Information Literacy: Where Do We Go from Here?

Melissa Koch

Information literacy is a term that we’ve been hearing for several decades, but do we know what it means and how to achieve it? Without a clear definition that everyone acknowledges, we have no roadmap to begin the journey to achieve an information-literate society. Once we have agreed on the map, we need to make sure that the group leaders (the teachers) on the journey have the means to reach the destination: information-literate students.

What Does It Mean?

In addition to the term “information literacy,” we’ve heard about “media literacy,” “technology literacy,” “computer literacy,” and probably several others. Each of these has a slightly different angle on what it is students need to learn. Media literacy, for example, focuses on the understanding of messages received from different media (TV, radio, the Internet). Technology literacy defines the need for students to learn to use the technology itself. Many of these forms of literacy share one or more of the three elements that define information literacy: the ability to find, to evaluate, and to use information effectively.

Information literacy combines literacy that we’ve known for centuries with the new skills needed for an individual to thrive in the Information Age. Today it is imperative that students learn to identify a need for information, and then to find the necessary information and to evaluate and implement it. These skills have become increasingly important as the volume of information available grows exponentially, as well as the varying formats and unknown sources.

Today information comes in print, video, audio, and visual formats. It may be delivered in books, magazines, newspapers, email, the Internet, television, CD-ROM, radio, etc. The sources are no longer only publishers with staffs of editors who may check facts and grammar; now, anyone can publish.

Linda Langford, in her article “Information Literacy: A Clarification” (School Libraries Worldwide, 4:1, 1998; pp. 59-72), outlines the painful history and current problems with the term “information literacy.” In Langford’s article, Breivik (1993) characterizes the frustration with this term:

“We are going to change the term, we hate this term, it is no good. There

are all these other literacies.” She continues by supporting the fact that

the definition of literacy has changed over the decades and that the

Australian definition of literacy may, in fact, be the best: to be able to

function well in society, which entails the ability to read, use numbers

and to find information and use it appropriately. Breivik strongly believes

that literacy, as an Industrial Age concept, has transformed to include

affective as well as cognitive understanding, in the culture of the

Information Age.

According to Langford, the struggle with the definition has left teachers and students without a clear blueprint or roadmap on how to teach and learn the concept. “There appears to be a gap in the literature between the theory of information literacy and the everyday classroom practice …,” she writes. “[T]here remains a real need to explore how the concept of information literacy becomes the natural or basic practice of teachers.”

Which Road Shall We Take?

How do we get teachers and students on the path to integrating information literacy into the curriculum? Education policy often leads the way to integrate new ideas into the mainstream. Many individuals and organizations have been promoting the concept of information literacy since the mid-1970s. Christina Doyle’s article, “Information Literacy by Christina Doyle,” and her book, Information Literacy in an Information Society: A Concept for the Information Age (1999), outline the history of the policies behind information literacy from 1974 to 1994. The work of the U.S. Department of Education, the American Library Association (ALA), and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) continues to reinforce the need to teach information literacy skills (see “An Information Literacy Policy Timeline,” below).

In addition to the national programs, articles in magazines and journals such as TECHNOS and books have fostered and will continue to grow the creation of standards, assessment, and curriculum for information literacy (see “Information Literacy Resources”).

In December 2000, the U.S. Department of Education Published eLearning: Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children in which it makes information literacy a priority in Goal 3:

Also in December 2000, the Web-based Education Commission highlighted the importance of students being able to access and evaluate information found on the Internet in The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice. Clarifying the concept, stating the importance, and providing examples of curriculum and professional development will continue to encourage states to include information literacy as a goal and teachers to teach it in the classroom.

The continued funding for technology in schools also encourages information literacy by providing the opportunity for students to learn new methods of accessing information. According to the Progress Report on Educational Technology published by the U.S. Department of Education, funding for educational technology has increased by $8 billion since 1995. The brief new plan, “No Child Left Behind” put forth by President George W. Bush in January 2001, supports the continued commitment to funding technology.

But as we all know, funding the technology alone is not enough. New U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has the opportunity to further these efforts by encouraging Department of Education programs that support state standards and assessment of information literacy, and by providing resources for professional development for teachers specifically on teaching information literacy skills throughout the curriculum.

Where Is the Map?

Given the current administration’s track record in Texas, we can expect a continued emphasis on standards and assessment. Setting goals and establishing measures to see if students reach those goals is a good start for beginning the education process on any skill or content area. According to the Thomas Fordham Foundation’s State of State Standards study to evaluate state standards based on their content and close ties to assessment, we are making some progress in creating good maps.


In reviewing the following standards for their attention to information literacy, I focused on key states in the design of standards and social studies standards, because of their history of including research skills. Of the social studies standards I reviewed, all included some critical thinking skills associated with social studies, many of which are information literacy skills, such as detecting bias. The majority of states do not call these skills information literacy skills (see “Information Literacy Standards”).

