Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Information Literacy and the Public Library

Introduction to Information Literacy in the Public Library

There are books and books written about Information Literacy and the 21st century. School libraries and academic libraries seemed to have received the most attention in the last years. I imagine that may be due to the many academics, concerned about student education and who reside in these territories. As of now the public libraries have gotten much less formal attention from Information Literacy experts. Interestingly enough, public libraries serve as the general arena where information and literacy reach the most audiences.

As I pondered the most valuable way to approach our group assignment on Information Literacy, I came to the conclusion that it must make sense to me and, hopefully, bring forth some new insights to our class. So, I have decided to write from the point of view of a fairly well informed and most curious patron/ student since I am yet to become a full- fledged librarian. After reading many journal articles and speaking with local librarians, it became apparent that the public libraries, more often than not, may be considered the Cinderellas of Information Literacy. Like Cinderella, public libraries may be somewhat overlooked; however, Cindy, with her big heart, intelligence, spirit, and work ethic did end up marrying the prince. In the next paragraphs, I think it becomes apparent that the public library can emerge as an IL "shining star," too.

The American Library Association's Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Final Report states: "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed, and have the ability to locate, analyze, and use effectively the needed information. Libraries remain today as the potentially and most far reaching resources for life- long learners" (1989).

Another resolution supporting Information Literacy in public libraries is UNESCO's Decade of literacy (2003- 2012) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The aim was to not only to encourage information and literacy, but to "extend the use of literacy to those who do not have access to it" (1999). Much of UNESCO's emphasis was placed on supporting adult and family literacy in the acquisition of information. Who is better positioned to accomplish this mission than the public library?

Public libraries are in a unique position to deliver the never ending new technology to their communities. Information literacy, it has to be remembered, is a context- dependent concept in which the particular client and the particular community needs define that public library's role. The common element of all public libraries is the following of a constructionist model which differentiates information literacy from bibliographic instruction so that patrons "learn how to learn." Whether teaching an Internet course, showing the use of a database, setting up an email account, or uploading pictures, to cite a few examples, public libraries are all ready teaching their clients how to navigate this "Internet jungle." Librarians need to continue honing their information skills to insure their clients continue becoming life- long learners.

Roles of 21st Century Public Librarian to Support Information Literacy

- with children

Children have always been traditionally considered of prime importance in public libraries. Weekly story hours for varying ages, Internet training programs, summer reading programs, and youth reading clubs have all helped parents learn how to better interact with their children. Partnerships with schools, where the public library can support school literacy training, have been established. In 2000, the National Institute of Health and Human Development and the ALA's Public Library Association created the Preschool Literary Initiative to underscore that reading is a taught skill to parents and caregivers and to access libraries' abilities to effect change. ALA's Association for Library Services to Children joined this initiative in 2001 to add accompanying reading materials and to form a task force. Librarians, in essence, became early childhood teachers of reading. Story times now included the literacy activities of clapping of syllables, looking for patterns in rhymes, and beginning alphabet sounds. Certainly, parents and caregivers have reported an increase in their knowledge of beginning literacy and their increased interactions with their children. A possible problem that I see is that librarians will need more literacy training in their MLIS programs to meet the goals of this Preschool Literacy Initiative. Early childhood education majors spent 4+ years learning how to teach reading. Children's librarians will require a lot more than one course in reading literacy. The ALA also supports Family Literacy- Helping Parents Help Their Children, a project which states: "Through family literacy programs, the home becomes an environment where young minds can grow to their fullest potential, and where parents can play active roles" (2000). Families in communities partnering with public libraries is one of the first steps in creating life- long learners.

-with Senior Citizens

Seniors often make up a large percentage of a public library's clientele, especially as the Baby Boomers head toward retirement. Many libraries are offering day information classes on Internet navigation, particularly tailored to seniors. Courses such as Microsoft Word 2007, Powerpoint, Excel, Facebook, Twitter, web- browsing, Photoshop, Outlook Express may be available. Seniors may, at first, be fearful of new 21 century technologies; however, with sensitive guidance from the librarian, they may outdo their children. The public is a wonderful spot to provide information on such subjects as Planning Retirement, Estate Planning, Empty Nest Syndrome, and Second Careers.The important point to remember is Seniors are never too old to become life- long learners.

