Information Literacy, Its Types and Influence on the Modern Society

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Introduction

As the world entered information era in the second half of 20th century, a need to acquire specific skills to manage the growing amount of data effectively emerged. This skillset was named “Information literacy” by Paul Zurkowsky, who primely saw it as a competence needed in the work setting, calling people that are trained to effectively apply information resources at their work to be information literates. These information literates in his concept had learned to use information tools and sources in finding solutions to their problems. These people differed from the remaining population because the latter, still being literate in the sense of being able to read and write, did not have “the measure of the value of information, do not have the ability to mold information to their needs”. (Zurkovsky 1974:6)

However, since the inception, the term “information literacy” has developed significantly. In the early years, the term was mostly used by librarians, shaping the definition of the information literacy to fit the best in library settings. For example, the “Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report” (1989) defines information literacy as skills that would supply people with better access to information and support their ability to find and understand the found information.

With the emergence of information technologies in the end of last century, the term had to accommodate the changing environment. Pinto and others (2010: 4) show how the technological advancement created new facet to the information literacy term, as the term required information locating and using skills to now also foster producing new knowledge. Information literacy term had to accommodate information and communication technology related capacities. Various new terms emerged to describe different items linked to numerous sides of these abilities, like “ICT literacy or skills”, “digital literacy”, “technological literacy”, “eliteracy”, “multiliteracy”, “new literacies” and also “media literacy”. Literature studies (for example Virkus (2003), Bawden (2001)) have listed enormous amount of different terms with a similar meaning, that all highlight separate sides of information literacy.

The abundance of different terms, as Pinto et al. (2010: 4) claim, broadened the meaning of information literacy, that now extends over from the knowledge of how to use IT solutions and access and use information to critical thinking about not only claimed information but also the nature, infrastructure and impact of it in culture and society. Understanding the term also is conditioned by its context. As context gives a specific perspective to information literacy (and it’s derivates), the exact meaning and purpose of the term changes. Increasing number or researchers agree, that information literacy should be understood as context based phenomena (eg. Lloyd & Williamson, 2008) and the way the term is communicated has an impact on the term itself (eg. Pilerot & Lindberg, 2011) Present study seeks to find how the term information literacy is contextualized in Estonian policy texts. To meet the aims of the article, following research questions were explored:

What Terms Linked To Information Literacy Are Used In The Estonian Policy Making Texts?

How Is Information Literacy Conceptualized In Estonian Policy-Making Texts?

To draw a background for the research questions, the article begins with an attempt to further open the meaning of information literacy and terms connected to it. Then an overview of main concepts and narratives of information literacy is provided to equip us with tools to explore the research questions.

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Information Literacy

Even though the term information literacy has been around for almost half a century, it is still lacking a unitary agreed definition. This could well be caused by a rapid advancement in information technologies, meaning that the information landscape has changed faster than research society has been able to pin down, what exactly make person an information literate, but also has poured the term over with different expectations, deriving from the different societal concepts and needs. In the most general sense the meaning of information literacy would be, following Snavely and Cooper (1997), competence or a knowledge in the field of information. The multicity of terms connected to information literacy comes in from the complex nature of information.

In a broad sense, following Doyle (1994), the substance of information literacy could be divided into three categories: the access, evaluation and usage of information. The first one is most evident in the library and education settings where information literacy could be defined in a pragmatic sense to be the set of skills, attitudes and knowledge to access information efficiently, effectively and ethically (Julien 2016). This side of the term goes mostly hand in hand with derivate terms information skills and library skills/literacy, that used to be predominant terms in the last century to explain the information practices and -acquisition competence, but in recent years have been taken over by information literacy. Library literacy has been defined as an ability to intelligently decide, which is the best way to answer an articulated question, seek the answer in a roughly efficient way and concede to a specialist help when necessary (Dusenbury 1989).

However, as Bawden (2001: 224) mentions, library literacy has gone through a mentionable development in its meaning, as at first including above mentioned skills to be used mostly in settings where library materials were predominantly in a written form. Today the term also includes understanding all the different formats and media that information could be provided to one. This broadened view of library literacy connects the term more with information literacy and also refers to ICT knowledge- another side of information literacy.

