Information literacy barriers: language use and social structure

Peyina Lin (The Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA)

Library Hi Tech

ISSN: 0737-8831

Publication date: 23 November 2010



This paper aims to examine barriers to information literacy (IL), including: language use, social structures, and the neutrality‐advocacy dilemma.


In this paper critical analysis is used to discuss: effect of language used on audience reach; cognitive locus assumptions in IL standards and oversight on structural factors; opportunities for libraries to overcome IL barriers. Arguments are substantiated with theories and research from sociology, psychology, and education.


Effective diffusion of IL depends on using common language and being relevant to learners. However, knowledge differences between librarians and the public can make finding common language challenging. Additionally, by assuming information illiteracy in people, the term may convey negative‐evaluation, which may negatively affect learners' sense of competence and motivation for learning, and result in ineffective learning. Extracurricular/civic activities in schools are rich settings for effective learning, but structural factors, often overlooked by proponents of IL, constrain students' opportunities for civic participation. Fortunately, the library provides a sense of relatedness to students and has the potential to support conditions for effective learning in civic contexts.

Research limitations/implications

Propositions have not been empirically tested in IL contexts.

Practical implications

The paper proposes ways to address barriers to information literacy and calls for empirical research.

Social implications

The paper legitimizes librarians to play advocacy roles for students' civic engagement.


No literature in information literacy examines in‐depth the effects of its language choice and cognitive locus on audience reach. This paper integrates theories from sociology, psychology, and education, to argue how language choice and social structures constrain IL attainment and proposes ways to address those barriers.



Lin, P. (2010), "Information literacy barriers: language use and social structure", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 548-568.

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