More on Integrating Literacy

There have been so many really smart blog comments and e-mails concerning this conversation about literacy and technology. Considering the time of the year, with most educators still in R&R mode, it seems that this is a topic worth considering further.

Information PowerSo I want to put the magnifying glass to one comment posted yesterday afternoon (EST) by Chris Harris, who is a unique character — and I mean that in a good way. Chris is a young man with a rich background in technology, a valuable appreciation for what it means, plus a fierce dedication for the importance and the heritage of libraries and librarianship. I hope that’s a fair characterization, Chris.

Harris reminds us all of Information Power, a book that, as he says, has been “…the ‘bible’ for school library media specialists.” In my early years as an independent consultant, I taught a series of workshops that were structured within Information Power, and I suspect that it still guides my mind wanderings about literacy in the new information environment.

I’d like to take a moment and try to fold Chris’ points of Information Power into my description of the new information environment — that information is networked, digital, and overwhelming (NDO).

Networked Information

Chris says that students must be able to:
1) access information efficiently and effectively.
2) evaluating information critically and competently.
4) pursue information related to interests.

These elements of literacy are certainly more critical and more on-point today than they were even in 1998. In a world where Google is processing a billion searches a day, people have become incredibly dependent on information, and finding valuable and appropriate information within networked environments requires skills that we must align more with literacy than with technology. It’s a skill of finding valuable information, not operating Google or an RSS aggregator.

We must expand our notions of literacy from simply being able to read and understand text on a page, to being able to expose and understand true content from within a global networked environment.

Digital Information

Chris also includes that students should be able to:
3) use information accurately and creatively.
5) appreciate information in various forms.
9) participate in group information efforts.

Ok, information is digital. This means that all mediums of information can now be expressed using the same language, binary. Digital (binary) information can easily be taken apart, put back together, mixed and matched, and inventively assembled into unique, value added information products. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done, building on the information of others. Today, however, it is more akin to playing with Legos than spending years in research and writing. The act of building new information products is an ongoing experiment in conversation.

Again, the skills are new (word processing, image enhancing, spreadsheets, video editors, audio editors, etc.). However, again, their focus is much more akin to the Chris’ points — literacy — than to learning to operate software. Kids don’t need us to teach them how to operate the software. They need us to learn how to work the information, how to Employ the information.


As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this has much less to do with managing an avalanche of information, and is more about our ability to send messages that compete for our audience’s attention within that avalanche. Communicating in a cave was easy. How do you communicate in a storm?

Chris says that students must:
6) strive for excellence in information seeking.
7) contribute to the learning community & recognize importance of information in a democratic society.

We communicate for reasons. We are trying to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. You successfully build a house with the best tools. You successfully accomplish your goals by communicating with the best information.

This element of information literacy is the one that is going to require the most work as Information Power evolves with the changing information environment. The library has traditionally been a place where we consume information. As information increasingly becomes a matter of a mouse-click, the function of the library must evolve, perhaps becoming a place where we also produce information, and produce information that travels effectively through the storm. Think Kinkos for Kids.

We must all learn not only how to write, but how to Express ideas compellingly.

Ethical use of Information

Chris shares that students must:
8) Be ethical about information.

It comes not from the nature of the information environment, but from the nature of how we have come to depend on information and its reliability. We drive across the bridge because we trust its reliability. We must also be able to trust the reliability of the information and its infrastructure. This is why we should become outraged anytime that we find that people we are supposed to trust (politicians, journalists, corporate executives, or any body else) have abused information in any way.

  • We should address the nature of networked information by focusing on the literacy of:

    Exposing the Truth

  • We should address the nature of digital information by focusing on the literacy of:

    Employing Information

  • We should address the nature of overwhelming information by focusing on the literacy of:

    Expressing ideas compellingly

  • We should address the nature of our increasing reliance on information by focusing on the literacy of:

    Loving and protecting the truth (ethics in information).

    Two more pennies for your thoughts.


    Author: David Warlick

    David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.