenty initiative has tasked the Sheridan Libraries with “help[ing to] create bridges for our students beyond their own ideas, so they have a chance to be full participants in a thriving intellectual community.” A thorough understanding and intentional application of information literacy by the JHU community has the potential to be a pivotal success factor in creating life-long learners and engaged intellectuals. I see the intentional work towards weaving these concepts in scaled ways throughout our varied curricula as an empowering way to graduate students ready, not only for engagement in scholarship, but for engagement with the world.

If you are at Johns Hopkins University and are interested in learning more about how your students can gain information literacy competencies, please contact me at ssimpson@jhu.edu. Those outside of JHU may find the Teaching & Learning section of the ACRL information literacy resources to be useful. This article was edited by Macie Hall and first appeared in the Center for Educational Resources blog.


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