Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Techman's Techpage: Beyond "Websumerism': Promoting Information Nutrition

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Techman's Techpage: Beyond "Websumerism': Promoting Information Nutrition

Article excerpt

We must start teaching students about 'information nutrition'!

While we're looking at where, when, and how to spend money on digital resources, we need to think long and hard about how we're promoting them. Consider for a moment that, while teachers and professors ask students to find information for a paper, it seems they don't always make distinctions for students on what they should or shouldn't use. Certainly, some say, "Use the library." Others make statements like, "You need 10 references and only two can come from the Internet." Does that mean eight have to be from print sources? You get the impression that not everyone understands that the Internet is just a delivery means. Do teachers and professors understand that there are so many library-based options offered electronically, and that almost all of them can be accessed over the Internet? And that there are many valid options that are not library-based?

But it's even worse when they give little or no direction at all. If a professor simply says, "Go get some information," there's a chance the students will go get the junk that is the fastest and easiest to find. It's sort of like telling students, "Go get something to eat at the mall." What do you think the chances are that students will find the food they like best, without considering its nutritional quality?

Students Are 'Websumers'

Everybody knows that when students are told to find information for class work or homework, their first (and probably only) stop will be the Internet. That's a given, right? And it would be OK if students saw the Internet as a delivery channel for information resources of various quality. But they don't. They are "Websumers"-to them the Internet is a one-- stop shopping place where you can get information, even if you can't (or don't) distinguish between partial vs. complete, authoritative vs. dubious, biased vs. unbiased, old vs. current, or accurate vs. inaccurate information.

Who is contributing to the delinquency of Websumers? Teachers? Professors? Librarians?

The fact that that the Internet is just a delivery medium, and can point to all kinds of information, is not the issue. Yes, you can find almost anything on the Web, from product information to journal articles to interviews to online books. Sure, some people think of the Internet as a place for information content, as in the remark, "Everything you need is on the Internet." And increasingly things are being produced electronically or retrospectively digitized, which makes it likely that they will end up on the Internet. The real issue lies in this assumption: If you tell someone to get information, he'll go to the Web, and if he doesn't have strong evaluation skills, he won't be able to tell the good from the bad or the ugly. We (librarians) know that, but are we spreading the word?

It really is as if you sent students to the mall to find something to eat. Think of all the possibilities: the pretzel place, the cinnamon bun store, the caramel corn stand, the candy counter at the movies, the snack aisle at the drug store, the coffee shop, the department store with its gourmet food gifts. Oh yeah, not to mention what usually suffices for restaurants: fast food, fried food, and maybe the occasional home-style cafeteria. Yes, students may know the ins and outs of the stores at the mall, mostly because they have visited them so often or because they or their friends have worked there. Actually, in the mall, they are somewhat akin to what you might call professional consumers, or "prosumers,"1 while on the Internet they are more like "junk info" junkies.

Students may be professional consumers and knowledgeable about which shoes have the most bounce and which clothes were produced in sweatshops, but they are not professional consumers of information. Students are not information specialists. If anything, they are information generalists. They are not prosumers of information, they are Websumers. …

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