We are living in an information orientated society where increasingly this information is being disseminated digitally (Evans et al, 2015, p.76). However a significant proportion of the population do not have access to the internet, either through choice or lack of resources or knowledge. This can put them at increasing disadvantage and disempower them (Thompson et al, 2014) . Whose responsibility is it to educate these people so that they can partake within the digital society with confidence? I would argue that public librarians have a role in information literacy education. UNESCO and IFLA partnered to suggest governments provide public libraries with funding to support information access and use (Thompson et al, 2012).
Information literacy can be defined as being able to find and critically evaluate information and in order to do this it needs to be repeated in a way which the learner understands and is relevant to them (Evans et al, 2015, p.81). It is a set of skills learnt in response to the customer needs, so it is essential to know what these are (Godwin, 2012, p.20). For example one customer may want to learn to use Facebook to keep in contact with grandchildren overseas, whereas another may want to do banking online.
Librarians in public libraries are in a position where they regularly interact with the public and can respond to these needs. One of the roles of the librarian is to teach people real skills to meet real needs (Evans et al, 2015, p.80), which I would argue involves teaching them how to access the internet confidently and safely and use it to meet whatever their day to day or learning needs are. Librarians as the traditional experts at managing, retrieving and evaluating information are in a position to enable this, particularly in public libraries where they are accessible to the public. Librarians are the advocates of lifelong learning and as such can utilise every interaction with a user as an opportunity for teaching (Evans et al, 2015, p.77).
Many of those who need assistance with information literacy do not have access to non-public libraries. These groups include the elderly, immigrants with limited English language skills and the unemployed. These are the people the librarian is best placed to assist, especially as public libraries usually offer free access to computers and the internet (Thompson et, 2012), they are likely to be the customer’s first port of call when needing assistance. Many public libraries do offer programs to teach information literacy skills. For example Brisbane City Council Libraries offer free courses using tablets, smartphones and various computer programs in English and other languages.
However does the librarian have the skills do perform this education. I would argue that they do. As mentioned before librarians are the experts at information management, evaluation and retrieval and if they don’t know the answer will often know where to find it or where to refer the customer. They can use these skills to educate the user how to access and evaluate the information that is relevant to them, including knowing what information is needed, where to find it and if the information is credible.
Therefore to conclude my argument, public library librarians, as the public face of knowledge and information are in an ideal position to educate and empower the public to utilise emerging technology effectively.
Evans, G.; Saponaro, Margaret; Christie, Holland; Sinwell, Carol (2015). Library Programs and Services: The Fundamentals. 8th Edition. Retrieved from http://QUT.eblib.com.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=2070826
Godwin, Peter (2012). Information literacy and library 2.0: an update. In Godwin, Peter; Parker, Jo. Information Literacy Beyond Library 2.0. pp. 19-26, Retrieved from http://www.qut.eblib.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=1167417
Thompson, Kim M.; Jaeger, Paul T.; Taylor, Natalie Greene; Subramaniam, Mega; Bertot, John Carlo (2014). Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion: Information Policy and the Public Library. Retrieved from http://www.qut.eblib.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=1776245
(Created for student blog: Semester 2, 2015)