Information and IT Literacy: Enabling Learning in the 21st Century

Penny Garrod (Public Library Networking Focus, UKOLN, University of Bath, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




Garrod, P. (2004), "Information and IT Literacy: Enabling Learning in the 21st Century", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 145-146.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The title on the jacket of this book is: Information and IT Literacy. The “and IT” is printed in grey typeface on a black background whilst “Information Literacy” is displayed in bold white lettering. This design subtly encapsulates the central message of this collection of essays, i.e. that Information literacy not IT literacy is the key to “enabling learning in the 21st century”. We have focused on IT for too long, it is time to move on, as Town (Chapter 4) argues: “the concentration on providing equipment, infrastructure and content alone will not result in the information poor becoming the information rich unless they have the capability to make beneficial use of this investment”.

This book aims to promote a greater understanding of the role and importance of information literacy in the IT‐rich learning environments of today. It comprises a series of essays, which together provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the theory and practice of information literacy in the UK. The primary focus of the book is information literacy in a higher education context, but several essays focus on practice in schools, and there are contributions from outside the UK, including the USA and Ireland. Information literacy in the wider context of lifelong learning and the information society is discussed in several papers.

The collection is organised into four parts: context; the “Seven Pillars” model of information literacy developed by SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries); issues and current research. Readers can dip in and out as they choose, but it is worth starting with the two initial papers by the editors, as these provide a wealth of fascinating background information. Martin takes us on a chronological journey from computer literacy in the 1970s to “e‐literacy” in the twenty‐first century, while Rader, of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, evaluates global definitions and standards. “Many people have begun to consider libraries less important than in the past because they believe that the Internet is the world's library”, she opines – now there's an excellent topic for debate or an undergraduate assignment.

Many of the papers started out as presentations at a conference on information and IT literacy in 2002, and are scholarly and well written pieces. However, individual styles vary, and readers may find a case study or research report a less stimulating read than a discursive essay. The book should interest students of information science and education, as well as researchers, educators, academics and teachers. In fact, anyone with an interest in pedagogy, education, human‐computer interaction and e‐learning should find it both interesting and useful.

Any criticisms I have revolve around the book's omissions. For example, a paragraph on the backgrounds of the contributors would have enabled the reader to see at a glance whether they are from outside the library and information profession. The main impetus for the teaching of information skills does, after all, emanate from librarians, and academics remain sceptical about information literacy. Many are not sure what it is anyway, and confuse it with IT skills.

It would also have added to the book's usefulness as a resource if a few Web addresses had been included, for example, the URL for the “IT & ILit” conference Web site, which takes place each year (now called the “eLit” conference – see www.elit‐, to enable readers to find out about the next event. Readers could find this out for themselves of course, but they might ponder whether success in finding such information is indicative of information literacy or IT skills, or a mix of both.

I would also have liked to have seen a contribution from a sceptic; someone who questions the main thesis of this book. One might argue that information literacy is gradually acquired over a period of time; that it is accrued through experience, rather than something that can be taught. The book might have tackled the assessment process for courses on information literacy – how difficult is it to measure learning outcomes? We might have learned something from the teaching of research skills to undergraduates. In my experience, many students fail to engage with this subject and gain little from taught sessions. Relevance to the subject of study is central to success in the development of information literacy, and factors such as motivation, enjoyment, curiosity, and higher level cognitive and communication skills all warrant further exploration. Reducing information literacy to a set of core competences can lead to mechanistic, meaningless teaching, and information literacy then starts to resemble IT skills.

Information literacy is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment. Those interested in information literacy beyond the world of higher education might like to read an article in the October edition of Update (Winterman et al., 2003), which summarises activities in this area in UK Government departments. Initiatives at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) are discussed, and useful references are included for those wishing to progress their interest. There is an announcement at the end of the article of a forthcoming book, also from Facet Publishing, which is also on the topic of Information Literacy. The timing of the Martin and Rader book is therefore noteworthy, and it will be interesting to see how the two texts compare.


Winterman, V., Skelton, V. and Abell, A. (2003), “A new kind of worker”, Library and Information Update, Vol. 2 No. 10, pp. 389.

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