Literacy is a term which first came into regular use in the late 19 century and is defined as the ability to read and write (Macquarie concise dictionary, 2nd ed 1998). Information literacy is a more recent term, which has evolved from ‘library skills’ in the 1980’s to information/study skills of the 1990’s. (CSU ETL401 Modules). It is perhaps the evolutionary nature of the term, which has led to difficulties in pinning a suitable definition on to it. Langford (1998) questioned if information literacy was a concept, process or indeed a whole new form of literacy. Whilst Abilock (2004) defines information literacy as a process the student/learner uses for personal, social or global reasons. On the other hand some argue it is ‘the basic skills set of the 21st century (Eisenberg 2008). It is generally agreed that information literacy is more than just finding and reading information. Students are ‘no longer confined to simply decoding and comprehending the printed word’ (NSW DEC, 2010). The new technologies of the 21st century demand more from learners.
Intepretation, analysis, synthesis and reflection are all common elements required to be information literate and these can be found in various models for information literacy teaching (e.g. ISP, Big 6). According to Herring (2011) it is the ability to use the various skills of literacy to allow a person to function well in our society, which defines information literacy. Mckenzie (2000) tells us the importance of students being information producers rather than information gatherers. The teacher and teacher librarian can teach these skills, the ability on the other hand must come from the learner making the links and transferring the skills, into all the situations, which they may encounter through their lives. It is this point I think which takes us from defining information literacy as a ‘skills set’ through to another level. These skills need to be used across a plethora of media from the traditional print-based to the ever-changing and extensive digital media. More importantly these skills must encourage and facilitate ‘lifelong learning’.
Information literacy is most definitely more than just a set of skills. At the beginning of this topic I was confused and somewhat bemused by the many definitions of information literacy. Initially the definitions seemed to be saying essentially the same thing just with slight differences in the wording. I questioned the importance of discussing the definitions and I certainly then questioned why we had to think about information literacy being more than a set of skills. However NOW I understand and realise how essential an understanding of information literacy is to informing the role of the 21st teacher and teacher librarian.
Information literacy goes beyond being a set of skills, it goes beyond being a process, it goes beyond the limitations of one sector be that technology, education, governmental or business.
The 2012 Moscow Declaration on Media and Information Literacy, in addition to the Prague Declaration of 2003 reveal the importance placed on Information Literacy to the wider society. These declarations encourage governments as well as education authorities to promote information literacy and make ‘structural and pedagogical reforms’ as necessary. Taking this a step further, information literacy can be described as a ‘basic human right’, as an aspiration or ideal, as evidence of a successful society, but it cannot be described simply as a set of skills. Information literacy is made up of skills. A car is made up of many parts but is not called an engine or a seatbelt. Information literacy is made up of many skills but the sum total is not a group of skills but a new product – an information literate person.
Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: an overview of design, process and outcomes.
NoodleTools. Retrieved September 2012 from http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/1over/infolit1.html
Charles Sturt University, ETL 401 Module 4. Accessed September 2012, from,
Eisenberg, M. B. (2008). Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age.
DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 28(2), (p. 39-47)
Herring, James (2011) Improving Students’ Web Use and Information Literacy (p. 62-63). Facet Publishing, UK.
Langford, L (1998). Information literacy: a clarification. School Libraries Worldwide, 4(1), (p. 59-72).
Mackenzie, James. (2000). The Research Cycle. Retrieved September 10 2012, from,
Macquarie Dictionary (2nd Ed.) (1998). Macquarie Publishing
New South Wales Dept. of Education (2010) Literacy Learning and Technology (p. 3). NSW DET
Prague Declaration ‘Towards an Information Literate Society’. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from,
UNESCO, 2012. Moscow Declaration on Media and Information Lliteracy. Retrieved September 10 2012 from,