Lately, I’ve been considering the ways in which we at the University of Houston Libraries help shape our students into information-literate, critical thinkers. Now, more than ever, the competencies of information literacy and evaluative thinking are essential for the advancement of a democratic and educated society, and librarians are partners with faculty creating learning opportunities that encourage the development of these competencies.
I asked two of our librarians to share their perspectives on the importance of information literacy and critical thinking in higher education and beyond. Christina Gola, head of Liaison Services for instruction and outreach, and Kerry Creelman, coordinator of undergraduate instruction and outreach, both stated that information literacy is interdisciplinary, transferable, and evolving. And the development of information literacy doesn’t end when our students leave the classroom.
A robust and flexible set of concepts that are central to information literacy comes to us from the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which has provided the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. The framework defines information literacy as “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.”
The framework is transformative in that it recognizes the ongoing, lifelong learning and development of information-literate citizens. Information literacy is never the endpoint, but a journey that allows for the acquisition of competencies that help us navigate the vast information landscape. The framework takes into account emerging forms of information, and acknowledges the future evolution of information. “It gives us concepts to understand how information operates, how it’s produced, and how it’s consumed in any format,” Gola states.
As denizens of the vast digital information landscape, we hold dual roles: as both producers and consumers of information. As such, we’re all held to higher standards of accountability in this realm. The ease and speed of the transfer of data holds far-reaching implications and necessitates a deliberative and prudent approach. Implementation of the information literacy framework takes many forms at UH Libraries, where we empower students to consider issues surrounding the sharing of information online and how others may potentially consume that data. For example, one of our popular student-success events, LinkedIn at the Library, pairs librarians and career service professionals with students to maximize their LinkedIn profiles for the best chance at finding career opportunities. We equip our students with foundational competencies that are necessary for them to build upon and apply not only in their coursework but also in their personal and professional lives. “As we provide the strategies, tools, and framework of information literacy concepts, we’re also creating learning opportunities where students are encouraged to reflect and engage in critical thinking around these concepts,” Creelman notes. “Our students make breakthroughs and connections when they’re encouraged to do so within authentic learning situations.”
Creelman and Gola characterize a critical thinker as someone who is “evaluative at multiple levels, self-aware, reflective, inquisitive, and takes a deeper dive into learning for the sake of discovering more, a persistence and flexibility in their thinking that develops from freshman to senior level.” Our librarians and faculty encourage students to challenge assumptions and approach questions from multiple viewpoints.
On the opposite side of the coin, we are all consumers of information as well. We have an abundance of information at our fingertips. How do we manage, organize, and locate the information that we seek when we need it? Gola and Creelman, along with their colleagues, advance the concepts of information literacy that address how we sift through all available information and identify credible sources, most significantly, not simply the sources that fit within the scope of our own schemas. “With more and more information that is being produced in the world, we want to try and find easier methods to consume that information while at the same time realizing that we’re not always seeing the whole view,” Gola states.
It’s about taking the creative and critical approach to finding credible and reliable sources of information. It’s about knowing there are alternative places to conduct a search if at first you don’t find what you’re seeking. It’s about persistence in finding solutions. It’s about being cognizant of the unseen or marginalized voices that exist in our world.
Awareness of information literacy will continue to grow and develop, as well as awareness of its importance. Our ability to inspire critical thought within the information age is priceless. Information literacy is the bedrock of a free and democratic and educated society. Nurturing our students’ ability to navigate through the mechanisms of information delivery, identify credible and authoritative sources, and to recognize the potential for bias is at the heart of the Libraries’ mission, vision, and values. I am so proud of all our librarians who are teaching students to be critical thinkers and information-literate citizens.