To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.
Or, simply put:
Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.
— Excerpted from the ALA’s Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Final Report (1989)
Information literacy is an understanding of how to obtain and use the information one desires. Everyone faces problems, obstacles, and questions each day. Without having the proper skills to locate and use information, solving those problems, surmounting those obstacles, and answering those questions is much more difficult. Information literacy training seeks to educate people on how to obtain the needed information. Concisely, information literate people can do the following tasks (ACRL, 2000):
- 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
Before someone can determine his or her information need, they must realize they need information. They also must be able to articulate that need to themselves and others. Once that need is formulated and articulated, and the type of information needed is determined, the person must access the information.
To access the information, the person must understand how to find information. Finding information is different in different contexts, such as on the internet, in a library, or in journal databases. Thus, one must be able to navigate the different sources of information using whatever tools apply to that context.
Once someone has access the information, they need to be able to evaluate the different sources of information as to its relevancy to their need. Evaluating the information is dependent on how well the person understand his or her question. It also is dependent on how well the person can assimilate and synthesize the information presented in the resource.
One they have determined the information is what they need, the person must then incorporate it into their knowledge base, not merely read it. Application of this knowledge is the next step.
A person must understand how to use the information he or she has obtained correctly. Applying the knowledge correctly is crucial to being able to solve the problem. If one can not apply it to the current problem, the information is meaningless. This step requires a certain level of critical thinking. Without critical thinking skills, someone will not be able to apply knowledge correctly to their situation.
Data Information Literacy
Information literacy in the broader sense can also be applied in a narrow sense to data information literacy. One can adapt the previous list of information literacy tasks to data. Someone who is data information literate can do the following tasks:
- Determine the extent of data needed
- Collect and/or access the needed data effectively and efficiently
- Evaluate the data and its sources critically
- Incorporate selected data into one’s knowledge base
- Use data effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of data, and access and use data ethically and legally
These preceding tasks can be mapped to parts of the DataONE Data Lifecycle and the Data Information Literacy project’s core competencies (Carlson, et. al., 2011).
- Determining the extent of data needed maps to the Plan step of the lifecycle, specifically defining expected data outcomes and types.
- Collecting and/or accessing the needed data effectively and efficiently maps to the Collect and Integrate steps of the lifecycle and the DIL competency Discovery and Acquisition of Data.
- Evaluating the data and sources critically maps to the Assure, Integrate, and Analyze steps of the lifecycle and the DIL competency Data Analysis.
- Incorporating selected data into one’s knowledge base relates to the Integrate and Analyze steps of the lifecycle and the DIL competencies Data Analysis and Data Visualization.
- Using data effectively to accomplish a specific purpose maps to the Analyze step of the lifecycle and the DIL competencies Data Management and Organization and Cultures of Practice.
- Finally, accessing and using data ethically and legally maps to the Discover step of the lifecycle and the DIL competencies Cultures of Practice and Ethics, including citation of data.
I have first hand experience with data information literacy. As a civil engineer, I dealt with data on a regular basis. However, knowing what I know now, it is clear that I did not know how to properly management data. I did many things wrong and learned many lessons, often the hard way. This personal experience is a valuable asset as it will guide my plans for teaching data information literacy to students in my institution.
Association of College and Research Libraries. (January 18, 2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. In Association of College and Research Libraries. Retrieved March 1, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.
Association of College and Research Libraries. (1989). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Retrieved March 1, 2013 from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential.
Carlson, J., Fosmire, M., Miller, C., & Nelson, M. (2011). Determining data information literacy needs – A study of students and research faculty. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(2), 629-657.
DataONE. (n.d.). Best practices. In DataONE. Retrieved March 1, 2013, from http://www.dataone.org/best-practices.