Information literacy is a term that has been floating around since the advent of the internet, but recently, it has taken on a new level of importance that extends beyond the concern of just information professionals. Today’s communication platforms, driven by motivations and algorithms designed to attract and engage users at any cost, place a tremendous amount of pressure on a user’s ability to acquire information, assess its quality, and use it meaningfully.
What Is Information Literacy?
ALA defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.’” On an individual level, information literacy gives you the ability to accurately assess and interpret what you read, whether it is the latest news, breakthroughs in healthcare or medical information, or that exciting new job description you’ve had your eye on. At the broader social level, information literacy helps us determine how we should interact with one another and make important decisions about our lives, including whom we choose as elected officials and the laws we create and enforce to govern ourselves.
Types of Information Literacy
Two of the most common and important types of information literacy are computer literacy and media literacy. Computer literacy is the ability to use computers to obtain, assess, and understand various types of knowledge; usually, that information is acquired from the internet. Media literacy allows us to interpret and understand different types of media, such as a video broadcast, an article in a magazine, or an ad playing in between episodes of your favorite show. How we use these types of information literacy every day is vital to our ability to understand our world and the people around us.
Why Is Information Literacy Important?
Information literacy is important in our day-to-day lives because it is the key to helping us make informed decisions in an information ecosystem that’s increasingly designed to distort our understanding of the world we inhabit. Today’s media bombards us with content designed to secure our attention and hold it by any means possible—even when that information is false or misleading.
Experts call this phenomenon “information disorder,” and it has been defined as “the sharing or developing of false information with or without the intent of harming.” False information is often presented as real and credible, and people perceive it as such, taking it at face value without stopping to consider the veracity of what they are consuming.
This ready acceptance of false information has real-world consequences. Spend any time on the internet or social media and you will quickly discover a tense and great divide among people of differing viewpoints, where opposing sides operate with an unyielding sense of certainty in their positions. Without the awareness to understand and implement practices that increase their information literacy, people will often rely on social media feeds and other sources without questioning their accuracy, where their information came from, or who posted it. The result is a proliferation of misinformation that polarizes our population and fuels greater information disorder in our daily communications.
What Can You Do to Avoid Information Disorder?
Developing your information literacy does not have to be difficult. It begins with a healthy dose of skepticism in your daily communications. Don’t take graphics on your friends’ Instagram stories at face value. Don’t believe everything you see or hear on television. Question things that give you pause, look for both sides of an argument, and don’t be afraid of developing your own opinions based on what you find.
For those in instructional positions, make information literacy accessible and part of your curriculum. If you have the opportunity to create content, build a lesson, or hold a workshop on information literacy, take it. The first and most important step is to raise awareness in those who may never have considered questioning the stream of information crossing their paths daily. Information literacy can help people navigate that stream once they learn how to use it, creating opportunities for personal and social growth through a better understanding of the world in which they live.
For more resources on information literacy, check out the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Toolkit. Information literacy is not only important for information professionals, but also for individuals in all fields, and it should be considered and implemented whenever possible.
“Exploring the Development of Undergraduate Students’ Information Literacy Through Their Experiences With Research Assignments”
“The Polarization in Today’s Congress Has Roots That Go Back Decades”
“Political Polarization, Misinformation, and Media Literacy”