Does information literacy matter?

One recurring problem around the digital is a fundamental omission. Information Literacy (IL) concerns the global shift from Industrial to Knowledge Economies. It is not how well you can use a computer, whether or not children have done a ‘cyber-safety’ class to use Insta or how well they can knock out a PowerPoint about some topic.

Schools have often adopted computers and the Internet at the expense of libraries, lowering costs and re-using space for other activities. Information is often widely available at marginal cost, but Information needs to be updated continuously and quality can deteriorate rapidly online. I’ve often seen teachers ‘searching’ for that nugget-resource to give students, but don’t appear to teach them to find their own.

IL is therefore about a shift in school thinking about ‘durability’. In the Industrial Economy, materials are usually stable and do not deteriorate over time. Schools tend to see IL as less durable than physical books, photocopiers, chairs and tables.

Aside from the skills needed to operate devices (not just phones and laptops) are two critical personal-traits: Do students recognise their information needs (how do they articulate them, what domains do they identify as most/ least important and how do they;  locate and evaluate the quality of information. Given young people are often immersed in information-cultures (another variable) – it’s very difficult to try and draw a line between what information literacies school subject require (often basic) and what they are going to need in the rest of their life. At the heart of this is not whether a teacher as ‘done the training’ but their understanding (and action) of knowledge.

Loveless and Longman (1998) have argued ‘that information literacy for teachers is more than competence and capability in information retrieval and presentation, but requires awareness of the ideological, cultural, epistemological and pedagogical practices in which these capabilities are developed.’ While this is some 20 years ago, it still rings true. Where students are engaged with teachers who demonstrate effective IL practices, they model the knowledge economy. Where their students are primarily filling out worksheets or making yet another poster or cardboard box model, they remain locked into the Industrial Economy.  This isn’t about belief about IL, it’s about twenty years of research which continues to argue the vast majority of teachers make little use of information sources and rely primarily on their senior managers and on informal exchanges of ideas with peers to ‘put’ ICT into the classroom and don’t see IL as a continuum of skills and knowledge to actively teach. Instead we see binary debates about banning phones, whether games are good, or which buy-in product will give a half decent assessment of literacy etc..,

So yes, I think digital matters – but Mario’s probably searching the wrong castle.


Loveless, A. and Longman, D (1998) Information Literacy: Innuendo or insight? Education and Information Technologies 3 (1) 27 – 40.


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