A couple of states, such as Maryland (which received a No. 1 rating in standards and accountability in Quality Counts 2001, the annual special publication of Education Week) and Wisconsin, are integrating information literacy across the curriculum to meet their standards that specifically identify information literacy and the skills associated with it.

Maryland has produced program standards and identified library media skills in those standards since 1987. In the past rive years, the developers of these standards have referred to the skills as information literacy, but the term first appeared in the state’s published standards in 2000. Maryland’s approach to standards for information literacy is to create a separate set of standards for library media programs that promotes librarians working with teachers to ensure these skills are taught across the curriculum. Other subject-area standards also include information literacy skills. With this approach, Maryland is fostering the teaching and learning of information literacy throughout all disciplines and ways of encountering information that a student might have, whether it’s in a piece of literature, a science experiment, or in an interview with a noted expert on a subject.

In Maryland, librarians are evaluated on how effectively they provide access to information in a variety of formats and how they collaborate. Maryland is also focusing students’ learning on understanding the ethical issues involved with manipulating information in digital form.

The Maryland standards provide a rich matrix, both within content areas and through the Library Media Program, that make them worth reading in their entirety. The example below from the social studies standards illustrates the state’s intentions to expose students to a variety of information sources and have them use evaluation methods for all of those sources.

Like Maryland, Wisconsin chose to create a separate set of standards for information literacy, called “Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy.” The intention here is also to integrate these skills across the curriculum. As time goes by, it will be interesting to see if making information literacy skills a separate set of standards succeeds in encouraging focus and integration or if it actually fosters the skills being taught in isolation.


According to the Fordham Foundation, which compared standards to assessment practices by state, California and Texas are making the grade. According to Education Week’s Quality Counts 2001, Maryland and New York were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the 10th edition published in January 2001. However, if the analysis focused on assessment of information literacy standards, the results would show that states are struggling or not even trying.

For example, Maryland tried using the short-answer format it uses for its other tests along with some other portfolio and writing assessment pilots. However, the cost of providing these types of test became prohibitive, so they were stopped. Currently, Maryland schools do not have assessment for information literacy; however, media specialists are experimenting with test questions and trying the tests in several of the state’s schools.

While portfolio assessment and essays would work well for information literacy assessment, multiple-choice questions are not completely inadequate, especially if a follow-up multiple-choice question then assessed a student’s reason for making a choice. With two questions or more, you could assess a student’s ability to interpret the information with the first question, and with the following question assess the reasons the child had for making the choice–thereby getting a greater understanding of his or her depth of knowledge. For example, New York has an excellent multiple-choice test question in its Grade 8 Intermediate Social Studies Test, Test Sampler Draft, Spring 2000. This question asks a student to interpret a graphic and understand bias. New York is not a state that has singled out information literacy, but it is dedicated to teaching critical thinking skills directed at information.

This test did not have a follow-up question, but one can imagine that a follow-up question might ask why The Ohio Dry Federation would create or endorse this message. There is a great deal of ground to explore in the assessment of students’ information literacy skills.

Who Are the Guides?

Setting goals (standards) and having ways to assess whether you’ve met those goals is a good start. Providing students and teachers with the necessary technology to learn to access information in different ways is also important. However, without effective curriculum for students and programs for teachers to learn to teach information literacy skills, little will have been accomplished. Several articles, such as the recent article in TECHNOS by Jamie McKenzie, “Winning with Information Literacy” (9:1, pp. 2832), and many books address this need.

Programs such as the Big6[TM] offer a curriculum for states to integrate into their instruction. The Big6TM defines six steps in the research process: (1) Task Definition; (2) Information Seeking Strategies; (3) Location and Access; (4) Use of Information; (5) Synthesis; (6) Evaluation. It also provides curriculum to support the teaching of these information and technology skills in K-12 and adult education settings. Utah’s Department of Education uses the Big6[TM] in its information literacy professional development and curriculum. Other states choose to develop their own professional development and curriculum materials. Maryland, for example, has captured its research and development efforts on information literacy in a document called “Project Better: Information Literacy.”

Currently, only a handful of states are engaged in the professional development, assessment, and curriculum design efforts for information literacy. But with the U.S. Department of Education making information literacy a clear priority and businesses demanding these skills in their workforce, the rest of the nation will follow.

As a nation, we are making progress in teaching students information literacy skills. While many good teachers are incorporating information literacy into their curriculum, these skills must be firmly in our testing practices and in all of our state standards to influence all educators to incorporate these vital Information Age skills into their teaching. Having clear goals is critical. Books, articles, and policies provide further direction. One of the last hurdles will be creating engaging professional development materials and curricula that help teachers to teach and ultimately students to learn these skills. The final hurdle will be developing valuable assessment tools to evaluate this learning.

An Information Literacy Policy Timeline

Based primarily on “Information Literacy” by Christina Doyle, at$26.

