Intro to the Information Literacy User’s Guide

You may be using this book for any one of a variety of reasons. It may have been assigned by a professor, in whole or in part. You may be using it to enhance your research techniques for your classes. Or you may see the importance of being savvy about information use and production, and have decided to learn more on your own. After all, our world is defined by our easy access to information. In fact, as is often said, we are drowning in information. Some is valuable. Some is worthless. And some is just fun, in its proper context. As you know, information comes in many different formats and sometimes, depending on the content, information in one format can be in any of these categories. For example, a tweet could be valuable (maybe an expert on a topic has just announced something groundbreaking), worthless (“Going shopping. Looking for socks that don’t fall down.”), or fun (I’ll let you decide what that message might be). So it seems that information content, context, and quality matter more than what kind of package or format the information takes. You will have a chance to read more about this later in the book. And accessing information is just one component; there is also your role as an information producer. We’ll get to that, too. You will learn a number of ways to enhance your abilities to work with the information that surrounds you.

So let’s start at the beginning. This book is entitled The Information Literacy User’s Guide. If you are information literate, you are adept at working with information. But a user’s guide can still be of assistance, since there are so many components to information. You, the authors, and just about everyone is better versed in working with some aspects of information than with others. While you will find elements in this book that you are totally up to speed on, there will be others that you have less familiarity with. Hence, the value of a user’s guide.

While this textbook refers to information literacy throughout, there are a variety of different models and subsets of information literacy: visual literacy, science literacy, digital literacy, information fluency, media literacy, and many more. Let’s highlight just one: metaliteracy. The originators of this model think of it as information literacy for today’s open, networked, collaborative information environment. It also places an emphasis on metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking. Being able to find and use information well means realizing what you know, what you don’t, and what you need to learn, and thinking about these categories throughout the process. It means being aware of how one is interacting with information, and not just reverting to long-standing habits only because they are familiar. There is a list of learning objectives for metaliterate learners at the end of this chapter, but we continue to identify occasional small changes to the objectives. The most current version can be found at

You might think of the learning objectives as one of those headlines you see on magazine covers while waiting in a grocery store checkout lane:

  • 6 Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore (from AARP, January/February 2013)
  • 50 People Who Make Your Life Better (from AARP, January/February 2013)
  • Get 30% Richer This Year: Very Smart Money Tips (from Marie Claire, February 2013)
  • 4 Panza-Blasting Moves for a Tighter Bod (from Cosmopolitan, Spring 2013)

Maybe there should be some catchy, motivational title for these learning objectives. (If you have a good idea, send it to one of the authors.) But, in seriousness, being aware of your own thought processes and working towards becoming more proficient in the areas included in the metaliteracy learning objectives will help you in your academic endeavors and in your everyday life. When you finish reading this introduction, take a look at the list. Are there items that you do well? Are there others that you just need to remember to follow through on? Possibly some will be less familiar to you. Recognize that they are empowering behaviors and attributes that will advance your abilities in school, the workplace, and in daily life. Knowing this may well provide the motivation to follow through with the readings and exercises in the upcoming chapters.

This book is arranged using a model called the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy. The model was developed in the United Kingdom, and revised in 2011, to reflect today’s information world. As you would expect, its visual representation shows pillars, each one labeled with a one-word access point to a larger concept. The pillars, with short explanatory descriptions, are

  • Identify (understanding your information need)
  • Scope (knowing what is available)
  • Plan (developing research strategies)
  • Gather (finding what you need)
  • Evaluate (assessing your research process and findings)
  • Manage (organizing information effectively and ethically)
  • Present (sharing what you’ve learned)

The authors of this book have added two additional chapters to engage you in important areas not specifically represented by the pillars:

  • Visual Literacy (applying information literacy to visual materials)
  • Science Literacy (information literacy in the sciences)

The developers of the Seven Pillars model explain that an individual can be more expert in some areas than others, and has the ability to increase their expertise. But interestingly, they also mention that people can become less expert in the areas designated by the pillars. How might that be? If you learned something, and then learned more, you become more adept, right? They make the point, however, that because the information environment shifts all the time, it is possible people won’t keep up, and thus become less proficient. So just as someone can climb one of the pillars, so too can he or she slip down.

Each of the seven areas incorporates both abilities and understandings. The abilities include what an individual can do. The understandings cover both attitude and behaviors. For example, someone might be aware that they should carefully evaluate the information they find and know how to go about it, yet not care enough to actually do it. Abilities and understandings work together to enable information literacy. Near the beginning of each chapter, you will find pertinent abilities and understandings lists taken from the Seven Pillars model.

As mentioned earlier, you are likely skilled at some of the elements the book will be discussing, less so at others. In other words, you will have ascended some of the pillars more than others. This is true of the authors themselves. We teach information literacy and call ourselves experts. But we can still learn from our colleagues’ chapters on various facets of the nine areas covered in this book. We hope you will also find this to be the case.

This introductory chapter is intended to be short, and will end with an important recommendation: As you learn from this textbook, remember to reflect on your new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. What are you doing differently? Did you find particular new approaches to locating or sharing information that work better? Why? Are you evaluating information more consistently? Differently? Do you feel more comfortable as an information producer? If you continue to ask yourself questions like these, and follow through based on your responses, your proficiency with information will last far beyond your memory of reading this textbook.


If you encounter terms in this book whose meanings are not clear to you, start your investigation by looking at these two sites. The first provides definitions, while the second is a multilingual glossary that provides corresponding terms in six languages: