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A Contemporary Issue in Education: Information Literacy

Students occasionally lack the skills necessary to succeed in a higher educational environment. In a 1989 report, the American Library Association stated that “Information literacy is a survival skill in the Information Age,” and called for a restructuring of the learning process itself rather than that of the curriculum (Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, 1989). Information Literacy may be identified as the ability to locate information in the following context of knowing how to use the acquired information, how to evaluate the information for accuracy, where to locate the needed information and how to validate the source.

In today’s educational industry, information literacy is considered a survival tool for the “need-to-know” person. Educators and students alike must be equipped with the skills, dispositions, knowledge and ability that will create success. The need for change is prominent as it pertains to strengthening the educational gap among ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Several at-risk indicators challenge diverse group of students located in urban and underfunded schools. The need for change is imminent in order to build strong relationships with students, parents and the community. Producing such a population would require schools and colleges to develop an appreciation and integration of the concept of information literacy into their learning programs.

With this in mind, they then become players in a leadership role, equipping individuals and institutions to take advantage of the opportunities inherent within the information society. This paper will focus on contemporary issues that currently affect education. A foremost step in this process is to demonstrate the need for information literacy, focus on the collaborative roles that also affect students, and provide a review of assessments.

Need for Information Literacy

A primary task of public schools is to prepare students to take part in the economy. Therefore, one reason for bolstering the quality of information literacy instruction in American public schools is that the lack of such skills costs businesses money (Meyer, 1987). For example, the ability to review literature and electronic databases can prevent organizations from working on innovations that have already been developed as well as lessen the human resources required to find information. Additionally, information workers are a large part of the U.S. labor force (Cleveland, 1985). In order for the students of today to be able to partake in the jobs of tomorrow, they need information literacy based skills as nearly half of the jobs now available in America require these skills. Many students lack these skills mainly because they are not provided with integrated instruction during their subject matter learning and because, when they are provided this instruction, they do not apply these skills in differing ways and over sustained periods (Harris, 2003).

Students in higher educational institutions also lack information literacy skills (Kuh & Gonyea, 2003). Today, most students rely on Google and other Internet-based search engines alone to find source material (Carlson, 2003). Although in the past, information literacy instruction was relegated to the work of librarians, the acquisition of these skills in context of learning assignments needs to be facilitated more by the classroom teachers instead (Smolin & Lawless, 2003). Information literacy instruction requires critical thinking skills and should, therefore, be aligned with content instruction in the classroom (Quarton, 2003).

Contrasting Roles

Rethinking the efficacy of information-literacy and its influence in education raises the concept of combining the instructional roles of the librarian and educator. The collaboration of these two positions would provide the students with the proficient skills to research effectively, integrate, and apply the information concepts learned to their professional and personal skills. The instructional role of the librarian is based on the assumption that students are challenged with finding information and understanding its relevancy or application. Multiple studies have confirmed that many students rely on the Internet as the primary source of information for coursework thus neglecting library databases and print resources (Owusu-Ansah, 2003). The combined effort of both roles and restructuring of the learning process adds a different approach to the student’s application of research and knowledge.

Though the librarian may have research information readily available, the task of the educator has taken on a different function that involves both planning and instructional methods. Educators are concerned with the learning process and the desire that students take ownership of their own learning, be self-directed thinkers, broaden their own understanding of concepts or theories and answer important questions. This is a model of how the student is exposed to viable information that leads them to construct their own understanding of concepts through research techniques, conjectural applications and integrated resources. Theoretically, the students should have acquired the skills to know when they need information, identify what information will address a particular problem, evaluate and find the information and use the information effectively in addressing the problem. Kuh and Gonyea (2003, July) found that students in academically challenging environments, where faculty-assigned projects required students to integrate ideas and apply what they have learned in class to other activities, were more likely to use indexes and databases, consult a librarian, and evaluate information. The connection between information and coursework establishes the ground work for the student to apply learned concepts in order to bring about transformation.