- with Adults

Most importantly, adult classes must be tailored to the needs of a community using some type of a needs assessment followed by good marketing techniques. The reference librarian has to pay special attention to the reference interview to best assess how to help the client "learn to learn." Public library webpages can unique purposes. They can link the community to local happenings, data bases, online journals, search engines like Google or Bing, library surveys, and online self paced tutorials such as Microsoft Office 2007 Suite. Another important function is to provide direct information regarding specific community resources like HeadStart, Meals on Wheels, or the local farmers market. The public library becomes the heart of the community where information is always readily available.

In conclusion, if the public library is to create life- long learners, it will need to continue teaching its patrons to fish instead of merely feeding them fish. It will need to strike a realistic balance between the budgetary constraints and the most efficient way to service the community on the ever changing information highway.

Nyack, New York Public Library: Meeting the Challenge???

Look at the Nyack Library website. See what you think. Is this library meeting our 21st century challenges in the realm of Information Literacy? Your comments are very welcome.


Balas, J. (2006). Information literacy and technology: They work when they work together. Computers in Libraries, 26(5), 26-29. Retrieved on July 16, 2009 from MasterFILE Premier database.

Eyre, G. (2004). Towards a literate Australia: Role of public libraries in supporting reading. Aplis, 17(4), 186- 194. Retrieved on July 15, 2009 from Gale Group database.

Harding, J. (2008). Information literacy and the public library. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21( 4), 157- 168. Retrieved on July 16, 2009 from the Gale Group database.

Leninger, M. (2008). Information literacy and the public libraries. Online Computer Library Center, 1(19). Retrieved on July 14, 2009 from http://www.webjunction.org/information-literacy/articles/content/438653.

Libraries and literacy. (2004). Monkeyshines on the Library. Retrieved on July 15, 2009 from MasterFILE Premier database.

Quigley, T. (2003). How public libraries can promote literacy with the world wide web. Feliciter, 1(7), 38-42. Retrieved on July 14, 2009 from http://www.cla.ca/.

Renea, A. (2003). Public libraries and early literacy. American Libraries, 3(6), 48- 51. Retrieved on July 16, 2009 from MasterFILE Premier.

Skov, A. (2004). Information literacy and the role of public libraries. Scandanavian Public Library Quarterly, 37(3), 26- 29. Retrieved on July 16, 2009 from http://www.splq.info/issues/vol37_.htm.

posted by Gail Roshong


Brad Allen said...

I enjoyed how you looked at information literacy programs at public libraries by breaking it down into the three categories of youth, senior citizens, and adults. This helped me conceptualize the different dynamics and aspects better. I looked at the Nyack public library and I noticed three things that I think can point to information literacy efforts on their part.
1. A portable magnifier monomouse used n text on a computer or TV screen for senior citizens or others with vision difficulties
2. Extensive database offerings on a wide and comprehensive selection of topics
3.A children's event at the library called be creative with instruments, where children are encourage to bring in instruments and play them in fun and creative ways.

Unknown said...

Thanks for using a comparison that was easy to wrap one's head around (Cinderella) in such a murky area like the discussion of IL. You make great points when you discussed the certain service groups public libraries serve and how these areas can improve and enhance public libraries's role in IL.

Michael Graulich said...

Hi Gail-good job! I was wondering how you came to use the Nyack site as an example; did you read an article about it? It sounds like they have tried hard to hit all the areas of good library programming, acessibility, and info literacy. For adult and senior services, it seems like the issue of getting people to actually attend and participate in info literacy programming is a tough one. To further on with the fishing analogy, how do libraries get people to want to learn to fish in the first place? How much of that role falls on the library, and how much of it is tied up with other issues(cultural, practical)? It seems like libraries should be at the forefront of explaining to people that "information literacy is important because...." But I wonder how often patrons feel like listening. Just some stuff I was thinking about while reading your blog.

Greta Grond said...

Gail, I spent some time on Nyack's site tonight. Wow, that's a busy library! One thing I found particularly interesting was how it checked out museum passes. Perhaps that is a common thing in more urban areas, but I have never seen it in my rural corner of the world. This certainly qualifies as contributing to cultural literacy, which I believe is part of information literacy. What a cool feature!

Gail said...

The Nyack Library is part of our consortium. It is a leader in providing services for its unique community. The librarian try to teach the patrons "how to" rather than gathering all the info for them.
There are many senior patrons; however lack of transportation can be a problem. Nyack does provide a small collection in the senior housing complex. I think many seniors would enjoy visiting the library on a regular basis if the town or county would provide a bus. The town does provide limited senior bussing to MD appointments, out patient hospital visits, etc. Maybe they could add a stop at the library.