Technology and Instruction: The Changing Face of Information Literacy

Technology and Instruction: The Changing Face of Information Literacy

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4735-0.ch006
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Information technologies have changed the way people search for information inside and outside the library environment. As a result, one of the core functions of librarians—instruction—has changed. Initially, library instruction, also known as bibliographic instruction, focused on teaching patrons how to find library resources. Databases and the Internet with keyword searching abilities shifted the focus of library instruction away from library resources to search techniques that are applicable in a variety of information settings. Web 2.0 technologies have further impacted information literacy instruction as they have helped make the searching for, use of, and creation of information nearly seamless. These technologies have changed user expectations and librarians have adjusted the way they provide instruction services to patrons. This chapter examines the impact of new technologies on how librarians frame their relationship with patrons, specifically students and faculty in the academic library context. Librarians use new technologies to compliment their existing instruction sessions and as a tool to frame themselves as information experts.
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As the past few chapters have demonstrated, technology has impacted almost every aspect of the library, from cataloguing to reference. In some ways, the culmination of all these technological changes is most earnestly felt by librarians who provide information literacy instruction: Teaching patrons how to search an OPAC, a journal database, and even the Internet; how to evaluate the information they find, especially from the Internet; and how to use the information so “easily” found, so easily copied, ethically. This chapter will explore how Web 2.0 technologies have impacted information literacy instruction, from changing pedagogical paradigms to new instructional tools. The focus in this chapter, however, will not be on the pedagogy and tools exclusively. Instead, it will also explore how new technologies have impacted the rhetoric surrounding the librarian-student relationship in the information literacy classroom, and concerns around generational differences between the librarian and her or his patrons. In some ways, it will be argued, this rhetoric is linked to concerns over how librarians are perceived by the public and popular culture, although this issue will receive more attention in chapter eight.

Instruction is a common occurrence in libraries. Often, regardless of the type of library in which it occurs, instruction takes place on a one-on-one basis between a librarian and a patron. This instruction could be on how to use the catalogue, an encyclopedia, or other library resource. Just as likely, however, the librarian could be instructing a user on how to search the Internet, how to evaluate the information found on the Internet, and even how to use a photocopier, printer, or an e-book. Some kind of instruction has always taken place in libraries. Hurt (1934), for instance, argued that librarians could not help but notice that patrons had very few skills to help them use library resources, and he wanted to know just why so few students appeared to have such skills. He discovered that students were not being offered adequate library instruction and that there was demand from students for instruction in library use and that a “[n]eed for co-ordination of library use and instruction in various subjects [seemed] beyond question” (p. 443). Hurt was not the first to realize there was a need for some kind of instruction in the library. Salony (1995) reported that there was evidence of instruction at Harvard College as early as the 1820s and even Ralph Waldo Emerson called for a professor of books in 1858. As collections expanded and education levels increased among the general population during the 20th-century, librarians became more aware that instruction was an important part of the profession. Not unsurprisingly, 20th century librarians started to incorporate technology into their instruction sessions. In the 1960s, for instance, they used overhead transparencies, tape recordings, slides, and films, alongside closed-circuit television and early attempts at computer-assisted instruction (Salony, 1995). By the 1980s and 1990s, information technologies, such as online databases and the Internet, added online searching techniques to the traditional library-specific instruction topics covered by librarians. According to Salony, around this time there was a shift that changed library instruction (also known as bibliographic instruction) to information literacy. This shift came, in part, because online technologies allowed for an “onslaught” of information (p. 44) that required users to use critical thinking and other transferable skills when accessing information. The term “information literacy,” however, was initially controversial. Some critics felt that it lacked a clear definition (Snavely and Cooper, 1997), but this did not stop the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) from promoting it with “posters, bookmarks, pamphlets, folders, and even Frisbees” (McCrank, 1991, p. 38). By the late 20th century, there was an understanding that there was no “going back to an older term” (Snavely and Cooper, 1997, p. 12). The ultimate sign that information literacy had hit the mainstream of librarianship was the formal adoption of a set of information literacy standards by the ACRL (2000). Although there are now other information literacy (IL) standards that librarians can use to help guide their work, the adoption of the standards by a professional association gave the concept of IL legitimacy.

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