Literacies landscape

The understanding that information and technologies which enable it are at the core of a productive life is the basis of UNESCO’s resolution to accept the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Media and Information Literacy Recommendations. An important aspect of the resolution is the recognition “that the achievement of UNESCO’s vision of knowledge societies is dependent on moving beyond information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and access toward building the capacity of all citizens to participate actively and effectively in emerging knowledge societies” (UNESCO, 2014, p. 50).

Media and information literacy.

UNESCO saw media and information literacy (MIL) as “essential for lifelong learning” and “a prerequisite for sustainable development,” recognizing MIL as “a means for achieving the goal of universal and equitable access to information and knowledge” (UNESCO, 2014, p. 50). MIL brings together two traditionally separate fields, encompassing a range of related literacies. “MIL is concerned with the ability to access the media [new and old] and other information sources, to understand and evaluate critically their contents and functions and to critically use them to create communications in a variety of contexts including teaching and learning, self-expression, creativity and civic participation” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 175). A number of detailed documents developed by UNESCO to promote MIL show a broad approach to developing information capacities, encompassing many of the new literacies identified in the last couple of decades.

Stordy (2015) considered a taxonomy of literacies and pointed out that the term “literacy,” in existence since the end of the 19th century, came into prominence in education in the 1970s, with regards to reading and writing as meaning-making activities. In the 1980s, subject literacies were discussed, while new literacies took the center stage with the rise of digital technologies. Stordy referred to work by Lankshear and Knobel in pointing out “paradigm cases” of new literacies. These new literacies (e.g., Internet, cyber-, information literacy, MIL) tend to be participatory, collaborative, and distributed.

Multiliteracies emerged as an influential concept from a meeting of the New London Group in 1996. The members chose the term to capture two important arguments they had with “the emerging cultural, institutional, and global order: the multiplicity of communication channels and media, and the increasing saliency of cultural and linguistic diversity” (Cazden et al., 1996, p. 63). Their focus was on “the increasing multiplicity and integration of significant modes of meaningmaking, where the textual is also related to the visual, the audio, the spatial, the behavioural, and so on” (p. 64). The concept of multiliteracies gained some prominence in education, especially as it was related to multiple intelligences, a well-spread educational concept. Tyner (1998) pointed out that the connection between multiliteracy and Gardner’s multiple intelligences became a problem of oversimplification for both.

Digital literacy is one of the key new literacies focusing on a capacity to effectively work with digital technology. “It is the ability to make and share meaning in different modes and formats; to create, collaborate and communicate effectively and to understand how and when digital technologies can best be used to support these processes” (Hague and Payton, 2010, p. 4). Education is often concerned with the development of digital literacy as an addition to traditional literacies of reading and writing. Digital fluency is a closely related concept developed for teaching and learning in schools and framed as a skill set for the 21st century (White, 2013).

Information literacy is probably the most prominent of the new literacies. It was identified in the 1980s before most other new literacies and developed as the literacy for the information age. There are currently a number of models and frameworks in use (Bundy, 2004; Bruce et al., 2006; SCONUL, 2011), most of them sharing key aspects.

While information literacy has had a wide application in educational contexts, it has been criticized for simplistic approaches. Lloyd (2010) pointed out the complexity of the concept and its narrow application to formal education and individual learning with limited consideration for work and collaborative practices.

Limberg et al. (2012) considered different theoretical approaches and discussed the interdependence of information literacy and its context. They found that the term “information literacies,” in the plural, would be more suited to reflecting the complexity of information literacy. A view of information literacy as flexible and contextual was also emphasized through the concept of information literacy frames (Bruce et al., 2006; Lupton, 2008).

The ACRL information literacy model and its recent changes have been indicative of some of the discussions about the value of information literacy and the need for its development. ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the Americal Library Association) defined information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information’” (ACRL, 2000, p. 2). This definition refers to the previous ACRL Report (1989). IT skills are seen as intertwined with, but separate from information literacy: “Information literacy initiates, sustains, and extends lifelong learning through abilities which may use technologies but are ultimately independent of them” (ACRL, 2000, p. 3). This model of information literacy is reflected in ACRL’s 5 standards and 22 performance indicators. Standards relate to the ability of an information-literate person to do the following:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

ACRL (2000, pp. 2-3)

The ACRL’s information literacy framework has been radically revised recently to include social aspects: “Information literacy is 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 of learning” (ACRL, 2016, p. 3). The new framework is underpinned by the idea of threshold concepts, described as ideas and processes in any discipline, which are so deeply ingrained that they go unnoticed by practitioners (Hofer et al., 2012). It is based on the following six concepts:

  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

ACRL (2016, p. 3)

The new framework has opened vigorous discussions and invited both positive responses and strong criticism, especially in the United States (Saracevic, 2014; Bellin, 2015). Arguments for the continuity of the previous, well-known information literacy framework and impetus for change both indicate the relevance and the complexities of information literacy. In June 2016, the ACRL Board of Directors decided to rescind the previous standards, so only the latest version is currently supported.

Metaliteracy is the most recent of the new literacies. It emphasizes self-reflection: “To be metaliterate requires individuals to understand their existing literacy strengths and areas for improvement and make decisions about their learning. The ability to critically self-assess different competencies and to recognize one’s need for integrated literacies in today’s information environments is a metaliteracy” (Mackey and Jacobson, 2014, p. 2). Metaliteracy is positioned as a key element in the new information literacy framework. Its focus on self-reflection and selfassessment, especially in relation to a range of literacies, is certainly relevant in everyday information practice, but how exactly it could be developed remains unclear at this point.

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