Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Dawn of Information Literacy

The Information Services Environment Relationship and Priorities

Back in March, I posted about Information Literacy in the 21st Century. I began wondering about the origins of the term. I have been promoting the importance of information literacy, but find that many outside of the library field are not familiar with the idea. I think it is important for information professionals to understand its development so we can better explain its value.

The term "information literate" seems to go back to 1974, when Paul Kurkowski discussed the partnership between libraries and private companies in the information industry. In "The Information Services Environment Relationship and Priorities," Zurkowski explained the need for readily available information to be balanced with capitalist venture. He held that the private sector and libraries could play mutually supportive roles and work to achieve an information literate society. In such a society, people would understand how knowledge is given form as "information," the tools for sharing the information, and how to leverage that information to propel a democratic society.

"Zurkowski’s voice was prophetic." He recognized that, "people were encountering an increasing variety of information-seeking procedures." They had multiple means for accessing information in diverse resources, yet most did not understand or properly use tools for gaining access (Badke, 2010). Zurkowski set the agenda for the future by saying, '[M]ore and more of the events and artifacts of human existence are being dealt with in information equivalents, requiring retraining of the whole population.”*  Of course, in 1974, Zurkowski was not addressing the information explosion that would occur two decades later when the desktop computer became a home staple and the World Wide Web dawned. His analysis of information partnerships and the information literacy need becomes even more important in today's information economy.

Zurkowski aimed to achieve an information literate society by 1984. Perhaps others did not fully understand his radical vision. Perhaps the Internet revolution has made that goal much more difficult to achieve. It is still a worthy goal and information professionals need to speak up about its importance. Our cause has roots and history that we can use to promote our agenda. What would it take to achieve an information literate society today?

* Badke, William. Foundations of information literacy: Learning from Paul Zurkowski. 2010 Available: [accessed May 20 2018]

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vetting Sources

A couple months ago, my Curriculum Coordinator mentioned an article in the March 19th edition of the weekly The Marshall Memo, which provides a weekly "roundup" of information related to k-12 education. The article called "Why Students Should Not Use a Checklist to Assess Websites" discusses a Stanford University Study of the CRAAP test created and promoted by California State University at Chico.

The problem, say the [Stanford] authors, is that checklists don’t equip people to deal with “an Internet populated by websites that cunningly obscure their true backers: corporate-funded sites posing as grassroots initiatives (a practice commonly known as astroturfing); supposedly nonpartisan think tanks created by lobbying firms, and extremist groups mimicking established professional organizations. By focusing on features of websites that are easy to manipulate, checklists are not just ineffective but misleading. The Internet teems with individuals and organizations cloaking their true intentions. At their worst, checklists provide cover to such sites” (Marshall Memo, March 19, 2018)

I told my Curriculum Coordinator, "I agree and disagree with the article. It's not just about handing students a checklist. It's about using the checklist as a scaffold, explaining what each part of the checklist means, and having students justify their decisions."  I am providing you the checklist below.  It serves as a useful tool for my freshman and sophomores to think about what goes into a good web site. I wholeheartedly promote the benefits of using a checklist to discuss the validity and authority of information.

When teaching my freshmen to evaluate sites, I talk about Kim Jong Un and the Chinese government being fooled by an article in the Onion. I also talk about my student years ago who was trying to determine if a hatched Luna moth ate straight for a week and then died, or didn't eat at all for a week  and then died. The student had found two sites with .edu extensions with conflicting information. It turned out one was written by a lepidopterist and the other was written by a second grade class. The checklist reminds my students to consider individual things such as web extensions and web site intent, but forces them to then consider these individual elements as part of a larger whole. In the end, they must use critical thinking skills to determine the validity of a web site.

There is a lot that goes into evaluating web sites. A checklist, which a teacher/librarian can use to support students and model good searching habits, is a good starting point.

“Why We Need a New Approach to Teaching Digital Literacy” by Joel Breakstone, Sarah McGrew, Mark Smith, Teresa Ortega, and Sam Wineburg in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2018 (Vol. 99, #6, p. 27-31), Cited in The Marshall Memo.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Look for the Experts

According to The Atlantic, there were more than 1 billion web sites in 2014. In my first research lesson with grade 9 students, after discussing databases, I discuss vetting sources and authority with regard to researching Shakespeare and his times.

Searching for Shakespeare online gave me 45,800,000 hits in Google today and 34,900,000 hits in Bing.

Despite these dramatic numbers, students often look at the first 5 answers they find in a Google search and write research papers based on the information on those sites. I ask them to acknowledge this reality and then I ask them how they know that these top five offer the best information out of 45 million choices. How do they even know that it is good (accurate) information? In our first lesson in information literacy on the World Wide Web I tell them...

"Look for the experts."

I ask the students, "If the Internet did not exist [big collective 'GASP'], where would you go in the world to find someone or something that has information about Shakespeare and his times? Let's say I'm going to give you all the money you need to fly somewhere to find an expert. Where are you going to go?"

"Uh, London?"

"Absolutely!" I say. "Have fun on your trip!

Our discussion continues. We back up and I ask them what an expert is. An expert has credentials. We discuss what kinds of credentials are appropriate for a Shakespeare expert. In grade 10, I co-teach a marine biology research project. In grade 10, we talk about credentials in marine biology.

We then talk about where in particular they might find an expert. Their first answer is invariably a library. (Which gives me warm fuzzies all over.)  "YES! Which library? Did you know that there is a library called the Folger Shakespeare library? It's actually not in London. There are also University libraries in London and around the world with information about Shakespeare. Also think of museums. Is it possible that someone may know about something and not have a PhD?" I ask. "Maybe someone who has worked in a place for a long time?"

As a librarian, my database discussion acquaints students with where to find authoritative secondary sources. Using my background as an archivist, my inclination is to emphasize primary source materials and those who work with them. Asking students where in the world people find primary sources gives them a different perspective on authority.

I talk to my students about the types of places around the world that people work in various fields. We discuss the rebuilt Globe theater, the Shakespeare Trust, Elizabethan museums. We discuss their archives and artifacts. I explain how these types of sites often (not always) post information and publications for educational purposes.  We discuss media sites such as PBS and BBC and how such organizations often work with experts to put together documentaries and other useful educational materials. I provide students with links to these places to help them become better acquainted with authority.


I also add, "There is so much information about Shakespeare on the Internet, why would you settle for anything less than an expert?"

I caution that there are so many people who love Shakespeare and make web pages about him, there is quite a bit of information of lower quality. "Let's say, for example, that there is a neurosurgeon who studies Shakespeare as his hobby. Would you use his page or someone with a PhD in Elizabethan studies with a Shakespeare concentration."

A student asks, "Well, what if the neurosurgeon has been studying Shakespeare for a long time?"

"Okay," I encourage, "How can you tell if he knows what he is talking about? 

"Look for the word 'About' on a web page

"It may also say something such as 'My background.' If that neurosurgeon tells me that he's published about Shakespeare in a big journal, I'd use his work. Otherwise, I'd look for a true expert who has."

Determining authority and vetting sources is an ongoing discussion that must occur through the primary and secondary school years for students to develop a deep understanding of it. For students to be truly information literate by the time they leave high school, they must be exposed to a wide range of good and bad sources. In my next blog post, I will discuss a tool I use to help ninth and tenth graders to dig deeper into locating and vetting sites on their own.