Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Information literacy: Wilder makes (some right, but) many wrong assumptions

Information literacy: Wilder makes (some right, but) many wrong assumptions. This is by Esther Grassian. It was posted at the Librarians Association of the Unversity of California site. It is a response to Stanley Wilder's now infamous critique of information literacy in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the site:

Stanley Wilder angered many instruction librarians with his January 7th Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “Information Literacy Makes All the Wrong Assumptions” (Wilder, 2005). Many sent well-reasoned messages to the Information Literacy Instruction listserv ILI-L@ALA.org refuting his arguments. What was so upsetting? Wilder described information literacy as librarians’ response to the “threat of the Internet” beginning in 1989, and then proceeded to present many more misstatements and half-truths about information literacy, about students' research needs, about what libraries are and should be all about, and about how librarians should help students, all unsupported by evidence of any kind.

Quite truthfully, Wilder made two accurate observations that are worth noting. First, he said that library and information systems are too complicated, and that library web sites have an over-abundance of user interfaces. Both parts of this observation are true. With all good intentions, library web sites created or run by libraries (library home pages and catalogs) do tend to offer many different options for their own web pages and for their online catalogs, often too many for those seeking simple, easy to access and use, Google-like searching.
Regarding the second half of this assumption, Wilder does not give examples, but it seems as though he is referring to a dizzying array of interfaces, each purposely designed by commercial vendors to be distinct and to stand out from one another. It is interesting to note here that Wilder blames one of the victims (the library) for not creating systems that would eliminate the need for instruction. In fact, libraries and librarians, as well as users, have had to contend not only with an endless number of different frequently changing interfaces, but also with underlying searching principles that are far from standardized. For example, a “keyword” search in PsycInfo (a Cambridge Scientific Abstracts database) looks at titles, abstracts and descriptors (subjects). In contrast, a “keyword” search in Expanded Academic ASAP, a heavily used general database licensed from Gale, looks at titles, abstracts, authors, subjects, the text of articles, and more.

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