Guest blog: Information literacy, supporting research every day and every way

Today’s guest blogger is Karen M Storms, BA MSc, Study Skills Co-ordinator at West Herts College, Watford, Hertfordshire

The seven pillars of information literacy [pdf] allow everyone to process the copious amount of information received each day. These pillars are underpinned by the tasks faced when using any type of resources hub, from a public library to the college learning centre to the most popular internet search engine. As information professionals, we get the chance to support users along this process and embed the pillars of information literacy into one’s own thinking.

Pillar 1 requires the ability to recognise a need for information. This is straightforward if you are a student working on an assignment, but what about when we are faced with a query from an insurance company asking for more information about a claim? Or when we receive a letter from our child’s school requesting health information? The skills supporting Pillar 1 allow us to understand the request and pull out the specific information requested.

Pillar 2 allows us to accept the different types of suitable resources, from newspapers to personal conversations with experts to websites to requesting records, and move towards using the best one to resolve the information gap. This can be the first step towards using the library, and when our work as information professionals is crucial. Pillar 3 is where users construct strategies for locating information and where our expertise is accessed.

The information search gets moving in Pillar 4, as the ability to locate and access information is taking place. This is where some searches end up on the internet, and when information professionals help by ensuring users know what are “good” (authoritative) hits, and how to cultivate successful search terms. This is also when we see our customers with their initial reference question, book request, or periodical request.

Pillar 5 requires critical thinking and the expertise of information professionals to support ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources. This is where we get to the reality of biased sources, such as tabloid press coverage versus the broadsheets, using Wikipedia as a stepping stone to authoritative sources, the criteria for finding a book for your needs, and the difference between fee-based subscription electronic resources and the free ones. This is also where we can help users decide if Google’s new “instant search” contains the required search terms and the best hits.

Pillar 6, the ability to organise, apply and communicate information to others in ways appropriate for the purpose of the search. This quickly leads to Pillar 7. This is the place where if these steps are embedded in our research process, every time we seek information. This is the ability to synthesise and build upon existing information, giving ourselves the opportunity to contribute to the creation of new knowledge.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.