What is information literacy?

I don’t think that I have a definition for information literacy & I suspect that it will remain tricky to pin down for a long time to come. I don’t want my definition to be about skills or behaviours as I think that the research & my professional practice tells me that these are way too limiting. I think that these don’t dig deeply enough to truly talk meaningfully about IL. I think that really digging deeply into lifelong learning might be a way to go & the “checking story” that I have used to help me think about definitions of IL is actually a lifelong learning story & I only just realised it. My checking story is about someone that I have known (who is no longer alive).

This person was shockingly racist towards Aboriginal People for the first 80+ years of her life. Much of her understandings seemed to come from the nuns in her family who were part of the Catholic Church’s Stolen Generations activities & she had no capacity to hear anything else that anyone said. But, as child abuse in the Catholic Church was discussed more & more in the public arena, she began on a journey of discovery.

When she tried to raise her concerns about child abuse by church people, the priest told her that it was a con & not to worry about it. As a person with a very strong mind, she did worry about it & eventually stopped going to mass & started doing volunteer work with homeless people. Working with homeless people led her to begin interacting with some homeless Aboriginal People. As she was truly listening to their stories, her standard racist reactions began to be replaced with empathy and a need to understand more about Australia’s history & its impact on the traditional owners & the generational impacts still existing today.

She began supplementing this sharing of personal stories with televsion documentaries & radio programs about Australian history, the Stolen Generations, land rights & more. She genuinely challenged herself & found a new world view. And, she was on a campaign to share her new understandings with everyone else; most frustratingly this included those of us who had been challenging her views for 20+ years only to be with a formidable brick wall.

To me, this is information literacy in action. I think that we can see three of Diehm & Lupton’s six categories of learning information literacy:

  • Learning to use information to build a personal knowledge base (#4)
  • Learaning to use information to advance disciplinary knowledge (#5) – in this case the discipline was the knowledge & world view of people sharing her pre-awakened understandings & prejudices
  • Learning to use information to grow as a person and to contribute to others.

All that information literacy learning – questioning the information provided by previously trusted sources, opening up to the possibility of new & more knowledgable sources, thinking critically about what she discovered & forming new knowledge & sharing that knowledge – and not a computer in sight.

Not a computer in sight …

I hear many librarians say that we can’t support information learning when students don’t have Internet access (for example people who are in prison). I think that they are wrong. I think that the most important & critical thinking is done without the ability to search databases or the WWW. I think that once we learn to do this thinking, the hardest work is done & can be translated to tapping on a keyboard when the Internet finally does become accessible.


Diehm, R & Lupton, M 2012, ‘Approaches to learning information literacy: a phenomenographic study’, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 217-225.


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