Thoughts on Information Literacy

I was recently re-reading a paper I wrote in the summer of 2008 for my seminar course on information literacy. The project I was working on involved designing an information literacy session for a demographic and topic of my choice. I realised at the time the difficulty of creating an info lit session in a vacuum, but it was interesting to have the freedom to imagine an ideal info lit scenario.

I created a six session information literacy course designed for undergraduates in non-traditional or multidisciplinary fields, such as film studies, queer studies, women’s studies, pop culture/media studies. My impetus for this choice came from researching English class descriptions and realising the subject area has expanded beyond Shakespeare and Dickens to include a variety of new ‘texts’ and meanings.

My English Lit studies at U of T were necessarily conservative, traditional, and canonical. Then, in my last year I enrolled in a seminar course on Derek Jarman. Jarman was a painter, writer, film maker and activist. His work defies boundaries and challenges the audience in ways I hadn’t experienced before.  I felt unprepared as an English student for this course. Yes, it had an ENG course designation, but the class heavily focused on film, art, and queer studies. It was challenging interpreting film criticism, navigating the literature on queer studies, and bringing the pieces together to interpret the ‘text’ of film, autobiography, and art. My final paper was on the representation of illness in art/film. This paper challenged me to think critically about source material with which I was unfamiliar, and locate literature from fields different from my own. Ultimately, it made me view English studies as so much more complex and diverse than I had previously been taught to believe.

Therefore, in creating a hypothetical info lit seminar, I wanted the focus to be on critical thinking, rather than the mechanics of a particular database. Students are savvy enough to figure out where to type words in a search box. With interfaces and vendors changing constantly, individual database instruction seems futile. I wanted my hypothetical students to really think about what they wanted to research, the complexities of a particular topic, the diversity of the research options available to them, the challenges of and opportunities for new ways of thinking; in short, stopping them from simply regurgitating the prof’s ideas about a particular work or author.  I still believe that this is where the library can play a large role in student learning.

Now that I am actually involved in an information literacy program, teach students on a weekly basis, and interact with students regularly at the reference desk, I realise that most students want the easy answer, the one database that will locate all of their articles for them, the article that is “good enough” but definitely not great. Trying to instil the desire to find more appropriate sources, investigate research options independently, look beyond the first few resources found, is a challenge for both the instructor and the library. As a librarian, I hope to maintain my enthusiasm and optimism about reaching students. Inspiring even a ‘spark’ of curiosity in the possibilities of the information available out there, as I discovered in my Jarman course, can encourage lifelong interest in the research process.

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