Understanding the Importance of Information Literacy

We live in a digital age made up of seemingly unlimited amounts of digital information available anywhere and everywhere. Our task now is to find new and better ways to absorb this information and apply it to our day-to-day lives.

Simply because there is so much information available to anyone with access to the Internet, knowing how to find exactly what you are looking for is a skill in its own right. Having the ability to sift through "galaxies" of information currently available online is not only a great way to grow professionally, but it is also a requirement for many careers today.

This guide is meant to provide a general overview of what information literacy means and how you can use this skill to attain both your professional and personal goals. Because the topic is so broad, don't expect to learn everything there is to know about information literacy from this guide alone. We've provided you with several additional resources in order to help you achieve information literacy.

What is Information Literacy?

Simply put, information literacy is our ability to locate and identify information that can be effectively used to solve an issue or problem at hand. This may seem easy enough, but with the sheer amount of dubious information available online, finding the information you need can be a challenge. Moreover, the concept of information literacy is still in the process of being defined.

Information literacy can be applied to almost every current profession. As businesses and employers look for ways to cut down on inefficiencies and expenses, many costly training programs are being replaced by self-directed learning. For example, a graphic designer who started with a company 10 years ago may have expected a week-long training program to provide them with the right information and techniques. These days, however, a graphic designer may be required to have all the necessary skills up-front and pick up any they lack on their own time.

In these cases, it's important to treat information literacy as job security. Many employers will expect you to be adept at researching and organizing the information you need right off the bat; hard work with little to no questions. Familiarizing yourself with the steps to become information literate is key to that self-reliance on the job.

Information Literacy and the Digital Age

Aside from the obvious benefits information literacy has in the workplace, being information literate is also a great skill for consumers. As more and more people gain access to high-speed Internet, they are gradually (and in many cases, unconsciously) teaching themselves how to become information literate.

Many consumers become proficient thanks to shopping. Product ads are everywhere we look, be they on TV, the Internet, or plastered across a bus. Therefore, the ability to gather necessary info about any sort of purchase—serious or trivial—is an expected trait of everyday consumers. Not only does this help you find quality goods and services, but you may also save money if you know how to search for different vendors.

Purchasing a new car is a great example of how information literacy in the Digital Age can mean the difference between getting stuck with a lemon and paying a fair price on a great product. Taking some time to research vehicles online (and the opinions of those who have experience working with them) is a good way to ensure you will not regret your purchase. Also, finding out how much the car is sold for online, privately, and even at your local car dealerships can provide you with information you can use to effectively negotiate a vehicle's end price.

For decades now, Consumer Reports has been a go-to resource for information about consumer goods, particularly large items, such as cars. In addition to CR‘s popular website, there are many similar sites in place to help you make purchasing decisions. For example, Google Shopping is one of the most comprehensive resources for finding information about the products you want. In addition to providing reviews, the tool also provides price comparisons across several stores that carry them.

The Digital Age is proving to be a boon for students who can now find much of the information they need without even stepping foot into a physical library. Resources such as Google Books and Scribd are great for students to find books and articles for research via the Internet. Realizing the Internet's potential as a hub for research is one of the many ways that information literacy stands to change the way we learn.

5 Steps to Becoming Information Literate Today

Step One: Use Social Media

Other than the many social networking tools we use to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a vast array of social media tools you can use to become more information literate.

Reddit is a social hub that is used by professionals and students to share information and advice about countless topics. Similar to old-fashioned message boards, topics on Reddit are organized into categories known as "subreddits." Let's say you wanted to find out more about financial planning, there's certainly a subreddit for that, and chances are you'll find excellent information about the topic. Even if you don't, you can always ask anyone in the subreddit; while the discussions aren't always authoritative, you should consider the subreddit a portal to quality research and thinking!

Step Two: Organize the Information You Find

It might seem old-fashioned to "bookmark" interesting and informative sites, but doing so is a necessary part of making sure you go back and refer to the information without searching for it all over again.

Most web browsers offer some functionality for saving web pages as bookmarks. Many of them, such as Google Chrome, offer you the ability to sync your bookmarks across several different computers or devices. In addition to bookmarking tools included with your browser, several social bookmarking sites, such as Del.icio.us (now Delicious) and Xmarks, have cropped up during the last decade; these sites aim to improve the ways you organize and share the information you find.

Step Three: Shop Around!

As mentioned above, websites like Google Shopping (and even Amazon.com) are great resources you can use for "shopping around." Even though many consumers still rely on physical malls and shops to find what they're looking for, the same items you find in stores can often be procured much cheaper online.

Not only is gathering information about a product online a great way to save money, it can also save you from making an "impulse buy" you might later regret. Unlike the limited information about a product you receive in stores, the information you can find about a product online is all but limitless.

Step Four: Learn New Skills

Over the last several years, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) have evolved into excellent learning resources for students who are looking to earn a degree or augment their current knowledge about a subject. MIT OpenCourseWare is a popular choice for students who wish to enroll in college-level courses for free. For more information on how MOOCs promise to revolutionize the classroom for primary and secondary school students, this informative article about the history of K-12 online learning is enlightening.

Step Five: Assess Your Information Literacy

Because the concept of information literacy is still new, it's difficult to really gauge how information literate we actually are. As we continue to develop new ways to improve our information literacy, the concept itself is sure to become more defined.

In the meantime, there are several ways for you to test and improve your information literacy. Aside from the above, North Central College of Naperville, Ill. offers an extensive resource for rubrics, tests, and assessments on information literacy. In addition, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) provides a detailed article that explores the concept of information literacy and creates a framework for evaluating this proficiency in students.

Information Literacy: The Key to Your Future

Information literacy is the new educational challenge of our generation. As our lives become more inundated with information, it is essential that we develop methods and resources to cope with all the information we receive on a daily basis. Not doing so could lead to information overload, or worse, restrictions placed on how we receive information over the Internet.

Because the concept of information literacy is still in its infancy, none of us can expect to master it immediately. Taking time to familiarize yourself with information literacy is an excellent way to keep yourself informed and up-to-date as the world continues to share, create, and receive information across several different types of media.

04 25, 2013
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