1983 to 1992–Librarians recognize need for Information Literacy skills

1986–“Educating Students to Think: The Role of the School Library Media Program”

1988–The American Association of School Librarians introduces “Information Power”

1991–U.S. Dept. of Libor’s Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report

1994–Goals 2000

2000–Progress Re port on Educational Technology and eLearning: Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children

1974–Paul Zurkowski, president of the Information Industry Association (IIA), coins the term “Information Literacy” in his proposal to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science

1983–A Nation at Risk is published, introducing the “skill of managing information in digital form”; National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences responds

1987–American Library Association creates Presidential Committee on Information Literacy

1989–National Forum for Information Literacy Delphi Study

1992–National Forum on Information Literacy meets for the first time

1996–Technology Literacy Challenge

Goal 3: All students will have technology and information literacy skills.

… To ensure that students are prepared for their future we should: include technology and information literacy in state and local standards for what students should know and be able to do; ensure students use technology appropriately and responsibly; develop new student assessment tools; and strengthen partnerships with industry to help meet the workforce needs of the future.

Information Literacy Resources


The Big6[TM] Skills Information Problem-Solving Approach

Provides lesson plans, conferences, and other resources on how to teach information literacy across the curriculum. The first conference on information literacy is scheduled for August 2001.

Center for Media Literacy

This organization has a special emphasis on the different forms of information but shares the core concerns of accessing, evaluating, and using information: The heart of media literacy is informed inquiry. Through a four-step “inquiry” process of Awareness … Analysis … Reflection … Action, media literacy helps young people acquire an empowering set of “navigational” skills that include the ability to

* Access information from a variety of sources

* Analyze and explore how messages are “constructed” (whether print, verbal, visual, or multimedia)

* Evaluate media’s explicit and implicit messages against one’s own ethical, moral, and/or democratic principles

* Express or create their own messages using a variety of media tools

Compton’s Encyclopedia Online

The Teacher’s Guide associated with this product includes instructions and detailed lesson plans for teaching information literacy.

International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards Project (NETS)

The NETS Project creates standards, curriculum, and assessment tools for integrating technology in the K-12 classroom. The work of this group includes information literacy lessons and standards.

Educator Jamie McKenzie designed this resource to help teachers help students learn how to ask good questions, the key to successful research.



Project Better: Information Literacy information_literacy/index.html

This report by Maryland educators summarizes a lot of the thinking and development they have done on standards and curriculum development for information literacy.

Standards for School Library Media Programs in Maryland

(1987, revised 2000 Maryland State Department of Education)

These Maryland standards contain not only the goals but also a blueprint for teaching information literacy across the curriculum and methods for assessing educators’ abilities to teach these skills.


Utah integrates the Big6 into its curriculum.


Information & Technology Literacy Standards Matrix

This publication is designed to help educators integrate information and technology literacy into the subject areas.

For more information, including a list of publications, visit the TECHNOS Web site at

Standards for School Library Media Programs in Maryland 1987, revised 2000 Maryland State Department of Education

The school library media program provides instruction, resources, and services to assist students and teachers in becoming critical thinkers in the pursuit and use of ideas and information. … the school library media program realizes the vision by providing the following: An instructional program that is integrated with the curriculum and results in student achievement of learning outcomes in information literacy, independent learning, and socially responsible use of information and information technology.

Maryland Social Studies Skills

Students will use thinking processes and skills to gain knowledge of history, geography, economics, and political systems.

… [will] use clear research questions and coherent research methodology to elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources using available library, electronic, and human resources.

Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy identify and define the knowledge and skills essential for all Wisconsin students to access, evaluate, and use information and technology for a lifetime. These standards connect and interrelate technology competencies and information processing skills needed for lifelong learning. The framework demonstrates a progression of competencies from the physical access skills for the use of media and technology, to the intellectual access skills of information use, and finally to the skills necessary to be effective in learning independently and within groups.

What is the main idea of this poster?

1) Prohibition was a major goal of the United States during WW1.

2) Patriotic appeals were used to gain support for the Prohibition movement.

3) Many soldiers in the United States military had a drinking problem.

4) Trench warfare on the western front led to large casualty and death rates.

Information Literacy Standards

Education reform efforts in the past 10 years have increased the importance of states setting standards. The states of California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois are leading the way in setting standards. All of them have included information literacy skills in their social studies standards, but none of these leaders has specifically named the skill “information literacy” or made it a priority across all standards.

All rive of these states rank in the highest two sections of the Fordham Foundation’s State of State Standards ( html), a study that assesses each state’s standards alignment with assessment or ability to be assessed. California and Texas received the highest rating of honor roll in the Fordham Foundation’s report. All of these states, along with several others that were already focused on information literacy (such as Maryland and Wisconsin), are struggling with developing assessment tools to measure student success.


History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools K-12 (2000)


Social Studies TEKS (1997) htm


Sunshine State Standards (1996)


Learning Standards for Social Studies (1996)


Illinois Learning Standards (1997)

For more information, including excerpts from the standards documents, visit the TECHNOS Web site at

Melissa Koch is a writer and developer of online learning communities and coauthor of NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Agency for Instructional Technology

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group