College Research and Information Literacy

Silhouette of a person with bright digital backdrop

Why This Book?

The key to success in college research is to develop and hone your information literacy skills. These skills will prepare you to find and use information not only for college, but also in the workplace and your personal life. Having strong information literacy skills will make you a more thoughtful and effective consumer and creator of information, and will increase your awareness of and resilience toward the psychological, physiological, and sociological effects of living in a society overloaded with information.

“Recent events underscore the threat that digital illiteracy poses to public health and democracy” (Breakstone et al.).

What is Information Literacy?

Some of the skills and abilities that fall under the umbrella of information literacy include:
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  • research skills
  • critical thinking
  • media literacy
  • digital literacy
  • news literacy
  • algorithmic literacy
  • ethical reasoning
  • civic engagement

Information literacy acknowledges that students are not just passive consumers of knowledge, but that you are active creators and participants in the information environment. It is a set of skills that aims to help students navigate this landscape, “not just for college courses but beyond—in the workplace, in their personal lives, as lifelong learners, and as news consumers, creators, and voters” (Head et al. 12; emphasis added).

You might also hear this idea referred to as “information competency,” which is an equivalent term.

“Information literacy is an integrated set of skills, knowledge, practices, and dispositions that prepares students to discover, interpret, and create information ethically while gaining a critical understanding of how information systems interact to produce and circulate news, information, and knowledge” (Head et al. 8).

National & International Perspectives

In the U.S., the Obama administration made information literacy a priority. The 2009 “Presidential Proclamation on National Information Literacy Awareness Month” stated that:

Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise….The ability to seek, find, and decipher information can be applied to countless life decisions, whether financial, medical, educational, or technical.

Internationally, the Alexandria Proclamation of 2005 defined the term as a human rights issue: “Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion in all nations.”

Earth from space, with lit up, networked cities

“Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning” (“Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education”).


Sources

Beacons of the Information Society: The Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning.” IFLA, 26 Jan. 2015.

Breakstone, Joel, et al. “Lateral Reading: College Students Learn to Critically Evaluate Internet Sources in an Online Course.” Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, vol. 2, no. 1, 2021, doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-56. Licensed under CC BY 4.0

Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education” by the Association of College & Research Libraries is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Head, Alison J., Barbara Fister, and Margy MacMillan. “Information Literacy in the Age of Algorithms.” Project Information Literacy, 15 Jan. 2020. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Image: “Digital Silhouette” by Su San Lee is in the Public Domain, CC0

Image: “Earth from Space” by NASA is in the Public Domain, CC0

Image: “Umbrella” by Vectors Market, adapted by Aloha Sargent, is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Presidential Proclamation: National Information Literacy Awareness Month” by Barack Obama is in the Public Domain.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.