Literacy is a contentious and confusing term in our modern world. Belshaw (2014) states that the word literacy in our culture is seen as shorthand ‘the ability to read and write’, however this disguises the fact that literacy is a spectrum, rather than a binary concept. That is to say that there are not simply two states of being literate or illiterate, but that everyone is at a different point on the spectrum. Literacy, when limited to the ability to read and write is confining and inaccurate. In the paste, Aboriginal people were described as a “non-literate” people (Murray & White, 1988), despite the fact that they had developed complex systems of communication through songlines, stories, art and ceremonies. They were, and are, a literate people, they just didn’t write things down on paper. As such, I will stick with the definition I developed earlier in this course (Parnell, 2018) to say that literacy is the spectrum of ability to complete a task.
Information literacy is a high priority in today’s society and especially in schools. In a modern world you can’t have information literacy without digital literacy.
Zurkowski (1974) was the first person to write about information literacy and he wrote that those who did not understand the value of information were informationally illiterate. Today’s information landscape has become far more complex than that of 1974 when Zurkowski estimated that only a sixth of the population of the United States were informationally literate. Information literacy is vital, and our level of literacy impacts our whole lives, from decisions we make about our health (Akpan, N. 2019), down to the appliances we choose to buy and hotels we choose to stay in (Camilleri, 2019).
Let's try an exercise that we would do in grad school.
— Nsikan Akpan (@MoNscience) June 20, 2019
Obtaining information literacy is challenging in a world where the search engines we trust to obtain information for us are written with biased algorithms (Farkas, 2017).
There is a significant lack of consensus over what digital literacy is. Wolsen (2014) says digital literacy is essential but that no one knows what it means, while Petrov (2017) says there is no single definition of digital literacy, although it includes information literacy and goes beyond basic use to incorporate “harnessing” the power of technology across many areas of life. In a literature review examining skills needed for the future workforce, digital literacy defined as the fluency that enables users to access, and effectively use digital environments with confidence, and further develop these skills in the future (van Leer, van Deursen, van Dijk, & de Haan, 2017). This is consistent with Belshaw’s contention that acquiring digital literacies is a lifelong work (TedEx Talks, 2012) and is also supported by Beetham who says that digital literacy is a lifelong, personal pursuit as each and every person needs a different set of digital literacy skills to live out their daily lives (Pewhairangi, 2018).
Information and Digital Literacies and the Teacher Librarian
Information and digital literacies are the domain of the teacher librarian (Johnston, 2012) as the teacher librarian is the only expert in a school setting trained in information literacy instruction (Berg, Malvey & Donohue, 2018). Teacher librarians have long been leaders in incorporating technology into the library and classroom (Belisle, 2004) and they have a responsibility to teach not only students, but teachers about integrating technology and encouraging digital literacy as teachers are often not digitally literate themselves (Urbani, Roshandel, Michaels, & Truesdell, 2017).
Without a foundation of information literacy in the early years, it is very hard to learn later on (Berg, Malvey & Donohue, 2018) so it is essential that teacher librarians assume not just responsibility for this area but leadership in this, within their schools (Johnston, 2012).
My Experiences and Plans
During my work placement I witnessed the impact of a lack of information and digital literacy on the lives of the library patrons. While working on the front desk, I assisted patrons with basic tasks such as how to move to a new line when typing in a word processor (as the gentleman was retyping his resume from a copy someone had printed for him), and more complex tasks such as restoring a folder to the favourites section of Finder on their personal MacBook. Technology support is in such high demand that Penrith City Library, where I completed my work placement, has a Tech Help Desk open 10am-12N, seven days a week. This is in addition to classes such as Tech-Savvy Seniors, sponsored by the State Library of NSW.
In my future work, I hope to be a champion for information literacy and digital literacy, whether I work in a school setting or a public library. I hope to train other staff as well as students or patrons to research, search, and critically analyse information. I have already shown my willingness and ability to do this as I developed a digital escape room for my INF541 Game Based Learning Assignment that focused on critically analysing information, through examining bias and primary vs secondary sources.