Is Info Lit Legit?

The introductory post in a 2-strand series about Information Literacy

Is Information Literacy “legit” in our digital age?

While driving around in the car this week, listening to a local pop station for a change, the song “Hollaback Girl” came on the radio. As the lyrics “I ain’t no hollaback girl” popped to the hiphop beat, I thought to myself, I think that’s Gwen Stefani; and then I wondered, Hmm, what does “Hollaback Girl” actually mean?

To be honest, I’ve been wondering that off and on when hearing that song over the last ten years or so since it first came out, but have never quite been motivated enough to find out.

So…embracing the moment and not wanting to be a complete pop culture misfit, I decided to do a quick Google search on my iPhone (once I parked safely, of course).

I typed [hollaback girl] in the omnibox.

My top results (out of 627,000) were…

  1. YouTube knowledge panel box (not a surprise)
  2. Wikipedia (also not a surprise)
  3. Urban Dictionary
  4. AZLyrics
  5. MetroLyrics

The 6th link: A People Magazine article titled “#TBT: Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl’ Topped the Charts 10 Years Ago.”

Aha, what a coincidence!  Maybe that’s why it was on the radio.

In scanning those six options, I see that the YouTube box obviously includes the song’s music video, and besides recognizing that Wikipedia is almost always near the top of most search results list, I was most intrigued by the third option: Urban Dictionary. Which caused me to wonder, Which came first—the term or the song?

The 6th link also piqued my interest, especially because of the article’s title, and its hashtag #TBT—turn back time??

Before clicking on anything else, I decided to do one more search for [hollaback girl meaning], just for kicks.

My top result (out of 64,300 results):


Of course, not wanting to just take Wikipedia’s word for it, I read through the article, and found out some very surprisingly interesting things about the term, the song, its genesis, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, and Courtney Love. I scanned the reference/external links, which included Stefani’s website; I did a search on the site, but could not find any mention of the song’s title.

So, I went back to the results list and read the lyrics for the song; then I clicked on the Urban Dictionary link and read through several postings of potential definitions and interpretations, which both meshed and clashed with what was stated in the Wikipedia article. I watched the YouTube video to see if there were any supporting clues to the Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia interpretations. I then thought about looking up the original Seventeen Magazine interview of Courtney Love (either via their website or in a subscription database) that was cited in various sources as the germinating impetus behind Stefani’s back-atcha tune; but based on what I initially wondered, I felt satisfied that my results up to that point adequately met my “information need.”

I am still not totally clear on what it means, but through my perusing I also happily discovered that I’m not alone. Now at least I have a better understanding of what it could mean, depending on who you ask, where you look—and how you want to use it.

While wrapping up my impromptu searchcapade, I had one parting thought, mostly inspired by all of the Urban Dictionary interpretations of the term hollaback girl:

It might be fun to find out more about the impact songs such as “Hollaback Girl” have had on popular culture, and explore how popular music lyrics influence contemporary language…

So, now I’d like to ask you: How would you classify this experience—as an example of Digital Literacy, or Information Literacy?

You may be wondering—what’s the difference?

It might make more sense to think of the difference in terms of the skills—what skills would you say I just used in this scenario? Were these skills related to information, or to technology—or both?

Part of the hang-up is terminology—you may see these skills as living within the Digital Literacy hub, instead of Information Literacy.

The educational technology camp would most likely label what I did as Digital Literacy. However, ask a librarian, and s/he may beg to differ.

Yes, I did use digital tools–my iPhone, the Google Chrome app, Google, and the Internet.

But what else did I do? And could I have practiced roughly the same skills with different tools at my disposal?

Just in this simple search, I used several essential skills which most of us take for granted, and probably don’t even think are actually skills, but see them rather as secondhand habits, almost automatic.

But in fact, they aren’t—they are learned; but to the degree they are learned and honed depends on factors beyond basic repetition and familiarity.

So what were those skills? What kinds of thinking did I do while looking at the results? Which results could most likely provide me with what I (initially) wanted to know? Which ones might lead me further to explore beyond what I initially wondered?

How would changing my purpose for searching, my “information need” (say, the connection between music and culture) affect where I would look, what I would type, and what sources and information I would ultimately select, accept or reject, and use to reach a new understanding and support my initial or emerging hypotheses—or change them?

Taylor Swift Digital World meme

IL: Is it in or is it out?

The Internet and technology haven’t just revolutionized our lives, but have also revolutionized how we should address the core skills of Information Literacy.

Instead of living in a material world (my beloved Madonna Generation), we are now living in a digital world (the Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, or should I rather say the Taylor Swift Generation?).

And with the advent of this digital world, maybe we have too many Literacies to deal with, and that’s part of the problem?

In just accessing and reading this post, I bet you are exercising several literacies simultaneously—information, digital, web, media, and the “original” literacy (aka fundamental/traditional/authentic/basic…i.e., reading/writing)—and I’m probably forgetting a few others, too.

In fact, if you do a Google image search for [21st Century Literacies], the results are not only overwhelming and overlapping, but eye-opening. It almost makes me feel illiterate when looking at how many possible literacies are “out there” that seem essential. I have a hard time keeping track of all of them myself, let alone figuring out how to engage with them effectively as a teacher-librarian, a media specialist, and especially as a person.

