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]

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