Dean’s Update — Learning to Swim in a Sea of Information

Dean’s Update — Learning to Swim in a Sea of Information
Jenny James Lee
July 1, 2014

No one is born with the ability to find, retrieve, analyze and use information. This set of “information literacy” skills distinguishes an educated person, as the ability to read did 100 years ago. Information literacy is associated with critical thinking, based on the assumption that information is an essential ingredient to be thoughtful, inquisitive and responsibly critical.

“Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand [1].”

The extent of information literacy among a nation’s citizenry is a concern around the world. Its absence threatens democracy and economic growth, when the embarrassment of information riches hides the resulting challenge to differentiate fact from fiction or data signals from noise.

This week approximately 25,000 librarians are returning to work from our largest annual conference. Thousands of them are professionals who have dedicated their careers to address the challenges of helping people become information literate, whether through their academic education or self-directed learning by reading and visiting public libraries. Reference work became recognized as a formal responsibility of librarians in the 1870s, and it was not until a hundred years later that the profession first created a section to recognize and enable work around bibliographic instruction. During the same time, the phrase ‘information literacy’ appeared in print in the 1974 report written for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science . Currently, the Association of College and Research Libraries is updating the Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education.

At Drexel information literacy is recognized among the DSLPs as a core student learning priority. It is being mapped across the curriculum and perceptions of how well students master this competency is surveyed among Co-Op employers and faculty. Librarians partner with faculty and staff to provide information navigation and evaluation techniques and training exercises to apply skills in their studies. We are revisiting how librarians might best contribute our expertise in understanding structures to organize knowledge, tracking the dissemination of scholarly communications, and observing the struggles to navigate the information landscape of young and seasoned researchers. Many faculty, librarians and staff are tackling the difficult challenge to assess this student competency and raise awareness not to confuse an ability to find information through a mobile device from effective utilization of information in crafting arguments or solving tasks. Our collective challenge is to raise the bar around preparing and confirming that Drexel Dragons are equipped with information literacy not just as a way to complete college assignments, but to be inspired with a passion to master and continually approach this 21st century survival skill as a “habit of mind” after they leave campus. In the coming months, our monthly newsletter In Circulation will share topics around the Libraries contribution to student information literacy development.

Danuta A. Nitecki
PhD Dean of Libraries


[1] Paul G. Zurkowski (Nov 1974). "The Information Service Environment: Relationships and Priorities. Related Paper No.5.". National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Retrieved October 28, 2012.