A student’s acceptance or rejection of information literacy is reflective to his or her socioeconomic status (SEC) and gender as it relates to a cultural environment for learning. Lowe and Krahn (2003) states that children with higher SEC tend to do better in school and have higher aspirations for gaining knowledge. Male students tend to react positively with communication technology use if consistent access is available. Psychological traits of children contribute to a user’s desire to seek information acquisition relative to his or her level of comprehension. Heinstrom (2005) states that a student’s ability to access and articulate information is characterize as fast surfing, broad scanning, and deep diving. These characteristics describe a user’s traits relative to a lack of patience, a lack of planning, and a need for thoroughness. The ability to read promotes a child to have a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.

Leung (1996) and Pinnell (2006) provide data that describes how a child develops his or her characteristics for interacting with the concept of information literacy. The intellectual assimilation of a child begins with the kindergarten teacher. A student entering into this level of learning arrives with his or her multimodal forms for communicating. Because of the learning curriculum, the kindergarten teacher promotes reading and writing to encourage a process of moving children away from communicating with multimodal forms (Leung, 1996). Adults communicate using multimodal forms, and children need lessons to enhance their multimodal traits to function in society. To be able to read enhances a child’s ability to be productive learners. Reading teaches receptivity of a student’s confidence to communicate and to function productively relating to the aspects of information literacy (Pinnell, 2006).

Gender stereotyping among boys contribute to discouraging and accepting information literacy. Boys relate reading with negative female attributes and non-acceptance of manly functions (Katz,et al. 2008). During middle school a male student’s mental processes, concerning information literacy is in his intrinsic attitude for reading. Pinnell (2006) states that children (males) need gratification from adults to instill a will to resist the negative consensus from peers. Reading is a pivotal subject that creates a foundation for a student to be successful in accomplishing the positive attributes associated with information literacy.


The United States and Canada understand the need for information literacy and have stressed teaching, learning and assessment of information literacy for two decades (Loertscher, 2008). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and the Title II Part D Act (Enhancing Education Through Technology), all stress the importance of information literacy the competency of students and assessment to measure it by. An important aspect of higher education is the skill of using the resources in the library to locate, retrieve, interpret and synthesize information. (Knight 2006). These aspects are all components of information literacy.

In 1989 The Presidential Committee on Information Literacy was conducted by the American Library Association (ALA). The committee’s task was to define information literacy and establish standards for how to assess competency. As a result, several information literacy assessment models were developed. One of the first information literacy assessment models was found in Brainstorms and Blueprints, a book published in 1998, it was followed shortly by the Big 6 Model (Loertscher, 2008). Approximately 10 years later the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL) formed a partnership. (Seymour, 2007). As a result of the partnership, the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education was developed and is one of the most popular information literacy assessment models used by educational institutions.

The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education model has five standards and 22 performance indicators. The standards provide the higher learning institutions with competency outlines for assessing a student’s progress toward information literacy. Each standard has several performance indicators with the expected outcome. The performance indicators and expected outcomes provide the students with a plan for navigating through the information in their environment and obtaining competency.


This collaborative effort brings a multi-dimensional vision where shared values and ideas are exchanged through separate concepts. How the scholar, practitioner, and leadership model transact with separate concepts and understanding concerning the transformation that must take place between the roles, is vital to improving information literacy. Furthermore, according to the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy (1989), in order to be information-literate a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and can locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. The impact of knowing how to retrieve and validate information is at the forefront of transforming the gap between scholar and practice.

The scholar’s role is to observe as a sage and qualified individual, yet the practitioner’s mind is set on application based-learning that can be used in the classroom. The leader models part of this phase and indicates the need to be a critical thinker. According to the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final report (1989), "Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.” This type of behavior translates into creating realistic goals and the transformation of learning. According to Kuh and Gonyea (2003, July), for information literacy instruction to succeed, it must be integrated, relevant, ongoing, collaborative, and applied. Integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum to meet the educational needs of our future leaders may require a new proto-type of educators or community.


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Carlson, S. (2003, March 21). New allies in the fight against research by googling. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49, A33.

Cleveland, H. (1985). The knowledge executive: Leadership in an information society. New York: Dutton.

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