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Information Literacy Toolkit: What is Information Literacy?

Find resources and tools for designing new or revising existing assignments to strength the information literacy skills of your students

Defining Information Literacy

According to the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), information literacy (IL) is "the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning" (2016, "Introduction," para. 4).

In 2016, the ACRL (one of the principal professional organizations that support academic librarianship) adopted the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which outlines six threshold concepts, called "frames," to guide IL instruction and assessment:

Why is Information Literacy important at SAIT?

The tools to create and navigate information are evolving rapidly and issues surrounding reliability and credibility present significant risk to all levels of society. IL skills equip students to find and use high-quality information effectively for decision-making and problem-solving in both academic and professional contexts.

Many studies, including long-term and ongoing initiatives from Project Information Literacy and the Citation Project, show that students struggle with retrieving, evaluating, and integrating sources into their written work. Research also suggests that the best way to develop and improve IL skills is to embed it strategically within curriculum and assessment (Smith, 2016; Egan et al., 2017; Borchardt et al., 2018).

How does IL relate to other literacies and skills?

IL works in tandem with and is an essential aspect of other skills and literacies emphasized at SAIT, including:

  • Digital literacy: IL is a critical component of digital literacy, as the information we find, evaluate, and use is primarily online. SAIT's work with digital literacy directly incorporates information literacy. IL is also woven through other literacies such as technological literacy, media literacy, data literacy, and so on. 
  • Critical thinking/problem-solving: Many problems require one to find information that will lead to a solution, and one must think critically about the type of information they need and the quality of the sources they find in order to effectively use and apply them.
  • Professional development/lifelong learning: Being information literate is an aspect of information agency - the ability to independently find information to meet a need. This allows for lifelong learning and professional development by identifying what information will support these goals.
  • Evidence-based practice: Evidence is used to inform decision-making, and information literacy helps practitioners find, evaluate, and use high-quality sources in their work. 
  • Communication: Research is often framed as a conversation, and information literacy helps an individual to find, locate, and share information in an efficient and effective manner.

How is Information Literacy taught at SAIT?

SAIT has six Faculty Librarians who teach and assess IL across all of SAIT's eight Schools. Details can be found on the Library's Instruction Support page.

As mentioned above, IL manifests in various ways across programs. While fundamental aspects of IL are shared across fields of study, there are many elements that are discipline-specific. IL for health looks much different than IL for business or transportation, for example. In this sense, instruction in IL skills is most effective when delivered and reinforced by both instructors and librarians.

Assessments that involve finding, using, and evaluating information are an especially important opportunity to strengthen the IL skills of students. It is essential to also consider how these skills are sequenced across the curriculum and scaffolded within coursework.

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