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Information Literacy as a Civic Responsibility: Information Literacy

A corresponding guide to the convo talk "Information Literacy as a Civic Responsbility", presented in September 2020 by Ryan Flynn '15, Director of Community-Engaged Learning, and Elora Agsten, Instructional Librarian.

Information Literacy

Information literacy is the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information” and to use the information in an effective, ethical, and legal way once acquired.*

*Definition adapted from "Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education", American Library Association, February 9, 2015.


Skills of an Information Literate Person

According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, an information literate person will have the following six skills.  While it is not necessary to have every skill memorized word-for-word, understanding these concepts will help you find and consume quality information, both in your academic and daily life. 

  • Authority is constructed and contextual

    • Consider: who is writing or making this information? Can I trust them? What is their background/education? Where are they publishing their information? 

  • Information creation as a process

    • Understand: information doesn't just exist. People create and analyze it. Information reflects the society it was created in and the values of the people who created it. 

    • Consider: how does writing a study/paper/academic article work in your major? How is that information created (lab results, interviews, literary analysis, surveys, etc.)? 

  • Information has value

    • Consider: What information am I actually looking for? How do I find it? In what ways will it be useful to me?

    • Consider additionally:  Does information about me have monetary value and in what circumstances? 

  • Research as inquiry

    • Understand: research is about asking questions as much as it is finding answers. All research starts with a question and more and more questions are asked along the way. 

  • Scholarship as conversation

    • Understand: scholarship and research don't exist in a vacuum. Researchers talk to each other and build off of one another's work. Researchers are also influenced by the society and culture they grew up in. 

  • Searching as strategic exploration

    • Understand: While a database search is useful to find academic articles for an assignment, it may not be as useful to figure out whether a post you see on Twitter is real. There are many different methods to locate information and understanding when to use those methods will help you. 

Information Literacy in the Wild

You use information literacy skills more than you may think! Every day, you're confronted with choices and you have to make knowledgeable decisions based on the information you can find.

Some examples: 

In college, you use your information literacy skills to:

  • Look for resources for an assignment (searching the internet, the Schewe Library catalog, databases, etc.) 
  • Decide if those resources meet your ideas for the assignment (evaluate if they fit the topic, is the author credentialed?, etc.)
  • Communicate what you learned (sharing your knowledge through a paper, etc.) 

In your personal life, you use your information literacy skills to:

  • Decide what product or service you want to buy (read reviews, look at credentials, etc.)
  • Decide if you trust the news from someone you follow on social media.
  • Decide who you want to vote for (research their positions, etc.)

Activity: Spot the Troll

Time to put those information literacy skills to the test!

Can you determine which of these social media profiles are real and which are Russian trolls? This game and analysis from Clemson University will walk you through what to look for on social media profiles.