Thursday, June 10, 2004

Information Literacy This article is by Patricia Senn Breivik. It was presented at NORDINFO in 2001.

From the site:

We received much good advice yesterday, and I shall build upon those earlier comments. In particular, I would ask you to remember Hans Geleijnse’s admonition to have a vision before you which is central to the mission of your institution. I would further suggest that your version should be broad enough to include the larger environment which shapes your institution’s mission and then - as urged by Mirja Ryynänen of the Finnish Parliament - there is the need to aggressively market your vision.

Information literacy is certainly one such vision. It responds to concerns for graduates’ needing to be prepared for lifelong learning, problem solving and critical thinking. Information literacy is actually the liberal arts concept of preparing people for a lifetime of learning updated for an Information Age, and it directly addresses the digital divide.

There are some myths that can obscure the vision for an information literate society and its importance. Let us briefly consider those.

- The myth that technology and/or Internet access is all that is needed to solve our world’s problems. Americans have always liked quick fixes, so this myth especially appeals to us. The problem is that we have too much evidence around us that the digital divide is growing not shrinking.
- The myth that computer literacy is enough. Again, we have too much evidence to the contrary in developed nations. For example, Taizo Nishimuro, President of Toshiba Corporation states:

"Information technology, in particular the Internet and the web, have introduced a new society where people can share information freely, anywhere, at anytime, across the globe. Information networks have become an essential element of our lives and the global economy. With widespread use of the Internet, it becomes clear that skills required are not merely how to use a computer or how to get information, but rather how to solve problems and how to create values with the help of others through information networks. Therefore, the term information literacy means more than so-called computer literacy."

- The myth that everything is on the web. This is a misconception in two ways. First, much information is not digitalized; much local information, for example, is often not available, because it is not commercially profitable to mount such information online. Second, much information that is online is not accessible to most people due to the limitations of search engines. This limitation is significant because 85% of users use search engines to locate information.2

Let me quote from two research studies. The first comes from a 1999 article published in Nature. It documented the following:

- Search engine coverage relative to the estimated size of the publicly indexable web has decreased substantially since December 1997, with no engine indexing more than about 16% of the estimated size of publicly indexable web.
- Search engines are typically more likely to index sites that have more links to them (more ‘popular’ sites). They are also typically more likely to index US sites than non-US sites.
- Indexing of new or modified pages by just one of the major search engines can take months.
- 83% of sites contain commercial content and 6% contain scientific or educational content.
- A summary of this research project stated "The current state of search engines can be compared to a phone book, which is updated irregularly, is biased toward listing more popular information, and has most of the pages ripped out."

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