Blog Task / ETL401

ETL 401 Blog Task 3 – Information literacy – a skill set, or something much more?

“Information literacy is more than a set of skills”. Present an argument for or against this statement, drawing upon the research and professional literature to support your views.

It can be said that information literacy involves information skills and these skills are taught in schools today, most often as part of the library, but these skills are just one part of the broader term Information Literacy and what it means to be an information literate person.

A skill, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary (2012), is the ability to do something well. We have the ability to tie our shoelaces well, for example. But if information literacy is thought of as just a set of skills to do well, will our students leave school knowing how to engage in the information related learning activities (Herring, 2011a), reflect upon the way they apply these skills (Herring, 2007) and recognise the process they used to apply these skills?

It is this argument that leads this author to believe information literacy is a lot more than a set of skills – it is an applied concept and a process, and the teacher librarian must ensure the skills learnt are applied and converted to the process.

The confusion surrounding this exact question, whether information literacy is a set of skills or something more, is prolific in the literature (Herring, 2006; Langford, 1998). Though some definitive support can be found in Abilock (2004) who calls information literacy a “transformational process”, Kuhlthau (2012) who clearly shows her confidence in the idea that it should be considered a process by naming her model after it – the “Information Search Process”, Eisenberg (2008) who recognises the driving force behind almost all of the information literacy models and findings as the belief that it is a “process”, and Doyle (1996) as sited in Langford (1998, para.29) who defines it in terms of “attributes of a person” and as “an applied concept that takes on many approaches depending on what part of the curriculum is in focus”. Going back even further into the twentieth century before information access was as prolific as it is today, Eshpeter & Gray (1988) as sited in Langford (1998, para. 34) defined information literacy not in terms of its skills, instead stating these skills are the necessary enhancers of the bigger information literacy picture. It is interesting that 25 years since Eshpeter & Gray wrote that definition it is still relevant to this debate.

Why does it matter whether it is just a set of skills or something more? In the world beyond the classroom, namely the workplace, information skills are a necessity, but employers are looking for information literate people who know how to apply all the information skills they have attained and use them in real life situations (Eisenberg, 2008). Knowing how to effectively and proactively problem solve and self-evaluate are what employers are expecting of their employees and this is where teaching information literacy in schools as a process, rather than only a set of isolated skills, has its benefits. As the school’s information literacy expert, the school’s teacher librarian is responsible for recognising this difference and taking it much beyond just a set of skills to ensure students practice and master what their future employers will be looking for.

It is for this reason that most of the Information literacy models used in schools (often selected by, or in conference with, the school’s TL) are based on the idea of a process. Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process has already been mentioned, but Eisenberg & Berkowitz’s (1990) Big 6 model is also described as “a six-step process that provides support in the activities required to solve information-based problems” (Wolf, Brush, & Saye, 2003, para. 6). Herring, author of the PLUS model (Herring, 2004), views information literacy as “an ability and a practice, rather than a set of skills” (Herring, 2011b, p. 63) and recommends the development of students as “active information literacy practitioners rather than users of a narrow range of skills” (Herring, 2011a, p.36).

So whether it be called a process, a practice, an applied concept, or one of many other names, this author is convinced that calling information literacy just a set a skills is to rob our students of what to do with these skills and be effective information literate citizens in schools and beyond.


Reference List:

Doyle, C. (1996). Information Literacy: Status report from the United States. In D. Booker (Ed.), Learning for life: information literacy and the autonomous learner (pp. 39-48). Adelaide: University of South Australia.

Eisenberg, M. B. (2008). Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age. In Journal of Library & Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47.

Eisenberg, M. B., & Berkowitz, R. (1990). Information problem solving: The Big Six approach to library & information skills instruction. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.

Eshpeter, B. & Gray, J. (1988). School library programs and the cooperative planning process: preparing students for information literacy. Calgary, AB: Calgary Board of Education.

Herring, J. (2004). The internet and Information Skills: a guide for teachers and school librarians, London: Facet Publishing.

Herring, J. (2006). A critical investigation of students’ and teachers’ views of the use of information literacy skills in school assignments. School Library Media Research, 9.

Herring, J. (2011a). Assumptions, Information Literacy and Transfer in High Schools. Teacher Librarian, 38(3), 32-36.

Herring J. (2011b). Improving students’ web use and information literacy: A guide for teachers and teacher librarians, London: Facet Publishing.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2012). Information Search Process. Retrieved August 28, 2012 from

Langford, L. (1998). Information Literacy: A clarification. Retrieved August 30, 2012 from

Oxford Dictionary (2012). Oxford University Press. Retrieved September 16, 2012 from

Wolf, S., Brush, T., & Saye, J. (2003). The Big Six Information Skills As a Metacognitive Scaffold: A Case Study. Retrieved September 14, 2012 from


One thought on “ETL 401 Blog Task 3 – Information literacy – a skill set, or something much more?

  1. Pingback: ETL401 Assignment 2 Part B: Critical Reflection | A TL's Learning Journal

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