Information Literacy: More than just skills

Information Literacy remains a contentious topic, not only in the way it is defined but also in respect of who is responsible for developing these skills in the students.  Whilst the education field does not yet seem to have agreed on a specific definition of ‘information literacy’, there are certainly a number of factors that seem to be understood as essential: recognising the need for information, finding, comprehending, evaluating and utilising the information for a range of purposes. However the concept of Information Literacy is not a finite one – it is the combination of a set of skills and an ability and inclination to use them as life skills that shows a person to be information literate. 

The common elements of Information Literacy models provide a framework for learning. They provide a series of steps or routines to help students access, evaluate and utilise information.  Students need to see these routines modelled and applied many times over their formative years to consolidate their learning and allow them to transfer the skills.  Having this framework in place helps to build students into lifelong learners (Bundy, 2004).  It gives them a framework or set of tools to ‘learn how to learn’.  Systematic planning and integrated delivery of these skills over their schooling years ensures students are exposed regularly to a toolkit of skills.  This regular and repeated exposure over time is essential if students are to internalise these skills (Eisenberg, 2008).  Information Literacy needs to be viewed as a lifelong goal rather than a finite set of skills.  Literacy should be viewed as a continuously evolving concept which gradually becomes transferable from subject to subject as learners develop proficiency and confidence (Langford, 1998).

Metacognition can be defined as ‘thinking about thinking’ (Wolf, 2003). Accumulating a repertoire of information literacy skills enables learners to move towards the concept of metacognition, as they start to recognise elements of their own thinking and learning. Kuhlthau’s Information Search process (ISP) incorporates this as students following this model consider the affective elements of their quest as well as the informational aspects. This gives them insight into their own learning processes and how they might manage their future work.  Herring and Tartar (cited in CSU Mod 4) include the concept of ‘reflection’ in their definition of a literate student. Kuhlthau’s studies show that students experience a range of emotions when they are planning and completing tasks.  Having an understanding of their own emotions and being reflective about their learning process will help their information seeking behaviours to yield more positive results (Wolf, 2003 ).  Using a metacognitive scaffold as a learning model, such as the Big 6 or the ISP model, supports students as they become more adept at monitoring their own learning processes and recognising their own learning strengths.

Students will also be affected by their own abilities to reason and discern the value of the information as well as their attitudes and emotions on encountering tasks. Their own confidence and self-belief will impact on their level of information literacy but if students are taught to practice the combination of information seeking skills and reflective thinking over the course of their schooling, their information literacy level should be enhanced. 



Bundy, A. (ed) (2004) Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework: principles, standards and practice. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIL) and Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).

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

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 & Tartar (2006) Cited in Charles Sturt University website:

Kuhlthau, C (n.d)  Information Search Process. Retrieved from:

Langford, L. (1998) Information Literacy: A Clarification. Retrieved from

Shannon, D. (2002) Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process.  School Library Media Activities monthly; Oct 2002, 19(2), 19-23

Wolf, S., Brush, T., & Saye, J (2003)  The Big Six Information Skills As a Metacognitive Scaffold: A Case Study.  School Library Media Research, 6

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