Second functional side of information literacy has to do with critical thinking. Allen (2008: 23) has stated that there could be seen some ambiguity between information literacy and critical thinking concepts and two are being used as synonyms to each other because both certainly carry similar meanings. However critical thinking is only part of information literacy. In the arguably present era of fake news, media literacy becomes more prevalent term to explicate the critical thinking side of information literacy. Media literacy has been defined as an emancipating skill to think critically about the incoming messages (Potter 2001, Siverblatt & Elicieri 1997). Media literacy however cannot be considered only other term linked to information evaluation side of information literacy. Other terms like critical literacy, that comprehensively has been defined by Luke (2014) as the usage of communication medias to analyze, critique, and change the everyday life, social norms and rule systems.

The third view of information literacy involves the usage of the information. In the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (2000), usage of information is divided into three abilities: firstly, the ability to affiliate the newfound information to the already acquired knowledge base. Secondly to be able to employ the knowledge to accomplish the desired purpose. And thirdly to understand what issues surround the usage of the information my them be economic, social or legal and also to make sure the usage of the information is ethical and legal.

Digital Literacies

As most of the information is created, acquired and used using technological solutions, information literacy is intertwined and almost confusable with digital literacies. Digital literacy itself has been called to be indispensable quality that enables individual to learn, work, live and participate in the digital society (JISK 2014). As the society is very digitally saturated, like Lankshear and Knobel (2003) claim, people have new type of knowledge associated with it. Digital literacy. Martin (2008) has concluded that digital literacy could be understood on three aspects: digital competence, digital usage and digital transformation.

Digitally literate person has been concluded to be (Leu, 2000) in addition to be computer literate, has an ability to search, evaluate and use information using digital technologies; discuss and distribute information in online communities and social networks and aside also create information in digital media. Following Jose (2016), digital literacy is not only knowing how to operate computers, but also being competent with social practices surrounding new literacies. These competencies fall under four categories: language, including understanding the multimodal and hypertexts, SMS-s etc., information, including search, collection, edit and usage of information, connection, including knowledge of e-mails, blogs and social media, and design, including constructing websites and redesigning available multimedia.

Information Literacy Narratives

There are numerous approaches to literacies, but most widely approaches could be divided into two models, that are explained by Suoranta and Rantala (2008:96): an autonomous and ideological model. By the first one, literacy is constructed and produces effects independently from the contexts of social practices or language, being more like a separate neutral “thing” distanced from the surroundings. Ideological model in the other hand finds literacy to be “inextricably and contextually linked to cultural, political and hegemonic power structures “, treating it as a sociocultural phenomenon. (Livingstone 2003). Literacy is seen as a part of context around it also by Kellner and Share (2003) who see it as a productive and at times even subversive practice that cannot be seen as only reflective interpretation or construction of meaning of texts. Many researchers have stated, that information literacy itself covers an understanding how information is sought and used in a certain social context (e.g., Andersen, 2006; Elmborg, 2006; Kautto & Talja, 2007; Lloyd, 2006, 2007, 2010; Lloyd & Wiliamson, 2008; Simmons, 2005; Sundin, 2008; Tuominen, Savolainen, & Talja, 2005).

Pilerot and Lindberg (2011:341,342) describe that considering the context in which information literacy is used, there can be different conceptualizations and understandings derived. In professional and policy making context, information literacy is addressed in a normative way, understood as a fixed skillset, emphasizes on critical thinking related to digital and textual sources that is individual and measurable. However, in research settings, understanding of information literacy is described analytically, where everything about it is much more situational, related to different contexts and is understood much more as a social, collective competence that is embedded in practices rather than a specific skillset. Following that, Pilerot and Ola differentiate different goals that usage of information literacy term carries: For professionals, (mostly librarians) the goal that the term carries is mostly educational, for policy makers the goal is also educational, but in a political sense, where information literacy is seen to carry certain social practices. However, researchers don’t see the term as a goal, but as a research object.

Suoranta and Rantala (2008: 110-111) confirm the educational purpose that policy text carry using terms connected to information literacy. They bring out that policy texts often carry the idea that by cultivating ICT and digital skills individually in the citizens will repay to the society with three “inclusions”- more qualified workforce and enhanced economy, more ideologically unitary society (where people follow “inclusive liberalism”), but also more enthralled governance. Policy texts seem to carry the narrative themes where democratic participation, active citizenship, competition and individual choices, life-long learning, knowledge economy, cultural self-expression and personal fulfillment are present in one way or another (Livingstone et al 2008). Street (2003:77-78) illustrates it with the idea that when acquainting literacy to illiterate people, it will increase their cognitive skills, meanwhile improving their economic perspectives and turns them into better citizens, regardless of their social or economic status was beforehand.

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