Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Information Literacy and the Public Library

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Information Literacy and the Public Library

Article excerpt

There is a lack of literature about information literacy and the public library, especially compared with that of school and academic libraries. This might suggest that public libraries are not engaged in information literacy efforts. However the literature reveals that, despite myriad challenges, public libraries worldwide are embracing the responsibility and have implemented a wide array of information literacy approaches. They are furthering information literacy in their communities, albeit along a poorly defined and obstacle strewn path. Edited version of a paper first published in the 'Australian library journal' August 2008.


It is over 30 years since the term 'information literacy' was coined by Paul Zurkowski (1) and nearly 20 years since the concept came to the forefront of the library and information profession. Libraries of all types have been charged with taking an active role in fostering an information literate society. Public libraries have been proposed as the obvious and well equipped agencies for imparting critical information skills to the wider community.

A myriad of how to guides, reports, studies and national goals and objectives provide a framework for information literacy programs in school and academic libraries. By contrast, there is very little published literature about the efforts of public libraries. Nonetheless public libraries are embracing this responsibility. There is evidence of a wide range of information literacy focused programs in public libraries worldwide. Although these programs vary in format and content, most libraries have approached information literacy skills development in similar ways and appear to have found a balance between the expectations placed on them by various government and information industry bodies, user demands, and available resources. It is also clear that the scope of programs is being limited by a range of factors, some of which are the very characteristics originally identified as a strength of public library involvement in information literacy development.

Information literacy and the public library: an overview

Information literacy is widely considered to be a survival requirement for life in the information age, a vital underpinning to lifelong learning, and critical for a thriving democracy. (2,3,4.5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15)

Many definitions of information literacy have been proposed and debated in the 30 years since the term was proposed, most of which reflect attributes similar to the following commonly cited definition

   ... 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. (16) 

Information literacy has been identified as an issue of importance to all society. (17) Public libraries are regarded as ideally suited to promoting the development of information literacy and encouraging lifelong learning in their communities. (18,19,20,21,22) Information literacy development by public libraries is highlighted as an 'essential service' and 'the most important goal of libraries' with some suggesting that 'no other entity government or private--is as ready to take on this growing need, has the skill set necessary, or can do it as inexpensively as the public library'. (23,24) Public libraries have recognised this responsibility in the inclusion of the information literacy development of their users as a goal in their mission statements and strategic plans.

In providing information literacy support, they have the opportunity to foster the lifelong learning of their communities--lifelong learning being described as 'gaining knowledge to lead better, more fulfilling lives' and differentiated from formal, accredited programs of study. (25,26) In fact, the two concepts have become inextricably linked in the literature and the two terms are used interchangeably to some extent. …

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