Information literacy or bibliographic instruction: semantics or philosophy

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Author: Lori Arp
Date: Fall 1990
From: RQ(Vol. 30, Issue 1)
Publisher: American Library Association
Document Type: Column
Length: 2,258 words

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At first glance, the controversy over the choice between the terms bibliographic instruction or information literacy seems like an argument comparing apples and oranges. Information literacy is an attempt to instill a condition, that is "literacy" into an individual. It has a product--an information literate individual. Bibliographic instruction, on the other hand, is a methodology, some would argue a discipline, which enables skills and concepts to be learned. This argument is easily answered, however, by adding the term instruction or education to the end of the phrase information literacy. We are then left with examining the difference and similarities between bibliographic instruction and information literacy instruction.

Similarities in information literacy instruction and bibliograhic instruction appear in recent documents on these topics. The Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instructions, (1) an approved ACRL document, outlines four sections of objectives--how information is identified and defined; structured; intellectually accessed; and physically organized and accessed. The ALA President's Task Force on Information Literacy comments: "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." (2) On the surface, then, these terms seem to have similar content and intent. One must examine the deeper context to understand the differences. In connecting the term "information" to literacy, librarians are aligning themselves with the literacy movement. It therefore follows that an examination of the definition of literacy is pertinent to this discussion exactly is literary?

According to the literature, there is very little agreement on this point. Common usage includes reading and writing within its definition, although level of ability necessary in these processes is not obvious. In the 1970s, the inclusion of parts of critical thinking, i.e. the ability to interpret what is written, was also generally incorporated into the commonly accepted definition of literacy. Yet, as test-generated data proved unreliable, experts began to focus on another term--the concept of "functional" literacy. Hillrich's definition is the most resilient of this debate: "Literacy is that demonstrated competence in communication skills which enables the individual to function, appropriate to his age, independently in society with a potential for movement in society." (3) The key to this definition, then, is the individual's ability to function in society. An assumption that could be made is that as needs change, the defining characteristics or content of literacy will also change.

Many experts now view the defining characteristics of literacy as a continuum. Clifford comments that "Expert opinion has abandoned the dichotomous framework, of literate or illiterate, in favor of the conception of literacy as a continuum; at one end lies some ability to reproduce letter combinations with voice or hand, at the other end, to such language learning behaviors as are called logical thinking, higher order cognitive skills, and reasoning." (4) The points where particular items are placed on this continuum are not very clear. In addition, many historians seem agreed that the...

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Source Citation
Arp, Lori. "Information literacy or bibliographic instruction: semantics or philosophy." RQ, vol. 30, no. 1, 1990, p. 46+. Accessed 23 July 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A9005442