In pondering Information Literacy’s place within this multiliteracy matrix from the reading I’ve done so far, Digital Literacy gets more of the spotlight and emphasis within the Multiliteracies family.

So…what is the real difference between Information Literacy (IL) and Digital Literacy (DL), anyway? Is there any? Or does one include the other?

And does it really matter?

Well, it depends on who you ask, or where you look.

Through my own process of trying to figure out the difference, if any, I have come across overlapping and conflicting explanations of these two terms—very similar to how they actually live in the “real [digital] world.”

Some see Digital Literacy as being more focused on utilizing technology effectively, whereas Information Literacy is all about the effective seeking, choosing and use of information–with use being a very little word for a very complex process.

If I had to give a streamlined Twitter-style definition of Information Literacy, I would say:

Information Literacy is knowing how to find, choose, and use information effectively and responsibly to create new meaning.

Implied within that definition is…

  • any kind of information—whether analog or digital, including all forms of media
  • finding = thinking about where to look, how to look, revising the process as needed
  • choosing = selecting, sifting, and curating from among the initial results, evaluating based on criteria and need, and repeating the process as often as needed
  • using = to read carefully and thoughtfully, comparing and contrasting what is found with what is already known; attributing and crediting sources; synthesizing the ideas together to then create new meaning, shared via a physical/digital platform, tool, product, creation, or presentation

Does this process sound vaguely familiar? Maybe a little like…the research process? Maybe that’s the problem.

info lit hollaback girl

Why Info Lit is Legit

The National Forum on Information Literacy (NFIL) advocates that Information Literacy is the “umbrella for all 21st Century Literacies.”

Besides this definition, there’s plenty of other evidence out there for the relevance and crucialness of Information Literacy Skills, in addition to the expected support via AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and ISTE’s Standards for Students:

But despite the evidence, the various standards and myriad definitions and frameworks, Information Literacy is still often considered synonymous with the research process.

And who are known as the “research experts”? Yup–librarians (aka teacher-librarians, school library media specialists, cybrarians, and so on).

Librarians from kinder through college know the term well, because we dwell within this realm. Just take a look at all of the myriad IL models and frameworks–it can be confusing for librarians, too, even though we’ve had IL on the brain for quite some time now.

The term Information Literacy is also more prevalent in higher education, and has been the focus of research among organizations such as Project Information Literacy and even universities, like Trinity University and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

In fact, librarians and libraries have been dealing with Information Literacy as far back as the 19th century, according to this UNESCO document, which actually offers a concise overview of the history and evolution of Information Literacy.

But as my hollaback girl example shows, research isn’t just for libraries anymore. And just like Inanimate Alice, Information Literacy doesn’t live here anymore—here meaning the library (or even the learning commons).

DIL Pickle meme

DIL vs. DL vs. IL?

Why aren’t we dealing with the teaching of these skills more prevalently? Why isn’t “IL” a trending edu-buzzword like “mindset,” “grit,” “blended learning” or “flipped classroom”?

What does the Common Core have to say about Information Literacy, if anything? Well, this 2014 iConference paper noted a lack of Information Literacy within the Common Core standards.

It seems as if Information Literacy is given lip service, but not really part of our common language when dealing with developing all of these literacies among learners today. It’s almost as if Information Literacy is not as cool, or trendy, or has the same status as its counterparts like Digital Literacy, Media Literacy, Data Literacy, and Global Literacy.

Digital Literacy is the much more prevalent and trending term in K-12 education, and it seems so because of the tech connection, and the social element surrounding digital media and tools.

TeachThought defines Digital Literacy as “being able to make sense of digital media” and engages in four principles: comprehension, interdependence, social factors, and curation.

To further complicate things, Doug Belshaw states in his TEDxTalk that Digital Literacy should be pluralized; these digital literacies are “context-dependent” and they need to be “socially negotiated,” developed progressively instead of sequentially…moving from “elegant consumption” to “effective remix.”

Oh no! not MORE literacies to deal with!

Based on these interpretations, Digital Literacy connotes looking at information through a digital lens, versus Information Literacy, which includes any format of information, whether digital, print, or otherwise. Digital Literacy also implies the use of digital tools and applications for curation, expression and creation—which makes sense, considering how digitized both information and our use of it has become.

Tarly Literacy meme

So has Digital Literacy subsumed Information Literacy? Or are they interdependent?  Are they 2 sides of the same coin? 2 branches of the same tree? 2 arms of the same Hollaback Girl?

In reflecting on this shift in terminology, does it make sense that we’ve wrapped these IL skills within our current interpretations of Digital Literacy?

This definition by the American Library Association’s Digital Literacy Task Force (2013) seems to encapsulate the essence of both literacies in a way that makes sense—at least to me:

Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, an ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills.

Jon Snow Dig Cit

What’s Digital Citizenship got to do with it? 

And you may also be wondering if IL even has a place within the family of Digital Citizenship at all. It seems to depend again on how wide a net you want to cast when talking about Digital Citizenship.

Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum does include strands of information literacy illustrated via distinct lessons per grade level, denoted by a very cute and symbolic orange looking-glass icon.

But ISTE’s Standards for Students lists “Research and Information Fluency” standards as separate from those of Digital Citizenship.

Are the more overt elements of Digital Citizenship (such as social media and netiquette, Internet safety and cyberbullying) overshadowing the need/importance of Information Literacy (such as searching effectively, evaluating sources critically, or crediting and curating responsibly)?

Rebranding IL

I still have more questions:

Is it time to re-brand Information Literacy as…something—hipper, cooler, more relevant?

Are IL skills too hidden, forgotten, invisible? How do we change IL skills from being invisible to being transparent?

How does Information Literacy become legitimized?

Why aren’t instructional-tech or ed-tech types and librarian-types collaborating more on this?

What’s really the issue here—what we call it, or how we deal with it?

So why aren’t we teaching these skills more routinely?

Some potential myths posing as reasons:
-think the kids already know what they are doing
-don’t have the time to do it
-it’s not our responsibility
-it’s not in the curriculum, scope & sequence, standards
-they aren’t tested on it
-that’s all a part of the research process…

Spot-Check Self-Reflection: How often are we…
-encouraging students to explore information on their own based on an initial question or query, versus providing the information for them?
-providing guidance during the exploration phase on a consistent basis, with basic modeling, simple sharing and reflection, and spot checks for understanding along the way?
-talking about not just ingesting but digesting? not just curating and remixing, but criticizing, synthesizing, and evaluating—both of information, and self?

An inherent problem with the traditional teaching of IL is that it assumes the learner is engaging with the content on his/her own, seeking it out, sifting it, etc…which usually happens as part of some kind of research, whether impromptu or planned. Since research is also usually connected to a larger project (that may or not involve the library/learning commons/librarian) these hidden IL skills may get glossed over—and when you try to teach all of them within the context of one research project, they frankly can be overwhelming for everyone involved—the students, the teachers, the tech specialists, and the librarians!

Looking to curricula doesn’t always provide the fix either, since most curricula floating out there (both IL or DC versions) is just that—it’s yet another curriculum, and trying to figure out where to fit it in is just the initial issue. External curricula is also an entity unto itself, and is not necessarily fluid and mobile, integrated in nature…discrete rather than entwined…so where do we go from here?

info lit bananas

Just as we need to move from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership—we also need to move from Information Literacy to Information Fluency.

It’s time to uberize the skills inside of Information Literacy—to lift them out, from and above the “research” realm and make them transparent, instead of hidden, forgotten, or invisible.

It’s time to scale Information Literacy up and out—beyond the research project, the library, the definitions, the standards, the frameworks, the prescribed curricula. It’s time to focus on integrating these skills from a process stance versus a product stance.

How do we do this? By recontextualizing these skills, not decontextualizing them. What I mean by that is—take them out of the domain of the research process, and see them as as an integral part of the learning process.

We can’t keep doing ‘one-stop shopping’ activities and lessons, downloading stand-alone curriculum, checking off boxes, and moving on.  It’s not about looking for solutions via lesson plans and isolated activities, but looking at the entire IL process with a mental magnifying glass to see what those skills really are—and then, ideating on how they can be routinized so that they become second nature.

Debbie Abilock and Kathy Schrock both talk about weaving IL into your instruction. This isn’t about adding “one more thing” to what you already do; rather, it requires a thinking shift from product to process.

These skills can and need to be interwoven into daily instruction no matter what is taught, and leveraged for their process-oriented nature—even tied into assessments, both formative and summative. This can happen by actually talking about them with students, making them familiar and identifiable, palatable to practice, and showing their essential value to learning today through everyday experience.

It is doable—you can still keep your content intact, using the same curricular meat of what you want the kids to learn, while layering or even substituting in an activity, exercise, or assignment that practices an IL skill.

So what I’ve really been trying to say is…this post serves as the introduction to an ongoing series delving into how to transform Information Literacy skills and instruction into something everyone can do, no matter your position, label, or level.

I have no idea how many posts there will be, but I do know the series will have two concurrent strands:

Exploration Strand
Explore ideas for “weaving Information Literacy” into everyday instruction so it becomes second nature, based on this Information Fluency Framework from the Global Digital Citizen Foundation:

Ask – Acquire – Analyze – Apply – Assess

Tool Strand
Exploring how familiar and new digital tools, apps and other online resources can be “flipped” to teach, build, and practice various facets of IL; provide some explicit examples and potential strategies of these tools for integrating into student learning.

grumpy cat non journey

A note about MEMES
I have fallen in love again with memes, and wanted to use them as visuals for this and future posts in this series. Of course, some of them may seem way out there… but because I couldn’t bring myself to discard all of the possible iterations, you can browse the growing collection via this Google Drive folder.

3 thoughts on “Is Info Lit Legit?

  1. Pingback: The Art of Questioning 101 | Curious Squid

  2. Pingback: Get Your Grok On | Curious Squid

  3. Pingback: Why we (and our students) should become Power Searchers | Curious Squid

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s