Archive for May, 2007

Blogging WILU?

Any other library bloggers out there attending WILU at York University this week?


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This recent post on ACRLog, Authoritative Sources or Question Authority, gets to the heart of understanding the need for critical information and media literacy. Although critical literacy is never mentioned, this is obviously what is being discussed. We simply cannot tell people to use “authoritative” sources and leave it at that. If we don’t help people to ask questions about information and power, to help them look beyond the words on the page or the perceived authority of the author or publisher, they will always be passive receivers and distributors of information and never be involved in the construction of information.

If we can help people become critical users of information it can also open the doors to a much wider array of information resources than are currently being used in academic research. There is a huge body of valuable information available in alternative newsletters, magazines, and small independent presses that is simply not being used because we place such emphasis on the importance of peer-review and other “authoritative” sources. We do this because we don’t trust the students to recognize trustworthy and unbiased information on their own. The trouble is, if we don’t help them to make these decisions for themselves, we are treating them like children and keeping them in a position of weakness and dependency.

We need to empower students to participate in the world as active citizens capable of thinking critically and taking action based on their own understanding and not to be limited in their thinking and actions by the direction of what others have decided is authoritative.

Anyone with access to SpringerLink should read this new article by Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, Critical Media Literacy is Not an Option for a very strong argument for the need for critical media literacy (which includes information literacy by their definition) in schools at all levels. I would also argue that it is particularly vital in adult education programs. We can also take a lot from Allan Luke and Peter Freebody’s work on the four resource model of literacy, described very well in, Further Notes on the Four Resources Model. This is a model of literacy that can be applied to multiple literacies and should not be ignored by proponents and developers of information literacy.

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“Critical theory is, above all else, a way to ask questions about power. Who has it? How did they get it? How do they keep it? What are they doing with it? How do their actions affect the less powerful? How might things be otherwise? (Finding Freedom in the Classroom, p.17, by Patricia Hinchey)

We need to ask ourselves some very serious questions about power and information. I’d like to look at information production, distribution, collection, organization, preservation, access, control, assessment, and use. Here are a number of questions I have:

Who produces information? Does power affect your ability to produce information? What relation does power have to the volume of information produced? or the quality or type of information produced? What types of information are there? Why is information produced? Who is it produced for? What types of information reinforce or increase the power of some over others? What types of information loosen the power of some over others? How is a person’s culture/background/class reflected in the information s/he produces? What are the barriers to information production?

How is information distributed? What is the relation between power and distribution? What types of information are pushed, who are they pushed on, and why? How do the distribution systems work? What is the difference between types of distribution? Does everyone have equal access to all methods of distribution? What are the barriers to distribution?

How is information collected, organized, and preserved? Who is responsible? Is all information treated equally? Whose categories are used? How do we categorize information? Why is some information more available than other information? Is some information lost?

How is information accessed? How is information controlled? Does everyone have equal access to information? When and why do people choose to seek information? How do we attempt to find it? How do people know when, where, and how to seek information?

How do we choose what information to use or dismiss? Are some people better at analyzing information than others? If so, why? How do people decide which information is reliable/trustworthy and which is not?

If anyone would like to add to this or discuss any of the questions I put forward, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

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