Information Literacy for K-12

Jeannie.Standal's picture

Information Literacy:

I recently spoke with an Idaho school district superintendent who enthusiastically supports the school libraries in her district as a critical part of education. I asked why, from an administrative point of view, she supports her school libraries and librarians. She replied that information literacy is essential for a 21st Century student’s success, and those skills come from the library. 

The term information literacy gets thrown around a lot these
days, but the American Library Association defines it like this:

 A set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”

Sometimes information literacy is confused with information
technology; they are related, but not the same. A student with information technology skills can use the computer, databases, software, etc., and a person who is information literate can
evaluate and determine the validity and best use for the resulting information.

Since students are bombarded with information, both accurate and not-so-accurate every day, understanding information literacy is particularly important in the K-12 environment. Further, it is getting harder to discriminate between real credible sources, entertainment, and hoaxes.  For example, it is possible to get a news feed on a Facebook page, but we all know not all the information on Facebook is credible. To further blur the lines between information and entertainment, multiple polls tell us that increasing amounts of young adults are getting their news from shows like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Both great shows, but not news, strictly speaking.

In a world of millions of results from a Google search, comedians delivering the news, and the ability for anyone to publish searchable information, how can a student determine what information is reliable? Where is a teacher or librarian to start? A good place might be Idaho’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards at  The ICT Standards list clear goals and objectives for students to master by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.  It’s worth noting, also, that school decision-makers pay attention to these standards, too. According to the 2009 Idaho School Library Impact Survey (cited in The Whole School Library Handbook by Woolls & Loertscher), a significant finding linked how highly administrators valued the school library with how highly they evaluated the teaching of ICT standards. School library programs that include the ICT Standards are highly valued by administrators.

As important as information literacy is, it can fall through the cracks. If these skills are not being taught in the library, where are students getting the information?  Perhaps as part of the English curriculum, or maybe in a science or history class as part of a research paper.  But maybe not.  Collaborative lessons are a great option for teaching information literacy more thoroughly; librarians can work with teachers on research projects, even in elementary school.  Scheduling issues can be a problem, but perhaps librarians can work with teachers and administrative teams to find alternative scheduling options.  After all, it can’t hurt to ask; an answer of “no” is the worst thing that can happen. (More information on fixed vs. flexible scheduling can be found here.)

Another resource to learn more about information literacy, the school library, and ICT standards is AASL Transforming Learning at